Published on June 23rd, 2011 | by Charu Suri18
On Travel, Press Trips and the Dangers of FOMO
The recent piece in The New York Times on the 'Fear of Missing Out" feelings induced by social media channels has led me thinking about the travel blogging community and the travel world in general. I've interrupted my scheduled posts on Carmel to discuss and give some thought to this matter.
FOMO is especially prevalent in travel because social media channels are filled with tweets and blog posts about a traveler's sexy location. While it can be liberating to live vicariously through another's posts, it can also be detrimental to one's well being to experience the feelings of envy and at times, inadequacy.
Sometimes, it's the feeling that "everyone else" is visiting cool destinations except you. This feeling is completely human, but it can't let you take the focus of being a writer. I don't want to sound like a philosopher, but if we can take the emphasis away from the emotion and learn from others' social media experiences, the outcome can be a lot healthier.
Image Copyright: Butterflydiary.com
I'll tell you right off the bat that yes, I've dreamed of visiting places and traveling around the world without a care in the world, but I also know myself well enough to know that if I do anything just "to be cool" or what "everyone else is doing," I end up being very unhappy. I like my trips to really be well though out, planned and documented. I'm rarely a "spur of the moment" type of person although I'm learning to let go a little.
I think what FOMO does is to take away from the main objective of being a writer: writing. I often turn to Rilke when I'm looking at some of my "meaningless" activities: if you're a writer, your job is to find richness in everything; you have only yourself to blame if you can't.
Trips to rich and distant lands don't necessarily produce the best stories. If we've embarked upon the blogging journey, shouldn't our job be to enjoy and document travel stories anywhere? Does it have to be on a glorious press trip to Alaska to see the Aurora Borealis (I'm not disputing this would be cool) or at the Monte Carlo Grand Prix?
Don't get me wrong, I've gone on more than my fair share of trips and I've loved every minute of it. The traveler in me comes alive when I learn a new fact, a bit about history, and meet new people. All these aspects give me that inexplicable feeling that belongs in the territory of joy. And if you don't go out there and carpe the world, how else can you document the latest and greatest?
I maintain that while social media is the best thing that has happened to travel, it can take the focus away from the reason we signed up to be writers in the first place, and put the focus on the cool factor, and trying to be the cool traveler on the block. I see it on Twitter all the time. Who's been to more than 50 countries? Who's stayed at the best hotels? Who's had an elephant bring them bagels for breakfast?
(For the record, I would love an elephant to bring me bagels for breakfast).
If you have a day job, or don't have the dollars to travel, reading is an excellent way to relax and journey with your mind. I'm in the middle of reading Eat, Pray, Love and love the narrative. After traveling non stop for three weeks, it was relaxing to come home and unwind by reading rather than writing.
Of late, I've tried to incorporate daily reading into my schedule so I can enjoy and learn the writing techniques. If the major part of 2010 was spent surfing Twitter and traveling, the major part of 2011 will be spent reading and traveling. I've found that this combination really works well for me, because I've missed reading the classics and the new book releases. In fact, reading significantly reduces FOMO (while surfing social media channels can increase it). Part of the fact may be that with reading, you don't always know the writer personally, so you can simply "enjoy" the journey.
If life becomes a FOMO experience, you're not really living. I think the easiest way to get sidetracked from a goal or vision is to see what everyone else is doing and beat yourself up that you're not part of the cool crowd. It can be disastrous to productivity and to your energy. Perspective then, is everything.
I'm still waiting for the day when I can write sentences a la Hemingway, like these:
"They sailed well and the old man soaked his hands in the salt water and tried to keep his head clear. There were high cumulus clouds and enough cirrus above them so that the old man knew the breeze would last all night. The old man looked at the fish constantly to make sure it was true. It was an hour before the first shark hit him."
This excerpt is from one of my favorite books, The Old Man and the Sea. Hemingway has been a big influence in my writing life and my goal for 2011 is to make my prose tougher, terser, more vivid. True, he was an avid traveler, but his ability to make the even the smallest action come alive by describing every minute detail makes me realize that one does not have to journey to Jerusalem to write impeccable prose.
I've received emails and queries in the past from some of my friends about the trips I've been on; naturally, inquiring minds want to know where I am and what I'm doing. I LOVE sharing this information with my readers. I want to go above and beyond the call of duty by tweeting pictures, posting tidbits of information and blog posts. But since media trips are often themed and small, not everyone can be invited. It's important to document, and not elicit FOMO when tweeting and blogging.
Good travel writing also needs to have depth. I can show you some jaw-dropping travel stories about the simplest subjects (e.g. John McPhee's essay on Oranges) that have convinced me that one can construct a travel masterpiece on any subject, not necessarily on a topic along the lines of "The World's Most Expensive Hotel Room." One of the engaging essays I've read was on a very simple topic by Unbravegirl, on the magic of spinach-artichoke dip. That post had me in splits!
In the end, FOMO does not contribute to self discovery and self knowledge, which I really think is one of the most important aspects of travel. If I don't believe in something, I'm apt to write passages with the strength of weak tea (the "third dunk of the teabag" effect). Not very sexy, is it?
- Charu Suri