Faith, friendship and curses as seven celebrity pilgrims trek to Santiago

There were no road-to-Damascus experiences and very little piety. Instead, when seven people in the public eye walked the Camino de Santiago, the ancient pilgrimage route across northern Spain, there were many arguments and much snoring and swearing.

The group – a priest, an atheist and assorted believers and non-believers – discussed the values shaping their lives while retracing the steps of medieval peregrinos. Along the way, they forged friendships and encountered some of the hundreds of thousands of people who walk the Camino each year, part of a resurgence in pilgrimages.

Pilgrimage: The Road to Santiago, which starts on BBC Two on Friday, followed the modern-day pilgrims along part of the 500-mile route from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela, almost at the tip of Galicia in Spain. The group was made up of Kate Bottley, Anglican vicar and Gogglebox star; actor Neil Morrissey; M People singer Heather Small; comedian Ed Byrne; performer Debbie McGee; journalist Raphael Rowe, who spent 12 years in prison for a crime he did not commit; and TV presenter JJ Chalmers, who survived a bomb blast serving as a Royal Marine in Afghanistan.

As they walked, they questioned their own and each other’s beliefs. “It was eye-opening,” said Rowe, a non-believer who described himself as an “ignorantist”. “It made me think differently about myself, about other people, about religion and faith. I learnt more about religion [on the camino] than I ever have in my life.”

His fear that he might “catch religion” along the way proved unfounded, he said. However, by the end of the journey his “trust in people’s honesty and motivations” had been restored.

Small said the experience strengthened her faith, despite an uncomfortable moment when the group stopped at a monastery and the singer was grilled unsympathetically.

“Along the way you meet people who are genuinely interested in who you are. But then we went into the monastery, and the man there was not interested in me per se – what he saw was my colour, only my colour,” she said. “When you’re being treated as ‘other’, you always know.”

Heather Small



Heather Small: ‘When you are being treated as “other”, you always know.’ Photograph: Toby Lloyd/BBC/CTVC

Small walked out of the monastery, followed by the rest of the group. Their appalled reaction to the incident “showed me we’d really made a bond”, she said.

Bottley had expected the camino to be a spiritual experience but found it a physical challenge. “I hated it with a passion,” she said. The group carried their own gear and slept in basic pilgrims’ hostels, sometimes in dormitory bunk beds. They walked in extreme heat and driving rain.

“It was the hardest thing physically I have ever done, and I’ve given birth twice. The physical act of putting one foot in front of the other, day in, day out,” said Bottley. She had never sworn so much, she added.

The vicar also felt under pressure to defend and explain her faith. “The religious debate was exhausting. I felt I came out to bat a lot. There were a couple of moments when I feared my theological rigour wasn’t enough to carry the debate.”

Pilgrimage was popular in medieval times, when bands of travellers criss-crossed Europe in search of spiritual enlightenment. For many, it was a holiday as well as a religious duty, and a chance to meet new people and hear their stories. The Canterbury Tales, the epic yarn written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the late 14th century, described a group of 30 pilgrims walking from London to Thomas Becket’s shrine in Canterbury cathedral, with each telling the others a story along the way.

spain spain

But in 1538 the English pilgrimage movement ended. Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell moved against the pre-Reformation church, destroying monasteries, abolishing saints’ days, banning relics and smashing Becket’s shrine. Pilgrimages disappeared for more than 300 years.

Now the camino has spearheaded a pilgrimage revival. In 1984 just over 400 people completed the final section of the camino, a 62-mile stretch which entitles pilgrims to a compostela, a certificate written in Latin and issued by the cathedral of St James in Santiago. By 2016 the number had topped 278,000, including 6,000 from the UK.

New pilgrimage routes have opened across the UK. The Old Way, a medieval 220-mile route from Southampton to Canterbury, is being revived by the British Pilgrimage Trust. The 92-mile Two Saints Way from Chester to Lichfield aims to “set the modern pilgrim on a contemporary quest for ancient wisdom”.

