Have you ever noticed how two people can visit the same place with similar hopes and dreams have dramatically different experiences?
One person will return home with life-changing memories of adventure and reflection, whereas another will return home disappointed, feeling as though they'd failed to accomplish what they set out to achieve.
Why is this?
While nothing is guaranteed on the road, travelers who consistently have exceptional experiences share a common trait: they set travel goals.
Setting travel goals to improve your next trip might seem counterintuitive to some. After all, isn't the objective of travel to get away from the to-do lists and schedules of daily life?
Yes, and no. Although travel is a great opportunity to escape from our day-to-day routines, it's not an alternative universe within which the general rules of life don't apply.
Just as they do at home, when traveling goals provide you with short-term motivation and long-term vision. They help you to better organize your time and energy so that you get the most out of your trips.
Goals ensure that you’re life on the road follows your own personal values. And by setting and completing goals, you take the steps necessary to fulfill your purpose, or Why, for traveling.
Without goals, it’s easy to get lost. With no clear direction on what to do next or which way to go, we can become overwhelmed with the number of novel possibilities travel presents us with on a daily basis.
Having good travel goals is like having someone guide you along your journey, ensuring you take the proper next step every time.
Fortunately, as you will see, creating—and accomplishing—major, life-changing travel goals isn’t just for the hyper-motivated or über-persistent. There are a number of straight-forward steps that anyone eager to learn and grow can follow to design and fulfill their travel dreams.
How To Create Amazingly-Effective Travel Goals
OK, so you’re convinced that setting goals is useful. But how do you go about doing this? How do you create good travel goals?
The best, most-effective travel goals are SMART goals. No, I don’t mean that they are members off MENSA (what’s with the acronyms today?).
Rather, great travel goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based. Let’s explain that a bit more.
Great travel goals are clear and specific, which helps to remain focused and motivated.
To make your goals more specific, try and answer the six ‘W’ questions:
-What do I want to accomplish?
-When do I want to accomplish this goal?
-Where do I need to go?
-Who should be involved?
-Which resources or limits are there?
-Why do I want to accomplish this goal?
Great travel goals are also measurable, allowing you to easily track your progress and know when you’ve succeeded.
Being able to clearly see both how far you’ve come and what you need to do to finish helps you to stay motivated and creates excitement around the thought of accomplishing your goal.
When setting measurable goals, ask questions like:
-How will I know when I've succeeded?
Great travel goals should also be attainable. You should be able to see a realistic path you can take to success. You should feel challenged and your abilities should be stretched, but everything should remain possible. If your goals is so difficult that it starts to feel unattainable, then you’re more likely to just give up.
Achievable goals answer questions like:
-Given my current situation (financial, mental/physical health, time constraints) how realistic is this goal?
-How can I accomplish this goal?
Great travel goals need to be relevant. They need to matter to you, aligning with your greater purpose in travel or life.
Having a deep sense of purpose behind your goals ensures that you’ll never run out of motivation, even when the going gets tough and helps to keep things in perspective. If you goal isn’t relevant to you, you will lack the fortitude necessary to handle adversity when it undoubtedly appears.
Relevant travel goals answer ‘yes’ to these questions:
-Is this something that matters to me?
-Do I really want to accomplish this?
-Will completing this goal improve the world in some way?
-Am I improving my life by succeeding?
-Is this the right time or place for me to try and achieve this goal?
Great travel goals have a target date. They have a deadline for completion that you can stick to. This helps ensure that one temporary, short-term goal—which is supposed to be a single step on the way towards aiding greater goals or your purpose—doesn’t become a massive time-suck or permanent hinderance.
Time-based travel goals can usually answer these questions:
-What can be done today to help accomplish this?
-What can I do six weeks from now?
-What can I do six months from now?
In addition, the best travel goals are performance, not outcome, based. This means that the goal is to complete the process rather than to achieve a specific end result.
As all great performers know, the only thing you ever have full control over is your effort. There’s no guarantee that a well-struck golf ball won’t end up in the water in a tournament or that a perfectly-sung ballad won’t be eclipsed by another song during a talent show.
