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7 Steps to a Perfect Travel Bucket List

By January 14, 2023January 17th, 2023Travel, Travel Articles

Do you have a Travel Bucket List?

And by travel bucket list, I don’t mean a vague list of fantasies you allow to float around your head while you are waiting for the lights to change — I mean an organized, curated travel bucket list; a fundamental document that is an integral part of your long-term planning.

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Why is a Travel Bucket List So Important?

Life goes by in a flash, and without an organized travel bucket list, the urgency of leisure travel and exploration can get shoved aside in the wake of the day-to-day churn. If the pandemic taught us anything, it was to relish the luxury of the freedom to travel where we want to, and experience all that the destination offers.

But it takes planning and advance thinking to execute. And this is where the travel bucket list comes in!

Treat making a travel bucket list just as you would any work project: give it ample time, consideration, and focus.

Brainstorming for your Travel Bucket List

All wonderful projects begin with a good brainstorming session. Set aside some time for this, then consider where you want to store your travel bucket list.

I keep mine in Notion, my amazing productivity system of interlinking databases, but this is a fairly recent development. I used to keep my travel bucket list in a lovely leather notebook I bought in Rome at Il Papiro, which got very battered in the end.

You may wish to go that route and make your travel bucket list an integral part of your bullet journal or diary.

Begin your travel bucket list with a stack of index cards or pieces of paper.  Or, if you like, download my free Travel Bucket List Bundle, which includes PDF brainstorming cards with everything you need to get started. Then find a quiet place and fire up your imagination.

FREE Travel Bucket List Planner Bundle

Download this bundle and start planning!

Step # 1. Revisit Places You’ve Already Been for Your Travel Bucket List

This may seem counter-intuitive, but stick with me —  by listing all the places you’ve already been, you will:

  • Get the creative juices flowing.
  • Remember wonderful experiences.
  • Recall the things you left undone!

Note down particular experiences you had in each place that were memorable: did you go hot air ballooning in Turkey? Did you go hunting with a falcon in the United Arab Emirates? Perhaps you lingered in one of Vienna’s storied coffee houses? 

The Ancient Art of Falconing | Image via Shutterstock

Step # 2 Put Return Visits on Your Travel Bucket List

Pull together the places to which you’d like to return, noting down any venues or experiences you missed the first time around. I keep a very long list of these in my Notion Travel Bucket List: I work on cruise ships, which visit a city for only one or two days maximum, so I am always in planning mode for the next visit. 

Drill deeper down for this: was there a particular museum that was closed on the day you visited? Or did you discover something about the place only after you returned?

Perhaps when you visited something was not in your budget then, but might be now, such as a camel trek in the Sahara Desert. Try to come up with at least three things per destination and note them down on the index cards.

Step # 3. Find Inspiration for your Travel Bucket List!

It’s time to add items to your travel bucket list. This is the fun part! And the sky is the limit at this stage. Do a deep download of every place you’ve ever wanted to visit, and put each place on a single index card. Then go looking for more inspiration:

  • Head to your local library and wander through the Travel section. Pull books that speak to you off the shelves. Check them out and pour over them at home.
  • While at the library, page through the largest atlas they have and note which destinations draw you in.
  • Fall down cyber rabbit holes!  Consult travel sites such as Cruise Critic, Tourhub, Tiquets, and other popular sites to learn more about what is on offer in each of your travel bucket list destinations.
  • Browse through Pinterest’s finely honed search function to explore the destinations in more detail. Any single destination on Pinterest will have a million ideas and a host of information. Create boards and label them: “Travel Bucket List.”
  • Visit a travel agency — they’re back with a vengeance — and pick the staff’s brains about your key destinations. Ask them about their own favorites and let them load you up with brochures: more material for your vision board!
  • Buy the latest travel magazines and flip through them. Tear out articles and images that speak to you. Then add them to your travel bucket list vision board.

