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What’s your idea of a bucket list trip of a lifetime? Is there one location you’ve always wanted to visit or a particular activity that remains top of your ‘must-do’ list? For me, it’s got to be the chance to follow the trail taken by Che Guervara on his famous motorcycle tour of South America. The descriptions of the locations he visited and the people he met in his classic traveler’s tale The Motorcycle Diaries stirred my imagination to such an extent that I want to go and have the same experience myself.

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And one of the great things about traveling today is that I know at some time in the not too distant future I will have every chance of fulfilling my ambition. Whereas even just a few years ago great swathes of the planet were out of bounds to all but the most adventurous of travelers, today tickets to even the most exotic of locations are often just a click away on an internet travel site.

“I’ve always wanted to visit Machu Picchu for my bucket list but somehow in the past, it’s always come across as a little too exotic and inaccessible. Now though it seems eminently reachable with loads of companies offering all-inclusive tours. And with regulations in place to restrict the number of visitors allowed on the trail each day, the place is protected from becoming overrun and losing its mystique.”

Bucket List Fantasy

The very nature of traveling has been challenged in recent years, allowing the notion of the bucket list trip of a lifetime to be opened up to a wider definition. It wasn’t too long ago when the very idea of going on safari in Africa or walkabout in Australia was a bucket list fantasy out of reach for many of us. With just four weeks of holiday a year and the high price of air travel, we were often limited to perhaps a couple of weeks in Spain or a short visit to Florida. Well not anymore. Often inspired by TV travel programs or books by travelers with whom we can directly identify, as well as the growth in high-quality but often reasonably-priced travel companies, suddenly traveler-wannabes like 43-year-old Sian Payne are grabbing the opportunity to do something they had always wanted to do on their bucket list; see the world.

“I handed in my notice at the office. With just over a month to spare before starting my new position, my husband, Stan and I decided this was the golden opportunity we had been waiting for to take the bucket list trip of a lifetime to California. We decided to travel independently and arranged a trip that was tailored to when we wanted to go, how long we wanted to stay, and more importantly allowed us to visit exactly the places we’d always dreamt of seeing.

“We sat down and together decided on the destinations: Los Angeles – to visit my first cousin, who I hadn’t seen for years; Las Vegas – because of its proximity to the Grand Canyon; San Francisco – for the trolley cars and Alcatraz. Stan is studying for a Ph.D. in astronomy, so a trip to the observatories at Mauna Kea on Hawaii‘s Big Island just had to be included, as did a hop across to Oahu to visit Pearl Harbour and Honolulu.

“I spent about a week on the internet researching flights, hotels, transfers, and an assortment of tours for the various destinations. The following week we were off on our epic bucket list adventure.”

Traveling the World

Of course, a trip of a lifetime can cover a wide range of travel experiences, from a month-long career break such as Sian’s to a couple of weeks in one specific place such as Cliff is planning, to a year off traveling the world. And best of all, it really is an option that’s open to an increasingly diverse cross-section of people who want more from their leisure time than a coach tour around the Algarve, as CTS Horizons‘ marketing manager Rachel Russell explains.

“Like the rest of the industry, we are seeing a shift in bucket list traveling habits in line with changing demographics. The original backpackers and adventurous travelers of the 60s and 70s have grown up but still want imaginative bucket list itineraries, the time built into schedules to truly savor a destination rather than just tick it off a list. They also want the reassurance that the knowledge is there which only comes from working with specialist operators who truly know and understand the territories they serve.

“As we had seen with all of our itineraries, including trips to Latin America and China that have become extremely popular bucket list destinations with travelers looking to experience the trip of a lifetime, clients want to see all of the main sights combined with a twist or hidden extras. So this might include Machu Picchu at sunrise or the chance to take a solitary walk along the Great Wall of China.

“We’ve also been noticing new trends in this type of bucket list travel, such as the arrival of gap-year travel from those choosing to take a career break. This type of traveler seems more able to embrace new destinations and experiences with a sense of bucket list adventure and spirit that has little to do with the age on a passport.”

Bucket list Icons

This view of the more considered bucket list traveler is one shared by Daniel Pawlyn, the marketing manager with Intrepid Travel.

“We are finding that more and more people are interested in discovering the real place when they travel these days. On their bucket list, they want to see icons such as Angkor Wat or Machu Picchu but equally as important, they want to meet the people, experience the culture, and travel as the locals do. In fact, something we’d call real travel!

“The demographics have shifted too with families wanting to show their kids the real world when they travel and age is no longer a boundary to adventure, as an 82-year-old on our recent Vietnam Comfort trip testified.

Honeymoon Bucket list

Honeymooners seeking something different are certainly on the increase. OK, they want to relax on a beach for some of the time, but why not choose to strengthen marital bonds by climbing Mt Kinabalu and cooing over baby Orangutans in Borneo first?”

Typical of those newlyweds intent on making the very most of the opportunity a honeymoon allows to take the bucket list trip of a lifetime is Sue Congdon and her husband Andy.

“We’ve been planning our bucket list trip of a lifetime, a one month tour across Canada, for a number of years now, and our honeymoon gave us the chance to finally turn the dream into a reality. We’d always wanted more from this special event than a week on a beach and Canada seemed ideal. As a big fan of the rock band Rush, I’d had a lifelong desire to visit their home city of Toronto, while Andy was also keen to go to Vancouver. So we’ve combined both with a spectacular train journey from the east coast to the west, taking in the expansive countryside that I’d always loved in guidebooks and TV travel programs, and which I’d always wanted to see for real.”

