Why The Best Bucket List is the One You Never Make

Inside: Here you’ll find out how my embarrassingly awkward encounter with a hotel receptionist, led me realize the best bucket list is the one we never make. Since then, I’ve exchanged this list of must do’s for a What’s Next list of one.

“We were together, I forget the rest.” -Walt Whitman

We knew we were close. It had been a long drive filled with anticipation and gummy bears. My children, who I sometimes refer to as “ticking time-bombs” in situations like these, were being remarkably well behaved. Still, you could sense their fuses shortening. We all needed out of that car.

best bucket list

I was the one driving, as I typically do. Between my motion sickness and my husband’s freakishly long arms, we are a pretty great road trip team. I keep us moving forward and he does everything else. He’s the destination navigator, text message reader, Trip Advisor reviewer, Starbucks locator, snack distributor, janitor of all things spilled and missing toy detective. Paul definitely drew the short straw, but shhhh, don’t tell him that.

Bucket List Worthy Experience

We took a left, then a right and suddenly before us appeared one of the most magnificent site I’ve seen to date, Niagara Falls. She was stunning. We only caught a glimpse of her before she disappeared behind the strip of hotels. We were all eager to drop our bags off and go get a better view.

My husband quickly glanced from the falls to his map before pointing to our hotel. “That’s it right there,” he said.

I pulled up and quickly hopped out with all three kids to get us checked-in while Paul parked the car.

As I paraded our wiggly crew into this hotel lobby, my jaw dropped and eyebrows raised. It was surprisingly nice. You see, a few weeks back when booking this little gem, my husband and I couldn’t agree on a hotel. As usual, I wanted to spend more money than he did. I wanted to pay for the bucket list experience of rooming just above the niagara falls with a floor to ceiling falls view. After all, we weren’t coming back anytime soon. He on the other hand simply wanted a place to sleep.

Eventually he won and I pouted let it go.

A Pleasant Surprise

So you can imagine my surprise when I walked into this hotel lobby to see multiple chandeliers in the lobby along with a Starbucks! Not one lonely barista making lattes either. No, I’m talking a full Starbucks with all the pastries, breakfast sandwiches and cheerful smiles you’d expect from a well staffed work environment.

We got in line and I leaned down to give my kids a quick “come to Jesus talk.” You know, the one with the clenched teeth and the death stare?

We waited our turn behind individuals in business attire and families with matching luggage as I longingly gazed upon the martini bar situated to my left which overlooked the falls.

When it was our turn, we approached the counter. My kids followed me like the VonTrap children prior to Maria’s arrival. They too, could tell this place required manners.

Reality Check

“Hello,” I said confidently, “We have a reservation under Paul Crawford.” I patiently waited, smiling down at my silent children as she clicked away.

“Do you have a confirmation number?”she said. I reached for my phone, not thinking anything of it until I glanced back up to say, “yup!”

Before the words came out of my mouth I saw a little silver M pinned to her sweater. “Oh my word,” I thought, “this is a Marriott! We are not staying at a Marriott!”

Piercing my lips to hold in the awkward laughter, I slowly shook my head and repeated those words out loud. “This is a Marriott isn’t it?” She nodded and kindly, walked around the counter to get closer to me, as I’m sure she knew where this was going. “We are not staying at a Marriott,” I told her. She ever so kindly redirected me to our hotel.

I gathered my confused children and ushered them past the martini bar, the Starbucks, underneath the chandeliers and out the door. We crossed the street to our hotel as I tried and failed to reach Paul. Something about “conflicting international plans,” whatever that means.

As I approached my actual hotel my heart sank and affect changed. The line was out the door. There were no chandeliers, no martini bar, not even a coffee pot. The sound of a screaming baby filled the lobby and a bachelor party was out front, working to unload their coolers. We were surrounded by aggravated, sweaty people and I quickly joined the ranks.

As embarrassing as this is to admit, I was having a mental tantrum, bummed out to the max, snapping at my husband and fiercely shushing my kids. I wanted be on the other side of the street.

My son noticed the change in my demeanor and scooted up next to me. He whispered, “That’s okay mom. We would have broke that place anyway.”

Through the Eyes of a Child

After that interaction with my son, it didn’t take long for my perspective to shift from entitlement to one of gratitude. I stood in that long line, watching as my kiddos took turns using the force to open the automatic door, like the true Jedis they are.

As far as they could tell, this place was Buckingham Palace.

“There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child, there are seven million.” -Walt Streightiff

I spent the rest of that trip intentionally viewing each moment through the eyes of my kiddos while also keeping track of whose turn it was to push the elevator button. It was a game changer.

They weren’t at all concerned about the cleanliness of our hotel, it’s proximity to the falls or it’s TripAdvisor rating. Whether we ate farm-to-table or fast food didn’t matter one bit. This was just one, big, amazing, new adventure.

Ditch the Bucket List

Since that trip, I’ve been mulling over the concept of a “bucket list” all together, realizing mine had started to resemble one of my unattainable to-do lists. It was full of more experiences, grander adventures, bigger dreams, longer vacations and finer amenities, all in the name of this bucket list I was creating. Every experience needed to trump the last.

While it was intended to evoke a sense of adventure and give me an outlet for my wanderlust, it started to have the opposite effect. Nothing ever felt like enough.

We are less likely to find satisfaction in stay-cations, long weekends, spontaneous getaways and the adventure waiting for us in our own backyards when we’re always planning and wishing for something more. 

