At 29 Years Old, I’m Halfway Through My Third ‘Bucket List’
This year, I’ll be celebrating the big 3–0. 30. Three whole decades. Holy moly, I’ve been both looking forward to and dreading this milestone for a long time.
Like many of us, I’ve been in a reflective mood for this past year. A global pandemic and several lockdowns will do that to you. For the first time in a decade, I’ve lost the freedom to head to the airport, and go wherever the hell I want, whenever I want. Okay, sometimes I need to spend a few weeks/months applying for a visa first, and my bank balance may not always be so accommodating, but you see my point. So, naturally, I’ve been reminiscing a lot about past travels, as well as daydreaming about all the places I’ll go, post-Covid.
As a lover of lists, I’ve always enjoyed keeping my life goals in sight using a ‘bucket life’. But I’ve noticed over the years, while many people have a ‘bucket list’, few ever complete them.
I wrote my first ‘bucket list’ at the grand old age of ten. I still have it, in fact, filed away in one of the keepsake boxes of my childhood. Those that survived the purge of 2014, anyway, when I realised that I wasn’t all that attached to the countless cinema ticket stubs, brochures, leaves and conkers that I’d accumulated, after all.
To say that my first bucket list was ambitious is, to put it mildly. A few examples of my goals include some of the classics: ‘Visit the Pyramids of Giza’; ‘Sail around the World’; ‘Learn fluent French’. I aimed to visit every country in the world by 30, live in a dozen countries by 25 (two per year, for six months each), and become a millionaire by 21. These, at the times, seemed like realistic achievements. I’m pretty sure ‘marry Johnny Depp’ featured somewhere on the list, too. Sure, babe, keep dreaming.
To date, have completed zero — yes, zero of the things that 10-year-old me had hoped to. Correction. I’ve completed one goal; I’ve visited Disneyland Paris. Twice.
I’ve since learnt a lot about how to write an achievable bucket list, and I went on to write my second attempt at a bucket list at 16. By 22, I’d achieved all 30 goals, including Interrailing across Europe, hitchhiking across Europe and living for free in one of the worlds most famous bookshops. I wrote my next bucket list almost immediately, and again, at 27, I’d ticked off another 40 life goals. I now have a third bucket list of 40 goals, and, to date, I’ve achieved almost half.
Remember Life’s Small Pleasures
Life’s memorable moments aren’t only about the big things. I’ve visited the Taj Mahal, and yet when I look back on that trip, I as fondly remember the friendships formed while dozens of us queued outside of one of the world’s most famous landmarks, as I do the time spent in awe, admiring the astounding architecture. I’m as proud to have completed an online, weekend-long TEFL course as I am to have graduated from University. I’m as excited to find a tiny bell pepper hidden inside another bell pepper, as when I succeed in following a complex recipe.
Unless you’re a character from a Hollywood blockbuster, life isn’t going to be a big adventure every day. I’ve spent a decade travelling, and I can assure you, there have been countless days spent trudging through life’s admin, working shitty jobs and simply doing… nothing.
We need to forget the myth that life needs to be a big adventure. Or rather, that every day needs to be a big adventure. I’m not saying that life is literally either a big adventure or nothing at all. But I am saying that to live life to the fullest, it’s important to notice the little things, as well as the big.
Take a few goals from my latest bucket list:
❀ Leave the first footprint in fresh snow
❀ Lie on the beach, eyes closed, and listen to the ocean
❀ Go for a walk in a nature reserve
Depending on the climate in which you live, these goals are much easier to achieve than, say, climbing Everest or sailing around the world. Make a point of enjoying the little things, as much as the big things, or else those days between big adventures will be a waste.
Write a List for Your Current Lifestyle
This was one of my first realisations when it came to the fine art of the curated bucket list (ahem). My life was very different, at 10 or 16, when I wrote my first two bucket lists, compared to when I was 25, and now, at 29. I’ve never been wealthy, but I’m more so now, compared to when I was a teenager. I have greater freedom, having left home. I can decide to move abroad as I wish, to travel, as I wish, without having to check with Mum and Dad.
And so, my bucket lists have evolved with my lifestyle. I can afford to spend more on travel, if not immediately, than after taking some time to accumulate some savings. Additionally, I’m a lot more conscious of the environment, and sustainability compared to when I was 18. At the time, my main concern was how many countries I could visit in a single summer between semesters, for as little money as possible. My main mode of transport was by plane, using budget airlines to catch flights all over Europe for less than £20. These days, I take fewer flights, despite loving to fly, opting instead to travel slower, by train, coach or car. I prefer to spend more time in each location, staying at least a few weeks, if not months, or even a year, before I move on.
