Why I want to tear up your Bucket List

| August 28, 2012 | 51 Comments

I used to love bucket lists. Now I loathe them.

Bucket List

The problem is that the movie The Bucket List was fantastic and a real tearjerker. I imagine it inspired thousands of people, young and old, to put pen to paper to create their own.

In fact, one of the first things we ever wrote for this travel blog was our own bucket list. It is featured right up there in our main menu and is one of our most visited pages.

When we wrote it, we chose 44 adventures and “things” that we wanted to achieve during our short lives. They didn’t have any rhyme or reason to them. And they all seemed manageable at the time.

I mean, who doesn’t have the time time to travel the width of China, volunteer with turtles and drink the local beer in over 100 countries?

These were activities that I thought would bring meaning and fulfillment to our lives. These 44 items were going to help us plan our next travel adventures as a couple.

Four Jandals Egypt Pyramids

I vowed that I would keep it updated and that we would do whatever it took to tick them off our list. We even managed to cross off 7 of them. But the others?

Here is where the problem lies.

Every time we find a cheap airfare, travel somewhere new or talk to people about travelling, I discover something that I want to add to this list. If I had kept on adding items up till now then we would have over 200 adventures to do before our time on this planet was up.

Now all I want to do is tear up our bucket list.

Sure I understand the usefulness of having a bucket list. It gives you a place to dream of all the things you want to achieve. A place to write down things that sound awesome. Like kayaking in Italy.

kayaking in Naples

We still want to do all the things on our current bucket list.

But in reality, they are a list that most people use for hope that they might be able to escape their current lives.

Because what happens if you don’t tick them all off? I know that you are not going to die. Technically that is impossible if you treat a bucket list like a bucket list.

But shouldn’t our travels, and lives for that matter, be as flexible as we want them to be?

And when you are dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies bucket lists that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take… our FREEDOM! (Sorry, couldn’t resist the Braveheart reference).

Edinburgh Castle Braveheart Scotland

To be honest, that is what it feels like our bucket list is currently doing. It has taken our freedom. It is holding us back. It is making us change our travel plans so that we can pursue something we wrote down over a year ago.

Christina from Couple of Travels agreed that she hates bucket lists because they are procrastination tools.

Adventurous Kate also wrote about her problem with bucket lists. She argued that “if your deadline is death – you’re not making it a priority”.

She even challenged her readers to create a realistic list of 5 – 10 totally achievable travel adventures and tick at least one of them off in 2 years.

This is the sort of movement I can agree with. 

So, I am tearing up our bucket list.

But what will you use to inspire our travel plans?

Good question.

Nothing.

By having a bucket list we are actually turning down perfectly amazing places that we could visit. We are limiting ourselves to only doing those activities or visiting those countries where our list sends us.

Cinque Terre Sunset Photos

As Matt from LandLopers stated, “as one expands their personal travel boundaries, more travel destinations will suddenly become more appealing”.

We agree wholeheartedly.

We have changed a lot over the last 3 years of travelling. We still love stepping outside our comfort zones and doing travel adventures. But we don’t want to be broke-ass budget travellers all the time. I even quit my job to pursue our travel blogging dreams.

Our priorities continue to change and we are adapting with them.

So, instead of having a piece of paper, or in this case a blog page, dictating that we need to do something in the next 50 years or so, we are just going to live each day as it comes.

We will still prioritize where we want to travel in the next 12 months. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves just yet.

So my question to you is…

Can I tear up your bucket list?

About the Author ()

Cole is one half of New Zealand's leading adventure travel blogging couple who have been wearing out their jandals around the world since 2009. He loves any adventure activities and anything to do with the water whether it is Surfing, Diving, Swimming, Snorkeling or just lounging nearby on the beach. You can follow Cole on Google+. Or consider following us via RSS Feed, Twitter, Facebook and subscribe to our Newsletter.

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  1. List #17 - My Five in Five - Traveler Ahoy | February 26, 2013
  1. Interesting viewpoint given that I just blogged about our international travel bucket list! I think it all depends on what philosophy you take towards your list. The husband and I have travelled extensively domestically but very little overseas. We still see our lives being based in NZ but by having the list, it’s a consistent reminder that we value the experiences that travel will bring us and it helps us stick to our saving goals. It’s aspirational, rather than strict guidelines that these are the only places we’ll visit, and of course we are open to seizing new opportunities as they come along. Anyway, that’s my two cents 🙂
    Sweet Mama M recently posted..Getting Away: Our international travel bucket list!

