Whether you are ready for it or not, here we are in a new calendar year. A year can fly by so quickly, so now is the time to set new travel goals for 2016. For me, the beginning of a new year is a great time to start planning any big trips and making a must-visit list. Some goals can be simple, and some can be more grandiose. Either way, take a few moments out of your busy life to sit back and think about what you want to accomplish. If you can’t get a lot of traveling in this year, that is okay! There are still many ways to fulfill that wanderlust. Here are a list of my travel related goals for 2016. Hopefully they will give you some ideas and inspiration so that you will want to set some goals for yourself this year.
1. Read more travel books and international novels
While it sounds so simple to pick up a new book, I have a hard time finding the time to read for pleasure (unless it is a quick read). One of my goals this year is to spend more time reading instead of turning on the TV. I want to feel more inspired, and perhaps find a new place to add to my travel bucket list. The easiest way to do this is to spend some time at a bookstore and find something that catches your attention.
Another great option is to talk to you friends. Find out where they’ve been, where they’ve always wanted to go, and what books they can loan you about that destination. If you aren't into travel books, pick up a novel that takes place in a country that interests you. Maybe reading Under the Tuscan Sun will get you craving a trip to the Italian countryside.
2. Cook recipes from other countries or eat at a new international restaurant
If you can't travel to a country, at least you can eat their food. Years ago, I used to plan dinner parties with friends, and we would spend hours together making handmade pastas and drinking wine. I want to resurrect that again this year. I plan to have at least one international dinner per month where my friends and I get together to create a traditional meal from another country.
The goal of some of these parties will be to re-experience foods and drinks that I still dream about from my travels: pici pasta from Siena, Italy, the francesinha I ate in Porto, Portugal, or the caipirinha I drank on the beach in Brazil.
3. Create a list of must see countries/sites/activities and cross at least one off
There are 196 countries in the world today to visit, and I’ve barely made a dent. I have a few countries that I’ve been eyeing for a while that I’ve wanted to go to, but I have never put together a complete list of my “must sees.” Putting together a list is a great way to really prioritize what is important to you. It will help you figure out what locations you can visit on the same trip, or when in your lifetime you may be able to visit.
There are countries I’ve visited already, but activities there that I never got to participate in because of my age, timing, etc. One event I’ve had my eye on for a while is Oktoberfest in Munich. For some, this may be too obvious of a choice, but it has always been on my mind and I’ll have to cross it off at some point. Maybe even this year.
Another experience I must do in my lifetime is walking the Camino to Santiago de Compostela. I’ve traveled to Spain a couple times and have visited towns along the famous path, but I've never had the opportunity to experience the beauty and transformative power of this pilgrimage.
I have crossed a few things off my "must do" list, including traveling to a small town in Ireland where I was able to see the gravestones of my ancestors. Tracing your ancestry can be an incredibly powerful and emotional journey that I highly recommend.
Your list doesn't have to be full of huge events that require a lot of time or money. For example, one of my favorite memories as a young traveller was simply driving by a field of sunflowers in the French countryside. Sometimes simple is best.
4. Cross one crazy activity off your bucket list
This is a hard one for me. I’ve never had the urge to skydive or bungee jump off a bridge, but if the opportunity presented itself, there is a chance I would take it… if the circumstances were right. My sister travelled to Macau and ended up bungee jumping off a tower. You never know what you might do! While I'm not sure where I'm headed this year, I plan to do at least one thing that scares me.
Last year, I traveled to Iguazu Falls and took a boat on the Argentinian side that drove straight into the waterfall. I didn't tell my friends until very recently that boats have capsized and people have died doing what we did. Oops. I also visited a favela in Rio de Janeiro, which many people thought was a crazier thing to do. While neither was necessarily “extreme,” these were things that I wouldn’t normally do unless the opportunity presented itself... and it did. Looking back, I couldn’t imagine my trip without having these experiences. It can be scary to take risks, but even more exciting to say “yes” to something you never thought you would do.
5. Learn (or brush up on) a new language
This has never been my strong suit. I took three years of Spanish and three years of American Sign Language in high school and have relatively nothing to show for it now because I didn't practice. My personal goal this year is to try to brush up on both of these. In my recent travels to Buenos Aires, my friends and I met up with a friend who spoke mostly Spanish (my travel buddies speak fluently) so I was the odd man out for a lot of our conversations. Oddly enough, I understood a lot more of the conversation than I gave myself credit for, but I wasn’t able to contribute more than a few elementary vocabulary words.
If you are headed to another country that speaks another language, it is really important that you master basic phrases and vocabulary to help with your interactions with the locals. Usually, no matter how badly I butcher a sentence, I can see that the person I'm speaking to appreciates my effort. Download Duolingo, or another popular language app, and practice a little bit every day leading up to your trip. Just having a few phrases up your sleeves can have a huge impact on your travels and interactions with those around you. You may even meet a new friend (see goal #10).
