Let’s be honest — bucket lists have only recently transformed from wishful pipe dreams into reachable, achievable experiences. Costs of transportation have plummeted, information is at our fingertips, and communication is a dial away. If you would have told someone 100 years ago that visiting the Taj Mahal is now relatively within reason, they would have most likely interrupted with “the Taj who?” It’s understandable, then, that today’s most prized commodity isn’t actually a commodity at all, but rather raw, authentic, slap-you-in-the-face experiences. If you’re onboard with the idea that collecting a list of memories is vastly more rewarding than collecting a pile of things, you’ve landed in the right spot — we’ve got you covered.
Navigating a bucket list journey is no small feat. You have to ask yourself ‘Which parts of the world do I find most interesting’? ‘What kinds of experiences must I absolutely do before keeling over’? Skydiving, swimming with sharks, sleeping in an igloo, are those things you would genuinely enjoy? Or are you more keen on Greek island hopping and African safaris? After gathering hundreds of destinations, tips, and travel hacks, we’ve curated your guide to creating the perfect bucket list. Whether you’re going it solo, traveling with a family, looking for adventure or just to relax, we’ve got you covered. So dig in, buckle down, and start checking off that list.
Undoubtedly, some of the world’s most extraordinary places to visit have nothing to do with humans. Water, fire, ice, and rocks have combined to create landscapes that defy description. From cavernous crystal caves to brilliantly-colored coral reefs, celestial snow-covered mountains above the clouds and dunes with as many grains of sand as there are stars in the universe.
Many readers won’t have to travel very far to knock off some bucket list gems. The U.S. lays claim to many natural wonders right here in your backyard. And, thanks to a history of environmentally-friendly policies, the United States is home to one of the world’s most illustrious national park systems, working tirelessly to defend natural beauty. Some of our favorites include the household names of Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Zion, and Olympic, but also the lesser-visited parks such as Canyonlands in Utah, Big Bend in Texas, and Great Sand Dunes in Colorado. Touring the country’s national parks is an exhaustive bucket list in its own right, so starting here is never a bad option.
For the more water-inclined, some common bucket list items include the Great Barrier Reef, the Galapagos Islands, island-hopping in Thailand, the Fjords of Norway, and the turquoise waters of Patagonia. What about the feasting your eyes on the Northern Lights, the cherry blossoms of Japan, the salt flats of Bolivia, or the Cliffs of Moher? Have we whet your palate yet?
History up Close
There’s something sobering about walking the grounds of an ancient ruin. The idea that pre-modern civilizations thrived right here not long ago is wild concept to wrap your head around. To stand in the same edifice that once witnessed gladiator games or the first human cave drawings is something that floors even the most well-traveled bucket listers.
Although these sites come with their fair share of chaotic tourism, they do so for good reason. When you stroll up to Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu, the Mayan temples of Tikal, or the Great Wall of China it suddenly doesn’t matter that you’re drenched in sweat or surrounded by loads of people. Experiencing something otherworldly makes daily life a little more bearable. Some historical landmarks that we consider worthy of your bucket list include Bagan, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Terracotta Army, the Great Pyramids of Giza, and Petra.
For many of us, seeing isn’t believing — doing is believing. There’s something to be said for seeing sites from a distance, but getting in the thick of the action is a whole different ball game. Undertake some adventures to get your heart rate pounding, bring a new meaning to “fear of heights,” be face-to-face with an animal 10 times your size. These are the moments we feel truly present; when the only thing that matters is right here, right now.
Some bucket list ideas to tingle your adventure senses include skydiving in Interlaken, shark-diving in South Africa, whitewater rafting in Colorado, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, wine tasting in California, and wildlife touring in Kenya.
Cities are perhaps the largest pillars of modern society. Where humans have congregated to erect massive metropolises and cultural hubs are interesting destinations, certainly worthy of a few spots on your bucket list. Talking toilets and microsized pod hotels in Tokyo? Bollywood culture in Mumbai? The east-meets-west character of Istanbul? The fairytale that is St. Petersburg? Amsterdam…for just being Amsterdam? And have you seen the things walking the strip in Las Vegas?
If you’re lucky enough to be traveling around on a world-wide bucket list tour, chances are you’ll be navigating through some major modern metropolises. Even if you’re more of a backcountry soul, we strongly recommend spending some time beneath the bright lights. Popular cities to visit include Shanghai, Lagos, San Francisco, York City, Stockholm, Vancouver, Medellín, and Cape Town.
Let’s talk about your comfort zone. If there’s one reason to travel, it’s to confront your boundaries, and to extend them. The more you learn about and experience different cultures, the more you grow as an individual. Dedicate a section of your bucket list to experiences that are inherently ‘other’, that somehow make you feel simultaneously connected and wildly out of place.
Sitting in an Incan sweat lodge, exploring the floating markets of Bangkok, raging in New Orleans’ Mardis Gras and Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival, crossing the streets in Ho Chi Minh, praying in Jerusalem, submerging in the Ganges river on the banks of Varanasi, going to a K-pop show in Seoul. These experiences may not scream “bucket list” but they can be the most moving adventures. Moreover, they’ll ensure that your bucket list is anything but boring.