In Scotland, a number of pilgrim trails have been developed in response to renewed interest, including a route in honour of St Magnus in Orkney and the 72-mile Forth to Farne Way, a stunning coastal walk from North Berwick to Lindisfarne.

Many walking these ancient ways are religious; but many more describe themselves as spiritual. A surprising number seek only to escape the pressures of 21st-century life with a simple existence of walking, eating and sleeping.

All members of the group in The Road to Santiago said they were enriched by the experience, in particular the strength of the bond created between them. They have stayed in contact since completing the camino.

“Did anyone have a road-to-Damascus experience? “No,” said Bottley. “But the camino has a way of showing the best of yourself – and the worst of yourself.”

Pilgrimage: The Road to Santiago begins on BBC Two on Friday 16 March, 9pm

Pedro Almodóvar’s Madrid: top 10 film locations to visit

The city of Madrid is no less essential to the films of Pedro Almodóvar than kinky sex, crimes of passion and gasp-inducing plot twists. Though born out in Castilla-La Mancha – Don Quixote country – Almodóvar made his punkish early movies here in the capital, where the death of General Franco gave rise to a buckwild creative scene.

Later, soberer melodramas like the recent Julieta (2016) have shown his adoptive hometown in a more nostalgic, melancholy light. Now one of the most widely admired auteurs in world cinema, the director has become a Spanish brand, says Sacha Azcona, while his Madrid stands as the centre of the “Almodóvarian universe”.

Azcona is the author of a new travel guide, El Madrid de Almodóvar, that maps out walking routes around locations used in the director’s films. “But I wanted to go a step further,” he says. “Once you see where a scene was shot, where do you go next?”

So, Azconaalso flags up surrounding landmarks, adds notes on local history, and recommends spots to eat and drink nearby. For now, the book is only available in Spanish, though he hopes an English translation will follow soon. In the meantime, we used his guide to visit 10 vital locations in Almodóvar’s Madrid.

Cuartel de Conde-Duque

Carmen Maura in Law of Desire.



Carmen Maura in Law of Desire. Photograph: Alamy

Carmen Maura – first among the muses known in Spain as “Almodóvar’s women” – plays a transexual actress who stops in the street on a hot summer night and demands of a sanitation worker: “Hose me down! Don’t be shy!” That scene from Law Of Desire (1987) was shot against the grand portico of Conde-Duque Cultural Centre, a hub of galleries and performance spaces in the former barracks of the Royal Guard. Azcona particularly recommends the autumn jazz festival (2018 dates to be confirmed).
Calle Conde Duque 11, condeduquemadrid.es

Plaza de Chueca

Plaza Chueca.



Plaza de Chueca features in Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! Photograph: Getty Images

Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990) – Almodóvar’s first domestic megahit – captured the grubbiness of the Chueca district in that era. A young Antonio Banderas – playing the lovesick kidnapper of a former porn star – struts across the main square wearing a goofy false moustache, and robs pills from a local drug dealer. There is no such shady behaviour these days – the plaza has been thoroughly scrubbed up to form the core of Madrid’s hyper-stylish gay quarter. One dusty holdover from the past is Taberna de Ángel Sierra (C/Gravina 11), the 100-year-old bodega where Almodóvar regulars Marisa Paredes and Kiti Mánver chat over a beer in his mid-period movie The Flower of My Secret (1995). Azcona also notes that the nearby Panta Rhei (C/Hernán Cortés 7) is “by far Madrid’s best art and design bookstore”.

Restaurante Viridiana

Viridiana is Almodóvar’s favourite Madrid restaurant.



Viridiana is Almodóvar’s favourite Madrid restaurant.

