Happy February! How did last month manage to pass so quickly? I have no idea. So slightly later than I intended, especially as it’s no longer January, here is my final suggestion for a resolution to make 2014 a brilliant year for travel.
#4. Travel More.
Ha, that sounds terribly simple advice, but please don’t think this last resolution is a cop-out and I couldn’t be bothered any more. A lot of us are tied down to a number of commitments, family, work, pets or property, that means the lifestyle of a full-time traveller is one we can only follow vicariously through reading blogs and browsing pintrest. But travel is all about your mindset, and I want to show you it’s possible to have amazing travel experiences with limited time. Here are my top 5 tips:
1. Make the most of your weekends. If you work a 9 to 5, Monday to Friday job, then potentially you have 52 opportunities to get away during the year. 104 days where you can travel, and that’s before you add in bank holidays and your vacation allowance. But without thinking ahead, these can easily be swallowed up by the time-consuming tasks of everyday living.
So get out your diary now, and book in dates for several weekend breaks through the year. Then prioritise tasks to free up your weekend time. Get into the habit of shopping on the way home from work, doing housework and laundry in the evenings, and getting up in the mornings to go to the gym or run. Find out if your employer will allow you to work flexible hours, letting you leave early on Friday afternoon and arrive late on Monday morning, in return for making up hours at another time.
2. Explore your home country. Weekends spent jetting-off on city breaks to Bruges, Barcelona and Bratislava may sound perfect, but foreign fields can be found closer to home. Think about how well you know your homeland; the major cities and regional towns, the national parks and World Heritage sites, the coastal resorts, mountain villages and remote islands.
Challenge yourself to discover something about the history and culture of your region. Set out to hike up the nearest mountain (or largest hill). Visit the closest castle. Spend the weekend at the seaside. Explore the rivers and canals running through your city. Hop on the train to the first stop you’ve never heard of, and find out what it has to offer.
3. Read all about it. Making the most of a travel destination isn’t just about the length of time you spend there, it’s about how you view it with your “outsider’s” eyes. What you take with you as personal baggage will shape the way your travel experience plays out. So rather than just dropping into a place and seeing what happens, shape your trip with some preparation and research.
Devour as many novels and articles you can find, watch films and TV shows intently, and find the slant on a place that works for you. Your visit to Edinburgh will be vastly different if you are inspired by Trainspotting or The Illusionist; the last book you read was One Day, 44 Scotland Street or The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; or you were glued to the Rebus TV series. Let those be your guide and see what unexpected things they lead you to.
4. Host a couchsurfer. Couchsurfing has changed the way lots of people travel, really putting the emphasis on personal interactions with people and places. As a host, you provide your guests with somewhere to sleep and a shower, at the very minimum, perhaps offering food and drink. The opportunity to air clothes, do their laundry, and access the internet are also welcome additions for travellers.
In return, your guest may be willing to share some of their travel stories with you, or give you an insight to their culture. They might even offer to cook you meal in return for your hospitality. And their enthusiasm to explore your country will encourage you to get to know your own local area better too.
5. Give something back to the environment. If you can’t get away for the weekend, why not give a day of your time to a local conservation organisation? In return for some hard work, where you might be planting trees, coppicing, or constructing steps, you might discover a hidden gem of a nature reserve, or a different side to your local country park. Or you could spend the day helping to clear litter and storm debris off a beach, and be rewarded with some excellent wildlife sightings as you work.
It’s a chance to meet some interesting characters, as volunteers come from all walks of life, and have various interests and passions, and different motivations for getting involved. And, after a day spent outdoors doing physical work, especially in less than clement weather, returning home to a hot shower and comfortable bed in your own home is far more luxurious than any hotel.