I tend to plan my days by the hour, partly out of necessity to make sure I get enough work done and partly because I suffer from anxiety that makes me want to feel in control all the time.
On past vacations, I’ve loved having premade itineraries, so I knew just how I’d be spending my time and which sights I’d be seeing. Last summer, while studying abroad in Spain, my friends and I took a five-day trip to Barcelona and Lisbon. Between climbing hills to see ancient castles and riding elevators to get the best views of the city, I pretty much had it planned down to the minute.
Nonetheless, when a surprise vacation to the Virgin Islands fell into my lap, I was ecstatic to not do any of the planning.
My friend Grace’s parents had planned the trip for her and her older sister, Kristina, to go to St. Croix. It was a birthday gift to Grace and a graduation gift to Kristina, who had just finished pharmacy school. About a week before we left, Grace texted me that her roommate wasn’t able to go, so there was room for another person. I wasn’t about to turn down a week of boat rides and beaches.
I had, of course, looked at my flight itinerary before leaving. I hadn’t, however, put much thought into the fact that my third and final flight was scheduled for only 25 minutes, or that it was from St. Thomas to St. Croix, two of the islands close to each other. I had a passing thought along the lines of, “Oh, that’s a pretty short flight. I bet it’ll be one of those really small planes that only has one seat on each side of the aisle.”
It was a much smaller plane than I imagined. Turns out, I was taking one of those hopper planes that only seats eight people right behind the cockpit. Consequently, you can see everything the pilot is doing.
I’ve flown many times before. My dad was in the Air Force until my sophomore year of high school, so we travelled and moved around all the time.
No matter how many times I’ve flown in my life, there’s a part of me that refuses to accept that flying is a normal thing for humans to do. I can’t help but panic every time I step onto a plane — and that’s a normal-sized plane, with hundreds of other people onboard and plenty of distance between the pilot and me.
There’s something about being so close to the cockpit and actually watching a person fly a plane that makes the experience a lot more real and terrifying to someone who already suffers from flying-induced anxiety — especially when the very small plane is flying through a storm cloud.
When you’re in a cloud, rain doesn’t fall, it just comes toward you. Flying in a tiny hopper plane, it looked like we were flying underwater. There was also a significant amount turbulence that shook the entire plane and left me convinced I was about to live out my own version of “Castaway,” one of my favorite movies but not something I wanted to reenact.
There I was, an anxiety-riddled 21-year-old girl, mentally preparing to plunge into the ocean and calculating how long it’d take to swim the rest of the distance to the island. I decided the best way to combat my fears was by taking a time lapse video of the ride on my phone, since seeing it through the screen made it seem less real, and by default less scary, than seeing it in real life.
As you can deduce by me writing this article, I didn’t live my own version of the Tom Hanks movie (but I did get a pretty cool time lapse video). In a less cinematic ending, my flight landed normally and everyone got off, and I seemed the only one phased by the experience.