I love to travel, but I hate to fly. I fly because it’s necessary in order to see the world, and that’s my passion. But when the flight attendant says “Sit back, relax, and enjoy your flight”, I scoff at the statement every time. I have never relaxed and enjoyed a flight. There have been many times in the past, on moderately bumpy flights, when I would think – the in-flight heart attack I am about to have is much more likely to kill me than any miniscule chance that this plane will crash.
However, to enjoy life to its fullest, we have to conquer and set aside our fears and anxieties. Travel gives us many opportunities to do just that. Some of us set aside our fears by simply leaving our comfort zone and going to a foreign country. For others, it’s ordering strange food in a restaurant where no one speaks your language. For me, every time I get on a plane, I have to set aside my fear of flying.
My flight phobia has improved somewhat over the years. I’ve learned through meditation to calm my brain enough that I no longer worry about in-flight heart attacks. However, for many years, my flight phobia did have its limit. I never had any intention of setting foot on any plane smaller than a Canadair or Embraer regional jet. But then a travel opportunity came along that forced me to muster up the courage to set aside my fear for the greater good of a memorable travel experience. I took a Kauai Air Tour.
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Tripping Kauai and a Frightening Realization
A few years ago, we visited the island of Kauai Hawaii for the first time. As I tripped Kauai, it quickly became clear that some of the most beautiful parts of the island are difficult to reach and are best seen by air. Kauai air tours over Waimea Canyon and the Napali Coast are very popular. My stomach churned a little as I contemplated this idea. But…I ultimately concluded that we could not experience all of Kauai without taking to the air.
My flight fear certainly stems from a concomitant fear of heights combined with a general lack of control. I am also quick to suffer from motion sickness, having hurled my lunch over the side of many boats around the world. I generally don’t experience motion sickness on commercial flights, but I know it’s a common experience on smaller aircraft, especially helicopters. Helicopter tours are the most common type of Kauai air tour. Fortunately, I easily found an alternative on TripAdvisor – Wings Over Kauai – which happens to be its #1 rated tour of any kind on the southeast side of the island. (Click here to check out my blog post about finding great local tours when travel planning).
Wings Over Kauai offers an air tour from a Cessna airplane rather than a helicopter. Small plane or helicopter – either one sounded frightening, but if I couldn’t avoid anxiety, at least I could try to avoid motion sickness too. I didn’t want to cope with multiple reasons for vomiting while trying to enjoy the beauty of Kauai from above.
An Uneasiness in My Brain
When planning a trip months in advance, it’s relatively easy to set aside your biggest phobia, and sign up for a Cessna air tour over Kauai. But in the week leading up to the trip, an uneasiness in my brain started to creep in. I tried to put it aside as best I could for the first few days in Kauai while we enjoyed the island on the sweet sweet ground.
The Big Day
But then it was The Big Day. I nervously drove us to the airport – stomach churning, palms sweating. It was a cloudy day and there was potential rain in the forecast. I had been in communication with Wings Over Kauai through the day, as flights will be canceled in inclement weather. Of course, this had ramped up my flight anxiety through that day even more. My imagination ran wild with many possible scenarios for a heart-pounding roller coaster ride through stormy weather in a tiny plane.
Upon arrival at their small office, our pilot Bruce (who is also the owner) assured us that despite the potential storminess, all would be well. He explained that he was not a hot shot pilot and would not take us up if it was unsafe. He showed us the weather radar in detail and made sure that we were completely comfortable taking ‘the flight. Completely comfortable was an absolute impossibility, but my daughter and Mrs. Thorough Tripper were both very excited, and I couldn’t let them down.
The cockpit of a Cessna is small. Two crowded seats in the back, the pilot and copilot seats in the front. There were three of us, and I was the biggest. That meant the copilot’s seat for me. Bruce assigned me the copilot’s duties too – whether that was really necessary or he thought that some degree of control would help me feel better, I don’t know. Either way, it certainly enhanced the experience.
My duties basically consisted of confirming that he went through all the items on his printed pre-flight checklist. But still, Copilot! Of course, visions of having to land the plane if Bruce had a medical emergency also danced through my head. He didn’t show me how to do that….
Soon – too soon it seemed – we were taxiing out to the runway (which happened to be the exact runway our commercial plane had landed on a few days earlier.)
And then, up in the air we went….
…And I was OK! I was definitely nervous the whole time, although it abated somewhat the longer we were in the air. I watched the grey clouds above us warily. But I also took in everything there was to see below us. Bruce provided commentary the entire flight about what was below and this provided great distraction. And we certainly saw the entire island in all its glory. There was only one time when my heart rate jumped from the 110 upon which it had settled, up to 140, and that was when we finished passing over Waimea Canyon and descended slightly over the coastal mountain ridge to the Napali Coast. It was cloudier there and windier there and bumpier there, but we made it.
I never had any motion sickness…
Wings Over Kauai
We spent an hour up in the air, flying first along the south coast and over the Poipu area (which is where our rental condo was located.)
We then headed westward and flew over Waimea Canyon (often called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific).
Next, we headed northward along the rugged Napali Coast.
We continued to the north side of the island, where we flew over the north shore and Hanalei Beach. We then turned southeast and cut down the green mountainous center of the island where we could see one waterfall after another, like long silver ribbons on the deeply green landscape.
The last waterfall he showed us was the Fantasy Island Waterfall (from the 1970’s Fantasy Island TV show – and the irony of being inside The Plane The Plane was not lost on me.)
Ultimately, the Lihue airport came into view. I will admit that a giant wave of relief passed over me at this point. Bruce gently landed the plane and our Kauai air tour was over. I did it! And I lived to tell about it!!
Rainbows and Happiness
Certainly the best way to overcome your fears is to simply face them head on – despite the anxiety. Would I fly in a small plane again? Yes – if the travel experience I was seeking necessitated it. Would I be just as anxious? Yes! Will I ever go bungee jumping? No!! SkyDiving? Hell No!!! My fears of falling uncontrollably through the air will never be faced head on…if I can help it!
To read about another time I conquered a fear while traveling, check out my post about snorkeling at Buck Island Reef in St Croix USVI. I can’t swim, but managed to snorkel out in the open ocean over one of the Caribbean’s great reefs.
And if you are looking for other great activities in Kauai, then check out Viator