Editor’s Note: Hal Amen and Jennifer Price contributed to this article.
A new year offers change and fresh starts. We dream of ourselves debt free, thin, and surrounded by love and happiness in just 365 days.
But what resolutions should a traveler make? Although travelers are pretty good at keeping adventure in their lives, having concrete and specific goals can help expand horizons even more, so here are some New Year’s resolutions to consider adding to your own list for 2009.
1. Research a trip you’ve never considered before.
There are so many places to visit in this wide world. Don’t limit yourself by defining travel as train-hopping between European capitals or backpacking the Southeast Asia tourist trail.
Commit to spending part of the new year in a new land. Did you know that Chile is one of the most naturally diverse countries in the world? How about signing onto a two-week guided trek through Himalayan Bhutan?
Or better yet, make tracks and find the next travel hotspot before anyone’s even heard of it.
2. Spend at least one night every month outside your hometown…
This can be a night at Grandma’s, a night in Africa, or a night in a dinky hotel room in the middle of nowhere—it’s still different and fun, so counts as travel. That’s at least 12 guaranteed trips that you know you can look forward to.
3. … But don’t forget to explore your backyard.
Try looking at your home region through the eyes of a tourist instead of a resident. What attractions have you been missing simply because they lie right under your nose? Get to know the parks, B&Bs, wilderness areas, and culture offerings within striking distance of your house, and undertake a trip without the overbearing costs and carbon footprint of transportation.
And if you’re financially strapped, remember: a bleak economy could mean once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Visit Matador Life to read about How to Break Free from the Recession and Travel the World and 8 Ways the Financial Crisis Can Improve Your Life. 7 Steps for Creating an In-Town Vacation is another useful resource.
4. Travel outside your comfort zone.
Although travelers tend to seek out adventure, our trips often keep us within our comfort zone.
This year, try to go outside that comfort zone—even if it’s just for a few nights. Go on a one-day bus trip if you usually like finding things yourself. Go somewhere by yourself if you always travel with friends or family.
Not only can you expand your destination choices, but also what you do once you get there.
Adventure sports, home stays, cultural programs like cooking classes or tango lessons …the opportunities to fill your travels with fresh experiences are endless. Chances are you’ll learn a lot about your destination while you’re at it.
You might be amazed at what you find…or you may realize that your comfort zone suits you just fine.
5. Convince a non-traveler to accompany you.
This year, instead of sending postcards home to friends and family, why not bring home with you? Make it your mission to persuade a non-traveler in your life—a stubborn sibling, an old college roommate, even a parent—to join you on your next trip. And don’t take “no” for an answer!
Nothing broadens a person’s perspective like travel, so your companion will likely thank you in the end. Not only that, but you can learn a lot from a new travel buddy yourself.
6. Use your travel to give back.
Voluntourism has been a big buzzword lately, but it’s a trend that comes with real benefits—both for the visitor and for the destination.
Options range from teaching children English in Sudan to protecting the eggs of sea turtles, but all types of voluntourism give travelers a unique way to experience travel and feel warm and fuzzy inside.
7. Support local concerns.
Even when you’re not volunteering, your actions in foreign lands can benefit those around you. Wherever you are, seek out companies, products, and services dedicated to giving back to the community, and avoid multinationals that are more liable to exploit local populations.
And of course, the importance of buying fair trade can’t be stressed enough.
8. Read more and watch more.
It sounds contradictory to tell travelers to read more books and watch more movies when all they want to do is hit the road. However, travelers may find reading and watching movies set in a future destination add to their adventures. Books and movies are also a great way to keep daily adventure in your life at home. Lists of possible books and movies abound.
9. Learn a language.
The average international wanderer can’t speak the tongue of the place he or she is visiting, a sad-but-true fact of travel. Just as true is the fact that your experience will be enriched immeasurably if you make an effort to do so.
Language acquisition on the road is no simple task, particularly if your time in a country is limited, so make use of the tools available to you. Online resources, language exchanges, romantic relationships, and immersion courses can help even the odds.
10. Keep track of the memories.
A common resolution is to “get organized.” For travelers, this usually means labeling pictures, putting together a scrapbook, or sending travelogues to our families.
Too often, other priorities get in the way and a few months later we’re left trying to remember the name of the medicine man we met in Bali or which church is which from our trip to Europe.
Take the time (and the money) to get the supplies you need to make this as simple and non-time-consuming as possible when you return from your trip. Then, display those memories prominently to remind yourself of the New Year’s travel resolutions you want to make next year.
Photo by Prince Heathen
11. Write about your journey.
You’ve organized your photos and made a scrapbook. How about writing about your travels? Putting thoughts down on paper (or a computer screen) can awaken new appreciation for what transpires on the road.
Worried that you don’t have the know-how to write about travel? All the tips you need to get started are found in the Traveler’s Notebook. And don’t forget to post the results on your Matador blog!
12. Slow down.
Country-hopping your way around the world seems pretty impractical in today’s economy. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t travel the globe. Just take it slower.
Slow travel is usually cheaper than the alternative, so both your wallet and the environment will thank you.
What are your travel resolutions for 2009? And if you’re a travel writer, are these resolutions relevant for you?
Share your thoughts below!