A fellow backpacker recently told me she hadn’t enjoyed much of her journey. Her reason? She’s been far too affected by FOMO.
I’m sorry, what?
I honestly hadn’t heard this term before. She was, of course, referring to her “fear of missing out”. She explained to me there were just so many things to do along the backpacker trail in Mexico, that she was constantly wondering about the things she didn’t have time to see. It’s a feeling I immediately recognized.
Fear of missing out is not something new. FOMO has existed pretty much since ancient times — from the moment the first cavemen wondered if there might be a way more lit party at that other cave — though it has become a much more pressing issue in our hyper-connected age.
Do you ever look at Facebook or Instagram and finding it impossible not to compare your current experience to all the others you could be having?
Or have you ever been to a big music festival and constantly thinking about whatever else is going on at the other stages — that your friends are texting about — instead of enjoying the concert you’re watching now?
That’s typical fear of missing out…
And I’ve often felt this too during my travels. The world is just so huge and even the most dedicated traveller only has so much time to spend in each place. It’s so easy to always second-guess your decisions, even more so when everyone is sharing everything online all of the time.
The one-upmanship that sometimes takes place among travellers makes things even worse. You thought Angkor Wat was great? Wait till you’ve been to Borobudur! Oh, didn’t you do that stunning once-in-a-lifetime trek when you were in so-and-so a month ago? That’s too bad…
In this constant whirlwind of wild stories, bucket lists and instantly shared mountain-top selfies… is it still possible to be happy with your chosen path? Of course it is, but it might take a bit of conscious effort to truly be in the moment.
Here are three lessons I’ve learned about avoiding travel FOMO.
1. Stop and focus on the present
This seems obvious but it can be hard to put into practice. I feel like I’m a little wiser now than when I first started travelling, but I still have to remind myself of this every now and then.
A few weeks ago I found myself in Tulum, Mexico and no longer being in the zone. At all.
I was several months into my backpacking trip through Latin America and I had become way too preoccupied with the mechanics of travelling. I just kept worrying about where I was going next, when I was going to be there, how to make best use of my remaining time, and if I would be there in time to meet such-and-such… My mind was stuck in a permanent planning mode.
I had to change things up.
And so one morning I took a deep breath and tried to forget about everything. I grabbed my bicycle at the hostel I’d been staying at for the last few days and rode to the beach. I had already passed through Tulum a few weeks earlier and had been at this beach before… but this time it felt different. I forced myself to focus on what was around me, instead of wondering if there are other places I should be right now.
Maybe that sounds silly, but it made a real difference.
I watched intently as a group of pelicans dived for fish. I sat on a swing at a beach bar for a couple of hours, just sipping a cold brew, chatting with the bar staff, and looking at people walking by. I went to a restaurant and ordered something I hadn’t tried before, focusing purely on the flavors and not touching my phone for even a second.
I did all this to force myself back into the flow… and it worked.
Gone were all the thoughts about what others were doing or what better beaches might be in some Top 10 list somewhere. I was back to fully enjoying this beach.
2. Accept that you can never do everything
I know… another obvious point, right?
But really: you can’t do it all.
If you travel for 2 weeks, you’ll wish you had 4. If you travel for 6 months, you’ll wish you had 12. No matter how long or short I have travelled, I’ve learned that there is never enough time and there is always more to see or do.
Travel FOMO can turn what should be a meaningful journey into a crazy rat race just to tick things off a list.
Some people think it’s a waste not to try and cover everything, but I think it’s actually a bigger waste to experience places superficially.
A few years ago I spent two weeks rushing through many places in Peru and Bolivia because my time was limited. Most places along the way I saw only briefly before moving on. I regret parts of this trip: I was so focused on trying to see all the trees that I never truly got to stop and be in the forest… so to speak.
I have since tried to travel differently, consciously limiting myself to fewer places. Be realistic about how much time you have, then pick a few places that appeal to you and make the most of them.
3. Remember it’s your journey
Finally, you are never under any obligation to do what any guidebooks, social media personalities, or other travellers tell you to do!
You don’t have to go to supposedly Must-See places that don’t appeal to you.
You don’t need to go to an X number of countries before your journey can be deemed “impressive”.
And most of all, not everything has to be worthy of sharing on social media under the hashtag #epic… as small moments not shared can be just as meaningful.
Every now and then it’s nice to simply put down the Lonely Planet, to quit Facebook, and to stop looking at travel blogs for a while (yes… I write this knowing the irony). It feels good to discover some things on your own, to take a roll of the dice and let yourself be surprised, and to do it for no one but yourself.
Instead of fighting the feeling of always missing out, it’s better to embrace it. Love your FOMO. By missing out on other places in a purposeful way, you will also avoid missing out on the here and now. And that’s what’s most important.