The App in the Air community is made up of aviation geeks and travel lovers, but Olga’s story is unique in that although she lives and breathes travel as a renowned travel journalist, she had to overcome an intense fear of flying. We had the opportunity to speak with her, and hear about her awe-inspiring journey.
Olga originally discovered App in the Air in 2013, back when the app was primarily a flight-tracker. A colleague that she often traveled with would constantly brag about his flight statistics, and Olga was eager to drum up some friendly competition. “It started out as a joke just to make him jealous. But soon, I realized it is really very convenient, not just for statistics, but also for having a visa.” Olga is based in Russia, and sometimes needs to document the last ten places she has visited upon entering certain countries. As the Leading Travel Expert for National Geographic Russia, she has been all over the world, capturing stories that inspire others to travel. She actually previously held the title of Editor in Chief, but decided to move into a freelance role to prioritize traveling as part of her work over being tied to an office. She also hosts a popular Russian radio segment called Voyage – Traveling with Olga Yakovina on Radio 7 on Seven Hills.
Sometimes I feel jealous of myself. I’m absolutely sure that it’s the best work ever when you can really travel for yourself, and when your job is to inspire others. Now, I’m absolutely free.
Olga attributes her deep-rooted love for travel to her childhood. Although she grew up in the Soviet Union, during which borders were closed, she recalls spending summers hitchhiking within the country with her parents. It was a very freeing experience, and something she holds close to her heart. When she began her career in travel journalism, she realized that it was these sort of experiences she was hoping to recreate.
The world was closed during my childhood. My first travel abroad was when I was 15, to Paris. It was like going to the moon for my parents. I remember them asking, ‘Does it really exist? Did you see la Tour Eiffel? It’s impossible!’ To them, it was like Neverland or Narnia… I realized travel is the one thing you can never get bored of. I don’t like to be bored.
While Olga has worked in travel journalism throughout her career, and it is the dream job, she faced the major challenge of aerophobia—otherwise known as the fear of flying. She struggled with this for several years, eventually deciding to seek out professional help from a psychologist that specialized in treating clients with this phobia. However, the final piece that helped Olga to finally overcome her intense fear came four years after she started treatment: it was an experience at the mountainous Musandam Peninsula in Oman. At the time, she was writing a piece about a hotel located there called Zighy Bay. Part of what made this resort unique, was the option to experience arrival by paragliding. She recalls the guide trying to give her a way out, “I know you have a problem with flying. Do you really want to do this?” Olga understood from working with her psychologist that in order to truly overcome her fear, she would need to come face-to-face with it. And so she flew.
You have to run to the rocks and jump to nothing. And I just closed my eyes… I feel like my fear stayed on that rock when I leapt. When I fly, I’m not scared anymore. Now I can fly in any airplane, during any weather conditions. I can fly with a paraglide, with a parachute, however. Now it’s one of my biggest pleasures.
Olga’s time in Oman was truly a life-changing trip. Today, not only can she fly without fear, she can fly and enjoy the experience, knowing first-hand that there is no fear which cannot be beaten. She has a tattoo along her right wrist to remind her of these words.
While being grounded due to the pandemic was extremely difficult for Olga, she found respite in local travel around Russia. “We’re happy that we have a huge country,” she says. “We still have a lot of places to travel. If you’re taking a train from one side of the country to the other, it will take 8 days, or 9 hours to fly.” After receiving her vaccinations, Olga happily took her first international trip in March to Ethiopia, where she captured stories for her next big travel piece. She summarizes her travel philosophy like this: “Be comfortable, be open to new things, and always be in an adventure mood.”