What's bigger than a bucket?

Deciding to take a trip around the world is a big deal. The kind of event that merits a celebration like a gender-reveal party or an earnest conversation—”I have some news.” At the same time, that feels unnecessarily and weirdly ceremonial. Not sure how to let people know, I mostly didn’t. I dropped it casually into conversation where appropriate, like about events in 2020-2021 (Siena graduates high school and therefore our year will be her gap year, Gabe’s final year at middle school which he’ll miss, the election, etc). It just felt more comfortable that way.

I did write about it in The Road Taken: How to Dream, Plan, and Live Your Family Adventure Abroad, because it was interviewing and writing about other families’ immersive travel experiences for that book that we became inspired to take the plunge. I hadn’t expected that weaving together other people’s stories would wind up inspiring me, and I figured putting this information in my book’s post-script was enough of an announcement.

But then Keith told his bosses and in treatment-planning with clients I had to divulge that I’d be leaving in 2020 and Gabe’s school got wind and now it’s out.

And now come the questions. Which I’m always happy to answer, except I don’t really have answers. I don’t know what we’ll do with our house, I don’t know if I’ll work, I don’t know how Keith will work while we’re traveling, I don’t know if colleges will be okay with Siena deferring an acceptance, and I don’t know where we’re going.

That last is, of course, the fun question, and luckily for us, the one we get most often.

But when people ask, the members of my family invariably turn their gaze to me, expecting me to tick off on my fingers the place we’re going. Which makes sense, this trip was borne out of conversations between Gabe and I about all the places we want to see, but it’s me that moved it from idea to intention. That’s how it often works in our family. Without Keith and I together, nothing would ever happen. I design the dream, Keith figures out how to build it. We’re a good team that way. If not for me, he’d turn in the same spot, day after day. If not for him, I’d sit in a corner daydreaming. The two of us together gets us out the door. From our year in Italy to our trip to Southeast Asia to a Christmas jaunt to Quebec City, we make it happen together.

The thing is, right now, we’re not at the part of the trip where tickets are being purchased and houses reserved. We’re still firmly in idea formation—my domain.

I figure it’s time to bring the rest of the family aboard this dreaming train. Gabe, it must be said, is right here with me, but I’m uncomfortable with the trip being “our thing”. I want Keith and Siena to have a sense of ownership over it, too. They aren’t dreamers by nature. They never ever get a wistful look on their face as they murmur, chin propped in hand, “Do you know what would be great?” That’s okay, but I figure we can’t have this trip feel like they are along for the ride. We need their notions. I need them to answer the question because they have a stake in the plan.

So today we sat down and we all made our wish lists. We each grabbed a pad of paper and wrote down our 12 one-month destination ideas. My family bristles at being shoved in a box, so we left room for making the list their own way. They could add extra places, they could write down cities or countries or even continents, they could add a list of places they’d like to see but not for a month (like a long weekend between destinations), they could add experiences they’d like to have.

Juno is not remotely interested in our lists

Pencils scritched for about fifteen minutes. Keith reported this was hard and a little unpleasant, even though he was the only one who had a map in front of him (he also said that he didn’t like committing ideas to paper, it made it concrete for him). He and Siena noted that it was work to come up with 12 destinations. Gabe and I hardly noticed their difficulty, our pencils were too busy flying across the paper, page flipping because we needed more room. The process was such a clear outgrowth of our individual tendencies towards dreaming. When Gabe and I watch a movie that takes place in Estonia or see an article about the Trans-Siberia Railway or overhear a stranger telling a friend about markets in Instanbul, we are instantly curious and wondering if that place is somewhere we want to go. As such, our lists are huge. It’s part of the reason I wrote Oh, The Places We’ll Go—I needed a place to keep all these ideas.

Lists written, we began. Gabe read his list first, and we all laughed, realizing that this felt like Bingo or Boggle, all of a sudden. Only with this sense of momentthis game matters. Not that we’re deciding anything, but it’s the beginning of the decisions, right? We’ll do this again every month or so and see what changes and what lingers and that will give us our dream made manifest.

