The Travel Dispatch

The Importance of Honoring Your First Travel Bucket List

This post was born 07 Apr, 2015 26 Comments
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Is it just me or have Travel Bucket Lists been getting a really bad rap lately?

Maybe it’s a causality of being too entrenched in the travel writing community but I can’t help but notice the substantial uptick in articles belittling bucket lists and similar practices commonly referred to as country counting.

Said articles argue that travelers who visit destinations in order to cross it off their list miss out on any so-called ‘”real” experiences since their only interest is to say I’ve been there or to brag about whose country notch on the belt is higher.

Frankly, I think it’s a crock of s***.

It’s almost as if travelers nowadays have become (dare I say it) too good or too seasoned or too jaded to remember the excitement of their first ‘must visit destination’ list.

Are you really going to tell me that the first time you ever thought about travelling, I wanna spend 3 months with the tribes in Guinea-Bissau was the first thing that popped into your head? I don’t think so. More likely it started with wanting to see the crop of usual suspects – the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids of Giza, the Grand Canyon, or the Sydney Opera House.

Sydney Opera House

And honestly – there is nothing wrong with that.

After all, wanderlust doesn’t just inexplicably happen.

Akin to the age old conundrum of the chicken or the egg, the precise moment the feeling rouses can’t accurately be measured. Maybe the initial stirrings appeared at age 6, when flipping through storybook kingdoms invoked dreams of faraway lands and giant stonewalled towers. Or maybe an all-night Russell Crowe marathon led to visions of gladiators and the Roman Coliseum. Or perhaps it stemmed from being grounded by an annoying set of parents, leaving you with longings for the far reaches of Timbuktu.

For me, it happened my junior year of high school. 

I had one of those way-too-smart-to-be-teaching-high-school-history teachers who mentally blanked on the fact that she was teaching a bunch of hormonal 16 year olds. Instead, we were treated like college graduate students embarking on our thesis when in actuality our only thoughts centered on whether or not Betsy could convince her mom to spend the night out so we could throw a party and get drunk off Smirnoff Ice or some other similarly disgusting alcoholic beverage.

The bell would shrill (as would our souls) as we entered the classroom to find the entire chalkboard illegibly scribbled wall to wall with an unbearable amount of notes. Mrs P would spend the next 50 minutes lecturing without so much as a pause for an opportunity to use the bathroom hall pass. Once, she even lost her voice and came in fully equipped with a microphone to teach us that day’s lesson with (forget nails on a chalkboard – nothing compares to a scratchy, barely there whisper being projected twenty-fold over a loudspeaker).

Yet despite these somewhat questionable teaching practices, one thing was undeniable.

She was passionate about history.

Parliament London

While most students rolled their eyes and complained about the class where time stands still, I became enraptured with her enthusiasm and her sheer vastness of knowledge. She knew everything. I found myself risking my self-imposed “cool kid” persona by seeking her out after hours so I could hear more stories about Mary Queen of Scots and Rommel and the French Revolution.

She had me daydreaming of walking the beaches of Normandy, touring the dungeons of the Tower of London, and gawking at the palaces in Austria.

Aside from trips to Disney World and unintentional tours of all the youth baseball fields throughout Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi with my little brother’s competitive baseball team, I had never really been anywhere (though one could argue the southern delta is a separate country in and of itself).

Yet upon my teacher’s recommendation, I found myself pleading with my parents to drive the whole family to New Orleans, Louisiana so I could attend an exhibit on the Egyptian tomb of King Tut.

My persistent begging proved victorious and soon I was off on the first trip I ever planned.

New Orleans Bucket List

It wasn’t long after that I purchased my first travel book, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die.

It became my bible.

I took it with me everywhere, dog-eared pages, memorized passages, and highlighted places I had been. It unintentionally went on to become my first travel bucket list and at the age of 19 I made it my life’s mission to see all 1000.

I started vigorously arranging excursions around the various entries but found myself quickly labeled and shunned as a “tourist”. You’re not a real traveler backpackers would say to me. In their eyes I was a cliché. Another American doing the quick in-and-out tour of Europe and only hitting the famous landmarks.

But so what? Where’s the harm in that? These “touristy” places are what made me fall in love with travel in the first place. They were the stepping stones that would inevitably lead to a fulfilling nomadic lifestyle spent discovering as many countries and cultures as possible.

