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How Travel Helped Me Conquer My Fear Of Heights

fear of heights
Bungy jumping. Photo courtesy of Los viajes del Cangrejo via flickr. (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Have you ever looked down from a high perch and felt your stomach fill with dread, your arm hairs prick up and your palms drip with perspiration?

I used to be like this, too. Heck, sometimes I’d get dizzy just looking down while standing (I’m 5’2”, by the way).

It was travel that helped me ultimately conquer my fear of heights, and even learn to love them.

While nowadays I’m constantly hot air ballooning, sky diving and canyoning, I can still remember my first aerial experience: bungy jumping at AJ Hackett Tower in Cairns, Australia. The drop was a rapid 50 meters (164 feet) that had you do in head first into a pool, just barely missing the water. Needless to say, I was extremely thankful there was a bar at the base of the jump.

Once I’d done enough shots to feel that delicious feeling of fearlessness that comes with being intoxicated, I made my way up to do the jump. I felt confident as I patiently waited in line, one person after another taking the daring plunge.

That is, until there was only four people left in front of me...and I completely lost my sh*t!

“Breath, Jessie, breath!” my friend, Kait, commanded. It was to no avail. I’d somehow forgotten how to do this simple task that was supposed to be instinctual. I was going to hyperventilate and die before I even had the chance to jump.

Kait rubbed my shoulders and promised me everything would be okay (also bribing me with victory cocktails at the bottom). In my slightly drunken state, this sounded very persuasive.

I reached the tipping point when I saw the girl in front of me have a complete nervous breakdown. She got all of her gear on, then proceeded to cry and tremble, eventually undoing her ropes and walking down to the tower base, on foot, head down in disappointment.

I did NOT want to be that girl. How dis-satisfying would it be if I came all the way to Cairns and paid to have this thrilling experience, only to back out at the end (no refunds, either). Not to mention all my friends seemed to be jumping no problem, their shrieks of joy heard from miles away.

I was doing this.

I allowed the staff — who looked like they knew what they were doing…hopefully — to put my legs in the stirrups and harness me in. They pulled my straps to tighten the bungy suit and unhooked my carabiner that held me to the platform.

It was jump time. Actually, in this case, dive time.

Immediately all alcoholic effects wore off, as the sheer adrenaline of diving from higher than any human should completely took over my body. I shrieked, screamed and sputtered…until it was over, and I found myself swimming from my feet, laughing manically.

“I want to do it again!” I screamed.

And that’s how my love of aerial thrills started. Once I did it that first time, it became easier to do the second, and third and 30th. Just taking that one small (very big!) step helped shift my mindset a full 180-degrees, reaching a point where I actually enjoy heights and aerial adventure travel activities.

What fears has travel helped you face?

About Jessie Festa

Jessie Festa is an New York-based travel content creator who is passionate about empowering her audience to experience new places and live a life of adventure. She is the founder of the solo female travel blog, Jessie on a Journey, and is editor-in-chief of Epicure & Culture, an online conscious tourism magazine. Along with writing, Jessie is a professional photographer and is the owner of NYC Photo Journeys, which offers New York photo tours, photo shoots, and wedding photography. Her work has appeared in publications like USA Today, CNN, Business Insider, Thrillist, and WestJet Magazine.

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  1. John Kane on at 12:06 am

    Hi,Jess) You just reminded me about my first(and the last) jump. It was extremely cool. I was 17 and I jumped from bridge in Kamenets-Podol`skiy(Ukraine). It was the best present for birthday, that I’ve ever had.

    • jess2716 on at 2:45 pm

      @John: I have to look into this. Sounds intense and awesome 🙂

  2. Sky on at 2:12 pm

    I’m terrified of heights as well and I’m sure travel will force my to face them at some point but I can’t imagine ever jumping from that high…

    • jess2716 on at 2:44 pm

      @Sky: After reading all your writing about conquering fears I think you can do it! 🙂

  3. Stef on at 6:57 pm

    A skydive a couple of years ago helped me getting over my fear of heights. I think I’m still not ready for a bungee jump but who knows what the future brings. Yesterday I did a cavern dive in Tulum, Mexico, which definitely got me out of my comfort zone. I was pretty scared and got a bit claustrophobic down there but after the first dive a second followed which was much better. I could overcome my fear and enjoy the dive and the cenote from below.

    • jess2716 on at 2:56 am

      @Stef: Heights I’m fine with now. Small spaces…eeek. Maybe I need to do the cavern dive to face that fear. Although diving in itself makes me a bit nervous, so maybe conquer that one first 🙂

  4. Lindsey Baker-Ricciardelli on at 9:46 pm

    Hi Jessica,
    I never thought I was afraid of heights until I went up on a ultra-light in San Felipe, Mexico! The feeling of nothing around you other than a shoulder belt was pretty scary! But somehow the views of the desert, mountains, and water far outweighed the fear. I’ve gone up twice since then. I guess the lesson I learned is never let fear keep me from doing something amazing!

    • jess2716 on at 9:54 pm

      @Lindsey: It’s so true. See. You faced your fear and found something you loved enough to do twice! 🙂

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