I was 10 years old the first time I traveled by plane. I was going to Disney on a family vacation, and I was terrified to fly. During the flight, my mom had me switch from yoga pants to a skort to accommodate the weather difference between Boston and Orlando.
While I struggled to change in the tiny confines of the plane bathroom, I couldn’t help but to be hyper aware of every minor instance of turbulence. Even the slightest bump and shake made the pit in my stomach grow, and my heart beat faster. My nerves didn’t subside until we were in the van on the way to the resort.
At 13 I traveled to Florida again, this time with three friends as one mother had kindly offered to take us down to the family beach house for the week. It was my first time traveling without my family. I sobbed in the car before my mom dropped me off, fearing that something would go wrong on the flight while she wasn’t there to help me.
And at 17, when I went to North Carolina, I flew by myself for the first time. The week before my trip I told a teacher I couldn’t sleep at night because I kept picturing what would happen if the plane went down while I was alone onboard. She talked me through my nerves with patience, despite that there was hardly anything she could do to calm me down.
You see, I am a control freak.
I like to have a plan. I like to know what’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen and how it’s going to happen. For me, flying means relinquishing total control. There is next to nothing you can to do to improve your chances of surviving something going wrong. You just have to trust the people in charge and hope all other factors are working in your favor.
The thought of being in a situation where I have so little control is enough to make me a nervous wreck for at least the duration of my flight, if not a few days leading up to my departure.
Basically, I’m a blast to travel with.
This fear of flying did not go away as I got older. It simply shifted from being about the actual flight, to where the flight was taking me.
My senior year of high school, my dad and I flew to Ohio to tour Miami. I was overcome with nausea as the plane descended, knowing there was a strong chance I would be going to school in a place that could not feel farther from my home. Last January, I fought back tears while listening to Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California,” getting ready for a three week trip in a city, state and coast I had never been to as my flight to Los Angeles took off.
Turbulence was the least of my worries.
My fear was knowing there would be no regaining control when I got off of the plane. I felt overwhelmed with unfamiliarity, and could not imagine what this new place would bring me. Of course, when you feel this way, everyone assures you you’ll find an adventure better than you can imagine. I used to hate that. Again, I like to be able to anticipate what’s coming down the pipeline.
Instead of hoping for something I “couldn’t imagine,” I feared the worst that I could.
When these fears start to get overwhelming, my mom tells me the same thing she told me when I 13 and sobbing to her in the car. She tells me that if I’m not careful, my fears and anxieties will keep me from living the life I have always wanted.
That repeated reminder is the reason I keep flying.
Of course every worst-case scenario imagined, sleepless night and terrified tear shed has been worth the experiences and personal growth that came afterward. Every single time, it was better than anything I could have imagined. I hate to think what my life would look like if I let fear and a need for control dominate the decisions I make.
I’ve been repeating this reminder to myself a lot lately as I finish my semester in Oxford and prepare to spend my spring abroad. While five months in a country I’ve never been to is a terrifying prospect, some of the best things in my life were also once on the other side of the time and date on my boarding pass.
And when I think what it will be like to leave the incredible people that have helped me build a life in Oxford, I try not to focus on the unknown, but rather hope it will be an adventure better than I can imagine.