Javier Jaen Benavides
Amy Farley
December 29, 2014

If you’re like me, you’re beginning the new year with a long list of self-improvement goals. Here are my top seven.

I’m going to get the most out of my miles and points (finally!).

Yes, airlines are doing everything they can to test our loyalty right now, including making it more difficult to earn miles. But those miles, along with points from hotels and credit cards, are still worth a lot in free travel, perks, and upgrades. So don’t let them gather dust—or worse, expire. A TripIt Pro ($49 a year) subscription will both manage your itineraries and track all of your accounts in one easy-to-use place. If you want to get more advanced, consider a service like AwardWallet, which keeps tabs on expiration dates, or Points.com, the only program that lets you move points between accounts.

Related: America's Best Cities for New Year's Eve

I’ll go on vacation and never check e-mail.

About a year ago, I spent a week in Botswana’s Okavango Delta with Wilderness Safaris. As a wildlife experience, the trip was extraordinary. Equally profound was being forced off the grid—no cell service, no Wi-Fi. I connected with my surroundings (and travel companions) in ways I hadn’t anticipated. But you don’t need to travel to Africa to unplug. Book a few days at a place like Wyoming’s HF Bar Ranch, where there’s no cell service and limited Wi-Fi, or sign up for one of the California retreats run by Digital Detox.

Americans spend an average of 2 hours and 42 minutes a day on their smartphones, according to mobile analytics firm Flurry.

This year I will take control of my photos—all 6,287 of them.

I’ll admit it: I have roughly 75 photos of the same elephant crossing the same river taking up prime real estate on my hard drive. While there’s no magic bullet for organizing and storing all of your pictures, Adobe Lightroom (from $9.99 per month) is a good way to start. Use it to import and sort photos by date or any existing filing system. It also has robust built-in editing features, including the ability to add tags. Then back up your entire library on either Google+ (free for up to 15GB) or Lyve Home ($299), which uploads and organizes 2 terabytes of content onto something like a personal cloud. If you want to memorialize a trip in print, create a professional-quality album using the online service Blurb.

I really am going to stick to my workout.

If you want to keep yourself motivated (and honest), invest in a wearable fitness tracker, a wireless device that records your movements, steps, calories burned, and even sleep. Two of my favorites are from Fitbit: the FitBit Flex ($99.95), which can be wrapped into a Tory Burch pendant or bracelet, and the new FitBit Charge HR ($149.95), which offers continuous heart-rate monitoring and better calorie tracking. And now you can’t use the old “my shoes are too bulky to pack” excuse: the ultracompact Nike Free 4.0 Flyknit ($120) line of sneakers combines high-tech, supportive soles with a socklike upper.

I will learn to say more than Guten Tag (and Gesundheit) in German.

One of the best app-based language-learning services is Duolingo (free), which uses games and speaking exercises to keep you motivated. It’s great as a refresher course or as a way to whet your appetite for a new language. More serious options require a bigger investment. One that is worth the splurge is Pimsleur (from $120), for its emphasis on conversation. The lessons can be exhaustingly repetitive—but that’s the point.

I will not be forced to gate-check my bag.

Airlines are starting to crack down on oversize carry-ons, so if you haven’t already switched to a regulation 22" x 14" x 9" bag, now is the time. We love the hardsided Tumi Tegra-Lite Max International Expandable Carry-On ($695). The expandable construction with both interior and exterior pockets gives you plenty of room to pack (and quick access when you’re unpacking), while the swivel wheels make it easy to maneuver in crowded airports.

For once, I’m going to take all my vacation days!

And so should you. According to the Oxford Economics Assessment of Paid Time Off in the U.S., American workers left a full 429 million days of paid vacation on the table in 2013—or 2.4 days per person. Studies have demonstrated that skipping vacation is detrimental both to your health and to your ability to perform at work. But if you want a less selfish argument, try this: the Oxford study estimates that we would have put an additional $67 billion into the economy if we took all our allotted time off. Think of it as your civic duty.

Americans take an average of 14 vacation days a year, according to Expedia’s 2014 Vacation Deprivation study. In France, the national average is 31.

Are you taking all the time off you deserve? We don’t think so.
Witness the decline of the weeklong summer vacation among American workers over the past 14 years.

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