Travel Resolutions: 9 Goals To Help You Travel Better In The New Year

You could commit to working out more, or reading more books instead of watching television, or not eating lunch in front of your computer (all of which we should be doing regularly) but we all know that a few weeks after the clock hits 12:01 a.m. on January 1, resolutions tend to go straight out the window.

To keep resolutions, we have to set goals that we really want to achieve, and when we search deep down, what do we really want for a new year? To be happy. To feel better. To live more. To celebrate the present. All those standard things that we say to ourselves every year.

You know what lets you do all of those? Traveling. And unlike putting yourself on a restrictive diet and grueling workout schedule, traveling is the full body, holistic plan to feeling better.

But we have to go beyond, “This year, I want to travel more.” That is vague and open ended, and ultimately, doesn’t give you a set goal. You need concrete resolutions that will get you not only thinking about travel, but also doing it.

No matter your destination, these are resolutions to encourage you to experience all that travel has to offer, to take advantage of every situation that you’re in and be more than just an average tourist. Your challenge for 2013 isn’t to just travel more, it’s to travel better.I will commit to carry-on only.
Yes, you can manage to have your bags checked across to the other side of the world, but isn’t it nicer to have everything with you and the peace of mind that you’re not going to ever have to deal with a moderately helpful luggage officer and a store bought tri-pack of emergency underwear? Committing to only packing what fits in your carry-on (unless you’re going to Antarctica and need more layers than usual) not only eliminates the hassle that comes along with lost baggage, but it makes you a more agile traveler on the ground. It’s also a lesson in learning what essentials you really need to function; in a day and age of over consumption it’s nice to know that we can make it two weeks on a pair of pants and a couple of shirts.

I will leave my smartphone at home … at least for a few hours.
Travel apps and easy access to maps are all good things, but remember the days of serendipitously getting lost, having to ask someone on the corner where such and such street was and in the process getting a recommendation for the local lunch hotspot? Plan and organize, but leave room for life to happen, and that means putting the smartphone at the bottom of the bag every once in awhile.

I will accept that I can’t do everything.
You will not, I repeat, NOT accomplish everything on your travel checklist. That’s what the return trip is for. If you’re stressed about seeing every single noteworthy site, it’s easy to lose track of all the other things that make travel great: a good meal, an interaction with a local, the fact that you found the best spot to watch a sunset.

I will carry a first-aid kit.
Get stuck with a motorbike accident induced leg wound in Thailand and you will never travel without Neosporin again. You don’t need to have the stash of an EMT, but identify a few essentials and make sure they never leave your bag: ibuprofen, Benadryl, band-aids, a sports bandage, an antibiotic ointment, etc.

I will say yes.
If you find yourself on a trip, it means that you have already said yes to a certain amount of unknowns. When we travel, we let go of control, and all of those amazing experiences that you talk about when you come home don’t happen because you stuck to a formulated plan and avoided anything that wasn’t on it. There’s a balance to travel, and it requires being open to new places and experiences even if it pushes your comfort level a little. So when you’re asked if you want to try the odd sounding local delicacy that may or may not be making you cringe, just say yes.

I will ask questions.
We don’t, nor will we ever, know everything. Even if you have done your research beforehand, there is still much to learn. Ask your friends and family for tips before you leave (you didn’t know your grandmother once spent a week in Dublin did you?). Ask your waiter what local specialty they recommend. Ask the person at the hotel desk for a coffee shop that not many tourists go to. Ask a stranger what a sign means. The more questions you ask, the more you’ll learn, and most of the time, it will be stuff that you can’t always find in a guidebook.

I will up my foreign language game.
Foreign languages aren’t for everyone, but if you are traveling to another country, get ahold of some basic expressions before you leave. Not only will you come off as more polite and respectful, showing that you are making an attempt at engaging with locals in their own language – even if it’s just a couple of words – is bound to open new doors. Try a language app, or if you already have “hello” and “goodbye” down, go for some intro Pimsleur audio lessons that you can easily master on your daily commute.

I will keep a travel journal.
Not a blog, not Facebook updates – a real journal that you actually write stuff in. You don’t need to commit to page long elaborate travel essays, but keep a small notebook on hand to jot down the names of places you visited, meals you ate, stores you bought something at. Even a master Googler will have a hard time three years from now when you are trying to recall “that cute hole-in-the-wall cafe on that one big street next to the museum that served those really good baked goods … what were they called?”

I will remember that I can never have enough adventures.
No one lies on their deathbed thinking about how they could have worked more. Don’t throw reason out the window, but remember that you only live once, and when the opportunity for adventure arises, you should probably take it.

[Flickr image via mrs. scrapygraphics]

10 travel resolutions to make in 2012

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.

Go green

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.

Knock something off your bucket list

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.

Volunteer abroad

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.

Take a staycation

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.

Stop being cheap

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.