BYU students say last-minute trip trend fueled by fear of missing out

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Amy Long and her husband Alex hike the Emerald Pool trail in Zion’s National Park. Zion’s is a popular weekend trip destination for BYU students, who say FOMO is involved in last-minute trip plans. (Amy Long)

Brooklyn Dahl found herself standing in a Church parking lot in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, starving and soaking wet. She watched as the other members of her weekend getaway group set up a tent and felt grateful that they finally had a place to sleep. This trip had its planning quirks, but she was just happy to be there.

This scene is a common one among BYU students. The ease with which students throw a few granola bars and tents into their cars and take off at 2 a.m. on an eight-hour drive is nothing short of phenomenal. But what drives students, despite having tight budgets and even tighter schedules, to take these trips? 

Dahl, a senior studying physical education, said that fear of missing out, or “FOMO,” was a major driving factor. 

“It’s such a social thing at BYU, it’s a norm. You see everyone going on these trips. If you’re not constantly going you feel like you’re alone,” Dahl said. 

FOMO has gained recognition over the past few years as a real feeling which drives a lot of decision making. Scientists at Carleton University and McGill University conducted a study to understand the social and psychological base of FOMO. The study specifically looked at how university freshmen were affected by FOMO both in the short and long term and how this force manifested in their lives. 

The students in the study mentioned that they felt physically and emotionally tired when they gave into FOMO. This was a result of lost sleep and choosing social outings over completing assignments on time or going to bed at a reasonable hour. 

Olivia Thomas, a sophomore studying interior design, said FOMO affects decision making.

“I don’t want to miss out, I don’t want to be on the outside of those inside jokes and those experiences. Just the thought of hearing about it and seeing photos and not being a part of that kind of hurts and makes me think, dang ‘I should have just gone,’” Thomas said.

Communication studies sophomore Amy Long agreed with both Dahl and Thomas and said FOMO plays a role when deciding on where to go on a trip. 

“People just want to get a cool Instagram post,” Long said, adding that she would not go on a trip during a stressful weekend just to get a picture.

Long’s favorite trips have been to places such as Durango, Colorado, Coyote Gulch and Moab.

Students have been known to travel to nearby locations, such as the Fillmore Hot Pots, Mona Reservoir, Moab, Bryce Canyon and the Bonneville Salt Flats. Others go a bit further, toward Las Vegas, Yellowstone, California or Montana. Popular activities include hiking, camping, backpacking and simply exploring the nearby scenery and towns. 

Mary Muhlestein, a junior studying human resource management, said FOMO could even happen while on the trip. She said that divisions sometimes rise within the larger group, leading to some feeling left out while on the trip. 

Muhlestein cited a specific example where her hiking group was split between those who moved at different paces. She said those who fell behind felt like the other group was having more fun and they inevitably experienced FOMO.

Others highlighted how FOMO was an almost crushing force rooted in fear. But sophomore Ella Mason had a different view. “FOMO can be motivation to get up and go and do something,” she said.

Mason shared a story where she and a friend decided to go to Las Vegas last minute. They left Provo at 2 p.m., spent six hours in Vegas having dinner and wandering the Strip. After a quick nap in a parking garage, they turned around.

“There wasn’t a lot we could do as minors. So we made the best of it and then came home when we felt like we were done,” Mason said. 

Going in with an open mind and seeing what might happen was crucial to feeling like the trip was worth it, Mason said. The reality and depth of the fun of these trips depends on one’s personal expectations.

“If you have the expectation that it will be the most amazing trip ever, you might end up disappointed,” she said, adding that there’s a lot of pressure to do something really exciting and fun.

Dahl agreed and said FOMO is both positive and negative but can sometimes lead to comparison. 

“If other people are doing this, are they any more capable than I am? It kind of motivates me, if I want to create a life that is fun then I can… but it does turn into a culture of comparison. Even when I am going on these trips I feel like ‘oh it’s really fun, but I still compare it to the trips of others,” Dahl said. 

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