This post was sponsored by Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG). All opinions expressed are my own.
In just over a decade, the concept of a bucket list has exploded worldwide. It’s a catchphrase popularized by a film far more influential than its box-office return, and a catchphrase that somehow transcends ages, interests, language and cultures. I believe it’s because we all desire to see certain places and do certain things before kicking the proverbial bucket. It’s an important part of the human condition, one that just needed a special term to encapsulate it.
A new survey by Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) revealed that 6 in 10 Canadians either have or have plans to make a bucket list, with the number as much as 8 in 10 for those aged 35 and under. Clearly, bucket lists are not a fad having met people ticking off their lists on the four corners of the planet, I can assure you that bucket lists are a global phenomenon, a trend here to stay.
The survey revealed that almost 8 out of 10 Canadians with or planning to make bucket lists are interested in Canadian experiences, and so it made perfect sense for me to partner with IHG and suggest what those experiences might be. As I write in my books, I believe a bucket list experience should tick off several subjective boxes:
IHG’s survey also showed that 91% of Canadian bucket listers have difficulties making their goals a reality. For many, costs and work responsibilities appear overwhelming, even as the aspirational goal to achieve a lifelong dream (and experience something new) is universally recognized. As a writer, broadcaster and speaker, my goal has always been to inspire everyone do those things we’ve always wanted to do, breaking through the boundaries that stand in our way.
Here are some practical tips on how to tick off your Canadian Bucket List.
Begin with a place or activity you’ve always wanted to experience in your town, city or province, and grow it from there. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or threatened by a bucket list, you’re probably being overly ambitious. Start with a shortlist of 10 aspirational goals, and grow it slowly over time. Each successful tick motivates another. If your list is too long, it might prove to be insurmountable.
Make it Physical
Research has shown that writing or visualizing your goals really helps make them a reality. Read books about the places you want to go (may I suggest, ahem, The Great Canadian Bucket List), put up calendars, and most importantly, write down your list. You might look back in several years to discover you managed to tick it off after all.
Dream big, but be practical
Bucket lists should be inspiring, fun, and realistic too. If you’re counting on winning the lottery or meeting a celebrity, you’re in for a disappointment (and perhaps a restraining order!) Consider your resources and health. If you don’t like flying, look at road trips. Break your list down into short and long-term goals, and goals that are easier to achieve than others. If they are all difficult to accomplish, you may get discouraged because you’re not making progress as quickly as you like.
Be an Individual
Life is not a race; nobody should judge your dreams. It’s perfectly acceptable for your bucket list to include a local museum or festival, or just fixing the garden shed. Many of the wonders in our Canadian backyard are as remarkable as the wonders you keep hearing about abroad. Bucket lists, like travel itself, should be intrinsically personal.
To kick things off, I partnered with some of the 177 Canadian IHG hotels (which include Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza) to suggest ideas for your Canadian Bucket List. From tracking beavers in Hinton to the world’s largest salmon migration outside of Kamloops; ice canoeing in Quebec City to saluting the RCMP in Regina, there’s a little something for everybody, and lots to get started with.
Bucket lists give us something to look forward (a fact confirmed by 61% of those surveyed). They are aspirational, engaging, and can be as quirky as they can be dreamy. Mine started when a car accident reminded me that life is too short to put off my dreams any longer. Ticking off one experience after another, I’ve continued to grow my interests, and my bucket list continues to evolve too. As Morgan Freeman asks Jack Nicholson in the film The Bucket List: “Well…what are you waiting for?”
It is said there are three simple steps to happiness: find something to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to. I might add: find yourself a bike. One day, on my way to the office, an unlicensed driver ignored a stop sign, drove through an intersection, and crashed into my bike. I hobbled away with a broken knee-cap, a $20,000 insurance settlement, and the powerful reminder that life is precious, time is limited, and I’ll really miss my knees when they’re gone. I quite my job and went travelling around the world on a Quixotic quest to tick off my bucket list. All of which brings me to the dusty Chilean town of San Pedro de Atacama. For an outpost on the edge of the world’s driest non-polar desert, the town offers fine hotels, gourmet restaurants, and excursions into a truly remarkable slice of South America. One such activity is to rent a bike and peddle thirteen kilometres west into the Valley of the Moon, a protected nature sanctuary famous for its stark, lunar landscape. I arrive at the park gates with my front tire wobbling with all the stability of a Central African government. Parched for oil, my chain clatters in desperation. I make a note that from now on I will check the condition of any bike before I rent it. Sound advice, and I could have used some more, for example: under no circumstances must you leave your bike on the side of the road to hike around looking for better views of the volcanoes. Soon enough, I am lost in the desert without any form of communication, directions, food, or warmth. It is late afternoon in March, and the baking day will soon transform into a chilly night. My last update to my family was last week in Bolivia. Not a single person on the planet knows where I am.
Before I set out on my journey, a friend asked what I hoped to achieve. My mates were settling down, building careers and starting families, so why would I choose to be that one older guy you typically meet in backpacker hostels? You know, the one who looks a little out of joint, has great stories, and often smells like Marmite. My reply: at some point during my adventure I will stumble into a transcendent moment of pure isolation, a challenge that can only be surmounted with deep soul-searching, and personal inner strength. My friend looked at me askew, so I followed up with: there will also be copious amounts of beer and beautiful women.
Just a few months after that conversation, there is neither beer nor babe for miles as I desperately scan the sprawling Atacama Desert for my rickety rental bike. Panic begins to tickle my throat. It appears that my Moment of Zen has arrived. I sit down on a slab of rock and breathe it in. The dusky sun casts a pink glow over perfect pyramid-shaped volcanoes. Early evening stars begin to glitter. A cool breeze sprouts goosebumps on the back of my neck, along with my long-awaited epiphany. I am here for a reason. Everything happens for a reason. The bike accident, the decision to travel, the dodgy rental bike, the walk into the desert. Wherever I am, is where I am supposed to be. Slowly, I relax into the fear and excitement, slipping into the moment the way one cautiously eases into a too-hot bubble bath. Then I hear a voice. A Japanese backpacker had seen my bike on the side of the road and figured there must be something to see. Soon enough, he got lost too, but somehow he found me just as I was busy finding myself. As the night sky vanquished the peach-fuzz sunset, we see headlights in the distance. Relieved, we find our way to the road, recover our bikes, and pedal in darkness back to San Pedro. That night we get blindingly drunk to celebrate our good fortune, and I have my second epiphany: it is the people we meet who create the paradise we find.
Ten years and one hundred countries later, there have several other moments of life-affirming clarity. As for those three simple steps, they sorted themselves out beyond my wildest dreams. Whenever I find myself lost, at home or on the road, I simply remind myself: wherever you are, is where you’re supposed to be.
Originally published in Get Lost Magazine.
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After many years running a behemoth of a blog called Modern Gonzo, I've decided to a: publish a book or eight, and b: make my stories more digestible, relevant, and deserving of your battered attention.
Here you will find some of my adventures to over 100 countries, travel tips and advice, rantings, ravings, commentary, observations and ongoing adventures.