Named after the 1961 film by one of Almodóvar’s idols, Luis Buñuel, this Madrid institution has been his favourite place to eat for more than 40 years. Owner Abraham García is as famous in this city as the director himself, and Almodóvar gave him a cameo in The Flower Of My Secret as a waiter caught up in a student protest. García’s cooking tends toward classic Castilian offal dishes, but Azcona always goes for the creamy rice with boar shoulder, and the orange blossom flan. Azcona also flags up the Galician-style home cooking of Taberna Maceiras (C/Huertas 66, tabernamaceira.es) a few blocks away, where, for a fraction of Garcia’s prices (shared platters of rice €7pp), you can load up on brothy rice, tetilla cheese croquettes and clams in sweet white albariño wine.
Calle de Juan de Mena 14, restauranteviridiana.com

Museo Chicote bar

Museo Chicote, Gran Via, Madrid



The Chicote bar featured in Broken Embraces. Photograph: Alamy

This 1930s-vintage art deco lounge is famous for its past patrons – Frank Sinatra, Sophia Loren and Madrid bar-hopper Ernest Hemingway (who inspired the papa doble, a house cocktail of rum and grapefruit). Almodóvar fans will also know the bar from Broken Embraces (2009), and the scene where Blanca Portillo gulps down a large gin before revealing dark secrets to blind film-maker Lluís Homar and their love child Tamar Novas.
Cocktails €10–€14, Calle Gran Vía 12, grupomercadodelareina.com

Tablao Villa Rosa

Villa Rosa, Madrid, Spain



Flamenco at Villa Rosa

Almodóvar shot a key scene from High Heels (1991) in this century-old wine bar: Panamanian pop idol Miguel Bosé plays a Madrid judge-turned-drag queen named Lethal, belting out the torch song Un año de amor. Today you’ll see flamenco on the stage, while sharing paella, garlic prawns and salted green peppers. It’s an elegant tablao with Andalucian flourishes all over the tiles, windows and woodwork.
Show and drink €35, show and set menu €65, Plaza de Santa Ana 15, tablaoflamencovillarosa.com

Circulo de Bellas Artes

The rooftop bar at Circulo de Bellas Artes.



The rooftop bar at Circulo de Bellas Artes. Photograph: Alamy

Almodóvar’s masterpiece All About My Mother (1999) was mostly filmed in Barcelona, but hinges on a tragedy shot around this emblematic Madrid building – the arts centre where Cecilia Roth’s teenage son is run over and killed after a performance of A Streetcar Named Desire. The interior has elegant rooms for plays, screenings and exhibitions but Azcona sends visitors straight up to the Azotea rooftop bar for sunset drinks and a “360 degree view of Madrid.”
Calle Alcalá 42, circulobellasartes.com

Hall of Realms

Penelope Cruz in Live Flesh



Penelope Cruz in Live Flesh. Photograph: Alamy

In the early scenes of Live Flesh (1997), poor Penelope Cruz goes into labour on the chaotic night of 1970’s Francoist crackdown, and gives birth on a bus right outside the Salón de Reinos, or Hall of Realms. An ostentatious 17th-century banquet venue built for King Philip IV, it has lately been annexed to the neighbouring Prado Museum. Norman Foster is now restoring the salon to glory as part of that world-renowned art gallery, due to reopen next year.
museodelprado.es

Teatro Lara

Teatro Lara Malasana District



Teatro Lara was a location in Labyrinth of Passion. Photograph: Alamy

Almodovar’s second movie, Labyrinth of Passion (1982), was a loopy love story about a nymphomaniac pop star (Cecilia Roth) and the gay son of a Middle Eastern emperor (Imanol Arias). Filming in the Malasaña district at the height of La Movida – the localised eruption of sex, drugs and art that followed decades of Franconian repression – he shot a scene inside this velvety 19th-century performance space. Described by Azcona as “a chocolate box”, the venue now hosts intimate indie gigs and fringe theatre shows.
Calle Corredera Baja of San Pablo 15, teatrolara.com

Our Lady of Almudena Cemetery

A sculpture angel in Our Lady of Almudena CemeteryMadrid city, Spain



Photograph: Alamy

Even the lightest Almodóvar comedies tend to sneak in a murder or suicide. The vitality of his films has something to do with mortality. No fewer than three of them – High Heels, Kika and Live Flesh – pay a visit to Cementerio de Nuestra Señora de la Almudena, the sprawling necropolis on the outskirts of Madrid, where more than five million corpses outnumber the living population of the city. It’s free to enter, and you can see why the director is so drawn to the gloomy beauty of the place.

