Perhaps you know the feeling. You’re on that vacation that you’ve been planning all year to some exotic location — let’s say Tulum, Mexico — and you’ve got just two more days before heading back to the office and the 9-5 grind.
As you nap on the beach, you imagine a nightmare.
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Before you left, your buddy Chad at work talked your ear off about how amazing the Mayan ruins are in Yucatán. He visited Tulum last year and raved about how the pre-Columbian city of Chichen Itza was the most incredible place in the world. You have to go, he said.
Now, sitting on the beach with two days left, you don’t want to go. Historical sites don’t particularly interest you. You travel to relax and to eat tasty local food. Spending a day on a hot bus so you can listen to a tour guide drone on about Mayan astronomy sounds terrible. You want to soak up as much sun and surf as humanly possible.
But then FOMO — fear of missing out — starts to creep in. What if it is the most incredible place in the world? And you didn’t go. In your mind, you see Chad in front of the water cooler doubled over laughter: You didn’t go to Chichen Itza?It’s like you didn’t even go to Mexico.
Your life will be irrevocably ruined if you don’t go, a little voice in your head says. Goooooooooooooo.
I’m here to tell you: Your life won’t be irrevocably ruined and you don’t need to go. Screw Chad. Do what you want.
While spending the last six months traveling the world as Business Insider’s international correspondent, I’ve been in variations of this scenario dozens of times. It may sound like I have a lot of time to hit tourist attractions— you travel for a living, the internet shouts at me constantly — but with all the time I spend reporting and writing, I usually only have a couple days to see what a place has to offer. I often have to make choices about my time: Do I spend my Beijing sightseeing day at 798 Art Zone, a district of modern art galleries, or the Forbidden City?
When I traveled before this job, I took backpacker-style one-week vacations each year. During them, I fretted constantly about missing out on some landmark and I tried to cram everything I possibly could into a trip. It lead to me wasting a lot of my time doing things I’d rather I didn’t.
In Bogotá, Colombia, I spent half a day in the Museo del Oro, a museum exclusively displaying pre-Columbian gold. In Europe, I visited ornate medieval church after ornate medieval church. In Stockholm, Sweden, I spent a day trudging through the stuffy rooms of the Royal Palace.
I did all of those things because I was afraid of the proverbial Chad saying something like, You didn’t go to X? It’s like you didn’t even go to [insert destination here].
That’s not to say that any of those places are necessarily not worth going to. If you love royal architecture, Stockholm’s palace is a fine example of 18th century Baroque architecture. But spending a day on that meant I had to spend one less day exploring Sweden’s stunning natural beauty, which, in hindsight, I would’ve much preferred.
That persistent sense of FOMO is one of the reasons why I hate bucket lists. They are a constant pressure to see and do things that other people say you have to do, rather than what you actually want to do.
These days, I do my best to ignore the little voice in my head screaming “FOMO, FOMO,” and instead try to follow my interests. It has made travel infinitely more fulfilling and engaging for me. I suggest you try it.
And, if you’re wondering, I spent my day in Beijing at 798 Art Zone because it felt more urgent to try to understand China’s flourishing art scene and more appealing than visiting one of China’s top attractions during Chinese holidays.
Life is too short to spend time doing stuff you don’t want to do. YOLO.
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