Truth be told, I’ve become a bit disillusioned with my bucket list. It sounds like a great idea, right? List all the things you want to do before you die. But pinning your hopes and dreams on something you’ve never experienced is a dangerous road to walk. Expectation is, after all, the mother of disappointment. Focusing too much on your bucket list can also mean not living enough in the moment, not appreciating what you already have.
I’m very lucky (and very privileged) to live a life of travel. Though it doesn’t come without its challenges, and some items from my traditional bucket list have fallen short of expectation, my RTW trip has been anything but a disappointment. So as 2016 winds down, I am reversing my bucket list and celebrating the accomplishments and experiences, both painstakingly planned and delightfully unexpected, that are already under my belt.
I said ‘Bye Felicia’ to a downright abusive employer and got on a one-way flight.
I spent nearly three years planning my RTW trip, but I never actually had it on my bucket list. I always thought of my trip as the means to the end. But really, it is an accomplishment much bigger than the sum of its parts.
I’ve seen the Strokkur geyser erupt in Iceland, but found more to love on the Snaefellsnes peninsula (like these sunbathing seals!)
Touring the Golden Circle was one of the top 12 bucket list items I wanted to fulfill on my RTW trip – to the point that I structured my itinerary around it! I impulsively booked a tour to Iceland’s western peninsula before hitting the Golden Circle, however, and got so much more out of that off-the-beaten-path experience.
I stumbled across a group of lindy hoppers on Barceloneta beach and got to join in.
I struggled with some serious anxiety issues in Barcelona. This serendipitous encounter was an absolute turning point for me. (And a reminder that dance works in any language!)
I skipped the tapas bar hopping on La Rambla for more authentic Catalan joints in Gracia.
Tapas bar hopping in Barcelona was quite high on my bucket list, but when I arrived, I realized tapas don’t belong to Barcelona at all. Instead I found a tour company offering a more authentic foodie experience and it was easily the highlight of my time in Spain. Had I clung to my bucket list, I never would have found Gracia.
I learned to love going out to dinner by myself – thanks Paris!
I’m realizing a lot of these are going to be food-centric… No matter, my mastering the art of solo dining was huge. I think the fear of eating alone is one of the biggest obstacles keeping people from solo travel and it’s one I’ve held onto since the tender age of 11. No more!
I spent a day exploring Pompeii.
The rare bucket list experience that lives up to your expectations. Not even peak season crowds could ruin my day in Pompeii – though they admittedly did impede my photo-taking ability at a few stops.
I hopefully made Sophia Loren proud eating an entire pie at Pizzeria Starita.
And I’ll be honest…it wasn’t the last time I polished off an entire pizza by myself in one sitting. This beauty covered in squash blossoms will always be the first, though.
I ferried around the Amalfi Coast.
To be honest, I am not sure how the Amalfi Coast became the thing to do in southern Italy. There didn’t seem to be much to it, especially the town of Amalfi itself. But I still enjoyed the views from the boat and Positano (pictured above) was nice to walk around.
I bar hopped through Ljubljana trying Slovenia’s best craft beers.
Just one of many examples proving that the best way to meet and make friends on the road is on food and drink tours. Slovenia is actually more of a wine country, but craft breweries are starting to take off and I had a grand old time with my group of 4 sampling the fruits of their labors.
I spent the night in a nuclear bunker in Zagreb.
It was not even close to the best hostel I’ve stayed in. But it was definitely an experience and something I really enjoy saying I’ve done.
I hiked around Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia.
Plitvice Lakes was on my radar before embarking on my travels this year, but I never would have dreamt of planning a trip around it. The Dalmatian Coast was what drew me to Croatia. And yet my day hiking around these stunning turquoise lakes and waterfalls was the highlight of the country.
I kayaked around the City Walls of Dubrovnik (well, kind of).
