I have one. You have one. Doesn’t everyone have at least one, if not at least a dozen? I’m talking about bucket lists, of course. That all-encompassing, ever-growing lineup of the places we must see before we, well…kick the bucket. I’ve slowly come to the conclusion that bucket lists are bad. It can be a liberating thought!
Wait! Aren’t bucket lists supposed to be good?
A bucket list does have benefits: It can provide a longterm goal and a reason to get out of bed in the morning. It’s a reminder of something we really, really want. A motivator when times get tough. A way to measure our lives and to help us find balance. Research indicates that just the act of writing down our hopes, dreams, and plans changes our brains and contributes to future success. (Read my post Create Your Future: How You Can Make It the Best!) Sounds great, right! So what’s the downside?
Alrighty then…WHY are bucket lists bad?
Before people get mad or confused, let me clarify: By all means, stay curious and excited about exploring the world. Continue to make a list of places that you hear about and seem suddenly interesting. All I’m suggesting is that maybe the new destinations are a better fit for our lives now than what we’ve been committed to since we were an eight-year-old and absolutely certain we wanted to be a fireman/rockstar/astronaut. Or Wonder Woman.
- Bucket lists can become confining. By all means, go see the world’s great cities and sites. The Eiffel Tower really is worth it. So is the Colosseum, Great Wall, Machu Picchu, Serengeti, and any other place you’ve craved to experience for yourself. Just let yourself be drawn to other things that come your way. Don’t rush through Athens because your “dream” destination is Santorini. There’s good stuff everywhere!
- Tourist or traveler? Let’s use Venice as an example. It’s been on your bucket list since the moment you saw that gondola photo. Over the years, there’s been news of over-tourism, locals being priced out of their homes, pollution, floods…but by god, it’s on the list! So, you bop over for a day or two. Done and done–move on. A traveler would recognize the situation and find a more authentic place to spend hard-earned money. Bucket lists are bad when they turn you into a tourist.
- You might feel like a failure. Suppose you’ve clung to the idea of your carefully-crafted bucket list. All the continents, all the hotspots. You start traveling, checking off destinations. Then…life happens. Jobs lost. Chronic illness. Elderly parents. Home repairs. You name it. The bucket list languishes. You want to go to Lima, Peru, but your budget says Lima, Ohio. Perhaps you make it to Berlin, but skip Munich. Quito, but not Cusco. You wanted to see all of them, dammit. Defeated by your own bucket list, you feel like a “bad traveler.” Don’t do this. Just don’t.
- Bucket lists get stale. I’ve developed a thing for cemeteries. UNESCO, too. And somewhere along the way, I became really interested in both World War II and Jewish history. I had practically zero knowledge of either, and at a loss to tell you why each is so compelling to me. But they are. Had I stuck with my original list of must-see places–and not one of my interests is addressed by that list–I’d be a disgruntled traveler. Take a hard look at your list and see if it matches the person you’ve become. Update as needed. Enough said.
- Competition counts. We can’t ignore this drawback of bucket lists. It can be sooooo tempting to fiddle with, or upgrade, a destination choice to surpass someone else’s. (Not that any of us would, right?) There is always a new island, cruise itinerary, or distant city that’s suddenly popular. (Looking at you, Greenland…) We don’t especially want to traipse around there, but neither do we want to be left behind. Bragging rights–and photos on social media–can lead to bad choices.
- We miss the “now.” Wow, look at this bargain weekend in Chicago! Super, a friend invites us to take a three-day getaway! Yes?? No. We decline, because that’s money we could be saving for that ultra-awesome bucket list expedition to ______________. (Fill in the blank with your top choice.) Take a big step back and reconsider.
Bucket lists are bad when they stomp out spontaneity. and limit our experiences. Happy travel memories come from all directions and in unexpected destinations. Embrace the moment and the opportunities.
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