The Cost Of First-Ever-Plane-Flight FOMO

by Magenta Ranero

I grew up poor. My family’s idea of traveling was to take a day trip down to the Jersey shore — preferably Sandy Hook, as private beaches cost money — or occasionally to Six Flags Great Adventure, but that was only when we had enough of those coupons on the Coca-Cola cans. We definitely didn’t fly — we couldn’t afford it — let alone leave the East Coast. I remember touring colleges with my dad the summer I was 17, and I was in shock when I saw a self-serve gas station for the first time. That trip, as well as the usual one to DC when I was in high school, was the only real long-term travel I had before college, which for me was right outside of Boston.

As I entered adulthood and got a job, I found that my frugal upbringing had made me very thrifty and also very guilty whenever I spent the slightest bit of money on myself, like for a simple tube of lipstick or a couple of fancy cocktails. So the idea of spending any sort of money on travel, which was an intangible moment rather than a tangible good, was ludicrous. I didn’t mind at first — I was living in New York City, with all of its attractions, so I didn’t really need much else, and upstate or New Haven was just a train ride away if I absolutely needed to get out of town.

As time went on, I grew restless. I looked at Facebook and Instagram with a growing sense of envy as friends and co-workers documented their every move in places I had only read about and never thought I would be able to explore. And so, frustrated with a growing longing, as well as an increasing sense of wanderlust, I drew up a plan to escape the city’s humid summer malaise.

I originally planned to go up to Boston, via bus, and spend a few days on an acquaintance’s couch while seeing the old college haunts. But then, on my birthday, I had an unexpected financial windfall from a family member. I thought, Why go to a city I’ve been to before? Why not explore something uncharted? I then set my sights on a city long in my line of vision, but not a place I had thought I’d visit any time soon: Los Angeles.

I booked the plane ticket with glee. I had promised myself that my first plane ride ever would be with JetBlue, and it was, and I arranged to stay for a week at an AirBNB in Los Feliz. I bought travel books and city maps and a subscription to Los Angeles magazine, checking off every place I wanted to go, even though I knew I wasn’t going to fit everything in. I tried several times to make a schedule for everything I wanted to do but each time I would get unbearably anxious that it somehow wasn’t enough. I guess that should have been foreshadowing as to how things would go on this vacation. I didn’t realize it then, but I was struck by this inescapable fear of missing out — FOMO, if you will — that would pervade my entire trip.

The plane ride was simply magnificent. I had a window seat and took a million photos of various cloud formations. Everything JetBlue had to offer piqued my curiosity and I was immediately tempted to partake for myself Booze?! On a plane?! Sign me up! Oh, wait, that guy is having soba??! Never mind, I’ll take that instead! Shit, they’re showing The Avengers?! Awesome!!

The minute I landed at LAX, I was awestruck, and the plane ride seemed like mere child’s play. Everywhere I looked, I saw palm trees and clear blue skies, billboards advertising Emmy nominees and sprawling, wide buildings. Everything about Los Angeles just tickled me to death, and I was so, so happy to be there, around it all. Here was a place I had seen only in films and never thought I would go to. I had previously thought that I was in love with New York City, but I was head over heels with LA. While I was very happy to simply be there, and very thankful for the opportunity to be able to go, I worried, What if I’m never able to come back again?

Years of being poor had led me to fear always being one step, one wrong move or one expensive surgery, away from poverty. You never knew when all of your plans could turn to dust. I felt the need to make the absolute most of this trip — after all, who knew when and if I’d be able to make it again?

That’s when the spending really began.

I felt the need to visit every restaurant, go to every bar, visit all the museum gift shops and buy all the things, just because I never knew when I would be able to do it again. I bought tote bags and mugs engraved with museum names — which I had never done in New York City — and those tacky fake California license plates and plastic Oscar statuettes that they sell in souvenir stores. I reasoned that since it was my first and possibly only time in Los Angeles, I needed to make the most of it, and also have as many memories and pictures and souvenirs as possible to bring home to show all of my friends, as well as to have for myself to remember the trip. At first it was enjoyable — I took pride in the fact that I was doing things I would never have done in New York City. But as time went on I grew worried. I had saved up enough money for the trip, but what I was spending was quickly exceeding that. I worried that I would have to dip into savings or leave things on my credit card, neither of which I wanted to do.

I was also disappointed. My main focus of the vacation was to have fun, but as my time in Los Angeles neared an end, I had an increasing sense of urgency to do everything I had wanted to do, even though it was impossible. I tried to relax but that was difficult since I was so worried. In the midst of this anxiety, I had an epiphany: if I was able to go once, I could just as easily come back. I could make another trip if I really wanted to. Why treat this as the first and last time I would be in Los Angeles?

Because of how I grew up, this train of thought initially seemed so alien. But as I thought about it, it started to make sense.

Looking back, I’d have to say that was the moment where I finally loosened up. I had only a day left of my stay, but I started weighing my finances a little more carefully and questioned whether I really needed to get another cocktail or get an Uber home from a bar yet again. For once, I was finally able to kick back and enjoy my vacation. I was in a place I had previously dreamed about going to — couldn’t I just enjoy that? To greatly paraphrase an idiom, I learned to stop and take pictures of the palm trees.

Unfortunately, I did end up dipping into savings to cover everything and avoid having credit card debt (which was another another dark financial memory haunting me from childhood). It was not what I wanted to do and definitely not something I’d recommend. I did not despair, though. I immediately set upon a plan to recoup those savings.

I plan to be able to return to Los Angeles in the very near future, hopefully next year. Only this time, I’ll try to come up with a concrete financial plan that would enable me to enjoy myself as well as conserve my budget. More importantly, I will try to stave off the FOMO that plagued me the first time around. After all, at that point I will know for sure that I can always come back.

Magenta Ranero has previously written for The Toast and Wellesley Underground and is also somewhat active on Tumblr. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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