Scarcity Mentality: A Surefire Way to Ruin Travel

There are a lot of nasty bugs you can pick up while traveling.  As unpleasant as they are, they can't compete with Scarcity Mentality for its prevelance or its ability to ruin travel.

We’ve picked up lice while we were traveling.  Twice.  We’ve woken up with bites that look suspiciously like we’d shared our hotel bed with bed bugs.  We’ve brought ticks home from our hikes.  And none of that even compares to the giardiasis or the parasites we’ve picked up.

My point is, that, sometimes, when we travel, we acquire unwanted bugs.  Some of them have long reaching consequences.  All of them are unpleasant.  These are things I think about when planning my travel.  I do everything I can to protect myself and my family against the critters we might unintentionally acquire.

All of that is important.  But, I’ve found, there is an infestation that is far more prevalent in travel than bedbugs or lice.  It is more insidious than ticks or parasites (though I do truly, truly loathe parasites).  It doesn’t come from drinking contaminated water, but it is easy to spread from person to person.

I’m talking about scarcity mentality.  It is everywhere in travel, and it is ruining (or at least diminishing) so many of our travel experiences.


Scarcity Mentality in Travel

Scarcity Mentality Ruins Travel

Scarcity mentality was a term first used by Stephen Covey in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  But, since then, it has been applied to a variety of niches.  Scarcity mentality has been discussed at length in money and dieting circles.  It gets air time in self improvement and business discussions.  For all that, I’ve never seen it discussed in connection to travel.  And yet, the way we talk about travel is riddled with messages of scarcity. 

We make lists of “must do” activities for a location.  What are they, but an injunction to visit every location, eat at every great cafe and take every selfie so we don’t miss out?  We’re encouraging one another to buy into the notion that we have to use our limited travel experience in just the right way so we don’t have any sense of lack.  The most common term in travel planning is a Bucket List.  That’s a term so saturated with Scarcity Mentality, it deserves its own post. 

We talk about places that are unspoiled.  The implication, of course, is that they’ll soon be spoiled.  Spoiled by what?  Other people, of course.  “Overrun with tourists” is a term that comes to mind.  Just listen to the undertone of that conversation.  “Go fast.  Hurry before it’s too late.  Every tourist who gets there before you or with you spoils your experience”  Can’t you feel the sense of want and scarcity permeating it?


What is Scarcity Mentality?

Scarcity Mentality

Let me be clear about this.  Limits are real.  We only have so much time in the year we can travel.  Travel costs money, and for each trip we will have a maximum we can spend.  We’ll arrive at destinations where there is a cap on the number of visitors.  Lines and crowds will preclude us from having certain experiences.  Even an attraction’s opening hours are a limit on our enjoyment of it.

Here’s the key, though.  There is a fundamental difference between understanding the reality of limits and adopting a Scarcity Mentality about them.  Simply because something is finite, does not mean that it is scarce.  Scarcity mentality believes that there is not enough, and that the more you have, the less I have.  At it’s core, Scarcity Mentality is not about understanding limits, but is giving in to a fear of limits.


How scarcity ruins travel

Scarcity mentality is impacting our travel everyday.  It changes the way we experience a place.  It changes how we interact with one another.  It colors both our experience at the time and the memories we hold afterword.  Here are a few ways it ruins our travel.


Scarcity Mentality Pits Me Against You

Scarcity Mentality Pits Me Against You

Scarcity Mentality begins with a zero-sum assumption.  Everything you get takes something from me.  If you get a great shot of the sunset vista, you’re ruining my ability to get the shot.  If you’re using a kiosk in the museum, I have to wait.  All the room you’re taking up on the beach is less that I can enjoy.

Believe me, as a hardcore introvert, this is an easy trap for me to fall into.  I do prefer empty streets.  Open spaces are thrilling to me.  But, it isn’t my introversion at play when I feel irritated by a crowd.  It is Scarcity Mentality, because it fundamentally believes that there’s not enough space for all of us.


Scarcity Mentality Leads to Bad Decisions

Scarcity Mentality in Travel Leads to Bad Decisons

Remember that, Scarcity Mentality is, at its very core, about fear.  Fear of missing out.  Fear of other’s opinions on how we travel.  Fear of not choosing the perfect itinerary.  Fear of running out of time.  Fear of never having enough money for the trip we want.

Fear is a horrible decision maker.  It will drive us to go too many places, without enough time to breathe.  It believes that destinations are always less pleasant in the future and ignores the possibility that they may also improve.  It will drive us to take trips before we can afford them.  It will wring the joy out of the things we’re experiencing.  Fear is an omnipresent question.  What am I missing?  Would I enjoy the other thing more?  It can both force us into bad decisions and freeze us in a mire of indecision. 


Scarcity Mentality Suffers from Tunnel Vision

Scarcity Mentality In Travel Suffers from Tunnel Vision

Scarcity mentality can only see what’s right in front of it.  Its particular brand of myopia keeps us focused on the present, at the expense of the broader picture.  When we’re in its grips, we can’t see beyond this one moment.  Instead of seeing our travel as part of the wider context of our lives, we get stuck in believing it is a self contained event.

When we travel with a Scarcity Mentality, we stay wedded to our original itinerary, in spite of how the travel is actually playing out.  That means dragging unwilling companions through activities and snapping at children.  It means loosing sight of the bigger goals of building family unity or creating space for rest.


Scarcity Mentality Demands that I Take All that I Can

Scarcity Mentality in Travel is Greedy

Because Scarcity mentality believes that there’s not enough, it teaches that I should get as much as I can, and hoard what I have.  It makes my traveling just about me, and about what I can get from an experience.Travel, when it becomes only about the traveler is poisonous.  It’s poisonous to the place we’re going.  It’s poisonous to us. 

Traveling with a Scarcity Mentality means we’ll haggle with a street vendor, but miss the opportunity to sit afterward and spend a minute in conversation.  It means we walk by a busker, annoyed by her presence, instead of enjoying her music, and putting a few coins in her hat. It means we scoff at the idea of paying a bit more to stay in a place that is being responsible with the environment.  It means we’re unwilling to spend an hour learning a few words in a new language so we can connect more personally.  Scarcity mindset only asks what I can get, instead of considering all I could contribute.


A Scarcity Mentality is a damaging infestation that will poison our travel experience.  It’s so easy to pick up that we often don’t realize how often we’re being controlled by it.  But, it’s not inevitable and we’re not powerless.  It’s entirely possible to root out Scarcity Mentality from our travel planning and experiences.  Tomorrow we’ll talk about just that.


For now, here are a few more reads about Scarcity Mentality, including some of the research on how it affects our decisions.

The Scarcity Mindset

How the Scacity Mindset Can Make Problems Worse

5 Signs You Have a Scarcity Mindset