Every traveller has a bucket list. They might not call it a bucket list, they might not explicitly say these are the things they plan to do before they "kick the bucket", but anyone who's interested in seeing the world will have goals, will have certain destinations and adventures that they would love to achieve.
We're always told to dream, as travellers. We're encouraged to create adventures wild and wonderful, to lust after classic attractions and be drawn in by famous places. We end each holiday thinking about the next. There's always somewhere new, somewhere exciting to think about, to dream of.
But what if you flipped that whole concept on its head? What if, instead of having a list of travel experiences you did want to have, you made up a list of those you most definitely did not? That, to me, would be just as interesting. It would show a lot about you as a traveller, about your opinion of the world.
I've had plenty of time over the years to mull over this concept, to make educated guesses about things I would most definitely not like to do, and to learn from some genuine mistakes I plan never to repeat. I have a bucket list – but I also have a reverse bucket list. Every traveller should. Illustrations: Jamie Brown
SITTING IN THE MIDDLE SEAT
There's a sinking feeling when you walk on the plane, when you realise you haven't checked the seat configuration properly, when you figure out that "J" isn't, in fact, an aisle seat, and it isn't a window – it's a middle. That means long hours wedged between two strangers. It means fighting a constant and probably losing battle for armrest room. It means sleeping bolt upright, with neither the side of the plane to lean on, or the aisle to stretch into. It means an already uncomfortable experience just got markedly worse. Tip for first-time players: always check the seat configuration, and for long flights, always book your seat in advance.
GETTING DELHI BELLY
It's not just Delhi Belly, of course. It's Bali Belly. It's the Pharaoh's Revenge, Montezuma's Revenge, and any other location-specific name you decide to give it. The symptoms are the same: the cramping stomach, the sweat of a fever, the urgent need to get to the nearest facilities no matter what they look like. A bout of food poisoning is most definitely on the reverse bucket list, but it's also, unfortunately, an unavoidable fact of travelling life for those of us who like to step off the beaten track, who glory in the sampling of all things weird and wonderful in a new place. Delhi Belly happens. And it's usually worth it.
VISITING ROME IN AUGUST
You would have to be crazy. To visit Rome in August is to put yourself through hell in a place that should be heaven. It's to rub shoulders (and hips, and knees, and shuffling feet) with seemingly every other tourist on the face of the planet, to be mowed down by tour group after tour group, to be collected by people on Segways, to be yelled at by guides with microphones, to queue, and queue, and queue, for attraction after attraction. Added to the fun, Rome is swelteringly hot in August, and most of the locals – including restaurateurs and bar owners – head to the beach, removing any shred of charm that may have survived.
INSULTING THE LOCALS
I can say this from experience. I can say this as someone who recently wrote something moderately critical about the food in Kazakhstan, who expressed his preference to not eat boiled horse meat again, and who unwittingly insulted a nation, bringing a rain of hatred upon his social media account. Not all insults will have such spectacular and obvious consequences, but still, it pays to avoid getting on the wrong side of the locals when you travel. Part of this is respect: seeing the world from someone else's point of view, accepting that things that might bother you in other countries aren't necessarily wrong, just different. Travel with an open mind, and an open heart – and don't mention the horse.
CROSSING THE DRAKE PASSAGE IN HIGH SEAS
Antarctica sits high on many a bucket list. It's a place people of all ages and travel persuasions would like to visit. However, to get there, you might just have to go through one of the most torrid journeys around. The Drake Passage – the body of water that separates the base of South America from the Shetland Islands of Antarctica – is notoriously rough. Waves here can reach upwards of 20 metres high, which is like having a six- or seven-storey building crash over the side of your ship. You might be lucky, of course, and score the "Drake Lake". But chances are you'll need those seasickness tablets.
DOING A FLIGHT TRANSFER THROUGH CHINA, OR THE US
I don't know what it is about these places, whether it's the sheer volume of traffic moving through their skies and their airports, or the frequent storms and typhoons, or the seemingly poor organisation on the ground. It's probably all of the above. Whatever the reason, transferring on a flight through China or the US is to dice with danger, to open yourself up to delays and missed connections, to bid goodbye to your luggage for a couple of days, to tangle with immigration officials and dash through dodgy airports.
TAKING AN OVERNIGHT BUS
In theory, this is a great idea. You get yourself from A to B quickly and cheaply, you experience local public transport, plus you skip the need for a night's accommodation, saving even more cash. The reality, of course, is very different. Unless you're in South America, travelling on executive-class buses with layback seats and waiter services, you'll probably find yourself cramped up and unable to sleep, with nothing to see out the window, and you'll arrive in your destination stinking and dishevelled and in need of a room to instantly check into so you can catch up on all that sleep.
