It’s the beginning of a new year and the time when people start thinking of ways to improve themselves in 2014. Instead of just focusing on how to make yourself better, why not think about ways to make your travels more worthwhile? To help, here are 15 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 on green tourism and participate in environmentally-friendly travel. There are myriad eco-friendly accommodations, tours and experiences. 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.
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, for example, Habitat for Humanity or UNICEF.
Knock Something Off Your Bucket List
Most people have bucket lists, even if they only exist in their minds such as “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, 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. Constantly occurring natural disasters are reminders of how fragile this Earth is, so it’s important to experience as much as possible while the opportunity is still available.
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 much 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 also to explore many areas I didn’t know existed.
Fall In Love
This doesn’t have to be in the romantic sense, although meeting a sexy stranger abroad is always fun. Fall in love with a park, a city, a site, a culture, a new dish, a street, a restaurant, a hotel, a tour, a plant…anything that makes you want to revisit a destination over and over again. Some things I fell in love with this year while traveling include the wineries of Adelaide Hills, the rainforest on Okinawa’s Iriomote Island and Shawnee culture in Ohio.
Get 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 bungee 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 bungee jumping. Literally, they pulled me screaming and crying. While the jump itself was terrifying, it was also a lot of fun. By the end of that year, I’d gone bungee jumping (again), skydiving and cliff diving, all things that I didn’t think I would ever do but now love.
Turn Off The Technology
Thinking about it, this could actually go under “Get out of your comfort zone”. People are 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 empowering. 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 and where you are.
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. This means spending a little cash. If there’s something you want to do or see, remember you’re only a visitor with limited time in the city. Don’t let cash, or lack thereof, 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 hoard bread from the hostel breakfast and eat it for the entire day. Moreover, she 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 I should miss out on great food and interesting museums. We ended up parting ways, and I ended up having a more worthwhile experience without her cheap mentality holding me back.
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. In 2013, add being a part of something really big to your to-do list.
Reconnect With Old Friends On The Road
We all have friends and family we wish we spent more time with. Instead of half-hearted attempts at grabbing a drink and promises of after-work phone chats, why not plan something you’ll both really look forward to: A trip. Grab your girls and plan a spa weekend, round up the guys and head to a golf resort or treat your parents to a fun family weekend away. Not only will you strengthen your relationships, you’ll get to explore a new destination in a fun way.
Become A Better Photographer/Videographer
The photographs and videos you take during your travels help reinforce memories and become momentos you can hold onto forever. Just picture yourself at age 90 pulling out your photo album — or more likely scrolling through your Facebook photos — and reliving that hiking trip through Colorado or that jeep safari through South Africa. To help enhance your memories, start investing in some photography/videography classes and equipment. In terms of classes, I’ve been able to score great budget-friendly deals on Groupon and Living Social. Moreover, apps like Instagram and Pic Stitch make photography more fun as do some of this year’s new gear like the Capture Camera Clip System and Outride by Morphie.
Learn A Worthwhile Skill Abroad
When you travel, you’re given the opportunity to learn new skills you might not be able to at home, or at least not in the same way. If you’re heading to Okinawa, the birthplace of karate, it could be worthwhile to start learning how to defend yourself from the people who invented it. Moreover, a cooking class in France focusing on the art of pastry-making is a worthwhile cultural skill to have and one you can continue to use at home. Research your destination and find out what it’s known for. Then, find a way to learn a coordinating skill while there.
Say “Yes” To New Experiences
Stop taking so much time to think over every little decision. If an opportunity arises, say “yes” and live without regret. This is especially true in regards to travel and the different experiences that arise. If your travel companions mention they want to try white water kayaking or attend a cultural festival, stop thinking “should I do it?” and just say yes. The more unique adventures you throw yourself into the less you’ll look back and say “I wish I would have tried that.” And who knows, you may discover a new passion.
Make New Friends From Other Cultures
Sometimes, it’s not where you are but who you’re with. When traveling, the people you meet along the way can really enhance your experience. While befriending other travelers is nice, getting to know community members in the place you’re in can help you learn about the local culture. Moreover, these new friends can offer interesting and new insights into the world and everyday life. For ideas on who to start up a conversation with, check out our post on “10 Locals To Befriend On Your Next Trip.”
This post was adapted from my original piece “10 Travel Resolutions To Make in 2012“ originally published on Gadling