In 2009, I visited twelve countries within a single four-month summer. In 2019, I split my time between France and Italy. I travelled a lot, but I wanted to see the sights of my two favourite countries. So, I visited Bordeaux and the Loire valley, Florence and Tuscan vineyards, Mont St. Michel, the Cinque Terre, Nice and Naples, Pompeii and the cave paintings of Lascaux.
It’s pointless to write a bucket list full of worldwide travel destinations if you know that you will be spending the next year, or five years, or ten years living in one place, limited due to time, or money, or commitments to travel beyond the continent, or even the country in which you live, for example. This may be an unpopular statement in this ‘anything is possible’ world, but it’s important to be realistic in your ambitions. If you want to change your life, great, go for it, but if you’re happy with your life as it is, then there’s no point in your bucket list including goals that you have no intention of achieving.
Write a Thematic Bucket List
As mentioned above, I spent 2019 in France and Italy. I created a Pinterest board of places in the two countries that I wanted to visit, local dishes I wanted to try and events I wanted to attend. This was a ‘mini bucket list’ of sorts, a stop-gap between completing one list and beginning another.
Bucket lists are about enjoying life, but of course, we can’t ever know what direction life will take us in, or what our whims and wishes will be with each passing year. So don’t be afraid to take a diversion, make a whole new bucket list, or press pause on the one that you’ve been working on, because right now, you’ve fallen in love with a place, or a new career, or a person, and you want to follow another dream for a while.
Bucket Lists with a theme, such as ‘things to do in France’ or ‘Art Mediums to explore while at Art School’, for example, are amongst the most achievable. They can also break down a larger goal. I could have added ‘visit all the big sites of France/Italy’ to my existing bucket list, but that is an endless goal. And the key to completing a bucket list is to avoid endless goals.
Write Decade-Long Lists, Rather than a Life-Long List
Don’t plan for the next 50 years of your life. Instead, plan for the next five or ten years. As a society, we’re becoming ever more impatient. While there are some things achievable only with time and effort, such as graduating from University, to complete a bucket list, consider breaking down our goals into bite-sized chunks. Seeing a growing number of ticks next to a list of achievements is such a motivational sight to hang above your desk, I can assure you.
When you do complete a bucket list, you’ll be more likely to start another, and to go on to complete that one, etc, without feeling overwhelmed, or looking at your list and thinking ‘these are pipe dreams, they’ll never happen’. Trust me on this one.
Look to Local Landmarks
Few of us ever indulge in being a tourist in our own hometown. It’s easier to play the tourist if you’ve grown up in a big city such as London or Paris, or a popular beach resort, or another area with a booming tourist industry. But if you’re from a small, insignificant town, what is there to see, right?
I grew up in a small town in the middle of nowhere, and while my family have always moved a lot, every town seemed to be as grey and lifeless as the last.
Even so, when writing my first (successful) bucket list at 16, I knew that I was going to have to look closer to home. I couldn’t drive, we didn’t have much money, and I was still in full-time education.
That said, I’m from a family of culture vultures, and every Christmas, without fail, my parents would renew our family memberships for the National Trust and English Heritage. For those unaware, both organisations maintain historical sites, opening them for the public. Everything from castles, palaces and grand country houses, military sights and battlefields, Roman bathhouses, Medieval abbeys, churches and priories, to ancient ruins.
And so, that first bucket list consisted of a lot of local historical sites. I was the kind of teenager who read too many Austen and Brontë novels, and so naïvely believed that I would have been happier in a bygone era, after all. If my family were unable or unwilling to join me, I’d take the bus or train, or walk for miles across rugged fields to find a remote ruined castle, or abbey, in the middle of nowhere.
Consider the Steps Between Beginner and Expertise
Break down your goals. As I mentioned, the bucket list written by my 10-year-old self included the ambitious, life-long goal to ‘learn fluent French’. But what is fluency? After years of studying languages, I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t exist. English is my mother tongue, and yet there are still many topics of conversation that I couldn’t begin to navigate, and many words in the Oxford Dictionary that I’ve never heard of, let alone can use with confidence in a sentence. There are still grammar rules that I’m uncertain of, and I can never remember the difference between the word ‘assume’ and ‘presume’ without looking it up.
