I should really hate flying.
Heights have always terrified me; I strongly dislike strangers invading my personal space; and enclosed places have never been my thing (a friend once woke up during a camping trip to the sound of me punching the side of my tent, shouting, “LEMME OUT! LEMME OUT!”).
But every time I travel, I find myself looking forward to the plane trip as much as the actual holiday. I seem to love most things about jetting around in an airborne metal tube that others hate: the squashed seats (cosy!); the pre-packaged food (tiny cheese and biscuits, yay!); the lengthy wait times (an opportunity to pop on a podcast and engage in some weird public hamstring stretches that nobody will judge me for!).
People are prone to earnestly touching travellers’ shoulders and sympathetically asking, “How was the flight?” But even if the trip had some turbulence or my meal consisted of mystery slime sprinkled with unidentified green bits, my answer will almost always be, “Great!”. At times, when I’ve felt anxious in the lead-up to a trip, just knowing I was about to sit on a plane for a solid 24 hours has calmed me right down.
So, why does cramming myself into an economy-grade bus in the sky bring me so much joy? Truthfully, it’s because it’s the only place I truly allow myself to switch off. Up in the air, there’s zero responsibility. Zero commitments. Zero pressure. (I’m speaking, of course, for passengers only here – I really hope the pilot feels at least a moderate amount of responsibility.) For those of us who aren’t in charge of steering an aircraft across the globe, what is our job? Literally, to sit. Just sit! And be. I can certainly handle that level of obligation.
When you have a brain prone to ‘shoulds’ – youshouldbe working; youshouldbe at the gym; youshouldbe cleaning – flying is an instant rebuttal to those thoughts. I can’t do any of that right now, brain! All I can do is sit in a chair and sip from a ludicrously small cup of water while trying to un-pretzel my limbs. Perhaps I’ll watch a movie, or listen to some airline-approved music. Maybe I’ll just stare at the seat in front of me, unblinking, for seven hours. You can’t stop me!
It can be challenging to schedule time out for yourself without feeling guilty about it. I’ll check my phone during meditation, plan to-do lists at the gym, and don’t even get me started on baths (I should really spend the time doing a load of laundry instead of blobbing around in tepid water like a poached egg). The good news? None of that guilt surfaces when I’m zooming along in the sky.
It’s a safe haven from my own judgmental thoughts, essentially. Where else can you eat stale bread rolls while watching Mean Girls for the hundredth time, followed by six straight hours of Candy Crush? If I did that every weekday, I’d start feeling kind of sad, but doing it in a big ol’ cylinder in the clouds? No worries!
Some might say I need to harness this self-confidence in my everyday life. Maybe I should challenge that perfectionist voice in my head when my two feet are on solid ground, instead of waiting for the excuse of being wedged inside a high-speed cattle cart to allow myself some freedom.
But, as with most things, it requires baby steps. So, until then, bon voyage to stressful thoughts. And can I please have another tiny packet of cheese and biscuits? ■