The other day I was chatting with a friend who made the comment that after visiting a place, she was surprised it hadn’t been on her bucket list – that’s how amazing it was. That made me think about all the places that surprised me too, destinations I hadn’t considered beforehand to be great or noteworthy but afterwards became important and wonderful memories. I’m thrilled with just about every travel experience of course, but there are a few that I didn’t anticipate being as wonderful as they were and so I thought I’d put together a retroactive bucket list – a look at places that should have been on my bucket list long before I first visited them.
Over the years my opinion of Canada has shifted from benign indifference to active love and appreciation, and I dare say that my experiences in Alberta had a lot to do with that shift. Alberta is massive and as I’ve learned over the years, is a true all-seasons destination. My first experience in the province was a visit to Banff, the famous ski-town as well known for its beautiful landscapes, as it is the slopes. As a non-skier, I spent the long weekend getting to know the town as well as discovering a ton of things to do in the area that had nothing to do with skiing, from dog sledding around Lake Louise to taking a hike through the iced over Johnston Canyon. It wasn’t until my second trip to Alberta though that my love for it was sealed when I jumped in a car one sunny August day and started my trip along the Cowboy Trail. Sure, the ranchlands were beautiful but it was the UNESCO World Heritage site Dinosaur Provincial Park that made me add Alberta to my retroactive bucket list. Located in the heart of the Canadian Badlands, the terrain is simultaneously bizarre and gorgeous and not at all expected. The views of the park would be enough, but add in numerous dinosaur experiences and the trip was a success for me from start to finish. Alberta has a lot to offer and I hope I get the chance to return and explore even more of it.
This may sound odd, but Croatia actually wasn’t on my bucket list before I first visited. Now of course it’s one of my favorite countries in the world, but for some reason it didn’t beckon to me until I was invited on a press trip to explore it a couple of years ago. What I discovered was a culturally fascinating and physically beautiful country that is more diverse than many people think. Perhaps best known for its islands, beaches and of course Dubrovnik, Croatia also has great urban retreats, serene farmlands and national parks so stunning that they’ll make you weep. It’s also a foodie destination, another fact that surprises first-time tourists to the country. Istria in the north is best known for its truffles, but around the country you’ll find regional specialties from seafood to game meats and Italian inspired dishes so good that you’ll try to make them yourself at home. I know now that Croatia is a country I’ll never get tired of visiting, a rarity for me believe it or not.
While the UK in general may be on many people’s bucket list, and indeed it was first added to mine when I was 10, I don’t think Wales gets as much praise. No, I know it doesn’t, instead England and Scotland seem to get all of the aspirational travel attention. Well, that needs to change and quickly. Not a large region, what Wales lacks in size it more than makes up for in spirit with a lot to offer just about anyone I think. I’m a history geek, so seeing just a few of Wales’ hundreds of castles that dot its landscape was a treat in itself. While it does have a rich history and undeniably interesting culture (the language!) the natural retreats are what got my attention. It started out with an off-road bike ride through Snowdonia National Park and was followed up by a once in a lifetime adventure experience called coasteering. Coasteering is defined as “a physical activity that includes movement along the intertidal zone of a rocky coastline on foot or by swimming, without the aid of boats, surf boards or other craft. It can include swimming, climbing, scrambling, jumping and diving.” The extreme experience was just as advertised and not even my two wet suits could fully keep the freezing waters at bay. In spite of the conditions though it was fun, a lot of fun and diving along the coast, swimming across the white-capped waves and pushing myself in ways I didn’t know I could was as personally gratifying as anything I have ever done. It’s also just one of the many reasons why I fell in love with the always-interesting Wales.
I love exploring Asia and always have a great time whether it’s climbing over ruins in Cambodia or eating a great meal in Hong Kong. Taiwan though had never occurred to me as a travel destination and I’m not entirely sure why. I think that maybe here in the US not much is known about it really, and so it was with no small amount of surprise when I discovered how interesting and diverse a country it really is. I was co-writing an advertorial for AFAR Magazine and because of that, the tourism board shuttled us around the country, from the urban center Taipei to quiet fishing villages along the coast. What I discovered along the way is a modern and interesting country with so many outdoor and natural pursuits that a lifetime could be spent enjoying them all. Add to that some amazing food, and this really should be on everyone’s bucket list, not just mine.
These are just a few of the places that while they weren’t originally on my travel bucket list, became places I not only loved, but would be happy to return to again and again; the mark, I think of any fantastic travel experience.
What places would you add to your retroactive bucket list?