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From a young age we learn the term bucket list. We develop fanciful ideas of things we want to achieve, do and see before we die, but somehow many of these goals are never accomplished. This is especially true in the case of travel. Throughout high school we may dream of visiting the Eiffel Tower, so this becomes number one on the bucket list. Then, in college, we hear friends tell tales of their hike to Machu Picchu, rides on double-decker buses through London, and sights of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Each of those become numbers two through four on the list.

If you’re anything like me, your grand ideas of travel become a checklist of places to do and things to see, but we forget that our experience is solidified in the tastes of a delightful café, the smell of cherry blossoms as we stroll down a road, or the sounds of new company laughing at a foreign joke. These are the things that develop our sense of belonging in the world and are a more pressing reason to be mindful of a bucket list instead of simply saying, “I was there!” We have become conditioned to think in terms of what instead of why. Why do we want to sip coffee on the coast of Santorini, or see a play on Broadway? What do we hope to gain out of the new experience?

…we forget that our experience is solidified in the tastes of a delightful café, the smell of cherry blossoms as we stroll down a road, or the sounds of new company laughing at a foreign joke.

Traveling offers so much more than the opportunity to brag to co-workers about that seventh-wonder-of-the-world we saw on our most recent vacation. A year ago, I had the opportunity to go to the Galapagos Islands, but this archipelago off of Ecuador’s coast was never on my bucket list of must-see places. I did, however, experience something I could check off – independent travel. This was an experience that I longed for, and finally seeing it come to fruition gave me an amazing sense of accomplishment.

No matter what anyone says, the world is truly vast. There are so many foods to try and people to meet, we cannot simply marvel at it all. This is when a bucket list comes in handy: we can focus our loftiest travel dreams onto one piece of paper (or Pinterest board). However, instead of simply writing down (or pinning) places, choose a food to try in a foreign place, like deep fried scorpion from Thailand; or travel cheaply with Willing Workers on Organic Farms and volunteer on organic farms around the world. This way, we don’t put another feather in our well-traveled caps but instead have a meaningful and life changing experience.

So, next time your bucket list comes out, look for adjustments that can be made to it. Lists are for grocery trips, not for travelling the world – creating memories is far more important. Jot down something you hope to get out of a place next to the location’s name. It doesn’t matter what you choose, only that you travel with a bigger purpose for yourself and the world around you.

What experiences are on your bucket list? Why?

Image via Marlena Pearl Photography


  1. Couldn’t agree more. I want to do a day of working on a farm or vinyard in Italy and eating/drinking the rewards that evening. Also on my bucket list, finding where my ancestors came from in a small village near Pompeii.

    1. Sara – I can attest to the fact that seeing where your ancestors come from is an amazing experience! I got to go to Bath, England, to see where my grandfather was born. You should definitely go to Pompeii if you ever get the chance.

  2. I love this post, I travel a lot and I tend to stay in one place for as long as I can to soak up the experience, solidify it as you say.
    Too many people just rush through beautiful places to try tick off places they’ve seen. I think we miss out on too much being so rushed…
    I’d love to go to one of the polar regions still, because I want to sit and drink hot chocolate and watch the Auroras.

    1. Corlie – I couldn’t agree more. I haven’t traveled quite as much as I’d like, just because of time and financial constraint. But when I do, I hate to feel rushed, or like there is a pre-designed “tourist” package. We should take our time to enjoy this beautiful world, and sip hot chocolate while watching the Auroras!

  3. I could not agree more! It is who you are with and how you feel rather than where you go! Great job, Hayley!
    I plan on joining the Peace Corps, but you got me interested in Willing Workers on Organic Farms! I’ve never heard of this program and it sounds wonderful!
    Great job and keep aiming high <3

    1. Marina – Peace Corps is also AMAZING! You should definitely do more research on both 🙂

  4. Yes! I am in love with those once in a lifetime human moments or those unforgettable experiences we have traveling. I think that’s what traveling is FOR.

  5. This simplified view of a bucket list is a wonderful, sensible approach. When life becomes a list, enjoyment decreases dramatically. But experiences (sometimes even terrible ones) can make for the most memorable and life-altering times. More than just stepping foot on soil, traveling is about learning and imbibing the foreign culture (even if foreign means one state away and not international). Remember to take to heart the five senses of your experience, and not the tick mark on your ever-growing list of “must-see.”

    1. Leslie – we truly do need to use ALL of our senses in order to truly appreciate a place!

    1. Alyssa – enjoy your trip to India! I hear it’s a whirlwind of a place.

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