All of us have our ultimate travel destination or a dream location we're itching to see. But, as far as bucket list travelling goes, you may think that taking time out and jet setting around the globe is something younger people with few ties or responsibilities do.
This is far from the truth, with large numbers of people over 50 setting off on worldly adventures of their own. The reasons for this are simple and compelling. When we reach this life stage, we often have more financial stability, or less responsibility if children have grown and careers are winding down.
More than that, 50 years of age plus doesn’t mean what it did in generations gone by in health terms. We are not “old” in our 50s and 60s. Many of us don’t feel aged even into our 70s and beyond, and the fresh perspective this wisdom brings us enables us to embrace our dreams and new experiences.
What is bucket list tourism?
Everyone's heard of bucket lists. Often connected to travel and experiences, bucket list tourism is a catch-all for those destinations that people are queueing up to visit. To the cynic, you could call it a marketing term, and you wouldn't be wrong. But, at the same time, it is a simplified way of saying that you're planning to do something that you've dreamed about for years, or perhaps your whole life.
Say the words bucket list travel, and you’ll immediately think of those idyllic places or historical wonders like Machu Picchu or the Great Barrier Reef. However, colder climes also offer a veritable range of delights, with natural wonders like Antarctica. You know, those eye-popping views you’ve probably only seen on your TV until now. But if you want your next trip to give you the chance to immerse yourself in those places, here’s your guide to help you to realise those dreams.
What should be on my travel bucket list?
You should consider a few things when reviewing your bucket list locations. The truth is, sometimes, the place you have in mind might not be perfect when you go through the details. Just think, if you want to visit Everest but haven't got the fitness to scale the peak, that will not be an experience you'll thoroughly enjoy or love.
This isn’t about limiting your dreams but finding something that ticks all the boxes so you can have the most fulfilling trip. When planning, remember to take these overarching things into account:
- Health practicalities – like how active and in shape you need to be and whether you have long-term conditions like high blood pressure, which certain situations or environments may aggravate.
- The climate – choosing the right trip also depends on where and when you travel. For instance, high summer in the middle of the Tuscan countryside might not be ideal for some of us.
- Financial considerations – unfortunately, money comes into the planning for many of us. This is all about not just what you can afford and whether you can finance your trip without significant implications, but the style you'd like to travel in. It might be a case of weighing up the experience with the level of luxury you'd like to travel in.
What experiences should be on a bucket list?
If you already have a perfect destination in mind, your first step is finding out how to get there, fund your trip, and make the most of it through the right arrangements and itinerary. If you don't and you need some inspiration, here's some based on current to get you started:
- Explore a national park
- Plan a kayaking trip
- Snorkel in a world-famous destination
- See the northern lights
- Go biking somewhere new
- Book a hot air balloon tour
- Arrange a road trip with friends or family
- Learn to scuba dive
- Pick a UNESCO World Heritage Site
These are just some trips and travel destinations you can embrace. They show you that seeing the wonders of the world doesn't have to cost a fortune or take you across the other side of the world - unless that's what you want to do. Remember, this is all about designing a perfect trip that gives you the experiences you crave, without stress or unmanageable elements.
What are some bucket list destinations?
Planning a trip of a lifetime is exciting, but it can also be daunting and feel overwhelming. There is a whole world to choose between, and if you don't have an exact location pinned down from the start, the selection process can take even longer. Even if you do want to go somewhere specific, a little more research might put you off the idea.
To help you narrow it down and review the practical elements as well as the inspirational ones, we’ve broken down some of the main bucket list ideas into regions, countries and destinations, so you can start planning the right way.
The USA is a country with outstanding scenery, breathtaking natural wonders and vibrant cities. This means you can tailor your trip to include as much of the stuff you love as possible, whether visiting national parks or immersing yourself in iconic cities. You might even want to blend a combination of the two, and with a well-planned itinerary, anything is possible.
