A backpacker’s guide to FOMO: Holiday edition

December 15, 2023

December is said to be “the most wonderful time of year,” but sooner or later, most avid backpackers will experience a holiday far away from home and even farther away from the classic holiday traditions (at least the personal or familiar ones anyway).

Cue the holiday FOMO. Travel has plenty of upsides, sure. But one thing that travellers are less vocal about are the times when travel can feel… unstable, frustrating or just plain lonely. As much as adventures into new spaces far from home can feel exciting, they can sometimes leave us feeling like we’re doing it wrong.

It's common to experience a mix of emotions, from the fear of not making the most of every moment, to the longing for the presence of loved ones, or the anxiety of missing out on the fun times back home.

If this sounds all too real, here are some tips to transform your holiday blues into a festive celebration, free from FOMO.

Create a new personal tradition

If you’re the sort of person who gets more of a thrill from booking a round-trip flight than discovering stocking stuffers on Christmas Day, it may be time to create a personal holiday tradition that you can look forward to each year. Mini traditions like spending a cozy night watching your favourite movie, creating your own signature holiday beverage, hosting a small get-together, or reading a new book with a candle and mint tea are things that don’t take much effort and can happen basically anywhere in the world. Your future intrepid self will look back and thank you during future holidays abroad.

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Find beauty in the small things

What are the bells and whistles that you’re used to in December through to New Year’s Eve? Bows, lights, candy canes, adorned trees, a fresh dusting of snow, gingerbread, the pine needle scent wafting through the house? Before you let your FOMO get the best of you during holiday travels, aim to find the beauty of what’s local and festive. The country you’re visiting could be all about fireworks or parades as are many places in Latin America. The Swedes get really into Donald Duck at Christmas and Australians love a good barbecue under the hot sun. Maybe basking in the sunshine with a fresh pineapple juice is the holiday treat you need. Bird watching in the jungle, llama spotting in the mountains, or taking in the peaceful countryside are all travel experiences that would make this year different but still memorable.

Hang out with others (but only if you want to)

Psssst! Want to know a backpacker’s best-kept holiday secret? Part of the reason why adventures away from home during the holidays are so amazing is because you get to select who you do (and don’t!) hang out with! No uncomfortable questions from your nosy aunt. No stepping on eggshells around that contrary cousin of yours. No embarrassing retellings of that one Christmas when you went tobogganing and your pants fell down. Since you’ve already committed to doing the holidays differently (and perhaps alone), dive into that and hang out with only those who bring you joy this year. If you find them in the hostel dorm room, you’ve won! If not, kick it solo and you do *yule.*

Give yourself permission to NOT

Group sit-down dinner? 12 pubs of Christmas? If you like you'd rather channel your inner Grinch and skip the festive fuss, honour that feeling and bow out. If you catch yourself doing things just because you think you should, even when you're not really into it, it's probably because you're influenced by outside expectations. It’s ok to say no while travelling (even to the “fun” things). Listen to your inner voice and go with that. Sure, you may not want to miss out on the big bash the night of the 31st but if what you really want to do is walk along the beach at sunset and enjoy a nice meal solo, go for it! The flashy, tinsel-covered options aren’t always the best ones while travelling. And hey, maybe you’re just saving yourself a holly jolly hangover!

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Establish necessary boundaries

Holiday FOMO can trigger all kinds of uncomfy feels. Travel isn’t just about planning your itinerary and finding your way around a foreign space—it’s also about working with difficult emotions like anxiety, homesickness, or personal discomfort. Here, being proactive is key. Set up boundaries that will enable you to enjoy yourself this year. Ask to do your family calls in the days after the 25th so that you can enjoy that out-of-service tour you were planning to book, for example.

Escape the holiday hustle

For the traveller who needs to hear it: just because everyone else is going to that tourist hot spot or taking that coveted Instagram photo doesn’t mean you have to. With a finite number of days at your destination, you can’t do it all. Do you really want to go to that Christmas market or holiday light display? Or would you rather ditch the crowd and make your own holiday rules? Off-the-beaten-path and less popular options are still valid! 'Tis the season to make memories that speak to your soul, not just your social media feed.

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