Travel Tips

Every Traveler Should Make a Bucket List—Here's How

Writing down your list—and getting creative with it—will bring your dream adventures that much closer to reality.

By Bill Wiatrak October 26, 2017

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What do you want to accomplish before you kick the bucket?

A goal not written is only a wish.

A fellow traveler and I recently found ourselves discussing upcoming trips. She was going to be a passenger in a hot air balloon at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, she announced proudly. I had been to the festival two years ago and and it was amazing, so we started comparing must-see lists; she pulled out what looked like a novel on her phone. It was at that moment I realized that—despite visiting 160 countries and counting—I have never actually written out a list of what I want to do, or where I want to go, in my lifetime.

I suppose the words "bucket list" comes from writing down the things we want to do before we "kick the bucket." So how is it that I’ve never put my list to paper, or even in the notes section of my smartphone? Her list was staggering: 100 things she wanted to do in her lifetime. These Herculean tasks were spread all over the globe, but she was knocking them out one adventure at a time. She wasn’t messing around.

I’ve had an unwritten list in my head throughout the years, but it has occasionally changed with new information. I’ve always thought that the ultimate New Year’s Eve celebration would be in Times Square until I talked to a dozen people who experienced and hated it. For a fleeting moment I thought I might want to try monkey brains…until I found out how you eat monkey brains. (Ed. note: Please do not Google this like I did; you'll never be the same.) So, lists change.

Needless to say, I was impressed that my new friend had thought of 100 things she wanted to do. It compelled me to start compiling my own list of Things To Do. When I hit 40 potential adventures, I decided that although a 100-item list is really inspiring, most people who have jobs, kids, pets, plants and other things that don’t do so well when you leave them on their own for a month or two. Instead, I decided to create a list that I think is the perfect size for everyone: Twenty things.

The 20 Things To Do must be fairly specific and possible. "Travel more" is too generic. "Dance the tango with the Dali Lama" is pretty specific, but also fairly unrealistic. I asked a group of my friends to give me one thing on "their list" and quite a few of them got stuck; several couldn’t think of anything. If you don’t have a clear-cut idea of what you want to do, then how can you ever get it done? Not having a travel plan is like driving around without having a place to go.

So how do you decide what you want to see and where you want to go? Try basing your 20 Things To Do on specific categories and you’ll find that making your list just got easier. Below, a few category suggestions to get you started:

Adrenaline Trips

The scariest thing I’ve ever done was jumping off the Zambezi bridge in Zimbabwe at Victoria Falls. A friend of mine is going to all the best zip-lines in the world. The world is full of crazy things to do for adrenaline junkies. Abseiling down the side of a downtown building in La Paz, Bolivia, helicopter skiing, or paragliding over volcanoes in Ecuador are all good examples of exciting trips you can do if lounging around bores you.


A safari in Africa, a visit to witness penguins in Antarctica, viewing the polar bear migration in Manitoba, swimming with the dolphins and visiting an animal sanctuary in Costa Rica are all incredible adventures unto themselves. If you love animals—exotic or otherwise—and would like to see some in the wild, find a place that has what you’re looking for. I went to Indonesia to see orangutans in the jungle and went on a tiger safari in Nepal. I got to feed Komodo dragons on the actual island of Komodo. There’s lots of great trips based around animal-spotting that you can book or organize yourself.

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The 15th-century Inca citadel of Machu Picchu

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I’ve had an obsession with Easter Island since I saw a picture of the famed stone heads in first grade. When I finally arrived on the island as a adult, it was a dream come true. The world is full of amazing history and ancient cities and buildings from thousands of years ago. You can walk the streets of Pompeii, visit the shops and villas. and imagine what the people who lived there thought about as they traveled down the same path. Ancient temples in Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, treasures of Egypt, Roman ruins in Italy, the port of Malta, or China’s Great Wall are all fantastic places to visit and see. Pick up a list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. There’s so much to explore. Visit places like Machu Picchu while you’re still young enough to climb the Andes mountains.


I just flew to Chicago to see American Gothic. I got a cheap flight for $76 with Spirit, and I took a day and half to visit some amazing paintings and sculptures at the Art Institute of Chicago and a few other highlights of the Windy City. Many of the museum’s treasures were featured in the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, so it was even more interesting. The Louvre, The British Museum, The Hermitage, Musee de Orsay, or the amazing National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. can all be destinations in themselves. Do you love the Venus De Milo? Fly to Paris and meet her. While you’re there, you can check off the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and some of Paris’ other amazing sites.

