We’ve noticed it more and more: sometimes a bucket list ruins travel for people. What can you do so your bucket list doesn’t disappoint?
The thing you don’t want: disappointment when you’re checking off something on your bucket list. Yet more and more we’re seeing signs that a bucket list ruins travel – not just for the bucket lister, but for other travelers in their immediate periphery and still others who have that same item on their list. A bucket list item is supposed to be an inspiring and fulfilling thing to do, though. What gives?
Is the Bucket List Ruining Travel?
Disclosure: Neither of us has a traditional bucket list, although each of us dreams about visiting a couple of places at any given time.
We’ve traveled internationally full time for almost two years and have been location independent – meaning work is something we do instead of someplace we go – since 2011. So it might surprise you we’ve never been to Italy. Nope, nor have we been to Washington, D.C., Cancun or Costa Rica. Or Amsterdam, even (although when we do visit, we’ll look for fun and quirky things to do in Amsterdam). London, well, London we’ve actually set foot in, but only for a couple hours at a time: inside St Pancras and Victoria stations, and then running through the back hallways at Heathrow to catch a connection after a security scare on our incoming flight. But I digress.
We haven’t visited a lot of the places people have on their bucket lists. Instead, we’ve found ourselves in places we never anticipated, that weren’t even on the radar.
Many a bonafide Bucket List (capitalized!) will have items like “visit 30 countries before I’m 30.” It took us each until our late 50s before we’d visited 30 countries, and maybe 28 or 29 of those were within the last several years. But we’re not all “oh, let’s do this because we can see a bunch of countries” completely.
Some people think country counting is an ego-centric way of gathering affirmations. We think it’s more on the fun side of the travel spectrum, just like seeing how many things you’ve done on a list like the brand, spankin’ new (April 2016) Daily Telegraph’s Ultimate Travel Bucket List. This has 25 things you absolutely have to do in your lifetime. We’ll wait while you click that.
How’d you do? My score is 4.5 out of the Telegraph 25, just so you know, and I think Pete’s is similarly low. (4.5? Well, yeah, I’m counting Angkor Wat just because we saw an older Khmer temple complex about 30 miles from it in Isaan. We’re getting ahead of ourselves, though: we’re going to touch on doing stuff like that later.)
Some of the things the Telegraph says we should do we’d like to, others we couldn’t care less, and at least two are trending down in priority. But we know there are people who view that sort of travel feature as a challenge; others let themselves feel insecure if they don’t measure up. We think anything that makes you feel insecure has the potential to ruin other things.
Because we have rather wide interests, when travel opportunities pop up we tend to take advantage of them. Chasing a bucket list ruins travel in terms of serendipity, we’ve suspected, but perhaps not to a huge degree. We think it would for us.
Chasing a numerical bucket list – x number of countries or miles flown or museums visited – isn’t an activity that we want to govern our decisions, but we are interested to see the statistics other people rack up. We’re just not systematic, and sometimes we’re fickle, too. We’ve revisited several places, and wouldn’t dream of returning to others. That’s just how it is.
Where a rather traditional bucket list ruins travel is a mostly a simple matter consisting of just a couple of things: 1) the sheer numbers of people who have that same experience on their lists and 2) the number of those people who are having it at the same time as you are.
Travel bloggers have made big splashes depicting the reality behind bucket list items as disparate as the Pyramids in Egypt and taking all the kids to Disneyland. Have you ever felt you should have a travel item on your bucket list because it’s “iconic” or a “must-do?” And then when you found yourself there, doing that, you were disappointed? Was there something on your bucket list for ages and now that you know what you know, do you wish you’d thought about choosing an alternative a little more?
We’re not saying get rid of the bucket list. No, by all means, it’s human nature to dream. A bucket list is a big incentive for lots of people, a net positive. Instead, we’re going to encourage you to massage your bucket list a little bit to get better results.
Tweak Your Bucket List for Maximum Enjoyment
1. Give yourself the gift of unscripted time within an experience. Consider a “being” mindset instead of a “doing” mindset. Slow down. Shorten the number of experiences or destinations and give yourself some breathing room. As Americans, we’re programmed through the years of two weeks of vacation, preferably non-consecutive. When vacation does come, we want to cram a year’s worth of pent-up desire. Running yourself ragged to check off items on your bucket list ruins travel. Instead, soak up a moment in a sidewalk cafe while you linger over a coffee. Spend an afternoon in a waterside park to absorb the essence of a port city.
2. Consider the “just as good and maybe even better” destinations. We didn’t visit London. We wanted to, but it just didn’t work for us at the time. Instead, we got to know a beautiful part of England on a lengthier stay while housesitting. Maybe try Bratislava instead of Prague. Think about Istria instead of Tuscany, Sofia instead of Istanbul, Brisbane instead of Sydney, Fiji instead of Tahiti, Malaysia instead of Singapore.
3. Don’t be overly brand-dependent. We all have our favorite brands. As I write this, we’ve already discussed on more than one occasion the fact that we’ll be able to sleep in the Westin Heavenly Bed when we visit Kaua’i next month. But we’ve also had marvelous experiences with travel brands which were new to us, and non-brands, too. Giving your business to independents can often develop into more meaningful relationships once you’re willing to let go of familiarity, and much of the time it can save you lots of money.
4. Reframe your ideal experience. If you’ve always dreamed of skiing the Alps, is that about the Alps or is it about skiing? Perhaps you’d have just as good a time in the Pyrenees, if not better? Is a good time at Oktoberfest dependent upon whether you celebrate it in Munich? Maybe something as simple as visiting a destination in the off season (like we did in Mallorca) would make it delightful, instead of disappointing. Are you going to be irritated by too many crowds, ticketing nightmares, flight delays and lengthy queues?
5. What do you do if you find yourself in an uber-popular destination at the time when it draws the most crowds? Modify your sightseeing. Do you really need to stand in line for the Louvre? Maybe wandering the household-size gardens at the Rodin museum would be just as wonderful? Even if a place is too touristy, you can often discover a workaround. Maybe instead of the #1 Trip Advisor restaurant in Dubrovnik, you want to ask your landlord where you should eat with the locals? Take advantage of a special aspect: during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, citywide bus transport was free. We got on one day and rode to the end of the line, walked around a locale we’d never have visited otherwise, and then rode the bus back.
The point is, it’s a mini-tragedy when a bucket list ruins travel, instead of doing what it is supposed to do. Make sure your bucket list expands your horizons, reflects your conscience, provides a source of anticipation and joy, and then delivers an experience you’ll treasure for the rest of your days.
How about you? Has a bucket list item ever disappointed you? And if it did, what would you do differently?