MESSING WITH A CANADIAN BORDER GUARD
I don't know why, exactly, but staff from the Canada Border Services Agency, the ones who greet you when you stumble off your flight in Vancouver after having spent 15 hours crammed into a small metal tube, are hardcore. They're frightening. In fact, they're probably the worst possible introduction to a spectacularly friendly and polite people, as they grill you on your intentions while you try to keep your eyes open and remember where you are. Do not mess with these people.
LOSING YOUR LUGGAGE
I mean, obviously, right? No one wants to experience that sinking feeling of standing at the baggage carousel, seeing the flow of bags turn to a dribble, watching in horror as the last one is collected and the belt stops and knowing yours just isn't coming. I've had bags lost on the way home from South America – not a major drama, they arrived a few days later – and bags lost on the way to the US, which was a major drama, as one of those bags contained a snowboard, and that's fairly important for a snowboarding holiday. Sigh.
TALKING POLITICS IN THE US
This is fraught with danger. You just never know who you're talking to, whether it's a card-carrying liberal or a MAGA-hatted Trump fan, whether your casual comment about immigration will spiral into a full-blown argument. And then, even worse: you think you've got this person pegged, they seem fairly liberal, fairly easy-going, so you mention the insanity of America's gun obsession, and all of a sudden you're being treated to a tirade on the Second Amendment. Better to talk about football.
WALKING AROUND NAIROBI AT NIGHT
I don't mean to pick on Nairobi – you could easily substitute Johannesburg, Rio de Janeiro, Caracas, or even Mexico City. There are just certain places where you don't want to wander around by yourself at night, where you don't want to tempt any opportunistic thieves into relieving you of your prized possessions, and possibly your life. That's not to say you shouldn't visit: Nairobi is the gateway to all sorts of amazing adventures. Just, be careful when you do.
DRINKING BRITISH COFFEE
There are plenty of reasons to have Britain on your bucket list – the history, the pub culture, the friendly towns, the vibrant cities – but the coffee is definitely not one of them. Much of Britain is dominated by Costa and its ilk, chain cafes that do average coffee at high prices. There are a few exceptions, of course, but your chances of stumbling across one of those by chance are slim.
FLYING AIR KORYO
Air Koryo is the North Korean national carrier, and it's rated as one of the world's least safe airlines by AirlineRatings.com, and the world's worst airline by Skytrax. That's some record. Fly Air Koryo and you'll probably board a very old, Russian-made Tupolev aircraft, fly hoping that the cabin doesn't fill with smoke, or one of the flaps doesn't fall off (as happened in 2016 and 2017 respectively) and be served the airline's infamous "Koryo Burger", a mystery-meat pattie sandwiched in a bun, presented on a doily.
DOING A CRUISE WITH KID ROCK ON BOARD
Cruising is immensely popular, and if you're into that sort of thing, that's great. However, imagine being stuck for five nights on a cruise ship with American redneck rocker Kid Rock and his hardcore fans. That's what awaits those who roll up for the "Chillin' the Most" cruise, a "badass party" that floats around the Caribbean every summer. Mr Rock's isn't the only themed music cruise either: you could head out on the high seas with Kiss, Kenny Loggins, Lee Kernaghan, Little River Band, or even John Farnham. Pass the life preserver …
THINKING YOU DON'T NEED ACCOMMODATION
You only make this mistake once. I made it in Glasgow when I was much younger, hanging out with a group of friends, knowing we were flying to Portugal the next morning and planning to have a night on the town and figuring that, hey, we could save money by just putting our bags in lockers at the airport and staying out all night. Come 3am, however, tired and emotional and leaving the only nightclub we could find that was still open, that suddenly seemed like a very, very bad idea. Lesson learned: you always need accommodation.
REVERSE BUCKET LIST: FOOD
EATING SAN-NAKJI IN KOREA
For the uninitiated, san-nakji is a Korean delicacy of octopus that's so fresh it's still wriggling. Done the traditional way, the animal will actually be slaughtered in front of you, at your table, and will have to be chewed quickly to ensure the still-working suckers don't latch onto the inside of your throat. It's challenging, in all ways.
