Make 2016 the year of no unclaimed vacation days.
I Resolve to Use my Vacation Time….. ALL OF IT
This is step one. Research firm Harris Interactive reports that only 51 percent of U.S. employees use their eligible paid vacation time and paid time off. What’s worse, 61 percent of Americans who do take a holiday still work while they’re away. This martyrdom has got to stop. Time off is essential to a healthy life, and most rational people agree that seeing the world and meeting people unlike yourself makes you a more interesting and compassionate person. Point being: If you’re an underling at your company, take your vacation time to set boundaries. If you’re the boss, lead by example. Use your days and don’t harangue your employees with inquiries from the beach in Naxos—unless, of course, it’s to ask for food recommendations.
I RESOLVE TO… PRIORITIZE TRAVEL OVER MATERIAL THINGS.
I’m of the mindset that if you want something badly enough, you’ll figure out a way. Many of my friends wanted home mortgages and big weddings and designer clothes; I wanted to travel. Yes, there are bills that needed paying first—rent, food, medical, retirement, student loans, etc. But if you have any disposal income left—even just $5—put it in a travel fund and don’t touch it. When I was saving up for this last trip (an endeavor that took years), I did a cost-comparison analysis every time I considered buying something. A $10 burrito in Manhattan today might buy five bánh mí in Hanoi tomorrow. A $300 Marc by Marc Jacobs dress could translate to a long-haul flight from Beijing to Surabaya next month. Travel is a choice.
I RESOLVE TO… TALK TO STRANGERS.
Pinterest memes say you should do something every day that scares you. For me, a textbook introvert, what scares me is striking up a conversation with someone I don’t know. Something as simple as asking an old woman with a fascinating face if I can take her picture fills me with dread and anxiety. But I suck it up anyway. As beautiful as the architecture and landscapes may be wherever I am traveling, it is always the people I remember most. The worst thing anyone can say is “no.”
I RESOLVE TO… TRAVEL ALONE (AT LEAST ONCE).
Apologies to my dear boyfriend, who was a trooper throughout this last year of adventuring, but I regret not splitting off to do a little solo traveling. Although we got along marvelously, there’s just something about entering a strange land alone that compels you to interact more intensely with it, and to connect more with others—a taxi driver, a bartender, a stranger in the ticket line–in a way you otherwise might not because you’d just talk to your travel companion instead. Traveling with others, especially a significant other, is easier and more comfortable, but traveling alone is validating and confidence-building. Even if you don’t want to take an entire vacation by yourself, consider separating from your partner just for a day. You do what you want, they do what they want, everyone is happy.
I RESOLVE TO… LEARN 10 FOREIGN WORDS EVERYWHERE I GO.
Don’t let a language barrier be a deterrent. I recently met a woman who has never been outside the United States. Upon hearing about my recent trip, she looked at me and said, “Wow. How did you communicate? Do you speak Asian?” No. No, I do not. But I did make an effort to learn a handful of words and phrases in every country that I traveled. Helpful stuff like “hello” and “goodbye,” “please” and “thank you,” “table for two,” “how much?,” “beautiful,” “extra spicy,” and “delicious!” I kept them written in a notebook that I could consult whenever I got my Shan crossed with my Bahasa. What my notes didn’t cover, the Google Translate app took care of. Locals appreciated the effort; butchering the pronunciation of a foreign language is always better than not trying at all. (Except, perhaps, in France.)
I RESOLVE TO… NOT BE AN INSTA-JERK.
It’s bad enough when you’re on vacation and the rest of the world is not. Writing Instagram captions like, “My office for the day—not too shabby!,” when you’re lounging by a pool in Mauritius is irritating. You don’t like it when other people do it and nobody likes it when you do it. Other rules of IG : Don’t bomb your feed with four photos of the same thing, or even four photos a day. Don’t be braggy. Don’t abuse emojis or abbreviate words like you’re a 14-year-old girl (unless you are a 14-year-old girl—in which case, carry on). Don’t spam the comments with desperate #like4like and #follow4follow hashtags. And don’t, for heaven’s sake, post crummy photos. If you can’t take decent, well-lit, in-focus shots, try Twitter instead.
I RESOLVE TO… THINK FOR MYSELF.
It’s okay to not like ancient temples. Or palaces. Or history museums. Just because it’s in the guidebooks or on someone else’s bucket list doesn’t mean it should be on yours. Traveling nonstop for a year taught us this, as we sometimes found ourselves trudging through an itinerary of someone else’s making. We didn’t care about what we were seeing; we were just going through the motions. That’s lame. If you want to blow through the Prado in half an hour and spend 45 minutes in the gift shop, that’s your prerogative. If you’re an obsessive bibliophile who’d rather spend her time combing the aisles of Siem Reap’s independent bookstores than getting sweaty at Angkor Wat, so be it. It’s your trip. If you’re not having fun, what’s the point?
I RESOLVE TO… BE UP FOR ANYTHING.
This means rallying after a long flight to eat someplace local when you really just want to put on pajamas and order room service. It means taking up that Moroccan shopkeeper on his offer for tea back at the family compound. It means ducking into that bingo hall in Madrid and playing a few rounds, even if you don’t understand what they’re saying. It means taking a gamble on those unidentified chicken parts from the ancient lady hunched over a smoking fire in a Hangzhou night market. It means taking risks and being fearless. And isn’t that why you started traveling in the first place?