Bar Cock

A scene from Broken Embraces, in Bar Cock



A scene from Broken Embraces shot in Bar Cock. Photograph: Alamy

Also seen in Broken Embraces, this splendidly named pub-club is where Tamar Novas works as a DJ in that movie. Just around the corner from its sister bar, Chicote, it’s a stately panelled drawing room that gets pretty rowdy after midnight, when even the sharp, classy veteran bartenders can be seen dancing to OMD. Azcona says he prefers to drink at Toni2 (C/del Almte 9)after hours, a wonderful nearby piano bar where trendies and oldies crowd around for pre-dawn singalongs.
Calle Reina 16, on Facebook

HOW TO DO IT
Where to stay

Hotel Indigo



Hotel Indigo

Hotel Indigo Madrid (doubles from €165) is very Almodóvar in its colour schemes, with super-bright decor, murals and photography. It’s on the Gran Via close to the bars mentioned, and to Almodóvar’s former stomping ground of Malasana and Chueca.

Axel Hotel



Axel Hotel, Madrid, Spain

The very funky Axel Hotel (doubles from €89) is a gay-friendly, hyper-colourful four-star with neon signage in the rooms and a rooftop pool and bar. It’s easy to imagine one of Almodóvar’s characters staying or drinking here.

Arthouse cinema and avenue of stars

Cine Dore (Filmoteca Espana) is a classic art nouveau arthouse cinema that often shows Almodovar movies in rep. It features in a few of his movies too – notably Talk To Her. Almodóvar actor Javier Cámera used to work here as an usher.

Madrid has its own Hollywood-style “avenue of stars”, along Calle de Martín de los Heros, between the Renoir arthouse cinema and the Ocho Y Media film bookshop and cafe. Almodóvar and most of his regular players have stars on the street.

Getting there

Many airlines fly from the UK. Among them are Ryanair (Birmingham, Newcastle, Stansted, Manchester, Glasgow); easyJet (Bristol, Luton, Gatwick, Liverpool, Edinburgh); and Norwegian (Gatwick).

How to Get Rewarded for Your Business Travel

Earning rewards, points, and incentives for travels is an easy way to take advantage of something that you’re already doing for your career. Whether you’re a business owner traveling with your team, entrepreneur, or need a holiday, traveling can be an opportunity to build points and miles to earn future bonuses and perks. But I’ve learned that not all rewards programs are created equally.

There are programs for different aspects of travel. Whether by train, plane, or automobile, there are ways to save. While a number of programs are now being linked to credit cards, there are still incentives for you if you don’t have a specific card. Here are some of the best ways to earn while you work.

1. Car rental rewards

Enterprise and Hertz both have Plus Rewards programs that will get you perks such as free rentals and no blackout dates. Points won’t expire either, as long as you remain an active member. Hertz also allows you to use your points for miles with their partner programs.

Vehicle related rewards aren’t limited to rentals. For instance, if you use certain parking apps, such as The Parking Spot, you can earn rewards such as free parking for being a loyal user. Additionally, if you’re a credit card holder, your parking purchase may qualify for extra points.     

2. Rewards for flights

Frequent flyer miles are probably the most popular rewards program that comes to mind when thinking of flight rewards. However, many of those miles are earned through credit purchases. Depending on your card’s terms and conditions, you may be able to accumulate points for seat upgrades, faster check-in times, and luggage allowances simply through spending.

It should be noted that airports now also offer rewards for using their facilities. London Heathrow airport, for instance, allows you to earn points for every pound you spend that can be used for discounts on trains and transportation. Airports in the USA are catching on by offering rewards for parking and dining. Apps like Thanks Again let you earn points to be used for miles, TSA Pre-check, and even cashback.

