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How to Build a Bucket List You’ll Actually Use

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A well-crafted bucket list is a beautiful thing full of wonder and excitement. These lists are born of dreams, and turn goals into realities. They help us keep our eyes on the bigger picture, remind us not to take life so seriously, and encourage us to always live adventurously.

While just about anyone can benefit from building a meaningful bucket list, it’s specifically a wonderful tool for anyone struggling with grief, depression, or anxiety. Bucket lists have the power to pull us out of a funk and be the guiding light that places us back on our paths. They’re a source of purpose, direction and above all, hope. But, only if they’re built to work.

You see, not all bucket lists are made equal. Slapping a list of hopes together will do little more than waste a sheet of paper or two. It must be built properly if you want it to work. Here are a couple of tips and bucket list strategies designed to help you build your best bucket list ever.

Dare to dream

To begin building your bucket list, let your mind wander as far as it wants to go. There will always be reasons not to put an item down on your list, but if you’re self-editing already, you may be self-limiting. Big or small, list them all! You can cut some out later.

Find meaning in your items

Yes, list everything and everything you want, but be intentional. List only the items that you feel are truly experiences you want. Irrelevant items will make your bucket list less meaningful and therefore hurt your drive to complete it.

Build sublists

Long bucket lists can feel a bit daunting. If your list grows and grows, try organizing your goals by breaking them down into sublists. For example, organize your list into items to accomplish in your 20s, 30s, 40s, for summer, for winter, international items, whatever trends seem to emerge. Go with it.

Build with a buddy

Bucket lists can be very personal, but they can also be a lot of fun when shared with an adventure buddy! A partner, a best friend, a sibling, anyone who shares your goals and drive to accomplish them. If they help you check items off your list, lean into.

Recheck, rewrite, refine

A bucket list is never complete. You will be forever be checking off items, removing some and adding others. That’s the nature of bucket lists. They’re always in a state of flux, always incomplete. But, that’s part of what makes them fun! You never know where you may end up next. Keep updating as you go to keep your goals fresh and relevant.

Be a yes man

Here’s a lesser known secret: an item can be added to your bucket list… after you’ve done it! Sometimes, you won’t even know it’s a bucket list item until it’s done. When an adventure presents itself, be open. Even if you’d never thought of it before, it could end up being a great experience that you cherish for the rest of your life. Say yes to opportunity and see where it can go.

Keep a list of accomplishment 

One of the most common pitfalls of a bucket list is that you risk bouncing from one finished item to the next without luxuriating in the success of the completed goal. That’s why it’s important to also keep a list of accomplishments. Each item checked off our bucket list is one you should be proud of. Savour them and allow them to fuel your future adventures.

Be patient

Your bucket list will be with you for life. If an adventure doesn’t work out, don’t fret. Have fun and remember, as cliche as it is, it’s about the journey, not the destination.Be committed to each item and believe that you’ll get to them as soon as you can.

With these tips, you’ll be ready to take your bucket list out into the world and crush it. Good luck and happy adventuring.

Need some extra inspiration? Here’s a few bucket list thought starters to help you get going:

  • Backpack through Europe
  • Get your scuba diving licence
  • Learn a new language
  • Drive cross country
  • Adopt a pet
  • Learn to cook a new meal every week
  • Go skydiving
  • Learn to snowboard
  • Complete a 10,000 piece puzzle
  • Get a matching tattoo with a friend
  • Read a book a month
  • Take guitar lessons
  • Write a novel
  • Explore Ireland by bike
  • See the 7 wonders of the world
  • Buy property
  • Travel solo
  • Try geocaching
  • See the northern lights
  • Mountain bike in Whistler
  • Eat at a new restaurant every month
  • Go to a drive-in movie
  • Volunteer with kids or animals
  • Visit Wizarding World in Orlando
  • Skinny dip (fresh or salt water)
  • Learn to knit
  • Go back to school for something fun
  • Say I love you to someone once a day
  • Ride a mechanical bull
  • Float in the Dead Sea in Israel
  • Ride in a hot air balloon
  • Get lost in a foreign country
  • Complete a marathon
  • Support a charity
  • Reconnect with an old friend or loved one
  • Get a wild haircut
  • See the cherry blossoms in Japan
  • Bungee jump
  • Get your M licence
  • Start an art collection

Riding and the Mistreatment of Elephants in Thailand

You see it all the time; tourist posting photos of themselves laughing and smiling as they take their first steps atop an elephant in Thailand. What. A. Rush. It’s a once in a lifetime experience, and really, the thing to do when travelling Thailand. Their friends see the photos, experience serious FOMO, maybe even go to Thailand one day and seek it out themselves. They ride elephants, post their once-in-a-lifetime photos, and the cycle starts all over again. Unfortunately, tourists are often unaware of the unpleasant truth behind the elephant riding industry in Thailand.

