FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out. It’s a powerful force, especially while traveling. Something is always the “#3 top rated place to see in wherever-stan”, and undoubtedly, “eleventy-thousand travelers sort-of-maybe-highly-recommend doing whatever this is”, etc. When you’re somewhere new, without an interested local for a guide, you often have to rely on the collective wisdom of the internet to guide decisions. Unfortunately, as if often the case with collective wisdom, it’s dead wrong when it comes to what you, as an individual (or couple in our case) should be doing.
Case in point, Salzburg. I, literally, can’t even say the word anymore without clenching my fist and teeth in anger. Go ahead and google a guide to visiting Salzburg. I’ll wait… Mozart, blah blah blah, Sound of Music, blah blah blah, insert superlative here, then insert Salzburg location here. Lather, rinse repeat. It’s got amazing reviews. I just checked, and Salzburg is the 17th ranked must-see city in Central Europe as judged by the readers of advisorytravel.net. How could we, or anyone actually, pass up the chance to see it right?
This is the hard part about FOMO. It seeps into your brain and takes over. Now, the Mrs. and I have both been around the world, and we have a decent amount of experience with “must-see” places. Often, barring some of the most amazing sights in the world, most “must-sees” are a let down. Too crowded, too touristy, too tacky, etc., they’re often better left to postcards. We’ve learned this travel lesson the hard way. And yet… Salzburg’s still happen.
Superficially, we could chalk Salzburg up to a classic couple miscommunication about the other person’s wants, but it wasn’t that simple (it never is). We were in Austria for a week. The plan was to spend four days in the Alps, then get back to Vienna for New Year’s Eve and a bit more. Both places we were staying in the mountains were about an hour’s drive away from Salzburg. So it was entirely possible to swing by the city for a quick day trip while we switched hotels. The problem? Neither one of us really wanted to see it. The REAL problem? Neither one of us didn’t NOT want to see it. Because? Well, because FOMO. It was insidiously there, on our shoulders, whispering in our ears about “never being here again” and how “we’ll definitely regret not seeing it” and to “think of the selfies”. With some impressive psychological jujitsu, FOMO justified the trip for us with the excuse that we were just “being supportive of our partner’s desires”. Seeing Salzburg now became a noble sacrifice for the good of our relationship. FOMO’s silver tongue had found the key to breaching our hard-earned anti-FOMO defenses. And after, inevitability, we were off to Salzburg.
Now, when you looked up the guide to Salzburg in the second paragraph, beyond the superlatives, I’m sure you noticed, way down at the bottom, the warning about the massive amounts of tourists swarming the city. They, literally, come by the busload for day trips from all corners of the world. Let that be a warning to all, as it’s the first sign of a place you’re not going to enjoy visiting. However, per FOMO, as Salzburg is now a noble sacrifice, you think of the hordes of tourists as the early Christians must have thought of the hungry lions encircling them in the Colosseum… bring on the martyrdom! Plus, think of your friend’s jealousy over seeing your perfect Instagram images.
The short version of our Salzburg day trip amounts to this. Arrive, begin leisurely exploring, gawk at all the tourists, realize we have limited time, begin hurriedly exploring our FOMO created checklist of sights. Though tired, hungry and thirsty, we push on, seeing as much as we can. We begin to fray, but know there’s still the cathedral, the castle and that one beautiful street to see. I reach a hunger-level of desperation, and breakdown. I metamorphose into a selfish man-baby that needs to get food ASAP or I’ll die (figuratively). I stop at the very first place I see, a typical Austrian sausage and pretzel stand. I order food for myself, completely ignoring the Mrs. We then, not unexpectedly in hindsight, fight, but share both a sausage and pretzel. FOMO propels us onward to the last checklist item, the castle. There’s a massive line for tickets, and then for the funicular, and then again for entrance, which we endure in unresolved angry silence. Just as we finally actually get inside, my phone alarm goes off. Shyte, the parking meter is about to expire. And now we’re up in the castle, at least 45 minutes away. Uggh! We immediately double time it back. No ticket, but we’re really tired. Now it’s dark, freezing, and we still have an hour and a half drive ahead of us. We drive, again, still straining under unresolved angry silence, taking at least two wrong turns. Then, with a cruel sense of humor, the universe reaches deep into it’s bag of tricks to extract the toll for giving into the devil that is FOMO. We BOTH get food poisoning. Right in the middle of drive. And it’s definitely from the sausage and pretzel stand. Somebody, somewhere, began laughing their ass off.
Stupid Salzburg! Everything about the day trip was a mistake. The following day we lay suffering in bed, recounting the lessons we had to re-learn. 1) Don’t let FOMO get the best of you. It’s difficult, but you have to resist doing what others (the internet, the guidebook, etc.) think you should and stick to what you actually want to do. Plus, in general, whatever you’re “supposed” to do is likely not that great anyhow. 2) Adequately feed and water yourself to avoid mentally breaking down (which always, without fail, occurs at the most inconvenient time possible). 3) Communicate. This should be obvious, but we often actually just assume instead of actually asking for our partner’s thoughts. Let’s never Salzburg again.
PS. Luckily our food poisoning was only the 24 hour variety. We were both feeling better by the next evening.
PPS. Salzburg really is a beautiful city, and I won't discourage you from visiting. Just do it a little more thoughtfully than we did. Plus, if you go in the summer, you can do the "Sound of Music Bike Tour", which sounds amazing (yes, really).