3. Lodging rewards

The Marriott Rewards, World of Hyatt, and Hilton Honors all continue to be some of the top programs due to their value, availability, and benefits. They also have brand and name recognition behind them, allowing them to team up with other services to get you better perks. Hotel programs such as GHA Discovery Rewards, offer location based experiences such as complimentary brewery tours and wine tastings on your next visit.   

But it’s not just hotels involved in loyalty programs. Airbnb recently announced a program, Superguest, for highly rated travelers that will be available later this year. They also reward hosts for their excellent ratings.

Many smaller inns also offer some type of loyalty program. I like to stay at a lovely B&B when I’m in northern Scotland. My loyalty has earned me free breakfast, my choice of room with a fireplace, and new friends.   

4. Train rewards

Trains are wonderful ways to travel. There is often less stress, the stations are centrally located, and there isn’t as much of a limit on luggage as there is on a flight. They are often business friendly, with WiFi, outlets, and personal desks available. Plus, you can enjoy a scenic view of the region.

Amtrak, has a rewards program that earns you points each time you use their services. You get 500 points for signing up and booking travel within 90 days. If you get 800 points, you’ll earn free travel and discounts on partner programs. Personally, I love train travel, particularly around Europe.

5. Booking sites

Sites like booking.com and expedia.com offer discounts and even free stays once you’ve used their site a number of times. These sites are great because you can get great deals while still keeping your itinerary on track. You can stay at that amazing villa or those modern apartments in the heart of Barcelona and still get rewarded.

There are many options when choosing how to travel, therefore rewards programs are great ways for companies to maintain loyalty to their services. Choose what best fits your needs overall and then plan to use it frequently or as often as possible. And if you aren’t sure about their loyalty program, ask.

How to Get Rewarded for Your Business Travel

Earning rewards, points, and incentives for travels is an easy way to take advantage of something that you’re already doing for your career. Whether you’re a business owner traveling with your team, entrepreneur, or need a holiday, traveling can be an opportunity to build points and miles to earn future bonuses and perks. But I’ve learned that not all rewards programs are created equally.

There are programs for different aspects of travel. Whether by train, plane, or automobile, there are ways to save. While a number of programs are now being linked to credit cards, there are still incentives for you if you don’t have a specific card. Here are some of the best ways to earn while you work.

1. Car rental rewards

Enterprise and Hertz both have Plus Rewards programs that will get you perks such as free rentals and no blackout dates. Points won’t expire either, as long as you remain an active member. Hertz also allows you to use your points for miles with their partner programs.

Vehicle related rewards aren’t limited to rentals. For instance, if you use certain parking apps, such as The Parking Spot, you can earn rewards such as free parking for being a loyal user. Additionally, if you’re a credit card holder, your parking purchase may qualify for extra points.     

2. Rewards for flights

Frequent flyer miles are probably the most popular rewards program that comes to mind when thinking of flight rewards. However, many of those miles are earned through credit purchases. Depending on your card’s terms and conditions, you may be able to accumulate points for seat upgrades, faster check-in times, and luggage allowances simply through spending.

It should be noted that airports now also offer rewards for using their facilities. London Heathrow airport, for instance, allows you to earn points for every pound you spend that can be used for discounts on trains and transportation. Airports in the USA are catching on by offering rewards for parking and dining. Apps like Thanks Again let you earn points to be used for miles, TSA Pre-check, and even cashback.

3. Lodging rewards

The Marriott Rewards, World of Hyatt, and Hilton Honors all continue to be some of the top programs due to their value, availability, and benefits. They also have brand and name recognition behind them, allowing them to team up with other services to get you better perks. Hotel programs such as GHA Discovery Rewards, offer location based experiences such as complimentary brewery tours and wine tastings on your next visit.   

But it’s not just hotels involved in loyalty programs. Airbnb recently announced a program, Superguest, for highly rated travelers that will be available later this year. They also reward hosts for their excellent ratings.

Many smaller inns also offer some type of loyalty program. I like to stay at a lovely B&B when I’m in northern Scotland. My loyalty has earned me free breakfast, my choice of room with a fireplace, and new friends.   

