Thursday, 21 July 2016

FOMO vs really missing out

After YOLO comes FOMO. Nasty little abbreviations, but FOMO is definitely nastier than YOLO. Fear Of Missing Out is insidious. It's a distant cousin to the deadly sin of Envy; it's anti-Zen, anti-spontaneity, anti-life.

I see FOMO travellers all the time. They want to pack the whole of India into three weeks. They end up seeing nothing but tout-infested tourist traps. They see the Taj Mahal at dawn and they're out of there by lunchtime; they never get as far as the Himalayas, and they miss out on the delights of small town India.

FOMO travellers get bored when they're somewhere like Luang Prabang. They say 'There's nothing more here for me to see', or 'It's not Bangkok', or 'too many temples'. They don't talk to the monks, they don't go along to chat to the Laos learning English at Big Brother Mouse, they don't get to know one special Sandwich Lady on the market.

I admit to having some of the characteristics of FOMO travellers. I always want to do too much. I always want to see everything. But I've learned to take my time. (And okay, I have time, since I made travelling a priority and rented my house out to do it.)

Because if you're always afraid of missing out, you will miss out.
  • Your schedule will be too full for you to decide to stay for a week in that place that really speaks to you. It will be too full for you to tiptoe into a music class and decide that playing dulcimer is something that's worth missing the hill tribe visit out of your Thai  itinerary. It will be to full to have lunch with a nice Burmese history teacher in a little cafe near Shwedagon Pagoda, instead of eating in the tourist place with everyone else.
  • You'll miss the thing you didn't know was happening. At Palitana, I so nearly missed the great mela - its date changes from year to year; I decided at the last minute to stay for another two days and walk the great pilgrimage with thousands of Jain devotees. I ended up being water-pistolled cool, given rose-scented towels, and entertained to some of the best Indian cooking I've ever had.
  • You'll miss the delight of becoming a temporary local. At Orchha I was invited to play karrom with Ram Babu and his sons, to become the official photographer for a local wedding, and to join a family picnic for a little boy's birthday. I even got a personal brazier and massage from grandma when I came back wet and cold from an expedition to Gwalior that turned into an out-of-season monsoon.
  • You'll miss being able to sit down and just soak in the spirit of the place. There's a stand of ancient trees somewhere in Ladakh where I sat for two hours, just because it made me happy.
Okay, you may not have six months to travel around India, as I did last time. But leave yourself some space for the special things to happen. Get to know one small area well, or get open tickets so you can change your plans on the fly, and above all, know that the guide books and the '100 things to see before you die' (or 300 things, or 1000 things) are not meant specifically for you - and that what you love may be very different from what's in the guidebook.

In which spirit, things I'm glad I've seen and experienced, but that were never in the books:
  • the cats of the book bazaar in Istanbul, and their special cat drinking fountain,
  • the Japanese chanting monk at Rajgir who invited me to chant Nam-myoho-ren-ge-kyo along with him,
  • the box of kittens in a cafe in Meknes, and the brothers we met who look after 22 cats between them and scrounge offal from the butchers to feed them,
  • Buddha's birthday celebrations at Temisgam, Ladakh, with traditional dancing, spicy lunch, and the chance to scramble around some very steep scree,
  • dancing and singing with a brass band at Shivatri Mela in Pachmarhi,
  • visiting a goat farm on the Sentier Cathare and seeing kittens and kids playing together in the hay,
  • lying on a comfortable big boulder on the Way of St James in the Massif Central, watching the infinitely deep blue of the sky and feeling happily lazy,
  • seeing a flock of goldfinches on teasel, somewhere near Nasbinals,
  • finding the Mestre rowing club outing on Torcello and getting a ride in a gondolino over to Burano,
  • talking to 'Mr Heatwave' in Asbyrgi and finding out why Icelanders don't wear shorts in April,
  • getting invited up to the organ loft in Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges and staying there till midnight,
  • spending all morning with a friend of my landlady's quartering Sofia in search of a gaida (Bulgarian bagpipe) - and just as we'd given up hope, finding one to buy,
  • talking someone at the Buddhist Photo Archive in Luang Prabang and finding out there's a picture of him as a young monk in the exhibition,
  • marching on a French Musicians' Union demo (and finding my partner in the process).


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