Here are our lists:

Gabe

  1. Italy (Bologna, Spello, Moena)

  2. Malta (Valletta)

  3. Argentina (Tierra del Fuego)

  4. Cuba (Havana)

  5. Germany (Black Forest area)

  6. Sarajevo

  7. Denmark

  8. Russia (Kalingrad, that part of surrounded by Poland and Lithuania)

  9. South Africa (Capetown)

  10. China

  11. Thailand

  12. Amsterdam

  • long weekends: Iceland, Chile, Jamaica, Brussels, Switzerland, Kenya, Spain, Lagavullin (any Parks and Rec fans out there?)

  • experiences: Fjords, Antartica, Aurora Borealis

Siena

  1. China (Xi’an)

  2. Scotland (marked with a “mamma” icon because it’s likely on her list because I keep talking about it)

  3. Tokyo

  4. Dolomiti

  5. Amsterdam

  6. Argentina? Somewhere in South America

  7. Paris

  8. Spain (Sevilla)

  9. Serbia (mamma mark here, too)

  10. Iceland

  11. Africa

  12. Cyprus

  • long weekends: Singapore, Antartica, Thailand (Bangkok), Sardenia, Nepal, Peru, Bosnia

Keith

  1. Dolomiti

  2. Other place in Italy

  3. France (Paris? Gascony?)

  4. Scotland

  5. Scandinavia

  6. China

  7. Japan

  8. Australia? New Zealand? Who knows!

  9. Someplace in South America (Montevideo?)

  10. Cuba

  11. Amsterdam

  12. Some European country I haven’t seen (Eastern-ish)

  • long weekends: Copenhagen

Michelle

  1. Scotland

  2. Serbia

  3. Tokyo

  4. Xi’an

  5. Istanbul

  6. Argentina

  7. Paris

  8. Someplace else in France or because I’m running out of room I’ll put Sevilla here, too

  9. Dolomiti

  10. Amsterdam

  11. Africa (Capetown, Botswana, and Kenya or Mozambique or other unspecified place)

  12. Some small tropical island somwhere

  • back-ups: Places I couldn’t fit in the above list: Australia, Sicily, Hungary, Israel and/or Jordan, Cuba, Uzbekistan.

  • long weekends: SE Asia (Cambodia), Croatia or Albania, Ghent (top of my list), Greece, Russia, London, Switzerland (we have friends there)

  • experiences I’d like to have: Trans-Siberian railway, Northern Lights, tango lesson in Argentina, hike something wonderful, bike trek someplace flat, Antartica, drive through the caucuses from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea.

What did this do (besides make us realize how many cities Gabe knows)?

Well, it clarified some things for us.

Siena suggested that she doesn’t want to spend more than one month in any place—thus ruling out previous ideas of Paris AND another part of France, the Dolomiti AND Spello AND another part of Italy. She believes, rightly I think, that that would decrease the exploration of this trip.

Keith suggested that maybe it would be interesting if we selected eight common destinations and then each of us got to pick one that wasn’t necessarily on anyone’s list. He’s also adamant that we go nowhere just because we feel we “have to”. Fair enough.

Breakfast in Bangkok

I wondered where we’d each find our most memorable breakfast. I also mused that the places that are on many of our lists are places that have come up a lot in conversations lately. I wonder if by talking about a destination, it makes it feel relatable, possible, and puts a toehold in our dreams. It’s certainly true that by being in a mindset of bucket list formation, I approach the idea of new places with open arms and mind.

Gabe raised the idea of veto power. If we had it, Keith would ax Russia and Africa, Siena would nix anyplace for two months, and Gabe would rule out France (his cheese-phobia is a real problem). I can’t think of anyplace I’d veto, everything sounds frankly astonishing.

It put new places in each of our wonderings: Nepal? Copenhagen? Singapore? Greece? Interesting…

Siena in Normandy, France

So the exercise did get the dreaming bones a tingling. We’re all looking at the National Geographic Traveler magazines on our coffee table a little differently.

Though I wonder—is this a valuable skill we’re inculcating, the ability to dream? Or is there a downside my head is too cloud filled to see?

Perhaps a question to ponder later. For now, I need to know what to call these lists of ours. Wagon lists? Trough lists? What’s bigger than a bucket?

Whose list most closely resembles yours? What places do you love on our lists, which places would you add, which places would you caution us away from? Leave a comment and please share this post with others!