Bucket List Trip of a Lifetime

So what distinguishes a bucket list trip of a lifetime from any other traveling experience? Well, the great thing today is that the answer is very little. Our traveling ambitions can be catered for in such comprehensive ways now that we can pretty much create and fulfill our traveling ambitions with a routine and regularity that was previously unobtainable.

Take Steve James, a regular Real Travel contributor and world traveler for whom it is a passion to visit and revisit countries that hold particular and quite varied appeal. New Zealand, Patagonia, and Southern Africa have all been recent travel destinations, each with their own unique appeal, so once he has achieved one traveling ambition, he can’t wait to find the next bucket list adventure. He contacted us from his latest trip – six months touring India and China.

“I’d first been to New Zealand 35 years ago and always thought of it as one country in the world where I could settle down and make a home.

Since that time it had always been an ambition to return there and see how it had changed, and I was so pleased that after a four-week self-drive tour around both islands just over a year ago, I found the country as magical and the people as friendly as ever.”

“As for Patagonia, that was the one area in the world that I had most wanted to visit, firstly because I didn’t actually know where it was, and secondly because I had heard that there was a Welsh contingency somewhere in the mountains that still spoke Welsh, baked welsh cakes and worked as Shepherds.”

“When it came to Southern Africa, it was like realizing a childhood bucket list dream. Since I can remember I had wanted to tour the area in search of wild animals and when I finally achieved it, I wasn’t disappointed. Now I can’t wait to return, even though there aren’t many animals left to see that I didn’t see on my 11-week overland tour last year.”

Trans-Siberian Railway Bucket List

Of course, as Steve’s adventures show, once you’ve fulfilled a traveling dream, there’s no reason to pack your suitcase away on the roof, buy a rocking chair and spend your free time studying butterflies. In fact, many find when they travel that their eyes are opened further to the notion that the world is a fantastic place full of new and ever-evolving challenges and destinations to explore. Rather than diminishing, the list of places to see simply gets longer. This is certainly the case with Tony Wheeler, co-founder of the Lonely Planet guidebooks and a man who is constantly searching for new traveling ambitions.

“I’ve always got a ‘must-do’ bucket list going and periodically I manage to put a tick beside some of those ‘why on earth haven’t I been there?’ possibilities. In the last 12 months, this has included getting to Timbuktu (with a name like that you simply have to get there) and, in the last few weeks, making a long-overdue return trip to Afghanistan. One trip, however, has been on my ‘trip of a lifetime’ bucket list for 15 years and every year I ponder why I haven’t found a spare month to finally make that multi-time-zoned trip along the Trans-Siberian Railway. It’s the Big Red Train Trip, covers the whole spread of Asia from east to west or west to east and sounds irresistible.”

volunteer bucket list travel

In recent years taking the trip of a lifetime has been as much to do with the activities you get up to as the location they exist in. Swimming with dolphins features highly on the bucket list of many travelers must-do lists, as does driving a campervan around New Zealand, taking a Harley Davidson down Route 66 in America, or working with animals in Africa or South America. Typical of the last of these options is the travel opportunities offered around the world by the environmental charity Earthwatch.

“Over the last few years there has been a huge increase in volunteer travel, with more and more people looking to do something both exciting and worthwhile with their time in order to make that special trip even more special,” explained Hannah Rooley, Earthwatch’s Expedition Recruitment Programme Manager. “There is a move towards a more altruistic style of travel, with people choosing less traditional destinations and using their holiday time to ‘give something back’. Not only has there been an increase in the number of people choosing volunteer travel with Earthwatch, but having discovered these kinds of opportunities, more and more people keep coming back.”

As such activity-based experiences become more popular, Philip Genochio, Director of European Sales & Marketing for G.A.P Adventures, has seen a massive increase in the uptake of his company’s adventure tours of Antarctica.

“I think an Antarctica expedition really is most people’s idea of a trip of a lifetime, and there’s a huge variety of people taking these adventures. These range from people in their 80s looking to do one last great trip to backpackers who perhaps have been traveling around South America and will do the Antarctica expedition as a fitting finale before going home to a nine-to-five job.

temple Angkor Wat Cambodia

“I was on one of our Antarctica expeditions last year and we had two couples in their 30s, both taking a career break to travel around South America and who wanted to include an expedition to Antarctica to make an already great trip that extra bit special. In addition, there were people on board doing the trip as an anniversary present to themselves or as a result of taking early retirement.

“Aside from Antarctica, I’ve also seen a much greater uptake from wildlife enthusiasts for our trips to the Galapagos, with the islands continuing to be one of our most popular destinations. We find that people are fulfilling their trips of a lifetime with us, and then returning a year or so later to do another – such as the Inca Trail, a Gorilla Trek in Rwanda, or the chance to see the flamingos at Lake Nakuru in Kenya.”

Completing your Bucket List Trip of a lifetime

So what do you do once you’ve completed your bucket list trip of a lifetime? As I mentioned, the best idea is to come up with another, and another, and another. After all, the effect of achieving a lifetime ambition can have on you is awesome – just ask 27-year-old traveler Amy Clarke.

“My bucket list trip of a lifetime was an overland journey through India and Asia that re-awoke all my childhood wonderment – my senses were stirred, my ego silenced and my mind simply was blown away! You stumble across things you simply never imagined and the journeys themselves are an absolute adventure. Every day was an exciting new existence and always a wonderful surprise…”

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