So, to aim for fluency in any language is an endless, impossible goal. There will always be room for improvement, in any language. The same applies to goals such as ‘be successful’, ‘be rich’, or ‘see the world’. No matter how much you achieve, there is also another goalpost to reach.
Acknowledge these goalposts. Rather than aiming to ‘get rich’, set income targets. Rather than aiming to ‘be successful’, define what success is for you. Do you want to be the boss of your own company? Get married? Have a baby? Become a world-renowned expert in your field? Rather than aiming to learn a language, look at how language courses break down their curriculum according to beginner, intermediate and expert levels.
If you’re planning on taking a course, include each module or semester as a separate goal. If, however, you plan to self-study, take some time to establish where your goalposts lie. If you’re using a CD-Audio course to learn Spanish, note down each CD as a separate goal, checking it off once you’ve completed that segment. If you’re planning to self-study, but you intend on taking a certified exam as you advance through the academic levels of a language (e.g. A1, A2, B1, B2, etc.), make it a goal to ‘pass the A1 test’, for example. If your reasons for learning a language are in line with a change in your life, such as in preparation for a trip abroad, or a big move for a new job, consider goals such as ‘speak Italian for a week while in Rome’, or ‘hold a conversation with my boyfriend’s parents in German’.
Any big goal, including learning a language, can be daunting, and so breaking it down can make it appear less so.
It’s Not Always About Things You’ve Never Done Before
Returning to the examples of smaller goals listed on my latest bucket list (written at age 27):
❀ Leave the first footprint in fresh snow
❀ Lie on the beach, eyes closed, and listen to the ocean
❀ Go for a walk in a nature reserve
I’ve lived in many places, in a range of climates, from rainy old England to sunny Barcelona, to Paris through 2018’s ‘Beast from the East’ winter. Do you think I’ve lived for 27 years without having ever left the first footprint in the snow, or listened to the ocean, or walked through a nature reserve? Of course, I have. Sometimes things in life are so enjoyable, that I want to do them again. Simple.
Don’t think that because you’ve done something in life, that it can’t feature on your bucket list. Hell, go ahead and write down something that you’ve already done, only to check it off immediately, if it makes your bucket list look less daunting.
It’s Not All About Travel
Bucket list goals can fall into a range of categories. There are the classic travel goals, of course, but a full life also includes our careers, love lives, friendships, families, the places we call home, our skills, studies, credentials. I could go on.
Keep your bucket visit as varied as possible. Right now, few of us are able to travel, and so instead, focus your attention on moving your personal life forward, sign up for a new course, try and cook every recipe in your favourite cookbook, or work on your mental and physical health.
Continue this mindset beyond lockdown. These things are as important and deserving of a spot on your bucket list. Don’t neglect one part of life, or fail to celebrate it, because your energy is too focused on other goals.
When writing your bucket list, get creative, and write down whatever you want, no matter how big or small, or what ‘category’ it falls into.
Leave a Few Blank Spaces
Life changes. Goals change, dreams change. The universe throws a spanner in the works.
Then there are the things you don’t know that you want to achieve right now, the places in the world that you’ve never heard of, the organisations that are yet to exist that, in time, will offer amazing opportunities.
While my bucket lists consider no more than a decade of my life at a time, I always leave a few blank spaces at the bottom of each list, to add those new goals. In my case, often those new goals are places that I hear about while travelling; someone I’ve befriended in my hotel will tell me about an amazing village they stumbled across, or of a course that they took to learn to skydive, or that they’ve recently eaten out at what must be the best vegetarian restaurant in the world.
Be flexible, and thus, free.
Look at Your List Regularly
What use is there in compiling a bucket list if it’s going to lie buried in the depths of your Dropbox for all eternity? Or in an old journal that’s been gathering dust in your Mum’s attic since you still lived at home? How can you work on it, if you can’t see it?
Instead, place it somewhere prominent. Above your desk, on your fridge, or in your phone (but somewhere where you’ll actually look at it). Placing it somewhere visible keeps your goals at the forefront of your mind. The number of times I’ve been tempted to treat myself to a new dress, or to splurge on yet another book haul, only to see my bucket list and decide to save that money for my next adventure. I’m not saying that I have the willpower to resist Zara’s siren call every time, but I definitely splurge less often than I otherwise would.
In short, make progress possible. Don’t jump straight in with 100 big goals, each requiring years of preparation, commitment and money to achieve, or it’ll never happen.
Be kind to yourself, and live your best life.