How to Set (Actually) Meaningful Travel Resolutions for 2023

Resolutions are easy enough to set. But how can we better build on ones we’ve set previously?

A woman in a hotel rooms looks out a window in an illustration by Melanie Lambrick

A new year ushers in a new way to think about how we travel.

Illustration by Melanie Lambrick

This story is part of Unpacked, a series that explores some of the biggest questions about traveling responsibly. Read more columns on the Unpacked home page—and be sure to subscribe to the podcast.

Maybe it’s the crispness of the New York City air, or the ice that forms around the creases of the windows on a cold day. Perhaps it’s the holiday decorations, or the last page of the 12-month calendar. However you’re reminded, the end of the year is here—and for most of us, that means a time for reflection, for redirection, for renewal. I am one such person, and as someone who travels for work and pleasure, the travel aspect of my life is officially under review.

In many ways, I exceeded goals I set for myself in 2021. I wanted to land an international travel assignment this year, and I nabbed two—Salvador, Brazil, and Yogyakarta, Indonesia—and managed to fit in a personal trip to Paris, too. In other ways, I fell short. I planned to reduce my carbon footprint, and articles I bookmarked about making more ethical environmental decisions remained largely, well, bookmarked.

Still, I imagine the factors that inhibited my progress are likely shared by many: shifting job responsibilities and the ever-changing nature of personal lives. While trying to manage the bumpy, unstable return to “post” pandemic life, I spent more energy on attending to seemingly more pressing challenges and changes than focusing on my initial goals. But instead of remaining stuck on the things I should’ve or could’ve done differently, I’m incorporating my past hopes into my present goals for 2023: traveling more for myself, and, yes—let’s try it again—reducing my carbon imprint.

These two goals fall under the umbrella of meaningful travel, which means prioritizing travel that brings joy and avoids adding harm to my and others’ lives. While I wouldn’t trade hiking up Mount Prau in Dieng Plateau, Indonesia, or cooking crabs outdoors with one of the most important culinary elders of our generation on Edisto Island for anything, I’m ending this year exhausted. For all of the joys travel brings, at its side can be fatigue, illness, and lengthy separation from loved ones. After an extended pandemic travel break—and then, an accelerated return to being on the road—I’ve realized that my travel needs have changed. I don’t need to be somewhere new every other week, and I’d much rather take my time getting to know one place deeper than several places on a surface level. I love my job, but my body, my community, and (I’m quite certain) the planet would love it if I prioritized mindful, slower travel.

Which brings me to my next goal: being a better, more environmentally conscious traveler. It’s no secret that flying is bad for the environment and accounts for 3-4 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. But while we can appreciate and understand that air travel is, for many of us, a necessary part of life, we can reconsider how much we do it and for what reasons. Instead of defaulting to flying, I’m committed to more cross-country train travel. If I do have to fly, I’m working on creating a work schedule that allows me to consolidate stories based in the same city into one trip, so I’m no longer flying to and from New Orleans every other week. I’m also focusing on flying with airlines that are taking steps to be more sustainable, understanding that my ticket may cost a little more as a result.

There are other small things I plan to do, which, together, can add up, like packing my reusable water bottle and bringing my own food to the airport to cut down on my single-use plastic usage when I travel. I’m also considering how my travel resolutions overlap with other areas of my life: Aligning with my goal of focusing more on my physical fitness, I will visit more U.S. national parks, which play a key role in protecting the earth’s biodiversity and natural resources. When possible, I’ll use these visits as a time to connect with tour guides, many of whom are cultural guardians for their respective regions. I’ll intentionally seek out locally owned businesses and queer restaurant and store owners of color, who are more likely to suffer from environmental crises.

There’s no one way to be an environmentally conscious traveler, but there is only one Earth. My resolution for the new year is to take my time enjoying it and to show my deep appreciation and reverence for it along the way.

Kayla Stewart is an award-winning food and travel writer. She is a columnist at The Bittman Project, and her work has been featured in The New York Times, Southern Foodways Alliance, the Wall Street Journal, and others.
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