How to Make a Travel Bucket List: A Step-by-Step Guide

Creating a travel bucket list can be a really fun process. Making a list of the destinations you dream of exploring and experiences you want to enjoy is a wonderful exercise. There’s something to be said for writing down by hand the things you want to do that makes them more achievable. If you don’t know where to start, here’s my guide on how to make a travel bucket list.

Key takeaways

  • Writing down your travel dreams can help turn them into achievable goals.
  • Your bucket list should be personal and reflect your unique desires and interests, not just popular trends.
  • Prioritize destinations and experiences based on factors like personal significance, time sensitivity, and financial impact.
  • Create a budget plan and timeline for your travels to make your bucket list financially feasible and organized.
  • Regularly track and update your progress, adapting your list as life changes and celebrating milestones along the way.
snow-capped mountain in Washington State with evergreen trees in the foreground

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Getting started with your travel bucket list

Understanding the concept

I’m one of those people who get a great deal of pleasure from creating lists and checking off each item from the list. Creating a travel bucket list acts as a motivational guide. It helps you choose and rank destinations and plan trips that truly reflect your travel style and goals.

Creating a bucket list is powerful, similar to journaling. Writing your thoughts on paper can reveal desires and goals you hadn’t realized you had. Similarly, when creating your travel bucket list, it’s not just about where you travel, but also about the experiences you have there.

Setting your travel goals

When you set your travel goals, you’re giving yourself a direction. Start by writing down destinations that spark your inspiration—think about a mix of immediate trips and those that might be more of a stretch financially. For example, you might want to take an around-the-world cruise, which will likely require significantly more advanced planning than a few days in an accessible destination like New York City.

Incorporating personal dreams and desires

Your bucket list should resonate with your personal dreams and desires. Whether it’s witnessing the Northern Lights, seeing Japan’s beautiful cherry blossoms, or tasting a dish made by a renowned chef, make it personal. Let your imagination turn your list into dreams you are excited to chase.

mockup image of a free printable travel planner

Planning your travel

Identifying bucket list destinations

Begin by cataloging all the places you’ve dreamed of visiting. The sky’s the limit here. Don’t think about it too much, just write.

After listing all your dream destinations, sort them by country, activity, or another specific category you prefer. You could even create a sortable table:

CountryActivityNotes
ItalyMuseums & foodLate spring
JapanCherry Blossom FestivalEarly spring
GermanyChristmas MarketsDecember
Your travel bucket list might include your desire to sip a cappuccino in Florence, Italy. Photo: Plan, Ready, Go.

Prioritizing destinations and experiences

Once you’ve created your list, it’s time to prioritize. Start by marking each destination as high, medium, or low priority, considering factors such as your travel goals, personal significance, time sensitivity, or budget impact. For example:

  • High Priority: Witnessing the Northern Lights in Iceland—increasing tourism means I may not want to wait much longer.
  • Medium Priority: Polar plunge in Antarctica—significant financial investment.
  • Low Priority: Lounging on the beaches of Hawaii—a classic vacation that can wait.

Budgeting for your bucket list

Create a travel budget plan to make your travel dreams financially possible. We usually save for two major trips at once and consider adding a few short weekend getaways during the year.

Divide your list of trips into ‘splurge’ or ‘budget-friendly’ categories to help you plan your savings. Then research average costs for each trip in each list and brainstorm ways to save, like:

  • Splurge: A two-week safari in Tanzania. Ways to save: Setting aside tax refunds for the next several years.
  • Budget-friendly: Road trip through Utah national parks. Ways to save: Redeem travel rewards credit card points for hotel stays.

Other ways to approach your bucket list

Sorting by type of experience

Your bucket list should reflect your true interest in activities or places, not just what is popular on Instagram. Whether it’s hiking, enjoying a quiet beach resort, or exploring national parks, decide what excites you the most. And be honest. You’re traveling for you, not others.

