I know I’m twelve days late to the party, but happy new year!
I know a lot of people feel like January 1 serves a huge fresh start for their lives. Plenty make resolutions and set goals for the coming year and I do too. As travelers, I challenge you to do several things before this year ends.
You see, there are lots of things that we do consciously or unconsciously while traveling that actually brings a lot of damage to ourselves and the environment and/or people around us. 2016 is the year that we can change that. So how can you change and become a better traveler in 2016
Take less selfies
Taking photos of ourselves was all the rage last year and it seems as though the more selfies you take, the more popular you are online. The thing is, we’ve become so obsessed with the need to show people that we’re really somewhere or that need to get likes for a selfie from where we are instead of being wholly present there.
Challenge: reduce the amount of selfies you take to a reasonable amount. Take one or two selfies when you get somewhere and that’s it.
Extra challenge: don’t step on any plants or disturb animals while taking one and look out for other people around you so your selfie-taking won’t hurt anyone. Take more photos of the place instead or better yet, put the camera and phone down and just be there.
Put down your phone more
Another trend from 2015 that should stay in 2015 is being so focused with our phones, chatting with people who are far away while ignoring those physically near to us. Other than the fact that it’s annoying to have someone look at their phones all the time when they’re with you, it also hinders us from creating new relationships with people we’re with or getting to know someone better.
Challenge: when you have someone sitting in front of you or next to you whom you can talk to, talk to them. Ask them how they’re doing and what their lives are like right now. Do not check your phone at all when you’re with them and if you should, it is only to notify the people you really have to notify and that’s it. It’s small, but it’s a start.
Talk to a stranger
What I’ve learned in my conversations with strangers is that you can learn so much from some five minutes of talking to them than you might be able to from months with the same people around you. Besides, you never know which stranger might actually be your new friend who has a lot in common with you or the one who provides a huge opportunity for you.
Challenge: join a class or an open trip or other activities which provide opportunities to interact with strangers and talk to them. Ask about their hometown, what they like and dislike, or simply talk about where you’re at and what you’re doing. If you so happen to click with them, ask for an email address and contact them sometime in the future. Don’t forget to use common sense though and trust your gut about whether or not that stranger could do you harm.
Extra challenge: next time you travel, talk to a local and ask them where they hang out and what they like to do. You’re going to get new ideas on what you can do in your journey.
No more littering
I’ve said it once and I’ve said it again: there’s nothing awesome about littering. Littering not only damages the environment you live in for now – hurting animals’ health along with it – but it’s also costly to clean up (it takes US$ 11.5 billion per year just to take care of litter and problems it causes!) and most litter will never actually go away since they’re not bio-degradable.
Challenge: stop littering. Period. If you happen to have something you want to throw away, pick it up until you see the next trash can. It’s that simple and if we all could do it, the world will be a much better place.
Throughout my travel experiences, using a couple of phrases in the local language can get you so far in your journey. Saying a simple “thank you” the way locals say it can get you a discount, a lead to an awesome eatery, even a room for you to stay in.
Challenge: next time you’re planning to travel somewhere, learn how to say “hello”, “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me”, “how are you?”, and “sorry” in the local language. Bonus points if you can somehow learn how to ask for directions, how to bargain, or how to make a simple conversation with that language.
Try a local delicacy
Here’s my rule when traveling: if we spend our days in places far from home but still eat the things we can find back home, then why do we even bother traveling?
Challenge: try at least one local delicacy of each place that you visit. At first, stick to food a bit more alike to what you’re used to at home, but you can’t have anywhere but at that place. Once you’re ready to become more adventurous, plunge off the deep end and start eating the weirder things.
Travel to a place you’ve never been to
The world is too small and life is too short to visit the same places and do the same things over and over again. Traveling to places you’ve never been to might also help you gain a new perspective towards life and learn new cultures along the way. It also helps you grow as you step out of your comfort zone and deal with challenges you might have never dealt with.
Challenge: travel to at least one area of your country or one country abroad that you’ve never been to. Immerse yourselves to that area and its culture. Be there. And come back home a changed person.
Create a bucket list and tick off items from it
I don’t know about you, but making a bucket list and adding items to it get me really excited to travel and actually tick things off from the list. Bucket lists also helps in being specific about what I want to do when I travel and help me plan what to do on my next trip. Plus, it’s a great stress relief too.
Challenge: if you have never made a bucket list, do it! Write down everything you want to do in your lifetime and every place you want to visit. Write down who you want to meet someday too. Leave some space in it to add more things as you go through life and find new stuff you actually want to do. Then start ticking off items from it.
Travel without a tour group
Here’s something I’ve learned from traveling in huge tour groups during my school days: they don’t help you get the true feel of a place. What tour groups usually do is drop you off at a certain place, give you a time and meeting point to meet up again later, take photos holding banners with the tour company’s names, and then go somewhere else to repeat the cycle. Food is usually tailored so it wouldn’t be too “local” and some might even make you eat the food you eat at home throughout the trip.
Challenge: if you travel in tour groups organized by a tourism company the entire time, it’s time to take a chance and plan trips on your own. Do your own pre-trip research and figure out what you want to do when you get somewhere. There will be more highs and lows for sure, but the trip will be completely yours – from start to finish. You can actually go and do things at your own pace or even chill if you feel like it.
Conquer your fear
The thing about conquering fears is that it takes a lot of guts to even want to do it. But once you get that fear out of the way, you’re going to feel so good about yourselves and also incredibly alive.
Challenge: what is the one thing you’re really scared of? Is it heights? Is it being alone? Is it bugs? The next time you go somewhere, do something that will allow you to conquer them or have someone plan it for you so there’s no way you’ll back out during the planning process. Jump out of an airplane, travel by yourself, camp in the middle of forests with the bugs. And feel alive.
These 10 items are part of my resolutions for the year and should be on yours too. I challenge you to be present as you travel and be bold. I challenge you to change the way you travel and be a traveler that cares not only about yourself, but also about your destination and the people in it. But most of all, I’m not just challenging you – I’m also challenging myself. And if 2016 is the year you want to challenge yourselves in traveling, then do it.