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.
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. Holy hell, 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 happiness and/or fulfillment. And since this is a travel blog, we are going to focus specifically on travel experiences.
What makes a good bucket list?
Specificity – do you just want to go to Thailand or do you want to go to Thailand and take a class in a local’s home?
Make that, specific TO YOU - this is why I am not a fan of starting with pre-conceived lists by other people. You’ll end up with a bunch of rubbish that means nothing to you. Like marathons. I can get my head around the sense of satisfaction that would come with the immense training required both physically and mentally to run 26.2 miles. But it is not for me. Ever.
If it reminds you of something that you forgot to previously add, or it excites you, add it. If you want to learn more about it, make a note and do that but don’t add it to the official list just yet.
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 you do a Google search for “bucket list”, you will see a bunch of images that look like someone jotted down a to-do list with some ideas on it. I think that if you want to actually take one of these trips, you should start to dig deeper into what it will take.
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.
Bucket List First Pass:
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 already in your head, whether you’ve ever really thought about it or not. The only other thing you can use for this pass is a map.
Bucket List Second Pass:
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.
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
Bucket List Third Pass:
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:
Social Media (e.g., Instagram, Pinterest)
Books and Guidebooks (e.g., any atlas, guidebook or coffee table book like "A Year of Watching Wildlife" by Lonely Planet)
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?