I want to share a confession with you: I’m a notorious slow traveller who is fighting against the idea of ticking off travel. Given that I often mention that I’ve been travelling since 2011 the slow traveller part of that statement should come as no surprise. I’ve obviously been dragging my heels somehow, but what exactly do I mean by ‘ticking off travel?’ And why is the concept of a bucket list something that makes my nose wrinkle?
I know we’re all familiar about the notion of ultimate bucket list ideas and even I have been known to bandy the term around in my writing. Everybody these days types ‘bucket list travel destinations’ into Google, searching for their next adventure. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with gaining inspiration from the sources out there and even asking family and friends for help.
But where I run into problems is when our bucket list turns into this formidable checklist of things we must do on our next holiday. Who wants to treat their next holiday like a mundane exercise; ticking off the activities like food from a shopping list once you have put it in the basket?
Can you relate to this in some way? Maybe I need to start at the beginning.
When people ask me about my life I tell them I’ve been travelling for five years. Immediately, their eyebrows shoot up and they look at me like this nomadic guru whose world experience must be off the chart.
“Where have you been?” they half whisper in the revered tones of someone who believes they are faced with a true master of the universe.
“Well,” I reply somewhat bashfully, “I’ve only really been to New Zealand for two years, Australia for two years and several countries in South East Asia.”
In all honesty, I’ve barely scratched the surface of travel even though I’ve been ‘away from home’ since 2011. The list of places I want to visit remains as long as my arm and shows no signs of diminishing. At the rate I’m going, it will take me the rest of my life to get around to every place I want to see.
And whilst sometimes I must admit this kind of bothers me, I am trying to adjust my point of view. After all, travel isn’t a competition, and just like other areas of my life, I shouldn’t be comparing myself to other people.
It’s a funny notion to consider that travel has a competitive edge to it. But pretty much every conversation in every hostel I’ve stayed at demonstrates this to me.
Ticking Off Travel
Let’s take a look at pretty much the standard conversation you will have every other day on your travels.
“Where have you been?” someone may ask.
“I’ve been in Bali for a few weeks,” you reply.
“How fantastic! Did you visit X, Y and Z?”
“Erm, no I didn’t.”
There is a slight uncomfortable moment when this is processed. “That’s a shame! You really missed out. So, what did you do in Bali?”
In that moment, my experience of Bali has been reduced by someone who knows nothing more about me than my name and where I come from. There is no mean feeling behind their statement and they mean no harm to me, so they cannot possibly understand the affect of their words.
As much as I seek advice and inspiration from my fellow travellers, I am uneasy when my travels are judged – although I do use that word in its lightest possible sense. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that what I have got up to in Bali differs to someone else’s adventures. After all, aren’t we all travelling new places to discover these alluring unknowns for ourselves?
Why should I visit Bali only to take in the top 10 tourist hot spots that everyone else has seen and can recommend? Where are the tiny, remote beaches and the rugged, winding roads that lead me there? Where are the small villages where the locals look at you with friendly smiles and curious eyes as you wander around with your camera?
But before you all screw up your face thinking, ‘gosh, Meg sounds like a total travel snob, a bit too far up her own arse for my liking,’ I want to jump in to quickly caveat the above statement.
Of course I visit a few of the top 10 hot spots when I explore a new destination – who doesn’t? – but what I’m trying to say is that visiting them to say you have been there often leaves you unfulfilled. I’d argue you get far more satisfaction out of doing what you want to do, rather than ticking off Trip Advisor’s ‘Most Popular.’ Whatever you end up doing, you’re going to have fun doing it when there’s less pressure from others and from yourself.
Bucket List Destinations
Let me share a recent example with you. I was recently in Bali, Indonesia. One day I hired a scooter and drove from where I was staying in Seminyak to Tanah Lot temple further up the coast.
I couldn’t tell you anything about Tanah Lot before I went there. I had seen many photos of the location on Instagram and apart from noting its location on a map of Bali, my knowledge about it was zero.
Which is why I wanted to visit, right?
Sure. I had seen these beautiful pictures on the screen of my phone and somehow convinced myself it was a bucket list place to visit whilst in Bali. I should go there.
At the entrance I dutifully paid my fee, which was more because I was a foreign tourist than if I was Balinese. I walked past the rows and rows of shops displaying their wares – brightly coloured sarongs and ‘I love Bali’ t-shirts – through to the cliff edge where Tanah Lot temple was located.
What immediately confused me was that there were two structures here. One temple was perched at the end of a thin rocky outcrop projecting into the ocean. The waves here were formidable. As the tide was in, the waves rushed up the beach and crashed against the base of the cliff with boundless force. The base of the outcrop had been worn away by centuries of relentless battering by the ocean to form an incredible arch way.
This gave the temple a somewhat perilous perch to rest upon. I couldn’t help but wonder about its permanence. The entrance to this temple was roped off from tourists, understandably, and so I admired this by afar, although it remained a mystery to me.
The second temple stood alone in the ocean a few metres off the beach. This was also impressive. It looked as if the temple had been hewn out of the rock itself as it sprouted from the top of the large boulder.
At low tide the walk across from beach to the base of the temple would be quite simple. As the tide was up when I visited, the brave few who trudged across in water up to their knees were often further sprinkled by crashing waves breaking against them. Their hoots and screams as this happened gave it a bizarre air of comedy.
Those not keen on braving the water remained on the beach side of the temple. I wandered through the throng and couldn’t help but be mesmerised. Hundreds of people jostled on the beach, along the paths that led down to the shore and lined the cliff top. Large family or tour groups channelled past me, following their leader. Kids darted around the crowd. Hawkers mingled, attempting to sell plastic toys or sarongs.
As with the first temple, I had no idea what the one on the rock was all about. Which one was Tanah Lot itself? Was Tanah Lot actually the name for the complex? I looked around for an information board but found none. Unable to access the temples – or unwilling to get wet to stand at the bottom of one – I couldn’t help but fight the sinking feeling that I was missing the point of being here.
What I did see, however, was countless people in this surging crowd taking selfies. A selfie on the cliff, a selfie on the beach, a selfie in the water and a selfie with a temple in the background. I felt that the amount of selfie taking was disproportionate to the amount of knowledge these people were gaining from the temples.
Could any of these people tell me anything about Tanah Lot? Unlikely. It seemed like all they cared about was their selfie to say they had been there.
I couldn’t help feeling dispirited. I, too, can now say I’ve been to Tanah Lot, but what did I really gain from that experience? Was it the best place for me to visit to truly absorb some history and culture of Bali?
I don’t think so.
Thoughts on Fighting Against Bucket List Travel
So when I am thinking about where to head next and what I will do there, I will try to remember these three steps:
Don’t feel pressured into doing things because if we don’t we are missing out to another traveller’s standards.
Be true to who you are. Don’t rush to tick off a hit-list because other people have said that you should.
Don’t fill your trip with other people’s recommendations
Plan your days around what will make you happy, not what other people think you should be doing in [insert destination].
You can’t always see and do everything and that’s okay.
Set aside time every single day to do absolutely nothing. Embrace and absorb. I much prefer to savour my experiences than jam a checklist into a short amount of time.
If your interest has been piqued, take a look at what I’ve got to say on:
- The Art Of Slow Travel
- Can You Have A Lifestyle Instead Of A Career?
- Anticipation vs The Act Of Travel
- Connecting With Community As You Travel
Over to you! What are your thoughts on bucket list travel? Am I balmy for feeling slightly awkward at ticking off travel simply to say you’ve been there? Have you ever been let down by a tourist destination that you felt you had to visit? I’d love to hear from you!
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