How I Learned To Ignore My Travel FOMO

It's impossible to see or do everything: accepting this will make you a happier traveler

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.

8 comments

  1. TEE Reply October 15, 2016 at 1:03 am

    Good suggestions and nice to know even a “professional” can suffer from these vacation killers! I just returned from a “bucket list” trip – 15 days in Tanzania on Safari. Because of the fact that I planned it off and on for over 2 years and that it carried the weight of the title”bucket-list-trip”, I find myself focusing on the “would-of’s”, “should-of’s” and setbacks rather than the amazing things I saw! Sadly, it is looking back on my pictures that makes me realize how amazing the trip really was!
    I think Vietnam and Cambodia are next up – going to bookmark this page and read it often – maybe, just maybe, I will tame the FOMO beast a little!

  2. Bruno Reply August 7, 2016 at 9:12 pm

    Thank you for this read, I just learned something today while planning a trip to SE Asia. Guilty charged, I do have FOMO in most of my travels. I tend to squeeze in everything, probably because I am constantly complaining my time to travel is not enough.

    I will definitely go back to my planning with a different perspective!

  3. Ramblingdays Reply June 13, 2015 at 11:16 am

    Guilty as charged – I find it very difficult to slow down, even when travelling
    long-term. FOMO is my nemesis, always sneaking up on me when I’m not paying
    attention … I blame it on my Germanic need to Be Productive and Do Stuff 🙂 I’ve
    not had much luck with #1 yet (let’s hope it comes with age) but agree wholeheartedly
    with #2. I now make it a point to stay put for a day or two as soon as I catch
    myself going down that rabbit hole, no matter where I am – in fact, the more “boring”,
    the better. Spending a couple of days just watching the world go by in a
    nondescript dusty little town where you have absolutely no reason to be, strolling
    around the market and drinking endless cups of tea at the only chai shop in
    town really brings home the fact that a) the world will not come crashing down
    around your ears if you spend a couple of days Doing Nothing and b) Doing Nothing
    with open ears and eyes can be a whole lot more interesting than Doing Something
    when your mind’s not present.

  4. AliceO Reply October 22, 2014 at 11:42 pm

    Thanks for this post that I just found, relaxed in my room near the river Tiger in Argentina. I think I had some FOMO moments during my trip, Argentina is soooo big and I arrived here with a lot of plans…that I just whatched fading away when I realized that I liked living in Buenos Aires or needed some rest in the nature…so here I am in one of the Tigre’s islands! My next destination will be Iguazú 🙂 bye!

    • Marek Indietraveller Reply October 23, 2014 at 9:28 am

      That’s lovely to hear. Argentina is such a wonderful country and it’s monstrously big for sure! It’s nice to just chip away at one place and really take it all in. Iguazu is fantastic by the way, be sure to visit both sides! 🙂

  5. Shannon Kircher Reply August 31, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    Such a great point! I think most of us have fallen into this trap as we’re all hyper connected at all times. I have to remind myself daily to appreciate where I’m at, what I’m doing and that friends think that MY LIFE is pretty awesome, too.

  6. The Guy Reply January 15, 2014 at 4:52 am

    You make a very good observation here. You’ll never get to do everything and it is naive to ever think that you can. Travel slow and sure and you’ll enjoy the experience. Hey, if you miss something well all the more reason to return in the future.

    As you point out in your first bullet point, if you rush around trying to see everything then you will not take it in and enjoy it anyway.

  7. Lunaguava Reply January 10, 2014 at 3:34 am

    I must admit we’ve been guilty of FOMO in the past, back when we only had holiday time to spend and therefore rushed through a whole country in a couple of weeks. Nowadays, knee-deep in our long-term travel adventure/debacle, it’s much easier to take it slow and just be surprised, as you wrote. The little moments of revelation are becoming increasingly important to us, much more than checking sites off a list. Great post, congrats! Good luck and safe travels!

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