4. Train rewards

Trains are wonderful ways to travel. There is often less stress, the stations are centrally located, and there isn’t as much of a limit on luggage as there is on a flight. They are often business friendly, with WiFi, outlets, and personal desks available. Plus, you can enjoy a scenic view of the region.

Amtrak, has a rewards program that earns you points each time you use their services. You get 500 points for signing up and booking travel within 90 days. If you get 800 points, you’ll earn free travel and discounts on partner programs. Personally, I love train travel, particularly around Europe.

5. Booking sites

Sites like booking.com and expedia.com offer discounts and even free stays once you’ve used their site a number of times. These sites are great because you can get great deals while still keeping your itinerary on track. You can stay at that amazing villa or those modern apartments in the heart of Barcelona and still get rewarded.

There are many options when choosing how to travel, therefore rewards programs are great ways for companies to maintain loyalty to their services. Choose what best fits your needs overall and then plan to use it frequently or as often as possible. And if you aren’t sure about their loyalty program, ask.

5 Ways to Beat Travel Anxiety and Become the Company Globetrotter

I fly for a living, curating travel tips and learning the latest trends to present to readers and fellow travelers. Ironically, I went through a period of my life in which I thought I’d never fly again. It wasn’t until I had to take business trips that I was able to get over my fear.

I understand all too well how stressful and frightening flying can be. It can be even more cumbersome if you travel for business and know that you must remain professional. As an entrepreneur, flying is likely going to be essential for growth, otherwise relationships may suffer and success may not reach it’s full potential.  

Luckily, I’ve learned a few things along the way to help you manage those fears to make flying fun.

1. Address what you’re afraid of, control what you can, and embrace the rest.

More often than not, the fear isn’t about a crash but rather about the loss of control and the negative feelings associated with being in a cramped space. If it is about a cramped space, choosing an aisle seat towards the front of the plane will help. Don’t let the anticipation overpower your thoughts.

Avoiding flying or flying while thinking of all the ways it could go wrong will also make the process more difficult. Focus on breathing and control it. Often times, people forget to breathe properly, cutting off oxygen to their brain, and subsequently raising the anxiety levels. Downloading a breathing meditation to listen to can be extremely helpful.

If you fear turbulence, understand that it is a natural occurrence that pilots have been trained for. I personally find comfort in the window seat of the plane, near the front of the wing. That area usually doesn’t feel as much turbulence and I like being next to a wall. It’s all about your preference.

2. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.

I don’t want to be a buzzkill but alcohol and caffeine are stimulants that promote anxious feelings and thoughts. They’re also dehydrating which can contribute to jet lag. Landing at your destination with a bit of alcohol in your system won’t help with navigation.

I find it best to avoid these drinks a few days before I know I’m going to have a long flight. It helps to wean myself off of craving coffee. I also find that eating healthy and drinking a lot of water helps with clarity and prevents bloating and gas.  

3. Trust the travel industry.

People fly everyday without a hitch. However, mental shortcuts and associations can make us remember a plane crash much more intensely than a car crash. It is more dangerous getting to the airport by vehicle than it is to actually fly.   

The ground crew have gone through hours of instruction and know what to check for. The pilots, flight attendants, tower agents, etc. all have extensive training to be able to do their jobs. They also choose to be in the air on a regular basis. Remembering that can be a relief.

I find it to be helpful to chat to workers and read up on the latest advancements. Understanding how turbulence is part of being in the air, how a plane can keep flying for 100 miles even if the engines malfunction, and how things work in general gives you some control and confidence in the process. Knowledge is power.

4. Bring familiar and positive reinforcements.

Having something familiar can make a massive difference for your mental state of mind. Music that brings back good memories or films that make you feel good can all be used. Be specific and creative. My colleague calms her nerves when flying by chewing a specific banana flavored gum that is made in her hometown.

I often load up my iPad with the latest episodes of shows I need to catch up on and have noise-canceling headphones specifically used for flight. I view flying as “me time”. I can’t do much while up in the air and have learned to enjoy the freedom that comes with that.

