My top-10 travel resolutions (and how to achieve them)
My resolutions are always the same — lose weight, save money and eat better — and year after year, they never really seem to come to fruition. That's why I'm skipping those superficial resolutions in 2014 and making ones about things that matter (and are a whole lot more fun), like travel and self-exploration.
A wise friend once told me that travel is the only thing you buy that actually makes you richer, and I couldn't agree more. As incredibly enriching as traveling can be, it can also be stressful and frustrating if not done right. That's why I've created this list of 10 travel resolutions I plan on making when the ball drops and easy ways we can all keep them well into the new year.
As much as I travel, I have to admit that I'm the world's worst packer. My suitcase is always stuffed to the brim with things I know I won't wear and more shoes than Kim Kardashian has in her closet. Instead of overstuffing a large bag, I'm going to try to pack everything in a carry on and be more practical in my packing and trip planning (like doubling up and packing clothes that serve dual purposes).
Take better photos
Photos are one of the most incredible keepsakes you can bring back from a trip, and they can tell a story about where you've been when you can't seem to find the words. Instead of just pointing and shooting, I plan to follow these quick, easy tips to better photos, like learning the basics of my camera and phone, focusing on composition, shooting mostly in natural light and capturing more candid shots.
Research before the trip
This is imperative, but I never seem to do it. Having background knowledge on your destination, learning basic sayings in the native language and learning the currency will make your experience 10x easier and better — trust me. Even if it's just learning how to say hello, where is the bathroom or thank you will make communicating with locals easier and less stressful.
Create a travel budget and stick to it
It's hard to stick to a budget when you're traveling, especially because you want to soak up everything about the culture and locale, and often that involves spending money on food, activities and transportation. Instead of doing what I always do, guesstimate how much things will cost, I'm going to outline every single travel cost from big items, like zip-lining adventures, to the little things, like WiFi at the hotel and baggage fees, to avoid being overdrawn on my checking account.
Be more spontaneous and get lost
Most of my trips come with very detailed itineraries that don't offer a lot of room for exploration or spontaneity. That's why I'm going to add a few extra days to my itineraries, so I can allow myself to get lost in the city or country I'm visiting. The most incredible experiences I've ever had while traveling were the times I allowed myself to wander the streets without a plan or reservation.
Stay with and befriend the locals
On a recent trip to Canada, I met this girl who called herself a "professional traveler." I asked her how on earth she could afford it since hotels are so expensive, and her response was simple: "I stay with local families." She then went on to tell me how staying with locals not only gives her a true look into the place she's visiting, but helps her understand the culture, practices and language. On future trips, I plan on avoiding costly hotels and finding a family to stay with through Homestay.
Release inhibitions and fears
I'm a bit of a scaredy-cat, and that prevents me from trying new things when I travel. Instead of wondering what if or why, I'm going to conquer my fears and do things I never would have thought of doing last year, like sky diving, ice climbing and repelling. The key to this is really understanding my fears (like heights and flying) and finding ways to overcome them (like listing pros and cons and talking to other travelers).
Go outside of my comfort zone
One of my biggest travel weaknesses is staying well within my comfort zone. I'm never the first to volunteer to go to impoverished areas or travel to a war-torn country. Not only does this prevent me from seeing how people really live, it prevents me from seeing some of the most-incredible places in the world. It's important to be safe and aware of where you are, but don't let other people's horror stories keep you from a life-changing experience.
Seize every opportunity to learn something
Traveling can be one of the most-enlightening and life-changing experiences of your life, but that's only if you let it. Every time I travel, I do my best to learn as much as I can. Next year, I'm going to keep this up by taking notes, asking questions and talking to the people around me.
Give back to the community
This is number one on my list for a reason. I want every single one of my trips in 2014 to have meaning. So many places are being ruined by ignorant tourists, and I want to help restore the beauty many of these places and people offer. I'm going to do this by researching nonprofits in each area I go and giving myself one day to help out. This will not only give me purpose, but it's a truly unique way to learn from and interact with the locals.