Each new year is a chance to take pause, reflect on the past, and think about ways to transform into our best selves. When it comes to travel, there are plenty of ways we can become better citizens of the world.
The tumbleweeds of wrapping paper have blown away, everyone's back at work, and the watercooler chatter no longer revolves around shopping nightmares or New Year’s resolutions. But the latter is still on your mind. Or it should be, at least. According to a University of Scranton study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, about 45 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, but only about 8 percent follow through on them. In addition to broadening your outlook, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and meeting new people, travel presents an opportunity to make an impact, if only for a moment. We rounded up a few ways you can resolve to be a better jet-setter, and here's the best part: By working towards these resolutions, you'll have to force yourself to travel more. Tough job, right?
1. Get Off the Beaten Path
When visiting a new city, your itinerary can be so much more than the familiar landmarks and museums. While we’re not encouraging you to skip out on the iconic sites, we are lobbying for you to set aside time for a city’s many nooks and alleys and far-flung neighborhoods. That’s often where you’ll find the lesser-known gems and personalities that give the city its energy. One of the best ways to explore is to find walking tours that cover the sites you’ve never heard of. Many of them are designed by locals with specific interests, so it’s easy to find a themed excursion. Plus, hanging out with locals is the ultimate way to get an insider’s recommendations. Take, for instance, “Wildman” Steve Brill (wildmanstevebrill.com), who leads tours in the five boroughs pointing out edible plants, nuts, and the like, while Queens Food Tours (queensfoodtours.com) introduces you to the culinary treasures in New York’s most diverse borough. In Chicago, Chicago Pedway Tours (chicagopedwaytours.com) leads you through the series of little-known indoor passageways that wind through the city, an especially great option during Illinois’s extreme winters. The closely knit local restaurant world is the theme of Juneau Food Tours (juneaufoodtours.com), and Portland, Oregon’s renowned coffee and beer scenes are the focus of Third Wave Coffee Tours (thirdwavecoffeetours.com) and Beerquest Walking Tours (beerquestwalkingtours.com), respectively. Lace up!
2. Stay Fit on the Go
It's happened to the best of us: You wonder if the sneakers and workout clothes that you've packed are laughing at you as they languish in your suitcase. When you're on the road, it’s easy to make excuses for abandoning your plans to hit the hotel gym or pool. It is vacation, after all. But the excellent thing about working out when you travel is that not only is it a chance to break out of your routine—and your comfort zone—and try something new, it’s an opportunity for a full-on local experience. Biking is a common choice and easy to find in many cities, but you might also consider finding running club or boating house, both ways to immerse yourself in your surrounds and get your heartbeat up while you’re at it. Jaz Graham, fitness entrepreneur and group instructor in New York City, suggests trying an activity you’re not accustomed to, just to switch things up. Many spinning and yoga studios, boxing gyms, and rock-climbing facilities offer drop-in classes. Just be sure to do your research before you go so you can make any necessary reservations.
3. Keep It Local
It seems obvious enough: If you’re visiting a city, you’ll be pouring money into the local economy, right? Yes and no. Thanks to a phenomenon referred to in industry jargon as “economic leakage,” tourism dollars that are spent on businesses with international headquarters or global parent companies are ultimately funneled out of the city. But the solution is easy: Seek out independent hotels, locally owned businesses, and restaurants that source ingredients from nearby suppliers. Shop at stores and markets that showcase locally made products. Food festivals, food halls, and food trucks are all excellent ways to maximize your access to local chefs and entrepreneurs and sample their wares.
4. Tackle That Bucket List
In other words: save money and budget more for travel. There are everyday ways you can do that, like cooking at home more and reining in the impulse purchases. (Personally, this travel fanatic puts away every five-dollar bill that lands in her wallet. Trust me, it adds up.) Then there’s the holy trinity of travel planning: Buy tickets as far ahead of your travel dates as you can, be flexible, and consider flights with layovers or transfers. Choosing airlines that fly to secondary airports is another tactic that experts recommend. It might require a drive to your final destination, but it could save you serious cash. Plus, it’s a good way to take in a landscape that you might not otherwise discover.
Our digital age offers some easy hacks that could help you score a better deal. If you’re looking for a specific destination but you’re flexible with your dates, turn on Google Flight alerts to receive notifications when a ticket price goes down. Sites like hopper.com also continuously scan the internet for lower rates. Even simpler? Sign up for airlines’ newsletters. They’ll often offer packages or announce sales in advance.
5. Consider the Environment
Refraining from asking housekeeping to change your sheets and towels every day or, better yet, choosing to stay at eco-minded hotels are certainly good earth-conscious moves, but there are many steps you can take to travel more sustainably—things as simple as keeping a water bottle with you so you use fewer disposable plastic bottles and avoiding plastic straws and Styrofoam. Unfortunately, the carbon footprint of flying is a necessary evil. Air travel is required for many vacation destinations, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that a commercial airplane produces a little over 53 pounds of carbon dioxide per mile, according to BlueSkyModel, a carbon dioxide emissions tracker. Andy McCune, a travel photographer and co-founder of Unfold, an app that provides templates for creating stories on Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat, suggests buying offset credits. “The money will fund projects that reduce carbon emissions in other ways, offsetting your footprint. Some airlines like Delta and JetBlue offer their own carbon offsetting programs, supporting a wide variety of projects like land use and renewable energy,” he says. He also encourages supporting progressive airlines like KLM, which is testing biofuels, an energy source that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 85%.