Live an adventurous life of work + travel

Why you shouldn’t make a list of things to do before you die

You’re probably thinking I’m some sort of nutcase. What kind of insane person would say you shouldn’t make a list of things to do before you die?

I’m not saying that making a list of places we want to see and experiences we want to have is a bad idea, far from it – having a list is a great way to keep inspired about things we might want to do in the future.

I have a lot (I mean, A LOT) of these types of lists. I’ve made online maps of every continent where I’ve pinned all the places I want to visit, created numerous Pinterest boards of pretty destinations to see one day, and subscribed to a bucket-load of blogs that continuously inform me of locations that I absolutely have to go to.

I reel in travel inspiration like there’s no tomorrow, but instead of calling these lists Bucket lists, Wishlists, or Things to do before I die, I call them to-do lists. Many of us tick off daily tasks with a to-do list, but not many of us use them for ticking off travel experiences.

Ashlea the backpacker

So excited after having just packed my bag for my first backpacking trip!

Backpacking through Europe had been on my list for a long while. I thought that backpacking would be something that I should experience while I was still young, and if I didn’t get around to it I’d probably regret it forever. So when I decided to finally go ahead and do it, I ditched the wishlist and made a plan.

I created an itinerary and budget for the three-month trip and figured that I needed to work full-time for at least 1 year to save up enough money. I went through my calendar and organised the travel dates to fit in between Robert finishing a semester of uni and a wedding we needed to return for.

10 months before the date I had set for our departure, I walked into a travel agent and booked our flights that very day.

It was an incredibly scary decision – we didn’t have the money yet and would both have to quit our jobs and move out of our apartment to make it work. We’d be missing out on Christmas with our families, travelling to cities without having much booked, and venturing into countries with reputations of being unsafe, but I went ahead and booked our flights. There was no backing out.

After a year and a half of planning, we finally arrived in Europe. As I stepped off the plane in Moscow, I felt a huge sense of achievement for turning my dream into reality.

Bruges 14

I made it happen! Bruges, 2014, after 2.5 months of backpacking.

I believe we shouldn’t make Things to do before I die lists because we place those items into the basket of distant future plans that in all likelihood will never happen. Instead, we should learn how to make lists of actions to get us to where we want to go.

Using the term ‘before I die’ is negative – it reminds us that we are afraid of death, when in fact we should be thinking about living. Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to consider the things you could achieve over the next few years, than the things that you’re wondering if you’ll get done before you kick the bucket?

We’re limiting ourselves – why think about our time as something that limits us, when we could be thinking of the endless possibilities we have?

We’re encouraging ourselves to make a wishlist, rather than take action. 

I know way too many people who’ve said they wish they could go on a trip to so-and-so. They’ve seen a photo that a friend posted from a trip and so they and add it to their list of  Places to see before I die. But a wishlist isn’t something that just happens, it’s something you put aside for later and probably never get done.

Think about what you would really like to do, and make a plan to do it.

I encourage us all to change our way of thinking. Instead of making a Things to do before I die or Bucket list – make a Things I will do in the next 5 years list and see how much further it takes you.


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Ashlea Wheeler

Blogger & Photographer at A Globe Well Travelled
I'm Ashlea, an excitable Australian who loves photography and exploring the world. Find out more about me.

21 Responses to “Why you shouldn’t make a list of things to do before you die”

  1. Anne Sutherland-Smith

    Ashlea, thanks for putting my similar thoughts into words. I hate bucket lists with a passion as I mostly believe that for most people they can never achieve them.

    Instead we have a number of travel aspirations and we save up and based on our savings, time available and interests at the time we decide where we will go. We only travel with money we have saved, we never take loans so our budget is the determining factor.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I’m so glad you share my views on bucket lists Anne! That’s a great way to go about it, your lists should definitely be determined by budget, time, and interests, rather than being based on nothing at all.

      Reply
  2. Rosy

    I never thought of it like this, but I totally agree with you. A great read,it really makes me want to travel now.

    When I turned 21 I made a list of 21 things I wanted to accomplish, over a year later I am still making my way through the list, but it was great because it made me stop and think about what I really wanted to do and pushed me to do it.