Whether you're starting stick-a-pin-in-a-map style or have a route in mind, the size of the USA means you'll need to get to a practical solution before serious planning happens. The awe-inspiring sites across the country are too many to mention, but for starters, there's the Grand Canyon, national parks like Yosemite, or the natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. If you want to experience the bright lights, Las Vegas and New York deliver equally on glitz while having their distinct personalities and treasures. Over on the warm west coast of California, you can hop from one iconic beach to the next, visiting boho spots in San Francisco and smaller suburbs along the way.
What to remember
The size of the country is consideration number one. It goes without saying that if you intend to road trip it and work in spots like New York City and San Francisco, you'll be on the road for a long while. Deciding how you want to split your destinations, from the rugged countryside to the soaring cities, is the next big decision, along with how you'd like to hop from one place to the next. It's also worth checking out current travel guidance and exchange rates.
Warm climes and romantic vistas are just two things South America delivers in spades. Each country has its intrinsic character and history, and although it's tempting to lump the continent together, finding your dream destination is the most important thing. From Peru's enchanting beauty to Brazil's vivacity, there’s something to ignite your adventurous spirit in every corner.
South America highlights
If walking trails are your ideal way to spend a week or two, you’d need to go a long way to find something more bucket list than taking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru. On the other hand, if variety is your thing, Brazil serves up an eclectic wonder of natural sights, vibrant cities and fast-paced culture at its best in Rio. Argentina is another avenue not to overlook during your planning, with its rich history and road-tripping potential. Over in Mexico, you can immerse yourself in beachside grandeur.
What to remember
Just as South America's countries vary hugely in the types of experience on offer, they also do so regarding travel guidance. So before you do anything, get to grips with local travel advice and get a feel for where you can travel and whether there are any restrictions or safety precautions to consider. If you want to hop from one country to the next, you'll also need a firm handle on the visa situation.
While much of Europe is practically on our doorstep, the range of landscapes and cultures make it a treasure trove of bucket list experiences. Perhaps one of the best things about it is that you can pick and choose the kind of backdrop you’d like, whether that’s snowy and serene or warm and sun-bleached. Even better, some, such as Ireland's evocative charms require minimal travel. With some of the most famous cities in the world and rich history throughout, you only need to lift the lid to max out on its wonders.
From the northern lights in Iceland and the extraordinary beauty of Norway to the heights of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Europe rivals any continent when it comes to bang for your buck. Each country has its unique experiences up for grabs. So while you may want to wander the Louvre in Bon Paris, you can also lay back on a beach in the south of France. Similarly, hotspots in Italy range from gondola rides in Venice to the Colosseum in Rome and the homely beauty of the Cinque Terre seaside towns. Other top-rated destinations include the historical glory of Greece intermingled with its spattering of idyllic islands and Spain’s grandeur interspersed with a coastline that rivals any in the world for beauty. These are the places to take a road trip or expand your horizons either culturally or within nature itself.
What to remember
The very nature of Europe's considerable variety also means you'll need to familiarise yourself with the local quirks before travelling. These include seasonal temperatures and weather, language, dialect, and exchange rates. While Europe is a mere stone's throw away compared to some places in the world, the differences in day-to-day life can be notable. So checking out travel advice is a given, along with swotting up on local information before you plan your trip.
The Middle East
Sun-drenched and exotic, The Middle East serves up a delectable selection of history, famous world wonders and scenery. Dreamlike in its beauty and distinctive in culture, this is a place you step out of your everyday life into an altogether different world. If you need to shake free from the shackles of your life, this is the part of the globe to do it.
The Middle East highlights
Like in Europe, the differences between one country in the Middle East and the next can be vast, giving you plenty to choose from. Some of the most famous include the man-made extravagance of Dubai with its immaculate beaches and cool-aired shopping malls overflowing with glitz. Over in Jordan, allow your eyes to feast on the mind-bending sights at Petra, from its winding passages hewn from the rocky hillsides to the iconic monastery.
What to remember
The temperatures are perhaps the most important thing to note from a practical viewpoint when planning your trip. The summers, which mirror our own, are unfathomably hot and will most certainly limit the amount of exploring most people could manage. Timing your trip for the winter months, between November to February, will give you much more comfortable temperatures around the mid-twenties degrees Celsius. You will also need to check out the political situation in your chosen country before you travel, with some countries experiencing higher risk status in recent years.
