How We Set Travel Goals (& our next big one!)

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When Heath and I first started traveling, we set a very clear goal:

Visit all 50 states in a year for our honeymoon.

It was crazy specific—down to the time frame—but that’s what helped us make it happen.

(Okay “technically” we crossed into Alaska one year and one week after our honeymoon started. But I call that a win!)

For the past eight years, we’ve continued to travel but with less concrete goals:

  • RV on both New Zealand Islands
  • RV in Europe
  • See the fall leaves in the northeast
  • Zipline in a foreign country (which we just crossed off last month in Mexico!)
  • Spend half of the year out of the country

These have been great goals to guide how we plan our travel each year, but Heath and I have craved something a little bigger.

Setting Intentional Travel Goals

I got major déjà vu starting to write this blog post because I realized Heath and I talk about goal setting all the time! Usually at the end of December when we write our year-end reviews. We are very obsessed for not being productivity gurus.

But we both love having big goals. They guide our decisions and help us choose the right path when we are confronted with options.

We’ve talked about travel goals often with our friends Kara and Nate. We visited all 50 states; they visited 100 countries. And after we each achieved our goals, there was almost an emptiness there. We all felt the need to think up a new goal to achieve.

In a lot of ways, there’s pressure that the next goal be even bigger and better.

After Heath worked a job in each state, so many people said “Now work a job in each country!”

Between Instagram and travel blogs and Youtubers, I think this is a common feeling. It’s not enough to just full-time RV or travel with your family. You need to visit every national park or visit every Disney park or accomplish some epic goal that will wow everyone.

I’m not a fan of that social pressure, but I do see the appeal of having a single, intentional goal to guide travel.

Why Set Travel Goals?

I hear all of the time from new RVers the same, kind of silly question: “How do you plan where to go?”

I totally get it! When you open your life up to travel, you suddenly realize the world is at your fingertips. Especially with an RV. Anywhere you can drive, you can visit! It can be hard to choose.

This is why I love setting a tangible goal. It can be simple like spending Christmas with my nieces and nephews or complicated like visiting 50 microbreweries in Colorado. Whatever it is, it helps guide and anchor you as you travel so you don’t feel aimless as you wander, something I know many travelers have felt at one point or another.

For Heath and I, our goals have looked like this:

2014: Visit all 50 states

2015: ✅ Visit all 50 states (still had Hawaii and Alaska to go!) and live for cheap in the RV to pay off all our debt so we can keep traveling

2016: ✅ Re-visit all of the west coast + RV abroad for the first time

2017: ✅ Re-visit all of the east coast

2018: ✅ Spend half of the year RVing abroad

2019: ✅ Take our daughter on her first international RVing trip (Italy)

2020: ✅ Full-time RV in the states as a family of 3

2021: ❎ the first year we didn’t set a travel goal because I knew I wanted baby #2 and we were building a campground so we took little trips instead of any big travel. It was weird not having a travel goal, and we missed it.

Other than not paying off our student debt until mid-2017 (why did we think we could pay it all off in a year?), we accomplished all of these crazy big goals and started each year with a strong direction.

Sometimes that direction changed. In 2020, we quickly switched from “Let’s see if we love full-time RVing with kids as much as we loved it as a couple” to “Let’s buy a house, the world is in turmoil and we want a safe place to land.” It was a big pivot at the time, but one that has allowed us to chase other goals, like having our son, building a campground, and living in a house together for the first time in our marriage. 100% was the perfect decision for us.

And now that we do have a home base, we can start looking abroad again and chasing a goal I scribbled down with a question mark next to it back in 2016: RVing across the world.

RVing Across the World

Heath and I (obviously) love RVing. I mean look at that list above. Seven years of my life were dedicated to it! And it is our absolute favorite way to travel.

I even have a comprehensive list of all the countries where RVing is a thing so we can start brainstorming where to RV next. Spoiler: we are about to head to France to spend a month RVing across southern France which is known for being one of the most RV-friendly parts of Europe.

With the kids joining us on adventures, we’re aiming to be even more intentional with our travel and set a new goal for a whole family. I knew I wanted RVing around the world to be a part of it, but I wasn’t really sure where to start. So I asked myself a question:

How Many Countries Do I Want to Visit?

I pulled up Google Maps and a spreadsheet. I love a good spreadsheet—the more organized, the better.

