Forget gruelling resolutions, this year it’s all about mapping your way to happy with an adventure wishlist.
Do your New Year’s resolutions usually go something like this?: “I will survive on one juiced carrot a day, whilst simultaneously quitting gin, Twitter, TV and shopping”? If so, it’s time for a re-think. ‘The problem with most resolutions is they’re made on the spur of the moment and unrealistic,’ says clinical psychologist Dr Jessamy Hibberd, creator of TEDx talk Adventure of a Lifetime, ‘They also tend to be negative – about restriction. But we’re much more likely to achieve goals if they’re aspirational – what we want to get out of the year.’
And what better joy-giving goal than travel? ‘Travel can help us get perspective as it gives us distance from our problems. It also helps us be more mindful. We leave our familiar surroundings and routines and escape autopilot. Instead we experience things vividly, noticing little details we overlook in our day-to-day life,’ explains psychologist and lifelong travel junkie Dr Shilagh Mirgain.
‘You might find having positive travel goals actually pushes out “negative” behaviours in your life anyway. For example, you might spend less money on junk food or alcohol if you’re trying to save for a big trip,’ notes Dr Hibberd.
Pumped? Us too. Here’s how to plot the perfect 2019 travel goals for you…
‘Carve out a “protected” slot of time to come up with your ideas. Let your imagination run wild, uncensored. Don’t just think in terms of destinations, but also foods you want to try, skills you want gain, cultures you want to experience,’ says Dr Mirgain.
‘Don’t rush – there’s no reason you have to finish it on January 1st. Getting hung up on a date is like thinking you can only start diets on a Monday – which handicaps us. The act of brainstorming is itself really powerful as it’s a prompt to help reflect on what you want from life, which can create a map to guide you this year and even decades to come,’ adds Dr Hibberd.
Indeed research has found the anticipation of a trip often boosts happiness more than the trip itself. So all those hours spent on #wanderlust inspo are worth it!
… then shrink it
‘Once you’ve drawn up your dream list, no doubt it’ll contain more than a year’s worth of adventure – so separate it into short, medium and long term goals,’ explains Dr Hibberd. And yep, it’s important to have some easy wins on there! ‘You might want to try the new coffee shop in your neighbouring town or check out a local market. Or, if you want to go to Japan but know you can’t afford it this year, you could have a shorter and longer term version of the goal. Short-term it might be learning to cook sushi at home! You can still benefit from the “newness” of these experiences and you’ll get a sense of achievement and build confidence by being able to tick them off easily,’ explains Dr Mirgain.
Still go full tourist and take photos – research has found snapping something daily that makes you happy increases gratitude. ‘Of your long-term travel goals pick perhaps just one to work on this year, so you don’t get overwhelmed,’ Dr Mirgain adds.
‘We’re more likely to succeed with a goal if it’s SMART – that’s specific, measurable, achievable, relevant (to you – not someone else) and time bound,’ notes Dr Mirgain. So instead of listing “Italy”, list “Eat pizza in Rome by next November.” ‘Break big goals down into smaller SMART goals – you might need to save money, buy kit, do research etc. You should be 80-90% sure you can achieve each of those smaller goals, which means you’ll stay encouraged to keep moving towards the big one,’ she suggests.
Go back to move forward
It’s not just new places that should make your travel hit list – there’s a lot to be said about re-visiting old favourites. ‘You might go back to your childhood holiday destination or somewhere you travelled years ago. It can cause you to reflect positively on how much you’ve grown,’ notes Dr Hibberd. Plus, research has found that nostalgia is good for us – boosting our sense of self.
Dr Hibberd adds: ‘What’s so special about travel is that you can keep on re-enjoying a trip long after it’s finished through your memory – and revisiting a destination can help trigger some of those forgotten memories again through sights, smells and sounds.’
The bottom of a pile of bank statements is where wishlists go to die. Instead Dr Mirgain recommends making it visual. ‘I put pictures of my goals on my fridge and when I complete them I move the picture to another board where I put it next to a photo of me at that place,’ she says. ‘Having that visual cue you see every day helps keep you focused. And it can help you see your goals through too. Climbing Kilimanjaro was on my bucket list – it was really tough when I got there but the fact that I had already visualised myself on the summit so many times helped catapult me to the top.’