You could compile lists like:

  • Outdoor Adventures: hiking trails, national parks, wildlife safaris.
  • Cultural Hotspots: museums, historic sites, festivals.
  • Culinary Experiences: Michelin-star restaurants, street markets, cooking classes.
  • Relaxation Retreats: beaches and spas
Woman wearing a hiking backpack climbing a log ladder in Badlands National park
You might use your bucket list to challenge yourself to try experiences that make you apprehensive like doing the Notch Trail hike at Badlands National Park. Photo: David Vierow

Think about season and climate

Think about the season or type of weather you enjoy most when traveling. Certain destinations are best visited at particular times of the year. Research typical weather to match up your destinations with the best time to travel. For example:

  • Sandy beaches: find the sunny, dry months for the best beach weather.
  • Mountains: up north, deep into summer will mean the best travel weather and road conditions
  • Southeast U.S.: avoid the hottest months of July and August. Keep an eye on weather predictions to avoid hurricane-related storms.
  • Northwest U.S.: summer comes late to the Pacific Northwest and late winter is the rainy season.
Seattle skyline with Space Needle and Mount Rainier
Consider visiting Seattle in July, August, or September for dry, warm weather.

Creating a timeline for your travels

Establishing a timeline is key to making your dreams a reality. Start by estimating the ideal length of stay for each destination, then map out a trip itinerary, even just a preliminary one. Think about this:

  1. Short-term Goals: places you can visit within the next year.
  2. Mid-term Goals: experiences planned for the next 2-5 years.
  3. Long-term Dreams: ambitious trips that may require more time and planning.

A solid timeline will help you focus on making each trip happen. Revisit your list from time to time, as your interests, budget, and free time can change.

Tracking and updating your progress

As you work your way through your travel bucket list, keeping a record of your adventures and periodically revising your goals is a great idea. Keeping track of where you’ve been and what’s next helps in planning and brings a sense of accomplishment.

Reviewing and adapting the list

Periodically take time to review your list. Life changes, and so might your travel dreams, finances, available time to travel, or opportunities.

To organize your list, create a simple table with columns for the destination, the reason for choosing it, and a tentative travel date or even just the year. I love using Notion for personal lists and notes like this. It’s easy to make changes, move things around, etc. Digital lists are easier to change than those written with pen and paper.

Celebrating milestones

When you check a destination off your bucket list, celebrate it. Here are a few ways to make this fun.

  • A fun and interactive way to track your progress is through a scratch-off map; scratching off a country or state as you visit adds a visual reward to your accomplishments. You can find some great options on Amazon.
  • You might also want to write about your experiences or include photos in a travel journal.
  • Share your travel photos on social media, but not while traveling, to avoid showing off that your house is empty.

Tracking your travels is not about simply checking items off a list. Writing down or visually recording your travels will motivate you to explore and learn more. That’s really what it’s all about.

Inspirational resources and tools

Social media for inspiration

Social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter offer a lot of travel inspiration. Follow accounts and hashtags related to travel and culture to discover new destinations and ideas.

Find Facebook groups about travel to ask your questions about specific destinations and help other travelers heading to the places you’ve been.

Follow me on Facebook here.

Follow me on Twitter here.

Travel blogs and Pinterest

Travel blogs are a great resource for getting detailed help with your potential bucket list destinations. I love gathering insights and tips from many different blogs as I research my trips.

On Pinterest, you can create boards for different categories of activities or destinations, pinning images and helpful articles from the travel bloggers that resonate with you the most.

You can follow me on Pinterest here.

Bucket list templates and journals

A bucket list template can help bring order or a little beauty to your travel wish list. Templates often come in fillable PDFs or as printable files, which you can find for free online or on Etsy. 

A printable travel journal or digital travel planner makes a great travel companion where you can keep your itinerary, reflect on your goals, and record your adventures as you check each one off your list.

Final thoughts on building a travel bucket list

Creating your travel bucket list is a fun way to turn your wanderlust into real trips. Think of it as a living guide of experiences, not just a bunch of checkboxes. Keep tweaking it as you discover new places that spark your interest and set some rough timelines and savings goals to make those dreams happen.

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