5. Fly often.

This may sound counterintuitive but it works. Practice will make it easier each time. Getting familiar with airports will make it easier as well.

Connect with people and give yourself incentives to do it. Your brain will use this exposure to each flight as a familiar occurrence. There are also courses, workshops, and medications offered to assist. 

I personally carry motion sickness tablets in case of a bumpy flight. You may be surprised by how little preparation and knowledge can go a long way. 

5 Ways to Beat Travel Anxiety and Become the Company Globetrotter

I fly for a living, curating travel tips and learning the latest trends to present to readers and fellow travelers. Ironically, I went through a period of my life in which I thought I’d never fly again. It wasn’t until I had to take business trips that I was able to get over my fear.

I understand all too well how stressful and frightening flying can be. It can be even more cumbersome if you travel for business and know that you must remain professional. As an entrepreneur, flying is likely going to be essential for growth, otherwise relationships may suffer and success may not reach it’s full potential.  

Luckily, I’ve learned a few things along the way to help you manage those fears to make flying fun.

1. Address what you’re afraid of, control what you can, and embrace the rest.

More often than not, the fear isn’t about a crash but rather about the loss of control and the negative feelings associated with being in a cramped space. If it is about a cramped space, choosing an aisle seat towards the front of the plane will help. Don’t let the anticipation overpower your thoughts.

Avoiding flying or flying while thinking of all the ways it could go wrong will also make the process more difficult. Focus on breathing and control it. Often times, people forget to breathe properly, cutting off oxygen to their brain, and subsequently raising the anxiety levels. Downloading a breathing meditation to listen to can be extremely helpful.

If you fear turbulence, understand that it is a natural occurrence that pilots have been trained for. I personally find comfort in the window seat of the plane, near the front of the wing. That area usually doesn’t feel as much turbulence and I like being next to a wall. It’s all about your preference.

2. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.

I don’t want to be a buzzkill but alcohol and caffeine are stimulants that promote anxious feelings and thoughts. They’re also dehydrating which can contribute to jet lag. Landing at your destination with a bit of alcohol in your system won’t help with navigation.

I find it best to avoid these drinks a few days before I know I’m going to have a long flight. It helps to wean myself off of craving coffee. I also find that eating healthy and drinking a lot of water helps with clarity and prevents bloating and gas.  

3. Trust the travel industry.

People fly everyday without a hitch. However, mental shortcuts and associations can make us remember a plane crash much more intensely than a car crash. It is more dangerous getting to the airport by vehicle than it is to actually fly.   

The ground crew have gone through hours of instruction and know what to check for. The pilots, flight attendants, tower agents, etc. all have extensive training to be able to do their jobs. They also choose to be in the air on a regular basis. Remembering that can be a relief.

I find it to be helpful to chat to workers and read up on the latest advancements. Understanding how turbulence is part of being in the air, how a plane can keep flying for 100 miles even if the engines malfunction, and how things work in general gives you some control and confidence in the process. Knowledge is power.

4. Bring familiar and positive reinforcements.

Having something familiar can make a massive difference for your mental state of mind. Music that brings back good memories or films that make you feel good can all be used. Be specific and creative. My colleague calms her nerves when flying by chewing a specific banana flavored gum that is made in her hometown.

I often load up my iPad with the latest episodes of shows I need to catch up on and have noise-canceling headphones specifically used for flight. I view flying as “me time”. I can’t do much while up in the air and have learned to enjoy the freedom that comes with that.

5. Fly often.

This may sound counterintuitive but it works. Practice will make it easier each time. Getting familiar with airports will make it easier as well.

Connect with people and give yourself incentives to do it. Your brain will use this exposure to each flight as a familiar occurrence. There are also courses, workshops, and medications offered to assist. 

I personally carry motion sickness tablets in case of a bumpy flight. You may be surprised by how little preparation and knowledge can go a long way. 

Surf’s up in south-east India: an Instagram journey to Mahabalipuram

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