Ditch the Bucket List

Bucket lists are fun because they let you dream about places you may not have the means or time to visit. You see photos on social media of beautiful, scantily clad people frolicking on the beach in Bali, or rugged-looking outdoor-types trekking through the Himalayas, and you tell yourself that one day you’ll get there. “Add it to the bucket list” is a phrase I’ve used often, as I’m sure you have, when imagining travel destinations and, at least for me, that list never stayed the same for very long.

You don’t need a bucket list. Sure, they’re fun, but if you plan your travel life around them, you’re never going to see the world. If there’s one common factor to bucket list destinations, whether it’s Svalbard, Singapore or the Seychelles, it’s that they’re expensive, and you’re unlikely to be able to go on a whim. Even if you’re magically granted a week of vacation time that you weren’t expecting, these destinations require months of planning and logistics, from monitoring airfare and hotel prices, to applying for travel visas, to getting vaccinations. It’s why we refer to them as ‘bucket list destinations’ in the first place – it’s unlikely that you’re going to get up and go to one of them at a moment’s notice.

But that’s no way to travel. Everything about this little project of mine revolves around the idea that traveling doesn’t have to eat chunks out of your work schedule or paycheck. There’s an almost limitless number of ‘non-bucket list’ destinations on our little planet, and those are the places you should be visiting.

Now, granted, the whole concept of the bucket list is subjective. For me, New York is my hometown, and a place I visit half a dozen times a year. For somebody living in rural North Dakota, though, that same city might be the ultimate travel goal, and I’m not going to belittle that for a second. What I’m telling you is that there are hidden gems everywhere, and ignoring them because of the ivory-tower bucket list destinations isn’t smart.

A few months ago I had the realization that I’d never set foot in Atlanta, though I’ve spent countless hours on layover at its airport. When I mentioned this to my friends and family, and that I was going to go visit, they all seemed perplexed. Why would I go to Atlanta? It isn’t a glamorous destination by any stretch. It’s a corporate city for people going to conferences and conventions, and the commercial center of the Southeast. I don’t blame any of them. Atlanta doesn’t exactly inspire awe or excitement. It doesn’t have the same clout as a Chicago or a San Francisco, doesn’t have any particularly well known tourist sites and is probably most famous for its heat and its traffic.

Little Five Points is not the type of boho neighborhood I was expecting from the corporate capital of the South

You know what, though? I had an epic 30 hours in Atlanta. I ate and drank better there than just about anywhere else I’ve been recently. The people were incredibly friendly, the neighborhoods I wandered had personality, and, you know what else? The traffic wasn’t that bad! Look, my point is that I have a good time pretty much everywhere I go. Partly, it’s the novelty of new surroundings, but partly it’s just the thrill of being away from home for a little while. Atlanta has never been a bucket list destination for me. But the second I ditched the bucket list concept, I opened myself up to places I’d never considered, and you’d be amazed at how many new options emerged.

Travel is only expensive because we’ve placed it on a pedestal. When we plan weeks-long vacations, they have to be perfect, because we’re taking time out of our work lives and spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on them. When any of us sets out to do something perfectly, we’re going to be inevitably disappointed, because perfect doesn’t exist. So my suggestion, and the reason I’ve set out to write the Micro Traveler, is to consider the Atlantas of the world, not as a replacement for the Balis, but as an easily-attained spot for a couple of days of exploration.

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