Organize & Curate Your Travel Bucket List

Once your stack of index cards is complete, it’s time to curate and organize your travel bucket list: an unwieldy stack of index cards gathering dust is of no use to you: you have to organize, and curate them into your final travel bucket list. 

How you go about this will largely depend on the kind travel you enjoy:

  • Are you a broad swath “If it’s Tuesday it Must Be Belgium” type of traveler, or do you want to go to one place, rent a flat, and settle in to really get to know the destination thoroughly?
  • Do you enjoy active travel such as cycling, trekking, hiking, or horseback riding? I’m very fond of extensive walking tours, particularly along ancient pilgrimage routes, so several of these are on my travel bucket list.
  • Do you love to cruise? Traveling by ship enables you to visit several travel bucket list destinations in a comparatively short amount of time.

Think about these considerations as you organize your travel bucket list. Don’t force yourself into a rubric that doesn’t work for you: perhaps arrange the travel bucket list by country or continent. Or you may wish to organize the travel bucket list by theme: theater, food, sports events, and so on. Many people organize by season or month. Choose the rubric that works best for you!

Now that your travel bucket list has a loose structure, it’s time to get more specific about each destination.

Step # 4. Expand and Hone Your Travel Bucket List

It’s time to brainstorm again! Populate each travel bucket list destination with a very detailed list of museums, attractions, stores, sporting events, cultural events, and never forgetting culinary encounters. If you have a lot of destinations, start by selecting a manageable number between 5-10. Choose travel bucket list destinations that have a real urgency about them for you.

Now let’s imagine “Rome” is at the top of your list (as it is for so many of us!) Picture yourself there. Do you see yourself like Audrey Hepburn on a Vespa or are you more like Anita Ekberg in the Trevi Fountain? Can you imagine yourself learning to make pasta from scratch from a local chef? Will you stay up late in an elegant rooftop bar overlooking the floodlit city sipping a Negroni, or up at dawn for a once-in-a-lifetime visit to the Sistine Chapel before it opens to the public?

Get the picture? Expand the notion of “Visit Rome” into a list of venues you wish to visit and experiences you wish to have in the travel bucket list destination. Note these on each index card with as much granular detail as you can.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Eremeeva

Now you have a list that might look like the one below, and just for fun, let’s imagine you are now off to Venice!

Venice Bucket Travel List

Step #5. Assign a Season for each Travel Bucket List Destination

Some travel bucket list destinations are wonderful all year round — think Paris, London, or Madrid. But some aren’t: think Reykjavik, Mumbai, and Jerusalem. Give some thought to which season to choose for your travel bucket list destinations that will be suitable for what you want to see and do there.

Lavender in the Luberon via Shutterstock

Here’s an example: one of my travel bucket list destination and experience combinations is to stay for several weeks in the Luberon Valley during lavender season, roughly the last week in June to the beginning of August. I know from previous visits that the peak of the gloriously vibrant color happens in early July. Thus, this travel bucket list experience has a very narrow window; if I want to maximize the experience, I have to plan this trip from about June 20 – July 20.

The Oberammergau Passion Play via Wikimedia Commons

Some experiences don’t happen every year. Another of my bucket list travel destination experiences is the famous Oberammergau Passion Play, which is performed only once every ten years! My next opportunity is 2032, and I’ve got all of that granular information filed away on my travel bucket list. I’ll start making concrete plans soon.

Step #6. Assign a Date Range to Your Travel Bucket List

Don’t assign “someday/maybe” to your top travel bucket list destinations and experiences. Assign them a specific year, or at least a range of years, such as “2024 – 2026.” If you have to adjust when you do your yearly planning, so be it. I have tags for each of the next five years, and then in five-year increments — “2028 – 2033” after that. Each January, a new year leaves the five-year buckets, signaling to me it is time to fill them with more concrete plans. 

Step # 7 Share Your Travel Bucket List with Family and Friends

One way to ensure your travel bucket list becomes reality is to share it with friends and family! Think about suitable traveling companions for each destination. Inviting someone to share your journey adds urgency and will keep you accountable. 

