Updated: Jun 9
One of my favorite songs to perform to is "Wa Msafer Wahdak," The Lonely Traveler. Ironically, travelling solo has become one of my favorite things in life. Even more ironically, I used to be terrified of airplanes.
Once upon a time I would have done literally anything to avoid being on a plane. Staple my hands together? Sure! Take out a high interest loan for no reason? Okay! Drink an entire gallon of milk with my lactose intolerance? Absolutely, just don't make me fly anywhere.
The Cleveland Clinic reports that over 25 million people in the US have Aerophobia and that the fear of crashing isn't always the predominant fear. The anxiety of getting on the plane, the time traveling, the logistics and the anticipation of flying is just as troubling as being on the plane itself.
I had only taken two flights as a young adult. Namely, to meet and visit my stepfather's family in New England. It was also the first time my mother had ever flown, and we were both complete nervous wrecks. The fear of flying kept me from attending events and expanding beyond the state that I live in. If I couldn't drive there, it was out of the question.
Fast forward to 2021. Covid still gripped the country, but planes had no longer been grounded. I was in love! I had met what I thought would be my husband, in Cairo, and I needed to see him. I had also been hired to teach in Cairo which was a dream come true. The time had come when I could no longer resist stepping onto a plane and flying off into my destiny. And so, my first ever solo trip was all the way to Egypt, during a pandemic, for a guy. My poor anxious brain kept telling me I was insane! The money for the tickets, connecting flights, layovers, languages, money exchange, visas, new airports, covid tests.... What had I done?? My mind swam with every possible thing that could go wrong for about 20 hours. Would I make it to Cairo? Would they accept my covid tests? Would my hosts in Egypt be ok? Would my husband-to-be turn out to be an ax murderer? Would I ever see my mom's puppy again? Are they feeding us on this flight? What if I have to pee and I actually have to leave my seat and walk all the way to the bathrooms while we are who-knows how high up in the air?
If you haven't guessed yet, I do have an Anxiety diagnosis and I do take medication to slow the gears down. But not only does that not take care of major events (like flying to Cairo alone) but you don't have to have anxiety to experience the symptoms that I just described. Major travel is not the routine for most people. The planning and details that goes into taking a big trip can send anyone into a tailspin. What I found is that a lot of things are assumed; meaning, there's the assumption that everyone knows how to book and prepare for a flight. Just being in the airport waiting to check in can feel like you've left the planet if you do not know what to expect. I'll be honest that I didn't even know my luggage would arrive in Cairo automatically. I thought I needed to grab my luggage at every connecting flight and re-check it in thusly making me worry that an hour layover in between flights might not be enough time. Thankfully I had a good friend tell me what to expect and not to feel bad for asking; if you've never done this, how would you know?
Since my first big trip I am a flying fool. I've been to Vegas and Canada with plans to return to Egypt again this summer. Here are the apps and resources I learned on the fly (pun intended) to help my fellow anxious minds out there with traveling.
1.) Buy Extra Insurance
Connecting flight insurance, luggage insurance, late flight insurance, standard travel insurance- buy as much as you can afford. I highly recommend the Hopper app for booking plane tickets but whatever you purchase through it's worth the extra money to know that if the worst-case scenario happens that you can call a phone number and get back on your way.
2.) Google maps has an Augmented Reality walking feature.
If you're lost in a city and walking around, Google maps now has an AR feature that allows you to hold your phone up and follow arrows on the screen while you view the city in real time. It's called "Live view" in the app, and you'll see a prompt for it when you indicate walking directions. It will ask you to scan your surrounding area by holding your phone up and turning around then will direct you on the screen with giant arrows to follow.
3.) Lyft has a ride-share program.
Grab a ride with other people and get a massive discount! If you need a ride and don't mind sitting a few folks, and don't need to be somewhere at a specific time, you can select the shared ride feature. I got rides around Vegas for as little as $3.
4.) Download the airline apps.
Ok, this might seem basic but hear me out. Some airline apps are more helpful than others. Do yourself a favor and check them out before your flight. A lot of them have terminal maps and luggage trackers built right in so you can research where your next gate is and know that your luggage arrived. All of the apps will let you know if the flight is on time and give you copies of your tickets virtually. Being able to scope out the next airport and knowing that my tickets were always accessible went a long way with my anxiety.
5.) Store your luggage!
On my last day in Vegas, it dawned on me that I needed to check out of my hotel about 8 hours before my flight and I had a big ol' suitcase with me. Operating under the "I can't be the first person to have this happen" assumption I googled "What do I do with my luggage before my flight." The Bounce app immediately popped up. For about $10 I was able to stash my suitcase at a local sub-shop and go chill out on the Vegas strip before picking it back up and making my way to the airport.
6.) Google translate has a conversation feature.
There are different translation devices out there but if you're in a pinch the Google Translate app has a conversation feature that will translate ambient conversations into either text or speech for you. It will also scan signs and text and translate them. It's not perfect but I've had good luck with it.
7.) Stay cozy on the flight.
I've been on planes where I was cold and planes where I was breaking a sweat. In any case it helped if I was feeling anxious to feel secured. I purposely picked window seats so I could feel the wall against me and look out into the clouds. I invested in a cushy neck pillow and a blanket that folds into itself for easy packing. In the same way that weighted blankets help ease anxiety, feeling secured in your seat creates the sense of safety.
8.) Keep your carry on small.
Planes are consistently running out of room in the overhead compartments these days for carry-on luggage. Take something small enough to keep with you in your seat (or under the seat in front of you). A travel wallet, your phone, medication, and whatever comforts you'd like for the seat will ensure that you aren't forced to check your carry on in due to lack of room. If you're like me and like to keep a change of clothes with you look for fabrics that fold really well and tightly like leggings.
I hope this has helped you and I want to hear what has eased your anxiety while traveling!
Oriana is an international professional bellydancer and instructor based in Tampa, FL. She is the author of Raqs to Riches and an instructor at Crazy Nights Festival in Cairo. www.orianabellydancer.com