The Expert in Baby Boomer Travel

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The Northern Lights, best viewed above the Arctic Circle,took the top spot on this Bucket List survey;

The Northern Lights, best viewed above the Arctic Circle,took the top spot on this Bucket List survey

While I prefer the term “Life List” to “Bucket List” — it just has a more positive ring to it — Bucket List has become the generally accepted phrase for delineating those often-challenging, mostly travel-related experiences you want to do before you, uh, can’t do them any more.

As a baby boomer, I’m acutely aware that I won’t have as much time or perhaps physical capacity as a millennial to, say, climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, which has recently slipped off my Bucket List until  I can work myself into better shape. A few more years on the treadmill should do it, if my knees haven’t collapsed in the process.

The good news is, Bucket List items don’t have to involve super-strenuous exertion. In fact, according to a recent TotallyMoney.com survey of 1,000 people who were asked to name their top 20 Bucket List items, only a couple of them require a huge amount of physical effort.

Broadly speaking, I think it’s a pretty good list.

I’ve been fortunate to have experienced most every one of the 20 items, though a few have been fairly brief encounters. Here are the top five, with my comments and notations. I’ll have the rest of the top 20 for you — plus my own current Bucket List top 20 — in future posts.

Only about one-fifth of Americans have been on a cruise, one of the great bargains in travel. Photo from Blount Small Ship Adventures.

Only about one-fifth of Americans have been on a cruise, one of the great bargains in travel. Photo from Blount Small Ship Adventures.

The Top Five Bucket List Activities: 

1. See the Northern Lights.This surprised me, an intriguing choice for number one.  Oddly, I first experienced the Northern Lights — where multiple colors dance across the sky in a succession of greens, reds, purples, blues, and yellows — as a boy in Indiana, where they rarely appear.  The best chance to view the lights, or Aurora Borealis, is in winter at the dark, remote Abisko National Park  in northern Sweden, where a chairlift leads to a viewing platform above the trees. Alaska, northern Canada, Greenland, Iceland, and northern Scandinavia in  general are other good possibilities, from September through April.

2. Go on safari. A classic Bucket List item. My wife, Catharine, and I went on our own safari with a friend years ago in Kenya’s Tsavo National Park.Driving a little rental car, we covered much of the New Jersey-sized wildlife reserve in three days, in the near-constant presence of elephants, giraffes, rhinos, hippos, wildebeest, Cape Buffalo, hyenas, ostriches, warthogs, giant lizards, unusual birds —  just about everything but big cats. We saved a lot of money by doing it on our own, but in retrospect we were flat-out crazy to risk having our car break down with nothing but fierce two-ton creatures for company. It;s best to go with a guide, and don’t miss Tanzania’s Serengeti and the annual Great Migration where lion meets wildebeest — usually bad news for the gnus.– or some of the fabulous game parks in southern Africa.

3. Walk the Great Wall of China. A must when visiting Beijing.  It’s touristy, but the most convenient place to walk the Great Wall is at Badaling, about 42 miles from the Chinese capital.  This is the best-conserved, most photographed section of the wall — you may remember it from the footage of Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China in 1972, and my visit there in 1999 (well, maybe not the latter). Other sections are a bit farther out from Beijing and less crowded, but Badaling is a great place to take a stroll on the wall (well, climb a bunch of steps), best early in the morning before the throngs arrive.

Great Wall at Badaling at dawn. Photo by Dennis Cox/WorldViews

Great Wall at Badaling at dawn. Photo by Dennis Cox/WorldViews

4. Visit the Grand Canyon. The second most visited U.S. national park, Arizona’s Grand Canyon pops up on just about every Bucket List of American attractions. How grand is it? The multi-colored canyon, cut by the Colorado River over millions of years, is 277 miles long, ranges up to 18 miles in width and is more than a mile deep. Since my last visit there, a viewing platform extending over the canyon has been erected on the remote West Rim. The El Tovar Lodge on the edge of the heavily visited South Rim offers knockout views of the canyon and nearby hiking and mule ride trails.

