Flying for some can be a daunting thing and for others, including me, a truly terrifying one. I have flown all my life, both short and long haul, and now currently take between 20 and 30 flights a year, yet the experience is not getting any easier. Some people love flying and many can’t understand my fear of it, but it’s like any other phobia – clowns, spiders, heights, you simply cannot explain why you don’t like it, well apart from the idea of all the engines cutting out and you hurtling helplessly to the ground.
I need constant reassurance and reminders that ‘you’re more likely to die in a car crash on the way to the airport than actually on the plane’ throughout the ordeal. It’s probably the only aspect of my life that I am needy in; normally I channel my inner Beyoncé and unleash my strong, independent woman in most situations. Because of my phobia, up until last week, I had never taken a flight on my own. I’m 34 (but sssh don’t tell everyone!) and I was actually embarrassed by it. All my friends and family, especially Mr. ESLT who upped and left England at 17 and flew to Panama to join the Merchant Navy, couldn’t believe that even though I have travelled extensively my whole life, I had never taken a solo journey.
Therefore, when the invitation to visit Ghent from Visit Flanders landed in the inbox I had to think long and hard about accepting it as there was only one space on the trip and it would mean taking my first ever solo flight. After the initial ‘you’re going to die’ feelings, I shook them off and gratefully accepted the invitation. As the time nearer of course the fear and borderline panic set in, but I DID IT. I owned it like a boss and if I’m honest I actually quite enjoyed it and think it has helped me grow as a person. It did make me realise, however, that I am quite over-reliant on my travel companion, usually Mr. ESLT and here are 5 lessons that I learned that I need to work on for WHEN I take my next solo flight.
1. Pack well in advance
I am terrible at packing; I usually leave it until the dying seconds and then just hope for the best that I have everything I need. I always like to think that I could survive with the basics – pants, purse, and passport but in reality, I like a few home comforts when I travel – my own hairdryer, makeup and teabags, yes teabags! Even though I did pack just in time for my trip, next time I MUST pack well in advance. When there are two of you travelling, only one of you needs to take toothpaste, for example, and I always assume Mr. ESLT has packed it, therefore I don’t bother. Because of this, it meant a mad dash to Boots at Manchester airport.
Also, I normally just grab both passports and shove them in my handbag, however as I only needed my own I had to double-check about a million times that I had picked mine up as I did not want to get to the airport to be turned away or worse still make it to my destination before realising it wasn’t mine, like that guy who got to Germany on his girlfriend’s passport and couldn’t get back. Luckily, a couple of days before my flight I had received a beautiful leather passport cover from Darkstar, which meant identifying mine was easy.
2. Charge everything
I am rubbish when it comes to charging things at the best of times; even now I am typing this without my iWatch charged up and switched on and my MacBook at only 14% because I forgot to charge them last night. Mr. ESLT goes crazy at me, yet still, I forget. So, when we take a trip I always leave charging all the tech we travel with to him, especially the camera batteries and Bluetooth speaker because if he didn’t do it, it probably wouldn’t get done, which is almost what happened last week. Yep, I was almost a travel blogger without a camera on a press trip. I don’t think that would have gone down well.
Therefore, I ensured that I charged everything – phone, phone battery case, camera battery, laptop, watch, and Bluetooth speaker overnight before, although it still did need a reminder from Mr. ESLT for me to do it. So when I arrived in Ghent, everything was ready to go, I simply dropped my bag off in my room and hit the streets. I also realised that I had to pack all of the charging cables, which again is something I always leave Mr. ESLT to do. Who knew they take up so much room in your case?!
3. Give yourself plenty of time
I planned my journey in advance (go me!), yep, I google mapped it. It told me that from my front door to the airport terminal, where I was to leave the car at the meet and greet drop off zone, would take 2 hours exactly. My flight was due to take off at 10.50am, I wanted to be at the airport the recommended 2 hours prior to ensure I cleared security and had time to have a wander around the shops. Therefore, I wanted to leave my house at 6.50am at the very latest. Of course, that didn’t go to plan and by the time I actually did leave the house, it was 7.00am – argh!
It wasn’t until I got in the car that I realised that my car was running on fumes, therefore I needed to make a pit stop at the petrol station which added 5 unplanned minutes onto my journey. Halfway through my journey, the heaven’s opened which slowed the traffic down on the motorway and then I hit rush hour in Manchester which brought me to a crawl – great. I finally arrived at the airport at 9.15am, 25 minutes after I had planned too. I really should have set off earlier than I did as if there had been an accident or the traffic had been worse, there was the possibility I would have missed my flight.
4. Don’t panic!
Easier said than done, right? So following a lack of fuel, torrential rain and getting across one of the busiest cities in the UK at rush hour and keeping my cool my airport experience quickly led me to lose my mind! Firstly, the meet and greet people had no record of my booking. Therefore I had to run through all my details again over the phone, whilst keeping an eye on the sat nav and trying to find the drop off zone, if I’d had someone with me then at least they could have done the talking bit whilst I concentrated on not getting lost or crashing the car.
The next set back came at security. Now, I pride myself on being an expert when it comes to getting through security and I often mock the people whose bags have to be searched and even guffaw out loud as the security dude pulls out full-sized bottles of shampoo. Well, karma got me because now it was my turn to have my bag searched. The minutes ticked on and I swear the security staff were going slow to prove a point on purpose. Finally and leaving me with only 20 before boarding it was my turn. I assumed it was a random search but oh no, lurking in the back of my handbag was a Charlotte Tilbury lipstick, not today Charlotte, not today!
5. Keep a few quid in your pocket
Manoeuvring through the World Duty-Free shop without being distracted was tough and a flying visit to the Estee Lauder was counter was a necessity, plus it was payday and a little treat was in order. Next up was WH Smith for magazines and snacks, I’ve got to have snacks when I fly. Well, what a palava, trying to get myself and my wheeled cabin bag through the tiny shop, grabbing stuff as I went and then to the till. As my purse was in my cabin bag I then had to miss about unlocking it, getting my purse out, getting my money out, putting my change away, closing my purse, putting it back in my cabin bag and relocking it.
I then had to repeat the rigmarole as I grabbed the forgotten toothpaste and a meal deal from boots. I must have been annoying other people as I was certainly annoying myself. You’d have thought I would have learned my lesson and shoved a tenner in my back pocket in case I wanted anything else during my journey, but I didn’t. Therefore, when the booze trolley came down the aisle on the plane, I couldn’t indulge in a little bottle of Sauvignon blanc without disrupting everyone on my row, I had the window seat and then making the steward wait whilst I unpacked my case in a bid to find my purse, so I didn’t bother.
Needless to say, I did it, and I must admit I was extremely chuffed with myself. To be honest I think the pressure of ensuring I got to where I needed to be with the right documents and passport coupled with the lack of time made me actually just get on with the flight and didn’t give me the opportunity to sit and work myself up about it – I just got on and did it. Yes, the flight was only 1 hour, it’s not like I was flying halfway across the world but what a great introductory flight for my first solo trip. I’m glad I did it but don’t want to make it a habit, but I’ll be more than willing to do it again and I will certainly put the lessons I have learned into practice next time.
How do you feel about flying solo? Are you a fan or do you prefer travelling with a companion?