    • Agree with you there! I love the ideas of bucket lists as they do give you a place to record all those things we all want to do. The only problem is that most people will never cross them off their lists. I think “Bucket List” is just the wrong term for them.

  2. Well said, Cole! It’s great that you’re throwing away your predetermined plan in favor of serendipity.

    I have to be honest — it’s been months since I wrote that post and I have made ZERO progress on any of my goals. I figured they’d be easy. Maybe your homeland this winter after all.
    Adventurous Kate recently posted..Korčula: In the Land of Marco Polo

    • Haha maybe this will be the reminder to kick your A-into-G and start crossing them off. Will make a good follow up post anyway 🙂

      Cheap flights with Emirates back to NZ the days around WTM from London. I just booked my flights last night for a few weeks of catching up with family and friends. Hope you get out there soon too!

  3. Christina says:

    SO awesome!! Thanks for the mention – and you know I agree 100%!!
    Christina recently posted..Road Trips with Cats

  4. I have never written down a bucket list, and I don’t think I can…Simply if I start writing one down it will be too long, could be depressing, so the top items on my “bucket list” is what is possible to do next, and even that is always changeable depending on the situation and the people I meet. No plans, no bucket lists, just enjoying the given moment as it is…

    Ok maybe very little planning for the future, but as you said, I don’t go too far…
    Someday I’ll Be There – Mina recently posted..Thai Hospitality in the Land Crack

  5. Jemma says:

    Agree 100%! That might just be my personal bias though because I hate plans. I can deal with them if they’re very simple, but generally I prefer to go with the flow and see where that takes me. And it’s taken me to some pretty awesome places 🙂
    Jemma recently posted..And it was all going so well…

  6. I wrote about a travel bucket list earlier this year. Every bucket list is personal. However, a bucket list is MUCH MUCH more than a list of places to check off. I wrote about mine and stated that a bucket list is really about connecting your past with your future to help you better understand who you are as a person.

    Take a look at your bucket list and don’t just do it. Examine why those things are on your list. It may help you understand who you are as a person which is far more important than just checking things off of a list.
    Jeremy Branham recently posted..Announcing the first stop on the 2012 College Football Travel Tour with Expedia

  7. Here, here! We’ve never had a bucket list (AND we never saw the movie). Instead, we treat each morning as a blank slate full of travel adventures and opportunities we never even dreamed of. Trust us when we tell you that fate, timing and serendipity can toss some pretty awesome experiences your way!
    Karen @ Trans-Americas Journey recently posted..Dinosaur Bones and Cow Udders – Above Metapán, El Salvador

  8. Sometimes I’m tempted to write one, but then my everyday ‘to do list’ is so long that another one would just stress me out.

    In a way, I prefer to look back on some of the great and unexpected things I’ve had the opportunity to do and keep the future open to cool new experiences and travels.

    My one on-going travel goal is to make it to California and the west coast for the first time in the next few years…
    Cherie City recently posted..Italian Small Plates At Assaggetti, London

  9. Genevieve says:

    I don’t use a bucket list to inspire my travel plans; amazing photos like the ones in this post are travel inspiration enough!

  10. Haha, I’m not sure I’d let you tear up my bucket list just yet, but Justin and I are pretty much in a similar place as you guys. We still have our dream destinations or experiences, but now we’re much more content to just go where the wind blows and take advantage of whatever opportunities present themselves. Our trips are much less planned out now, and we just kind of have a “rough draft” of what we want to do while we’re in a location. You’re point is very well said … in reality, we’re all probably going to die before we can do everything on the list, and just because we don’t achieve that doesn’t make life any less fulfilling. In fact, it probably means we enjoyed it more!
    The Time-Crunched Traveler (Ellen) recently posted..Tips for traveling around Thailand

  11. Turtle says:

    Rip it up! Bucket lists are foolish ideas. They are for people who can’t find happiness in the moment and always need to be looking to the future. They’re also for lazy people who like to think that once they’ve ticked everything off, they’ve experienced the world. Live every day like it is on your bucket list!!
    Turtle recently posted..Acropolis wow!