5. Go on a cruise. Astonishingly, to me anyway, only about a fifth of Americans have ever taken a cruise of any type.  Since cruising is one of my specialties,  I’m glad to see it show up on so many Bucket Lists, but I’m wondering — what are you waiting for?  It’s not difficult to find week-long cruises in the Caribbean, say, for around $50 per day per passenger— $350 (plus any extras) for all your lodging, all your transportation, and all your food!

Note: Non-cruisers tell me all the time that they think they’ll be “bored” or worry about getting seasick or that their ship will run aground. My answers: take a port-intensive river cruise or an activity-laden sea cruise and you’ll never be bored (if all else fails, bring a good book and read it on deck); ask your doctor about the latest anti-seasickness medications or email me for my own recommendation;  and cruise ship disasters (which make irresistible news stories) are about as common as snowstorms in Florida.

Next Up: The next five items in the TravelMoney.com Bucket List survey. Which made the cut for the Top Ten — the Egyptian Pyramids, Venice, or India’s Taj Mahal?

Readers, I’d love to hear what tops your own Bucket Lists, or to hear your comments on whether or not you think these are a worthy Top Five.

5 Responses to Top Bucket List Items: What’s Number One?

  • I always wants to visit Machu Picchu in Peru!

    • I would consider: turquoise coast of turkey, Amazon, Ring road Iceland, and driving the Alps in a convertible! Tim Ruecker

  • Great choices, Mitch and Tim. Mitch, not only would you love Machu Picchu, I’m sure, but you even know how to spell it. Tim, I can definitely picture you driving the Alps in a convertible or sailing the Turquoise Coast of Turkey in a gulet. Go for it!

  • Hi Clark,

    What have you found to be the best way to determine a retirement location? I have 3 adult children and 4 grandchildren in three different states; Iowa, Illinois, and Texas. I have been a single parent since my children were preschoolers and have devoted my life to my career and the well-being of my children. I am still emplolyed as a professional but am approaching retirement within the next few years. Deciding where to locate in retirement is proving more difficult than I had anticipated. I would greatly enjoy having someone to share my retirement with while still staying closely connected to my children and grandchildren. I have considered house sitting in various locations but have no foundation for knowing if this would be a viable temporary option. Any advise or suggestions you could provide about options to consider or how to decide where to retire would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Nina,

      The standard things that people look for in retirement are (not necessarily in this order): 1) proximity to family or good friends 2) access to medical care 3) weather — usually warm 4) affordability 5) convenience of location (proximity to cultural facilities, restaurants, airports if you like to travel, etc.). I imagine you’ve considered all these things but if not, they’re definitely worth it. I don’t know where you live so I don’t know how many of these things apply to your current location, but it sounds like you’re willing to drastically downsize if you’re considering house sitting. That could be a workable temporary option but you may want to establish a base somewhere near one set of your children/grandchildren — perhaps renting a small apartment so you don’t have to travel around with all your worldly possessions each time you move to another house sitting position. Or maybe you own a house outright now and can afford to keep it while you go on the road. I can’t speculate. If you decide against the house-sitting option, I’d weigh the above five factors and also ask yourself if you prefer a small/medium-sized town — perhaps with a university that provides cultural opportunities — a larger city, or the country, though this can get dicey as you get older (fewer medical facilities, longer driving distances, fewer services in general). It sounds like you’re young and vigorous enough to try a temporary solution first (such as house sitting in various locations) before making a long-term commitment. That would give you the big advantage of testing out a number of different towns/cities to see what living there is actually like. Meanwhile, I find it always helps to list the pros and cons of any masjor life-changing decision, using the criteria that are important to you. I don’t know if this helps at all, but I’d be happy to offer more specific advice if you’d like to tell me more about your individual situation. You can email me at clark@clarknorton.com Thanks for writing!

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According to government and private surveys:

  • Leading-edge baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1955) and seniors account for four out of every five dollars spent on luxury travel today.
  • Roughly half the consumer spending money in the U.S.--more than $2 trillion--is in the hands of leading-edge baby boomers and seniors.
  • Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) travel more than any other age group.
  • When asked what they would most like to spend their money on, baby boomers answered “travel” more than any other category, including improving their health or finances.

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