DRINKING AIRAG IN MONGOLIA
It should be pointed out that airag is the national drink of Mongolia and it's a cherished local tradition. For visitors, however, fermented horse milk is a serious challenge. The beverage – made by putting horse milk in a leather bag and hanging it outside for a few days – is tangy and effervescent, and tastes OK on the first sip, a little weird on the second, and undrinkable for every sip after that.
DOING ANY FOOD CHALLENGE
Do not be tempted by a hall or wall of fame. Do not be suckered in by this macho notion that you need to prove your worth. Any restaurant offering a food challenge – eat this huge burger in 15 minutes, polish off a two-kilogram steak in an hour, consume an entire 12-egg omelette, etc – should be studiously avoided.
DRINKING UGANDAN TAP WATER
Trust me, don't do this. After a month or so of travelling around East Africa I once convinced myself I had a cast-iron stomach and decided to drink some tap water in Uganda, as I was thirsty and didn't have any bottled water. Very bad idea. That goes for any developing country really.
TRYING BALUT IN THE PHILIPPINES
It's great to be adventurous when it comes to food, to put aside any preconceived notions of what's acceptable to eat and what's not and just give the local specialties a try. However, balut, the Filipino delicacy of a duck embryo eaten still in its shell, is a bridge too far for this traveller.
REVERSE BUCKET LIST: ATTRACTIONS
SEEING THE LITTLE MERMAID IN DENMARK
Some people have this on their actual bucket list, which is setting yourself up for disappointment. The Little Mermaid statue, in Copenhagen, might be famous, but it's also entirely underwhelming, the sort of attraction that makes you think to yourself, "Is that it?". It's little, and it's a mermaid. And that is it.
VISITING TIMES SQUARE IN THE US
This is another of those head-scratchingly popular attractions that appears on genuine bucket lists from time to time, a place famous for being famous, a square that's not really a square, an area with a few unimpressive shops, a handful of buskers, and that's about it. Not one to dream about.
SEEING THE MONA LISA IN FRANCE
Though some declare themselves unimpressed by the world's most famous painting, I've always found the Mona Lisa fairly mesmerising; or at least I assume I would if I could get anywhere near the thing, if I could see through the forest of gawkers that congregates in front of it from open till close.
GETTING IN THE WRONG QUEUE AT THE VATICAN
It's often hot in Rome in tourist season, and the idea of standing in a queue in the sun outside the Vatican for a few hours really doesn't appeal. What's even worse, however, is when you think you've just joined the queue for the Sistine Chapel, and then find out – an hour or so later – that you're about to enter St Peter's Basilica instead.
SEEING THE BIG POTATO IN NSW
There aren't many of Australia's famed "big" things that make genuine bucket lists, as they're more cultural quirks than genuine attractions, and surely the Big Potato, in Robertson, NSW, is one of the least frequently sought after. The potato itself is long and brown, and if you can think of anything else that fits that description, then you know what it looks like.
MY REAL BUCKET LIST: FIVE EXPERIENCES I WOULD LOVE TO HAVE
LIVE IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY
It's my belief (given past failures) that the only way to learn a foreign language is to live in a foreign country, and that is what I intend to do some day. I also crave that immersion into another culture, the chance to travel without moving, to dig deep into another way of life. Top of the list: Spain.
TRAVEL THE SILK ROAD BY TRAIN
Having had a taste of a few Silk Road countries now – Iran, Uzbekistan, western China – I would love to recreate that ancient journey in its entirety, and do as much of it as possible by train. There's a gentle pace to train travel, as well as the opportunity to meet and mix with locals, that would be ideal for seeing this part of the world.
RETURN TO PLACES I'VE LOVED
I think it's reasonable to have a bucket list that repeats past experiences, that allows you to go back to places you've loved and find out something new about them. My bucket list includes going back to places like Iran, Argentina, Zimbabwe, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and the Palestinian Territories, to rediscover what I loved, and see what else is in store.
DRIVE THE OKAVANGO DELTA
I have this one planned out in my head in detail. The journey would begin in Johannesburg, taking me and my family in a 4WD up into Zimbabwe, through Hwange National Park, up to Victoria Falls, and then down into serious off-road territory in Botswana, driving on dirt and sand tracks from Chobe National Park through the Okavango Delta and beyond.
DO ITALY BY SCOOTER
I love a scooter adventure. I've seen Vietnam on a scooter, ridden around Sardinia on a scooter, and even explored Sicily on a little moped. My dream, however, is to do all of Italy, to cross from Sicily over to the toe of the mainland's boot and then just keep on riding until the bike falls apart, or I'm too heavy from pasta consumption to get back on it.
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