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The Fine Art of Family Travel: Create a Bucket List

The Fine Art of Family Travel: Create a Bucket List

Bucket list (noun, informal): A number of experiences a person hopes to have during their lifetime. Hmmm…does changing 1,000 diapers count? Not today! Learn how to create a bucket list for your family’s travel experiences instead. Yes, including the children. All it takes is a little bit of thinking outside the bucket (get it?). Get your family dreaming together about all of the places you could go, and create a bucket list that works for your crew.

Getting Started: It’s All About Perspective

create a bucket list
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If you are somewhat intimidated or turned off by the whole concept of keeping a bucket list, you are not alone. Some people don’t want to think about running out of time. Some people fear judgment over the desire to create a bucket list. Personally, I used to be afraid that I’d fail spectacularly at checking things off my bucket list.

I conquered my fear and hesitation, and you can too! You don’t need to impress anyone with your bucket list. Not even yourself. It’s like how making a travel photo book together with your family isn’t about who sees it. You’re making one to relive the fun times you spent together

It’s not a status symbol or the embodiment of your life’s ambition. It’s an evolving wish list to help you stay organized and dream at the very same time. It doesn’t have to represent a grand, soul-searching exercise that you are committed to forever. Instead, it changes and grows with your family. Creating a bucket list is a way to dream and have fun, while stealthily putting yourself one step closer to making your dreams become reality.

Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.” ~ Gloria Steinem

A bucket list for travel is a set of goals, but they are dreamy, icing-on-the-cake type goals. Setting goals can be transformative. Just the act of writing something down makes it more real. If you aren’t convinced of that, conduct your own survey.

Ask the most productive, organized person you know if they write down their goals, dreams, to-do lists, books to read, etc. I promise you they do! You are not failing if you don’t immediately start checking off items from your bucket list. You’re just still working toward making them happen.

Once I fully accepted the fact that a bucket list is not some sort of travel resume that proves my commitment to family travel, keeping one became one of my very favorite things to do! It starts with juicy conversations with my family over dinner, takes shape with a little research, and ends with a quick update to our bucket list. That’s it. That’s how my family is intentional about our travel plans, and I swear this process has magical powers. It gets us thinking, talking, dreaming, and most importantly, traveling, on a regular basis.

Find amazing family-friendly hotels to help create a bucket list for your family

Finding, and Wrangling with, Inspiration

create a bucket list
Photo by Tarlie Harris

What if your family responds with blank stares when you suggest they create a bucket list? Trekaroo can be a great place to find inspiration, and we’ve all come across 1,000 Places to See Before You Die in the bookstore. These are great fun! In fact, I spend a ridiculous amount of time reading travel books and blogs.

It is really important that you proceed with caution. Travel resources can get very overwhelming, very fast. If you end up making a book or the entire Trekaroo website your bucket list, you’ve sort of missed the point. Your list will be more meaningful if the places are buried deep inside you. They have been swirling around in your heart for years, just waiting for you to write them down somewhere and give them some validity. Those are the places that need to go on your list.

How do I know this? Because that 1000 Places book owned me for a short bit. It’s very demanding! The first time my husband and I sat down to create a bucket list, we filled it with grandiose adventures on every continent. It was the bucket list of two people still naive about the realities of their parenting style and clueless about the would-be personalities of their future children. As real life kicked in with rigid sleep schedules, highly specific eating preferences, and an emotionally fragile dog, the large majority of places on that list got pushed to the “um, maybe we’ll try that later” category.

Organizing Your Bucket List

create a bucket list
Photo by Tarlie Harris

There are certain places you want to take the kids when they are little. Like places with full day kids camp and an open bar. Ha! Just kidding. I mean places with cribs, high chairs, and zero-entry pools. The point is that destinations have ideal age ranges. Your teenager is not going to enjoy Story Land and your five-year-old isn’t going to appreciate a murder mystery dinner theater.

Think about what makes sense for your family and organize your bucket list into time slots: next year, next five years, etc. You could also make categories like “only if we win the lottery” or “if my kids start eating more kinds of food.” Not even kidding here, I keep telling my kids I will take them to Europe when they eat what’s on their plate without comment. It’s your list, it can be highly specific to your family’s quirks.

Our family bucket list evolved (perhaps, devolved?) from African Safari! and Small Ship Cruise in Alaska! to…Places I Don’t Have to Cook! and Places I Can Bring My Dog! (no judgment please, I’m still a little sensitive) It’s not that I don’t have an imagination or a sense of adventure, it’s just that I needed to be more practical with my bucket list for the last decade or so. You can dream with yours, or be practical, expansive, hyper-focused, or whatever you like. It’s all a start in the right direction, which is all you need. If you can just get started, your bucket list will take on a life of its own and bring you along for the ride.

Checking Things Off Your Bucket List – Give it Time, It Will Happen!

create a bucket list
Look, paddle-board yoga with my son last summer! I didn’t see that one ever coming to fruition a few years back.

Little by little, we have taken some really great family trips to some of those, shall we say, “more attainable” places. Yay us! I won’t regret one second of making “a week off from cooking” my top priority in choosing our big summer destination because that was the epitome of vacation to me that year. Or knowing that sometimes it’s just easier to drive than fly, even though that obviously limits our options. Even huddling around the wood stove in a cabin without electricity, so that our family could simply unplug for a week, will always be a special memory. Creating a bucket list in each of these categories helped make them a reality. 

The crazy thing is that “later” is sneaking up on us pretty quick. I didn’t take those once-far-fetched dreams off our bucket list, I just moved them out a bit. We now look at that original list and see that, what seemed impossible 10 years ago, is suddenly well within reach again. It’s finally time to start planning those trips that our kids were too little for once upon a time!

Time really does fly, don’t wait to get started. Sit down at dinner tonight and start a conversation to create a bucket list with your family. Use pictures, a book, or a blog if you need a springboard. Ask your kids why they have a certain place in mind and what they would do there. Their answers can be surprising and shed a whole new light on your family’s priorities when it comes to travel. I truly hope the process becomes as fun for you as it is for my family. Create a bucket list that leads you through profound self-discovery and onto unique family adventures. That’s what it’s supposed to do after all. 

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Lead image by Tarlie Harris 

Tarlie Harris