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bucket list

5 Ways to Wreck a Bucket List Trip

You’ve dreamed of getting there, but when you do … it disappoints. Chances are it isn’t the icon; it’s you. Because simply placing a destination high on your bucket list won’t guarantee it delivers the awesome moment you’re hoping for.

Bucket List Mistakes You Want to Avoid

What’s a travel dreamer to do? Avoid these five mistakes sure to wreck any dream vacation.

Mistake #1: Visiting at the Wrong Time

Everything has its season and tourism destinations are no different. Pick the wrong time of year and that spot you expected to be amazing may well let you down. As you look to book your vacation, consider the best weather months, tourist popularity, and any local holidays.

Do your research ahead of time and you’ll know that visiting Alaska at the end of August will get you incredible fall experiences and premium viewing, but waiting until late September will mean that most of the best outfitters are closed for the season and temperatures are beginning to dip. Opt to visit the Taj Mahal in February and you won’t be fighting the heat or the rain. Choose June? That’s another story.

Mistake #2: The “Eggs in One Basket” Approach to Icons

You really want to see the pyramids. You’ve read about them. You’ve seen them from every angle. You’ve studied the Instagram posts, the high resolution magazine layouts and the Facebook page. You’ve seriously built the experience up.  So is it any surprise that when you get there and discover they’re actually located across the street from a KFC, you feel a pang of disappointment?

Bucket-list monuments are amazing and definitely worth seeing, but why not broaden your excitement goals by having some other reasons to visit the destinations on your list? Also be sure to always leave room in your itinerary for surprise. Chances are there are places that your guide will be able to show you that you’ve never heard of, which may end up being even more exciting than the ones you thought you had to see.

Mistake #3: Underestimating the Emotional Impact

Not every destination is going to leave you happy and ready for the beach. It’s important to keep that in mind as you plan your visit. The Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam, the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre in Rwanda are all important historical and cultural stops, but they’re bound to leave you emotionally spent.

Plan your days around such visits carefully so you can give them the time they need while also allowing yourself breathing space to recuperate and recover before moving on.

Mistake #4: Bringing the Wrong Companion

You’ve spent a lifetime dreaming of doing yoga at an Indian ashram, so don’t ruin it by bringing along that friend who isn’t quite as committed as you are. Nothing spoils a destination faster than the wrong travel buddy, so vet your pals carefully.

If you’re unsure about companion compatibility, have a conversation ahead of time that gives them (and yourself) the option of splitting up in a destination if interests differ. A mix of activities that allow everyone the chance to get what they want out of a destination will give you new things to chat about when you regroup. And if you’ve never traveled with someone, your dream destination probably isn’t the right place to test the waters.

Mistake #5: Cheaping Out on a Guide

I’m a big fan of independent travel. Hand me a map and some must-see spots and I’m fine to head off and explore on my own. There are definite benefits to this approach—for instance, not waiting for a busload of tourists to keep up with me—but there are also drawbacks, most notably that, when I’m on my own, I’m often only getting a surface level understanding of where I am.

If you visit a bucket list destination on your own, the spot will certainly have some beauty to offer. But if you want to find its hidden gems and get a deeper sense of its lore and history, local guides are worth far more than their weight in guidebooks. If you can, do your guide research before you arrive. Recommendations are great and save you the hassle of trying to determine if the person who just motioned to you from the corner of the museum is a professor moonlighting, or just a kid who would say anything for a buck.

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 Heather Greenwood Davis is a lifestyle journalist and a National Geographic Travel columnist. Follow her on Twitter @greenwooddavis or keep up with her family’s adventures on

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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