Lonely Planet Writer

8 travel challenges for 2012

So it begins! Some say, a nutty few anyway, that doomsday is coming December 21, 2012, when the Mayan Long Count calendar clicks to a close. Well, look on the bright side: that gives us about 12 more months of travel. We better make them count. So, to help prioritize how to make a big bang out of the potentially last year of travel, we thought we'd up the ante by issuing eight travel challenges for the coming year:

1. Read a travelogue

Everyone loves travel, but relatively few dip into the rich genre of travel lit (and, yes, it goes well beyond Eat, Pray, Love). The top travel challenge for 2012: read at least one travel lit book. For something new, we came up with this list of our favorite new books from 2011; or opt for a classic like Paul Theroux’s global train journey The Great Railway Bazaar, Tony Horwitz’s Civil War-reenactor road trip Confederates in the Attic or Bruce Chatwin’s unique nomadic adventures from In Patagonia. That’s only the beginning.

2. Up the action

The most common New Year’s resolutions are losing weight and exercising more. Travel can help. In 2012, regardless of your physique, consider upping the ante in action. Walk part of the Appalachian Trail in the eastern US or take in some of Coastal Wales’ new 1377km trail (finished in May). Or just bike. It’s fun getting around a city that takes biking seriously (eg Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Montreal, Portland) or go for longer-haul trips (like Taiwan’s expanded island-circling trails; or a three-day loop of falls, wineries and War of 1812 sites around Canada’s Greater Niagara Circle Route, where B&Bs will forward your luggage).

3. Make your own attraction

One of the great travel lessons is not allowing ‘official attractions’ to govern a trip, and always save room to ‘make’ your own attractions too. On my first Lonely Planet research trip, a decade ago, I stopped a Kansas grain elevator and simply asked for a tour. A large Texan ex-pat in a golden jumpsuit and Terminator sunglasses happily obliged, offering a unique perspective of a ‘skyscraper of the plains.’ Generally anywhere you go, if you show an interest in peoples' lives, they’ll open up doors not advertised in travel brochures. That is, if you ask.

4. Close your eyes for 30 minutes

There are pluses and minuses to technology in travel (a topic we continue to debate ourselves), but I think we could all stand to slow way down, every now and then at least, to better absorb our surroundings when on the road. And maybe even close our eyes.

Sonic Wonders is an interesting website devoted to how travel can sound, while Tony Giles, a blind traveler/author, told me last year that closing your eyes can ‘let your other senses kick in’. Try it – even in a place that’s familiar to you. You might be surprised what you find.

5. Make a travel video

Right now, professional film people and amateurs are butting their heads over what ‘travel videos’ should look like. The old guard employs TV/film philosophy (and budgets), while bloggers and travelers throw together their own hand-held creations for much less, sometimes winning with their personality and quaint shaky glory.

With video cameras in nearly every mobile phone, and software like Apple’s iMovie making video editing accessible to all, why not experiment on your next trip? Start with something small, something you know you’ll talk about when you get back. For example, if you don’t want to wait in the Eiffel Tower lines, but love views – compile 10-second shots of your three favorite Paris views with some simple post-trip voiceover, and put out a useful, simple 30-second video and pop it onto YouTube. People will want to see that.

6. Be a home tourist

Quick show of hands: how many of you have ever stayed in a hotel or B&B in your hometown? Try it once this year (particularly if you leave some vacation days unused). Imagine yourself as a weekend visitor in your hometown, visit the tourist information center, splurge on a meal, see that museum only kids go to on 3rd-grade field trips, and see some theater. Even if only for one night. If you’re going to live in a place, you ought to see it from the other point of view. And you’re almost certainly to see something you hadn’t before.

7. Be your own Olympian

All eyes are on London for this summer’s Olympics, but there are ways to compete that require little to no athletic prowess. For the Best in Travel 2012 book this year, I came up with ’10 Ways to be a Champion.’ Finland and Britain seem to have the most, including Finland’s wife-carrying contest in July and Scotland’s stone skipping championship in September. If that’s too challenging, Canada-based Rock Paper Scissors Society (RPS) holds its event in late summer (tentatively scheduled for Banff). Skill tip, per the RPS: Beginners tend to repeat matched signs.

8. Rediscover forgotten history

Somewhere near you lies a place you probably only dimly recall from history classes gone by. If all you can remember about the War of 1812 is that it happened sometime around 1812, it's time to dust off those study notes and go experience history in person.

Unless you’re Canadian, no one pays much attention to the war of 1812, a stalemate war that included the burning of the White House, the penning of the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ and a glorious, apparently needless victory for a feisty future US president (Andrew Jackson) just as the two-and-a-half-year war ended. Canada has been pumping millions into its festivities for the war’s 200th anniversary (beginning June 18), while New York State, for example, is offering mere $3000 grants if you want to 1812 it up.

You can bike to some sites from Niagara Falls (see #2 above), or pop by the Brits’ last advance into the US at Plattsburgh, New York, or see Baltimore’s Fort McHenry (events planned for September 7-9), over which a certain banner spangled in stars flew in 1814. Or, hey, just watch The Buccaneer (1958), a War of 1812 movie with pirates.

Find your own War of 1812, go out and experience some history for yourself before - well - before we're history too. Happy New Year!

Looking for more inspiration on what to do and where to go in 2012? Flip through our editors' and authors' picks on Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2012.

Best in Travel 2012 also available on the iBookstore.