The fear of having regrets when traveling

The other day I was sitting on a little wall right outside of a hostel in Itacare in Brazil. I was talking to a French girl about her travel plans. She had asked me about the names of the beaches we had visited that day and happily marked them on her map, telling me how she had now ‘crossed off all the places one had to see in Itacare‘. That meant she was ready to go to the next town, Morro de Sao Paulo, a very famous beach town in Brazil. And then she was going to head to this place and that place. She seemed anxious to be able to make it to all the places. I asked her why and she told me she didn’t want to have any regrets about not seeing all of the highlights of the country.

This would have made a lot of sense to me a few years ago.

On my first trip through Australia, I made sure to hit every small ‘sight’, mountain, beach, etc. I really wanted to be able to say that I had been ‘everywhere’, meaning the places everyone would have in their minds and the places I was told about in guidebooks and from others. It was as if I had a mental checklist in my mind that others would verify later to make sure that I was a ‘proper traveler’ who had really seen it all.

The more I was talking to other travelers about their travel plans, the more I thought I had to see. FOMO, the fear of missing out, seemed to be a real deal among many of us. I felt as I had to ‘achieve seeing all these places and as if my worth of a traveler depended on the amount and popularity of the places that I visited.

How did that make me feel about traveling?

Determined and excited at first, yet a few months down the road rather tired and slightly uninspired after ticking off the hundredths beach, the 23rd waterfall, the fortieth mountain, many I had never heard of and I just visited because it was a ‘place I should see’ and because I didn’t want to have any regrets.

And when I came home?

When people asked me to talk about my trip, I was struggling with where to start in my long list. I forgot the name of the places I had seen. And somehow the sheer number of them didn’t matter.

I’d get asked the standard questions such as: ‘Did you hold a koala?’ and ‘Did you see the Sydney Opera House? And then something along the lines of ‘Did you have a good time?’. Back home people didn’t have as much of a checklist in their heads as I thought after all….

Jump ahead 10 years and I can say that that FOMO is mostly gone.

Over the years I traveled more to other continents and countries. And I realized how it was a) impossible to see it all, b) not important to me anymore and c) that I had nothing to prove to others (a very good life-lesson in general ;))

Eventually I decided to adopt the thought patterns of ‘Whatever I see is what I’m supposed to see. If I don’t get to see a place I wanted to see, then there is a reason for why I didn’t’.

And regarding the word ‘should’. That is a word I’m trying to lessen from my thinking and speaking. Should always means that you’re giving your power and reasoning into the hands of another person’an institution and what you’re saying doesn’t come directly from you but from what you heard from someone.

If a friend says you ‘should’ visit a place, does that mean that you automatically want to?

I like getting advice, but I’ve also learned to take it and then see what I make out of it. Places might make it up higher in my list of ‘possible places to visit’ but they won’t become a MUST-DO.

In fact I haven’t read a single guide book about South-America, despite having traveled it for over a year. I just talk to people, then see whether the places they recommend are a) on my way/easy to get to, b) have something that I’m interested in (mountains and rugged coastline are always on my list!). And then I see whether I actually end up there. And if I don’t, then there was probably a good reason I didn’t.

I had really wanted to visit a waterfall and some ruins in Peru for example. And then I got stuck in the amazing Sacred Valley and Cusco and ran out of time to go through with my previous plan. And it was ok. Life never goes according to plan. Neither does traveling.

And yes, I didn’t visit Macchu Picchu either! Wait, didn’t I just say that I spent so much time in that exact area?! Well, guess what: there are so many other places to see, that won’t make it on any MUST-DO list but that I thoroughly enjoyed discovering in the process!

I don’t have regrets about places I didn’t see. I just feel gratitude for whatever I’ve been able to experience! And I wish the same to you!

And after all…. Isn’t not visiting a place always the best reason to return? 😉

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