We all 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 many people over 50 setting off on worldly adventures. 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 term for destinations 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 a potential left-field travel option. So if you want your next trip to allow you to immerse yourself in those places, here's your guide to realising those dreams.
What should be on my travel bucket list?
You must 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. For example, 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. It could even put your life at risk!
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 planning for many of us. This is not necessarily about 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.
Bucket list inspiration: 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
- Visit a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Tick off the seven wonders of the world
- Swim in a secluded lagoon under a waterfall
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.
Travel ideas: How do I pick the right 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 from, and if you don't have an exact location pinned down from the start, the selection process can take even longer. Even if you want to go somewhere specific, more research might put you off the idea.
When picking your next travel destination, there are many things to consider. For instance, if you want to get away from the cold winter months in the UK, you might want to research the best places to visit in December. For instance, the best time to visit Asia is between November and February, as temperatures tend to be milder. Likewise, it's best to save Europe for the summer.
It's also worth thinking about what matters to you. For example, history buffs might get their 100 best places to visit straight from the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. But if you're more of an adventure junkie, you might prefer exploring the beautiful coral reefs off Australia's coast. Or, you may wish to get lost in a yoga retreat in India or perhaps learn how to prepare authentic Thai food in Bangkok.
To help you narrow down your options and review the practical and inspirational elements, we've broken down some of the main bucket list ideas into regions, countries and destinations, so you can start planning the right way. Whatever your interests, you will find some incredible travel inspiration below.
USA: From the Grand Canyon to the Empire State Building
The USA has 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, and 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. After all, New York is a completely unmissable destination during a US trip. The Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and Central Park are all must-sees or visits.
And 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. If you love warm weather, heading southeast to Florida and visiting Disney World with the grandkids is one of the best ways to leave them with lifelong memories - and make some of your own.
And if you want to get off the beaten path, so to speak, you could make your way through the southern states, including Louisiana, made famous by Anne Rice's legendary novel "Interview with the Vampire". The state is a great way to see the best of American multiculturalism. It's best known for its Mardi Gras celebrations and delectable cajun and creole cuisine. It's also considered the birthplace of Blues, so if you're a music fan, this is one state to get on your bucket list.
What to remember
The size of the country is consideration number one. If you intend to road trip it and plan to visit both New York City and San Francisco, you'll be on the road for a long while. That's not necessarily bad; a road trip is probably the best way to explore this massive country. Writers like Jack Kerouac have documented the unique experience that the American road trip offers in iconic works like "On the Road".
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.
South America: Trek through the amazon rainforest and hike to Machu Picchu
Warm climes and romantic vistas are just two things South America delivers in spades, and each country has a unique intrinsic character and history. 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-worthy than taking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru. Machu Picchu tops lots of people's bucket lists of places to visit. It's one of the most famous religious monuments in the world. The Incan citadel attracts half a million visitors every year.
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. Finally, Argentina is another country to pay attention to during your planning, with its rich history and road-tripping potential.
Over in Mexico, you can immerse yourself in beachside grandeur. You can experience the best Mexican beaches in resorts like Oaxaca and Cancun. And if you're a history buff, you'll love all the Aztec and Mayan ruins dotted around the country. Visiting Chichen Itza, the famous ancient Mayan city, is a brilliant way to immerse yourself in history. It is one of the world's largest and most well-preserved archaeological sites.
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.
Europe: See the northern lights and lounge by the Eiffel Tower
While much of Europe is practically on our doorstep, the range of landscapes and cultures make it a treasure trove of bucket list experiences. One of the best things about it is that you can pick and choose the kind of backdrop you'd like, whether snowy and serene or warm and sun-bleached. Some, like 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 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 culturally or within nature.
Eastern Europe offers a peek into a different world, with a mix of European architecture and history and post-communist structures representing a unique part of the continent's recent history. For example, Bulgaria's communist UFO-like building, Buzludhza, stood abandoned for decades. But it has been recently opened to the public, offering the opportunity to step back and see the remnants of socialism in the country.
For a relatively small continent, Europe offers a lot of variety. It's also close enough to the UK to make even the more wary traveller feel comfortable, with short, direct flights and train connections from the UK.
What to remember
The very nature of Europe's considerable variety also means you'll need to familiarise yourself with local quirks before travelling. These include seasonal temperatures and weather, plus language and dialect. Not to mention exchange rates if you'll be travelling in and out of the Eurozone!
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 and swotting up on local information when planning your trip is a must.
The Middle East: Visit sun-drenched beaches and extravagant cities
Sun-drenched and exotic, The Middle East has 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. Dubai is a city of extremes, where you can see the tallest building in the world and the biggest mall. An hour's drive takes you into the desert, where you can go quad biking, ride a camel, or watch a falconry show.
