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Do you believe you’re missing out? That everything good is happening somewhere else? -“Jesus Christ”, Brand New

I don’t have to go into detail about how social media has affected general trends of mental health. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’ve felt it for yourself: the emptiness that arises during a mindless scrolling session, comparing your body to this girl’s, or that guy’s, or comparing the details of your life to another’s apparent successes. If this has never happened to you then I congratulate you, but for many of us, this FOMO (fear of missing out) is an all too common reality, whether it’s fear of not being invited to a certain event or fear of not achieving a certain look or lifestyle.

I cannot personally raise your self esteem or make you feel better about your life situation. However, I can give you some practical, actionable advice against the one thing FOMO is good at: making you spend money or energy on things that do not give you joy or feed your soul.

This is true for most tourist destinations, but I experienced this in Indonesia on an entirely new level: tourist ticket prices are astronomical compared to the price they give locals, for obvious reasons, but after awhile it left a bad taste in my mouth. There are many exploitative aspects to tourism that go both ways–and in this instance, I felt like the ridiculousness of some of these prices were specifically to take advantage of people’s FOMO.

Borobudur is humongous

There are many visitors to Indonesia who, no doubt, wonder if they will have the opportunity to ever visit again. I fit into that category. Indonesia is a long, long way from the USA. “I want to do everything I can while I’m here, no matter the cost,” was my line of thinking, but in reality, cost did matter. And even now, upon my return to the states, I am still paying for less-than-frugal decisions I made while I was in Asia.

While I was staying in Yogyakarta, one of the first must-see destinations I heard of was the Borobudur Temple, which was about an hour and a half away by scooter. I learned that a combined ticket for Borobudur and Prambanan Temples cost $40 USD (of course I had to get the combined ticket and not see just one temple, because you know, FOMO). To put it in perspective, many world famous temples in Indonesia have an entrance fee of around $1 USD. But because Borobudur is a UNESCO world heritage site, somehow that makes the ticket price reasonable. I thought that if it cost that much, it must be worth it.

I like what the folks at UNESCO are doing. Their mission statement, according to their website, is to “encourage the identification, protection, and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity”. I don’t doubt that Borobudur’s legacy has had far reaching impact. But after visiting Borobudur, I can say that its value to humanity was not necessarily analogous to the value I gleaned from visiting, the hour-and-a-half trek there, and the money I spent, which did put a dent in my budget.

View from the top of Borobudur

Here’s what happened the morning I visited Borobudur:

I woke up at 3 am to be able to get ready and be able to arrive at Borobudur around 6am to catch the sunrise, which is the recommended time of day to go. The sunrise is beautiful, it’s not scorching hot yet, and the temple isn’t as crowded early on. When I woke up, my scooter was not parked in its usual spot in front of the hostel, and was nowhere to be found on the property. It was missing. This part has nothing to do with the FOMO, I realize, but contributed to the overall tone of the day. No one at the hostel was awake for me to talk to. When I first received the rental scooter they told me they would be exchanging it for another scooter shortly after, so I figured the rental company had taken it and would be back later with another one, I just didn’t think they would come in the middle of the night and ride off with it.

Frustrated that my plans were foiled and I woke up at 3am for nothing, I went to the back of the property to the exercise/multi purpose room so I could hoop dance and take my mind off of the situation. I was too wired to go back to sleep and no one was awake to help me, and dancing was the only logical solution I could come up with to feel better. An hour and a half later I went to the front of the hostel to check out the scooter situation, and my scooter was back in its place. Not a replacement scooter, the same one. I never found out what happened to it or why it went missing.

It was a little before 6am when I left, so I definitely was not going to get to Borobudur to catch the sunrise. I was still frustrated and disheartened but decided to press forward anyway, because it was the plan.

The ride was exhausting and lengthy. When I got there, the sun beat down ruthlessly and it was almost too crowded to enjoy it. On my way to the exit, vendors harassed me, also ruthlessly. One man selling knick-knacks followed me for a full two minutes after I said “no” twenty different times in twenty different ways, and didn’t stop until I crossed through a gate and was on the other side of the fence. I was disoriented finding where I had parked, and I got caught up in a literal maze that had been constructed to trap visitors in endless passageways of vendors, all vying for attention. I understand they need to make a living. But it gets exhausting saying “no” after awhile, especially when I was physically trapped in these winding corridors. Oh, and as part of the big Disney-like Borobudur complex, they have elephant rides. This is a problem.

On my way back to the hostel, I stopped at an outdoor cafe close to the temple. I needed some medicine (caffeine) and to sit quietly and decompress. A young German couple stopped by to get coffee, and when they found out I had just visited Borobudur, they asked if it was worth the hefty price tag.

I didn’t want to be the reason someone didn’t do what they had set out to do. So I gave an unenthusiastic answer, something like “It wasn’t what I expected.” I regret that, though. I should have told them to save their money, especially because they sounded like they were on the fence anyway.

The visit to Prambanan was much more peaceful.


If Borobudur is on your bucket list, I am not trying to discourage you from going!

If you have a proper plan in place and are mentally prepared, I’m sure it can be a great experience. I just want to illustrate how doing something I felt like I was supposed to do, because it was “popular”, a “tourist attraction”, had a fancy title like “world heritage site”, and because I might never have the chance again, turned out to be an exhausting disappointment. I’m all for venturing into the unknown and seeing what happens, but listen to your gut. Are you doing it because you are genuinely curious, or is it a sense of obligation that is forcing you?

This, of course, is all practice and I expect I will still spend money on things that disappoint me. But with practice in listening to our gut, we can reduce that margin of error (maybe I should have taken the hint the moment I realized the scooter was missing!).

Buen Viaje,