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Bungalows in Bora Bora

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For many, just lying on a beach somewhere beautiful is enough to satisfy. Visiting the most exotic sun and sand locations in the world could be a priority for you. There’s not many places more beautiful than Bora Bora or Seychelles. A trip to the Maldives is a fantastic adventure where you can dive with whale sharks and lounge on palm-fringed sugary sand. Google the most beautiful beaches in the world, find the one that speaks to you, and add it to the list.


I collect countries. I’m visiting to every country in the world and I have two lists: one with the names of all the countries I’ve visited, and the other with a list of the ones I haven’t. As I travel to a new place, I change both lists to reflect my travels. It’s pretty easy to visit all the countries that start with a Q; there’s only one. And you’ve already been to all the countries that start with X and W. Congratulations!


Do you love Italian food? Maybe a trip to Tuscany or Sicily might be right up your alley. If you’re an adventurous eater, you can visit Mexico and eat ant eggs, grasshoppers, armadillo, iguana and lots of other creatures that don’t appear on menus north of the border. If you love Greek salad, guess where the best Greek salad comes from? It tastes even better when you’re looking at a turquoise blue ocean on a Greek island. Some vacation packages even offer cooking classes or feature world-renowned chefs. It might be ridiculously difficult to get a table, but Eleven Madison Park in New York City is now considered to be the No. 1 restaurant in the world and eating there would definitely be a good Facebook check-in.

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A meal overlooking the water in Santorini, Greece

Haunted Locations

Some people love ghosts and there are endless hotels that claim to be haunted, plenty of street tours in historic cities, and graveyard tours with huge followings. Almost any city has someone famous buried there and you can visit their grave by just showing up—no appointment necessary. If you love rock 'n' roll, you’ll love visiting Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris or Jimi Hendrix in Seattle. Lizzy Borden’s house and grave are easy to find in Fall River, Maine if you’re into the macabre. Haunted hotels like the Stanley in Estes Park, Colorado or The Queen Mary ship in Long Beach can make for an interesting story and a restless night if such things make you nervous. Visiting the 10 most haunted hotels in the U.S. could make an interesting entry on your bucket list.


Americans are all imported from somewhere else, if you trace your genealogy back far enough, and whether your family is Irish, Italian, Vietnamese or French, there’s a good chance that you can trace your roots to a small village where your great-great-great-grandfather lived before he sailed to the New World. You might even have family that you don’t know about still living there!

Movie Locations

Do you love The Walking Dead? Breaking Bad? Those are two shows that I have really enjoyed, so I took a trip to Atlanta and visited the places where the show is filmed. When I visited Albuquerque, I made time to see Walter White’s house, Saul Goodman’s office, The Car Wash, Jesse’s home and lots of other places featured in Breaking Bad. Pick a show you really love, find out where it’s filmed, and put it on your list. Who knows? You might even be able to get on the set as an extra.

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The otherworldly landscape of Afar, Ethiopia

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If you love the great outdoors, you might be more interested in beautiful places like the Oregon Coast, Death Valley or Ayers Rock in Australia. You could visit the world’s largest waterfall (Iguasu in Brazil), the tallest waterfall (Angel Falls, Venezuela), or bizarre landscapes like Afar, Ethiopia or Cappadocia, Turkey. There’s lots of interesting scenery underwater, like the kelp forests off the coast of California. You could visit all of the national parks in the US. There’s only 58, and you may have already hit five or six!

World Events

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta brings visitors from all over the world. The Calgary Stampede, Pamplona’s running of the bulls, or visiting Ireland on St. Patrick's Day are on many bucket lists. Where is the best place to spend New Year’s Eve? I’ve celebrated in South Africa, Australia, Ibiza, and it’s always a unique experience in each place. I hear Moscow’s festivities trump anywhere else in the world so it’s one of the items on my list. Burning Man in Nevada and Oktoberfest in Germany are both on my list. The Christmas Market in Europe is probably the most fun you’ll ever have during the holidays.

There are limitless possibilities for adventures that you can add to your list—and once you write down your first adventure, the other 19 will follow. Keep your list on your phone so you add and amend to it. If you can’t think of anything, I’ll help you. Here you go:

Swim with the dolphins. Who doesn’t like dolphins?

You’re not finished yet though. Where do you want to swim with dolphins? Find a good place to do that and write it down. Do 19 more and then you have the list. Just having a plan committed to paper can make a huge difference. Good luck and happy travels!

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