Because of the touristy canals of Amsterdam, the lights of Paris, and the accents of Australia, travel is now something so inexplicably entrenched in my very soul. It’s who I am. I feel lost and suffocated without it. It’s the hardest feeling to convey and for others to understand but I would never wish it away.

Though my travel practices have evolved in the 9 years since I first went wheels up and I now prefer to dawdle on the outskirts of town or explore lesser-known villages, I still choose to honor my very first bucket list by making the trek to all 1000 places listed in the book.

iceland

Experiencing these places has shaped me into the traveler and writer that I am today and the pursuit has led to some unforgettable memories.

Like the time a friend and I attempted to take the train to Superdawg in Chicago – only to realize the last stop was nowhere near the place. Upon disembarking, we couldn’t figure out how to actually get there so we ended up getting lost and hitchhiking (this was before the convenient days of Uber). When we finally arrived around 11pm, the owner had shown up to say hello to everyone in the establishment. He even personally shared his architectural plans for a new location with us.

Or that time we deliriously showed up (in completely inappropriate attire) to the two star Michelin restaurant, Patrick Guilbaud, in Ireland after a red-eye flight from NYC. Our sleep-deprived brains proceeded to say yes to all the sommeliers champagne recommendations for each course; we indulged in dessert adorned with edible gold leaf; met a diplomat who was BFF’s with Bill Clinton; and walked out having just dropped 400 Euros on lunch before continuing on to an epically fabulous (yet utterly s***faced) day in Dublin.

The book even facilitated my first solo travel leap while studying abroad in Spain.

On a free weekend when all my roommates headed off to Amsterdam (a place I had already visited 3 times), I opened my book for inspiration and found myself alone on a train to Seville two hours later. It’s hard to believe that that timid girl now effortlessly slips into solo travel like it’s a second skin.

So who cares why and where people travel?

Or whether or not they have a bucket list or like to count countries? Shouldn’t it be good enough that they’re out there trying it out in the first place?

After all, you never know where it will lead or how it will change you!

UPDATE 10/24/2016 – Recently, I hit numbers 73, 74, and 75 on my list (you can read about them here)! I was also inspired by a few reader comments to dedicate a full page to my Bucket List Quest. You can track my full progress here and read further posts on the destinations and sites I’ve crossed off the list. Only 925 more to go!

What’s on your list? Let me know in the comments below.

Why Suffer From FOMO When You Don’t Have To?

Taking on the classic “round-the-world” route, the next Travel Dispatch journey kicks off Nov 15 as I travel east to west, looping the globe over a period of 12 months with $25,000. Now’s your chance to get in on it from the very beginning!


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26 Comments on "The Importance of Honoring Your First Travel Bucket List"

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Chrysoula
Guest

I am afraid I haven’t a written bucket list, although I want to make one. On my mind I have thousands of things I want to do and places I want to go that wonder if my lifetime will be enough to do them all!

Madaline
Guest

I LOVE the idea of seeing everything in that book. Secondly, I also can’t stand ‘those’ travelers. Travelers are suppose to have open minds. And I keep reading crap that basically belittles people who travel, say, in America. Like there’s nothing to see there? People get so caught up in their own smug little lives… ok maybe I just read to many (annoying) travel blogs?

Lexi
Guest

I haven’t made a complete bucket list before but I wrote my first one a month ago on a specific region I’ll be spending a lot of time in. Bucket lists are fun and they set something to work towards!

TravelGretl
Guest

I really don’t have a solid bucketlist.
I mean: I know for a long time I want to end up in Tibet and Bhutan one day. But why exactly?! Just a feeling.
My wishes change when I speak to people. Mostly while traveling. If people start smiling and tell about the real friendly people in a country (more than cool temples and nice parks) I start smiling too. Those places I add to my list! Cause that’s what I think brings most joy 😀

Revati
Guest
I have to agree with you on this! There’s a reason all those “tourist” sites became popular in the first place, they’re either stunningly beautiful or important historical sites, and i just don’t understand why people have this need to give them a bad rap just because they’re soo mainstream. Tourist shouldn’t be a dirty word, the way it seems to have become today. Maybe it’s that subset of tourists who insist on having a sheltered bubble wrapped experience when they travel. But to each their own, no? Just because we like travelling in a certain way doesn’t make it… Read more »
sarah
Guest

I think that travel anywhere, anytime, by whatever name and for whatever reason is a great thing. My bucketlist, dreamlist, wishlist…whatever you want to call it…expands daily!

