Why I‘ve got a problem with travel bucket lists

If you’re somewhat active on social media, you’ll know them. The travel bucket lists people post in their Instagram stories.

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about: some travel blogger puts together a Instagram story template with a list of places (or “experiences”) and we can tick off the destinations we’ve visited. This is an example:

Travel Bucket Lists - Leah Loves Culture
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/307581849551245563/

I came across one of these bucket lists the other day and thought: something bugs me about these.

After I’d thought about it for a while, I found that there were a few things about travel bucket lists that didn’t go with my idea of what travelling – and life – is about.

First of all, there is the paradox we all struggle to balance these days: travelling vs being mindful of the environment:

1. Bucket lists ignore the environmental implications of travelling

To tick off as many places on our bucket lists as possible, we very likely have to fly/drive a lot. Flying and driving hurts our environment and contributes to global warming. It’s as simple as that.

I’m not trying to point the finger at someone here. I’m myself flying as much as an expat living away from home does.

Going on holidays and travelling has become such an integral part of youth culture around the globe. That has many good effects – a growing awareness of other cultures and ways of life being one of them.

But it is also, alongside other aspects of our consumerism, gravely damaging to the global climate.

I know that our generation isn’t likely to undergo a 180-degree change in their travel habits anytime soon. We’re just too used to the freedom of being able to go anywhere our heart desires within the next 24 to 30 hours.

But what I do believe is that we can be a little more conscious of what taking a flight or a cruise or a drive means. And consciousness is the first stage of change.

Back to bucket lists: In my eyes, a travel bucket list goes against this consciousness. It seems to promote the idea of “the more the better”. The logic is – in its most primitive sense: the more destinations we’ve been to the “cooler” we are.

And the more destinations we want to see, the more we have to fly.

2. Bucket lists often overlook local culture

We visit places, take some “like-worthy” photos for Instagram and leave in the satisfying knowledge that we can tick off another destination on our bucket lists.

We leave without taking a look behind the scenes of the travel destination – who the local people are, what moves them, what they believe in, what makes them laugh, what their concerns are.

I know it’s not always easy to get in touch with locals because we don’t want to come across nosey or interfering. But platforms like AirBnB and Homestay make it easy for us nowadays to meet locals who are willing to share their homes with us.

Getting to know local history and culture involves going to the busy/”touristy” places sometimes. I mean, who would go to Florence and not visit the cathedral. But I like to take at least one day to wander or drive off by myself. It’s the best way to find authentic restaurants, bars or cafés the locals go to.

Travel bucket lists convey a very superficial way of travelling to me. It promotes an image of travelling, where local culture and people are secondary and the main attractions are priority.

Check out my cultural itineraries for Scotland, my article on Bali off the beaten track or must-dos for the New Zealand South Island if you’re interested in exploring local cultures!

Street art in Melbourne, Australia - Leah Loves Cutlure
Street art in Melbourne, Australia

3. Bucket lists take away the unknown

So, I’ve recently listened to the audio book of Mark Manson’s “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck”. Great book! The main idea I took away from it was to embrace the unknown in life. We can never be certain of anything (except death), which is an opportunity, rather than a reason for anxiety.

If we write ourselves a travel bucket list, we are ultimately planning out where we will go next. You’ll know where you’re heading – or at least to some extent.

I used to be terrified of the unknown and planned out all my trips to the last minute. I don’t do that anymore because I know, it will never go as planned. And frankly, that’s part of the attraction.

I’ve learned that not knowing where you’ll go next gives you a feeling of freedom. At the beginning of this year, I wasn’t planning on going to Australia any time soon. But then a reason came up to travel there a few months later (my best friend living there being one of them) and I decided to cross the Tasman Sea. I had such a great time!

Sometimes we just go to places because circumstances lead us there. But that’s no reason to not enjoy ourselves as much as going to a “bucket-list destination”.

4. Your bucket-list destination will never be like you imagined it to be

By having a bucket list, you are automatically shaping a mental image of all these destinations. You want to ride in a gondola in Venice, pat an elephant in Thailand or go on one of those swings above the rice fields of Bali. The things everyone does and posts pictures about on social media.

But focusing on this one experience will put a lot of pressure on the moment to be absolutely perfect. What if, on your gondola ride in Venice, the channels stink so much you want to vomit. What if you have to queue for hours and hours to get your photo taken with that elephant or on the “Bali swing”?

Is it really worth it? Just to tick it off your bucket list?

The chances are very high you’ll be disappointed by the moment you’ve anticipated for years because the reality is different from your imagination.

A better strategy is to go to a place without any plans and be surprised by it.

Enjoy the little moments, too! Why queue for a “Bali swing” photo if you could enjoy a wonderful bottle of Bintang in a beach bar?

Sunset in Bali, Indonesia - Leah Loves Culture
Enjoying the sunsets, Bali, Indonesia

5. Bucket list = mental health hazard?

Travel bucket lists have become the new status symbols of #travelgram. We brag about how many places we’ve been to in our Instagram bios: 🌏 Travel blogger | ✈️ 250+ destinations. As if that makes us worthier of attention.

We post these bucket list templates in our stories and show the world how many places we can tick off. I don’t doubt it feels awesome.

But look at it this way: not everyone can afford to tick off the same destinations. Some people haven’t been to any of the places on the list. A cause for anxiety for many, I’m sure of it. The bucket list hype only contributes to the overwhelming feeling of not being enough when you’re on social media.

We all love to display ourselves to the world nowadays – what we’ve achieved, where we’ve been, what we’ve experienced. It’s unbelievably satisfying to finally post our picture of gondolas in Venice and make everyone we know jealous.

I’ll say very openly that I’ve had these feelings myself. It’s the dark side of #travelgram no one talks about.

Dump your bucket list!

To sum up, travel bucket lists promote the idea that travelling is about “hunting” destinations without stopping to think of the environment, local culture or people’s mental health.

And more importantly, they simply won’t make you happy.

One response to “Why I‘ve got a problem with travel bucket lists”

  1. […] Read more on being present while travelling in my article about why I think travel bucket lists are problematic. […]


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