    Rosy x

    bluebellrose22.blogspot.com

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      What a fantastic way to go about making a list of goals Rosy! I’m sure you’ll get through your list in due time – the most important thing is that you’ve started and you’re still working at it instead of letting it sit there. Well done!

      Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I’m glad you agree Meagan! I think it’s something that not many of us think about until someone points it out.

      Reply
  3. Nomads At Heart

    That is a great post. I suppose the list is not a static thing, more like a process as you grow and develop your understanding of the world. Actually it would be fun to see my ‘things to do before I die’ list from … for example 10 years ago. Probably would make me chuckle. 🙂

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Absolutely – it’s really all about the way you think about the list, not the actual list itself. I can imagine your list from 10 years ago would be significantly different to now!

      Reply
  4. Maame Akesi

    Hey, you are so right! The focus should always be on the living… very good reminder, thank you. (And nice to meet you!)

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I’m glad you agree Maame! I think many people do already look at their list this way, but they just need someone to point it out to realise it. Thanks for your comment 🙂

      Reply
  5. Camila

    I completely agree with this – I feel making a ‘life’ list or ‘before I die’ list is just kind of slightly depressing. Instead I started making more realistic lists, like you mentioned. Things I want to do before I’m 30, things I want to visit in the current city I live in, etc. I think that this makes it more realistic and also will make me feel better because I will be able to cross things off much more easily and in a better time frame! Great post!

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      It definitely makes the list more realistic when you think about it that way, and the feeling of crossing things off is fantastic. You’re setting a great example for us all Camila!

      Reply
  6. Chalsie

    I totally agree!!

    I’m not really the type of person who plans too much ahead, but I’ve found as I’m getting older I want more out of my life. Recently I created a travel bucket list for 2015. I feel that’s a lot more achievable than a ‘before I die’ list. I believe giving myself a deadline means I get more done. 🙂

    Chalsie | The Workshop Co. x

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      That’s a fantastic way to go about it Chalsie, creating a deadline for the list makes it so much more real and likely to happen!

      Reply
  7. Francesca @onegrloneworld

    Wow – we really are on the same page!! Your story is so inspiring! I know we don’t know each other personally, but I felt proud of your accomplishment even so! It takes guts and determination to do what you did and take action in good faith that you could pull off taking that trip! And the beautiful thing is we ALL have that ability inside of us, but the way we think has an impact on our actions, which is why I don’t like “bucket list” thinking for all the reasons you mentioned above. You said it all beautifully!

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Indeed we are! Thanks Francesca 😀 I often feel the same way about other bloggers when I read their stories. You’re absolutely right – we all have the ability to make things happen, but not all of us exercise it. The best thing we can do is to put tasks into a new perspective, and prove to the people around us that these things can be done!

      Reply
  8. Alyson

    I see where you’re coming from with this.
    I’ve never made any sort of list, paper or electronic, we just go with what’s convenient, what we can fit in most easily, which flights are cheapest.
    There are several big wants on my travel list, starting with Bhutan, Burma, Jordan, Komado Island and to take my kids to Egypt ( I’ve been already). But somehow they never seem to fit. I doubt I will ever be able to afford Bhutan, certainly not for all 4 of us. But y’know, the things we do instead are just as much fun and sometimes e surprise ourselves with just how great they are. Just do what you can. With the whole world as your playground, it’s all good.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I totally agree with your style of travel, Alyson! Most of the time, you’ll get better deals and have more unexpected experiences if you travel with whatever works with your itinerary and budget. It’s great to have a list of places we want to see (and your list sounds amazing, by the way!) but we shouldn’t let that list control our lives or make us feel like we’re not achieving something just because we’re not ticking things off it. We need to make the most of what we CAN do! 🙂

      Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Ahh there’s nothing wrong with a bit of dreaming and wishing, as long as you have the ability to make it happen if you decide that it’s something you actually want to do. So glad you agree with me on the death theme, Anna! It drives me crazy when people put ‘before you die’ on the end of every post title!

      Reply

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