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Traveling well: 5 ways to rethink your bucket list

Buying experiences is more fulfilling than buying things. That much we know. Which is why many of us have bucket lists. With so much to see and do in this wonderful oyster we call world, you’d be crazy not to keep a list of things to experience before kicking the bucket.

At the same time, there is no bucket capable of holding everything life has to offer. And more than one person has surely died focusing on what they didn’t accomplish rather than what they did. That’s a shame, because from the top regrets of the dying, “wishing I had traveled more” didn’t even make the list.

Not to get all schmaltzy on you, but the trick to planning adventures is not to plan too much. Here’s how you can do that and back into unplanned encounters more often, while still enjoying the anticipation, financial savings, and day-dreaming perks the bucket list affords.

Only add items you truly care about. Peer pressure doesn’t stop in grade school. As an adult, you’ll be urged to validate others’ travel logs by re-experiencing them for yourself. Resist the temptation. Plan trips that have meaning to you or that you’ve always wanted to take for yourself. Many of these won’t be status-enhancing. But that’s not the point of travel. So take Confucius’ advice: “Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”

Don’t overdo it. The most helpful travel buckets list general destinations rather than day-filled itineraries. In other words, they list at least 1-2 must-do activities per trip. Upon booking, seasoned travelers recommend no more than 1-2 planned activities per day (on average). Doing so leaves room for spontaneous and off-the-beaten-path encounters. Whether with people, places or things, said experiences often end up as the most memorable parts of the trips we take. For your happiness and pocket book, less truly is more.

Prioritize and update your list with time. Dreams change with age. Unless you update your bucket list accordingly, you could end up denying new additions, or worse—being a slave to your list rather than a beneficiary. Remember: the goal is quality, not quantity. Even the most well-traveled veterans croak before seeing everything on their list. Likewise, you’ll never experience everything Earth has to offer. But with periodic prioritization and self-awareness, you can see the things that will have the greatest impact on you.

Read traveler reviews as guides, not religion. “TripAdvisor makes travel worse,” said no one ever. That place—not to mention online reviews in general—does a helluva job steering us to the cream of the travel crop, from well-rated lodging and attractive adventures to local food and hidden gems. That said, there is a limit to online reviews’ utility. Often times your personal tastes won’t match the reviewer’s, their collective experience isn’t always exhaustive, or they’ll lead to herd mentality. By all means, do your homework when choosing which places to visit. That’s half the fun. But take other’s opinions personally.

Consider burning it. If you really want to channel your inner-hippy self, consider burning your bucket list. Many spontaneous people, after all, travel well with just a mental list. So if your list isn’t fun, do away with it. Plan for whatever’s top of mind, then see where that prompts you. The only rule you should follow is going somewhere that inspires you. And don’t forget: Meeting new friends is usually more life-changing than the miles traveled, inanimate artifacts, and landscapes we usually target. We are social creatures, after all.

May all your travels be merry and bright.

This story first appeared in Paste Magazine

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