9 Tips and 3 Exercises to Build a Better Bucket List in 2023
Updated: Mar 30
A travel bucket list is a useful tool to help you proactively travel the world. Today, I want to help you build a better travel bucket list – one that is actionable. I will also provide tools and resources to help you build and manage your travel bucket list.
Table of Contents:
What is a bucket list?
What makes a good bucket list?
How to build a bucket list
How to make - and manage - a better bucket list
One Last Thing
What is a bucket list?
A bucket list is a list of experiences that you want to have or places that you want to visit before you die. Wow, that’s depressing.
I’m going to offer up a new definition that keeps the name but offers up a more positive outlook: A bucket list is how you fill your personal metaphorical “bucket” of things that contribute to your overall life's happiness and/or fulfillment. And since this is a travel blog, I will focus specifically on travel experiences.
What makes a good bucket list?
A bucket list should meet some guidelines:
A safari sounds like something bucket worthy, but does it excite you? Try and envision the experience for you. If you don't enjoy riding in vehicles for long periods of time and scanning your surroundings for animals that may be resting or hiding, this may not be for you.
On the other hand, you may relish the experience of looking through binoculars to be the one to find the elusive leopard. Or perhaps you like the thrill of driving through the savannah looking for cheetahs that were spotted feasting on an animal by another passing Land Rover.
If it feels you authentically, add it to your list. That also relates to...
Please, please, please don't ever just copy a list that you see and call it your own. The world is full of ideas of things other people think we should do. You have limited time, limited budget, be very selective with what you put on your list.
Admittedly, I have gone back to look at my original bucket list, and it was a mix of really cool stuff and events or activities that I don't even know now.
Do you want to go to Thailand or is there a specific thing you want to do there? It's fine to have generic bucket list ideas like India or Asia, but the more specific you get, the better. Why? This helps you to narrow down more specifically where you should go. Sometimes, you may find that it doesn't have to be in a specific state or country. If you are more focused on activity over the location, you may find something closer to home or something that you can add to another pre-existing trip.
One or More Stretch Goals
It's good to have a list that is attainable. That means that if you can't afford a private jet, perhaps a private jet around the world is an overly ambitious place to start. But it is possible to travel around the world if that is something that you want to do. It requires saving, planning, and perhaps work flexibility if you need to work while on the road. And that brings us also to....
There are lots of ways to get creative with your travel dreams. Slow travel where you cover distances over longer periods of time can really provide a richer experience and cost less money than going and coming home and then going back out again to the same region. You may, of course, not have the luxury of time, but it is a consideration if you can work remotely.
How to Build a Bucket List
You may already have a travel bucket list. If you do, that’s great – let’s make it better.
If it isn’t written down, it doesn’t count. Get on it and start listing the places that you want to visit. I think that you should take several passes at it. Here are some ideas to get started:
Exercise 1: Brainstorm Bucket List Ideas Off the Top of Your Head
Places and experiences off the top of your head and/or that are already on any bucket list that you have written down or saved. You should do this before you start browsing Instagram or Pinterest because you probably have lots of good ideas that are specific to your interests, whether you’ve ever really thought about it or not. The only other thing you can use for this pass is a map.
Exercise 2: Create a Vision Board
A Vision board is a physical or virtual piece of paper where you visualize the pictures and words for things that you want to accomplish in life. I used to think that it wasn’t a very useful exercise. I can list what I want to accomplish, set goals and track my performance. I don’t need to do an arts and crafts project to get there. And then I made one. And folks, that’s when I realized the power of the vision board. It is something tangible that can be referenced daily. But it’s more than that. After all, you could just print out your list of goals. The difference is that these images emote something from within me. If I see a couple basking in lounge chairs on an empty beach and I know that I know that is my goal and I have a path to make it happen, I feel excited. And happy.
Exercise 3: Write Down Experiences that You want Based On Your Interests
I still want you to just use your head and a map for this one. I want you to think of your interests and think of these groupings and see if there are any ideas that come to mind that fit into these groupings – and are things that you would like to do one day.
Here are some ideas:
Food and Wine Experiences - Ex: Learning about wine, eating at the chef’s table in a Michelin restaurant, eating street food in Laos
Festivals - Ex: Celebrate Holi in Rajasthan or the Lunar New Year in Beijing or the Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Parade in New York City
Wildlife Adventures - Ex: photo safari in Botswana, diving the Great Barrier Reef or seeing polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba
Transportation Goals - Ex: Riding the Trans-Siberian Railroad, riding a balloon over Napa or paragliding off a mountain in Switzerland
Spiritual Pilgrimages - Ex: Vatican City, Israel, Mecca, Varanasi, Tibet
Historical Sites and/or Architecture - Ex: Machu Picchu, Taj Mahal, the Guggenheim, Civil War battlefields, Normandy, Sydney Opera House
Major Travel Achievements - Ex: Visit all 50 states, visit all U.N.-recognized countries, go to all 7 continents, drive from North to South America
Exercise 4: External Resources
OK, now you can go nuts with 3rd party sources. Just kidding. Don’t do that. If you have a good list that brings you the kind of Marie Kondo joy that we all aspire to, stop for now. If you are having fun and want to keep the party going, check out some of these other tools:
Websites and Forums (Some examples: Google Earth, Lonely Planet Thorntree, Roadtrippers)
Social Media (e.g., Instagram, Pinterest)
Travel Blogs (like mine! hahaha)
Books and Guidebooks - Rand McNally's Atlas for US road trips, Atlas Obscura)
Television Shows and Channels (e.g., Travel Channel, National Geographic, Discovery)
Magazines (e.g., Travel + Leisure, Outside, AFAR, Condé Nast Traveller)
Bucket List Apps (e.g., Pin Traveler)
How to Make - and Manage - a Better Bucket List
By now, you should have a list of items that you are excited about and that are relevant for you. It's not enough just to have a list. You need to use that list and start to think about who might be going with you, the best time of year to go and what it might cost.
Level of Interest: Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel are excellent tools to help you manage this information. I have columns add for my husband and kids separately. I have asked them on a scale of High, Medium, or Low what their level of interest is in the places on my list. I do the same in a column for myself. In time, the "Low" ranked places may fall off of the list or if it is "High" on my place and "Low" on the rest of the family, it may become a solo or girls' trip.
The Best Time of Year: This may be peak season, shoulder season or for a specific festival or other timeframe.
Cost: Definitely, do not overthink this. If you are planning something for this year, you should go into detail, otherwise just take a relative guess. I like to use dollar signs and rank each $, $$, $$$. A safari would be $$$ while my trip to the aircraft graveyard in Arizona from my home in Dallas is more like a $.
As you look to plan trips, refer back to this list and add more information to make it personalized for you.
One last thing
A bucket list is not a “one and done”. Perhaps it shouldn’t even get shorter. If you are like me, the more you travel, the more that you learn and the more that you add to your list. I can’t see any way in my lifetime that I will ever fully accomplish my bucket list and I can’t imagine it any other way. I hope that you never stop traveling!
If you would like for me to send you a more detailed list of my favorite travel planning sites for wanderlust inspiration, subscribe now (see the bottom of this page) and I will send it to you. If you are already a subscriber, you should receive this list automatically this week.
Also, please comment with anything that I missed - what are your favorite places to go for wanderlust inspiration? What's on your list?