Wandering Thoughts

Don’t Call It a Bucket List: Why You Should Change Your Attitude Toward Travel

I’ve never liked the term “bucket list.” In case you’ve forgotten, bucket list is shorthand for things you want to do before you kick the bucket. To me, that’s just morbid.

It also suggests that you have only one shot at a particular experience.

I’ll explain what I mean with an illustration from when I studied abroad in college. I was with a group of about 30 other students from my school. We stayed on a campus in a small Swiss town just outside Zurich, taking classes during the week and traveling independently on weekends. Every Wednesday, my classmates and I would plot and plan our adventure for the coming weekend.

Zurich, Switzerland

My plans always seemed low key compared to my classmates’ plans. I’d set my sights on a destination, such as Salzburg, Austria, and go. I’d check out a museum, enjoy some local food, but mostly just walk around absorbing the atmosphere. I’d imagine myself as a local though I’m sure my shorts, t-shirts, and white sneakers gave me away as an American tourist.

My classmates, on the other hand, would plan their weekends down to the last minute, packing as many museums as they could into 48 hours in a city. While I admired their endurance, I just didn’t get why they’d want to spend all their time in the artificial confines of a museum.

Don’t get me wrong. I like museums. When we travel, The Husband and I each choose one destination — for me, a sight related to literature or history and, for him, one focused on contemporary art or photography — but then we just sort of hang out. We sit and read and eat and, these days, chase a toddler. We don’t go in for the “I’m in Paris so I’d better see every major museum no matter what” death march.

So what accounted for the difference in how I approached a destination and how many of my peers did? Temperament is part of it. But another part was attitude. More than once I  heard classmates say, “Well, I’ll never be here again, so I want to see everything.”

This attitude depressed the hell out of me. While some may see it as go-get’um, I see it as approaching life like it’s a checklist. Sure, you’ve seen the Mona Lisa, but have you really seen Paris? Did you take a break between sprinting from one museum to the next to wander off the tourist path and have a coffee or a glass of wine with the locals? Did you give yourself a chance to stroll down a quiet neighborhood street and imagine living there?

For some people, travel is bouncing from one sight to another, checking off all the things they want to see or feel they’re supposed to see.

For me and The Husband, travel has never been like that. Now that we travel with Little A, nothing has changed. We won’t drag her to every must-see sight. We’ll never imply that a trip is once in a lifetime. Sure, there are places we’ll visit only once, and there are other places (I’m looking at you, north Wales!) we’ll return to again and again.

Snowdon, North Wales

No, we don’t have a travel bucket list. What we have is a set of goals, including values we want to share with Little A, places we love that we now want to experience with her, and places we want to see as a family for the first time.

For more on our not-a-bucket-list, see this post.

What are your thoughts? Have I convinced you to kick the bucket list?

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