How I Unintentionally Created My Business By Overcoming My Fear of Flying

Travel, whether for business or pleasure, can be one of the most rewarding and beneficial experiences a person can have, regardless of career status. It can inspire creativity and build a network. It can also be terrifying. 

I became fascinated with travel at an early age. I grew up in a small, freezing cold, dreary town in Connecticut. When I learned that I could hop on a plane and be in hot, sunny, beautiful Florida in only a few hours, I was bewitched.

When I was 14-years-old, I was ready to take my dream trip -- a flight to Australia. With my flight booked and my bags nearly packed, I was told I needed to see my asthma doctor before flying as a precaution.

It did not go well. She said, "You're going all the way to Australia? You know that's a 27-hour flight. You could have major breathing problems on the plane because the cabin is pressurized."

Needless to say, when we arrived at JFK Airport for our trip I had a full-on anxiety attack. I became so afraid of flying that I couldn't take any trips for the next few years. 

I ended up going to college in California and got hired as an admissions officer at Marymount College after graduation. One of my new responsibilities was to travel to other states to promote the university. It was a struggle but I had no choice; I had to get over my fear.

I started by flying to close destinations. I found comfort in knowing that I could find alternative transportation should I need to. I also treated myself to a little souvenir each time I made a trip. 

Little by little, it got less scary and more routine. I eased into taking longer trips by keeping my goals for my career in mind. I knew I had people counting on me and I had responsibilities to uphold. 

The more I flew, the more I noticed that even though I arrived at the airport extra early, I still had to stand in a seemingly endless line to check-in. I was often seated at the back of the plane in a cramped middle seat. The food was bad and my luggage was often last to come out.

I looked over at business travelers who showed up an hour before the flight, cruised through their no-wait check-in counter, waited in a private club room, sat in comfortable seats, ate gourmet dinners, claimed their bags first, and accrued mega-miles for their travels.

I was so frustrated, envious, and determined that I decided to observe everything and pose questions to everyone -- including travel agents, flight attendants, captains, and any frequent flier I could approach.

And guess what? I learned that flying is a game and suddenly the rules of the game emerged. I learned thousands of tricks of the trade just by talking to people.

I also learned how other people cope with their own travel anxieties. By chatting to people, I felt a connection to my fellow travelers. The experience became less daunting and more like a social opportunity to learn (and grow my business). 

I wanted to share the knowledge I was acquiring so I emailed a few friends who traveled often. My first emails told them what numbers to call so they could earn double miles or points. Their responses would fuel and inspire new questions and topics of curiosity.

Each week I got more creative, adding new features like tips, videos, and helpful travel websites. My list grew and grew. I got emails from people I didn't even know, asking to be added to the distribution list. When my list reached 500 recipients, I decided to make a website. Now I have 10,000+ views per week.

I felt there were many helpful, cool websites out in cyberspace, but not one of them had everything I needed. I had so many travel bookmarks and favorites that sometimes even I couldn't find what I was looking for. So I laid them all out, organized them, and voila: The Johnny Jet Portal. 

The website was designed to point travelers to everything the web has to offer. It doesn't matter if you travel five days a week, or once every five years. This site is for everyone. It has become the "first stop" for thousands of travelers.

Those who contribute to Johnny Jet share my vision -- and I share theirs. Together, all of us get the inside scoop on how to do travel economically, comfortably, efficiently, and with plenty of style.

Here are some of the most important lessons I've learned:

1. Face your fears. After the panic attack, I never thought I'd fly again. But if I hadn't gotten that job and had to face my fear, I likely would've never become the person I am today. Life has a funny way of working out sometimes. 

2. Focus on the purpose for challenging your fears (and treat yourself for it). Your entire perspective can change. Those little souvenirs, whatever they may be, remind you of how far I've come. 

3. Chat to people. Communication will help you feel more connected and can be an excellent way to learn. Talking to people is how I learned how to travel well.  

4. Stay curious. Making observations and wondering how and why things work can drive your passions to another level. 

5. If it doesn't already exist, make it. There's a very good chance that someone else will be interested in it as well. In my case, several people were interested in the art of travel which eventually grew and grew.

6. My last and most important piece of advice is this: always be genuinely friendly to everyone. That includes ticket agents on the phone, gate agents, supervisors, porters, security, and of course, the flight attendants. Even if you don't interact much with them, I guarantee they appreciate your kindness.

