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5 Ways to Include Sustainable Travel in Your New Year’s Resolutions

This is one of my favorite times of the year. It sounds cliché, but it’s usually the only time when I am at home for more than a few days, so I really look forward to the holidays and spending time with my family. In my house, this means making cookies, quoting Elf at least fifteen times a day, and playing with my nephews as they spiral into sugar-induced frenzies among their new toys. It’s also the time when I reflect upon the past year, and think about what the New Year will bring. I am way too much of a planner to wait until December to decide what comes next (No joke – I purchased plane tickets for January back in October) but the mark of the New Year does set a nice, clear framework against which I can measure goals.

Christmas in San miguel de allende mexico

It’s hard to bring up the New Year without the conversation straying to resolutions. What will I accomplish next year? Where will I be? Traveling, specifically traveling sustainably, is a priority for me, and at least a few of my resolutions typically revolve around this theme. And because I am never sure what I’ll be doing a year from now, I try to make my resolutions broad enough to account for my commitment-phobia and indecision, but concrete enough cross off of a list. Making lists is another thing I’m passionate about, my resolutions typically live on a sticky note in my laptop case. There is nothing better than crossing something off a list.

Is sustainable travel a priority for you, too? Here are five ways we can all incorporate more of it into 2017, both in our lives and the lives of those we love.

The Gift of Travel

sustainable travel ideas

A few years ago, I had a hard time finding gifts for my nephews that would wow them. They are four and five, and are fortunate to have overflowing toy boxes and more than they could ever know what to do with. I didn’t want to spend money to add to their collection, unless it was something that would excite them or be meaningful in some way. They are a little too young to join me on my trips, so I decided to start fostering a love of travel now. While I still bring them home treats when I visit, I only buy experiences for Christmas and for birthdays. For example, this Christmas, I bought them snow tubing tickets. And they don’t quite get it yet, but they’re starting to. And every time they excitedly ask to see photos books I’ve made for them from foreign countries, or they put on my harem pants from India and crawl around the house like elephants, or they ask me how to say a word in Spanish, I smile and I look forward to the day when they can join me in my adventures.

This isn’t just for kids, either. Buying experiences for adults is an excellent present throughout the year. This can mean anything from gifting concert tickets to a local band to booking a trek in the Himalayas. I received one of my favorite birthday presents when I first started traveling in Nicaragua. A group of friends pitched in and bought me a weekend at an ecolodge on the beach — it was awesome! The best part? It didn’t take up any room in my backpack. Making a resolution give one experience in 2017 instead of a material possession could be a great start in fostering a love of travel in someone, or enhancing their travel experience.

Go Local

local travel ideas

When you travel, particularly if you travel abroad, it can be easy to stick to places frequented by other tourists. If you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language or if you’re traveling alone, it can be intimidating to go smaller, less touristy places where communication is trickier, or where a few people might stare. But it is so worth it! Going to smaller places and spending time with locals not only allows you to gain a deeper understanding of the culture, but it allows you to directly support the community you’re visiting.

This doesn’t necessarily imply a huge commitment either — it can be as simple as grabbing lunch from a stall in the market instead of a cafe. Make a conscious effort visit locally owned places. If you do speak the language, ask locals what they recommend. I like talking with the kids in the market, and in Oaxaca, Mexico earlier this year, that’s how I found the best hot chocolate. A bored-looking nine-year-old was all too excited to show me her favorite spot around the corner.

Take tours with local guides instead of foreign ones. Grab fruits and veggies from the man down the street instead of a grocery store. These are little things, which can be done at any price point, that allow your money to directly support the local economy.

Is this something you want to focus on for 2017? Think of which aspect (or aspects) will best incorporate into your travels. For example, in Bombay, you may want to say that you will only eat at one “touristy” restaurant per week. In Madrid, maybe you only drink Spanish wine (yes, I know, it’s rough). Or in Hawaii, choose a locally run snorkeling adventure promoting sustainability and taking steps to limit their footprint on the ecosystem.

Go off the Grid

responsible travel resolutions

Lately, I’ve found myself sitting at my computer and wishing I wasn’t so connected. I love that technology allows me to stay in touch no matter where I am, but sometimes I miss the days of having to go to a computer lab while traveling instead of sending a WhatsApp message from my couch.

Remember going home, excitedly printing out photos, and pulling them out of an envelope to show to your friends? I used to love being disconnected when traveling, but now I’m basically just as connected as I would be at home. And recently, I’ve decided it’s time for a change. I’ve begun feel overwhelmed by news stories, many of which are either fake or unimportant, and I check Facebook way more than necessary. I don’t want to give up on technology; it certainly has its advantages. But I would like to be more mindful about the role it plays in my life.

Though I probably won’t ever go completely off the grid, traveling always helps me pull back from technology, even if just a bit. This is an aspect of travel that I really enjoy. I’m currently in Mexico, and I chose not to have a cell phone while here, which is refreshing. And while I always have my camera on me (just in case!), I make a point of walking around the city center with my camera packed away. I try to appreciate what’s around me instead of searching for the best angle and the best lighting. Another change I’ve made recently, which I really enjoy, is switching to a daily podcast for my international news instead of being overwhelmed by all the articles online. And because I still love reading actual articles, I bought the local paper in my Mexican town.

I am enjoying my new habits, and I plan to continue into 2017. As I become more mindful about how connected I am while traveling and strive to spend more time in the moment, I’m still figuring out what it will look like. Is this something you would like to work on in 2017? What steps will you take?

Enjoy Natural Beauty

respectful travel in nature

Experiencing the beauty of nature is one reason that many people travel, myself included. It also goes hand-in-hand with going off the grid, which I think is a plus. It is widely known that spending time in nature helps reduce stress and it makes you happier. It makes kids smarter. It makes everyone healthier. And with endless nature options for travelers, this is a no-brainer to add to my resolutions list.

Enjoying natural beauty can be as simple as going for a hike in the woods behind your house on the weekends, or reading a book in the park. This year, I crossed an item off of my bucket list and took a road trip to visit the Grand Canyon and other national parks nearby. This year, 2016, marked the 150th anniversary of the National Park System in the United States, which gave me the push I needed to see the natural wonder. Planning a trip to Canada? 2017 marks the 150th anniversary for Canada’s National Park System, which would be a great time to visit.

Wherever I travel, I like to make sure I spend some of my time in nature, especially if I am in a city. Visiting national parks, conservatories, and botanical gardens supports local conservation, as well as giving you a glimpse of local ecosystems. Would you like to get out into nature more in 2017? What would you like to do?

Use All of Your Vacation Days

sunny beach

One way to incorporate more travel into your year is to make sure you use ALL of your vacation days. You are being paid to take a holiday — take it! And this is an easy item to make sure you cross off of your list definitively by the end of the year. In the U.S., where most people only get ten vacation days per year, this doesn’t mean you need to squeeze all of Brazil into your holiday. It could be as simple as taking a three-day weekend to visit a vineyard you’ve meant to check out, or spending a few days in your local state or national park (yay for the outdoors!) and soaking in the beauty.

For 2017, consider making a resolution to make sure none of your vacation days go to waste. You won’t regret it!

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Is travel, specifically traveling more sustainably, on your New Year’s resolution this year? What steps you take to get there?

Cindy is a traveler with an insatiable urge to immerse herself in other cultures. She has been traveling around the world for the past six years, and is currently living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Follow her adventures at Casilocal. She is also a GV Ambassador helping map the world of social enterprises and sustainable volunteer opportunities.