Why I Build My Travel Bucket List Around Experiences Instead of Places

At Home, Bucket List, Wanderlust

The idea of a bucket list is a bit weird when you think about it, since you’re more or less making plans for your eventual demise, but nonetheless, a lot of people have one. And a lot of people who make travel a priority have less of a bucket list and more of a list of places. Some people pin them, some people keep a physical list, some people blog their bucket list. It’s a common thing.

And while I have no problem with the concept of a bucket list, since I think it’s great to have goals, I do have a couple of problems with the way the bucket list is often created.

I think it’s great to have goals, but so many travelers tend to pride themselves on a list of places more than a lifetime of experiences. Read more on Sparkle in her Suitcase.

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My Problem With the List of Places

The main issue I have is that travelers tend to pride themselves on a list of places more than a lifetime of experiences.

Don’t get me wrong, I love crossing a new country off the list or sticking a pin in a map as much as the next travel girl, but when I die, nobody is going to engrave a list of countries on my coffin for everyone to know where I went. I think we get too caught up in the list sometimes, and feel like we need to pack as many places as possible into every trip, instead of giving ourselves the freedom to stay in the same place for a minute and really see what it has to offer.

I see this tendency in myself, and I sometimes feel like I haven’t been to enough places to have a travel blog, or that I’m a failure for never even having been to Canada even though I live in Minnesota, which most people consider “basically Canada.” What the hell? Why would I feel bad about that!?

My Solution

So, instead of building a list of places I try (notice, I said try, I’m not perfect) to build a bucket list around experiences. I also built a “bucket list” for a fixed period of time, 10 years, or before I turn 30 (I made it when I was 20) so that it will force me to actually try to get some things crossed off and not leave everything for my retirement. But that’s another story.

This means that instead of writing something like “Go to New York City,” I would write “Go Ice Skating in Central Park.” That might seem like a subtle difference, and in some ways it is. It also includes things that aren’t place-specific, like Zip Lining or Glamping.

For me, experiences feel less about the external. It’s not about posting on social media or building an impressive list or map on my wall, though I do all of those things. Focusing my list on experiences forces me to realign my brain to think about what I’m actually doing, on how it feels instead of what it looks like. In the age of social media that’s pretty hard to focus on, but I think my way of doing it helps.

Why I Like Building My List Around Experiences

One of the best things about my list, in my opinion, is that it gives me the freedom to experience some of the things any time, anywhere, including when I’m at home. When someone recently asked if I wanted to go zip lining in Minnesota, I said an enthusiastic yes. When I see a sign for the worlds largest whatever, I’m going to pull over, no matter where I am. When I lived in New York and got invited to the Global Citizens Festival, where I ended up dancing to Ed Sheeran with a stranger, I crossed something off my list without even trying!

I don’t really feel like going somewhere just to go there is a reasonable goal. One of the items on my list is to go to 20 countries, which allows for the possibility that plans might change and I might get to certain countries sooner than others. I hope that when I’m in each of these countries I have meaningful experiences that remind me of the beauty of the world, but it didn’t feel necessary to specify since I’ll enjoy wherever life takes me. Just going somewhere to say I did doesn’t feel like a goal I need to have.

I think a bucket list (especially for a fixed time, like 10 or 20 years) is a great thing to have. It allows you to visualize what you want your life to look like and I truly believe that writing things down and declaring intention is a crucial step to achieving any goal. One of the hardest and most crucial parts of any trip is deciding that it’s going to happen. Once you’ve decided where you’re going, you’ll budget for it, work to make it happen, set aside the time, etc. Building a list of goals is the first step to achieving them. For me, I hope to carry amazing experiences with me and wear them on my heart, allowing them to shape me and reform who I am, and I build a bucket list as such.

Let me know in the comments: do you have a bucket list? How did you build your list?


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