Ghost villages and feral cows: island-hopping adventures in Hong Kong

Fields of green

Grass Island is known as Tap Mun in Cantonese, meaning “pagoda door” – the island’s rock formations are said to resemble the doors of a stupa or pagoda. In English, the name is rather more self-explanatory – the island features patches of verdant grass overlooking the sea, a departure from Hong Kong’s usually rugged tropical foliage. All that open grassland makes for a steady year-round breeze, a welcome relief in the sweltering months.

A large meadow on the island’s main trail is a popular camping, kite-flying and picnic spot. You’ll have to be a little careful with a picnic, though: the island’s wild cows roam freely and will help themselves to anything that looks sufficiently delicious. Make sure to look into the abandoned King Lam School: when it closed in 2003 it had a grand total of one student. The island’s main restaurant, Sun Hong Kee, dishes up a seafood feast to reward all that hard hiking.

Getting there: Take bus 96R from Diamond Hill MTR station to Wong Shek Pier. From there it’s a 20-minute ferry ride to Tap Mun. Tickets cost HK$9.50 (weekdays), HK$14 (weekends).

Built on matchsticks

Sunset over island and marina

Enjoy the quiet life: Peng Chau’s Discovery Bay Marina. Photograph: Alamy

It may not look like it these days, but the crescent-shaped Peng Chau was once an industrial centre. After decades as the centre of Hong Kong’s lime industry – an old kiln still exists on the island – it became the site of the city’s largest match factory. The Great China Match Plant employed almost the entire population of the island until it shut down in the 1970s, when the rise in popularity of the cheap cigarette lighter snuffed out the demand for matches.

After the factory closed, Peng Chau reverted to a quiet island life of fishing and farming. The island’s older inhabitants still shoot the breeze in the open square by the supermarket, while the main drag of Wing On Street is packed with traditional eateries – try Fai Che (53 Wing On Street) for excellent classic Cantonese fare. Wilderness reigns to the north and south, with well-maintained paths surrounding the island. Its highest point, Finger Hill, offers panoramic views of the massive Tsing Ma Bridge and the rather smaller Hong Kong Disneyland on Lantau Island, as well as the city’s urban confusion on a clear day. Grab a pint at the Old China Hand pub (75 Wing On Street) before catching the ferry back.

Getting there: Regular fast ferry services depart from Central’s Pier No 6 and take 30 minutes to reach Peng Chau. Tickets cost HK$29.60 (£2.60) weekdays and HK$43.50 at weekends.

Ghosts of the past

Abandoned houses in Yim Tin Tsai, Hong Kong

Abandoned houses in Yim Tin Tsai, Hong Kong. Photograph: Yoyochow23/Getty Images

Yim Tin Tsai means “Little Salt Pan” – it was originally settled back in the 1700s by the Chan clan, who made their living farming salt. Once upon a time this little island had as many as 1,000 inhabitants, but that dwindled to zero by the 1990s. The island is still home to plenty of deserted village houses, abandoned with crockery still on countertops and televisions still on cabinets.

In the past five years, however, the ghost town has been resurrected, with younger members of the Chan family breathing life into the island via conservation work, and winning Unesco plaudits.

They’ve revived Yim Tin Tsai to create a snapshot of village life in times gone by, even putting the salt pans back into production. Although plenty of spooky abandoned houses remain, the once abandoned village school is now a heritage centre, and a trail around the island leads you past the refurbished Catholic chapel, built in 1890 by missionaries. A bridge also connects Yin Tin Tsai to neighbouring Kau Sai Chau, which features the only public golf course in Hong Kong.

Getting there: Yim Tin Tsai is a 20-minute ferry ride from Sai Kung Pier. Return tickets cost HK$50 and run only on weekends and public holidays.

Climbing the dragon

Eastern Dragon Island provides a challenge for rock climbers.

Eastern Dragon Island provides a challenge for rock climbers. Photograph: TungCheung/Shutterstock

Bring your bag of chalk with you to Tung Lung Chau. The romantically named “Eastern Dragon Island” is widely thought of as the best rock-climbing spot in the territory, and the craggy “Technical Wall” is often swarming with Hong Kong’s most accomplished climbers.

The island also holds the ruins of the Tung Lung Chau Fort, built in the 1700s to defend Hong Kong from the pirates who marauded the coast. There’s a campsite with barbecue pits next to the fort, and a few stores selling essentials. The island’s main path winds up to a hilltop, with beautiful views out over the channel and the fabulously expensive Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club just beyond it. The trail also passes by the oldest, largest rock carving in Hong Kong, said to be a prehistoric rendering of a dragon — although it can be hard to discern fang from tail.

Getting there: Ferries to Tung Lung Chau run semi-frequently from Shau Kei Wan Typhoon Shelter (tickets cost HK$55) or Sam Ka Tsuen Pier on weekends and public holidays (HK$45). Journeys take about 30-40 minutes.

