How A Fear Of Flying Sparked This Travel Writer’s Success

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What if the only thing standing between you and your dream career was a phobia?

Creating a dream business is full of doubt and uncertainty. But if faced head-on, fears can actually be turned into a real advantage.

John E. DiScala‘s dream was flying around the world, and writing about his travels. But he had one problem keeping him grounded: DiScala was afraid to leave his house.

Today, the prolific blogger clocks in over 150,000 miles a year. And no matter what time zone he’s in, he edits the travel hub JohnnyJet.com, writes three weekly newsletters for 50,000 subscribers, and co-hosts a popular Twitter chat. DiScala’s passion, helping people see the world without breaking the bank, was born only when he overcame his own insecurity. Here’s how his story can help others battling fear.

In 1987, DiScala was with his parents at the departure gate at JFK. DiScala was terrified of stepping foot on an airplane, much less flying in one. Asthma and anxiety kept him grounded—so did fears from a doctor who overmedicated and scared him into believing cabin pressure might interfere with his breathing. Steps from boarding his first international flight, he froze. The then-17-year-old broke down and began crying. His mother followed, bursting into tears. Then DiScala’s father joined in, heartbroken he’d no longer have the house to himself for two weeks.

DiScala knew he needed a radical change and when a friend in rehab needed his support, he agreed to visit. But it was across the country, in Arizona. Just getting there was tough, and he flew with the help of two close friends.

“While I was in Arizona my great-aunt died in California. Because I was already here, my dad said ‘why don’t you meet me in L.A. and come to the funeral with me?’ So I flew all by myself from Tucson to L.A., which was huge for me.”

DiScala prayed, and calmed his nerves by meditating and listening to 80’s pop stars Tears for Fears, Debbie Gibson and Michael Jackson on his Walkman. Once the bird was airborne, he says his anxiety left with it—his fear more apparition than reality.

To his surprise, DiScala discovered that flying was liberating. Suddenly, the thing that once terrified him was now the thing he loved most. DiScala spent his early 20s as an admissions officer at Marymount College, which meant he was jetting all over the country. And when most of the staff quit, his territory ballooned to 26 states. DiScala studied the industry with the focus of a zen monk. He realized that something as simple as smiling and offering a box of chocolates to a gate agent could be the key to good travel karma.

“I would get upgraded every single time,” he remembers. “I see some of my friends doing nine-to-five jobs and they can’t wait for the weekend. For me, it’s the opposite. I don’t even feel like I’m working.”

By the mid-90s, he wanted to share his findings. He started emailing his co-workers. Soon they were getting free flights and stays, and started forwarding DiScala’s emails to their friends.

In 1999 the newsletter grew into a website. USA Today featured it on their homepage—then CNBC. With traffic pouring in, DiScala realized he could begin monetizing through affiliates and advertising. In 2004, he compiled all of his tips into a book that caught the eye of travel legend Peter Greenberg. Greenberg invited DiScala onto his radio show, and this stamp of approval led to Fox News and CNN asking DiScala on for travel segments. Then the Travel Channel hired DiScala to host his own television show: Hot Spots 2012.

“I thank God every night,” he says. “My goal was to get people out and see the world, and do it cheaply.”


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