Want to travel better (and more) in 2014? Set some goals. Maybe your goal is to check off three new countries for passport stamps, or to visit more states. Maybe you want to catch up with your former best friends at their homes across the country. But when setting those quantity goals, also be mindful of setting goals that relate to the quality of travel. And that's what I have here: My eight goals for improving my travel experiences in 2014. Borrow them if you like.
Resolution #1: Stop overlooking the nearby destinations.
You don't even need passport to start traveling. There's a city about an hour from me that I'm told has a good zoo, a stunning college campus with classic architecture, some great galleries and plenty of restaurants. There's another city, less than two hours away, that attracts some of the best bands in the nation, and which is known for an exceptional farm-to-table cuisine scene. I have not spent any amount of time in either destination. Those two places are part of my travel resolutions. I resolve to recognize that quality travel isn't always afar.
Resolution #2: Have at least one highly urban experience.
Tribes, clans, townships, communes and cities: We humans seem to prefer living near each other. With so many of us living in suburbs these days, it's worth a trip into the heart of a city to experience a peak density of humanity. Traveling in the heart of the city, I always notice how urbanites try to both fit in and stand out. I think the greatest creativity comes out of large cities because we all have to try harder to stamp our individuality and to say "I'm not just a number." But then again, this density of humanity also teaches humility, and urban travel reminds me that I am just a number and that it's not all about me.
Resolution #3: Have at least one (really) rural experience.
This is the converse to resolution #3. They're making more concrete and steel every year. As we slowly push our industrialized culture into the woods, plains and deserts, the far-and-away places are becoming less far away. It's good for the soul to have at least one travel experience every year that makes you appreciate what man did not make. Besides getting "out there," here is another thing I resolve to do: I'm not Ansel Adams with an iPhone, so I should slip the device back into my pocket and just linger in the beauty of whatever it was I thought I was going to capture.
Resolution #4: Do one thing that scares you.
I don't mean that it has to be something that literally could kill you. That's not for everyone. Try something that could scare you culturally (or gastronomically). Travel is more about a new experience or understanding of the world than it ever will be about actual movement. The first time I went into a real Mississippi juke joint, I was scared. I didn't know the music, how to dance, the cultural norms, or anything about it, and I was an aspiring journalist with a camera on his shoulder. Even though the distance wasn't far, the travel experience is with me to this day.
Resolution #5: Turn every trip into travel.
On holiday trips, my wife and I often visit family, and we don't tend to do much exploration once we get there. However, one thing we've learned is that even these trips over familiar roads can become "travel" if we just go out of our way and explore, either physically or culturally. Plan an extra hour for your driving plans; pick a destination, pull off the highway, gas up and then head down that two-lane road to explore that little downtown or the county's local attraction. This meandering has been a bit lost in our era of Interstate superhighways that bypass all but the largest towns.
Resolution #6: Try something new on each and every trip.
For my latest trip, I tried a Shenandoah Valley spiced apple and pepper wine. I'm not saying it was good, but that is just part of travel -- taking the good with the bad, but always trying something new. On a previous trip, I actually relaxed on a chair at the beach. For someone like me who is always on the go, that was an amazing, new experience. And yes, all of you beach vacation pros can laugh at me for that one.
Resolution #7: Go on at least one solo trip.
Something changes when you're going solo. You can't engage solely with your friend or partner; you're forced to converse with strangers if you're going to converse at all. It also can be freeing, allowing you to try that one thing your traveling companion would not agree to, but which you adore. To do it right, you have to make yourself open to the world, and one of the easiest ways is to limit your digital connections. Constantly tapping at your phone because you're lonely is going to send a big message that says "Don't come talk to me; I'm not interested in you locals and your culture." I'm as guilty of this as anyone, and it's a good resolution for 2014.
Resolution #8: Add an unfamiliar travel partner to one of your trips.
This is a hard one. We get accustomed to our travel partners. Maybe that familiar travel partner is our spouse, or maybe it is oneself (see resolution #7 about traveling solo), but whoever it is, we know what to expect. Adding an unfamiliar travel partner (or two) into the mix for a trip is a challenging dynamic. A warning to control freaks and Type-A personalities: You're going to need to let go and let your new travel partners have a say in the trip. But here's the win: Travel gives us amazing insights into our companions, and your new travel partners will guide you to experiences you'd never otherwise try.
Author Geoff Kohl is the chief travel editor for Where® and www.WhereTraveler.com.
Image credit: (©Gleb Aitov/Shutterstock)