Each new year yields as naturally and inevitably to its corresponding resolutions as a Twitter post does to a compulsive throng of hashtags. One simply isn’t complete without the other. So this year, as you vow to slim your waistline and expand your horizons, why not incorporate a few travel-specific resolutions to take this year’s adventures abroad from “good” to “great.”
1. Jump on the bandwagon.
Travel is becoming increasingly accessible and valuable, and therefore, more common as well. Whatever your legitimate or otherwise reasons, excuses, and fears were that have held you back in the past, if you have not yet made the move to venture abroad, this is your year. The good news is, with social media and global connectivity as prominent as it is today, there is a whole network of information readily available to help guide you in the right travel direction.
If you are, in fact, a semi-seasoned traveler who has thus far resisted succumbing to the existing online travel community, reconsider. By reviewing your own experiences and sharing your expertise via a personal blog, twitter chat, or other travel forum, you can aid other up-and-coming adventurers. Not to mention, you will likely wind up collecting travel tips and ideas for yourself, all while making connections across the globe!
2. Join the modern world.
Like it or not, we live in an online-era. So why not take advantage of the modern age resources available?
In addition to jumping on the online-travel-community bandwagon, as mentioned above, consider utilizing apps and online fundraising efforts specifically designed to aid travelers like yourself. Apps that offer offline GPS, communication, and information can come in awfully handy when traveling outside your carrier coverage.
With that being said, don’t let social media and the availability of access to your friends lives back home interfere with your adventure abroad. It’s common knowledge that the majority of online posts are skewed to shed a more positive light, so don’t let yourself come down with a case of homesickness by spending too much time worrying about missing out on stuff back home. I mean really, what can’t wait or be repeated upon your return home that would be worth missing out on a one-of-a-kind, awe-inspiring, life-altering adventure overseas for?
While asking for financial assistance for your ventures abroad may warrant some initial internal conflict, fundraising for your meaningful travel trip actually proves an excellent opportunity to not only make your trip possible in the first place, but also to spread the word about a cause you strongly care about. Many people may simply be unaware of the many important efforts happening around the globe. By promoting your own volunteer, intern, study, teach, or TEFL abroad trip, you are simultaneously sharing the story of those you aim to aid and offering the chance for others to get involved either directly or by supporting your journey.
3. Make it meaningful.
Why should you incorporate volunteering, interning, studying, teaching, or TEFL certification into your time abroad when you can simply travel around on your own schedule instead? Because it is worth it. Being a tourist is fun for awhile in certain scenarios, but nothing compares to the intimate and lasting experience of fully immersing oneself in the local culture by living and working alongside natives, performing duties that directly affect your destination.
Choosing to be a meaningful traveler instead of a tourist makes a monumental difference, not only in the way you personally impact your host-country, but also in the way you view and experience it for yourself.
If you’re committed plans don’t already include a meaningful travel program, consider at least adding a short project to the beginning of your journey. Starting your stint in a meaningful way will allow you to connect more quickly and deeply with your destination so that when it does come time for you to venture off on your own, you will be armed with the confidence, appreciation, and insider tips necessary to have the most optimum adventure possible.
4. Don’t forget the predeparture part.
Do your research; spend time planning. This cannot be emphasized enough. Research your destination, the weather, the customs, the issues, and the sites, and research your program provider, where the money goes, what its objectives are, and what is expected of you. Collecting information about your destination will help you pack appropriately, not miss any major areas of interest, and appreciate it all even more upon your arrival. It will also, even more importantly, ensure that you respect the local culture and customs and don’t accidentally leave a negative impact or buy into any activities or souvenirs that you don’t wish to support.
Researching your program provider prior to committing is likewise extremely important. Ensure that they actually do help the population that they claim to, and don’t maintain any unethical arrangements or unsustainable habits. There is nothing worse than having a case of the shoulda-coulda-woulda’s after the fact.
5. Learn the lingo, and not just the basics.
This is a small, and sometimes irrelevant resolution, but one that can nonetheless help take your travels from “good” to “great”. If you are already intent on learning a specific foreign language, choosing a country with the corresponding tongue can fast-track your skills via immersion. Conversely, if you are venturing to a place whose language you’ve never studied, learning a few key phrases and phonetics will boost your communication confidence and allow you to connect more quickly upon arrival.
It should go without saying that for your language acquisition to significantly impact your experience, you have to put in actual effort. Instead of spending two seconds learning to say “bathroom” and “beer,” resolve to memorize more important phrases, greetings, and kind ways to express your gratitude beyond a simple “thanks.” Not only are foreign language skills extremely valuable in today’s global economy, but speaking the language of your foreign destination will prove to be yet another strategy for fully appreciating its differing views, values, and lifestyle. Some words simply have no corresponding counterpart in English, so their pure intent may lose its meaning in translation.
6. Dare to go solo.
As tempting and comfortable as it may be to band together with your English-speaking American peers, there is possibly no better feeling than the rush you get from knowing you can go anywhere and find your way through any situation on your own. Not to mention, it mandates you to be fully engaged in your surroundings and forces you to rely on those you’ve only just met, often making you feel at home in a place you've never been. It is an interesting mix of pride and humility knowing you alone are in control over your own outcome yet, at the same time, totally dependent on those around you.
Bonding with other program participants and getting to know the locals are likewise a large part of what adds to your experience and perception of a place that you may not fully appreciate if you and your BFF are already attached at the hip. Since locals are the living reflection of their country’s values and culture, they embody its best elements. You can’t truly understand your host country unless you get to know the natives.
To put it simply: dare to step outside your comfort zone. Remember that you are ultimately responsible for your own experience. No one is going to force you to go cliff jumping off the coast of Croatia, spend your downtime hiking to hidden waterfalls instead of napping, or even make a few friends and a fool of yourself attempting to learn the local dance.
7. Embrace pura vida.
So you are going to be traveling to a foreign country, with new-to-you culture and customs, where you may or may not understand the prominent language. Despite all your research and preparation, chances are there will be some hiccups along the way, things you forgot to pack, a kabob that didn’t sit well with your tummy, a bus that never showed, or a wet season that is just too darn wet. While these scenarios would likely only annoy you at most back home, they can often make or break your trip abroad if you let them.
Pura vida is the Costa Rican mantra that literally means “pure life,” but that encapsulates so much more than its simple translation. Pura vida is a way of life that maintains a no-worries attitude, enjoying each moment for what it is and focusing on people over agendas. Each aspect of your time abroad can be viewed as a setback or an experience, which is completely up to you and how you choose to interpret it.
If you let disrupted plans overwhelm you it can quickly ruin an otherwise pleasant day, so decide ahead of time that no matter what happens, it will only add to your adventure.
Put it all together.
As you look ahead to the new year, with the excitement of all that is to come, resolve to make it meaningful. No matter if it is traveling abroad or at your home-base, face this year with positivity, confidence, and thoughtfulness. Decide to make the most of every situation, retain the competence that only comes from being prepared and forging ahead, and become the kind of educated consumer that knowingly and actively supports only what you believe in.