‘Never heard of Fomo?’ asked a Guardian newspaper headline of its readers, ‘You’re so missing out.’ So common is this Gen-Y social condition that the acronym FOMO – fear of missing out – was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013. Their definition states:
Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website
The latter part bothers me less. I accept that social media can help travellers and expats to stay connected with friends and family back home. But the first bit? Yes. I admit, I have occasionally felt guilt, sadness, frustration and longing for events that I have been unable to witness or attend due to travelling and living overseas.
And yet it’s not to do with me not having a fun/special/interesting/englightening time, or even worrying that others are doing funner, cooler, more ambitious things than me. Nope. It’s more along the lines of I am not there to share those special moments with them. I am away.
Having first left the UK in 2011 to travel through South America and the Pacific, I had just left it all behind, again. As I flew back to Australia, I digested all the many meet-ups of a six-week whirlwind catch up tour.
Some things really had changed beyond recognition. Some things I had truly missed out on. But all those things, I realised, had common threads weaving through them.
- The first thing apparent was changes in relationships. Weddings, break-ups and new loves. A lot can happen in a two-year cycle, apparently. Friends who were separated when I left were now married, singletons were engaged, and those who were solid and steady were ramping up for parenthood, life’s next adventure. Having already missed the wedding of one of my dearest friends in Devon, I planned my UK trip to coincide with a university friend’s marriage to a woman who neither my swot crew nor I had previously met. She was fortunately quite the kind bride, and I saw that her husband – my friend – had grown and adapted his outlook from me to us. As we sat around a music themed table, I looked at my group and realised that we were all moving on, in our relationships and life.
- The next thing that struck me was the talk of birth and the arrival of babies. Lots of them. Everywhere. My trip back to the UK had been planned to coincide with my nephew’s first smiles, but once back on British soil I realised it was not just my sister who had flung herself into the all things motherhood. Some friends had become fluent in baby talk, others waddled around with uncomfortable lumps protruding, and others questioned my future baby plans. Not many seemed keen for all night partying. It was a strange yet somewhat expected shift.
- Ageing, in all of its facets, was another area where changes were apparent. Sure, the relationship and baby changes are to be expected within friendship groups once you hit your 30s, but there were moments when I looked around and saw the sensibilities and concerns of adulthood creeping up on my friends, where I noticed the shrinking of my elders, where I chatted as an equal with those whom I had babysat when I was barely a teenager. And yet, despite some changes being glaringly obvious, when it came to my mum’s newly embraced grey, I only saw my mum. Some changes are just surface.
- Other changes, however, were more shocking, as with ageing comes illness and stress. Stress was trying its hardest to become my father’s new best friend as everything he’d worked for – volunteered his life for – had become a battleground between human sensibilities and institutional red tape, and he was a frontline warrior, searching for ways to make the truth prevail. Same family, different generation and my grandmother – oma –suffered a heart attack that she and I assumed would mean we’d never meet again. With the oomph that I’ve come to expect of my oma, she did pull through those moments, a little shook up but recogniseable underneath the change.
- Unfortunately, though, the same cannot be said for my other grandmother who died ten days before my flight home to the UK. The prospect of a death amongst our nearest and dearest is one of those events that has the potential to paralyse us from travelling or living abroad. I was unable to make it to the funeral. I would have wished to have been there to say goodbye to my grandmother, or at least to listen to relatives telling stories of her happier days. Instead I visited her grave and planted forget-me-nots a few feet above where her head lay. I grieved for the sadness in her life, and for my mother who had now lost her mother.
Some things were still the same, some familiarity, some recognition. I care massively about my friends and their lives, and I drew comfort from knowing that our connections are still intact, despite separate life paths.
Now, leaving again, I wonder what will change between now and the next time I’m again in the UK. Life happens, whether you’re there to see it or not. I get that.
My FOMO suffering is far less influenced by Facebook than by knowing I’m missing key moments in the lives of those who have helped to shape my life, but maybe it’s time to let go of the missing out stuff and appreciate the bits I do get to be part of instead?
