The Pandemic Resurgence of the Travel Bucket List

We are midway through 2020, and I think everyone can agree that this year definitely needs a “do over”. Many of you, including us, had at least one trip planned overseas only to go through the annoying process of changing it or cancelling it all together. Travel came to a standstill this spring, and just the thought of not being able to travel has been devastating to so many. With countries reopening, the desperation to “see” a place has led to a resurgence of that dreadful marketing ploy, the Travel Bucket List.

Why is the Travel Bucket List so popular?

I have always cringed at the term “Bucket List”. This morbid phrase creates feelings of anxiety and stress that I HAVE to get there before I die. I’m surprised the Bucket List concept has lasted for so many years. Most trends last about as long as a John Mayer romance. The FOMO (fear of missing out) mentality seems to have hit a high point after 9/11 for Americans and print and digital media have capitalized on it for the past two decades.

Books and Movies

Books and movies continue to feed this bucket list obsession. 1000 Places to See Before You Die, became the first big push of FOMO. First published in 2003 and with numerous spinoffs, it was meant to open the world up to wannabe travelers. The movie The Bucket List, about two terminally ill friends checking off things on their wish list before they die, really skyrocketed the urgency to not wait until you are almost dead to do the things you want.

Social Media

With the growth of Instagram and social pressure to showcase an envious life on Facebook, the world of travel has changed. I feel like many people just travel for that Instagram moment, but completely miss out on the culture surrounding them. A 20-something girl on one of the Facebook groups I follow even had the audacity to ask what country she should visit that isn’t touristy so she can impress her friends. If you are traveling to impress others, you are traveling for the wrong reason.

Do you count how many countries you’ve visited?

I don’t count how many countries I’ve been to because the number really doesn’t mean anything. Visiting one city hardly shows you what the people and culture are like in the whole country. Look at Spain. The Catalans are different from the Basques, even have different languages, yet both are part of Spain (whether they want to be or not). The United States of America is a melting pot of different cultures. A person from New Hampshire has a hard time understanding someone from Louisiana. Workaholic New Yorkers are not fond of the laidback attitude of Californians. Languages, culture and lifestyles can be vastly different from one end of a country to another.

Travel is more than a checklist. It should be immersive. Visiting iconic landmarks is just one aspect of travel.  It’s also ordering coffee in a café in another language, bartering at mercados, navigating the subway or train, and observing every day life. All these experiences put you in contact with the culture and people who live there. Plus, some places you just fall in love with, and want to visit again and again.


I’m in love with Madrid, and can visit again and again.


Things We Have to Think About Before We Travel Again

This year our plan was to finish building our house, so we knew overseas travel would be out of the question. We were ok with that because Mexico is a big country and there is still so much for us to see and learn. The Sierra Gorda mountains, pueblos magicos and countless waterfalls are just a few hours away, but these plans fell through as well. We have isolated ourselves for months now with only occasional trips to the bank and grocery store. Our concern is for the health of these smaller communities. Queretaro is a big modern city, and precautions have been taken, but the smaller towns are not as equipped to handle health care emergencies.  Because of some religious beliefs, many of these people will rely only on prayer and amulets instead of seeking medical attention.

Now that travel is getting back on track, there seems to be an urgency to get out and explore. In-country road trips and camping will be up this summer. Smaller towns may be the answer to many wanderlusters, but we also need to think of those communities and what we may be bringing to them.  Mexico had over 300 rural communities that they felt were safe from COVID-19 because they were so isolated. Unfortunately, with work grinding to a halt in the big cities, many people returned to their villages and are now transmitting the virus in places where the nearest medical facilities are hours away.

We Have Lists, Too

Neither one of us has a travel bucket list. We have our separate mental Travel Destination Lists, and on occasion we each get to check something off. Yes, I do like to take photos, but we want to see more than just landmarks. We travel to learn. We want to know more about the culture. We especially want to know more about the food. We even like bumbling through the wrong conjugations just to see that sympathetic smile from a local who appreciates our efforts.

Malta was a country we distantly talked about. We landed a petsitting gig in Malta and planned a whole southern Europe trip around it.

Travel Planning Can Be As Exciting As The Destination Itself

This is still a good time to plan for travel without dates. Without the time restriction, you can research a place more fully, plus many side trip options. For us, it’s given us time to really narrow down what we want to do in Morocco, research Chile’s wine regions, and the different Caminos through Spain. I’m still overwhelmed with what to see and do in Croatia, and fascinated by what I’m learning about Galicia. This life break has even given us time research those one Euro houses in different parts of Italy. There’s so much to see in this world, but we shouldn’t rush the experience.

As countries on your list begin to open up, please think and travel responsibly. Check that the country you want to go to is accepting visitors from your own country. Double check that the places you want to see will be open. And make sure you follow their rules on social distancing, face masks and quarantine protocols.  The idea that it’s your right NOT to follow a country’s rules will not be tolerated.

Regardless if you call your list a Travel Bucket List, Travel Wish List or Travel Destination Goals, it’s still a list. Think about why you want to travel, and make sure it’s for the right reasons.



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