So many travel bucket lists focus on where to go and what iconic landmarks to visit. While those are great, I wanted to look at it from a different angle. Why don’t we look at the experiences that can leave a mark, expand our horizons, and change us as a person?
At the start of each year, we are surrounded by various challenges — the 30-day exercise challenge, yearly reading challenges, healthy eating challenges. The purpose of many of these challenges is to give us a structure to follow, feed us with ideas, and push us to try something that we may not otherwise.
This travel bucket list challenge attempts to do all of that, it just takes a longer-term view. After all, no one checks off their entire bucket list in a year. Since we often talk about having eighteen summers with our children before they head off to college, I thought I would include 18 experiences to strive to achieve with our kids.
Of course I love to check off lists as much as the next type-A personality. But while this travel bucket list challenge takes list form, I really encourage you to think about the experiences you want to have with your kids. What will make you and your kids stop and think about other people from other parts of the world? What makes you examine the forces of history that have shaped our world and our cultures? What can make everyone care deeply about the fragile environment that makes up this beautiful world?
These are the experiences that I encourage you to seek out. The travel bucket list challenge is just a starting point and idea generator. Still, I would love to see what you come up with. As you complete your travel bucket list challenge, I encourage you to send me messages or share on social media using the hashtag #travelbucketlistchallenge.
Travel Bucket List Challenge
I have explained the various challenges below. However, I’ve also created a downloadable PDF printable so you can print it out, hang it up, and check things off as you go. Don’t forget to add in where you went or what you did that checks off that challenge. Share as you go on social media using the #travelbucketlistchallenge hashtag!
Visit a Civil Rights or Human Right museum or historic site
Learning about history in a book is not the same as visiting the place where historic events happened or a museum dedicated to that subject. In the U.S. and other countries around the world, we have struggled and continue to struggle with issues of equality and human rights.
The Civil Rights road trip that we took through the south made a long-lasting impression on our family. By visiting Civil Rights museums, we had a much deeper understanding and appreciation for the horrors and hardships faced by Civil Rights activists.
We also heard many words and slogans that aren’t too dissimilar to what is part of political rhetoric today. This made it clear that the fight is ongoing, and that we can’t be complacent bystanders, but rather we need to be a part of the solution.
The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, the site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is one of the best in the United States. Another is the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, which is new and extremely well-done with interactive exhibits.
Another option is the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, Canada.
Visit a museum or attraction dedicated to native/indigenous peoples
Our history books used to teach the heart-warming story of the first Thanksgiving and the great victories of our army over the fierce, red-skinned Indians. Luckily, these myths are being dispelled and we are doing a better job of teaching the brutal realities that colonizing forces brought upon the native peoples of the U.S.
Around the world, colonists and conquerors have left a blood-soaked mark on native peoples. The effects of which are long-lasting. It is important to understand and appreciate these native cultures and face the reality of history.
There are many ways to learn about native cultures from visiting museums, attending a meeting of tribes, or visiting an active Pueblo. I would highly recommend visiting the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. (and be sure to eat at the cafe.)
We also thought the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver was fantastic. And if you are visiting the Black Hills in South Dakota, be sure to add a visit to Crazy Horse Memorial to your itinerary.
Visit a Holocaust museum or genocide museum/site
It is scary to hear how many young people haven’t heard of the Holocaust. Many history books also don’t spend a lot of time on other genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, India, and other places across the world. If we want to avoid these horrors in the future, we need our kids to understand why these events took place and get a glimpse of the absolute atrocities that have been committed.
This is clearly a topic that you need to broach at the right age, as some of the images and stories that they will experience can have a profound impact. Everyone also needs to treat these places as sacred sites out of respect to those that have lost their lives. We recently visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. and we saw groups of kids pushing their way through the crowds disrespectfully and people taking selfies in the memorial in front of the eternal flame. It was so upsetting to others around.
There are Holocaust museums around the U.S., including the well-known ones in Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and New York. Of course, you can also visit the concentration camps, Holocaust museum in Berlin, or take a Jewish history tour in Vienna, Budapest, and many other European cities.
Visit a place impacted by war
How do we prevent future wars? Hopefully learning about the events and actions that have led to previous wars. Visiting a battlefield or war museum may not sound like the ideal family vacation, but immersing your kids in this history is important. And it isn’t like a visit to Pearl Harbor is the only thing to do in Hawaii. 🙂
Some of the more impactful places to visit in the U.S. would include Gettysburg Battlefield, the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, Virginia (near Williamsburg and Jamestown), and of course Pearl Harbor. I would also include a visit to the 9-11 Memorial and Museum in New York City.
