Having a Travel Goal or List

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The opposite of a great truth is also true.”  — Gretchen Rubin

Last week, I talked about the pitfalls of competitive travel and letting your travel decisions be driven by a checklist, selecting destinations you aren’t passionate about simply to say you have been there. I still believe everything I said there is true. Except when it isn’t. (See that? “The opposite of a great truth is also true.”)

Let’s look at why having a travel goal or list can be useful!

Travel checklist
Image by TeroVesalainen from Pixabay

New learning opportunities

While I despise the hideously overused term “bucket list,” having a travel goal (e.g. visiting all 50 states or attending a game at every Major League Baseball park) or list can in fact be motivating. It can push you to seek out travel opportunities you may not otherwise have pursued.

Last year, for example, we realized that Jim had been to 45 of the 50 states. It seemed like a reasonable goal to try to visit the five he had not yet been to. With that in mind, this weekend will be using our Southwest Companion Pass to visit his 46thstate (Oklahoma)–a trip we likely would never have scheduled had we not set this goal.

The reflecting pool at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum provides calm for thought.
Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Researching our destination, we picked up Sam Anderson’s fascinating book, “Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, its Chaotic Founding, Its Apocalyptic Weather, Its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dream of Becoming a World-class Metropolis.” Oklahoma City has a pretty wild and interesting history, much of which was unknown to me. [Go ahead, add it to your Goodreads list. We’ll wait.]

Having a travel goal not only motivated us to find an opportunity to visit another state but also helped us expand our knowledge and understanding of another part of our country.

Motivation and structure

Similarly, many years ago, when I was a newly divorced mom of two young boys, we spent a lovely spring break hiking in Shenandoah National Park (an itinerary chosen primarily because it was the only trip I could afford at the time). We had a wonderful week of little boys racing up and down trails, scrambling over every rock in sight, and sitting in awe at numerous bear sightings. Somewhat spontaneously we decided that we should try to visit all 60 national parks. (There are now 61, with the January 2019 addition of Indiana Dunes National Park). 

Two young boys posing with trail marker in Shenandoah National Park
Hiking in Shenandoah National Park on our very first National Park trip.

At the time, I had no idea just how ambitious a goal that was. And, in all honesty, now that I am significantly more knowledgeable about the national parks, I realize that I am not truly driven to visit all 61. Eight, for example, are in Alaska, including two above the Artic Circle (Gates of the Arctic and Kobuk Valley National Parks) and four that are accessible only by bush plane (Katmai, Lake Clark, and the aforementioned Gates of the Arctic, and Kobuk Valley National Parks). I would love to visit Denali, Kenai Fjords, and Glacier Bay National Parks. However, I don’t feel compelled anymore to allocate my time and money to visiting all eight parks there. And that’s ok.

Having a travel goal that focused on national parks did provide us with a nice structure around which to build several wonderful family trips. 

Happy family of five posing in front of the Three Sisters in Zion National Park
Zion National Park was a family favorite

I have since enjoyed the spectacular scenery of Acadia, Great Smoky Mountains, Everglades, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Glacier, Death ValleyGrand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Mesa Verde, Olympic, Haleakala, and Arches National Parks. The goal inspired those trips, but we are not a prisoner to it.


As for traveling to every country in the world, I will leave that to other people. I do however draw inspiration from the Travelers’ Century Club (TCC) list of countries and territories. The TCC list (with a total of 327 countries and territories) is much broader than the UN member state model (currently 193, plus two observer states: The Holy See and the State of Palestine). 

For example, it lists as separate entities, “[c]ontinental land areas having a common government or administration but which are geographically discontinuous ” as well as islands “situated at least 200 miles from the closest continental portion of its administrating country.”

Under these criteria, the 48 contiguous U.S. states would be one territory, while Hawaii and Alaska would each be a separate one. That makes a great deal of sense to me, since a traveler to Hawaii is going to have a very different experience than a visitor to Alaska.

Couple posing under tree in Kauai's lush green landscape near Hanalei Bay
NOT Alaska.

Studying the TCC list introduced me to a number of interesting geographic oddities. Does anything jump out at you in the list of North American countries and territories?

St. Pierre & Miquelon?

Despite having lived in both Canada and France, I somehow had never heard of this French Overseas Collectivity tucked offshore just a few short miles from Newfoundland. (And, of course, now that it has come to my attention, I see mentions of it frequently!) Were it not for this list, perhaps I would have remained in the dark about these small islands.

So, maybe having a travel goal or list isn’t so bad after all.

Go ahead. Set your goal. Make your list. Use it wisely. And remember, the aim is to seek out new opportunities, find motivation, and discover, not to merely check a box.

Related post:

How Many Countries Have You Been To? And Does It Even Matter?

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