A Traveller's Paradox: The Burden of Abundant Choice
No one Likes to do groceries with me.
Why? Because I am unbearably slow. I've been going to the same small-town supermarket for over two months and I always take upwards of 30 mins. Like the average grocery garage, the aisles blossom with 100s of variations of practically the same products. Roughly 11 types of apples, 26 salad dressing and 60 odd versions of tomato sauce.... it's too much for my indecisive little cranium.
Basically, I've never been a fan of choice. Suckers like myself would much rather have decisions made for them, then be let loose in a whirlpool of indecision.
More significantly, I recently felt stressed about making my next move in Australia. I'm about to complete my 13 weeks of farm work, opening up the entire country (entire world really) for me to tackle next.
Every plane ticket bought, every hostel booked and every short holiday takes mental planning. It can seem like a massive choice to elect Bali over Greece or Argentina instead of Iceland. If you're anything like me, once your choice is made, you'll probably find yourself wondering if the other option would have, could have, should have, been better.
This is my conundrum. I'm too free to feel free.
Before you roll your eyes at my petty first world problem, know that I agree; The irony is obvious.
Having the ability to travel is a privilege. The whole point of travelling, and the greatest privilege for many, is the sense of freedom that follows. As a solo-traveller, I love the freedom of making autonomous moves. Having the maximum amount of choices should in turn provide the most freedom. Why then, are travellers limited by too much choice?
I've done a bit of reading, and found that this feeling actually has a name; analysis paralysis.
Despite the popular belief that variety is the spice of life, many psychologists argue that too much spice quickly scorches the mind. An overload of options can stress out our brains and paralyze people into inaction. Fear of making the wrong choice can lead to avoiding decisions entirely.
The resolution many of us opt for is to stick with what we know; the familiar. In the case of travel this can translate into staying put in your current town or country, rather than exploring one of the bountiful destinations you’ve been considering.
Barry Schwartz, a psychology professor, coined this conundrum “The Paradox of Choice.” He argues that it’s more than just the need to choose, but the drive to seek the perfect path, that sets our brains on fire.
So. what to do?
understand the uncertainty
It didn't take much googling for me to uncover a slew of articles and blog posts from people chewing on the same pickle. It felt good to discover a real phenomenon behind my over-thinking. Being light on yourself is the first step towards making tough decisions tolerable. When it comes to travel, acknowledge and embrace the massive bank of options available to you.
Be gracious to your gut
Where do you want to go?
If one place immediately comes to mind, there's probably a good reason. Allow your instincts to steer you by narrowing down your possibilities. If not, you're probably still early in your decision making process and need to keep narrowing down your possibilities.
SCALE YOUR SELECTIONS
If you just had 10 places come to mind rather than one, that's ok! Jot them down and take a look at what your options are. Once you've got a list, start culling. Think about timeframes, seasons, flight costs and family or friend connections. If you have a one month window of time and $1000 to spare, don't set your sights on a hefty cross-continent excursion. Thinking analytically always helps me rule out a realistic option from a rose-coloured pipe dream.
Set decision deadlines
Too much time is also a prison. Putting time constraints on your decisions is a good way to ease your mind. Whether you're travelling solo or with others, it's a good idea to lock down a deadline for the trip to be booked. With one week left to decide, one of your final options will have to reign supreme. As soon as your choice is made you can switch from umming and ahhing to planning and getting jazzed.
Last but not least...
The more I move about and the more people I meet, I realize there will never be a perfect fit. Choices and experiences are what you make of them. Cliche or not, the only way to make the best choice is to dive into it head first. Giving yourself permission to be satisfied just might be the best way to achieve it.