Whether it’s written down or just lurking somewhere in your subconscious, many travelers have a travel bucket list of sorts—a wish list of dream trips they absolutely must take in their lifetime. But even the most serious world travelers often find themselves taking more conventional vacations than those found on their bucket list.
Maybe they go to Paris, but don’t make a side trip to the French Alps to watch the Tour de France blow by. Or they drive to Hana on Maui, but don’t climb Mauna Kea in time to see the sunrise from a dormant crater. Or they watch timelapses of the northern lights online, but never go to Iceland and stay up all night to see the real thing. So close, but so far.
If you have a travel bucket list and want to start checking things off it, here are some tactics to help you not just plan your dream trip but also make it a reality.
Decide Now Is the Time
The most common roadblock to tackling a dream trip is that the time doesn’t seem right: Work is really intense at the moment, or you just started a home renovation, or you don’t have the energy to make it happen. Maybe next year…
These are all valid concerns, but it is critical to realize these issues will never quite go away. The truth is that what a lot of folks are looking for is not really the right time, but instead the perfect time. And that time will likely never come. Settle instead for a time that you can actually do something, even if you have to sacrifice other things. So instead of waiting for the perfect time, or even the right time, look for a possible time. And then make it happen.
Write It Down
Writing down your bucket list, more or less in the order in which you rank each destination, is a good way to make it just real enough that you can actually start doing something about it. Once it is written down, it is something you can use in a few different ways:
- As a guide for when you are poking around the internet, reading or goofing off. During TV commercials you can call up articles on your dream destinations instead of hitting refresh on Twitter again and again.
- To help you see if everything on the list stands up to repeated scrutiny; some items on the list might not seem as interesting after you have looked at them several times, and could fall off the list in favor of other ideas.
While you’re at it, you might also write down the reasons you can’t get started on your bucket list—all the excuses may seem like just that once they are written down. When you read “Don’t have time to plan” after spending an entire weekend binge-watching a TV series, you may realize you have more time than you thought, and at the next opportunity will put your time to work for your goals.
Run It by Other People
Sharing your bucket list with friends, family or even a dedicated site like BucketList.org can give you several things:
- Motivation: As with a lot of things, telling someone else you are going to do something often provides a bit of inspiration actually to do it. Humans are funny that way.
- A dose of reality: A bucket list is often reflective of our idealization of a place or trip, and not necessarily what it is really like to go there. When you share your list with folks who may already have bagged a few of your choices, you can get a sense of what a place is really like.
- Good and hardscrabble ideas: Putting your network of friends and family on the task of making your trip a reality offers you an instant team of schemers and thinkers who can bring any number of ideas to the table.
Narrow It Down
Once you get a sense of where you might go and when you might pull it off, you will want to narrow down your choices to the trips you most want to take. Unless one destination rates well above and beyond the others, I recommend starting to research two or three of your top choices; trying to plan for 10 very different potential bucket list options is unreasonable, and picking only one could set you up for disappointment if the logistics turn out to be forbidding.
Focus first on practical things like what time of year you can get off work versus the best time of year to go there, how much time it takes really to do the destination justice and how much money you will need to pull it off.
Here’s an example: If the Galapagos Islands top your list, you will quickly face a few logistical choices. The period between December and May has the calmest seas and weather, but June through August sees more active wildlife. If those times don’t work for you, you need to know that in September (and into November) many boats are in dry dock, so your choices may be a bit more limited.
On top of that, there are strict limits on how many people can be there at the same time, and all visitors must be accompanied by a certified guide. Clearly heading for the Galapagos is not a last-minute impulse trip, and this is the kind of information you might not know until you do some serious research into logistics.
More prosaically, you might decide that August is the best time for you to tackle some bucket list travel, but if you are headed to a part of Europe that more or less shuts down that month when everyone goes on vacation, your ideal trip filled with locals and long nights might not synch up so well with the facts on the ground.
Because you might have to go a couple of trips down your list before the logistics start lining up, research two or three to start.
Plan for at Least One Splurge
If there is something without which a trip to a specific location would not be complete, you pretty much have to do that one thing, irrespective of cost or logistics. Need to pay a guide? Sure. It requires a ride on a seaplane? Do it. Have to rent four-wheel-drive vehicle to get to a waterfall? Go for it. No one’s idea of bucket list travel includes sticking to the tourist overlooks, skipping more remote spots or driving around in a Hyundai Accent. All of this is the point of bucket list travel.
Carve Out Plenty of Time
To do your dream trip right, you probably don’t want to plan a “36 Hours in…” job, charging around taking snapshots in front of all the stuff you researched. Give yourself time to let a place sink in and take on some meaning for you beyond simply checking off your list. You want this to be a truly memorable experience, not just an elaborate mileage run.
Save for It
This is probably the most personal of issues, as everyone’s financial means are different and complex. The fallback “skip the latte and put the money in the bank” has become a dreaded cliche for good reason—and for most coffee drinkers, this is not a negotiable purchase anyway. If it is 1:30 p.m., you need coffee, you are not near a decent coffee maker and there is a Starbucks nearby, you are not going to choose caffeine withdrawal over saving three bucks.
The idea of saving on overpriced and non-essential purchases is the right one, but you want to take actual money and make it pile up, not just skip a coffee and hope you put that money to better use later. Here are a few tangible tactics that really work for most folks:
- Get a big container and put every spare cent (and bill) you have in it. The last time I cashed one of these in, it came to more than $1,100.
- Set up an automatic transfer into a dedicated travel banking account of X dollars per week or month, and don’t turn it off until you have enough money for your bucket list trip.
- Instead of just thinking about saving when you need coffee, set up constant reminders in your environment that will help you save money all the time. Put a picture of your chosen destination next to your home computer to keep you from spending money online, or use it as your phone screensaver. Set up a system of daily calendar or email reminders to keep you focused and on track.
Use Dedicated Services
To keep your inspiration up, you can hire companies and read publications that are dedicated to helping people complete bucket list adventures. Check out the following sites:
Inertia, fear, habit, laziness, procrastination, parsimony, excuses—none of us want to be accused of these things, but often they are the very things keeping us from the trip of our dreams. We hope the outline above will help you make your dream a reality.
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