Thoughts on Dumping Your Bucket List

by Ann Vinciguerra


With all of my enthusiasm for travel and outdoor adventure, you’d think I’d have a bucket list lined up and ready to tackle. In reality, I’m not a big fan of the concept. If someone asks me what's on my bucket list I respond, "Everything." Who doesn't want to see and do it all in a lifetime?

While there any many places I hope to visiting, mountains I dream of exploring and experiences I’d like to have, I stop short of creating a bucket list. I’m always up for checking out new things and have no trouble motivating myself to do so regularly thus there has never been a need for a bucket list. I have always felt that if I created one, I’d turn my adventures into a series of items to conquer rather than experiences to make life alive and meaningful. Who needs another to-do list?

We have all met fellow travelers who share tales of zipping from place to place with little time spent in each. These are the sorts of folks who enjoy talking about how many places they have visited but don’t seem to have much enthusiasm for any one place. If they do find a place that enchants them, their remark is often, “And I wish I could have spent more time there.” I always wonder why they didn’t.

In some ways, I see why the bucket list concept is appealing. Who hasn’t questioned what they are doing with their life? We may feel life is passing us by and question if we’re really making good use of it. A near-death experience may force us to re-evaluate or the dreaded mid-life crisis may become a reality. Taking time to evaluate and assess life can be beneficial, but I still suggest avoiding the bucket list. To me, bucket list and books like "1,000 Places to See Before You Die" reduce travel and exploration to a contest or an activity to be quantified and that is missing the point. Don’t you have enough checklists and tests at work and at home and in school?

My advice for dumping the bucket list is short:

  1. Do stuff. Always. Many company tag lines perpetuate this idea and while I’d hate to pass along advice based on advertising slogans, I don’t think they’re bad ideas. Just Do It (Nike), Never Stop Exploring (The North Face), and my favorite Let's Go Places (Toyota). Who can argue with those lines of thinking? If you’re out experiencing new things and visiting new places on a regular basis, your life is bound to be full and meaningful. You’ll never have to worry about checking things off of some contrived list.

  2. Don’t be afraid to stay put or focus on one thing. I spent a few days in Montenegro in April 2013 and loved it. It was the one place from that trip that I couldn't’ get out of my mind went I returned home. Good fortunate allowed me the chance to travel extensively a few months later and when deciding where to go, I chose to spend over half of my time in Montenegro. I bypassed the chance to visit new countries (And “check off” more countries) to explore one more thoroughly. It was a delight get to know Montenegro at a deeper level beyond the popular destinations.

  3. Similarly, if you go on a surfing trip as part of your bucket list and really enjoy it, go on another. Don’t avoid it because there are other things that are waiting to be checked off the list. Those can wait. Stick with your new found passion. Get good at it and become really familiar with it. Most importantly, see where it might take you.

  4. However…If you're having a hard time motivating then a bucket list may be for you. Create one with a few items, set out to check them off but make it a point to eventually drop the list. Hopefully the satisfaction derived from the new and unfamiliar will with stick with you as you work through your items and you’ll develop a stronger ability to motivate without the use of a bucket list.

All of that being said, there are many things I’d like to do and places I’d like to go. A few are below. This list is not prioritized and some items are basic self-improvement tasks as opposed to typical bucket list items.

Another long trip to the Balkans. An extended trip to India. A multi-country trip to Asia. Return to South America. This list will go on until the entire world is mentioned.

Visit Russia – This has been something I’ve been thinking about for over a decade but time and logistics have prevented this from happening. Lots to do there: Travel from Moscow to Beijing via the Trans-Siberian railway. Ski Mount Elbrus. Visit museums and take in the grandeur of St. Petersburg. Explore Kamchatka.

Live abroad. Maybe for work, hopefully for retirement.

Learn another language. Gain strong conversational skill in one. Learn a few words and phrases in several others.

Do more ski touring in Europe. Gran Paradiso. Silveretta. Imperial Crown. Western Oberalp. Pyrenees. So many great hut tours. Avoid the Haute Route and other crowded areas for a long as possible.

Go surfing. Maybe attend a weeklong surf camp and actually master it a bit.

Do more writing. Make my blog something people want to read. Get more eloquent at describing my thoughts and insights.

Cook more often. Really cook as opposed to just making a salad or assembling a burrito. Try new dishes regularly. Gain a greater understanding of food preparation and how foods and flavors work together.

Engage. Make it more of a point to keep in touch with family and friends. Email or call friends and family on a regular basis. Write emails (And even letters) with substance, not just a few sentences.

Ann Vinciguerra is equally at home in the backcountry and at the symphony. She lives the good life in Bozeman, Montana where she practices the art of balancing work and play. She enjoys backcountry skiing, mountain biking, and serving as a volunteer DJ at KGLT, Bozeman’s alternative public radio station. Her work has appeared in the Denver Post, Outside Bozeman and newspapers in Jackson Hole, Wyo. and Crested Butte, Co. You can follow along with more of her adventures on her website.