What's on your travel bucket list?

Bucket lists are more than a pleasant distraction; they have real psychological value. Fulfilling a bucket list “is an attempt to make life memorable," writes Prof. Christopher Peterson.

Iceland Blue Lagoon geothermal spa (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Iceland Blue Lagoon geothermal spa
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
‘I need a break,” I said to my doctor after finally recovering from the flu and pneumonia that had made my life miserable for six weeks straight.
“I agree,” my doctor responded. “I’m writing you a prescription. For a vacation. Doctor’s orders.”
My face brightened – now this was a medication I could get behind.
“Any idea where you want to go?” my doctor asked.
I had in fact been making plans, even while sick, and had put together an exotic itinerary.
“Vietnam,” I replied. Along with Cambodia and Laos, Vietnam had long been at the top of my personal travel bucket list. Plus, our youngest son had just been there as part of his post-army trek last year.
“Oh,” my doctor said quietly, and her face dropped.
I had expected this reaction: cancer patients with compromised immune systems, especially those getting just over pneumonia, probably shouldn’t travel to countries not so rigorous about high standards of hygiene.
This conversation took place a week before the Wuhan, China-based coronavirus, known as COVID-19, began dominating headlines. And then our travel plans necessarily changed.
One after another, airlines began canceling routes to and from mainland China. Countries sealed borders. Face masks sold out.
Vietnam declared a public health emergency and banned flights from its northern neighbor – including from Hong Kong, which was how we were planning to fly to Hanoi. (Hong Kong flights have since been reinstated, but by the time this is published, that could be reversed again.)
This is not the first time that we’ve had to change plans due to a virus in Asia. In 2002, my wife, Jody, and I were planning a vacation to China just as the SARS epidemic hit. When El Al suspended its flights to Beijing, we opted for India instead.
With Southeast Asia out – for now at least – Jody and I began reviewing the rest of our travel bucket list. When the time is right again, where else could we go – preferably far from the epicenter of this current outbreak?
Bucket lists are more than a pleasant distraction; they have real psychological value. Fulfilling a bucket list “is an attempt to make life memorable and is consistent with [Israeli Nobel Prize Winner] Daniel Kahneman’s peak-end theory,” which holds that what people retain most from events and experiences are their peaks, writes Prof. Christopher Peterson in Psychology Today. “Bucket lists, if accomplished, set memories in place that structure life as remembered.”
Bucket lists can have a downside, as well. Writing in The New Yorker, Rebecca Mead called bucket lists “a commodification of cultural experience, in which every expedition made, and every artwork encountered, is reduced to an item on a checklist to be got through, rather than being worthy of repeated or extended engagement.”
While it’s true that I rarely go back to a place I’ve already visited (just as I hate watching movies twice), curating a travel bucket list can give you something to look forward to, especially when you’re feeling down. It helps prioritize limited vacation time, too.
Travel bucket lists can become a bit morbid when, like me, you actually have a serious illness and the bucket, while not in any danger of being kicked in the immediate future, feels slightly more real than metaphorical.
Jody and I have traveled a lot, both with and without the kids, since we moved to Israel: the pyramids in Egypt, safari in Tanzania, 11 days on the Annapurna Trail in Nepal. We’ve journeyed up and down Israel, on foot, by bus and in cars, in our 25 years here.
For our 30th wedding anniversary, we planned to hike into Machu Picchu in Peru. But that was the year of my chemotherapy and a four-day intensive trek on the Inca Trail at high altitude was out. South America remains near the top of our travel bucket list.
Also on our list (in no particular order):
• Iceland: Volcanos, the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, caving and waterfalls galore. (If only it wasn’t so cold, but that’s why it’s called Iceland.)
• Morocco: A Muslim country with a rich Jewish past that isn’t overly anti-Zionist.
• Alaska: Hiking through the six-million-acre Denali National Park, gazing at glaciers while avoiding any run-ins with grizzlies, would be an outdoorsy dream.
• South Africa: A weeklong drive along the Garden Route southeast of Cape Town sounds as romantic as the Far East is exotic.
• Japan: I’ve already visited three times (twice for work) but Jody’s never been. Plus, it’s been years since I had authentic okonomiyaki.
• Croatia and Slovenia: The former because Game of Thrones; the latter for a less expensive version of the Alps. (Substitute Georgia or Bulgaria for equally exquisite trekking close to Israel.)
• Budapest: Time it right and Wizz Air can get you from Israel to one of Europe’s most beautiful capitals for under $200 round-trip.
• India: We’ve done the Delhi-centric tourist triangle along with a weekend in Mumbai, but the South still beckons.
• Russia: To tour this world power would be fascinating, but are Israelis welcome there anymore? Even without weed in our suitcases?
It's fun to fantasize, but with the world in the grips of a possible pandemic, the safest thing to do is probably to hunker down at home and watch travel shows on TV. (I’m pretty sure my doctor would agree.)
When the COVID-19 danger eventually passes, though, there’s one more place I’d hate to miss: China.
So, what’s on your travel bucket list?
The writer’s book, Totaled: The Billion-Dollar Crash of the Startup that Took on Big Auto, Big Oil and the World, is available on Amazon and other online booksellers. brianblum.com