how to travel more this year

All it takes is a few small steps to make 2013 your best year of travel yet.

I gave up making New Year’s resolutions a long time ago – it’s a fun concept, but inevitably, a few weeks into January (at best) I’ll already have broken them. Or sometimes, the resolutions are just so big and overwhelming, I never really even get started.

Since resolutions have a way of making me feel like I’ve failed, I eventually decided it’s much better to set goals instead. Goals are great because they don’t just have to relate to unpleasant things (like exercising) but can be about striving towards our desires (like saving up to buy something we love, or traveling more).

In my experience, the best way to achieve goals is to work on them bit by bit by changing daily habits. So if you want to travel more this year, all you need to do is implement small changes that snowball to help you achieve your goals. Interested? Then read on to learn my seven actions that you can start taking to help you realize your travel goals this year.

1. Start setting aside money

Obviously, you’re not going anywhere if you don’t have the cash, so start putting aside money now, even if you don’t have any concrete plans to go on vacation. The best way is to actually divert a portion of your paycheck into a separate savings account or “travel fund” – this way you don’t miss the money since you never really “see” it. If you need some tips on how to actually find the extra cash in your budget, see this post about saving money or this one about saving money while still having a life.

Another old trick that works is to empty out your pockets each night and put all your change into a jar. You’re obviously not going to yield thousands of dollars this way, but if you’re someone that shops with cash a lot, you might find you eventually end up with a few hundred dollars, which will go some way towards paying for a long weekend or a fun activity during your vacation.

2. Get your vacation days in early

If you think you’ll want to travel during a popular time of year but you’ll be limited because not all your co-workers are allowed to take time off simultaneously, go ahead and apply for that time off now. If you end up needing more or fewer days off, it probably won’t be too hard to tack on a couple of extra days, or remove some, but getting the vacation days will be impossible if the whole period is already taken by someone else.

3. Have several travel options up your sleeve

It’s always a good idea to have a couple of different destinations and types of trips in the planning stages, because you never know which particular vacation will pan out. You might be planning a ski trip but find that you can’t get any time off during the ski season, or all the flights are booked out, or your ski buddy is sick and unable to travel, or any number of other things. But maybe there’s a great opportunity to travel to Mexico instead. If you have a number of destinations on your bucket list that you’ve researched, you can take advantage of any opportunities that present themselves.

4. Set up airfare alerts

Airfares go up and down all the time and nobody wants to have to run a search everyday to check if the price has been cut. By setting up airfare alerts, you can be notified whenever the price drops on the route you’re planning to fly, enabling you to purchase your ticket for the best possible price. If you’re flexible about where you might travel to but are working with a limited budget, many airfare alert sites will let you browse all the current deals, you so can book a flight to whichever destination is cheapest. There are tons of different websites offering these services, but here is a great rundown of the best airfare alert sites.

5. Start with smaller trips

If you know that a big trip is going to be out of the question this year – whether for financial reasons, lack of vacation time, or otherwise – don’t despair, you can still travel on a smaller scale. Pull out the calendar and start scanning for public holidays, focusing on those that fall on Thursdays, Fridays, Mondays or Tuesdays. Any that fall on Friday or Monday will obviously give you a ready-made long weekend to work with, while those that occur on Thursdays and Fridays can give you a nice four day weekend if you’re able to take just one day off. By planning early, you should be able to get time off on the specific days off you want – so you have a nice long weekend up your sleeve for a road trip, camping adventure, or exploration of another city.

6. Keep an eye out for work-related travel opportunities

Are there professional conferences in your field that you could contribute to? What about training and development seminars? Does your company have an international office you’d love to work in? Whatever it might be, start thinking about what kind of application process you’d have to go through, what kinds of talks or papers you might have to write, and so on, and get started. It might take a bit of legwork to get the ball rolling on this type of travel, but getting paid to visit interesting destinations is worth the effort, right?

7. Learn to push yourself out of your comfort zone

I think something that stops a lot of people from traveling – even when they have the means to do so – is the fear of being out of their comfort zone. The idea of traveling to a new destination with unfamiliar foods, a foreign language, different customs and so on can be overwhelming and even frightening. If you’d be traveling by yourself, all of these things become even scarier. But I think you can train yourself to be more at ease in unfamiliar situations by being more adventurous in your day-to-day life. How? Start by doing things like striking up a conversation with a stranger, dining at a restaurant by yourself, going to a movie alone, taking a foreign language class, or visiting a part of your city that you’ve never ventured into before. By doing things that make you feel uncomfortable and then overcoming them, you’ll gain confidence in your ability to travel and face whatever you encounter.

What do you think? What are your travel-related goals for this year? How do you make sure you actually follow through on your plans?