Thanks to a somewhat misleading tour sale and a massive a-hole of a guide, one of my major bucket list items wound up being one of the worst days of my trip. Honestly, this is what turned me off to the whole idea of traditional bucket lists. Nevertheless, it’s something I mostly get to check off mine.
I stayed in a 13th century palazzo in Montenegro.
After a busy (and let’s face it, expensive) couple days in Croatia, my time in Kotor, Montenegro was pretty quiet. But seriously, who would want to leave a room in a medieval palace? This is definitely one of the most atmospheric places I’ve gotten to stay.
I watched a diver jump off Mostar’s Old Bridge in Bosnia.
I had earlier met a fellow traveler who claimed to have jumped himself. I call BS on that. It’s at least a 20 meter drop!
I saw coil demonstrations at the Tesla Museum in Belgrade.
The museum itself is actually kind of a let down. Half the ‘guided’ tour was exactly the kind of corny video they’d play in my science classes in grade school – I didn’t need to come all the way to Serbia for that. Nonetheless, it was my first time seeing a Tesla coil in action (even if the crowded room prevented my snapping a good picture of it – the above photo is actually a mural from my hostel in Belgrade).
I celebrated my birthday at the Acropolis.
In retrospect, I wish I had stayed longer in Belgrade and celebrated my birthday there. But obviously the Acropolis is not too shabby. How it took me 10 years of travel to finally make it to Greece, I’ll never understand.
I watched the sunset over the Santorini caldera.
So many people in the travel community clucked their tongues at me when they heard I was going to touristy Santorini instead of someplace ‘real’ like Milos or Crete. Guess what? I’m not even a little ashamed. It was every inch what I expected and one of the few places I felt completely safe and comfortable as a solo female traveler.
I hiked the Fira Trail to Oia, and climbed Nea Kamini – that’s an active bleeping volcano, y’all.
Neither of these day hikes were super challenging. But both were super fun.
I finally saw Wicked live on the West End.
I know. Just. I know. Please, save the appalled responses that I had not already seen Wicked on stage. It’s been fixed now. I’m even more proud it was fixed for less than 20 quid – including my glass of prosecco. Last minute theater tickets is where it’s at y’all. And also an area where traveling alone served me well.
I toured a gin distillery in London.
I may not be able to count the number of times I’ve been teased (in both good-natured and just-plain-annoying ways) for my gin drinking in the States. But in Europe, it’s become extremely trendy, so I went to as many gin-focused events as I could in the UK. Sipsmith Distillery was just the prettiest host.
I trekked to the Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal – and saw an avalanche!
Going into my first trek, I genuinely thought I’d have to be airlifted out the second day. And while the descent may not have been pretty, the way up was actually pretty great.
I visited my dad’s old stomping grounds in Bangkok.
Upon my arrival in the Thai capital, I realized Bangkok was probably the first destination that ever made my radar. My dad had many homes growing up as an Army brat, but surely none so frequently discussed as Bangkok, where they were stationed for three years. Luck wasn’t on my side for getting a look at the house itself, but I am very fortunate to have gotten a unique glimpse of Thai culture. King Bhumibol Adulyadej passed away in October sending the country into a year-long period of mourning, and the city is now covered in beautiful artistic tributes to what was clearly a much beloved leader.
I fed and bathed elephants at Elephant Nature Park.
As a kid, I’m sure I dreamt of riding elephants at some point. As an adult, I’m glad I learned how awful riding camps are for elephants long before making it to Thailand. Instead I helped take care of animals that have been rescued from the abusive side of the tourism industry.
I made curry paste from scratch (along with a whole bunch of other stuff) at a cooking class in Chiang Mai.
I love Thai food and had been looking forward to a cooking class. (I plan on taking several while I’m in Southeast Asia actually.) But I had no idea curry paste would be on the menu. Ten minutes of mortar and pestle later this pile of ingredients was smooth as ice cream.
2017 is sure to have plenty of its own adventures, but I’m more content to enjoy the ride instead of overplanning.
What’s on your reverse bucket list?