9 Ways to Create Your Travel Bucket List

Recently, I’ve been working on my “final countdown” list for reaching those 52 countries my Grandma wanted me to hit. She made it to 51 and dreamed I would make it more than she. And since next year I’ll be the same age she was when she made that record-taking flight around the world that started everything, I thought next year would be the perfect time to hit my 52nd destination.

But as I’ve been planning on my Trello board, I’ve realized more and more that I want each location to be meaningful to me. There’s nothing wrong with travel to go out and see the world, but I’ve been there. I’ve grabbed that iconic photo with the Eiffel Tower. I’ve snagged a shot with Sydney Opera House. And I want to have more experiences in my travel than just a photo-worthy snapshot.

So, this is how I’ve gone about rounding out my own travel bucket list to hit up by the end of next year.


With the Sydney Opera House in 2008


1. Don’t Only Look at Tourist Traps

While places like the Louvre and the Coliseum are awesome, and everybody should see them, your bucket list deserves more creativity than that. Skip the tourist traps on your bucket list, and, instead, look for interesting, unique places where you’ll interact more with locals.

When you go places like the South of France to walk through the vineyards at your favorite winery, you’ll likely go through Paris on the way and can make a few Instagrammable stops along the way. But those spots don’t have to make up your bucket list to make them happen.

2. Do Your Research

One of the biggest time consumers in my travel planning is research. Before I decide on my dream spots, I look for other obscure blog posts on random, lesser-known locations around the world. These tell me a lot of things about travel information, things to do while there, what’s worth seeing, and most importantly, what makes a place magical.

3. Ask Your Friends and Family Who’ve Traveled

Send out an email or text chain to the people you most value and trust the opinions of. Ask who’s traveled in the U.S.A., and which destinations they’d most recommend for shorter trips. Then, ask who’s traveled out of the country, and ask which their favorite spots were and why. Obviously, if your Hungarian friend replies that visiting Miskolc was significant because of his heritage, that won’t create a reason for your North African self to visit. But your friend who’s visited ghettos and concentration camps throughout Europe as a remembrance may be.

4. Think About Cultures that Fascinate You

Where is someplace you’ve always been fascinated with? What cultures enamor you? Where would a food tour of local authentic food change your life? As a child, all the answers to these questions for me were Australia. Every chance I had, I wrote about the culture, climate, food, and landmarks of Australia. I’m still just as enamored, still just as excited to plan a trip here as I was the first time, too.

But other places have always driven my curiosity. Egypt, Greece, Sri Lanka – thanks to Grandma’s many stories over the years – Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, South Africa. The list goes on. And these are places that are on my travel bucket list. A few are spots I’ve been already. A few are coming up next year. The rest are sitting in that “someday” pile for the next adventures I plan.


At an amphitheatre in Athens, Greece 2010


5. For One Moment, Forget Budgeting Issues

Before you set dreams of climbing Mount Everest aside because of the time and money investment, just forget all that and don’t worry about any kind of constraints at all. If you could go anywhere in the world, no matter how unrealistic, where would it be?

Quick! What did you say? Don’t hesitate. Just tell me.

That should be a spot on your bucket list. Even if you have to spend the next ten years training and saving up money to afford it, that should be one of the most critical destinations on your list. For whatever reason, this place is one place that has significant meaning to you, even if you can’t pinpoint why.

6. Think Locations from Your Favorite Books, Film, Television and More

One of the most beautiful places I have ever visited was the Isle of Arran, a small island in Scotland in the Firth of Clyde. And how I managed to travel there is that I read the book Grace in Thine Eyes by Lizz Curtis Higgs. And guess where it was located?

After my trip, I sent photos and a thank you note to Ms. Curtis Higgs, telling her that I went there because of her book and that I will always celebrate my brief time there. She wrote back to thank me for telling her that I had inspired her to go.

You may not have a famous author reply to your thank you note for inspiration on your Bucket List, but you never know what will happen.


