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15 New Year Resolutions for Travelers

How can you make travel better? This list of New Year resolutions for travelers is a good start.

By Jason Barnette | Travel writer and photographer with 15+ years of road tripping experience

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my Affiliate Disclosure here.

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Happy New Year!

Every year, New Year’s Day is a catalyst for change. The day marks the beginning of new personal goals vigorously pursued for about a month, but inevitably tossed to the side. The list is usually an unrealistic set of goals – and that is exactly how this list is different.

When I began writing a list of New Year resolutions specifically for travelers, I asked myself on simple question, “How could I travel better?” I looked back at my previous road trip adventures, costly mistakes, and appropriate teaching moments for inspiration.

I believe these resolutions are easy to achieve with just a little bit of effort. I still need to achieve a few of these goals myself – I still haven’t made a really good packing list. How many of these do you think you might accomplish this year?

No. 1

Take Advantage of Long Weekends

Not every vacation needs to be a week-long affair with pre-scheduled days off from work and an exorbitant price tag. Three days weekends created from federal holidays in the United States will be rare in 2021 – most of the major holidays do not fall on Friday or Monday. But there is nothing that says you can’t schedule one day off from work!

Three-day weekends can be wonderful for local travel. Pick a destination six hours away, go on a mini road trip to get there, spend two nights, and come back late Sunday. With 60 hours at a destination, you could get a lot done!

National Park Week 2024

Learn about the annual celebration of the National Park System and read my travel guides to national park units across the country.

No. 2

Use Every Single Vacation Day

It is becoming more frequent for Americans to leave vacation days in the bank. There are lots of reasons including lack of money to splurge on large vacations, conflicting schedules with children and spouses, and sometimes just a lack of desire to travel. But that shouldn’t stop you from using the vacation days you would still get paid for.

Use your vacation days. Don’t let the boss intimidate you. Stay at home and practice some backyard tourism. Or go all-in with that epic dream vacation!

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No. 3

Ditch the Single Use Plastics

One of the best decisions I ever made was ditching flimsy water bottles and buying a CamelBak Chute Mag Water Bottle. This reusable bottle has been fantastic for me – and I now have a collection of six. The “chute” is the wide mouth of the bottle – no straw – that makes it easy to guzzle after coming back from a long hike. I have found the 25-ounce bottle perfect for fitting into most bottle pockets on bags.

Single use plastics – which includes more than just water bottles – is a huge environmental problem. But beyond that, it’s also expensive. Most state and national parks now have specially designed water fountains for filling reusable bottles. Imagine buying a single water bottle and never having to pay for water again?

No. 4

Pack It In, Pack It Out

Last year, I overheard a guy at Cuyahoga Valley National Park giving stern instructions to his children, “Pick up all your trash and put it in that trash can. We leave this park better than we found it!”

That was great advice! But he could have taken it one step further – he could have taken his trash with him. It’s great to take that selfless extra step to throw your garbage into the bin, but then someone still has to empty the bin. National parks are always overworked and behind schedule and state parks sometimes aren’t much better.

Wouldn’t it just be easier and better to bring a trash bag with you and take your own trash home?

No. 5

Kill the Idling

There is a sign I’ve only seen once – and I can never remember to capture a photo – that has stuck with me over the years. It read “Be an Idol, Don’t Idle.” The sign was located at the Sugarlands Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and was meant to encourage visitors to turn their car engines off at scenic overlooks.

More times than I can count, I have seen vehicles pull into a scenic overlook in national parks, scenic byways, and particularly the Blue Ridge Parkway – and leave their engines running. Granted, they are usually only there for about five minutes – just long enough to capture a couple of crappy cellphone photos for Instagram.

But every minute a car’s engine idles, it spews exhaust fumes into the park. Think about the thousands of vehicles a year that visit popular destinations. It costs nothing and is almost effortless to turn the engine off as soon as you park the vehicle. What could it actually hurt?

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No. 6

Rent an Eco-Friendly Car

This is a resolution I am eager to give a try in 2021. On your next vacation or road trip adventure, rent an eco-friendly car. High efficiency cars get great gas mileage – meaning you’ll spend less money on fuel – and electric cars require no fuel whatsoever. Hotels and even restaurants are beginning to install fast chargers for electric cars so you could have a full charge after dinner every night.

You could start with something as simple as a Honda Civic – the car I’m currently driving. It gets near 40 miles per gallon, has a powerful engine when needed, and is a wonderfully comfortable car. You could go one step further with a hybrid that would triple the fuel efficiency while not requiring overnight charging. The ultimate eco-friendly rental car would be an all-electric car like the Tesla, Chevy Bolt, and now the Ford Mustang.

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No. 7

Learn the Destination Language

Throughout the tourism and hospitality industry around the world, most people speak English. But that is a concession, not a requirement, and often does not include anyone outside the hotel or resort. This year, when you make plans to visit a foreign country, why not learn a bit of the language before you get there?

You don’t have to be fluent in the destination language – unless you want to be – because the locals will probably understand you’re a tourist pretty quickly. But if you at least make the effort to learn the local language you will earn their respect and may even get in the good graces of some friendly locals.

No. 8

Make a Packing List

I currently have three identical fleece jackets and two rain jackets hanging in my closet. It’s not a fashion statement or a case of uncontrollable shopping. Rather, it’s because I have gone on many trips without a packing list and left something behind. This year, the worst ordeal of the year was leaving my iPad behind as I left for a five-week road trip.

Make a packing list. Make a packing list as you are packing for your next trip. Give the list categories or maybe even create a different list for a different adventure – long weekends and epic road trips don’t exactly require the same things to be packed. After creating that first list, you’ll find yourself packing quicker, easier, and buying fewer things along the road when you realized you left your charging cable at home.

