The Art of Setting Goals

Some of you who follow WellTraveled may know that one of my most cherished memories from childhood is when we would pack up our family’s minivan and strap in for a summer road trip. My younger sister and I beamed with excitement to go to a new place; even if it was only a few hours away, the fact that we hadn’t been there before was worth the trip.

While the contents of our luggage varied depending on our destination, there was one item that always made its way into the van. I remember it being virtually attached to my mom’s hip from the beginning to the end of our family excursion. Riding co-pilot to my dad, mom could be found combing through pages of highways and state roads to determine the best route forward. Of course, this trusted accessory was none other than that year’s Rand McNally Road Atlas and it was our tried-and-true method of getting from point A to point B.

For the younger millennials reading this, it is perfectly reasonable for you to wonder why we didn’t just use the GPS on our phone or in our car. Well, these were the days long before this technology became accessible to families like mine. We grew up using the “old-fashioned” charts, map legends, and other colorful graphics to navigate our way.

Nevertheless, the principle is consistent whether you’re using a large print road atlas or the navigation app on your smartphone - you won’t have any direction without first knowing your destination. For my family, we couldn’t simply jump on the nearest highway and believe that sooner or later we would end up at grandma’s house. Each and every turn that we made along our way was predicated on where we wanted to go.

Throughout my years of education and work experience, I’ve learned that this same principle extends into just about every area of our lives. Without first establishing a goal (or where you want to be), you will be tempted to face each day amiss having no clear direction for what you need to accomplish.

When we first tell students about our travels to other countries, we know that seeing pictures from China, Greece, South Africa, and even Cuba might be intimidating at first sight. Many of the young people in our programs cite their age and finances as obstacles to them traveling the world.

However, I’d like to employ the example of an elephant to illustrate our approach to those who feel intimidated by the idea of world travel.

African elephants are the largest land mammals in the entire world and can grow up to a height of 11 feet. With that in mind, what would you say if someone asked, “How do you eat an elephant?”

And no, I’m not referring to the “elephant ears” that you’ll find at the state fairs and carnivals covered in cinnamon and powdered sugar.

We are talking about an actual elephant - how would you eat it?

Those who recognize this familiar adage may already have the answer, but for those who are still doing the calculations: the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.

Now, please don’t leave this blog thinking that we are encouraging you to venture into the jungle and eat a real elephant. We are focusing on the principle underlying the analogy.

When fixing your sights on a big goal such as becoming an entrepreneur, writing a book, or in this case - traveling to a foreign country, it is helpful to break down that goal into bite-size chunks or smaller goals that can help you strategically reach your ultimate destination.

Your big goal looks more achievable when it’s practical. Let’s go back to our road trip example from earlier. Having California as our desired destination is a great start but without a set of specific directions and road signs along the way, we might waste a good amount of time, gas, and energy trying to find our way to the West Coast. In that same line of thinking, breaking down your dream of becoming a seasoned world traveler into more manageable travel goals can transform this dream into the practical steps you need to stay on target and ultimately be successful. 

Awhile ago, I learned the benefit of setting out to make each day as productive as possible. We are only given 24 hours each day and I believe it is our duty to make the most of that time. However, it was not until I started making daily to-do lists that I began to maximize my hours in a day. Almost instantaneously my big goal of having a productive day became more achievable because I wrote down the list of practical steps to help me stay on target.

Conquering smaller goals builds your momentum. When I participated in track and field as a 16-year-old high school student, my running events consisted of the 400-meter dash, 800-meter run, and the 4x800-meter relay. On our meet days, it was go-time from the moment we set foot on the track. However, on practice days, our coaches facilitated a range of exercises, stretches, short sprints, and longer jogs to help build up our team’s physical endurance and mental grit for the upcoming meets. While practice was by no means a walk in the park, we appreciated those hours of preparation when it came time to perform on the bigger stage.

Reflecting on and documenting your short-term and long-term travel goals can help in the same way. We want our students to be motivated as they work towards taking their first trip to a foreign country. Thus, it is our philosophy at WellTraveled to start small and get the quick “travel wins” first which will build up momentum and keep each student pushing toward his or her ultimate goal. This would be akin to rolling a small snowball down a snow covered hill; by the time you reach the bottom, not only have you picked up more snow but you’ve also picked up a ton of speed.

Author and motivational speaker Dave Ramsey once wrote, “Goals are visions and dreams with work clothes on”. In other words, setting goals takes the larger game plan and makes it practical - better paving the way for success. Many of our students dream about the day when they will be able to travel the world and it is our burden at WellTraveled to show them how to make it happen.

When it comes to travel goal-setting, we believe that each goal should be measurable, realistic, assigned to a time frame, and progressing in exposure to new communities. For example, a WellTraveled Scholar might have a travel goal of “By the end of this month, I would like to travel to a new park in my local community”. Further down on his or her goal list might be found another goal stating “By the end of this year, I would like to travel to a different state”. And maybe at the very bottom of the paper, it reads “Within the next 15 years, I would like to travel to the Eiffel Tower in France”.

In the example above, the fact that the first two goals are domestic (as opposed to international trips) does not take away from the reality that they are steps in the right direction. We believe that as students work toward breaking down their vast travel dreams into bite-size practical goals, they will know and experience what it truly means to become WellTraveled.

Educators/Parents - We encourage you to help your student or child create a travel goal sheet, and work with them to identify some places they’d like to travel to within the next 30 days, one year, and even five years. If you’d like for us to share it on our social media platforms, take a picture of the finished product and send it to

Students - Challenge yourselves to think big about your ultimate travel destination. Close your eyes and imagine anywhere in the world that you’d like to explore. Now, open your eyes and start listing some of the smaller trips that you can take to work your way up to the big trip. Don’t be afraid to start small - it’s the journey that counts!

Stay Educated. Stay Empowered. Stay WellTraveled.