How to Decide Where to Travel Next + Our Travel Bucket List

If you’re one of those people who loves the idea of running off, spur of the moment, to whichever international destination has captured your imagination, stop reading now. We are not that kind of traveler and this pragmatic approach will crush your sentimental heart (I say that with love).

After the past year of adventure, Alex and I are eager to get back to the States, settle down, and at least try our hands at being normal(ish) people. In our future life with limited vacation days and travel budget, we can no longer realistically plan to travel wherever the wind may take us. So, we decided to put together a travel bucket list, and from that we built a shortlist of places we’d like to go together in the next 2-4 years.

Step 1: The whole bucket

First, we both simply listed out all the places we could think of that we really wanted to go. This was the easy part. I was pretty surprised how reasonable the list ended up being (about 40-some domestic and international destinations total).

Step 2: Identifying solo destinations

Now that we’ll have a home base from which to travel, solo travel or group trips with other friends are far more practical than when we were traveling just the two of us. So, we each looked at the list and noted any destinations that we felt no desire to visit. These will be girls/guys trips or possibly even solo trips to consider.  

Step 3: Picking the “not now” places

While we would love to go to just about any (all!) of these places immediately, some of them we know we’ll want to visit when we have kids, so we set those aside for later. There are also some bigger, expensive trips that we knew we could do when we’re older (because they’re relatively accessible, etc.), so we deferred those for later, too. While it obviously wouldn’t hurt to go to the same place twice in our lifetime, with such a long list of dream trips, why double-dip if we can avoid it? We figured we’d prioritize just the places we wanted to get to in the next 2-4 years while we’re unhampered by kids (no, Mom, you cannot hold me to that child-rearing deadline).

Step 4: Picking favorites

After splitting the remaining list into North America and overseas, we each picked our top-4 destinations on each list. We assigned 3 points to our highest priority, 2 to our second, and 1 each to our third and fourth picks. Adding up the points, we ended up with 4 international and 4 domestic destinations that earned points. (The remaining destinations will be on our list to prioritize in a few years once we’ve gone to the first eight.)

Domestic (including USA and Canada)

Highest priority destinations in the next 2-4 years:

  • San Francisco & Denver via the California Zephyr
  • Winter Ski Trip (in Vermont or CO)
  • Portland & Seattle
  • Savannah & Charleston

Short list for consideration after the above:

  • Maine
  • Austin, TX
  • Arkansas & the Ozarks
  • Nashville

Later in life:

  • Grand Canyon
  • Yosemite
  • Yellowstone
  • Alaska
  • Hawaii
  • Vancouver
  • Montreal
  • Toronto
  • Niagara Falls

Solo trips:

  • Chicago (Alex)

International destinations

Highest priority destinations in the next 2-4 years:

  • Peru & the Inca Trail
  • Patagonia
  • Scandinavia & the Northern Lights
  • India

Short list for consideration after the above:

  • Brazilian rainforest
  • Bolivia
  • Road-tripping South Africa

Later in life:

  • Jamaica
  • Costa Rica
  • Antarctica
  • Easter Island
  • Scotland
  • Ireland
  • Safari in Southern Africa
  • Pyramids of Egypt
  • Great Wall of China
  • New Zealand again (especially the South Island)
  • Western Australia
  • Trans-Siberian Railroad
  • Croatia

Solo destinations:

  • Kenya & Ethiopia (Kelly)
  • Oktoberfest in Munich (Alex)

Of course, as time passes, we expect this list to grow, and perhaps we may even lose interest in a few places, so this is very much a living document. But for the near-term future the prioritized short-list is a really great tool to keep us focused and motivated to save money (and to pass on crazy-cheap flight deals or trips to destinations not on our list, which might otherwise distract us from our dream travels).


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