In swapping our stuff for experiences we must be aware our tendency to still compare, overcomplicate and lose sight of what choosing to live with less is all about.

Sure, #experiencesoverthings can sometimes mean five star resorts, martini bars and summer long transatlantic adventures.

But more often than not, it looks like embracing first moments, searching for waterfalls and enjoying lazy sprinkler days in our own backyard. It’s making a date night out of Doctor Mario and letting my 4-year-old add the eggs to the cookie dough. Eek.

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Sometimes it’s elaborate, but usually it’s just not.

I’ve always been drawn to those articles titled, “Must-Do’s Before Your Kids Turn Eighteen” or “Most Fabulous Places to Visit Before You Die.” However, those lists only focus our attention on the hour glass instead of the beautiful adventure in the messy moments of our real lives.

When my eyes are solely fixed on the horizon, today grows blurry. It becomes about getting through this season instead of savoring it.

A What’s Next List

Put down your pen.
Let go of this impossible list of “shoulds.”
Create a What’s Next List instead. 

A What’s Next List simply contains one adventure at a time. The one your planning for next.

Sure, I’d love to one day travel to New Zealand, visit Machu Picchu and enjoy the thrill of an African safari. This isn’t about giving up the hope of what could be. It’s simply knowing joy isn’t found in more, and that my real life is enough.

best bucket list

Let’s go back to finding adventure in those automatic doors, backyard campouts, elevator buttons, 10 hour road trips and hotels that have certainly seen better days. Learn to see again by looking through the eyes of a child.

The best kind of bucket list isn’t a long one. It simply aligns your eyes with the very full bucket right in front of you.

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11 thoughts on “Why The Best Bucket List is the One You Never Make

  1. This was great and really resonated with me right now as we are just returning from our first trip to Disney World that we planned for a year. It went so fast and as I was hoping that squeezed in all the joy I could for my kids I read this line of your blog post, “Let’s go back to finding adventure in those automatic doors, backyard campouts, elevator buttons, 10 hour road trips and hotels that have certainly seen better days. Learn to see again by looking through the eyes of a child.” And it assured me that all was good. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Every single particle of what you have written: the story, the writing itself, your precious children, the quotes, the perspective given and gained… Beautiful! Reading this has made a difference in my life. Thank you so very much!

  3. This made me cry. You are a darling to have written it.
    I’ve been minimalist for long enough now that I’ve been a bit stressed lately about whether I have (or will soon have) “reached” what I meant to attain through minimalism. I have a grown daughter with autism who is non-verbal and fully physically dependent on her dad and me. That takes all I would be doing with my life right now (if she were a healthy adult) off the table. MY intentions—any bucket list or passion fulfilling—can’t be realized in my life as it’s been handed to me (with a built-in higher calling/vocation that I would never have chosen given an option).
    But what I do have is what you experienced on this vacation & share with us here. It’s in 2 forms for me. First, I always have a large or small project in front of me that is important to me (perhaps to no one else). Unlike many I know who never seem to accomplish any talked of “future” project, I steadily accomplish each of mine, experiencing the joy of accomplishment, as well as a happy sense of propulsion forward.
    Second, I have (a 2nd daughter who has given me) sweet grand babies. When I am with them, I am 100% with them. Play surfaces are free for whatever we create that day. Screens are usually out of sight unless I want a photo. I am able to stop & fully give myself to them & I receive back a sense of their wonder at the world—something I feel like I rarely experienced with my own kids, for all the stuff, the busy-ness, and of course the autism on top of all.
    My husband often thanks me for how we “keep house and do life.” He appreciates how easily he can transition from “stressed wage-earner/caregiver-dad” mode into full-blown grandpa mode & can give his all to his grandkids without distraction of “mess” or “to-do’s.”
    I actually have a written out bucket list. Recognizing my limitations and my need for encouragement, I chose to include on it things I’ve been called upon to do that I never would have guessed I would be brave enough to do until life called for it…I rose to the occasion each time. If you knew how little I’ve traveled and seen, you would be shocked to see my multi-page bucket list with check marks next to most of the items listed. The “places to go” I’ve included are places where dear friends and I have gone for a few days—each a short plane or car ride away. Plus one more—my NEXT destination (the plan for travel to which is currently in the works).
    So this post of yours made me realize and embrace that I HAVE arrived at my minimalist destination. A place where I’m not living for the future, but living FULLY in the now, with a reasonable toe always stretched out a little toward the NEXT experience—of a person (could be me, a friend, a family member or a stranger), of a place (could be my home, a new restaurant or new city), or of a “Whew! I did it! Who knew I had it in me?!”
    I may rename my bucket list my NEXT list to honor you and to comfortably keep it exactly what it needs to be for MY unique life.
    Thank you!

  4. Thank you for this Rachelle! I’ve just shared in on FB. I also love your last 2 sentences the most.

  5. Ah! As the Nana of 3 grandchildren, this so resonated with me! My youngest is a 3-year-old boy, and the oldest 16. The little one reminds me so often that the experience of running around the yard picking up sticks together is so much more of what I need in my life rather than the racing around and around I did when my children were young and I was working. He grounds me. Thank you for the message.

  6. I really like this concept of just a next adventure item. I have tended to make larger than life plans before too, and I know that I crave simplicity most of the time. I don’t know why I have treated my “bucket list” differently, but now I will be rethinking that and try to enjoy what’s right in front of me instead of all the things that could be in the future.

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