- On Homesickness and Long-Term Travel (legalnomads.com)
- Death at a distance: finding solace abroad (expatharem.com)
- Living abroad: it’s a hard-knock expat life (cestchristine.com)
- What’s FoMO? How to cope with it. // FoMO: “Uma vida correndo”. Come fare (lavaleandherworld.wordpress.com)
- FOMO definition (oxforddictionaries.com)
- Never heard of Fomo? You’re so missing out (theguardian.com)
Does saying goodbye ever get any easier? It’s all a bit strange, this leaving thing, when you think about it. Traveller or expat, I’m sure we all feel it to varying degrees, this need to get on and do what we need to do and be where we need to be jostling alongside the emotional pull of the other life, the familiar life and of folk ‘back home’.
So here I am, on the first of many long haul flights. I’m leaving England, again, and although I’m excited to be returning to friends in Australia, the sadness of saying goodbye to my family just a few hours ago took me by surprise. In the end I could barely talk.
And I wonder why I get this lurch of sadness, more pronounced the older I get. When I lived in England I saw my family maybe four times a year, if I was lucky. Life just happened. We were all busy. Now I see them every year and a half, if I’m lucky, and when I see them I do feel lucky, because we all make an effort to make the most of this limited time together.
Something happens when you’re flying high above the world, at least it does to me. Maybe it’s the physical disconnect with the ground that makes me reflective, or it’s possibly the forced situation of not being able to busy myself with duties and distractions. Either way, thoughts about life and location bubble up.
After over a month of catching up with family and friends, I’m now back acquainted with some me moments, and as I fly half way around the world I have time to ponder on what has changed and what might change again before I next revisit the Great British Isles.
And I wonder, will the next time I leave be any easier or will it be as much of a wrench? I’m curious to know how other long-term travellers and expats experience and deal with this.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle reckoned that ‘adventure is worthwhile’, thus giving travelling the thumbs up, while Edgar Allen Poe is quoted as saying that ‘to elevate the soul, poetry is necessary.’ Both are worthwhile and both are necessary, in my books, so to give a nod to World Poetry Day 2014, I’ll share some of my favourite poems that I relate to travel.
I want to start with one that takes me back to my life in England, to a time when I’d catch myself in moments of routine and yearn for a different life, one that I hadn’t yet figured out. It’s sometimes difficult to put your finger on what you want, but reading this is a good reminder of how to feel alive, whether that be through travel or otherwise:
He who becomes the slave of habit,
who follows the same routes every day,
who never changes pace,
who does not risk and change the color of his clothes,
who does not speak and does not experience,
He or she who shuns passion,
who prefers black on white,
dotting ones “it’s” rather than a bundle of emotions, the kind that make your eyes glimmer,
that turn a yawn into a smile,
that make the heart pound in the face of mistakes and feelings,
He or she who does not turn things topsy-turvy,
who is unhappy at work,
who does not risk certainty for uncertainty,
to thus follow a dream,
those who do not forego sound advice at least once in their lives,
He who does not travel, who does not read,
who does not listen to music,
who does not find grace in himself,
she who does not find grace in herself,
He who slowly destroys his own self-esteem,
who does not allow himself to be helped,
who spends days on end complaining about his own bad luck, about the rain that never stops,
He or she who abandon a project before starting it, who fail to ask questions on subjects he doesn’t know, he or she who don’t reply when they are asked something they do know,
Let’s try and avoid death in small doses,
reminding oneself that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing.
Only a burning patience will lead
to the attainment of a splendid happiness.
This poem, Die Slowly, reminds me of my own need to drink in as much of life as possible. I’m not sure that it is actually by Pablo Neruda, as suggested by some online sources, but nonetheless it reminds me of Neruda and takes me back some years to when I was studying Spanish, ideas of travel forming in my mind. I would read Neruda’s poems slowly in Spanish, trying to make sense of their meaning, and then look to the mirroring page of the book that my godmother had given me and read the English translation.
And this poem? Neruda or not, I hear it. I chose to mix it up and live a little. And that included making the decision to travel and leave everything I knew behind.
Throughout my travels I – like any traveller – have had to make choices about the hows, whys, whens and with whos, and so often I’ve had moments when I’ve thought: have I made the right decision? Robert Frost plays with this idea in his famous poem, The Road Not Taken:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
This poem speaks to me about making decisions that are right for you. Have I made the right decisions on my journey? Yes, apparently. Whoever I ask says the same thing: whatever path you chose was the right one. Or neither was the right one. Or something like that.
