The pre-flight butterflies in my stomach started days beforehand. I’d wake up in my Auckland apartment paralysed by the dread in my stomach.
Laying there, staring at the ceiling, with the hum of the city below me, it wasn’t fear of flying that was stopping me from completing the seemingly endless list of things I needed to do before leaving New Zealand.
Nope, I’m kind of ok with the whole ‘flying’ part of the flying experience.
It was the fear that my flight home to England would be a repeat of my last long-haul flight where I wound up laying at the bottom of the first class steps, vomiting into numerous paper bags and eventually having to spend a night recovering in Singapore airport after being denied access to the plane.
You know, just your average Auckland to Melbourne, Melbourne to Singapore, Singapore to London kinda flight.
See I’m one of those people that never grew out of getting travel sick. I was the kid who made their parents pull over on the hard shoulder so I could chuck up breakfast. I’m pretty sure that the only reason I don’t get so car-sick these days is because nine times out of ten I’m the one doing the driving.
Of course, being prone to travel-sickness is especially scary on a long-haul flight because unlike on a boat or a bus where I’m likely to be on for an hour or two, I’m trapped inside a pressurised cabin amongst several hundred other people with many hours of travel stretching out in front of me.
And vomming in front of several hundred other people who can quite clearly hear you emptying today’s breakfast, yesterday’s breakfast and everything in between into an almost wafer-thin paper bag is something I didn’t fancy doing again in a hurry.
Anyway, my New Zealand visa got declined and I had to leave the country. Pronto. And the only feasible way to get from Auckland to London without spending months on a cargo ship with only a few thousand laptops to keep me company (or sweaters….or hand painted plates with pictures of the Queen on them….or whatever it is they ship in those giant containers..) was to face my travel-sickness fears head on and jump on a plane.
Normally when people discuss facing their fears they tell you they’re a bit nervous and then laugh and say it’s all going to be one big adventure and you only live once and won’t it make a fabulous story when it’s all over and done with?
This wasn’t me. Apart from the nervous part. I was aallll over the nervous part like a rash.
Luckily it was my birthday the day before my flight and what better way to calm a nervous flyer than have your flatmate surprise you with entry to Auckland airport’s Emperor Lounge which came complete with free buffet, free wifi and best of all: no screaming children running amok.
My three favourite things.
Still my flight loomed ever closer and that anxious feeling in my stomach wasn’t going anywhere.
At this point you’re probably wondering why I don’t do what everyone else does when they suffer from travel-sickness and just take some medication specifically designed for exactly this type of ailment and just get on with it.
And I would, I have, except they never work for me. In fact, far from preventing me from feeling queasy they actually worsen my anxiety, cause my legs to shake uncontrollably, give me cold sweats and generally make me feel like my head’s about to fall off.
Which if you think about it is almost as worse as actually spending an entire twelve and a half hour flight being sick.
Either way, it was because of all this that I found myself ducking into a Health Food store (I know, I don’t even know who I am anymore!) and purchasing five (yes, five) packets of Gin Gins.
I know what you’re thinking; Gin Gins? Sounds like some kind of God awful alco-pop designed to get college kids off the vodka and onto the Gordon’s.
Unfortunately it’s nothing that exciting. Not that alco-pops still excite me or anything. I’m not twelve.
Nope they’re actually just really chewy sweets made out of ginger. And ginger is the oldest remedy in the book when it comes to settling your stomach and fighting nausea, as well as having numerous other benefits too.
So when I boarded my Air New Zealand flight on 4th July with twelve and a half hours of travel ahead of me before landing in Los Angeles and a further nine and half hour flight to London after that, I popped a Gin Gins sweet in my mouth and hoped that I’d finally found something that was going to make flying more bearable.
As the plane took off I listened to the music I’d made into a special playlist just days beforehand and let the uplifting songs and up-beat rhythms fill me with positivity as we climbed into the dark sky above Auckland.
I sat back, I breathed, I read this difficult book I’ve been trying to read for ages and lost myself somewhat in it’s complicated narrative.
I concentrated on my breathing, knowing how dangerous it is to let anxiety grip you and hold on; that once it’s got you it’s almost impossible to see anything except danger and sickness and panic attacks.
I chewed another sweet and when dinner got served and they asked me what drink I wanted I went for a ginger ale, you know, just to keep all my self-medication on the same page.
And the flight couldn’t have been more different from the last.
Okay I was hot, but I wasn’t sweating like a crazy person.
I was nervous in case I did start to feel nauseous but not to the point of all-consuming anxiety.
When turbulence hit and the cabin rocked back and forth I took a deep breath and thought to myself, it’s okay it’ll be over soon.
When the turbulence got a bit worse I popped another Gin Gin.
I was halfway through The Croads when I realised that I was fine. I was calm. I was even (dare I say it) relaxed.
And when I landed in LAX and had to retrieve my luggage, check it back in, go through immigration and then go through security again I was more than fine. I was excited to be in LA, even though I was only in the airport.
I basically wanted to turn around and announce to everyone in the immediate vicinity: I got through a flight without being travel-sick!!
To which I’m sure everyone would have instantly erupted into rounds of applause. Obviously.
When I was three hours into my nine and a half hour journey to London I realised I had a different problem at hand: sleep. Or lack thereof.
Apart from an hour between Auckland and LA I hadn’t slept at all and was starting to get restless and cranky.
It probably didn’t help that the French girl sitting by the window had decided to use the spare seat between us as her own personal sleeping space and had jabbed me in my ribs with her feet on more than one occasion.
I walked up and down the aisles. I watched the flight path blinking away at me on the television screen. I ate a cookie. Had a cup of tea. Popped another Gin Gin. Hung around near that teeny tiny window in the side door and peered out towards the nothingness outside.
Jesus. Plane travel is booooring when you’re not spending every waking moment puking up everything except your large intestine.
Mostly, above all else, I was filled with pure relief to feel so relaxed on a long-haul journey when so many of my thoughts leading up to this day were filled with nerves.
I remember when I landed in Sydney in June 2010. It was the first flight I’d ever taken. I’d slept for most of it, exhausted from nerves and anticipation.
When I took my first steps out of the airport, with the sky still pink and the air filled with early morning chill, I was so happy to have made it through my first flight unharmed that I turned to Mark and said;
“I can go anywhere now.”
And it sounds ridiculous but knowing I can now safety get on a plane or a boat or an overnight bus, I’m starting to feel that freedom all over again.