I’ve only ever been good at air travel when I was too young to know any better. Between the ages of 18 months and about 10 years I was a dream companion: slept well, excited about the plane, talkative, finished meals – even on the ten hour trawls to Vancouver we made semi-regularly throughout my childhood to visit family. From the age of 10, however, the unreality of it all struck me and I became the worst traveller you could luck out and get stuck with. It’s not that I’m scared of flying, or falling, but the whole experience is so alien and there are just so many aspects I can find to dislike! Something changed in me, and previously comfortable air travel turned into a nightmarish, long, experience; packed like sardines into a plasticky, cold and yet unfresh-air conditioned tube with tens of other passengers, terrifyingly loud suction toilet flushes and – worst of all – the cloying small of overmicrowaved, tinfoil-covered food… ugh.
I’m still convinced now that flight is a myth: they surely just rearrange your surroundings while you sit, distracted, in your metal tube with other passengers…
Anyway, the point really is that I hated flying, to the point where the fear of being ill onboard (usually during the sickening landing process) brought me out in a cold sweat and I avoided eating pretty much throughout the travel experience, and probably in advance as well. A tip: just because you don’t eat, doesn’t mean that your body won’t try to be sick – but it will be much worse.
Now, I have to admit, I’ve made some progress. For last year’s birthday, two friends and I spent two weeks in New York and the seven-hour flight together was pretty uneventful (aside from an elbowed water glass onto a sleeping friend on the return journey – oops). I even enjoyed the food!
But when my boyfriend was successfully awarded a three-week travel scholarship to Mexico, courtesy of his course of study and work at Kew Gardens, and suggested we make a holiday of a final fourth week to mark the end of my MSc – I was a little petrified. The flight would be long, I’d have to eat more plane food, and I’d have to get out there on my own. There would be nobody to hold my hand, or the sickbag, and I would be solely responsible.
But hey, adults fly alone all the time – why shouldn’t I be one of them? So, pushing my fear to the back of my mind for most of the process, we happily went about booking a one-week stay in a beautiful all-inclusive resort near Cancun, on the Caribbean coast and near the second largest reef in the world. We booked everything in January, and up until about three weeks before I would still hyperventilate from time to time at the thought of flying, let alone flying on my own.
17th May came along, my parents kindly (so kindly!) drove me to Gatwick airport where I checked in, remembered my passport, and we ate M&S samosas. I made it through security, through duty free almost unscathed (new eyeliner! Still in the box!), and then onto the departure gate.
At this point I was actually not as terrified as I look in this grainy photograph. (Also, can someone tell me if taking photos in airports is illegal? I’m still waiting for the knock on the door.) I felt oddly calm. Resigned. Confident. The plane was there. I was there. My only toothbrush was aboard and I was going to follow that bastard to Cancun.
Through the tube, onto the plane, past the space-age booths and vastly-abundant legroom section, into cattle class where I was seated happily in an emergency exit seat. Apart from a mild disaster trying to extricate the tiny screen from under my seat so that I could fall asleep in front of Marvel’s Thor 2: The Dark World and fail to hear any of Inside Llewyn Davis, and a weirdly dehydrated salmon sandwich – all went well. Having selected a special ‘low lactose meal’ I was fed first – score! Unfortunately, low lactose was equivalent to low taste, and my salad, chicken with carrots, and fruit wasn’t as exciting (and almost as low lactose)as the thai curry and chocolate pudding that the couple next to me ate. But hey, what can you do? Despite a new selection of Kindle books, and far too many viewing options I was sufficiently bored and hungry about 8 hours in that I began to feel totally sick – not a good sign. But in spite of a rather graphic nature documentary (thanks for nothing, Attenborough) I managed to doze off long enough that by the time we arrived in Cancun I was ready and excited.
In Part Two: the trip to Mexico.
As a final few words here, however: I FLEW ALONE! I WASN’T SICK! I REMEMBERED EVERYTHING I NEEDED! For me, this is a big achievement. Since my anti-plane tendencies developed I’ve been worrying that the sickness or fear of sickness would really prevent me from going places in future – quite literally, if you’ll pardon the pun. I now know that I can do this thing along with a lot of other humans, and I have it in me to not only tolerate flying, but kind of enjoy it. I do know what I’m doing, and I don’t have to just keep it together long enough to get to the other side, but I can actually relax up there and eat my weird low-lactose food and read my books. Thing 15: firmly ticked off.