'Better safe than sorry' goes the old saying. Lies! We prefer the mantra, 'He who dares, wins!' Two travellers share how they overcame their biggest fears and the epic adventures that followed
Don’t let your fears hold you back – think of all the adventures you’ll miss.
Need proof? Here are the true stories of how a journalist transforms from anxious flier to frequent flier and how a petrified skier became an expert on the slopes.
Belinda: Travel is now my job, but there was a time when I would not, could not, get on a plane. I either avoided flying altogether or whipped myself up into such a frenzy that I had to be completely anaesthetised by alcohol or chemically sedated.
I would get genuine panic attacks – palpitations, cold sweats, irrational urges to open plane doors at altitude. And I could certainly never tackle any kind of long-haul flight.
An hour was my limit, and that was like an hour-long white-knuckle ride, with me gripping on to my seat, resolutely staring ahead and not out of the window (looking down at the ground, 36,000 feet away, all tiny and distant? I don’t think so).
I decided to get help. I visited a Harley Street hynotherapist, but I didn’t trust him and he was eye-wateringly expensive.
Then I was faced with an unavoidable flight to Dublin so I asked my doctor, for something to calm me down. She prescribed a fistful of valium in the first instance, then signed me up for a course of cognitive behavioural therapy. It seemed so self-indulgent, but she convinced me I was a worthy patient.
I was assigned ten weekly home visits by a therapist who took me through the whole process of flying. We’d start right from the point at which you buy your ticket to finally boarding the plane and taking off.
She instructed me to wear an elastic band and ping it every time I started to think about flying.
“Don’t feed the fear,” was the mantra, “The more you think about it, the earlier you start feeding the fear, the more out of control you will be by the time you are actually flying.”
I felt like I was making real progress.
An Australian adventure
A few months later, I was invited to Australia by a friend who was prepared to pay for me to fly business class.
Statistically it’s safer to be seated in the front of the plane, but could I really face 26 hours in the air?
How could I seriously say no, though? It was the opportunity of a lifetime – I simply had to go.
The international flight to Brisbane was so long I simply couldn’t maintain my usual levels of hysteria – I just got bored of being scared. The comfort of business class helped too; my mind was taken off the flying by the attentive service, the champagne on tap and the hand-made chocolates!
From Brisbane I had to catch an internal flight up the coast to Cairns, then jump on a small biplane and, finally, end up in a helicopter, no less. By the time I landed in Cairns I was almost blasé.
“Whatever flying machine you can throw at me, just bring it on: I can do the lot,” I boasted.
I am happy to report that that whole trip cured me.
I now fly at least twice a month and get on and off planes like they are buses. I feel triumphant that I have conquered my fear and can now see the world.
I conquered my fear of skiing
When Mark McCrum was 16, he went skiing for the first time and hated every moment of it.
“I went to Spain with the family of a school friend and in those days the skis were very long and hard to manoeuvre. I was terrified of the vertiginous slope dropping away before me at a steep gradient, and of falling over and breaking something,” he says.
It was the idea of losing control that particularly frightened him, of hurtling downhill at speed and not being able to stop.
“I would hear tales of really experienced skiers ending up in wheelchairs and thought, well, if they get injured, what about me, a complete novice?” he says.
There was also another element to his fear – he just didn’t want to be the loser at the back of the pack, trailing way behind with all the groovy guys at the front going fast and showing off in front of the girls.
Then he was invited in his early fifties to spend a few days in a luxury ski chalet in the Portes du Soleil, with an instructor thrown in. “I just thought, this is crazy – I can’t turn this one down.”
His first day out on the slopes was defined by ‘sheer terror’, but on the second day something clicked.
“The instructor got me out on a green run doing snowploughs, after which my fears began to melt away. Once I realised that a snowplough could stop me, I knew that I could stay in control,” he says.
Mark soon graduated to red runs and the instructor got him parallel turning, and he began to be scared again, but he mastered stopping and then dared to go a little faster and even enjoy the speed.
“Now I love skiing. I love the speed, the beautiful scenery, the breathtaking mountains and views – and of course the après-ski in the hot tub with the obligatory glass of fizz – what’s not to like?”
“I have discovered a new passion. I hope to take a ski holiday every year from now on,” he says.