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No. 9

Donate

Most people take it for granted that exploring national forests, the majority of the National Park Service, and many state’s parks are free. They aren’t actually free – somebody has to pay for what others will use. Despite all the tax dollars available, often times these places are left with maintenance backlogs and wish lists that will never be realized.

This year think about making a donation each time you use a “free” public land. Donate to the National Forest Foundation, National Park Foundation, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, or one of hundreds of other non-profit organizations. Every dollar donated counts, and if enough people donated you might just start seeing a tangible difference in public lands.

National Park Week 2024

Learn about the annual celebration of the National Park System and read my travel guides to national park units across the country.

No. 10

Shop and Dine Local

Two-day free shipping from Amazon Prime is great, but that won’t help you find a leather wallet made in a local shop or gorgeous wooden box made by a local artisan. Shopping local is more than just supporting locals – although that certainly helps – but it’s also about you finding fantastic gifts or items for yourself that you won’t find anywhere else.

My biggest regret about visiting the UK a lifetime ago was that my first meal was McDonald’s and my last meal Domino’s Pizza. In my defense, I was traveling with someone else who had the car, so I went where she went!

Dining local is the best way to get to know a destination. The food served will have a direct connection with the history and culture of the destination. A Bavarian restaurant in Columbus, Ohio? It’s in the heart of the German Village that dates back to the founding of the capital city. The “West Virginia Hot Dog” is an all beef frank on a steamed bun topped with chili, onions, and coleslaw – and it was a fantastic lunch in Huntington, WV!

No. 11

Capture Photos, Don’t Post Photos

Travelers continue to be obsessed with capturing photos strictly for the purpose of posting them on social media. A friend of mine went on three-day vacation last year and a few days after returning, she posted 200+ photos from her vacation. Every moment and every meal was put on display.

This year focus more on capturing great photos for yourself – a way of always remembering that amazing vacation – and forget about Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. You’ll spend less time searching for the perfect hashtag to get attention, and more time enjoy the destination.

No. 12

Stay Healthy on the Road

In 2017 I severely injured my left knee whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River and my life has not been the same since. I’ve never been a healthy eater and the sudden loss of any physical activity led to me gaining one hundred pounds.

The extra weight has had a profound impact on my travel life. I have been rejected from horseback riding. I had the most difficult time trying to get into a 360-degree flight simulator. Every once in awhile, I find it difficult to fit into a booth at a restaurant.

This past October I decided I’d had enough. I had always used the excuse, “It’s not possible to travel and eat healthy.” I was wrong.

There are lots of ways to stay healthy while traveling. Walk from your hotel to nearby attractions. Skip the appetizer and dessert when you eat out. Eat two healthy meals a day and let the third meal – preferably lunch – be your “cheat” meal.

It’s entirely possible to be healthy while traveling – and if you’re like me, you’ll appreciate the difference it can make with every day travel activities like hiking, climbing stairs, and hopping into a go-kart!

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No. 13

Check Off the Bucket List

Having a travel bucket list is a great thing. It helps to inspire your next vacation and keeps things organized for future planning. But there comes a point where the travel bucket list is too long to accomplish in a single lifetime. That’s when you need to start checking off those items!

In 2021, take a look at your travel bucket list, bookmarks in your web browser, or ideas you’ve written on a notecard. What has caught your attention in the past? Instead of continually adding to your bucket list, this year try checking one – or more – of those items off your list.

No. 14

Explore Your Backyard

I’ll never forget the lady I met on the Blue Ridge Parkway who was enthralled with my career as a travel writer and photographer. “Where all do you travel?” she asked with a glimmer of anticipation in her eye. “Mostly just the East Coast from New York to Mississippi, and a little bit of the Midwest.” The look of disappointment on her face was profound as she immediately ended the conversation and walked away without another word.

Over the years, I’ve had a lot of people balk at the fact I don’t jet-set around the world to exotic locations. Don’t ever let anyone bully you into thinking a “real” vacation must involve thousands of dollars and international travel to destinations where you don’t feel comfortable. There is nothing wrong with exploring your backyard!

This year do an online search for tourism within a hundred miles of home. What state or national parks are nearby? Are there any gorgeous lodges just a couple hours away to spend the weekend? Museums to explore? Festivals to attend? I bet if you do some digging, you’ll find lots of great things to do in your backyard you never even knew was there.

No. 15

Splurge on Something Exciting

I’m horrible about creating a travel budget – sort of. My idea of a travel budget is to spend less than $30 on a meal, less than $150 on a night of rest, and less than $200 on just about anything else. But even if you establish an ironclad travel budget – and stick to it – it’s okay to splurge every once in awhile.

When I visited the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, I had a budget set for paying admission to the museum and getting something to eat in town. As I was buying my admission ticket, the very nice lady at the ticket counter asked if I wanted to take a few laps at the Motorsports Park across the road.

“How much does it cost?” I asked. It was the first question on my mind. For a couple of hundred dollars – I forget the exact price – I could have enjoyed several laps in a modern Corvette around a winding racetrack.

I balked at the price, instead thinking of all the other things I could do for that much money. But I’ve regretted it ever since. I have not been back to that museum since my visit in 2017 and I don’t know when I’ll be in that area again. It would have been a thrill ride absolutely worth the money, even if it meant something else had to get cut later.

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Do you have a question about travel or road trips? Are you a CVB or DMO interested in working with me? I typically respond to emails within 24 hours. Quicker if you include a good riddle.
Do you have a question about travel or road trips? Are you a CVB or DMO interested in working with me? I typically respond to emails within 24 hours. Quicker if you include a good riddle.
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