Creative travel plans could ensure your pledges last beyond January

Millions of Brits made at least one New Year’s resolution this year – but YouGov polling suggests that almost 60 percent of us don’t usually make it to the end of January before giving in to old habits.

“Most of us strive for unrealistic goals and ultimately set ourselves up for a failure,” warns the Mental Health Foundation.

Instead of mundane, hard-to-keep promises such as “joining a gym” or “dieting for a month”, perhaps it’s time to consider a commitment to improve yourself through travel, for the long haul.

Here are seven suggestions for resolutions best kept through judiciously planned holidays:

1. Be more present

Mindfulness has been sweeping the Western world in recent years, the idea being to help people to reduce stress levels and develop greater balance and control through meditation and being “present”. If drawing more joy from the current moment is a priority this year, try clearing your mind at a dedicated retreat.

Travel tip: The Sharpham estate, Devon
Set in an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) on a hilltop overlooking the river Dart in south Devon, the Sharpham estate’s Barn Retreat centre has been a popular venue for exploring Buddhist mindfulness techniques since 1986. A dozen guests at a time cook, eat and live with one another, with plenty of opportunities for private contemplation and working meditation in the venue’s organic garden.


2. Give something back

Acts of selflessness and compassion are common commitments at New Year, whether it’s sponsoring a school in Africa or helping the homeless in your local area. With the recent boom in “voluntourism” the travel market is now awash with ways to support a good cause. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the company’s legitimacy and transparency beforehand.

Travel tip: The Lake District
Storm Desmond caused flooding and destruction across the Lake District last December, and the tourism-dependent tract of north-west England has been struggling to bounce back. Tourism chiefs and hoteliers are urging people to holiday here: “Cumbria needs everyone’s support through this difficult time,” Peter Wells, owner of the Castle Inn Hotel, told the Telegraph. Up the feel-good factor with some volunteer work: the Youth Hostel Association is scouting for “volunteer tourists” to help run its 16 Lake District locations.


3. Learn a new skill

Whether it’s learning a language or turning your hand to a new craft or sport, there is no time like the start of the year to commit to expanding your knowledge and skill set. They say that travel opens the mind, and that’s doubly true if you take an educational trip.

Travel tip: Crochail Wood, Scotland
In Crochail Wood, a stone’s throw from Loch Ness, is Wild Rose Escapes. The company offer natural dyeing, felt-making and spinning courses that let you get involved in every step of the crafting process, from hand-shearing sheep to picking wild dye plants and creating your own felted scarves or wall-hangings. “We try and do as much as possible outside,” reads their website. “Whether that is making traditional dyes over an open fire or working your felt, looking across at the mountains.” They also run school felting workshops and community projects aimed at getting children and their families interested in traditional crafts and the idea of sustainability.


4. Get away from it all

It can be easy for the daily grind to wear you down, so why not resolve to get away from it all a little more often? And if you’re stuck in the city, don’t despair – it’s probably easier than you think to find some green space, even without mounting a major expedition.

Travel tip: A microadventure
Even urbanites can find “small pockets of wilderness” on their doorstep, writes “microadventure” pioneer Alastair Humphreys in his recent book, Microadventures: Local Discoveries for Great Escapes. His recommendations include wild swimming, following a river to its source, or simply grabbing a blanket and going out stargazing. “A microadventure has the spirit (and therefore the benefits) of a big adventure. It’s just all condensed into a weekend away, or even a midweek escape from the office,” Humphreys writes.


5. Try something new

For the seasoned traveller and adventurer with almost everything under their hat, finding new adventures in an increasingly conquered globe can be a hard feat. That’s where creativity and thinking outside the box come into play, and fortunately a fair few companies are experts at doing just that.

Travel tip: Thar desert, India
Relief Riders International’s (RRI) horseback journeys through India’s remote Thar Desert are tailor-made for those who prefer the path less traveled. Winners of a United Nations NGO Positive Peace Award, RRI structures its trips around visits to remote villages, where participants provide humanitarian aid and get plenty of time with locals. Expect “an exhilarating journey” and “the chance to use your skills, enthusiasm and experience to promote positive change,” says founder Alexander Souri.


6. Help the planet

Being eco-conscious is becoming increasingly important, and as travellers it’s our duty to help protect the world we wander in. Carbon offsetting and responsible planning can help limit your direct impact, but why not plan a trip in support of a project that actively helps the environment?

Travel tip: Rebuilding a tropical ecosystem
Blue Ventures works with coastal communities to protect and rehabilitate tropical ecosystems – and they’re always looking for a helping hand. Plan on spending a week or two removing invasive lionfish from Belize reefs, surveying coral formations in Madagascar, or dugong-spotting in the seagrass habitats of Timor-Leste. Blue Ventures’ community-based approach means you’ll be working alongside everyone from school children to local sea-cucumber farmers, while assisting in genuinely meaningful conservation work.


7. Quit smoking

Quitting smoking is one of the most popular health-related New Year’s resolutions, according to the NHS – but there’s no need to stay home while you’re wrestling with your tobacco demons. A number of retreats are specifically geared towards turning smokers into ex-smokers, with as little suffering as possible along the way.

Travel tip: Vilalara Thalassa Resort, Portugal
Portugal’s Vilalara Thalassa Resort specializes in thalassotherapy, or the art of healing through seawater. Its six-day anti-tobacco spa vacation includes time for dips in three plus-sized salt water treatment pools, along with acupuncture sessions, homeopathic treatments, and plenty of much-needed pampering.

Photo credit: © Taylor Nicole

  • John Cossham

    Sorry, I read this thinking it was a joke. Anyone traveling by plane is NOT helping the environment, they’re helping to trash it. There is NO eco-friendly way’ to do long-haul flights! Offsetting your carbon is a nonsense, see for a great analogy.

    Why was there no mention of which helps people plan to travel WITHOUT the airplane?

  • Leo

    Well said – number 6. is a joke considering coral bleaching occurring worldwide due to our impacts! Much more in support of the microadventure and land based travel to experience something different.

  • Naomi Tolley

    Thank you for your feedback, which is always appreciated. Although I am not an advocate of plane travel, I do accept that it still plays an important part in sustainable tourism, providing access for travellers to reach otherwise inaccessible areas of the world where vast positive differences can still be made. There is evidence that sustainable tourism is a huge force for good globally: providing quality employment for locals; promoting gender equality; and supporting/ benefiting the local economy. By not mentioning long-haul travel opportunities, which require air travel, I would be turning a blind eye to the enormous amount of good, positive work that is being done internationally. I would also hope that our readers are highly conscious travellers and make every effort to offset any carbon-offensive travel trips they go on. That said, I have also made sure the piece is balanced, promoting four trips that wouldn’t require air travel and two important conservation and humanitarian trips. It is in no way a piece fully supportive of air travel, but rather a piece promoting a range of mindful travel opportunities available in 2016.