This blog post was updated on July 30, 2021.
My husband and I have been planning our trip to Cambodia and Thailand for almost a year, and it seemed everyone I told had input on what we had to do. “Eat at George’s if it’s the last thing you do.” “Get a massage at Blue Spa. No one else does it right.” “You haven’t lived until you’ve had Dash’s Pad Thai.”
Every traveler’s been there, even if the details aren’t quite the same. Someone somehow insists that your trip to wherever just won’t be a “true visit to wherever” unless you see X or experience Y, so you rush around on your vacation to fit X and Y on top of your own set of plans and expectations.
That fear of missing out (also known as FOMO) on some “quintessential” moments, activities, or sites on a trip (as gathered from a friend or anonymous poster on a travel review site) is why so many travelers, including myself, make decisions that they otherwise wouldn’t and do things that they just don’t enjoy.
FOMO is how I found myself fighting back tears as a swarm of Garra rufa fish ate the dead skin off my feet. It’s also why I agreed to take an anxiety-fueled tuk-tuk ride in Bangkok to a tailor after my husband asked: “When else will I get the chance to get a custom suit made?” Spoiler: We didn’t buy the suit.
But I’m over it. In fact, I’m rejecting the notion publicly because the anxiety to do all things I’m supposed to do will ruin my trip if I let it. After all, this is my vacation. Oh, and I’m not alone in my refusal to let FOMO dictate what I do while traveling, plenty of others have as well…and you can join us.
Here are some real tips from real people who’ve rejected travel FOMO on how you too can, you know, enjoy your trip.
Relax and Read
It’s tempting to see the sites and dive into the culture of where you’re visiting, but all that running around and making sure you hit all the right “must-see locations” can be daunting and even a ton of work. So ditch the itinerary and just chill … with a good book.
“I always bring a paperback book about the place I’m visiting,” says 28-year-old Melissa Kohlman, who explains that her travel reading doesn’t have to be informative, like a guide book, but just has to simply feature her destination in some way. “For example, I read A Moveable Feast on our trip to Paris last spring,” the software account manager said. “Whenever I saw a nice place to sit, whether it was on a bench or against an old wall or along the banks of the Seine, I would sit down and pull out my book.”
Reading may seem like something you can do any time when you’re home, but reading a great book set in or about a city you’re visiting can be a fantastic and restful way to get a sense of where you are. “Maybe I didn’t see all of the paintings and museums I was expected to see there,” Kohlman muses, “but I actually enjoyed myself, and saved my feet the ache of walking just to walk because that’s what other people do in Paris. I felt like I really took control of my vacation that way.”
Keep It Local
Sure, you could expend your energy attempting to see and do everything in every place you visit. When you only have a few days in a foreign city you might feel the need to spend your trip visiting every possible site until you get blisters and body aches. Or, you could keep it local. And by local, I mean LOCAL.
Ben Kartchner, an accountant from Indiana says, “My partner and I discovered on our most recent trip to Tuscany that it was more enjoyable to stay in a small vicinity for the majority of the day. Literally, three to five blocks.”
Kartchner says that their morning routine meant sleeping in, a small café for breakfast, walks, shopping, and sometimes a venture to see a site, but never for the entire day. “We find that wears us out,” he says, “and we’re less likely to enjoy what we’re actually seeing. Moving slow makes us feel like we were really there.”
Try the Ordinary
Obviously, a big part of traveling is trying and doing new things, but as Elizabeth Nazden, mother of three, point outs – you can do that without stretching yourself or your budget thin. Nazden says that she and her family always make a point to visit a grocery store when they visit a foreign country in lieu of eating out every meal.
“There’s always kooky produce and candy,” she explains. They then take their food back to a nearby park instead of their hotel or inn and people-watch while they eat. “It’s always a highlight of the trip for the kids. We ask them what their favorite part was, and they say, ‘Eating the banana cereal at the pigeon park!’”
Other activities that aren’t out of the ordinary are long walks, visits to the mall, and even riding on public transportation. Every place does things a little bit differently, and especially when traveling with kids, keeping some sense of normalcy can help them (and you) adjust to your new surroundings.
While family and friends are probably looking forward to your travel posts, staying connected online can be a surefire way to experience major FOMO. “I try to stay off social media whenever I’m on vacation,” says Sarah Keller, age 27. “Sometimes I’ll post updates on Facebook or Instagram but I never scroll through. It makes me think about what I’m missing … when I’m the one on vacation!”
Keller suggests bringing a small notebook on trips and recording thoughts and impressions throughout your travels there. “That way when I get home I have all of my memories recorded and I didn’t waste my time on my phone.”
And if none of these ideas appeal to you, don’t forget Ray Bradbury’s famous words about travel: “We travel for romance, we travel for architecture, and we travel to be lost.”
So ease up on the FOMO and get lost.