New Year's resolutions come fueled by an aroused conscience, a sense that this year you are going forward with a better plan. Travel can offer new roads, without any of that baggage. Here we suggest some easy ways to see the world, even to help it, in 2009: Aid others, and your pocketbook, by traveling in a way that earns tax deductions. Stay close to home and get to know your neighborhood. Roam far and end up in a country that is trying to be ethical. Or walk, walk, walk - good for the planet and for you. Think it over, and then make a travel resolution of your own.
Savor the scene, slowly
Get somewhere - by car, train, or plane - and then proceed only on foot. See things slowly. Encounter a place intimately. This works at a cabin in New Hampshire's White Mountains or at a beach cottage in the Caribbean. Such exploration can be particularly rich in a city. Hunker down in the Paris neighborhood of Canal Saint-Martin, for example. Wander shops and cafes on Quai de Valmy, crossing over the footbridge to have a drink at a table outside Hotel du Nord. Follow the Rue de la Grange aux Belles northeast to the Avenue Mathurin Moreau until you reach the Parc des Buttes Chaumont and stroll with the Sunday crowds. Or walk south, past Place de la Rñpublique, and settle at a table for couscous at Chez Omar on Rue de Bretagne. You may be tempted to continue to monuments and museums along the Seine or mysteries in Montmartre. Or not: Take a seat at the MK2 Quai de Seine, a cinema just past the Jean Jaur??s metro station, and stop altogether.
Do some deductible good
Doctors relax in Fiji between performing cataract surgeries for local out-islanders. A church group gets in some surfing while building houses in Belize. Enrich yourself and others tax-deductibly through charitable travel. Look for trips offered by nonprofits in order to deduct. You can even fund your travel costs with donations from people you know who likewise can deduct their contribution. Ask the organization (and your tax adviser) about the specifics of the individual trip. Earthwatch is a good place to start. (www.earthwatch.org
). Cross-Cultural Solutions is another (www.crossculturalsolutions.org
), and International Volunteer Programs Association offers a general resource. See also IRS publication 463 on travel deductions (www.irs.gov
). And don't worry; it's easier than it sounds. As an IRS adviser told me, "Uncle Sam just wants to make sure the trip is really dedicated to volunteer work, but it's OK to have fun."
Pack with prudence
Travel can be an expensive habit, but it's one I don't want to give up. This year I'm looking to cut corners, beginning with my usual point of departure: the airport. With a little planning I can pack a light snack that probably is healthier than what I would grab on the go ($10). I can carry an empty water bottle through security and fill it at a water fountain ($2). Taking the subway instead of a taxi to the airport isn't all that hard and the cost difference is enormous ($38). If I pack carefully I won't have to check my bag ($15). I can bring my own headset ($2), and instead of paying for a pillow and blanket ($7), I can carry my thin wool pashmina to use if I get chilly in flight. Round-trip savings: $128. That's almost the price of a one-way flight to . . . somewhere.
Banish jet lag
Time is money, even on vacation, and you've probably grown tired of always dragging through your first few days because of jet lag. No sooner do you catch up on your sleep than it's time to go home and experience jet lag redux. Resolve to try the Anti-Jet-Lag Diet before your next trip. The program, which alternates feast and fast for three days before travel, was developed at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois to help military personnel make quick adjustments when they are deployed halfway around the world. Research published last spring in Science magazine suggests that the fasting portion of the diet is what resets your internal clock. It's easy to skip the airplane pretzels by concentrating on the canard ?? l'orange that you'll enjoy wide awake - in Paris. Go to www.antijetlagdiet.com
for details. The site will charge $16.95 to make the calculations for a round trip, but you can do it yourself for free.
Learn (any) language
There's no longer any excuse to travel the world insisting hopefully that English is the "universal" language. In the last few years there has been a proliferation of free language courses on the Web, complete with audio files to practice your pronunciation. Some even have chat rooms. So it's easier than ever to get a grasp on French or Spanish (or Czech or Mandarin) before you hit the road. Some sites are run by native speakers as labors of love and a way to meet foreigners (and sometimes to practice their own English). Some commercial sites offer introductory study at no cost and charge for more advanced instruction. Check Word2Word's website (www.word2word.com/coursead.html
) for links to free language study. You can keep your resolution by carving out just 15 minutes a day for practice.