  12. It’s funny how I had never had a bucket list as such before I started traveling this much… But now, the more I travel the more I informally add new places to my mental bucket list! The more you see it’s almost like you realize there is still so much more goodness to see in this world. Still, I agree at following a bucket list makes no sense – sometimes the best experiences are those you never thought you’d live or even planned for!
    Zara @ Backpack ME recently posted..What’s wrong with U.S.A. tourists?!

  13. The bucket list is the whole premise surrounding my blog, so needless to say I am a HUGE fan. With that said, I don’t allow myself to be bound by my list. There is plenty of room for flexibility because I realize that some of the best experiences happen by taking opportunities that spontaneously present themselves. It is more of a loose life guide and a place to keep track of the amazing experiences I hear about. Of course, I do actively want to check off items, but I am just as happy having a memorable new experience that isn’t on the list.

    I love what Jeremy says about how your list can help you to understand who you are. My “foodie” section is turning out to be enormous!
    Annette | Bucket List Journey recently posted..Magic is Free on Barcelona’s Montjuic Hill

  14. Callie says:

    It’s such a vicious cycle – the more of the world you see, the more you realize you haven’t seen!
    Callie recently posted..THE MACHU PICCHU POST

  15. Laurence says:

    I loved the movie, but man, that term is just so overused these days. Personally, I’m making a shovel list. Find some things you want to do in life, then go do them. If you get trapped by a list, throw it away. Life’s too full of adventure to be stuck making lists anyway 😉
    Laurence recently posted..Win €150 of free accommodation with @Wimdu!

  16. Angela says:

    Yep, pretty much why I never have a bucket list. I do make plans, plenty of plans, and I also keep changing them and go with last minute decision!
    Angela recently posted..Photo Essay: Rio de Janeiro’s vibrant and colorful Sunday market

  17. Great stuff Cole…I have a bucket list, actually I have 3 of them lol. But at the same time the best and most fulfilling moments of my travel “career” have been totally unplanned, small things, that I could never have planned. So in some ways it does render my bucket list totally useless…
    D.J. – The World of Deej recently posted..The Champion at PGA National Resort

  18. Natalie says:

    My bucket list grew all the time so I stopped looking at it. Like you say, along the way, you learn about new things and get inspired by different people. This is so much of a better path to take then looking at a list all day.
    Natalie recently posted..Sumela Monastery and the Black Madonna

  19. Pete says:

    We’ve never had a list, goals or anything of the sort. It makes life a heck of a lot easier.
    Pete recently posted..Hitting the Travel Wall with Mozart Balls

  20. Ali says:

    I’ve never made a bucket list because there are sooooo many places in this world I want to see, it would be easier to write a list of places I don’t want to see. As far as other types of experiences, well, it’s always changing. What was once important might not be now. I once thought Oktoberfest sounded like fun, but after participating in Tomatina last year, I realized I hate big drunken crowds. Like Jeremy said, it’s important to look at why you have a bucket list. A few goals you want to achieve with some sort of deadline might be more useful. I wanted to step foot on all 7 continents before my 30th birthday. Goal achieved, but I haven’t stopped traveling. Probably more in line with what Kate said, that it’s better to pick a few things that you want to accomplish in the next year or 2, rather than an huge list that you might do “someday.” And you definitely shouldn’t let it stop you from doing other things not on the list. As much as a list ticker as I can be, I don’t let it stop me from experiencing things. Maybe I just have a lot of mental lists that cover just about everything, and if it’s travel related, you can bet I’m planning several of them at any one time!
    Ali recently posted..Every Man, Woman and Dog Must Pee (Or the Brussels Peeing Statues)

  21. Excellent, excellent points. So true that the more you travel and open yourself up to opportunities, the more destinations you suddenly want to visit. a little while back we started saying that we became nomads so that we could give up our bucket list and life our bucket life. In other words, the only thing on the list now is to live life to the fullest, everyday, until it’s all over.

  22. Nice argument. But I’m not tearing up my list. My whole site is based around it, and my travel plans. But my list wasn’t written in stone. I’m always making changes.

    Everyone has a list, whether they admit to it (or have it on paper) or not.

    Well, not everyone…

    Some people are completely open. I could say “Off to Siberia next”, and they would be up for it.
    Ian [EagerExistence] recently posted..Relaunch

    • It turns out I’ve got more to say on this:

      It’s all good not having a list while you are travelling. Leaving things open. Spend another day here, another week there; but what about when you stop travelling? You will start to make lists again; planning out all the places you still want to see. You see, lists have an important place for all those dreamers and armchair travellers out there. Just look at the success of Pinterest!
      Ian [EagerExistence] recently posted..Interview with Caroline from CarolineInTheCity

      • Very true Ian and don’t totally disagree with you 🙂 I just wish people actually used their bucket list and ticked things off. I probably need to re-write the post to say we changed it to a Dream List!

