Rethinking Bucket Lists

Why are the things that are on your bucket list actually there?  To say you have done them?  So you can tell others about that?  I think this is an important question.

Recently, my parents went on a trip to Germany along with a coach tour of eastern Europe.  It culminated in Munich at Oktoberfest, and all my Dad really had to say about it to me was “ya, lots of rides and beer halls, drunk people passed out at noon on grass…one notch off bucket list”.

To me, it sounds like he was miserable and didn’t enjoy it at all.  But…the bucket list.

The trip probably cost them about $15,000 CAD by my estimates, and of course they enjoyed a lot of it if not that particular part, but I only use that story to bring up an important point about our mentality when it comes to travel, or just doing noteworthy things in general (i.e. Superbowl, the very biggest Festivals or Concerts).  In the west, where people tend to more commonly have the resources to travel abroad (in some cases due to the money earned as a modern rat racer), it seems to me there’s a bit of competition, both internal and external, to fit in as many things as you can within our already busy and unsustainable work schedule.  You know, that ‘just to say I was there’ mentality.  Yet for people whom it has never been realistic to have the means to travel abroad, they often struggle less with the challenge of knowing where to draw the line on the ideal financial earnings to future travel ratio, for example.

For my parents, a part of the reason the trip was stressful to them was because of time constraints and a lack of experience dealing with things like busy airport lineups and short-layovers.  They still work, so time is of the essence.  They still work, to save for trips like this.

Meanwhile they, of all people, if they wanted to, could retire very comfortably, even without cutting out a lot of wasteful spending that is common among the North American middle class.  It might mean one or two less trips of this magnitude over their golden years, but in just one extra year of retirement and traveling less extravegently and with less of a timeline constraint, they could fit in a priceless amount of life experience and enjoyment, which I must add they really really deserve.

All I’m saying is that you need to get real about your bucket list.  Do things day-to-day that you do for you and for who you choose to serve, not what others expect of you, and then extend that to your bucket list.  Don’t buy a new car so that others will think your cool.  Don’t spend on a trip you don’t really plan to enjoy just so you can say you’ve been there or done that.  Instead, retire, travel earlier, for longer, on less of a per diem but with a more authentic and rich experience still highlighted by the common sights or activities of your choosing, maybe just a little less frequently as you’re going to be there for longer after all.  If it puts your mind at ease, pickup a bit of short-term work to pay for a trip or activity you want to do, knowing that all your other expenses are covered.  When you’re not working full-time, a few months away doesn’t bite into your ‘real life’ as much as it seems vacations do when you cram them into your 2-week annual holiday.   Get real about your bucket list and build it up of things you know you want to do, not things you know your friends want to do or that would go over well at future dinner parties.    That will not serve anyone else now, nor will it serve you on your death-bed the way a bucket list was meant to.

Once you have started to build yourself the right list, get to it sooner rather than later because ultimately this very moment is the only thing that’s guaranteed in life, and what you choose to do with it and all the others that follow are directly what your life experience is made up of.  You are designing your own experience whether you’re aware of it or not, and the best design results begin with an acute awareness of the problem.

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