Why travel resolutions are better than the ones you make on New Year’s

I don’t really do New Year’s Resolutions. That may be related to the fact that mine used to be centered on acquiring larger biceps (presumably from some sort of Rebel Sports-esque store) and asking out the girl of my dreams (who perhaps worked at some sort of Rebel Sports-esque store) – neither of which would ever happen. I never smoked consistently enough at the tail end of the year to have to give it up, and regarding booze, nobody in this country ever really drinks less than the year before, we just cut back for a few weeks to make ourselves feel accomplished. As it happens, I’ve found that endless stretch of nothingness at the end of December to be a particularly useless time for making important life choices. Most of us are on holidays, using this time to indulge – somewhat justifiably if you work 48 weeks out of 52 – in all those things that we decide will kill us prematurely only a few days later. It’s for these reasons that the only time I ever make resolutions is when I travel.

Being on a plane for fourteen hours is a worse hell than Dante could have ever conceived, but it has its practical benefits. The most vital of these is that while you are sandwiched in between an overweight American and a narcoleptic girl from Perth for almost an entire day, you become keenly aware of your sense of self. Both in the physical sense and the mental, the suffocating confinement anybody in an economy seat experiences is fertile ground for re-evaluating what’s important in life, including making enough money so as to never have to fly economy again.

And so, travel resolutions. I think I started doing them after almost dying on a cheap flight home from Thailand, where it felt like we were going to drop out of the sky at any moment, but since, travel resolutions have become a force of habit. They’re easier to remember to do if you keep a trip journal, something I can thank my mother for (she insisted that recounting a day in a foreign country on paper was as good, if not better, than photographing the entire thing, and I’ve come to agree.) They bookend your escape to that other world where suddenly it doesn’t matter if you wear sneakers to social events, eat with your hands or kiss complete strangers. And it’s being so out of the ordinary that inspires some of our best laid plans for the future.

My first gig at TheVine came from a travel resolution (‘Harass music editor at TheVine until he lets you review CDs’ – Europe travel diary, 2010), as did my current girlfriend (I had written down her number and ‘call her, she was pretty’ right before I was mugged in London and lost my phone). In fact, of all the things I tell myself I’m going to do, the ones I scribble at the end of a travel diary, are usually, at the very least, attempted. Sometimes they’re not even direct imperatives, but learnings, like ‘You should dance more, what do you have to lose?’ after spending a great night out in New York or telling myself I should really learn how to surf because nobody can believe an Australian who lives near the beach doesn’t know how to. But almost always they’re related to experiences that would simply never have happened to us during a regular calendar year.

I fully believe in the restorative power of travel, and I don’t even travel that well; typically leaving something highly valuable behind, being robbed or injuring myself before I’ve even been gone a week. Just because you’re adding a one to the end of the ‘YYYY’ on your bills doesn’t mean you suddenly know what you want or what you should do with you life. That’s something you only realise when you position yourself outside your regular context, realise that the world is bigger than you and understand that you may be able to challenge what you thought your place was in it.  Next time you’re trying to kill the hours between in-flight movies, give it a try. It may just end up being the best thing you ever told yourself to do, regardless of what year it is. 

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