I Hate Bucket Lists

person holding blue ballpoint pen writing in notebook

You read that right–I hate bucket lists.

Every once in a while I’m asked to write about bucket lists. It’s a topic I see everywhere in travel media. The phrase is so overused I don’t think people think about It anymore–let alone what it actually means. Like a virus, it seeps into the very notion we all have about travel.

And, inevitably, people often ask me what places are on my personal bucket list. I don’t know because I don’t have one. I can’t get past how much I hate bucket lists.

The idea that seeing the world equates to elitism, wealth, or something to be earned breaks my heart. Travel isn’t cheap (a tangent for another day) but it isn’t something that should be finite either. 

What We Lose

Besides the limiting nature of the phrase, it also has the power to make us hyperfocus on what we think we want. That could keep us from taking opportunities we might not otherwise have considered.

That’s probably the biggest reason I hate bucket lists.

Typewriter typing "things to do before."
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

For example, I had always wanted to see Paris. It wasn’t on my “bucket list” per se, but the City of Lights was an aspiration of mine. When I got there on my 2022 backpacking adventure, I was underwhelmed by the Eiffel Tower and Versailles. Imagine if that had been my trip of a lifetime and how soul-crushing that moment would have been. 

Yet earlier in 2022, I had the unexpected opportunity to go to Costa Rica. CR was not a place high on my radar and yet, I fell hard for the magnificent country. From the cuisine (Casados are life) to my first glimpses of rainforest and getting matching tattoos with my favorite guide on Earth, this unexpected journey filled my heart with experiences I never dreamed of. 

Most miraculous of all? I ziplined Superman-style over a canopy of trees–despite my fear of heights utterly terrified of heights. When I reached the other side and got my bearings, tears of joy erupted from my eyes. I had done something I never would have considered to be on my “bucket list.” And that something became a core memory of overcoming my boundaries.

It is in the moments we don’t plan for that give us the most in this life. 

Hot air balloons flying over the desert.
Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

What We Gain

Do you know that twinge of melancholy that strikes at the end of a much-looked-forward-to vacation? For me, that’s the desire to dream about the next adventure. A harkening to see new or different horizons. 

A trip shouldn’t be a box to tick off of a list of things to do before we die. Travel is something we do to help us live

Destinations don’t have to be far away. We can be tourists in our own cities if we give ourselves permission to see the sights differently. 

Trips should inspire us to keep exploring, learning, and growing. When we center travel as hard won we put so much pressure on that trip to be everything we ever dreamed of. Inevitably the journey won’t be perfect as things rarely are and it could invariably poison you against traveling again. 

What I’ve Learned

More than that, the idea of a “bucket list” implies that we have to think of death before expanding our horizons. At my age (I’m 30) that isn’t something I think about very often. Yet we never truly know when our time is up. 

Not to mention the things we could miss out on if we wait too long to travel:

  • Had The Great Wall of China been on my “bucket list,” and I tried to see it 40 years from now, it’s possible I wouldn’t have been able to walk the uneven surface.
  • If Australia had been on my “bucket list” I might not have had the stamina to snorkel the reefs and spent unexpected swim time with a reef shark. 
  • The seemingly endless stairs at La Paz Waterfall Gardens in Costa Rica would’ve ruined a “bucket list” trip for 70-year-old Amanda. And I wouldn’t have been able to see the splendid waterfalls.
My friend Cait and I in Costa Rica.
Photo by Kyle Haggerty

More than that, we don’t know if we’ll be able to see the world in three, four, or five years. 

If the COVID-19 pandemic taught me anything it’s that life is too short for bucket lists. We aren’t promised our future dreams. We can only make do with what we have today. 

Don’t get me wrong, I do have lists of places I would love to see. Among them are Tanzania, South Africa, Japan, the Maldives, Thailand, and Peru. However, when people ask me where on Earth I want to see in this lifetime, I can’t give them a list. Because every place on Earth is a place I’d love to see (for the first or millionth time.)

When we tell ourselves that the journeys we dream of are within our reach, we can make them happen. If we keep putting them off for a later day–it’s possible that day will never come. 


Published by Amanda Finn

Founder of Dream Suitcase, Amanda Finn is an award-winning travel, theater and lifestyle journalist.

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