Order a meal using another language
I will never forget going for lunch in Seville, Spain, and the pride on my daughter’s face as she ordered her meal entirely in Spanish. Those months of listening to the Coffee Break Spanish podcast in the car on the way to school finally paid off.
When you go to another country but always visit the restaurants that have a tourist menu translated into two or three languages, you have made two mistakes. First, you probably aren’t getting the best food. Second, you haven’t challenged yourself to truly dip into the local culture and step out of your comfort zone.
I would encourage all families to try a little Rosetta Stone or Duolingo language learning before you travel and don’t be afraid to use what you have learned.
Explore a rainforest
Rainforests are one of our best defenses in fighting climate change because they absorb almost half of all fossil fuel greenhouse gas emissions. Yet the deforestation of Earth’s rainforests is a serious issue. How can we expect the next generations to preserve and protect the rainforests if they haven’t experienced them?
Whether you take a trip to the rainforests of the Amazon, explore them in Costa Rica, or visit the orangutans in Borneo, put visiting a rainforest on your bucket list! (Did you know that there are temperate rain forests even here in North America?)
When you go, be sure to visit a nature center or take a rainforest tour with a naturalist to learn about the ecosystem and the animals that call it home.
Hike in a national park
National Parks are a treasure that can sometimes be overlooked by families considering cruises, theme parks, or international destinations. But these parks have been set aside and preserved for their beauty and our enjoyment.
When visiting National Parks, try to get to a few that are a little more off the beaten path, then you will be able to avoid the large crowds and tour busses and appreciate nature in its glory. In the United States, I would recommend Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota (after all, he is responsible for establishing the National Park system) or the Badlands in South Dakota. Two of my all-time favorites are Crater Lake National Park and Grand Teton National Park.
Take a food tour in a new city
Food tours are one of our favorite ways to explore a city. Not only do you get the inside scoop on the local specialties and the best restaurants, many times you also explore neighborhoods that are off the typical tourist track.
Since we started taking food tours, I have turned many other families into food tour fans. Just make sure you discuss any allergies or food restrictions with your guide in advance and request a tour that is family-friendly, especially if you have picky eaters. I find they are best for tweens and teens, but it really depends on the willingness of your kids to try new foods and their ability to walk and listen to the guide.
Snorkel in a coral reef
Coral reefs are another endangered ecosystem that we need to work to preserve. While we want to avoid activities that create a negative impact on our reefs, it is an amazing experience to get to see. These days, kids as young as 10 are able to get scuba certifications. However, you don’t need to be a diver to see coral reefs or experience ocean life.
If you get to see the Great Barrier Reef off of Australia or the Belize Barrier Reef, count yourself lucky. But fortunately, there are many other places to learn about and experience a coral reef. And if you don’t want to get in the water, via snorkel, scuba, or Snuba, at least think about taking a glass-bottom boat ride. These are even included at resorts like Beaches Turks & Caicos.
Walk on a glacier
I used to think you had to visit South America or Antarctica to walk on a glacier. But it actually isn’t that hard. We took a glacier hike in Iceland and there are also options in Alaska, Canada, and other parts of the world.
The sad thing is, glaciers are melting and receding at an unbelievable rate. The time to see them is now. And if you want your kids to care about global warming, just show them the pictures of glaciers today versus five or ten years ago. Then when they go and see the beautiful places they have visited literally disappearing, they will want to act to make a difference.
Tour a castle
It can be hard to get kids interested in medieval history, but if the only castle they ever visit is Cinderella’s, they are missing out. Visiting a castle or palace can spur a wave of curiosity about knights and royalty, or peasants and lords.
Of course, not all castles and palaces are reserved for the medieval. Catching a glimpse of the inside of Versailles might make them understand the French Revolution. Touring the mansions in Newport, Rhode Island might get them interested in the robber barons of the industrial age. And seeing the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London may not intrigue them, but some of the stories of those who lived and died within those walls is sure to capture their attention.
Visit a church, synagogue, and/or mosque from another religion
It may seem like if you have seen one European Cathedral you have seen them all. That is until you see the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Actually, even the architecture between cathedrals can vary from Gothic to Medieval to Renaissance.