6. Plan one spontaneous road trip (or flight) somewhere
I’m a sucker for a good road trip. The kind where you blast some old jams in the car and drive for hours, and you don’t have many, if any, set plans. It doesn’t have to be a long trip either, just a day or two is enough to reset my batteries. It is more difficult to do this when you have the internet at your fingertips and can look up everything from maps to places to eat, but I encourage you to throw those by the wayside. It can be pretty fun to see where the road takes you, drive until you’re tired, and then find a random motel to crash for the night. I met a stranger on my plane to Portland, Oregon last week and we chatted for the entire flight. He gave me all sorts of insider tips about his city. His advice ended up dictating a lot of what I ended up doing during my few days in the city. Ask the people you meet along the way for recommendations and advice. I promise that this method is way better than spending hours in front of a screen searching Google for answers. A spontaneous trip always makes me feel fulfilled and refreshed.
7. Visit landmarks - famous or not
This one should be fairly easy to cross off of anyone's list. I consider myself a pretty decent tourist in my own town, but at the same time, there are many landmarks that I’ve yet to experience here in San Diego (and I've lived here the majority of my life). Your landmarks can be anything from a funny local spot to a national park. I've set a few simple goals for myself in San Diego including checking out the painted trees at Sunset Cliffs and walking across the suspension bridge on Spruce Street (a site that I drive by frequently).
Make a list of landmarks that you want to experience, local or international, and figure out a timeline of when you can see them. Sometimes they may be out of your way, but the experience may be worth it for the memories. I once planned a brief trip (maybe an hour) to Pisa just to see the leaning tower. I don’t regret it.
8. Travel alone
This is the most difficult goal for me to embrace. As a woman, I hate to admit that this idea makes me the most uncomfortable (mostly for safety reasons). I do things on my own all the time in my own city. I see movies by myself, I go to museums by myself, and I’ve dined by myself. Nothing forces you to get out of your comfort zone more than being alone somewhere, especially if you need to ask for help or advice. I’m pretty reserved and don’t tend to be overly social unless my friends are around, so my goal this year is to do more things alone but meet more people along the way. I’m not sure I’m ready to travel out of the country alone, but... "baby steps," right? Maybe I'll feel better about going abroad alone once I complete #5 on my list.
9. Set aside a travel budget
Budgeting is the worst, am I right? No one really wants to break the bank on their trip, but you certainly don’t want to come home wishing you’d just spent the extra few bucks to visit that one museum or eat at that one amazing restaurant. In order to set a travel budget, you will most likely need to create a budget for the rest of your expenses. Gasp. I know…it’s terrible. Get an app like Mint, or something similar, to track your day-to-day spending. You may be surprised to find how much money you spend eating out, or on frivolous things you simply don’t need. Take the money that you would have spent on something unnecessary, and add it to your travel savings. Saving $20 here and there will add up quickly. Hopefully when you’re ready for that escape, you have a fairly good-sized amount set aside for those must see sites.
You’ll want to prioritize what you spend your money on when traveling too. When I was younger, food and lodging were not a huge priority. I would stay in hostels and eat cheap pasta and bread with the other travelers. Nowadays, I’ve upgraded (slightly), and like to splurge a bit more on decent food and a room where there aren’t 13 other strangers sharing the same space. If you’re traveling with another person, you’ll want to make sure you’re both on the same page. If there is something you don’t want to spend money on, you’re going to either have to compromise or go in separate directions for the day.
10. Make a new friend from somewhere else
I’m the first to admit that I have a lot of friends. Maybe too many. But I love them all and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Making new friends probably shouldn’t be a high priority for me, but somehow I love the challenge of making a new friend in another country, especially someone whose first language is something other than English. Let them be a new travel resource! Maybe they can help me learn Spanish finally.
I have a few pen pals that I've met from my travels that I chat with occasionally (thank you internet and social media), and it can be really fun to have their perspective on things. Meeting friends while traveling can be a great thing! Perhaps you plan a trip where you both can reunite for a few days somewhere new, or you may have a place to rest your head when you visit their home country. Either way, there is a beauty to having a friend that lives far away. Your interactions are more meaningful when you have the opportunity to connect, and you can learn something new when you view the world from their eyes.
My goals are a bit vague right now, because to be frank, I haven’t mapped out my travel year just yet. Once I have a couple of destinations set, I can get to planning and setting more specific goals. Of course, these are just goals, and I don’t have to meet every single one, but I think they’re all realistic for my life. Yours may be more ambitious and specific, and that’s great! The most important goal when traveling should be to enjoy yourself. That’s why you’re traveling in the first place, I hope. Happy travels and happy new year!
What are your travel goals for 2016? Where are you planning to travel? Leave any tips and ideas in the comments below!