Sean
Guest

Thanks for giving me a reason to smile this morning! Whether it’s a book, a list, or a dream, everyone has something that first motivated them to travel, and continues to motivate them. While I’m not a big fan of just checking items off the list, I know VERY well that I do it anyway – and also know it throws me into really cool experiences that I couldn’t find in a guidebook if I tried.

Corinne
Guest

Everybody has to start somewhere, and hey, the Eiffel Tower is nothing to sneeze at! We just recently sort of started a bucket list, but ours is truly about things to do more than places. We’re already addicted to travel so the places come easy! Great post!

Emily
Guest
I definitely don’t think there’s anything wrong with bucket lists – I have a huge list of experiences I’m desperate to try and places I can’t wait to see! Popular places are popular for a reason, and just because 2000 people visit Machu Picchu a day doesn’t make it any less special. It’s worth visiting these places because many of them really are incredible – but make sure that the experience is your own and that you don’t only visit the ‘major’ attractions when travelling. I do have a problem with country counting, though, and visiting a place JUST to… Read more »
Rose
Guest

I agree! I don’t get why it isn’t okay (according to many, many annoying travel blogs I’ve been reading) to travel the way you like to. I love my bucket list. I don’t use it to show off, I use it to remember where I want to go (if the list of destinations get over a 50 you start to forget, believe me).

Megsy
Guest

To travel and enjoy the place and the activities that comes with it and create memories. I think that’s what’s it all about.. I completely agree with you on this.

Annette | Bucket List Journey
Guest
This is an article I wish I would have written! One of my favorite things about traveling is seeing the excitement in people as they are doing cheesy tourist poses. Probably, because I am right there next to them holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa and pinching the top of the pyramid at the Louvre! A bucket list and the way it is tackled is such a personal thing, each one is different as the people who write them. Your own happiness should be the goal, even if that means you are riding the London Eye or posing with… Read more »
Becky @ Disney in your Day
Guest

I totally agree with you! I hate that there are travelers who feel they are “superior.” Some of us don’t have the time to travel as much, so 3 months in one place would be impossible. So yes, with the little time I do have I do want to see the Tower of London, the Sydney Opera House, and the Eiffel Tower. Why judge the way that someone else prefers to travel?

hayli
Guest

Yesss I need to make a bucket list- both travel and regular

Mama Munchkin
Guest

Wow… I should really make a bucket list. I am more game for wherever I can go (afford) most times and I try to embrace each new place as I go. I do have a gorgeous map hung in my dining room that I got on etsy with pins so I can mark where I have been. It does make me feel pressure to get out and explore more and more. The more pins I pop in the more I realize the world is HUGE!!

Claire
Guest

This is awesome! I’m usually a list maker but traveling is one area I’m not – I just kind of play it by ear and see where life takes us! Sometimes opportunities come up to visit places I wasn’t expecting and we jump on them, even though it means pushing back another place we would love to see.

Marge Gavan
Guest
I don’t really have a bucketlist, but yeah, I’ve read about some bucketlist shaming of late and I don’t really know why. The sad thing is, some travelers are arrogant, period. They think just because they’ve traveled the world, they are better than everyone else. That is not really true. People are allowed to travel the way they want to do it. I personally want to travel slow, but I don’t have the luxury of the time and money to do that yet so going to touristy places is not really a big deal to me. I think it’s okay.… Read more »
Stacey
Guest
I couldn’t agree more. Who cares what each person puts on his or her bucket list or even if they have a list at all. As long as they are happy with what they see in the world, and how they see it, then really I think that is all that matters. I have several parts to my bucket list and some do include “counting countries” and I count UNESCO sites too. If anything I don’t think it means I’m seeing them in any lesser way than another traveler just because I count them, I think it makes me reach… Read more »
Boss Penguin
Guest
I think bucketlists are great. It is what motivates me when I’m having a tough day at work. But unlike many (probably the same as you are referring to) travellers, I don’t want to ditch my desk or tell my boss to take a hike. I love my job and I love making a difference to the world so I’m not going to give it up for good. This therefore leaves me with a certain amount of time to see places and therefore I prioritise. Bucket list is just another name for what we do on a daily basis- prioritise… Read more »
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