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.
Travel FOMO is part of why I think so many people book their international flights to the same few destinations around the world, like Ireland, France, Bali or Thailand, and instead of exploring awesome less-visited destinations like Georgia (the country), Bolivia, or Nigeria.
But aside from dictating choices, Travel FOMO can also cause people to be less happy with the choices they DO make. Because it’s not possible to keep up with everyone on social media, you end up feeling unhappy no matter how much you travel.
In this article I walk through what I mean by Travel FOMO, and then tell you 6 reasons why I think you should resist it:
What is Travel FOMO Anyway?
FOMO generally 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.
6 Reasons to Avoid Travel FOMO Like the Plague
1. There is Nothing Wrong With Skipping a Popular Destination or Attraction
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.
My experience at the Taj Majal, for example, 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.
2. Everyone Experiences Places Differently
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.
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.
3. Sorry, But You Can’t Visit Everywhere
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.
4. There Are Lots of Amazing Destinations You’ve Never Heard Of Before
The world is an incredible place. And it’s not just the Grand Canyon or the Eiffel Tower or the Alps that are incredible.
For example, just a couple hours away from the uber popular Tulum beaches in Mexico, you can find tons of incredible places that very few tourists know about: places like Valladolid, Mexico, Bacalar, and El Cuyo.
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 often end up saving a good amount of coin!
5. It Doesn’t Really Matter How Many Countries You’ve Been To
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. [edit: I later returned to Georgia and did manage to travel to Armenia!]
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.
6. The Best Parts of Travel Aren’t Planned
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 picking the best travel backpack and your best time to travel to Europe. You can read every Lonely Planet Guidebook (use this trick to get Lonely Planet 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.
What do you think? Have you experienced Travel FOMO?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments.