Travel Bucket Lists – Love Them or Hate Them?


You know what a travel bucket list is, right? It’s a list of all of the places you’d like to visit and global adventures you’d like to pursue before you kick the bucket. Writing such a list seems like an innocuous and personal endeavor but some serious travelers have passionate opinions for or against such lists.

Colleen LaninWalt Disney said, “All dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” I I have a little plaque with this phrase on my desk to remind me of these words every day as I clack away at my computer, dreaming and pursuing big dreams. Post-it notes scrawled with encouraging words like this populate the cabinets, fridge and coffee maker in my house. I’m a believer in the power of visualizing your dreams into reality. I’m guiding an interactive session on building vision boards at TBEX Cancun. So, you can probably guess where I come down on travel bucket lists: I love them!

There is a whole group of travel lovers out there, however, who think bucket lists distract from real travel experiences. I recently asked a bunch of travel bloggers to share their thoughts on bucket lists and was not surprised to find very opposing views on the topic.

Margherita Ragg, of the Crowded Planet blog, is against bucket lists because, “travel is a lot more than ticking boxes for me.” This sentiment was echoed by other travel enthusiasts who seem to think that people who write travel bucket lists are simply traveling for the joy of placing a checkmark next to an item on a list.

The implication is that bucket list writers merely want to brag about where they’ve been; they don’t care about connecting with the culture or having a meaningful experience. Amy Truong, author of the Generic Dreams blog, said, “I think having a bucket list is fun and a good way to decide what some of your goals are (travel-related or not) but it shouldn’t be just about ticking off a check list or bragging rights.”

Everything Everywhere Founder Gary Arndt seemed to poke fun at the idea that bucket list makers are only in it for ticking off items when he said, “I don’t think people should shop for groceries just to check stuff off a list.” (Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink.)

Talon Windwalker thinks that a bucket list can distract travelers from living in the present moment. On his blog,, he said, “When you have a bucket list, there’s that constant sense of ‘I haven’t done everything yet! This is the main reason I don’t have this kind of list. I don’t want to spend my time focusing on the things I haven’t done yet. I’d rather focus on what I’m doing.”

Shawn Achor, author of the book, Before Happiness, explained in an interview with Oprah Winfrey on the OWN Network’s “Super Soul Sunday” that travelers actually enjoy their vacations more before leaving home than they do during their vacations. It is the anticipation of travel that brings so much joy. He said, “Our brain can’t tell much difference between visualization and actual experience. So if you’re visualizing something positive that’s going to happen in the future, you’re literally doubling the positive effect upon your life.”

My Itchy Travel Feet Blogger Donna Hull also believes travel dreaming is good for you. She said, “There are many once-in-a-lifetime trips. Want to make them happen? Start a list. Keeping these special trips on a bucket list (or whatever terminology you choose to use) is a good way to set goals to make the trips actually happen.”

Amanda Kendle would rather reflect on her travel accomplishments than create a list of travel goals. On her blog,, she said, “I’m not really a fan of the bucket list craze that seems to be sweeping the world (and travelers in particular!). I don’t mind a spot of travel daydreaming, but the idea of making a really long list of things I must do before I die is a bit overwhelming (especially since I have no idea how long I have until then – ten years or fifty?)…” Instead, she decided to write a reverse bucket list to revel in dreams fulfilled.


As the creator of a bucket list and reverse bucket list, I see value in both exercises. Writing down your achieved goals gives a sense of gratitude and pride. It is important to celebrate our accomplishments by pausing to look back and be thankful for how much we’ve experienced.

According to Gretchen Rubin in her book The Happiness Project, “Gratitude is important to happiness. Studies show that consistently grateful people are happier and more satisfied with their lives; they even feel more physically healthy and spend more time exercising. Gratitude brings freedom from envy, because when you’re grateful for what you have, you’re not consumed with wanting something different or something more.”

Anti-bucket list blogger Windwalker feels that travel bucket lists can serve as a distraction. He said, “I think people get so focused on the list that they lose out on other things, other places, and other parts of the places they’re visiting.”

