If you are anything like me, your travel goals probably sound a lot like "travel more." But more doesn't necessarily mean more meaningful.
If you'd like your life to look a little less like faking it for Instagram and a little more like the idyllic travel memory you daydream about, read on for intentional travel tips and ideas.
What is intentional travel?
Intentional travel is simply traveling with more purpose. For some, that can mean traveling with a clear, actionable goal in mind.
For others, intentional travel means shifting your mindset to view every action as a choice.
Every single decision you make while you travel is important... from how you move from place to place, to how long you stay, to where you sleep, to what you eat, to who you talk to, and of course, what you do with your time.
It's all included when we ask "what is intentional travel and how can I be a more intentional traveler in the New Year?"
How to set intentional travel goals
It's easy to get swept up in grand plans and endless bucket lists when you're thinking about your travel goals, but set small, concrete travel goals and thank yourself later (gratitude is a mainstay in being more intentional after all).
I like to set my travel goals by destination. I try to limit my list to an attainable action.
Heading to the Netherlands? Make it a must to eat a Stroopwafel.
It's the little things that make your trip special anyway, so set goals to seek out those small, special moments.
Another way to set intentional travel goals is to imagine an ideal travel day. Start with sunrise and work your way through what a perfect day would look like. Now, set goals around that image. Start habits now that will help you make that perfect day a reality wherever you are.
To kickstart your intentional travel year, I've put together a list of 20 ways you can be a more intentional traveler in the New Year.
20 ideas for how to travel more intentionally
Leave your phone at home
Learn the basics of the local language
Take a photo walk
Embrace a theme
Ask a local about their food culture
Read a book set in a destination you plan to visit someday
Finally do something with the travel memories you have in that old shoebox
Buy from local vendors instead of chains
Be careful of what you say "yes" to
Declutter your home (or your suitcase)
Keep a gratitude journal (or note in your phone)
See where the sausage is made
Go cash only
Clean out your digital junk drawer
Take a picnic to the park
Make your bed (wherever it happens to be that day)
Choose your travel companions wisely
Walk whenever possible
Research local musicians and listen to their tunes while you explore
Choose destinations by visiting travel friends in their hometowns
1. Leave your phone at home
It's no secret that we can be too enthralled with what's happening in our digital lives to realize what is in front of us. Practice being a more mindful traveler by purposefully leaving your phone at home. You'll start to notice things that you might have overlooked before!
If you're worried about getting lost, don't be. That's what asking a friendly local is for!
2. Learn the basics of the local language
Learning a few words in the local language can be the difference between feeling completely disconnected and feeling completely welcome in a new destination.
A great way to learn a language while traveling is to stay with the locals themselves. As they share their home and culture with you, you'll practically learn the language through osmosis. It's harder not to learn a language while staying with locals than it is to learn a few new vocabulary words.
3. Take a photo walk
Go on a walk with the specific intent of taking as many photos as possible. Give your walk some purpose by trying to find the most beautiful door, the brightest graffiti, and the most peaceful picture. You'll notice corners you never knew existed.
4. Embrace a theme
A fun way to make your travels feel intentional is to create a theme for the trip, day, or evening. Take a "foodie" trip where you center your time around great meals and their source, or make a theme for just a night and organize your activities, food, and conversations around one single thing.
This is a great way to take your travels home with you, too!
5. Ask a local about their food culture
Be more intentional about the way you consume food on the road. It's tempting to head to a familiar chain or seek the nearest pizza joint, but give the local food culture a shot.
Food is often the fastest way to the hearts of locals, and it's also one of the easiest ways to be intentional while you travel.
6. Read a book set in a destination you plan to visit
Give your next read a little extra thought and reap the rewards when you arrive to your next destination. Reading a story set in the place you hope to visit can give the place a little extra depth.
Choose wisely and you'll learn about the history and culture of a place, all while being entertained by something other than that cheesy walking tour guide. Check out this list of best travel books to fuel your wanderlust for your next trip.
7. Finally do something with the travel memories you have in that old shoebox
You can be a more intentional traveler at home too. Make an effort to incorporate travel into your everyday life. Finally hang the artwork you bought from a street vendor or cook up a meal that you remember fondly from your last trip.
Every great trip must come to an end, but that doesn't mean your travel experience does. By learning to keep your travel experience alive after returning home you'll be more motivated to travel intentionally during your trip!
8. Buy from local vendors instead of large chain stores
Make your money matter by supporting small operators while you travel. It might take a few more stops and a little creativity, but supporting local vendors makes a huge difference for local families, small towns and local economies.
9. Be careful of what you say "yes" to
When you travel, you're faced with a thousand and one opportunities, experiences, and choices of bucket list destinations. Be intentional about what you agree to.
It's much easier to be an intentional traveler when you're not strapped down with extra stuff.
Embrace the minimalist travel mindset and take only the intentional travel necessities with you as you roam, and you'll be more open and available to the opportunities around you.
11. Keep a gratitude journal (or note in your phone)
If you're anything like me, a travel journal is certainly an intentional necessity, but if not, keep a dedicated gratitude note in your phone.
It's a well known fact that frequent reflection on the positive parts of life help to make a person happier. Apply this principle to travel and keep a note of the things you're most thankful for as you go.
12. See where the sausage is made
I'm not sure if I recommend actually visiting a sausage factory, but if you want to be a more intentional traveler, make an effort to be a more conscious consumer too. Learn how to make your favorite foods.
Consider farm stay work exchange through Worldpackers that allows you to get up close and personal with the process of growing and cultivating your favorite fruits and veggies, wines, or cheeses.
If you want to be a more intentional spender as you travel, think about using only cash in the New Year. Using cash instead of credit cards helps you physically see your spending and save money as you travel.
14. Clean out your digital junk drawer
The New Year is a great time to take inventory of the information you're allowing into your inbox and feeds. Clear away unhealthy subscriptions, unfollow accounts that don't align with your new intentional mindset, unsubscribe from emails that are counterproductive to your travel goals.
15. Take a picnic to the park
If you're in a warm enough climate, pack a picnic and head to the park. It's a great way to consider what you're eating carefully (after all, you'll have to carry it), slow down while traveling, and enjoy a little peace amidst a chaotic world.
16. Make your bed (wherever it happens to be that day)
A good way to start off every single day with purpose is to make your bed each morning. It's a simple way to put yourself in a productive mindset and remind yourself that every day, every decision is worth considering carefully. It's also a powerful reminder of how powerful healthy habits can be.
17. Choose your travel companions wisely
Everyone knows that who you surround yourself with matters a lot, and it matters a whole lot more when you're on the move.
Be intentional about who you spend your time with this year. Choose your travel companion wisely. Some trips are better suited for your life-of-the-party friend, your slow-paced grandparents, or your outdoorsy boyfriend.
18. Walk whenever possible
I'm a firm believer that if you really want to understand a place, you have to walk its streets. Choose to walk the extra mile in the New Year. Your wallet and your waistline will thank you.
19. Research local musicians and listen to their tunes while you explore
We often forget that sounds make up a place as much as sights do. Embrace the rhythm of a destination by researching local musicians or seeking out live music.
20. Choose destinations by visiting travel friends in their hometowns
If one of your intentions for the year is to be better about staying in touch with friends (raises hand), consider choosing travel destinations around where you know a friendly face, and probably have a free place to stay!
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Janaina Colomba is a writer, traveler, and creative inspired by the beauty and wisdom of people and places. Her personal mission is to bridge cultural gaps and ignite community and understanding. Janaina is currently based in Cairo, Egypt and can be found on Instagram.