Asia is a vast expanse of land, stretching from Turkey to Indonesia and Mongolia to Thailand. Of course, these are broad strokes, especially when you remember that most of Russia also sits on the Asian continent. Still, when thinking of travelling to Asia, common countries include those like China, Japan, Cambodia and Vietnam.
As one of the most densely populated continents, the rich fabric of each country weaves its spell, immersing you in thronging cities and cultural heritage different from one locale to the next. Close to jump-off points like Bali, you can always temper the upbeat parts of your holiday with some profound relaxation.
Typical plane journeys to places like Thailand are around fourteen hours, so it makes sense to max out your time if you are jetting off to this part of the globe. Put it like this, and you can see why many people choose to hop from one neighbouring country to the next. Such an approach means you can take in sights like the ancient wonders of Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the glorious wooden boats of Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay.
If travelling across borders takes your particular fancy, you can even trace a section of the Great Wall of China to give your route an age-old structure. Other places for an unbeatable experience include Japan, flitting between Tokyo’s neon lights to the zen-like country vistas, or zooming across to Beijing to soak up China's history and modern way of life.
What to remember
With such long travel times, ensuring you'll feel comfortable on a plane for a long stretch is vital. Of course, there is the option to break up your journey into smaller chunks. However, you'll still need to consider the overall travelling experience. Local weather is also crucial, as many popular countries have tropical climates.
Often January to March are the best times to travel, with less rainfall and lower temperatures. However, the weather can get scorching between March and May, and many south Asian countries also experience a monsoon season around our summer months and into the UK autumn. Also, check out travel guides, as each country will have specific regulations, customs, and other valuable local information you'll need.
Can one country offer something for everyone? If we’re talking about Canada, then yes, it can. Canada's sheer scale means you get more chances to explore a variety of landscapes and vistas. And culturally, Canada has many experiences fit for your bucket list. From serene trails to expansive national parks, vibrant, characterful cities, foodie havens, and the aurora borealis, it has the scope to serve up anyone’s particular slice of heaven. So you can relax and unwind, strike out into the countryside, or soak up the vibrations of cities like Montreal.
If getting active is the order of the day, The Trans Canada Trail - previously known as The Great Trail - practically goes end to end across the country. Although the idea of covering it all sounds dreamy, you'll need to focus on a specific section unless you're retired, and money is no object. However, there's enough information available to help you find your ideal section and plan your trip thoroughly. Think skiing, biking, hiking and everything in between.
For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, viewing the Northern Lights in the Northern Territories is up in our top spot. However, if remote locales appeal, there are more to choose from, whether in Newfoundland, British Columbia or somewhere in between. Back in the cities, Montreal and Halifax tend to be the most popular, renowned for their cuisine and shopping. Others include Toronto, Quebec and Vancouver, for starters.
What to remember
For those who like to weigh up the travel times, it can take between 7.5 and 11 hours to fly from the UK's main airports to Canada, depending on where you fly from and where you're going. While it's a more extended trip than going somewhere like Europe, once you’re there, you have everything on your doorstep, and you can do as much onwards travel as you like. As with any destination, check local advice and travel restrictions. If you're hoping to do something more ambitious, like a road trip or a trail, get your itinerary nailed down before you book.
Australia and New Zealand
Australia gives you laid-back charms, beautiful scenery, lush wine regions, deserts, and everything between. Add to this that you have New Zealand a relatively short three-hour flight away from the eastern coast, and you have multiple worlds to explore.
Lumping these two countries together is somewhat unfair because each offer distinctly different feelings and experiences. Still, they are perfect partners and easy to combine when planning a trip. That said, while Australia is all buzzing cities and the cricket-whirring outback, New Zealand is notable for its dreamlike turquoise rivers, glaciers and hot tubs and windy, quirky cities that quickly feel like home.