You can’t force the weather to be nice, a museum to be open, or a local to be friendly, but you can wake up in the morning ready to take that hike, prepare yourself to see some art, or have the courage to start a conversation at the nearby cafe.
While there are no guarantees, consistently putting in the effort—following a process that you know can work—leads to the best long-term results.
How To Figure Out What Goals to Set
If you’ve read what we wrote on travel with purpose, you know how important it is to find your Why for travel. Purpose gives focus to your planning, inspires action on the road, and provides strength in difficult moments—both before and during trips.
Once you’ve identified your purpose for travel—here’s a refresher on how to do that—you’ve already done much of the work necessary to set great travel goals. You have a clear idea of which direction you want to take. Now you just have to map out the specific steps you will take to get there.
Sometimes the route you need to take will be obvious, and goal-setting will be simple. Other times the path might not be as clear. If that’s the case, ask yourself the following questions, with your Why in mind:
-Image that you’ve had a successful trip filled with purpose. What would that trip entail? Can you work backwards from the end to the start?
-What’s the smallest possible first step you could take towards achieving your Why?
-Has anyone else traveled with a similar purpose? What did their journey look like?
-What’s the most important problem you could tackle on day one of your trip?
-What’s one thing that would get you to jump out of bed?
-What do you want your obituary to say?
-What would you never regret trying even if you failed?
-What could you do to ensure that you’re living a satisfying life?
Not every goal for your trip has to—or even should—be purpose-driven. Adding a few for-fun, less-serious goals helps to lighten the mood and provides additional motivation along the way.
Examples of some fun goals could be visiting all the Trappist breweries in Belgium, learning 5 words in Portuguese each day during a month-long trip to Brazil, and trying 20 different flavors of Kit Kat while in Japan.
Deciding How Many Travel Goals to Have
When trying to determine how many goals you should set for a trip, there are a number of factors to consider.
How long will you be gone? How much time will you be able to devote to accomplishing your goals? Will you have other obligations or responsibilities on your trip? Does reading over your list of potential goals make you feel overwhelmed?
In general, it is better to pick a smaller number of meaningful goals rather than a large number of goals that you’re less enthusiastic about. Your time and energy on the road is limited, and there is only so much you can concentrate on.
Changing Your Travel Goals
Having fewer goals allows you to create new goals when you’re traveling based on what you see and do. As you travel, you will undoubtedly realize new things about yourself and your prioritizes might change. Perhaps you came to South America to learn Brazilian Capoeira only to learn that you’d rather practice Argentine Tango.
Your goals don’t have to be inflexible. Sometimes unexpected things happen when you’re traveling. Allow yourself the latitude to jump into the adventure that is unexpected possibilities. Don’t let your original goal of visiting the top 5 Sachertorte coffee houses in Vienna keep you from accepting an invite from new friends to spend the weekend at a music festival in Bratislava. The best part of travel is the unexpected and the unplanned, and objectives should never get in the way of a good story.
Expectations Versus Hopes
To help make this easier, make sure your goals are not expectations. Expectations are absolute and unmovable. When we expect something, we move an accomplishment from being something to be celebrated to being something mundane. After all, we expected it to happen so why be happy? And if they don’t happen, then we get upset.
In contrast, if you view your goals as hopes—things you want to have happen but also recognize that they might not—then you are free to change or abandon goals when necessary. The quality of your travel experiences are not contingent upon how many of the goals you set out at the beginning are accomplished blindly.
How to Achieve Your Travel Goals
There are a number of things you can do to help you to accomplish your travel goals.
1.) Make sure your travel goals are SMART
As mentioned above, if your goals are not specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, or time-bound, your chances of success will be greatly diminished.
2.) Review your travel goals regularly
Review your goals every day when you wake up. One way to do this is to create a travel journal within which you actually one big goal for the day and three ways in which you are going to make it happen.
Also remind yourself everyday of your overall purpose for traveling. Write this down on a piece of paper and bring it with you during the day.