And so during my travels I’ve immersed myself in places and experiences that have pushed me outside of my comfort zone, and I’ve connected with people and situations that I might not otherwise have come across. Like with any traveller, these interactions and experiences have left deep imprints. When I take a minute, such as now, to contemplate my own journey, I can relate elements of my experience to this classic poem by William Wordsworth:
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
The theme, one study source states is about the importance of connecting with nature in order to understand oneself and one’s place in the universe. For me, that has often been through travel.
And those daffodils? Those moments on my journey? Each time I remember them, meditate on them, I am back there, surrounded by sight, smell, sound and sensation. Each time, I feel life.
Have any recommendations? I’d love to hear from you. Feel like reading over a few more? Have a glance over some of these travel poems.
- Pablo Neruda’s Chile (telegraph.co.uk)
- «Muere lentamente»: Un falso Neruda que no para de crecer en Internet (abc.es)
- World Poetry Day (un.org)
- How Traveling Feeds the Soul (wise-living.com)
I consider myself extremely lucky. I love spending time with my family, particularly when I can steal them away for at least a few days so that it’s just us, where work and day-to-day distractions are wholly removed. As a grown up family, it’s as precious.
But sure, having all gotten used to living our own adult lives, we have our moments when our plans don’t align, when our ideas clash, when my way of making coffee just doesn’t fit with your way. Something strange also happens, at times, a return to childhood identities, with bossiness and awkwardness and moods from twenty years ago emerging unexpectedly.
Ultimately, though, there are benefits to holidaying together, something I realised again in 2013 when I spent a week in a beautiful cottage in Linton, Herefordshire, with my parents, my sister and her husband, my ten week old nephew and my D-man.
Now based in Australia, about 17,000km from my childhood home, this was the first time in nearly two years that I’d caught up with my family, and I cherished moments of chatting late into the night with my mother, catching up on our lives, picking up on snippets of wisdom and life learning, of observing my dad scout the garden of our holiday house, searching for edible goodness to bring to the table, of walking and talking in the countryside with my sister and sleeping, swaddled nephew, of getting to really meet her husband and hear a little of his story, of introducing D-man to my clan.
In trying to understand what makes a family holiday so special and important, I’ve come to the conclusion that these are some of the key benefits:
- You are able to relax. Totally. Unlike within certain professional and friendship groups, there’s no need to put up appearances, there’s no pretense. You all know each other pretty well, the life journey that you’ve been on, the struggles that you’ve met and overcome, the joys you’ve experienced. There is something incredibly comforting about not needing to explain yourself, to just be fully understood and accepted. It helps you to deeply relax.
- You can really spend quality time together. Away from our usual environment, we are less likely to be distracted and more able to be present, in the moment, with our family. Things that are deemed time wasting and unimportant in the rush of normal life can again surface, like ice creams and lazy wanders around quaint English villages, like board games, puzzles and creativity, whatever your craft.
- You make space to nurture family relationships. Skype and phone conversations have their place, but nothing beats sitting around the dinner table sharing stories and recalling family moments that leave you laughing so hard that tears roll down your cheeks, of warming around a fire after a drizzly hillside walk, of collectively observing the next generation of your family wriggle their toes, grab their feet and gurgle in their cot.
- You create moments and memories that bring you closer. When it’s time to leave your holiday house and say goodbye to the family reunion, it’s often back to a world where technology is the tool that keeps us connected. While phone chats maintain connections and photos can remind us of certain times during the holiday, memories in their broader sense of sight, smell, touch and sound can help transport us back to that time of feeling relaxed and surrounded by those closest to us.
- You learn more about each other and the wider family. Catching up on the events of the last year or two, noticing new laughter lines and grey hairs, discovering things about your grandparents, finding out which aunt is going through difficulties, which cousin is doing incredibly well at college, all these create a feeling of understanding, connection and ultimately, belonging. And isn’t that essentially what we all want?
All of these assume you actually like your family – at least a little – and that you get on well enough to make time together a positive experience, rather than one you leave with a few extra frown lines.
Wishing you all happy holidays in 2014, with successful, nurturing unions between you and your family, blood tied or otherwise.
- The best family holidays ever … and the worst (theguardian.com)
- 4 Reasons Why A Family Holiday Is Beneficial To A Workaholic Parent (getholistichealth.com)
- Going on holiday as a family (sofeminine.co.uk)
- Call this a holiday? Surviving staying with the rellies (smh.com.au)