Dec. 28, 2012 at 11:31 AM ET
As 2012 comes to an end, it's time for the age-old tradition of creating resolutions for the new year.
Alongside "make more money," "eat right" and "get in shape," consider adding in a few travel resolutions -- and commit to making them happen.
“Exposure to sights, cultures and nature is crucial to expanding awareness of our world. So travel resolutions should be high on your list for the new year,” said travel writer Elizabeth Rose. “Write down your resolutions, think about them for a day, then share your travel goals with someone. It’s easy to slip away from your goals when no one else is following your plans.”
Here are eight travel resolutions worth keeping in the new year:
Learn the local language
Learn a new language rather than making obscure gestures as you muddle your way through a conversation abroad. Look to immersion programs, like Coeur de France Ecole de Langues in France and Scuola Verde L’Olmo in Italy, where you can take classes, eat meals with local families and learn a new language as part of daily life in a small town where few of the locals speak English.
Be smarter about points programs
Whether through an airline, hotel or car rental company, get smart about how to acquire and use points. “Not all points and miles are created equal as they all have different values, uses and rules,” said Summer Hull, founder of Mommy Points, a family travel blog dedicated to maximizing miles and points. “For many, the best programs are the ones that offer a high return per point and are flexible.” Among Summer’s favorites are Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards.
Help those less fortunate
Volunteering as a family while on vacation is an easy way to re-connect with each other. Cruisers, Celebrity and Crystal Cruises both offer shore excursions enabling you to spend a few hours in a food bank or homeless shelter. Meanwhile, Together for Good lists Caribbean schools and orphanages in need of school supplies, diapers and baby clothes you can donate in-person. Really want to dig in to help those in developing countries? International Volunteer HQ and Projects Abroad place thousands of volunteers every year.
Get more than business out of business trips
Resolve to see more than the airport, hotel and conference room on your next business trip. When you don’t have three days to see a city, much less three hours, iPhone app, It Happened Here, is worth a try. Using built-in GPS to detect location, the app shares historical events, memorable movie scenes and famous crimes that happened nearby. Triposo is another worthy app, taking location as well as weather and time of day into account when making suggestions.
Go it alone
Traveling alone for the first time can be scary, but solo travelers are never really alone unless they want to be. There is always someone to talk to, eat with or explore alongside. “Traveling solo is the new Taj Mahal. It ought to be on everyone's bucket list,” said Robert Reid, U.S. travel editor for Lonely Planet. “Where you go is less important than how.” Not quite ready to hit the open road alone? Look to tour operators, like Abercrombie & Kent and Classic Journeys, which offer tours with single travelers in mind.
Do something active
You don’t need to run a marathon on vacation, though you certainly can on your next trip to Walt Disney World. Races, even family fun runs, give you the opportunity to meet locals and explore areas you might not on a typical vacation. Not up for a run? Get off your beach towel and throw on some snorkel gear for an afternoon swimming with the fish. Kick it up a notch with REI Adventures or Backroads, both of which are active travel companies offering biking, walking and multi-sport adventures.
Travel with sustainability in mind
You don’t need to go completely green when you travel, but keep sustainability in mind as you plan. It can be as simple as opting for a mobile boarding pass, carrying a reusable water bottle or supporting local markets and artisans. Go a step further by choosing eco-friendly accommodations, like those found in Travelocity’s Green Hotel Directory, or book a tour through an operator, like ECOTOURS, which offers tours designed to conserve the environment and improve the well-being of local people.
Go somewhere completely new
Step out of your comfort zone. Skip the family beach vacation this year and go somewhere completely new and unknown. Not sure where to go? Set up an “Anywhere that’s Cheap” alert on AirfareWatchdog for a grab bag list of low airfares departing from your home airport to multiple destinations. TripTuner can help you find locales based on factors like budget, weather and activity level.