Every time winter comes around, I'm surprised by the sheer number of people who immediately jump on a plane to head off for a European summer. Even though it happens every June like clockwork, I'm always amazed that so many people I know seem to have the resources to run off to Italy or France for a month. And my FOMO (fear of missing out) is currently uncontrollable.
Of course, I have to remind myself that it's not as much of a spur-of-the-moment holiday as it appears to be from the outside; most of the Europe-bound have been planning their trip for months (and have probably been saving money for even longer). In my mind, they've sacrificed going out and partaking in unnecessary shopping, and have eaten a lot of two-minute noodles, actively choosing to make international travel their priority.
As aware as I am that a European summer hasn't just fallen into their laps and they've worked as hard to afford their trip as I have to fill my bookcase with first editions, and my closet full of shoes, I still can't help feel a twinge of jealousy. And I start to think that maybe I'm missing out on something that I should be doing along with everyone else.
Beyond escaping the bone-chilling cold (which is definitely a big part of the appeal right now), the pull of the European summer also feels incredibly social. And not being able to go somehow feels akin to not being invited to a party that everyone else you know is. An international party, at that.
At any time of year, though, travel as a young person is just one of those elusive and coveted things. When you have serious travel plans in your early twenties, it kind of feels like you've "made it" or just achieved something (which, to be fair, you definitely have). So if you're choosing not to prioritise it like so many others your age are, it can be easy to feel left out. Or, in my case, feel like an existential dread over what I'm even doing with my life is taking over me.
But in my throes of jealousy and panic, I often forget that I actually spent a lot of my late teens and early twenties solo travelling full-time. In the scheme of things, I've probably travelled a lot more than some of my friends combined and I do genuinely feel like I've fulfilled my own wanderlust for the foreseeable future. In fact, the very thought of an airport is so repulsive to me right now that I can barely stand it.
So what is my travel FOMO really about, if not for the actual desire to travel? Upon reflection, I've realised it's more about feeling like I'm not on the same page as my peers and a fear that I'm not spending my money on things as worthwhile as they are.
I don't need to explain the effects of the current cost of living crisis to anyone, as we're all well aware that times are tough. But what we don't often talk about as much is how we can continue to have or do the things that often make life fun and interesting while we can barely buy our groceries.
And it might just be me, but people are much quicker to judge someone for spending their savings on material items in this economy than those who are having a European summer. Probably because travelling is generally considered more worldly, cultural and valuable than owning things. And don't get me wrong, I can tell the difference between a trip to a foreign culture versus a new handbag.
But still, who gets to define "worthwhile" when it comes to our disposable income and what we do with it, particularly in times of financial hardship and strain? If the things we purchase make us happy and serve us the way a European summer does for someone else, surely the value goes beyond anything measurable or comparable. What we all do with our money to get through the day, week, month or year with a smile on our faces is ultimately incredibly personal — and no one else's business.
As for my travel FOMO, all it really takes is a step back and a little perspective. It requires giving myself a daily reminder that we're all on different timelines and in different stages of life, and none of it is a race. Worthwhile life experiences shouldn't feel contrived or forced either, so I've officially decided that I'm happy to wait to hop on a plane until I actually want to go, and not when I feel like I should.
So, while a European summer might not be on the cards for me this year, maybe I'll start saving for next year. And I'll genuinely look forward to hearing everyone's else stories when they get back.