Travel FOMO – or “fear of missing out” – is a mindset that easily takes hold in today’s social-media driven environment. A case of travel FOMO can lead to your travel choices being dictated by what you think you are supposed to do, or what you see others doing. FOMO is a very real thing — especially for millennials — and the travel variety of it afflicts many travelers or aspiring travelers (myself included). I think wanderlust is a healthy thing. But left unchecked, it’s easy to let wanderlust develop into a full blown case of Travel FOMO.
If you read travel blogs or follow travel accounts on social media, you won’t have to look far until you see headlines insisting that these are the “5 Things You Can’t Miss in France,” and listing out “10 Trips You MUST Take In Your Lifetime.” These articles are becoming increasingly common because, frankly, they work — at least for the travel blogger. FOMO drives people to click on articles that suggest they might be missing out or making a mistake (notice the title for this article employs this marketing trick).
And it’s not just travel sites that perpetuate FOMO, of course. Social media makes it seems like everyone else is visiting everywhere — and always having an amazing time doing it. So much so that some have suggested that Instagram is ruining their lives.
But if you as the reader let Travel FOMO drive your travel choices, there’s a good chance that you’ll end up — ironically enough — missing out on valuable experiences that might be better suited for you personally.
Here’s 6 reasons why you should avoid catching a case of Travel FOMO:
There are a certain subset of travel destinations that have become so popular – so deeply meshed in the travel culture – that it seems like heresy to suggest that you can skip them. Everyone should visit New York and Paris at least once right? And everyone should go to Machu Picchu go on safari right?
Well, I’ve been to most of the classic travel destinations. I had a great time in many of them. But in some of them I didn’t. I really hated Santorini. And my experience at the Taj Majal mostly involved me hunched over a toilet, ill with food poisoning.
And while Machu Picchu was fine, my favorite memories of Peru are of hanging out with some awesome people I met in Lima, and of staying with an indigenous family on an island in Lake Titicaca.
Just because everyone else is going to a place doesn’t mean you have to — you don’t have to be a travel lemming unless you want to be.
A lot of travelers swear that India is the most magical place on Earth. And, for them, maybe it is. But when I visited last April, I got sick three times in two weeks. As you might imagine, that colored my experience with India quite a bit (see above note about me and the Taj Majal’s toilets). Though I had planned to stay for a month, I ended up leaving early and going to Kyrgyzstan instead.
So does that mean you shouldn’t go to India – or that all those people talking it up were lying?
No, of course not.
First, people have different experiences with places. And that’s ok – that’s part of the adventure of travel. But it also means that the fact that your friend or that blogger loved or hated a place doesn’t mean you’ll feel the same way. I wrote about how I think Santorini is massively overrated — mostly because I think it’s overcrowded and overpriced. But a bunch of readers responded to say that when they went they loved the island. And while I think these are the best places to visit in Georgia (Europe) – you may hate them!
Second, people themselves are different. Different travelers enjoy different things. I don’t enjoy museums, so I didn’t go inside the Louvre in Paris. But I love photography and I love peaceful evenings, so I had a blast photographing the outside of the Louvre one evening. I don’t feel any regret about not going inside, because I didn’t feel like doing it. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t or that you won’t love it.
In short, if you let Travel FOMO infect you, you’ll find that you’re traveling based on other people’s preferences and experiences — not your own.
Travel, like everything in life, involves trade-offs. Since you can’t be two places at once, and life is finite, there is a limit to how much even the most intrepid traveler can see of the world in their lifetime.
Instead, I think it helps to step back and realize just how much of the world you ARE able to see. Travel is a privilege, especially in this modern day. Even a few decades ago, I probably would have spent most of my life in my hometown of Denver, Colorado.
But today we can see more of the world in a year than Marco Polo did in his entire lifetime.
Celebrate the incredible travel opportunities you have — don’t worry about the ones you’ll miss.
The world is an incredible place. And it’s not just the Grand Canyon or the Eiffel Tower or the Alps that are incredible.
These are just a handful of my favorite places that aren’t on most bucket lists, but were among the greatest places I’ve ever visited. And, as an added benefit, when you travel a bit off the beaten path, you can travel the world much more cheaply.
Sure, you can be one of those travelers who visit countries just to get a new stamp in their passport. I’ll admit that I’ve totally done that. I’ve been to over 60 countries and you’ll find me not-so-subtly humblebragging about this in various places all over this blog.
But the truth is that stat doesn’t really matter. I mean, let’s not kid ourselves: my 23 layover in Oslo does not mean that I’ve really seen Norway.
As I’ve traveled more and more, I keep finding I want to linger longer and longer in places – which necessarily means traveling to fewer countries. I recently spent a few weeks in Georgia. I had two weeks to burn before I had to leave and I was faced with a choice after visiting Tbilisi: I could either explore more or Georgia or take a train south to Armenia. The Armenian option would give me another passport stamp. But I loved Georgia, so I opt to stay. And I’m glad I did, because visiting the ancient land of Svaneti was one the highlights of my entire trip around the world.
It’s easy to rack up countries. But it’s better to focus on having real travel experiences.
For many people, planning a trip can be as much fun as actually taking one. So go ahead, plan away if that’s your thing.
But you can spend months planning what to pack for your trip through South America, or picking your best time to travel to Europe. You can read every Lonely Planet Guidebook (use this trick to get guidebooks for free, by the way). And you can create the best curated travel board on Pinterest.
But, no matter the amount of planning, you’ll often find that the favorite parts of your journey are the things you totally didn’t expect. For months I looked forward to touring the Bolivian salt flats and, while they were amazing, my best memory of Bolivia was being trapped by protesters in the frontier town of Uyuni. And though I went to Australia with visions of visiting the Great Barrier Reef, I threw those plans out and ended up driving around Tasmania in a campervan with a random Dutch pilot I met in an elevator. I’m glad I did – it was an incredible experience and he’s now a lifelong friend.
In short, travel FOMO is a construct of our own expectations — but the best experiences are the unexpected ones.
Nate Hake has traveled to 65+ countries across six continents around the world and blogs about his travels at TravelLemming.com. He is from Denver, Colorado, and recently concluded a six month stint living in Mexico.