Did you set some travel goals as part of your New Year’s resolutions for 2020? If not, it’s not too late. A new year and decade bring new ways to experience the world, says Dora Ball, editor of Travel Goals, (Lonely Planet, $25). “Travelers today are not as interested in ticking off a load of sites far away. They’re more interested in travel as self-discovery.” She shares ideas for rewarding journeys and encounters with USA TODAY.
Go off the grid
In our always-connected age, the lure of remote places is growing, Ball says. “It gives you an opportunity to re-evaluate your lifestyle habits, and escape from social media.” That’s what draws many to Les Toits du Monde, an electricity-free retreat with treehouses and other unique lodgings in the Laurentian Mountains, near Montreal, Canada.
More information: lestoitsdumonde.ca
Live with locals
Instead of talking to hotel employees and tour guides, see how local residents spend their daily lives, Ball says. “For all the amazing sites in the world, meeting real people and spending time in their home can have a great effect on us.” She suggests a homestay in Orjan, a village near Amman, Jordan. “You become a part of the family for a night or two. You might help with the daily chores, and the money you pay is going directly to that community.”
More information: engagingcultures.com
Learn a local craft
One of the best ways to understand the culture of a place is through a local trade or craft, which offers a window into its history and values, Ball says. That’s what draws many to a weeklong boatbuilding course in Brooklin, Maine, which teaches the basics of design as students construct a wooden sailing skiff from scratch.
More information: thewoodenboatschool.com
Keep a sketch journal
You’re bound to make a deep connection to a place when you take time to draw it. “It’s not about being a great artist. It’s about slowing down and taking in your surroundings,” Ball says. Travelers can join an organized drawing group, like Urban Sketchers in Seattle.
More information: seattle.urbansketchers.org
Make an epic overland journey
With low-cost air travel, it’s simple to cross continents in mere hours, but why not do it the old-fashioned way: on the ground? If you’ve got the time, you could spend months driving the length of Africa from Cairo to Cape Town or traveling the Silk Road, the ancient trade route that connected Southern Europe to Asia, Eastern Africa and the Middle East. Or consider driving the Pan-American Highway, which connects Argentina to Canada. “The journey is the goal, being open to what you see along the way. It’s the ultimate education in the world,” Ball says.
More information: dragoman.com
Test your mettle
Sometimes a trip is about pushing yourself to the limit. It could be a demanding hike like Angels Landing in Utah’s Zion National Park, while others might try the Yukon Quest, the world’s longest annual river race, which has canoeists and kayakers paddle 444 miles along the Yukon River. “They’re not necessarily fun when you’re doing it. They’re kind of extreme, but when you succeed you feel amazing,” Ball says.
More information: yukonriverquest.com
Travel can not only enrich your life, but it can help support humanitarian and conservation projects. “You can feel good about where your money’s going,” Ball says. For example, Kenya’s Maji Moto Maasai Cultural Camp lets visitors experience traditional village life, music and food during overnight stays that benefit the community.
More information: majimotomaasaicamp.com
Sleep in a Dark Sky Sanctuary
For an unforgettable light show, seek out night skies unmarred by light pollution. “It connects us with the outdoors. It’s a mini digital detox because you become much more attuned to natural light cycles,” Ball says. A prime spot: the Cosmic Campground International Dark Sky Sanctuary in the Gila National Forest in New Mexico, which offers 360-degree unobstructed views of the night sky, and is located more than 40 miles away from the nearest artificial light source. “You’ll be able to see the stars lit up in all their glory.”
More information: fs.usda.gov
Try something new
Ball says one of the best experiences for travelers is to try something new. “It’s the core of what enriching travel’s about. When you have a new experience, the memory locks in there.” It can be as simple as learning how to gather your own food on a mushroom foraging class in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains. “You’re surrounded by nature and you get to take something home with you.”
More information: foragesf.com
Spend the night in the jungle
There’s no better way to experience the wilderness than sleeping in it. “You’re in a dark place, no streetlights, there are squeaks and howls and thumps and bumps. It forces you to face some fears and be aware that there’s a great ecosystem out there,” Ball says. One example: Ecolodge Lapa Rios in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, which has open-air bungalows in a 1,000-acre lowland rainforest reserve.
More information: laparios.com