I started making a list of all the countries we’ve visited so far:

I knew off the top of my head where we had visited with the kids, but truly didn’t know how many countries Heath and I had visited. Heath and I have visited nine countries together, Ellie five, and Eli four. (Yes, it is going to bother me until we make it back to Rome and visit Vatican City that Ellie and Eli haven’t visited the same number of countries!)

I had no idea how many countries I wanted to visit or how many countries I wanted to RV in. I know many friends who have the goal to visit 100 countries or even every country (currently 195), but those goals don’t appeal to me. They are a little too big. Especially when you’re looking at packing along a double-stroller on all those adventures!

I took to my spreadsheet and created a “Want to Visit” list of places we hadn’t yet ventured. With Google Maps zoomed out far enough to read the names of most countries, I started typing out every country I knew I wanted to visit. I came up with a list of 39 countries.

This was purely based on me saying “I saw a pretty picture of Albania once” and “Never heard of Saint Kitts and Nevis before but it sounds like they serve piña coladas, so let’s add that one to the list.” I haven’t actually done any research into what countries to visit. That will all come later when we started making legit plans! This was just fun brainstorming where I don’t have to worry about visas or which season is the best time to visit or if I can realistically afford ever visiting the Maldives.

Here’s what I came up with at first glance:

It’s not a spreadsheet if it’s not color-coded.

Yes, I know my South America and Africa lists need some serious boosting. I need to Google which countries Victoria Falls straddles and of all the countries in Africa, I most want to visit Morocco and I didn’t even list it in my brainstorming! Also, what countries are technically in South America but look like they are in Central America? Why is that so confusing? Oh and I forgot China! Disneyland Hong Kong is a must.

I’m going back and adding to this list as I write out this blog 😂  But this list was just about getting a baseline for how many countries I knew I wanted to visit just from quick brainstorming. If there’s anything I’ve learned about travel, it’s that once you start traveling, your list of “places to visit” gets longer and longer the more places you go!

With this list of 39 countries, plus what we’ve already visited together, I easily drew a conclusive travel goal:

visit 50 countries with Heath.

I am just now realizing the parallel between this goal and our honeymoon. Maybe 50 is our magic number? 😂

Not all of these countries can be visited by RV, like Cuba or the Philippines. But a good portion of Europe definitely could be. That’ll be something we can look into later, when we actually start planning and booking travel.

Part-time traveling, I estimate that this will take us a decade or two to tackle. I’m in no rush. We like spending a couple of weeks minimum in each country we visit, and longer if we are able to RV in that country. We spent two months camper vanning around New Zealand and have traveled for three months across Italy, so in my mind, we need at least a month in each country to fully appreciate it… Although I just did a Google Image search of Saint Kitts and Nevis, so if you don’t hear from me for a while, it’s because I moved to an island paradise. 🏝

Setting a Family Travel Goal

One of the main reasons Heath and I started talking about setting an intentional goal was so that we could have something to guide us as we plan big trips with our kids. Saying we want to visit 50 countries with Ellie before she becomes an adult sounds a little too crazy. That’s 45 countries over the next 15 years, which could be possible, but like I said, we like to travel slowly and enjoy new countries.

So we set the goal of visit 20 countries with the kids before they turn 18.

Since they already have a few under their belts, that works out to about one country per year until Ellie graduates high school. Much more doable and less wild, but still a huge goal.

It’s ridiculous to me because this goal feels small. Shouldn’t my goal be 100 countries? Or better yet all of them? 20 is so few!

(This is one of the many problems with social media. I’ve been traveling for my whole adult life and I haven’t visited 20 countries yet. It’s tricked me into thinking 20 is small, when it’s really a huge, amazing goal.)

I don’t know which 20 countries we’ll end up visiting. Canada will probably make the list. Spain definitely will, since we will start RVing in France in a few weeks and end in Spain this October. But I’m excited to let the kids be a part of this goal. Ellie has been talking to me constantly lately about how she wants to go back to “Ratatouille’s house” AKA Paris, and she wants to visit “Bluey’s house” too, AKA Australia. She may be three, but she continues to wow me with her understanding of travel.

I’m nervous-excited about this next big trip with the kids. Like Heath shared last week, traveling with kids is so drastically different than traveling alone and everyone has an opinion on it. Some families love football. Baseball. Gymnastics. Hiking. The list goes on. Heath and I love to travel, so that’s what we’re sharing with our family. And now we’ve got clear goals to guide us along the way. Our goal will probably change and stretch with time as all goals should.

But I’m excited to have this next one down in writing, inspiring us to keep chasing after the things we love.

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