Travel in the Age of FOMO
It’s an amazing world we live in, and taking the time to appreciate it is always worth it.
Quick question: where is your smartphone right now?
I bet I know. It’s probably a foot or two away from you, if not even closer. Maybe it’s even in your hand and you’re reading this blog post on it. I’m not here to judge – I’m the same exact way with my beloved iPhone.
We are constantly connected to the world in ways that might have seemed outrageous or even impossible a decade or so ago. In many ways, I’m glad that I had smart technology readily available during my study abroad trip to Leipzig, Germany. I was able to document my experiences through all major social media accounts and contributed to three different blogs while overseas. One afternoon, I Skyped my parents and brother from the Starbucks inside Leipzig’s Hauptbahnhof (one of the most reliable WiFi hotspots I could find). I was able to see them and have a whole conversation with them in real time from 4,000 miles away. When you really think about it, it’s unbelievable that we have the technological capacity to do things like this so easily.
But this amazing power can also exemplify human weakness. With some exceptions, we don’t really share the boring, mundane, everyday aspects of our lives – only those things that are cool and fun and exciting, so our friends will think that we lead really cool and fun and exciting lives. And when someone else posts something that gives the impression that his or her life is COOLER and MORE fun and MORE exciting than ours, it’s not uncommon to get an inexplicable pit of anxiety in your stomach.
This phenomenon is so common that it even has its own trendy-sounding name. Urban Dictionary defines FOMO, or “fear of missing out,” as “the fear that if you miss [an]…event, you will miss something great.”
As a technologically driven society, we feel compelled to be everywhere and do everything and meet everyone. FOMO drives this, and although I hate to admit it, I experienced a few FOMO-induced situations even while having the time of my life in Germany. This was especially common on the weekends, when we had the option of traveling independently throughout Europe. One weekend, I chose to go to Italy with a few other girls in my study abroad group. We hit three cities – Florence, Rome and Pisa – in three days and had an incredible time. But every night when we returned to the hostel, I would connect to WiFi to post a few pictures and updates – and inevitably I would run into posts from others in my study abroad group, who were elsewhere in Europe. One girl who had gone to Paris posted a picture of her view from dinner at a charming French sidewalk café, complete with the Eiffel Tower illuminated brilliantly in the background. Suddenly, even though I was in the middle of beautiful Tuscany, I had a sudden urge to go to Paris as well. Looking back, it seems so ridiculous to think that a social media update made me feel as if I had to do something.
Strangely enough, I also experienced FOMO when looking at posts from my friends back in the U.S. This didn’t really happen until Memorial Day, a holiday which I’ve always enjoyed. I love the warmth and essence of summer that’s usually associated with most patriotic holidays. Logging into my social media accounts on that day, I saw lots of pictures from people getting together for fun picnics and barbecues, reuniting with family and friends, wearing shorts and tank tops with sun-kissed skin. Just about everyone had the day off from work or school. Meanwhile in Germany, the last Monday of May was just another weekday – not to mention the fact that it was about 50o F and raining. (I would later discover that 2013 saw Germany’s coldest spring in 40 years.)
So what’s the best defense against FOMO? It’s simple: turn it off. Turn off your phone, your laptop, your tablet, anything through which you can have instant updates on anyone’s and everyone’s lives. It’s refreshing how much better you’ll feel when you don’t have to worry about feeling insecure or inferior compared to how other people are experiencing life.
Going without technology in this day and age isn’t always easy. For my first week or so in Germany, the ethernet connection wasn’t configured correctly in my room, so I couldn’t get on the internet. When I woke up every morning, I literally had to stick my head out the window of my apartment to guess what the weather would be like that day and how I should dress. After I left for the day, I didn’t have access to wifi until I got to the main University of Leipzig campus. While taking the tram to class every morning, I got to look outside and see the city passing by instead of having my nose buried in my iPhone. And I wasn’t the only one: most of the Germans I encountered on my daily commute every morning seemed content to look out the window or read rather than scrolling mindlessly on a touch-screen gadget.
Despite being in a country known for its technological advances, I didn’t always have access to the world in the palm of my hand while in Germany. And I’m thankful for that. For every moment that I spent going out of my way to access wifi, there were countless more moments spent appreciating what incredible experiences I was having. Ferris Bueller had a point when he said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Put the smartphone away once in a while – you’ll thank yourself for it.