I believe the key to successful bucket lists (and vision boards) is being flexible with the results. Set goals, but be open to how they manifest in your life. Robin Roberts, sports newscaster and Good Morning America host, talked about being creative in how you reach your goals on the television show, “Master Class”. She said, “I used to dream about one day being at Wimbledon. I could taste the strawberries and cream. I could see myself curtsying there on center court. And I didn’t make it there, obviously, as a tennis player, but let me tell you, even though I had a mic in my hand instead of a tennis racket for ESPN when I went to cover it for the first time, to me it was like, “Check. Wimbledon.”

Be willing to rewrite your bucket list if a goal no longer appeals to you. Add new wishes to your list as needed. To come back to Arndt’s grocery list analogy, just as shoppers may purchase some impulse buys that aren’t on their lists while in the store, bucket list makers shouldn’t be afraid to stray from their defined travel goals either.

As poet Ursula Le Guin said, “It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters in the end.”

What do you think about travel bucket lists? Let us know in the comments below!

Bio: Colleen Lanin is the author of The Travel Mamas’ Guide and the founder/editor-in-chief of She teaches blogging classes and gives presentations on how to travel with babies and children. She has given travel tips on television, radio, and as a paid video blogger. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. Her stories have appeared in such publications as the “Today” show’s travel section on, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, Working Mother Magazine, and more. Colleen will be leading an interactive session at TBEX Cancun on creating and using a vision board to remain inspired and focused.


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Stuart Gustafson
Stuart Gustafson
July 18, 2014 12:12 am

I like the different perspectives in this article; you’ve done a nice job of looking at the question (Should I have a travel bucket list?”). As I’ve talked with people about their bucket list or lists, many of them feel that their lives will be incomplete if they don’t complete them. I like to look at lists as “I’d like to go here or do this,” rather than “I won’t be satisfied if I don’t go there or I don’t do that.”
I’m looking forward to your session at TBEX.
Stuart Gustafson

July 18, 2014 9:47 am

I have one and am interested in travel writing and blogging in the future. I have had one for a while and I don’t think it matters what you call it. I am also grateful for the things and the places already ticked off my list. I want to write about it all because it is all amazing.

July 18, 2014 10:18 am

Even I believe that there is no point in being too serious about bucket lists. Of course, I do have certain destinations that i would like to travel to before I kick the bucket, but what’s the point talking about it? Life is unpredictable and so is travel. I am a spontaneous traveler. Most of the time, I travel out of excuses. Thus, I don’t want to make a big deal about bucket lists. I know by God’s grace, I will travel to all my dream destinations.

Charles McCool
Charles McCool
July 19, 2014 12:43 pm

First, I do not like the BL term. If I was pressed to make a list now, I would call it a Travel Dream List or Travel Wish List.

When I was 25 or so, I made a list of 100 things I wanted to do. It was part of the Life 101 book exercises, which then narrowed it down to a personal top 10. No surprise that I had a bunch of travel items, including visit all 50 states and 7 continents.

But I do not have a current travel list. Hey, I will go anywhere and want to see everything.

I prefer off-the-beaten-track destinations, small unmarked unpaved roads, and new places. I like to explore and discover places and things. In my opinion, I cannot list what I do not know what I am looking for. I prefer to ramble and enjoy what I am discovering instead of checking items off a to-do list.

Colleen Lanin
Colleen Lanin
Reply to  Charles McCool
July 23, 2014 12:58 pm

Agreed – Charles…I like Travel Dream List or Travel Wish List more. It focuses more on living and less on kicking the bucket. More positive!

July 23, 2014 5:41 am

Great write up Colleen and I’m flattered you used my quote! I love the perspectives and how it isn’t good or bad to have one but how to use it if you so choose. I agree that gratitude is especially important in happiness and fulfillment as well as “the journey” down the road.

Colleen Lanin
Colleen Lanin
Reply to  Amy
July 23, 2014 12:59 pm

Thank you, Amy, for your kind words and for sharing your thoughts on travel bucket lists for this post!

July 26, 2014 3:25 am

The problem with bucket lists are that you are left with a sense of failure if you do not achieve them. I have whittled mine down to one, which I am working towards. That is living and working overseas for twelve months. Great article.

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