Trips keep us going throughout the year. Isn't it time you made yours count?
Get a passport, already!
The little blue book literally opens up the world. Even Canada, Mexico, and much of the Caribbean now require a passport (or at least a passport card). If you're among the majority of Americans who don't have one, make this the year you get your first passport—and stamp. If you've had a passport for a while, get it renewed. You can't visit some countries (like Brazil, Israel, and Singapore) if your passport expires within six months.
It's not easy to break those weekday habits. But waking up at 7 a.m. for a full day of activities while traveling isn't much of an escape. Prod yourself to create time for sleeping in, people-watching, having a drink at lunch, or slipping back to the hotel room for a bath. You'll have a more rewarding—and more joyful—experience if you see fewer things, and see them well.
Learn 10 phrases.
Traveling without a clue about the local language puts you on the defensive. A few simple phrases can ease the awkwardness and earn you a smile—and, yes, sometimes a laugh or a raised eyebrow. Who cares. Get a pocket-size phrase book or a smartphone application for a quick tutorial. By the time you arrive, you'll have an "excuse me" ready for the crowds at baggage claim and a "thank-you" for the bus driver. (We think these iPhone translation apps are tops.)
Travel with a close friend or family member.
None of us is getting any younger. Time is our most precious asset, so hoard your vacation days and travel with the folks who matter most. Swapping messages and weekly phone calls can't compare with sitting together on a plane for five hours and then zip-lining through the rain forest. Wait too long, and you'll regret it.
Give yourself the upgrade, for once.
There's such a thing as being too sensible, even in a recession. The next time you're at the car-rental counter on a sunny day, rent the convertible you've always dreamed of. And the next time you come in from hours of sightseeing, spoil yourself by heading straight to the spa. You can always scrimp elsewhere. You're on vacation. Act like it.
Take better photos.
Your camera's had the upper hand for too long. Learn to master some of the settings and functions this year, and you'll come back with photos that do justice to your travel memories—and serve as a visual diary of some of the best days of your life. (Start with our cheat sheet, Take Your Best Shot.)
Dig in to a local delicacy.
Go on and try something you'd never eat at home, even if home is just the next state over. That means seeking out the street food cart with the longest line, eating something on a stick at a festival, and asking the waiter for the house specialty—if it's lost in translation, so much the better.
Upgrade your travel gear.
Buy a new, handy piece of luggage and learn to pack it lightly. It'll streamline every travel experience, from squeezing onto a train to taking a spur-of-the-moment side trip.If you're going to shell out the money, don't buy a black bag. Opt for something that you won't have to worry about identifying.
Strike up a conversation.
Make the effort to chat with a local, whether it's your taxi driver, the barista making your coffee, or the woman in front of you in the admission line. Chances are you'll come away with new insights into the place—and some recommendations you'd never get from a guidebook.
Don't overthink it.
Apart from certain choice things like an El Bulli reservation or World Cup tickets, you don't need to reserve much—and not much in advance, either. Last-minute travelers are often rewarded with unbelievable deals and an invigorating sense of spontaneity. Sure, there will be a few snafus along the way, but you'll tell those stories forever.