How to Build Your Experiential Bucket List

What if I told you you could go anywhere in the world, all expenses paid, and you’re leaving tomorrow. Where would you choose and what would you like to experience? 

For me, without hesitation, fly me off to Rwanda to see the mountain gorillas. This has been on my bucket list for many years (basically since I learned this was a real thing people do). For a long time it was one of those “yeah, maybe someday” type of bucket list items, but now, it’s so solid in the #1 position that I’ve begun making plans to make sure it happens within the next few years. It’s a spendy trip and I’ll most definitely combine it with another bucket list item - a hot air balloon ride over the great migration of the Serengeti in Tanzania - so the saving has begun. 

Image credit: Amy Reed via Unsplash

Image credit: Amy Reed via Unsplash

My bucket list used to go something like this.. 

  1. Visit India

  2. Visit Thailand

  3. Visit Indonesia 

  4. Learn Mandarin

  5. Learn French

  6. Run a marathon

No offense to my younger self, but this looks more like a to do list than a bucket list. But in my true Type-A fashion, I visited those places and I studied those languages and I stopped adding to my bucket list because something was missing, especially for the travel portions of that list. I would arrive to those places and I had no idea why I was there. I had a pretty rough experience during my first couple weeks in India. I traveled to India because so many people told me how amazing it was and that they all went on this supernatural spiritual journey while they were there. So naturally, I said, sign me up! 

And then I arrived and thought to myself “What the crap is a spiritual journey and where do I find it?”

I realized during that sub-par travel experience that visiting a country just because “someone told you it was cool” is not reason enough to invest your time and money into travel. Everyone’s version of “cool” and “life changing” and “spiritual journey” is different as it depends so heavily on their life experiences and what led them on this particular journey. The moment I took responsibility for my experience and I decided exactly what I wanted to do, see, and experience in India, my entire trip turned around. 

Image credit: Mohamed Thasneem via Unsplash

Image credit: Mohamed Thasneem via Unsplash

Before designing a customized itinerary for clients, new or old, we jump on the phone to talk through their ideas and some options we have to consider. So often when I ask “Why do you want to travel to XXX” or “What inspired you to choose this destination for your next trip?”, the answer is, “well I’ve just always heard that it’s a cool place to visit”. 

While that’s not a terrible answer, I believe we can do better! 

I’ve updated my bucket list to focus on experiences rather than countries and cities. I’ve also notated where I got each of these ideas when they were inspired by others as I realized that so much of what I consume (Netflix, YouTube, Instagram, etc) truly does inspire the things I want to experience in life. 

Image credit: Markus Spiske via Unsplash

Image credit: Markus Spiske via Unsplash

I encourage you to create your own experiential bucket list (the more specific the better!) and share it with us. 

Before you get started, keep these three ideas in mind…

  1. If a certain activity can only be experienced in one destination, list the destination and the activity together (ie “Trek to see mountain gorillas in Rwanda). This includes both the experience I’m most excited about as well as the destination where it’s possible.

  2. If the experience is not location dependent, leave out a specific place! If you’d like to surf, go on a hot air ballon ride, go paragliding, etc but you don’t mind where you experience any of these for the first time, don’t include the destination. If, on the other hand, you specifically want to go in a hot air ballon in Cappadocia, Turkey (because this is amazing!!!), then include those details - it will only add to your excitement.

  3. Forget about the order. Consider this a running list that you’ll continue to add to rather than a list in order of top priorities. Often in life, an opportunity arises when you least expect it and I wouldn’t want you to pass by a new experience just because it’s not “next” on your experiential bucket list.

    Whitney’s Experiential Bucket List

  • Trek to see Mountain gorillas in Rwanda

  • Scuba dive in Raja Ampat, Indonesia (inspired by Renee, Janelle, and Andy, my favorite scuba divers)

  • Hike the Italian Dolomites (Inspired by Matt & Rachel’s honeymoon!)

  • Scuba dive in the Galapagos

  • Hot Air Balloon ride over the great migration in Tanzania

  • Scuba dive Silfra in Iceland, a fissure between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates

  • Go on an African safari in the Okavango Delta (Inspired by Andrew & Lindsey’s honeymoon!)

  • Go snowshoeing 

  • Cruise the Norwegian coast, the World’s Most Beautiful Coastal Voyage (inspired by our partners, Hurtigruten)

  • Sail the Greek Islands (inspired by my 7-day sailing adventure with Star Clippers in Thailand)

  • Drive Scotland’s North Coast 500 route

  • Explore the magical mosaic wonderland of Morocco

  • Brave the winter cold to see Polar Bears in the wild

  • Experience firsthand the cultural traditions of the Masai Tribe in Kenya

  • Experience Patagonia by land and by sea (inspired by our partners Australis)

  • Eat as much sushi as possible while I explore Japan

  • Visit Borneo to see the orangutans in the wild

  • Stay at the Four Seasons Golden Triangle to engage with rescued elephants and hike to the Golden Triangle viewpoint over Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar

  • Eat my way through Lima, Peru

  • Swim with Sea Turtles in Hawaii 

  • Swim with humpback whales in Tonga (inspired by the Bucket List Family! - fast forward to 8:50 in this video if you’re the impatient type ;) ) 

  • Travel through Peru, staying in each National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World along the way

  • Stay in Mashpi Lodge in Ecuador (inspired by Netflix’s “Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby”)

  • Hang out with the sloths at Lapa Rios Lodge (also a Nat Geo Unique Lodge of the World)

  • Stay in Bamurru Plains and explore Kakadu National Park where I can learn firsthand about the Aboriginal culture and visit some of the most important aboriginal sites in Australia (inspired by Ashish Sanghrajka, President of our favorite partner, Big 5 Tours & Expeditions)

  • Kayak the glaciers of Alaska in April when we have the beauty of Spring all to ourselves (inspired by our partners, UnCruise Adventures)

  • Stay in a Yurt in Mongolia 

  • Stay in an ice hotel 

  • Sail the Northwest Passage to see killer whales and narwhals in the wild (inspired by our partner Ponant)

  • Explore the beauty of the Silk Road through Central Asia (since moving to China almost 10 years ago, I’ve had photos of “The Stans” hanging on my walls - I’m fascinated by this region of the world!)

  • Visit Newfoundland (New - fun - land), eat at Raymonds, and stay at Fogo Island Inn (Inspired by Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown)

  • Return to the Canadian Rocky Mountains in May - June to enjoy the turquoise blue lakes (I previously visited in April when all the lakes were still frozen!!)

  • Paraglide in Georgia's Caucasus Mountains (fast foward to minute 1:30! :) )

If you’re ready to check off some of your top bucket list experiences but don’t have hours to spend researching, I’d be happy to work together and to guide you through the steps of designing an itinerary. I’m here to help find the perfect match between traveler + destination + experience. Contact me to get started.

How to Build Your Experiential Bucket List
How to Build Your Experiential Bucket List
How to Build Your Experiential Bucket List

Whitney’s love of experiential travel began when she studied abroad in New Zealand. Upon returning home, this seemingly small decision led her on an unpredictable path to do everything in her power to continue exploring the world. Within one year, she headed to Africa for one month to visit a friend who was volunteering with animals in need of rehabilitation support, and upon graduating only 6 months later, she moved to France for no other reason than the study the language and experience the culture firsthand. Fast forward 8 years, 2 languages, and 20 countries later, Whitney has successfully combined her passion for foreign languages and experiential travel with her professional experiences and launched Undiscovered Sunsets, a bespoke, experiential travel agency.