If your world is anything like mine, the past few weeks have been crazy, for travelers and homebodies alike. Between flight delays (and cancellations), the crush of holiday shoppers and shopping, joyous and not so joyous family reunions, blizzards, awful energy-sucking colds, and the early darkness that settles over New England, December is not a month for weaklings. It’s not a month for dawdling or downtime, either, at least not now that I’ve graduated out of the luxury of a weeks-long, collegiate vacation.

I imagine I’m not the only one who felt like December sped by in one draining all-out rush towards the new year. A week ago, the succession of days seemed relentless, but what I love about our calendar is that it always offers a chance for new beginnings. Bad days end, and so do bad weeks (and even years) and one can always steal a moment to regroup and decide that tomorrow is the day things will be easier, the day we’ll act stronger, the day the sun will set a little later, or what have you.  I always pause for a moment at the end of the year, to reflect on what’s happened and think about what I want to make happen, moving forward.

Credit: alexbartok

Thinking about myself as a traveler, a lot of things have changed for me this year. I went from backpacking to living abroad to coming home and getting a full-time job that I’ve had for nearly six months now (an important milestone, since at six months I catch my first glimpse of paid vacation days, the gold, frankincense and myrrh to my Christmas wishes). It’s hard, juggling the constant desire to travel with the need to stay in one place, and I think that it’s this balance that is at the center of my five travel-related goals for 2011, the goals I want to share with you here.

First: I want to learn more about the place where I live. I want to treat this environment that I’m in every day the way I’d treat a city I’d never been to before. I want to be as excited about its history, its beauty and its uniqueness, and I want to learn more about its flaws and inadequacies. I want to learn enough to be a tour guide as knowledgeable and thorough as those who’ve shown me around their hometowns, half a world away. I want to feel some of those intangible, priceless connections I associate with the word “home”.

Second: I want to stay in touch with the friends I’ve made while traveling. I know in the age of Facebook and email, this shouldn’t be difficult, but still it is. One of the best things about travel is that meaningful connections with total strangers can happen in an instant, but those connections aren’t as simple to maintain once barriers of time and distance, and the realities of everyday life settle back into place. I want to be dedicated to communicating with the friends I’ve made, not just so I can feel good about asking to crash on their floor the next time I’m abroad, but because knowing them and knowing about their lives makes my world a richer, more interesting place.

Third: This is simple. I want to visit one country that I’ve never been to before.

Fourth: A year ago I had the goal of staying more informed, and I thought I’d solve that problem by reading or listening to the news regularly. I’ve done that rather well over the past twelve months, but I’ve realized there’s only a certain kind of knowledge that comes from today’s news, and for the most part it comes at breakneck speed. “Old” information is replaced by the new before there’s a chance for reflection or in-depth analysis. Complicated, century-old histories are condensed into a paragraph’s worth of background, and conflicts mired in shades of gray are often–for the sake of simplicity or sensationalism–portrayed as rigidly black and white. So this year I want to gather information about the world from sources that are passionate about their subjects, not just about being the face of the world’s most breaking news.

Fifth: This one stays the same, every year. I want to be more independent and self-sufficient, without sacrificing or avoiding connections to other people and the world.  I want to be responsible, and I want to be kind. And I want to do something brave this year, something challenging…something worth writing about.

So cheers for 2011! There are my five goals for the next twelve months. What are some of yours?