Afraid of Heights? Try One of These Aerial Adventures
In textbooks it’s called acrophobia, but most people know it by shortness of breath, sweaty palms, and a desire to just go home. Whether it’s brought on by flying or looking over a balcony, the fear of heights is a very real concern for many—including several of our editors. In this article, each one shares how their firsthand experiences in parasailing, skydiving, and other aerial adventures helped them successfully face that phobia.
Parasailing was the white whale of my childhood. My mom, my two older sisters, and I vacationed in some ocean town every summer, and without fail someone (definitely not me) suggested parasailing. I always chickened out, ashamed as each of them fearlessly turned into a human kite. This happened a half-dozen times before finally, when I was in high school, I pushed through the nerves. I was terrified as the crew strapped me in, but almost every butterfly in my stomach disappeared the moment I lifted off the boat. I even worked up enough nerve to snap some photos.
Intensity Level: Medium. Parasailing takes you hundreds of feet above the water, with absolutely nothing between you and the ocean below. But the ascent is smooth and slow—and you probably won’t feel a thing if you need to close your eyes.
There’s really no rhyme or reason to my fear of heights—I’m terrified to be high up in a perfectly secure skyscraper, but rollercoasters are my jam. With that said, I was nervous to parasail. I opted to go tandem with a friend, which eased some of my preflight nerves. And once I was airborne the only thing on my mind was the view. We were over the translucent turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and being able to see the ocean floor and know for certain that Jaws wasn’t lurking beneath us was definitely comforting.
Intensity level: Medium. The scariest part was when the jokester crew pulled our line down to dip us in the water midflight. You know what you can’t see from high up, even in clear water? Jellyfish. Dozens of jellyfish. (We managed to escape unstung.)
Kelly is a Senior Editor at Groupon, and one of the five people on Earth who actually loves Malört. But as a Cleveland Browns fan, her taste is questionable.
I watched lots of war movies as a kid, the kind where helicopters didn’t have doors and nobody wore a seatbelt. My stomach lurched at the idea that a sharp turn could send you tumbling. But, while on vacation in wine country last year, my fiance longed for an aerial tour of the vineyards. I agreed on the condition that I could sit in the middle seat, but, alas, there was no middle seat. There was a door, however. Seatbelts, too. I even craned my neck a time or two for a better view of the countryside.
Intensity level: Mild. Helicopter tour guides know you’re in it for the views, not the thrill of a 90-degree turn or a deep dive beneath a set of powerlines.
Randall is an editor at Groupon, as well as a regular contributor for The A.V. Club, Consequence of Sound, and Blumhouse.com. He also writes the occasional play when he's not re-watching old seasons of Top Chef.
Skydiving | Beth MacKay
I've always been terrified of heights. So, naturally, I ended up dating a pilot. Back when I was young and still nice, I thought the best way to get over my fear was to go skydiving for our one-year anniversary. My instructor told me to scream before we jumped. I thought he was making fun of me, and I didn't listen to him. Which is a horrible idea. Screaming allows you to breathe better, so instead the whole way down I was struggling to catch my breath. But once the parachute went up, it was great. The view was incredible and it was such a rush.
Intensity level: High. I mean, I jumped out of a plane at 13,000 feet. And I have to admit that skydiving did help with my fear. It's not to say that I enjoy heights, but they seem less threatening now.
For some reason, I never associated ziplining with being high in the air. I just thought it'd be cool to see tropical birds up close on a trip to Costa Rica. Really, it's one of the best ways to try something loftier than your comfort level because you're mostly just on safe staircases and bridges. They snap you into the harness, and then you're soaring over treetops. There isn't enough time to work up a good scare. Once you're in the line, you're already having a good time, so you skip the fear-inducing anticipation.
Intensity level: Mild. The harnesses feel safe and secure, you get an adrenaline rush before you realize how high you are, and you can control your speed on the descent—big plus.
Stephanie McDaniel is a political theorist-turned-novelist from South Carolina. On the rare occasion she’s not writing, she spends her time folk dancing, singing, and adding sea salt to Lake Michigan.
On a recent trip to Napa, my husband suggested we go on a hot air balloon ride. I don’t usually think I’m afraid of heights, but every time I get more than 10 or so feet in the air, I get some butterflies in my stomach and start to second-guess myself. I was especially nervous about a hot air balloon because it’s so open. But when we got in that skybound basket, I felt fine; it’s strong and sturdy (and much bigger than it looks). The ride itself just felt like floating. The pilot can make the balloon go up or down, but you’re riding the wind, so it’s calm and steady and slow.
Intensity level: Medium. You stand there in an open basket for a few hours enjoying a pretty spectacular view. Mind your phone or camera though, reaching your arms outside the basket to take a picture is daunting.
Jolene is an Editor at Groupon who aspires to travel the world someday but right now just wants to spend all her free time reading or watching TV on the couch.