“He remained annoyed with himself until he realized that not knowing what he wanted was actually quite natural. We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.”
– Milan Kundera, from The Unbearable Lightness of Being
So many times on this journey, I’ve been overwhelmed with a fear — the Fear of Missing Out. This isn’t a new feeling for me, and I’d assume most others are affected by this fear occasionally. In general, I often get overwhelmed by the multitude of possibilities in life and worry if I’m taking and leaving the right opportunities. Education, career paths, relationships, and work/life balance decisions are just some of the big choices we face in our lives.
But I’ve noticed this fear rear it’s ugly head even more so while traveling long-term with no set agenda. And while the possibilities are more simplistic, they’re presented much more frequently: the next city I visit, the people I choose to talk to, the offers and invitations, and even the next street I decide to turn onto. These are all decisions that will take me down different paths in my journey. Fearing I’ll miss out on something exciting, I want to take them all. And while this fear inspires me to take action and have incredible experiences, I’m also noticing how destructive and mentally exhausting it can be.
Throughout the past eleven weeks, I’m constantly reminding myself that I’m on a trip of a lifetime and need to enjoy each moment to its fullest. This led me to say ‘Yes!’ to what ended up being unforgettable experiences: accepting an invitation back to London to experience Olympic fever; being whisked away to a hitchhiker’s gathering in rural Lithuania; and hosting an impromptu party with local Icelanders in Reykjavik. These are all experiences I would never take back.
What’s funny is how almost every single one of these experiences plays out like the following:
Local or fellow traveler: “Come on! When will you ever be in [fill in the blank obscure town] again?!?”
To which I hesitantly reply: “You know what…you’re right. YOLO! Bottoms up!” as I accept and down a [fill in the blank disgusting local drink].
The best/worst part is when that disgusting local drink is a Four MaXed, which I later realize is Europe’s equivalent of Four Loko. This overzealousness led to Mike and I going out 26 nights straight while traveling through Iceland, United Kingdom, and Ireland, which eventually led to me getting burned out and temporarily getting lost.
It’s not that I regret these experiences — I don’t. And I want to keep having them. But the destructive nature of the Fear of Missing Out makes me feel guilty every time I say No, and fear that I’m risking, well, missing out on some life-altering experience. But over time I’m learning how to evaluate and take the right opportunities when I want to, and quiet the Fear of Missing Out when I don’t. Here’s how I conquer this Fear on the road.
Accept It. Accepting that it’s impossible to experience every path in travel and in life is the first step, but probably toughest. My ambition convinces me I can see every city, meet every person, and visit every corner in the world. But I’m learning to accept and be okay with the fact that I probably will not. This acceptance frees your mind to enjoy the paths and experiences you say Yes to.
Realize It’s OK to Say No. Just because I can say Yes, doesn’t mean I have to. This is where following my intuition comes into play. If I’m feeling tired, sick, or just disinterested in an opportunity, I’m learning this is just intuition telling me to say No. If I feel excited about an opportunity (even if I’m nervous or scared), that’s probably my intuition telling me Yes. Once you’re able to distinguish these and listen to intuition, saying No feels much more justified.
Take Time for Solitude. This is a lesson I learned in Ireland. Sometimes I just need to remove myself from the influence of other people, enjoy some solitude, and recharge my batteries. This usually means being antisocial in a hostel and not looking at Facebook. With all options out of sight, you’re able to reconnect with your true self and purpose of your journey. This allows you to forget about everyone else’s agenda for you and remember your own.
Revisit the Why. During these moments of solitude, I like to revisit my values and reconnect with why I’m taking a sabbatical and traveling. This has been especially helpful when I’ve been sitting in a cafe for hours writing, working on this website, or doing similar work. Maybe the sun is shining outside or I’m missing out on some great party, but when I remind myself I’m putting in work toward my goal of creating a lifestyle of freedom, the Fear fizzles out. Reconnecting with the why allows you to fully enjoy the opportunities you do choose to take because you took them with conviction.
If you find yourself overwhelmed with the Fear of Missing Out, some of these tactics may help. Maybe even reading this blog, you see my pictures and read my travel stories, and the Fear of Missing Out hits you. First off, just know that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Second, if it does hit you, let it hit you in a good way. I hope it inspires you to take action toward a dream, or at the very least, to become more intentional about living a life you can be proud of.
I met my parents in Stockholm a few days ago, and I’ll be traveling the next couple weeks with them around Scandinavia. We’re currently in Tallinn, Estonia.