But the important part of this challenge is to visit a place of worship unlike your own (if you have one) and learn about the beliefs and history associated with that place and perhaps that religion. This can be Buddhist temples, synagogues, mosques, Hindu temples, you name it.
Visit an ancient ruins
We all learn about the Egyptian Pyramids, the story of Pompeii, and the ancient Mayan temples in school. But book learning is very different than experiencing these places in person. It took a visit to the Mayan pyramids at Chichen Itza in high school to make me appreciate how brilliant these ancient civilizations were (and without the benefit of modern technology.)
So find a culture that your child is interested in and go explore in person. Maybe it is the Roman Colosseum if they are interested in gladiators, or the Parthenon in Athens if mythology is more their thing. What about Stonehenge, Petra, or Machu Picchu? There are so many to choose from and chances are, visiting one will inspire a trip to another.
Make a list of five animals you want to see in the wild and go find them
Sure there are the Big Five that people love to see on an African Safari. But seeing wildlife doesn’t need to be that exotic. Personally, I’m still eager to see a beaver and a moose in the wild (planning a summer moose safari in Maine sometime soon!)
I have been thrilled to see bears in Alaska, bison in Yellowstone, bighorn sheep in the Badlands, and prairie dogs in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Others get super excited over alligators, elk, or eagles.
Whatever it is that will wow you, make a list and figure out a way to get to see some of these creatures in the wild. It is so much more fun than a zoo!
Go star gazing
If you live anywhere near a city or popular center, you don’t even know what stargazing is until you can get away from the light pollution and see just how many stars are up there to see with the naked eye. One of our most amazing experiences was at Sunriver in Oregon. We headed out one night to their on-site observatory and we were treated to a view of the Milky Way, without even using a telescope.
The Badlands is an excellent spot for stargazing and there are designated dark sky areas around the world. Whether you are camping or just out of an evening stroll or nighttime ranger program, taking the time to simply observe the stars raises all kinds of questions about our place in space.
Watch a desert sunset
There are many beautiful places to experience a sunset. Hawaii certainly is a great spot to observe some spectacular shows. However, there is just something special about a desert sunset. The sky feels so big and open and the colors are glorious.
Make time to experience the desert during the day too as many of us don’t have a lot of experience with a desert landscape and its wildlife. One of our favorite places to see the desert is at Saguaro National Park outside of Tucson.
Ride public transportation
If you visit a city and only ride around in an Uber or with a private driver, it is a bit like going to a different country and never trying to speak the language. Learning to navigate public transportation is an important life skill. It will also give you a better insight into a city than simply taking a cab.
Teach your kids how to read a metro map — how to look for the endpoints, how to figure out which track to go to and which line to take, and how to keep track of the stops along the way. Each city may have a different payment system that takes some research or getting used to, but the basics stay the same.
Visit a farm
Too often kids these days don’t know where their food comes from. Whether you are visiting another country or going to the county next door, be sure to take your kids to visit a farm. Even better, stay on a working farm (also called an agriturismo in Italy.) We had such a kick out of staying on a working farm in South Dakota and getting to help collect the eggs in the morning. It was really funny to listen to the visitor’s kids questioning what they were going to do with the eggs and the farmer’s son replying, “what do you think we had for breakfast?”
There are many farms were you can take cooking classes, visit the dairy to see how cheese is made, or pick and sample local produce. If you are visiting Tuscany, be sure to reserve a lunch and a cooking class at Podere il Casale.
Are you ready to get started on your Travel Bucket List Challenge? Just download and print out this handy PDF. Then hang it up and create your vision board. Be sure to note where you checked each item off your list and don’t forget to share on Instagram using hashtag #travelbucketlistchallenge.
We can’t wait to see where you go! I recognize that travel and tourism can also have a negative impact on a local culture and environment. But it can also have a positive impact on the local economy and, more importantly, our lives. Is the negative impact of travel on a rainforest overshadowed by the positive impact of creating rainforest ambassadors for life? I sure hope so. Just keep in mind the environmental impacts and look for eco-friendly travel options when available.
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Tamara Gruber is the Founder and Publisher of We3Travel. A former marketing executive and travel advisor, Tamara is an award-winning travel writer and recognized expert in family travel. She is also the publisher of YourTimetoFly and the co-host of the Vacation Mavens travel podcast.