There’s no getting away from the fact that a road trip is perhaps the best way to soak up all the delights Australia has to offer. That way, you can saunter down the east coast, hopping off to snorkel around the Great Barrier Reef, visit the Whitsundays and stop off at cities like Brisbane and Sydney along the way. But, at the same time, Australians often say that "west is best." On the far side of the country, you'll find dive sites, fantastical coral reefs, wineries, and idyllic beaches. Other highlights include the southern vineyards, Melbourne, and, of course, Uluru.
Over in New Zealand, bus tours or car hire will give you easy access to the north and south islands. In the north, you'll find the more cosmopolitan cities like Auckland and Wellington - "Windy Welly" as locals know it. The southern island is host to the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers and the beautiful and laidback Christchurch.
What to remember
Australia and New Zealand are two of the furthest flung places you can travel to from the UK, and you 100% need to consider the flight times. We're talking around 24 hours, https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/new-zealandwith a change or stop off somewhere. If your stop-off is somewhere like Dubai or Singapore, why not arrange to stay for a night or two? Then, you could experience another destination rather than the inside of an airport! If you'd love to combine Australia and New Zealand, check out a travel guide for ongoing journeys and visas. Interestingly, New Zealand and Australia's climates vary significantly, so be prepared with the proper clothing to stay safe and comfortable.
If a safari sounds like the ultimate holiday to you, Africa is the place to go. It's difficult to lump the entire continent of Africa together in a neat package because with 54 countries and up to 2,000 different African languages, simplifying it into one experience is absurd. However, it's true that some elements of South Africa, in particular, have caught western imaginations better than others, with things like safaris being hot property.
This is where you can stop off in Egypt, roam the Nile, head off on safari in Kenya, or discover the Serengeti in northern Tanzania. Incidentally, Tanzania is also home to Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa and home to three dormant volcanic cones. This in itself can conjure up some of the most striking scenes possible. In South Africa, Cape Town delivers culture galore, with a burgeoning art scene, sophisticated and established dining and excellent shops.
What to remember
The number of countries and the sheer variety of locales means that you'll need to be extra-prepared with your travel arrangements, especially if you're hopping from one country to the next. The same goes for local travel advice around safety and practical things, such as climate. The key is swotting up on everything you need to know beforehand to stay on top of things because things can move fast, especially in the busier parts of South Africa.
Home of spirituality, rich in culture and varied in vistas, India has long topped travel wish lists for many. Dizzying sights range from the ice-capped Himalayas to the green swathes of tea plantations and the mind-bending cacophony of cities like Delhi and Mumbai. India will deliver everything from culture shocks to soul-quenching awe, often with no middle ground, but this makes it even more veritable as a travel bucket list destination.
Due to sheer size, travelling the length and breadth of India in one go is unlikely. Still, choosing a region based on the sights you find most compelling can create a great itinerary. The country offers up an unending list of dreamlike experiences. If we had to pick just a handful, the Taj Mahal in Agra is one of the finest, along with the seductive coastlines of Goa with its hippy-chic and laidback crowd. Travel to the north, and you can even hop across to Nepal to discover the Himalayas in more depth or stay in Indian territories and soak up the history amid jaw-dropping palaces in Rajasthan.
What to remember
Getting to grips with current travel advice from the UK to India is the most crucial first step. Historically, some places are safer than others; understanding how this and geography affect your plans is essential. In terms of transport, you have plenty of exciting routes to explore, both on train and bus, which can take the sting out of hiring a car and finding your way. Remember to be vigilant if roaming through the cities forms part of your plan. The sheer bustle and noise of Indian cities can be disorientating, and having your wits about you will help you stay safe.
Making the travel bucket list for over 50s a reality
There are many reasons to create a travel bucket list when you reach your 50s and beyond. Aside from having the time and often the means to travel, it can be a life-affirming experience you crave and deserve.
There are so many places to visit worldwide and countless things to see, but remember that you need to weigh everything up when defining your list. Not least, prioritise the destinations that appeal most; this is your trip, after all.
Once you have that, you can start working through the practicalities, factoring in essential things like your budget and health, plus your willingness and ability to travel for certain distances. Importantly, don't disregard the locations closer to home if a far-flung holiday doesn't sit well with you. The most amazing experiences are often there, right under our noses, waiting to be discovered.