One of my shots of Brodick Castle, a frequented spot in Ms. Higgs’ book 2007


7. Consider Your Hobbies

Your fascination with your genealogy could lead to a fantastic trip that won’t break the bank. Head over to Salt Lake City, Utah, for some genealogical exploits through the Family History Library, and then shape the rest of the trip around this hobby.

Or, if you’re a runner, put some destination races on your Bucket List. There are tons of fantastic articles out there with lists of the best 5k locations, 10k races, and most interesting half-marathons, or full marathons to run – based on the locations. And any of these locations will also have tons of other interesting things in the area that you can do.

Pretty much any hobby you’re excited about can lead to an awesome Bucket List location to travel to.

8. Think About Humanitarian Works You Support

If you’ve ever supported a child through a program like Compassion International or Samaritan’s Purse, or you’ve supported a clean water project like those from World Vision or Charity Water, you’ve got some big ideas right here for a potential bucket list item.

Your heart goes where your money does, so why not let your butt on a plane go there too? You can add to the impact of your financial gifts by being a part of a long-term life-giving program through your gifts and your presence connecting with people who would never be able to afford to come to meet and thank you for being a part of the salvation of their village.

9. Ministry Experiences and Missionaries

If you’ve done any kind of ministry or even attend church at all regularly, chances are you’ve met some missionaries who live elsewhere in the world. Have they ever told stories that fascinate you? Have you ever thought, “Man, I should go and help out with that clean water project?”

These are clues that those locations – or at least traveling to do similar work elsewhere in the world – would be a great travel bucket list item for you. Not only would your travels to the African continent expand your horizons, but you’d be doing something meaningful and helpful to others as you travel.

If you do have some locations like these on your list, look out for the up-coming article on how to research and understand missionary work as a short-term worker, and what’s beneficial, and what’s not so much to the field where you’d like to visit.



The whole missions team in Peru 2017, after going up with the pilot – the missionary we were there to support by refurbishing a house for her family



Recommendations for Your Travel Bucket List

Here are a few spots that certainly have meaning for me, but may also be appealing to you for a variety of reasons.

The Isle of Arran, Scotland

If you love cheese, sheep, camping, hiking, exploring, waterfalls, seals, small-ltown culture, and a beautiful community with roots dating back to before the falling down castles like Lochranza started falling down, you may want to consider adding the Isle of Arran to your bucket list.


Swans in the marsh grasses on the coast of the Isle of Arran 2007


Durban, South Africa

Love coastal waters, unique missions, stunning cross-sections of culture, mountain views, and fascinating cultures not talked about tons in travel guides, visit Durban South, Africa. If possible, see if you can visit the incredible mission Kwasizabantu.


School children heading home at the end of the day at their school at Kwasizabantu 2004


Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

For a less popular spot in Australia – partially because it’s a little harder to get to than Sydney and a lot smaller – Hobart, Tasmania is a stunning and well-worth visiting town. The city has some fascinating sites – like a two-in-one church and prison from the Convict Days of the island – whale watching opportunities, hiking, mountains, and more.


View downward from my hostel to Hobart 2008


Glasgow, Scotland/Stirling Scotland

Glasgow is pretty easy to get to in Scotland. And from there, Stirling, the site of the William Wallace Monument and Stirling Castle. The town is filled with Braveheart references – mainly because this is the site of much of the history associated with the book and film – and is loaded with interesting cultural things to do.


Outside the William Wallace Monument 2007


Antigua Guatemala and surrounds

Antigua, Guatemala, is a unique town in the country. It’s about 1.5 hours by chicken bus from Guatemala City, and though it’s a touristy place inside the cobblestone streets, the whole area is fascinatingly non-English speaking. As I stood in line at the ATM, I met people from ten different countries in a single withdrawal session. But no one at the grocery stores knows English. The town itself is surrounded by mountains and volcanoes – talk about some interesting running spots! – and nearby villages that you can walk and run through without much issue. I do recommend mostly staying on the cobblestone spots of the town, though, unless you speak Spanish and are fairly travel savvy.


The “Arch” in Antigua – Volcan  Agua in the background 2013



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