Be a better tourist
Every country wants US tourist dollars, but some use the revenue better than others. Think pristine beaches scarred by hotel blight, coral reefs destroyed by resort effluents, and governments that bar their citizens from doing business in tourist-frequented areas. Ethical Traveler, an offshoot of the nonprofit Earth Island Institute, does an annual study of the developing world to determine which countries are on the right track. The findings are published in a list of the 10 best travel destinations. The most recent list includes Namibia, Croatia, and Bolivia, which make an effort to preserve their historic architecture and protect their natural resources from commercial ruin. Bringing business to such countries is a good idea not only because it encourages responsible practices, but also because it shows neighboring countries that such policies make sense. Find the list at www.ethicaltraveler.org
Details, details, details
Want to return from your next vacation with lasting memories instead of just a few snapshots? Resolve to start keeping a travel journal. Jot down your experiences, and you will capture forever those little details, humorous moments, and vivid sensations that are too often quickly forgotten. For years to come, you will be able to hear the Australian accent of that barmaid in Adelaide, savor that lemon gelato from Rome, and feel the biting Icelandic wind on your cheek. And if ever you are planning an itinerary for a return visit, you'll have the names of your favorite restaurants, hotels, and sights at your fingertips.
Mind your do's and don'ts
Intrepid travelers, repeat after me: Whilst abroad, I resolve never to eat at an American fast-food chain restaurant, and to support the little trattoria or tapas bar or noodle stand far from the zone where waiters lure tourists with English-language prix fixe menus. I promise to avoid booking any package tour touting the "Irish [French, etc.] Experience," and to never try "doing" a museum in one hour or a city in 24 hours. I pledge to abstain from hiking boots and khaki vests with mesh pockets in an urban setting; likewise, on day hikes, abstention from any brand-new outdoorsy designer garment that costs more than $250. Whenever visiting a historic district, I agree never to congregate in groups larger than 10. I will make an effort to learn "hello," "goodbye," and "thank you" in the local language. And I will never begin a conversation with a shop clerk by saying, "Hey, do you speak English?"
The weirder, the better
When traveling I like to zero in on things that help me enjoy the moment and will keep their appeal when I'm back home. Choosing souvenirs is key. To me, weird little objects bring a trip roaring back in my mind. I've got a world-class collection of absolutely worthless junk, including an egg with a coat of shellac that says "Ecuador," a battery-operated plastic rat from Vietnam, and a caribou from Quebec that sings "O Canada" when you press its nose. To build your own collection, pick souvenirs that are locally made. Limit the cost to $20 or less. Look for mementos that remind you of quirky or interesting things that happened on your trip. If your companions say a souvenir is ugly or silly, you have spotted a winner. Snap it up.
Unless you work as an international courier, your ability to accumulate frequent flier miles in the air is pretty limited. The fastest way to rack up the miles needed to reach free flight award levels is by using one mileage-earning credit card and charging everything you buy on it: gasoline, groceries, meals, subscriptions, dues, doctor's office copays. When presented with any bill, your first question should be, "May I pay with my credit card?" I once paid a $12,000 bill for a semester's tuition at a college in Australia with a credit card, earning in that one transaction half the miles needed for a free domestic flight. There's a huge caveat here, however: You have to pay your credit card bill in full and on time every month; otherwise, late fees and finance charges could easily negate any airfare savings. When it comes time to redeem miles, plan well in advance, be flexible with dates, and choose long-haul flights. My biggest score was three round-trip tickets from Boston to Honolulu at a time when the lowest rate was nearly $1,000 a ticket. We had a terrific time in Hawaii - and, yes, we charged everything.
Learn from the masters
If your travel plans allow you to experience some of the world's great museums, why not do some pre-gallery preparation? You'd have a greater appreciation for that Picasso if you knew a little more about his techniques and motivation. Books are an option, but a course - either in person or online - can help make your meanderings more meaningful. This winter, Brookline Adult & Community Education (617-730-2700, www.brooklineadulted.org
) is offering "Picasso Explored," which looks at his life, works, and style with students of all abilities. The Cambridge Center for Adult Education (617-547-6789, www.ccae.org
) has a course on "Renowned Masters of the Italian Renaissance," featuring Botticelli, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Titian. Many museum websites can provide a head start. The Museum of Fine Arts (617-267-9300, www.mfa.org
) offers online tours, including background on recent exhibits. It also has podcasts to take around the museum or on a jog around the block. Among the options: a look at early 1600s paintings by El Greco and Velñzquez and at art of the Empire style during Napoleon's reign.
A new angle on home
Check into a hotel or inn in your own community and live like a tourist for a few days. See all the sights nearby that you've been promising to explore when company comes. You don't have to travel long distances to enjoy a break from routine. With all the hassles of airport security and flight delays, traveling by plane can cause enough anxiety to diminish the vacation. Why bother? Just sleeping in another bed, eating a meal cooked by someone else, and being pampered by the staff of a nice inn can be refreshing - even if it's all just around the corner. Look into midweek and last-minute specials. With a destination so close by, you can be spontaneous.
© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.