Mount Fuji in Cherry Blossom Season | Image via Shutterstock

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Take a Concrete Action Towards Executing Your Travel Bucket List

Choose one destination and take a concrete step towards executing the trip — even if you just research, the whole idea of the trip will become more realistic, moving it out of the “someday/maybe” category and into the “next up” category.

The Northern Lights | Image via Shutterstock

Popular Travel Bucket List Destinations

Here are some of the most popular travel bucket list items from internet searches:

My Travel Bucket List

To get you in the mood, here are a few destinations from my (rather sprawling, but organized and curated) travel bucket list.  I’m very lucky that so much of my professional life takes me to amazing destinations, but cruising isn’t suitable for each of these experiences. 

As much as I love to hear the ship’s horn blow, and pull the stateroom curtains aside each morning to see a new view, I also relish an immersive experience, and that often means committing to several weeks in one destination.

I like to visit museums and other historical landmarks more than just once, and as for the food…I need a lot of time to sink into a destination’s culinary essence and history.

I manage my travel bucket list in Notion, and you can too!

FREE Notion Travel Bucket List Template

Duplicate this into your own Notion workspace and start planning a lifetime of memorable travel experiences!

Asia's Floating Markets are on My Travel Bucket List | image via Shutterstock

Tour Iran and Visit Centers for Carpet Weaving

I’m obsessed with Persian carpets, so this experience is high on my list. I give a lecture on the cruises called “How to Read a Carpet,” for which I did almost 2 months of absorbing research. I want to visit the major carpet-making centers and the smaller workshops in the villages.

I also want to spend a lot of time in the storied bazaars of Tabriz and Shiraz. And I certainly want to watch the sunset over the ruins of Persepolis. Obviously, the current situation in Iran makes this trip something of a challenge, but when (not if!) the situation in the country improves, my detailed travel bucket list has all the information I need to bo

Live for a Month in Jerusalem’s Old City during Orthodox Easter & Passover

I’ve been to Jerusalem many times, but never for long enough. The Old City is like a magnet for me: I find its layers of history mesmerizing, but I’m always frustrated that there isn’t time to wander through the winding streets, poking my head into the shops, taking coffee at my leisure, and most of all, visiting its panoply of historical sites unhurriedly. I want to witness the Ceremony of the Keys and attend Easter Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I also want to experience Passover in Jerusalem.

This one will require careful timing since Orthodox Easter does not always align with Passover. I currently have it scheduled for 2024, but then again… I had it scheduled for 2020 too!

The Dome of the Rock | Jerusalem| image via Shutterstock

Visit Iznik, Turkey to Learn about Ottoman Tiles 

I’m obsessed with Ottoman ceramic tiles, so Iznik is a must on my travel bucket list. Iznik was renowned during the Ottoman era for its beautiful hand-painted ceramics and tiles. Many are still extant in mosques, castles, and palaces, including the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. It’s possible that I can do this while cruising in the Eastern Mediterranean, so I will have to keep my eye on the ship’s shore excursions when I’m in that part of the world. If not, I will plan a separate visit soon!

Iznik Tiles Turkey | Photo credit: Jennifer Eremeeva and Wikimedia Commons

Conclusion

So there you have it: let your mind roam around the globe, gathering up ideas and half-forgotten dreams of faraway places. Then do some serious research to come up with your final travel bucket list destinations. Next, populate the list with concrete experiences that will make the trip unforgettable, remembering to assign a season or specific time period if need be.

Finally, don’t let all of this good work go to waste: take a concrete step towards planning the trip at the top of your travel bucket list… no step forward is too small!

Check out my Top Ten Travel Planning Tools to get started!

What’s on your travel bucket list? Share your top three destinations and experiences in the comments section below!  That is another great way to get inspired!  I can’t wait to hear all about your travels!

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