Bucket list math

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Bucket List Math

…i.e. the boring administrative tasks of planning your dreams. Sexy!

We all seem to have bucket lists, despite the silliness of such a title in the context of amazing adventure collecting (buckets are for throwing out garbage, not accumulating warm and fuzzy memories!), and we all want to live out the dream of seeing and doing everything we’ve ever idolized before we go.

Bulgaria. Pretty sure Sofia.
“I said ALL of them, you idiot! Take me to ALL of them! All at once!”

But how many of us actually do it? Has a bucket list ever really served as inspiration to visit those places or do those activities, or is it merely a mental wish list?

Rarely are bucket lists discussed in terms of specific, actionable goals, but more often than not as a “maybe someday” type of thing; a Pinterest board, in the words of a certain Kate of adventurous repute.

We all do this, often with good intentions. “I’d love to go there someday” is generally a whole lot more open minded than “Ew, not for me.” But if the list is never prioritized, it’ll stay just a distant dream.

So let’s start with the most clichéd (though perhaps in a good way) king of all grandiose bucket list statements:

I want to see everything.” Hell yeah. Me too. But what’s it going to take?

Kosice, Slovakia
We all have one of those. Just metaphorically. Mmm, deep.

Enter mathematics, the sexiest of all mental disciplines, to save the day.

Depending on who’s counting, there are approximately 195 countries in the world, and no matter how spry and energetic you’d have us believe you are, it’s a lot of work visiting every place on that list, much less getting a deep and meaningful understanding of each one. So, what would it take to visit each and every country, given a variety of vacation-length conditions? Let’s find out:

If you have one month of vacation per year

Sounds pretty good, right? A month is plenty of time to soak up some serious liquor cultural experiences, no matter how big the country is. So here’s how long it’ll take to visit each country if you spend:

Wieliczka Salt Mines, Poland
“The pay may be shite, but the health care plan is okay.”
  • 1 month per country: 195 years :(
  • 1 week per country: 44.7 years
  • 1 day per country: 6.4 years

Obviously the final number wasn’t intended as a serious suggestion; but even given generous annual vacation packages, and a brisk-but-enjoyable 7 day visit for each country, you’ll literally spend your whole life doing it. If you start around age 20, you might finish, if you make it to age 70 or so.

And not only is 7 days not much, but, as you may know, countries change quite a bit in 50 years. The entire world will have changed while you were gone.

If you have 2 weeks of vacation per year

If you’re an American with a pitifully short 2 weeks of vacation per year, you’re in for a travel lifetime half as fun. I would simply ask readers to double the above numbers by 2, but then again, this section is for the Americans, and math problems have never really been our greatest asset.

  • 1 month per country: 390 years :(
  • 1 week per country: 89.4 years :(
  • 1 day per country: 12.8 years


If you have 6 months of vacation per year

Spissky Hrad, Slovakia
“Don’t talk to me until life is easier.”

Okay, so now we’re heading into some serious backpacker territory with a megalithic half-yearly epoch of diehard adventuring. Surely this’ll work out, right?

  • 1 month per country: 32.5 years
  • 1 week per country: 7.45 years
  • 1 day per country: 0.53 years

Once again, the final number was included just for fun. But look at the 1 month visit per country: Even that one’s going to consume half a lifetime. Start at age 20, finish just after 50. Even if you travel half the year, every year, you’ll still have to pick up the pace to see it all before it changes all over again.

What if I cut out Africa?

Does that sound bad? I bet it does.

But, at least for now, African tourism isn’t nearly as much of a draw as other parts of the world, and most visitors stick to a few (comparatively) accessible places; South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, Ethiopia, Morocco…maybe a few more. Chances are that except for a lion-spotting safari, which only requires visiting one country, your bucket list features monuments and experiences from other continents.

I’m not saying not to go; I’d love to! But chances are you won’t be visiting all 55 countries in Africa, and most of them probably aren’t on your list. So that cuts down the list by about 30%, and there are quite a few micro-nations in the Pacific that you’ll probably skip. But even then, it’s going to be tough.

So what the hell do I do?!!?!?

Chances are you’ve been reading this with streams of tears rushing down your face as the cold, hard weight of reality crushes your spirit into tiny, irreparable pieces. What is a heartbroken wanderlust-stricken dreamer to do!?!?

Somewhere in Croatia. I'm gonna say...Zagreb.
“I’m sorry, children, but Mrs. Poppins just really wants to see Paris.”

1) Prioritize: It sounds so easy, but I bet that list of yours is just a list. You don’t have to cut things out; that’s not really important. But you’ll need to rank those experiences in order. Start giving them star ratings and rewrite the list with your absolute must-sees at the top.

2) Plan: You’ll notice I didn’t even touch on the subject of money anywhere in here. Well, that’s because the problem is tough enough as it is! But if you’re going to go out into the world and live your dreams, you need to know how much it’s going to cost, how much time it’s going to take, and all the other little details that no bucket list ever includes. Get yourself to a bookstore and devour a guidebook. Once you start getting concrete details of what bus schedules are like and what time of day the museums are open, you’ll start planning, rather than imagining.

3) Save: And by that, I mean sacrifice. Seriously. If it takes saying no to your friends when they invite you out for 18 rounds of tequila shots and $26 in cab fare to get home, then say no. Come up with a concrete savings plan, and stick to it. Or just get guys to buy you drinks. Either way.

Mostar, Bosnia
You can tell by my wistful and awestruck gaze that I am admiring something especially fascinating.

Most of these recommendations will fall into place if you make it a serious priority to travel and see what you’ve been dreaming of seeing your whole life. So don’t just dream. Plan.

Dreams may be sexy, but planning is the condom that makes it all possible.

So I issue this challenge to thee: Find one thing on your bucket list. Your number one true love. And do it.

I dare you.

You’ll be glad you did.

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