Blue Planet gives super-rich their new toys – submersibles

World’s ultra-rich are buying subs for up to £30m to indulge in deep ocean exploring

Triton submersibles

Doing a David Attenborough – Triton submersibles in deep waters off Lyford Cay, Bahamas.
Photograph: Nick Verola

A new toy has surfaced on the must-have list of leisure options for the world’s billionaire class: private submersibles they can use to explore the oceans – or even use as James Bond-style means of escape if their superyacht should come under attack.

The global super-rich last year bought about 30 submersibles – with price tags of up to £30m – according to manufacturer Triton. These private submarines are known as submersibles because they are not independently powered, instead relying on batteries that have to be recharged by a support vessel.

Louise Harrison, Triton’s European sales director, said in recent months the BBC’s Blue Planet series, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, had led to a “huge spike” in demand from wealthy buyers wanting to explore the deep and get up close to coral reefs, stingrays and whales.

There is a growing number of super-rich, she said, who want more than to merely luxuriate in their good fortune. “The super-rich aren’t happy to sit on the back of their yachts with a G&T anymore. The modern ones and the young ones want to go to Antarctica and the Galápagos Islands,” she said. “They want to see what’s beneath the surface as well as what’s on top. They have seen Blue Planet, and they want to get down there and see it for themselves.”

Harrison told hundreds of delegates attending the Superyacht Investor conference in London this week that submersible manufacturers had their best year in 2017, as there has been “definitive change in direction among owners to use their superyachts for new experiences”.

“The industry sold 25-30 submersibles last year,” she said. “It may not sound like a lot but they are priced at a minimum of £1m and up to £30m. It is a lot of money.”

The Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich, Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson, the Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and the US hedge fund manger Ray Dalio are among billionaires who have already splashed out on underwater vessels. Indeed, one may not be enough: Dalio said he was so “wild about ocean exploration” that he bought two submersibles, which were used in the filming of the second series of Blue Planet.

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“The underwater world is much larger than the above-water world, has more unidentified species than the above-water world, is essential to our wellbeing, is incredibly interesting and valuable, and is mostly unexplored,” said Dalio, the world’s 90th richest person with a $14.6bn (£10.3bn) fortune.

“For those reasons, and for the thrill of it, I am wild about ocean exploration. I explore the ocean personally while tagging along with great ocean scientists and explorers, and I financially support ocean exploration that goes on way beyond me – including sharing these thrills with the public through various media outlets and museum exhibits.”

Dalio’s submersibles – named Nadir and Deep Rover – are based on his $50m expedition-focused superyacht, Alucia.

The Nadir is a Triton 3300/3 model capable of diving to a depth of 1,000 metres with a pilot and two passengers on board and sells for about $3m depending on fixtures and fittings. “Yes, it’s a lot of money,” Harrison said. “But do you want to go diving in a cheap submersible?”

Harrison said the growth in submersibles had been driven by a rapid improvement in acrylic technology, which means they can be fitted with large clear bubble domes, giving a 360-degree views of the ocean. “When you’re underwater the acrylic sort of disappears and you feel like you are actually in the ocean. It’s a bit dreamlike when you’re down there,” she said. “The acrylic is the expensive bit, as the technology has only recently got so advanced that you can go that deep. It is very, very expensive stuff – you don’t want to scratch it.”

Harrison said most customers say they are interested in buying submersibles for exploration, but some have also inquired about using them as “panic rooms or escape vessels”.

The submersible ‘Nadir’ used by Blue Planet II team to film the Deep episode. It was one of many subs used to film the series

The submersible ‘Nadir’ used by Blue Planet II team to film the Deep episode. It was one of many subs used to film the series. Photograph: Luis Lamar

Triton’s biggest competitor, Holland’s U-Boat Worx, has designed an ultra-lightweight submersible model specifically for superyachts. Its Super Yacht Sub Three is piloted from the rear so the passengers can get the best view of the ocean from the front of the bubble dome. The company said: “This submarine is aimed at the yacht market ... [it] delivers both performance and luxury.”

Triton, which is based in Florida, has partnered with British luxury car group Aston Martin to work on a new $4m three-man submersible codenamed Project Neptune. The subs, which are expected to hit the market later this year, will dive to 1,650ft and have a top speed of 3.5 miles an hour.

Marek Reichman, Aston Martin’s chief creative officer, said the company had decided to expand into submersibles following interest expressed by its richest customers. “Those superyacht people, what they want to experience is changing,” he said. “It’s no longer about just having a launch or having your tender. It’s about having some other way of entertaining your guests.”

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