Over in Jordan, allow your eyes to feast on the mind-bending sights at Petra, one of the world's most famous archaeological sites. Walk through its winding passages, cut from the rocky hillsides, to the iconic monastery.
What to remember
The temperatures are the most important thing to note when planning your trip. The summers, which mirror our own, are unfathomably hot and will most certainly limit the amount of exploring most people can manage.
Timing your trip for the winter months, between November to February, will give you much more comfortable temperatures around the mid-twenties. 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: Marvel at Mount Fuji, Angkor Wat and the Great Wall of China
Asia is a vast land expanse 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 considering travelling to Asia, popular countries include 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 take around 14 hours, so it makes sense to max out your time if you are jetting off to this part of the globe. Put like this, 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.
Thailand offers unrivalled diversity, with the turquoise waters of the Ko Phi Phi islands in the Andaman sea just a short flight away from the bustling nightlife of Bangkok. And if you time your visit right, a stop to Chiang Mai for the Loy Krathong festival is a must. During the celebrations, the Thai people release lit-up decorated lotus-shaped rafts into the river, making a truly spectacular display. The festival overlaps with the Northern Yi Peng celebrations when thousands of floating sky lanterns are released. It's a once-in-a-lifetime bucket list experience.
But if travelling across borders takes your fancy, you can even trace a section of the Great Wall of China to give your route an age-old flavour. 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. But, of course, you can always break up your journey into smaller chunks. Domestic flights are often a cheap and quick way to get around, but many Asian countries also offer overnight sleeper train services that can save you a night in a hotel and ensure you don't waste any precious day-time hours travelling. 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. 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.
Canada: Hike to imposing glaciers and see the aurora borealis
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 can 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 in our top spot. However, if remote locales appeal, there are more to choose from, whether in Newfoundland, British Columbia or somewhere in between. 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 seven to 11 hours to fly from the UK's main airports to Canada, depending on where you fly from and your destination. 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 onward 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, finalise your itinerary before you book.
Australia and New Zealand: See the Great Barrier Reef
Australia offers laid-back charms, beautiful scenery, lush wine regions, deserts, and much more. Add to this that New Zealand is a relatively short three-hour flight from the eastern coast, and you have multiple worlds to explore.
Lumping these two countries together is unfair because each offers distinct 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, hot tubs, and windy, quirky cities that quickly feel like home.
Australia and New Zealand highlights
There's no escaping that a road trip is the best way to soak up all the delights Australia offers. That way, you can saunter down the east coast, hopping off to snorkel around one of the seven wonders of the natural world, the Great Barrier Reef, where you can spot stunning marine life. Then, you can 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 across the country 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 hosts the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers and the beautiful, laid-back Christchurch.
And if you're a Lord of the Rings fan, remember to visit the Hobbiton movie set in New Zealand. You can step into The Shire and experience a guided walking tour as you relive all your favourite moments from the film. That alone makes New Zealand one of the best bucket list places to visit for any Tolkien fan.
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, with 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.
Africa: Experience exhilarating safaris and get lost in history
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 a wildlife safari in Kenya, or discover the Serengeti in northern Tanzania. An Egyptian Nile cruise is the best way to see several bucket list places and destinations on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. Visiting Egypt is a must for any history lover as you'll immerse yourself in thousands of years of the past.
But Africa is also one of the best places to see some of the most incredible natural wonders of the world. For example, Tanzania is home to Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain and dormant three-cone volcano. The view from the summit is one of the best in the world. 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 you'll need to be super-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 learning 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.
India: Sink into the splendour of the Taj Mahal and snorkel in Goa
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, making 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 tourist attractions, along with the seductive coastlines of Goa with its hippy-chic and laidback crowd.
And what visit to India is complete without a stop in Jaipur, the country's iconic pink city, which surely tops the list of places to visit for many India-bound travellers? The entire city was painted a dusty pink in the late 1800s to welcome Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert. It is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with a rich history spanning centuries. Stepping into Jaipur is like stepping into an exotic fairytale - it is a city not to be missed.
Travel to the north, and you can 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. India is one of the best places in the world to experience eclectic culture, divine food, and millennia of history.
What to remember
The most crucial first step is getting to grips with current travel advice from the UK to India. 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. However, 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.
Best travel ideas: Making the travel bucket list for over 50s a reality
There are many reasons to create a travel bucket list if you're in 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 to weigh everything up when defining your list. Not least, prioritise the destinations that appeal most; this is your trip, after all. Your travel bucket list ideas should reflect what's important to you, whether visiting remote villages and experiencing rural life or seeing popular tourist attractions.
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. Consider locations closer to home if a far-flung holiday doesn't sit well with you. The most amazing experiences, including some popular bucket list adventures, are often there, right under our noses, waiting to be discovered.