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How to Deal with FOMO Abroad

FOMO Abroad

I remember when I first moved to Asia for an internship. I hated it. I found myself in a dreary little apartment in Manila, where the lack of hot water was only a slight relief for the lack of air conditioning. I would go to a café around the corner to do work, but every once in a while (read: every five minutes) I’d find myself absentmindedly logging into Facebook.

Bad idea. My friends back home were having parties, going to concerts, and making damn sure the pictures were posted and tagged appropriately. FOMO -- Fear Of Missing Out -- set in, and suddenly being in another country wasn’t so flash and dazzle. The Internet is the worst thing to happen to travel since the smallpox blanket.

When home becomes just a place you store things that don’t fit in a backpack, then FOMO gets worse, and that averagely fun party begins to feel like something you should have been home for.

Everybody deals with it once in a while. That nagging feeling that something amazing is happening elsewhere. You could be riding on the back of an African elephant as it does the dance number from “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” while chugging a beer (let’s say you’re both chugging the beer), and you’d still see that latest album on Facebook and hope your friends don’t forget about you.

It’s okay. It was probably an averagely fun party but when travel becomes a priority, when home becomes just a place you store things that don’t fit in a backpack, then FOMO gets worse, and that averagely fun party begins to feel like something you should have been home for.

So what to do? Let’s take a look at some options.

1. Don’t Go Abroad

JUST KIDDING! Sorry -- I couldn't resist... now on to the real list.

1. Get Off Facebook

I know -- it’s hard to fathom existence without Facebook these days, and even harder to do the unthinkable and get off Facebook entirely. I promise you, it'll be OK.

When you remove the social media aspect of your life, you start to live in the moment. And that's the best place to live.

Just breathe and click “deactivate profile.” Click the confirmation too. And the double confirmation (Facebook really doesn’t want you to leave). It’s gonna hurt at first. There’ll be that itch in the back of your mind, needing your fix of little red notifications. Ignore it -- you’re stronger without it. Seriously, we've been hearing a lot of talk lately about how good it feels to travel in order to disconnect from the world, though so few people ever actually bother to do it.

Be daring -- do it. When you remove the social media aspect of your life, you start to live in the moment. And that’s the best place to live. Things happen in the moment. And when you get home and reactivate your Facebook, load up all those pictures and give your friends one big dose of their own medicine.

2. But Don't Loose Touch Completely

Photographer

I know I just told you to get of Facebook, but hear me out. In the back of their minds, nobody really thinks that Katy Perry is gonna crash the party the one time they’re not there. There will be more good times when you get back. FOMO is really the slight worry that if you’re not there, you’ll lose touch. It makes sense. It takes effort to maintain a friendship, or any relationship, long distance.

Your friends probably feel the same thing about you being away while they're still back home. So go ahead and talk to your friends back home -- even if that means turning Facebook back on (*gasp!*) After all, for all the negatives of social media, they’re pretty damn good at keeping people in contact (especially while everyone's out and about in other countries!) Shoot off a couple of messages every once in a while to see if Katie’s still dating Johnny and if anything fun’s happening this weekend.

However, if you disconnected from Facebook per my original advice, you can still keep in touch by e-mailing, texting (WhatsApp allows you to text sans hefty international charges), or calling your closest friends every once in awhile. It's more personal, and lets them know you're still thinking of them without all the distracting "look how much fun I'm having!!" posts and photos inevitable with a Facebook interaction.

Give in just enough to put your mind at ease, without spending so much time online that the FOMO sets in even worse. It’s tough to find the balance, but they don’t call it the sweet spot for nothing.

3. Speed Up Your Life

Sure, everybody needs to slow down once in a while, and travel in some parts of the world just has a way of naturally bringing on a slower pace of life. But downtime that includes dwelling on what’s happening back home is just about as unhealthy as a drug addiction (it’s not really, but you get my point). So limit the amount of time you spend doing not a whole lot. Fill it with fun activities, adventures, and in short: speed up your life!

Whatever you do, get out of the house and off the computer!

Or, at the very least, occupy yourself with things going on around you. After all, being abroad is about taking in another country, even when nothing’s going on. It means doing what everyone else is doing in their down time. Go to the market, hang out, chat with a local storekeeper or your neighbors (possibly while practicing your budding language skills...) Just, whatever you do, get out of the house and off the computer (and your own head).

If you’re having trouble, consider enrolling in a language program. We’ve got some listed on this fine site; check ‘em out. Go on, I’ll wait. A program usually includes some regimented itineraries, so while there’s still downtime, it usually includes activities to keep your mind going. And you’ll be meeting lots of like-minded people, which brings us to the next point…

4. Make New Friends

Friends jumping

Look, nobody’s saying you’ve gotta dump your old friends (though that would solve the whole FOMO thing one and done). But the whole fear of missing out thing is based on not being there. So be there. Don’t go home, but create your own adventure that other people want to be a part of.

You’re going to meet hundreds of people abroad from every walk of life, and as you keep traveling, you’ll collect them like one of those obnoxious Disney numbers where people drop what they’re doing to dance around the main character as if they’re not even being paid to sweep that sidewalk or deliver that milk (what’s up with that?).

Once you’ve made friends abroad, you won’t worry about what’s going on at home. You'll be too focused on what's happening right around you. Home is where the heart is, so your real home’s inside you. Beating and stuff. Your friends you’ve left behind will be the ones with FOMO then.

5. Stop Caring!

I don’t know why this is option number five. It should be option one. But social media gets the kids’ attention, so we’ll go ahead and keep everything right where it is.

Letting go of the expectations you have about relationships abroad and at home allows you to fully immerse yourself.

But see, this is the best option -- quit caring entirely! Letting go of the expectations you have about relationships abroad and at home allows you to fully immerse yourself without needing to do silly hoop-jumping like deleting Facebook or meeting people.

The best part of travel isn’t having once-in-a-lifetime experiences -- it’s being shaped by them. And part of that involves accepting every aspect of yourself, including the insecurities caused by FOMO, and sorting them into the attention levels they deserve. Doing any more than not caring entirely is giving FOMO twice as much attention as it deserves.

Honestly, most of this is common sense applied to a millennial buzzword. FOMO is to “homesickness” as YOLO is to “carpe diem,” and people have been dealing with homesickness since the first microbes of the primordial soup crawled onto land and suddenly realized how much fun their microbe buddies were probably having back in that frothy hot sea.

If they hadn’t gone over it, evolution would be screwed, and we wouldn’t have a Facebook to agonize over in the first place. So chin up, everybody. Life is grand exactly where you’re living it.

Photo Credits: author and Leland Francisco.

Colin Heinrich

Colin enjoys traveling slow through whichever country will have him. He's considering changing his middle name to “Adventure,” and enjoys music festivals, backwoods camping, local cuisine, and saying yes to things he doesn’t quite understand. Follow him at Elsewhere Man and on G+.