The Bucket List Phenomenon
This past weekend I visited Mexico City for the first time. The city had long been on my “Must Visit” list because of the culture and most importantly the ruins of Teotihuacan. Ever since I climbed my first Mayan pyramid in Guatemala, I have been in love with ancient cultures and civilizations.
Over the past decade I have checked off hundreds of places from my list. There were of course iconic sights like the Eiffel Tower and the Great Wall of China and there were heartbreaking places like the Killing Fields of Cambodia, Auschwitz and Anne Frank’s House. The items on my list were/are varied, but they all have one thing in common. They drive me to travel.
As we climbed and explored the pyramids of Teotihuacan this weekend, I had a conversation with one of my friends about Bucket Lists. To start, I hate the term. For those who don’t know, a bucket list a list of places you want to see before you die. The term is so culturally relevant now that Hollywood made a movie about it a few years ago.
In that movie, Jack Nicholson’s character is a sick rich lonely billionaire who sets off with a middle class family man (played by Morgan Freeman) to see all of the world’s wonders before he dies of cancer. I have no problem with the movie per se, but the plot is unfortunately indicative of our society. Work hard now, see everything later.
While I know the average reader of this site does travel a lot, the truth is that many people wait too long. They wait because they have school and then work and then a family. That mentality has become the American way and it is terrible. The “Bucket List” is terrible. That permission to wait, is more dangerous than you know.
Over the past 8 years I have traveled to over 75 countries. While I constantly strive to visit and explore new places, some of my favorite travel experiences have come from returning to those areas I fell in love with. Every time I go back, things are different in countless ways. Why should I only visit Paris and the Eiffel Tower once?
For me, a great example of this phenomenon is New York City. The first time I visited, my experience was vastly different than my four subsequent visits. In fact, all of my visits have been different in many ways. Why? Well the obvious reason is because I gained familiarity with city and thus felt more comfortable, but the reality is that is only part of it. I have grown and changed as a person in between every visit. I am seeing the same sights with a different perspective and a different set of eyes.
Why would I only want to experience the world for the first time when I am old and dying? Why would I want to see the Eiffel Tower for the first time as a 70 year old? I want to see it again as a 70 year old and compare that experience to how it felt as a 27 year old, a 40 year old and a 55 year old. I want to see how those experiences changed and molded me.
The world is a complicated place and not everyone has the means or ability to travel. I grew up very poor and have been blessed to find my way within the world. I recognize it isn’t so easy for everyone. This post isn’t designed to shame anyone or make those who don’t travel feel bad, but instead to inspire. There simply is no better feeling than being in a place you have long dreamed of. That feeling almost always brings a tear to my eye.
Of course there is yet another reason to travel. Any traveler will tell you that the more you travel, the bigger the world becomes. In other words, your list isn’t long enough. It will continue to grow with all of the amazing places you see and hear about. When my family and I set off on our original 18 month journey in 2007, there were probably 20 main things I wanted to see. Now I have seen most of those things plus hundreds more and the list is longer than ever. Honestly, I can’t afford to wait until I’m old. The world is simply too big and amazing.
This past weekend as I stood atop the Sun Pyramid in Teotihuacan, I did what I have learned to do through my travels. I stood there and allowed myself to feel gratitude and joy in the moment. One day in the past I had learned of this place and envisioned myself visiting. Just like with the Acropolis in Athens or the Colosseum in Rome, that dream had become a reality. What an incredibly joyous and empowering feeling.
The truth is I don’t care what you call your list. Just don’t give yourself permission to wait too long to see everything on it. Go out and explore. See and do what you can when you can. Life is too short and most of us won’t know our expiration date before it comes. In other words, we don’t know when we are going to kick the bucket, so why pretend we have the time?