  23. Firstly, great post! I have never sat down and written a bucketlist simply because the thought sends me into cold shivers – I would almost certainly be writing it for the rest of my life, therefore eliminating actually DOING the items on it! I’m not even aware of all the things that can be done in the world, so how can I possibly write a list of the ones I want to do? If an activity seems appealing to me and I have the opportunity to do it, then of course I will. But I’m not going to kick myself for all the things I didn’t do.. so why would I want a list reminding me!? 😀

    Good luck on your travels and congrats on the tearing up of your bucketlist!
    Lizzie Davey recently posted..Does Photoshop Have a Place in Travel Photography?

  24. I have a list. I call it our “Travel Wish List” because I don’t really like what the term bucket list implies. It’s more a list of things that will enrich our travels and inspire us to keep travelling. Something to give us momentum and keep us moving to the next place and the next. And, no, you may not tear it up! 😉
    Bethaney – Flashpacker Family recently posted..Top Ten Things To Do In Bangkok With Kids

  25. Amanda says:

    See, I look at bucket lists slightly differently. Instead of set-in-stone lists of must-achieve goals, I look at them more as a list of cool ideas and dreams that you’re not ever actually MEANT to complete. Half the fun of having a bucket list is adding to it and watching it grow, knowing that so much adventure awaits!
    Amanda recently posted..Photo of the Week: Basilica Cistern

    • Niel says:

      AGREE…
      Bucket list reminds us that there are more to life. It simply inspires me to save. Seeing those things you want to do and places you would love to visit ignites happiness within. Approach the list positively and keep an open mind and you’ll see that life has so much more to offer in times of depressing moments…

  26. Wandergirl says:

    I completely agree! I wrote a post similar to this about a year ago when I was in the midst of our European adventures and finding myself exasperated that once I’d arrive in a city there’d just be too many damn amazing things to do to worry about a stupid bucket list. I think there’s just one thing on my bucketlist: see and do new things. Once you start doing it, you’ll never be lacking inspiration for more new things.

    It might be good to just have a “Bucket List” where you write down interesting things to do so you really just remember them (sometimes there’s so many it’s hard to keep track). But making them must-dos does take your freedom, as you said, and doesn’t account for the fact that you might grow and change as a person.
    Wandergirl recently posted..Home and Sick and Homesick.

  27. Gigi says:

    In defense of the bucket list: it can help people understand themselves better and create intention in their lives. For example: when I first created a to-do list of awesome things (I hadn’t even heard the phrase “bucket list” back then), I put “white water rafting” on it. It was just something I wanted to do. But not something I’d been intentionally pursuing.

    Having put it on my list, and thus put it top-of-mind, when the opportunity to go arose, I leapt at it!

    Ever since then, I’ve been a fan of putting things down on paper. Being intentional about my adventures.

    Though, of course, spontaneity is also wonderful. And the to-do list should never rope us into things we no longer want.
    Gigi recently posted..When You Imagine Me in Switzerland…

  28. I am anti-bucket list as well. It just adds too much pressure, and it is ever-expanding. Yes, I have a list in my head (and a few notes) that I consider my travel ideas or travel brainstorming. When the right opportunity arises, I’ll go for it. But no need to check off the boxes…. that makes it seem like work.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..A Guide to Food and Drink in Bolivia

  29. Abby says:

    I couldn’t agree more — “loathe” is a word I find almost not strong enough! My best trips have come about because I followed where life took me or met a friend who recommended something, etc. Making a “to do” list for my life takes out all of the fun!
    Abby recently posted..Perfection in La Jolla

  30. Totally agreed!!!!! The other phrase I find icky and non-motivating is “bitten by the travel bug,” as if wanderlust is a disease that one has no control over. Thanks for writing this! 🙂
    Lillie – @WorldLillie recently posted..Get Teaching Traveling Monthly e-Newsletter: Don’t Miss Out!

