Free to Fly: Facing Your Phobias Through Travel

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Sara Nakash, Brooklyn bred, world tread. She has braved prison ghost cats in New Zealand, was involved in a bush taxi car chase in Togo, and accidentally biked from Luxembourg to Germany. Her love of travel was matched by her frustration in finding a service to cater to her particular travel goals. From this frustration Off the Map Travel was born. Here anyone can escape those cookie cutter travel packages and truly embrace the nature of your destination.

One of the exhilarating benefits of travel is that it can give you opportunities to stretch your limits and grow as a person, which you will never have by

Napier prison, New zealand
Checking in to Prison!

staying home. One of those opportunities is the opportunity to face and overcome your fears.

I love traveling solo! For me, it’s an extremely free feeling. I get to make my own choices about where to go and what to do. I have no pressure to do things I don’t want to do or to not do the things I want to do. Traveling solo has given me courage to face my own phobias—courage I probably wouldn’t have found if I had others with me to talk me out of facing my fears.

For many people, traveling alone is itself, a phobia. This is understandable. However, if you want to travel, but have no one to travel with, a well-planned solo trip or two can really stir up your confidence! And once that confidence grows, there is a whole world of experiences and adventures that await you!

One of my fears is a fear of the supernatural. During the day, I don’t mind discussing and debating the existence of supernatural entities. But once it gets dark, my fear comes to the forefront and I just can’t talk about “scary” things like ghosts or haunting. Some of my family and friends know this and so you can understand their surprised reactions when I told them that I would be living in Napier Prison and working there as a tour guide.

Now, for those who aren’t familiar with Napier Prison, it is the oldest prison in New Zealand. In fact, for over 120 years, it was a prison. Today, however, it is a historic site and is open to the public for tours. When I was given the opportunity to work there in return for free accommodation, I decided to face my fears and embrace the experience.

Oh, the things one will do for a free bed! And new experiences! My two “cellmates” and I slept in a cell, right next door to a cell that was known to be haunted. Even more, my role as a tour guide had me leading tourists through the most haunted areas while retelling stories of prisoners who have been executed and buried on the premises. Some of whom currently wander the prison as ghosts—one even in the form of a cat!

Napier Prison,New Zealand
Basil the Ghost Cat in Napier Prison

How did I do it? Admittedly, the situation was a little weird, at first. Once you start meeting people and having fun with them, you actually (believe it or not!) forget where you are and just enjoy the experience. It helped that I was in it with some really fantastic people! This is where I met Daniel, who handled the web design for Off The Map Travels. And my cellmate, Kelly met her boyfriend, Lee, at Napier. Now, they run their own travel blog at All of them are still wonderful friends with whom I shared an amazing, one-of-a-kind experience.

Often, as a solo traveler, it’s the people that you meet on the journey that make it so memorable. Just as at Napier Prison, they’re also often the ones that help you face your fears.

This was also the case another time while I was in New Zealand, when I faced my fear of heights and went skydiving. On this adventure, it was my Stray Bus-mates Claire, Ashley, and Tom that helped me along and enjoyed the experience with me. We were taken to the Taupo Airport, fitted into gear, and assigned to professionals. We were interviewed and had our photos taken. And then, the fun really began.

skydiving Taupo New Zealand
Claire, Ashley, and me before taking off

Our group boarded a tiny plane, where we flew 15,000 feet up into the air. When my fear of heights kicked in, I grabbed Claire’s hand—I felt like I was going into labor!—and I sat there breathing heavily and mouthing, “Oh, my God! Oh, my God!” But then the door opened and I was the first one to fall out. Yes, I fell out of the airplane! There was no need for me to jump!

My tandem professional—“Scary Steve”—and I had a 60-second freefall drop before the parachute finally opened. It felt like hanging out of a car window while driving 190-miles-per-hour on the highway, but a hundred times worse! The air flowed rapidly into my mouth, but I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Yet, somehow, it was refreshing. And once the parachute opened, it was suddenly calm, with a beautiful view of Lake Taupo and the city of Taupo. “Scary Steve” decided to try to live up to his name, spinning us around and around until I was quite dizzy. But then, we had an easy landing—except for my bus mate, Tom, almost crashing into me as he landed. Once we had all landed, we got to watch the DVDs of our skydiving experience. My, did I look nervous the entire time!

surviving skydiving, Taupo New Zealand
I survived! here with “Scary Steve”

I’ve never regretted facing that fear, though some of my family and friends back home would have tried to talk me out of it had they been there. In spite of my phobia, I enjoyed skydiving so much the first time that I would do it again. It seems much less frightening now that I know exactly what to expect.

If there are places you want to go, activities you want to try, foods you want to taste, by all means, go out and do it! Don’t let your fears hold you back. Face them and embrace them! If you’re not too cautious, you may just find yourself doing things you never thought you would or could do—and loving every minute of it.

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3 thoughts on “Free to Fly: Facing Your Phobias Through Travel

  1. I don’t know that I have particular phobias, but it has been interesting to just go outside of your comfort zone and try completely different things. I wouldn’t say I was particularly afraid of heights before going on a 600-foot-high zip line in upstate NY, but just doing it gave me a thrill and sense of accomplishment. Some of the things I did in Mali, West Africa while a Peace Corps volunteer took me completely beyond my normal comfort zone as far as food, transportation, bathrooms, everything I was used to back home. It was hard, but now I feel like I can make it through the hottest days, most crowded buses etc. anywhere in the industrialized world without being too bothered because I’ve seen firsthand how much comfort and luxury we have in just about everything by comparison.

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