I’ll admit that before going to Thailand myself, I didn’t fully understand the ins and outs of elephant riding and the abuse these giant creatures face. It wasn’t until I visited an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai that I really learned the harm of the riding industry.

Elephants in entertainment 

Elephants are highly intelligent creatures and are capable of being taught to perform an array of tasks from hauling logs to painting.  Historically in Thailand, they have been utilized by logging companies, but widespread deforestation has caused legal logging to officially cease. Nowadays, elephants primarily work in tourism and entertainment. Unfortunately, very few companies treat their elephants ethically, or with the respect they deserve. Instead, they view them as a profitable business asset.

It’s easy to look at these massive animals and believe they are sturdy enough to handle just about anything. However, elephants are not designed to carry weight on their backs. They have evolved to support a mass amount of weight below their spine. So instead of having smooth, round spinal disks like a horse, for example, elephants have sharp bony protrusions that extend upwards from their spine. These bony protrusions and the tissue protecting them are vulnerable to weight and pressure coming from above. Many elephants are made to carry people for up to 5 hours, without adequate food and rest time for them to relax. These conditions permanently damage the elephants back and can have severe consequences on the elephant’s lifespan.

Additionally, if that wasn’t enough to convince you of the harms of riding, the elephants also go through a ritual called Phajaan.

What is Phajaan?

Phajaan is an ancient Thai ritual that can best be described as “crushing” an elephant’s spirit. This is the process in which a baby elephant is separated from its mother and tied down so that it cannot sit, lay down, move or turn around. Over the course of a few days, the baby elephant is continually tortured until its spirit is broken and it has nothing left to do but submit, listen and learn what their masters are trying to teach it. Half of the elephants that go through this process don’t survive, the others get mean and aggressive. 

Organizations like the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary work tirelessly to rescue these animals, give them a safe place to live and all the bananas they could eat.

Elephant sanctuaries 

This past May, I visited the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Camp 8, one of the many elephant sanctuaries in Thailand that offer elephant interaction experiences. The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is an ethical and sustainable eco-tourism project located approximately 60km from the city of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. They have nine locations, or camps, around Thailand that house over thirty previously mistreated elephants. Their goal is to provide these rescues with a place to live safely and happily with their own kind.  They also aim to educate tourists and locals on the plight of the Asian elephant. This is where I learned of the harsh lives these elephants face. I was able to learn about the elephants and experience a side of them I would never have expected.  Elephants can be very playful and excitable. Along with a group of eager tourists, I was able to feed and interact with the goofy elephants, playing with them in the mud, and washing them in the river – experiences that are far more valuable than a five-minute ride could ever be. These elephants live a life of joy, every day like a spa day with the fam. Watching the elephants wander free and devour all the bananas their trunks can carry, it was clear that these elephants were truly happy. So happy you can actually see them smile.

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How you can help the Asian elephants

While the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is a wonderful company to choose when looking for your own elephant experience, all elephant sanctuaries support the humane treatment of elephants. No, you can’t ride them, but you can do better! For either a half day or full day, you can walk with them, feed them, bathe them in mud and wash them in the river. Trust me when I say you will not feel like you’ve missed out on riding. Plus, with the delicious addition of an included lunch, it will be a day you won’t soon forget.

If you plan on visiting Thailand and are interested in getting up close and personal with Asian elephants, always choose a sanctuary over a riding camp. Many company names will not state that they are a riding camp, so make sure to read descriptions and reviews. If it says riding available, choose a different option. Most sanctuaries specify that they are sanctuaries and offer non-riding options only. So do your research, read tourist reviews and choose accordingly. If we want to see these abusive practices come to an end, we need to stop the flow of cash funding these companies. Book ethically, spread the word and help end elephant mistreatment together.

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