In Defense of the Bucket List

machu picchu peru

Walking along the Great Wall of China. Diving with sharks. Visiting Antarctica.

Whether they’re willing to admit it or not, most people have a few things in mind that they’d like to do before they die. Many people call this a bucket list, and many others rail against the idea of having a list of things to see and do in this lifetime.

The reasoning for anti-bucket list folks generally goes something like this: Travel isn’t supposed to be about how many countries you go to or a checklist of things to knock off before the buzzer on life goes off. I get it. There is something to be said for letting experiences just happen to you when you travel. Unexpected surprises on the road may be the highlights of a trip, but there’s also something to be said for having goals when you travel.

Just as there are good reasons to stay on the beaten path, it is perfectly legitimate to have a bucket list. I’ve got one, and I’m willing to bet that, even if you’ve never written it down, there are a few things you’d like to achieve on your travels.

That’s okay because having a bucket list doesn’t make you a bad traveler.

ragnar relay


I’ve chosen to call my bucket list a Life List, inspired by the Mighty Maggie. My reasons for making it are many:

First, time is limited and I can’t do it all. Let’s call life what it is: Limited. As such, there are certain things I’d like to see or do more than others, and that’s okay. The vast majority of people will never travel to every country in the world, so when you’re given a choice between Destination A or Destination B, it only makes sense to choose the one that’s most aligned with your goals or interests in life.

Secondly, it gives me a place to collect ideas that inspire me. Again, your bucket head may be in your head or scribbled across numerous sheets of paper or tucked into the back page of your journal. Your style is up to you. But when I need motivation and inspiration, I look at my Life List to figure out what I need to do to meet the goals I have in life.

hot air balloonFinally, it reminds me that I have done—and can continue to do—great things in life. Because I make my Life List public, I occasionally have people contact me about something I’ve done because they’d like to do the same thing or recommend how I can achieve one of my goals. Friends and family frequently comment on my Life List, usually by noting that they’re so impressed by so many things I’ve done that most people will never do. I certainly don’t think I lead a charmed life, but being reminded of how fortunate I’ve been encourages me to reach for the other seemingly impossible goals in my life.

I want to take a quick moment to point out one of the distinguishing features of my Life List versus the generally defined bucket lists. It seems that most bucket lists are specifically focused on travel. My Life List is a mixture of travel, professional and general life goals, which I think helps maintain balance in my day-to-day living. By focusing too much on one area, it’s easy for me to forget to focus any energy at all in another direction. And, even though I only officially put my Life List down in writing a little more than a year ago, I’ve successfully crossed nine things off, including participating in the Urban Adventure Games and visiting Iceland.

Here are a few of my Life List favorites that I have yet to achieve, some travel related and some not:

> Be part of a flash mob.
> Be on The Amazing Race.
> Hike the John Muir Trail.
> Participate in a sea turtle rescue effort.
> Buy someone’s first passport.
> Bike around Ireland.

I’d love to know: Do you have a bucket list? What are some of the goals you’re set for yourself?

13 Responses to “In Defense of the Bucket List”

  1. Annette | Bucket List Journey

    Hurrah to this post! Bucket Lists have been catching a lot of crap lately and it’s nice to hear the positive aspects to them pointed out. Mine is over 400 items long with things that range from milking a cow to learning to surf to volunteering with elephants in Thailand. Writing it down and making it public has led me to so many amazing life experiences. Wouldn’t want to live my life any other way 🙂

    • JoAnna

      Hey Annette ~

      Glad to hear you’ve had a chance t knock a few things off of your Bucket List. Keep it up ~ and enjoy the journey!

  2. Gray

    I’m with you: Bucket lists are not bad things. I have a travel bucket list–places I want to see–and that’s written down. It helps me organize my travels. I do have a mental bucket list for experiences I want to have, but that’s not written down. It probably needs to be in order for me to actually get to those things, because the older I get, the less I remember things unless they’re written down. 🙂

    • JoAnna

      Using a bucket list to help guide your travels is a great idea! I like writing down everything on my Life List, because I’ve come to realize that my goals go so far beyond travel!

  3. Lala

    Totally agree with having one. I just recently did one and it’s because of an ER visit that reminded me of how precious life truly is. I’m just the type of person that enjoys having that reminder of a visual to look at.
    Just recently I read a post about how not to “not” do one…well, I say to that: to each his own. I love my bucket list and love reading others. Great post JoAnna!

  4. Camille

    I agree — I think most people have a bucket list at least in their head! I know, I do. Like visiting Savannah Georgia someday. 🙂 But I haven’t written anything down (yet).

    My sister did the Ragnar last year!

  5. John

    While I don’t personally have a formal bucket list, it’s not because I have anything against them (moreso I’m just too lazy to write it all down!) but I definitely do have a few travel goals. I think it helps give some direction to what can otherwise be completely endless decision making. It helps narrow things down a bit.

  6. Abby

    I also don’t have or want one, but the reasons make me more impressed by others who do! I am so pathetically goal-oriented that I just can’t write down a list and then not cross things off without feeling like I’m a disappointment. My travel is so dependent on finances and when I can find a friend/where they want to go, that I just fly by the seat of my pants.

  7. C

    I totally have a bucket list! why not! Its like a goal list of things you want to do!

  8. Brandie (@ Home Cooking Memories)

    I do have couple bucket lists, one devoted to Las Vegas alone, but my main travel one isn’t written down. Just a mental list of places or activities I’d like to participate in…like visiting New York City. I’m an organized, less spontaneous person, so they keep me focused and mesh perfectly with who I am. Oh, and I’d love to see you on Amazing Race someday! It’s one of my all-time favorite shows.

  9. stefanie

    When I was younger, I wanted to go to every country ever. Ever. Even Antartica. Now, I just want to go wherever my heart desires. And, honestly, it’s not Antartica. You are so right. Life is limiting, and that pieces is so frustrating. What I thought I would/could do in my 20’s seems like the race is on in my 30’s. Now my perspective and priorities have changed having had children. I want them to experience as much as possible while my husband and I can afford to send and take them, and some of those places I have already been to, others I have not. One thing I know for sure is that they need to be global citizens as times are changing for them and their future. I don’t want them to be afraid to travel, explore and learn. I figured I have about 3 more decades before I can’t really get to crazy with my travels, so I am planning something big every year. Funny, though, I though about my bucket list the other day, and it really does consist around spending as much time as possible with my husband and kids. I need to rethink and find some specifics to make sure I am completely satisfied in my own personal adventures and goals as well!

  10. Ross

    Great post. Why not have a bucket list? In nearly all aspects of life you have a goal whether it is for work or sport so if you thing is travel then why not have one for that?? A life list as you say is probably more apt though for everybody to stop you wandering through it.

    • JoAnna

      I agree! Life is too short, so why be confined by something society tells you you shouldn’t have??


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