An American Abroad

Bucket Lists Trivialize Travel

There isn’t anything uniquely awful about this article that pushed me over the edge into rant mode. In fact, by avoiding the hackneyed and cliched term “bucket list” in favor of the hackneyed and cliched term “trips of a lifetime,” it actually got some points from me. Well, a tenth of a point anyway.

Per CNN and TripAdvisor, here are the places that the American media conglomerate thinks I must see and things I must do — the trips “you spend your whole life dreaming about”:

1. See the Northern Lights
2. Sleep in an Overwater Bungalow
3. Admire the Sunset Over Santorini
4. Trek the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
5. Explore the Galapagos Islands
6. Visit Italy’s Alfami Coast
7. Photograph the ‘Big Five’ on Safari
8. Take the Ultimate Road Trip [on Route 66]
9. Set Foot on Antarctica
10. Ride the Trans-Siberian Railway

I read this list with mounting annoyance and then jumped on Twitter to write “#YABBLE: Yet Another Bullshit Bucket List Exercise.” I’d finally snapped.

I’m not a travel snob. I’m not put out by the destinations listed by CNN, even though I weary of seeing the same locales flogged over and over in travel articles and blog posts. I’d like to go to all of them. Of course, I’d also like to go to Flint (Michigan), Swansea (Wales), the Wotje Atoll (Marshall Islands), or any one of ten thousand other unsung places I could point to on a map at random, but that’s beside the point.

No, what burns my bacon is the superficiality of the verbs: see, sleep, admire, visit, set foot on, photograph, ride, etc. These are actions that demand next to nothing from the traveler. OK, I saw, slept, admired and photographed. Check, check, check, and check. Now on to the next must-do. If you could instantly teleport yourself to those destinations, you could knock off nine of those ten checklist items in an afternoon. You’d have stamps in your passport, photos in your camera, and destinations to name-drop, but little else. Certainly you wouldn’t have understanding.

Elvis Costello put it this way: “They say that travel broadens the mind til you can’t your head out of doors.” I’ve met people like that, people a mile wide and an inch deep, folks for whom travel is about completing a checklist or competing for passport stamps. The phrase “bucket list,” from an insipid movie of the same name, illustrates perfectly the grim determination such people bring to their peregrinations. No one cares that the phrase refers to death, not life.

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