3.) Prioritize your travel goals
At the beginning of your trip, sequence your goals based on priority. Know what is most important to get done first and what you most want to accomplish. Not only does this set you off on the right foot, but it makes it more likely that you will have done the things you most want to do in case something happens that cuts your trip short or otherwise changes your plans.
4.) Keep track of your progress
Before you go to bed each night take a moment to write down your successes. Note what steps you took to achieve your goals and how much progress you’ve made since yesterday.
Somedays you’ll take great leaps, whereas others days it may feel like you’ve only advanced a little. Don’t worry about this. Remain consistent in the process and the results will eventually show.
5.) Celebrate your success
Be sure to enjoy the moment when you accomplish your goals. Fully embrace the feelings you get and let them soak into you. Hold onto that feeling as long as you can. Think about the hard work and dedication it took to get to where you are.
Take a photo to memorialize your accomplishment and let other people know on social media what you’ve done. Don’t worry about coming across as boastful—in general, people want other people to succeed, and if your joy is genuine your friends and family will be supportive. And who knows, you may even inspire someone else to take on their own challenges.
The joy one gains from a hard-earned achievement is addictive, and you’ll naturally want more of it. Ensuring that you take the time to properly celebrate your successes is critical when building the work-reward loop that drives future performance.
Throughout the goal-achievement process, remain reflective. Ask yourself how things are going? Are your goals too easy and you’re not feeling challenged? What are you learning about yourself? Use this information to adjust your future plans and goals.
Things to Avoid: What Prevents You From Achieving Your Travel Goals
There are a number of reasons people don’t achieve their travel goals. Some of the biggest road blocks include:
You want results right away and get frustrated and quit when you don’t see the results immediately.
You want everything to be done perfectly the first time and if that’s not the case you get upset and quit.
You are unable to deal with failure on a first, second, or tenth try. Those who stick with it are those that achieve.
4.) Focusing on the end results
When you shift your attention from the process to final outcome, you’re more likely to make mistakes, not give it your full effort, and overlook crucial steps. Also, the process is often quite fun—especially in traveling. Imagine not enjoying the hike up a mountain side because you’re focused exclusively on what it will feel like when you get to the top.
Sometimes excuses are what prevent us from achieving our goals.Your mind likes to stay in a comfort zone and so it will say and do whatever it can to prevent you from moving out of that. Do you hear yourself saying some of the following? If you do, stop for a moment and think.
-I’m not good enough.
-It’s not the right time.
-I’m too old/young.
-I don’t have the money.
-People will laugh at me.
-What if I fail?
6.) Overly-large steps
If you bite off more than you can chew in one chunk it can be demoralizing and daunting. This is common. Instead of committing to visiting all the countries in the world when you first start out traveling, perhaps start by visiting one.
Now is the best time to act. It’s easy to say that you’ll travel one day or achieve XYZ in the future when you feel right. Don’t wait until you feel ready, or when the time is right. If you do that, you risk that time never coming. If you can’t complete the whole goal right now, create a mini-goal that you can finish that when done will help you to achieve your larger goal. Any progress is good progress!
People, at home, social pressure. These can all distract you from your goals. Remember why you’re trying to achieve your goals, and this can help you keep on track.
9.) Lack of consistency
Are you not doing the same things every day to help achieve your goals? Do you work hard one day and then slack off another?
Show up everyday with effort and you’ll be rewarded. The more consistent you are, the easier it is to achieve goals as they become habits. Get in the habit of talking to locals when you wake up each morning and you’ll find it second nature after a while.
More on this next week!
As you've learned, if you're interested in consistently having exceptional travel experiences, you should to set goals. The best travel goals are SMART goals—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based—and are often steps towards fulfilling a greater purpose or Why. Such goals provide travelers with the motivation, vision, and resiliency. By following a few straight-forward steps, anyone can design, develop, and—ultimately—live their travel dreams.
Eager to take the next step towards achieving your travel goals? Download my FREE guide The Traveler’s Mindset: How to Mentally Prepare for Journeys of Adventure and Growth!