It’s the beginning of a new year and the time when people start thinking of ways to improve themselves in 2012. Instead of just focusing on how to make yourself better, why not think about ways to make your travels more worthwhile? Here are 10 travel resolutions to make this year.
Eco-tourism is a hot topic in the world of travel right now, and for good reason. There are myriad global issues facing the planet right now, from climate change to resource depletion to land pollution and damaged ecosystems. Instead of just wandering through a region and potentially having a negative impact on the land, educate yourself a bit and participate in environmentally-friendly travel. There are tons of Eco-friendly accommodations, tours, and even entire cities, such as the new Yoyogi Village in Japan. Find a destination and try to educate yourself on how to travel while leaving as small a carbon footprint as possible.Learn a new language
Instead of using obscure gestures and stuttering your way through a translation dictionary, why not take the time to actually learn a new language? Going to Spain? Take a cultural immersion class and learn Spanish. Taking a trip to Ghana? You’ll feel a lot more comfortable interacting with Ghanians if you can speak Twi. Locals respect you more when you speak their language, and it opens up the chance to have more meaningful interactions.
Most people have bucket lists, even if they only exist in their minds. “I would love to go skydiving one day” or “I wish I could take a trip to see the Colosseum and learn about Roman history”. What are you waiting for? This year, instead of just letting that bucket list grow, why not scratch some things off. Don’t let work and family hold you back but instead, use your vacation days and include your family in your plans. Also, certain activities, like extreme sports or taking a romantic getaway, don’t always require long-distance travel.
Visit an endangered site
Don’t expect sites like the Belize Barrier Reef, the Tropical Rainforest in Honduras, or the crystal glaciers of the Swiss Alps to be around forever. If you want to see them, go now before it’s too late. Just recently, in October 2011, the beloved Cinque Terre in Italy was damaged by flash floods and landslides, and while it is currently being rebuilt at a swift pace, it is a good example of the unexpected disasters that can happen. You can also check out the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are in danger to learn more.
I’m a big fan of volunteering abroad for many reasons. For one, you get to help people in need as well as support a cause you’re passionate about. Moreover, it gives you a unique perspective into the culture, especially since many times you get the chance to live with locals. Each time I’ve volunteered abroad, I’ve used International Volunteer Headquarters as a middle man and found them extremely reliable and affordable. You can also contact NGO’s abroad directly using SE7EN or go on a trip with an international volunteer organization from your home city that plans trips abroad, for example, Habitat for Humanity or UNICEF.
Go out of your comfort zone
You can learn a lot about yourself and what you’re capable of when you try something that’s out of your comfort zone. Are you afraid of heights? Try bungy jumping. Scared to visit a city where you don’t speak the local language? Buy a plane ticket to Brazil (unless you speak Portuguese…then buy a ticket to China). Think you can’t handle the “strange” foods in Asia or Africa? Go there and eat as many new dishes as possible. It may sound crazy, but it’s really inspirational when you realize you can handle uncomfortable situations, as well as eye-opening to people, places, and situations you may never have experienced. I am actually terrified of heights, and when I was in Australia my friends made me go bungy jumping. Literally, they pulled me screaming and crying. While the jump itself was terrifying, I also realized it was a lot of fun. By the end of that year, I’d gone bungy jumping (again), skydiving, and cliff diving, all things that I didn’t think I would ever do but now love.
By taking a staycation, you can actually add to your vacation time. Instead of waiting until you’ve saved up enough money for a plane ticket somewhere far, you can enjoy a budget-friendly trip for the weekend. Not only that, but it can help you experience your own city and nearby towns, places that often have a lot to offer but many people take for granted. For example, while I often try to hike as much as possible while traveling, I barely go outside when I’m home. Last summer, I decided to change that and began going on local hiking trips around my home state of New York. It’s not only helped me make new friends, but has also helped me to explore a lot of areas that I didn’t even know existed.
Turn off the technology
Thinking about it, this could actually go under “Get out of your comfort zone”. People are literally addicted to technology nowadays. Not that it’s their fault, it’s the world we live in. Business is conducted via Skype and teleconferencing, singles meet their future spouses online, and people post their entire lives on social media. However, turning off your smartphone, ditching your laptop, and turning off the TV can be a really powerful experience. You will learn about a city in a deeper way, without distractions, and will be able to focus on exploration instead of wondering who texted you in the last five minutes. If it’s something you could lose your job over, try doing it for just a day, or even a few hours, and learn what it feels like to be completely disconnected from the rest of the world while being in tune with yourself.
There’s a difference between being budget-conscious and cheap. You don’t need to stay in a 5-star hotel to have a great trip, however, you do need to experience the culture, and that means spending a little cash. If there’s something you want to do or see remember that you’re only a visitor in the city, meaning you only have limited time to see the sites. Don’t let cash, or lack of, ruin your entire trip. If you’re really having issues with money but still want to travel, visit a budget-friendly destination, like Thailand or Ghana, and help stretch your dollar further. When traveling through Germany, I was with a girl who was so cheap she would literally hoard bread from the hostel breakfast and eat it for the entire day, and wouldn’t enter anything, a church, castle, museum, or park, if there was any kind of charge. In the beginning I felt bad leaving her, but eventually decided that just because she didn’t want to spend money didn’t mean that I should miss out on great food and interesting museums. We ended up parting ways, and I ended up having a more worthwhile experience.
Attend a major festival
Burning Man, the Full Moon Party, the New York Film Festival, Calgary Stampede, the Winter Music Conference. Whatever you’re into, find a festival that celebrates it and go. I’ve gotten to attend numerous festivals, from Mardi Gras in Sydney to Carnival in Sitges to Crankworks in Whistler, and they’ve all allowed me to be part of enormous celebrations. You meet all kinds of interesting people and get to attend something that people fly from all over the world to attend, sometimes returning year after year. This year, add being a part of something really big to your to-do list.