  31. Mike says:

    Doing a bucket list still helps me out plan ahead and not to forget all those things. It guides me when I travel. Just be simple with your list so that it can easily be crossed out. No pressure.
    Mike recently posted..Ecotourism in Australia

  32. This is interesting but I think it really depends on what you write down and if you’re the kind of person to go out and get it. I’m completely obsessed with writing lists becasue it just helps get everything straight in my head, and I do actually complete them all (Sometimes I write stuff on the list that I’ve just done, just to feel the satisfaction of immediately crossing it off…I’m sure I’m not the only one!) But I definitely agree with making a 5 – 10 point list just for the next two years of things that you know are completley managable. That makes perfect sense to me! Thanks for sharing, great post.
    emma@greenglobaltravel recently posted..DESTINATIONS: Volunteering On A Vineyard in the Spanish Pyrenees

  33. Is there anything as polarizing in our travel community as the dreaded “bucket list”? Personally, I’m on the pro-bucket list side. Perhaps it’s because, as a producer I’m at my best when I’m planning and writing things out? Either way, I find it to be a fun and harmless source of inspiration.

    The key is — don’t take it too seriously.

    Since I’ve created mine, most of my trips have been to places that aren’t on it. But, when I went backpacking in NZ, the formality of having it gave me the extra push I needed to pay the cash to hike the Milford Track. And I’m so glad I did because it was a once in a lifetime experience.
    Christina @ Packed Suitcase recently posted..#FriFotos: Harbors

  34. Laura Dale says:

    I have a bucket list that just won’t stop growing, so I completely agree with your views on the difficultly and frustration of trying to keep up. Then again, I’m so determined to do everything on mine, I’d be heartbroken if I ripped it up!

  35. Charndeep says:

    I understand your frustration with the term “bucket list.” I hate it when people mistake what I’m doing on my “Goal List” for a bucket list because some of the items I want to do again and again.

    Now, I write lists for the year and not for the rest of my life. I can’t know what will happen in 5, 10, 15 or 20 years, so why bother? I just put a few things I want to try this year and do my best to do them. If I don’t, I’ll carry over next year. But most importantly, I wrote a lot of my goals as they came in the moment or from the suggestions of my family, friends, environment or after I already accoplished them. So, it’s fine to plan for the forseeable future, but make sure it’s not at the expense of the moment. In other words, don’t just focus on the end of the symphony, but sing and dance throughout the entire concert. 🙂

  36. It’s great to have goals but it’s also nice to allow serendipity to bring amazing experiences your way. Recently I was invited to attend a wedding in the UK but coming from our Australian summer, I was reluctant to spend too much time in northern Europe in winter. So after the wedding, we zipped over to Spain and I was finally able to see the Alhambra in Granada, a place I have wanted to visit for more than 30 years. It was a glorious day, the sun was shining and (being winter) there were no crowds. Magic.

  37. Great post and a topic which I’ve heard a lot of travellers discuss (both the pros and cons).
    I think one of the good things about making a list is that it can actually encourage you to take the first step to do something.
    As a journalist, I constantly live by lists in the ‘real world’ so making one for my travel plans makes sense to me.
    I agree with Charndeep’s view that it’s better to make shorter lists. For example, I wanted to have a big adventure during the last year of my 20s, so I wrote a 30b430 list, where I completed 30 things in a year that I’d always wanted to do. Some were big things like doing the Inca Trail in Peru, others were smaller like dancing a tango in Argentina, but it felt like such an amazing achievement to complete them all before turning 30.
    I’d never make an unlimited bucket list – like you say, it would be never-ending! – but I’d definitely write one for a specific time frame again:)

    • Haha I live by lists as well, although my current To-Do list continues to grow rather than shrink….

      Like I have said in previous comments, if you are willing to actually make an effort to cross off the things on your bucket list, then definitely have one. But if it is just a pipe dream, I don’t see the point. Having set goals, like your 30b430 is a great idea too!

  38. Seanna says:

    Here’s the irony: I’m a dreamer and travel bug, however my husband, who played it safe and led a rich simple life pursuing his best dreams here in Alaska had terminal brain cancer. One of our favorite past times was to watch shows about international travel and talk about where we might retire. After diagnosis Generous friends offered outrageous trips and we basically has carte Blanche to do anything. Trouble is, he was too sick and the burden of loss too raw to make any of it matter. Live each day with intent. Simple can be good. I have traveled extensively, I’m not sure he regrets knowing this part of the world intimately, and to have such a history with one place is a rare gift. This place is family. Both are priceless gifts if you experience them completely.

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