Updated: Aug 4
Do you suffer from wanderlust, daydreaming of all the places in the world you want to see? Where do you want to wander - what’s on your “wander list”?
Is it clear turquoise water, white sandy beaches and no agenda other than what book to read?
Are you more of an adventurer looking for that combination of physical challenge and relaxation – hike and zipline a volcano one day and lie on the beach the next?
Are you a national park junkie ready for action-packed days to see all that beauty?
Do you want to immerse yourself in the cultures of other countries and continents, checking each city and site off your list?
Or, like me, do you want all of the above and just have to figure out how to fit it all in before your kids head off to college?
I recently spoke with a new client who asked me how I decided on our vacation destinations every year because the whole process seemed overwhelming to her. I explained that it all starts with my “wander list” – those bucket list destinations that I know I want to experience with my family. I have a travel notebook that I keep within arm’s reach and I add to my “wander list” regularly.
Top of my “Wander List”
Your wander list is likely different than mine, but all wander lists start with dreams – dreams of destinations and dreams of adventures you want to experience and share with your family. I spent a month in Italy after grad school and it’s probably my favorite place on Earth - so far! So Italy is at the top of my list to share with my family. But I have no idea which area of Italy I'll prioritize first - Florence, Tuscany, Rome, Venice, Cinque Terre, the Amalfi Coast, Lake Como, the Dolomites, and more!
The Philippines, where my husband’s parents immigrated from, is also at the top of the list, so we can show our kids their roots. My husband's mom lives there now, so we'd have family to visit as well as plenty of islands to explore!
And then there’s Africa. I get goosebumps thinking about experiencing Africa with my kids, so I’m in the middle of learning the best way to make that happen for us and for my clients. Make sure you're on my subscriber list so you're notified of the Africa educational webinar!
Of course there’s so much more on the list, but those are my top bucket list dreams.
How to prioritize your Wander List
To prioritize, I start with our vacation windows. For us, that’s the kids’ school breaks and when my husband can get time off. He can secure vacation around the kids' spring break and fall break, but he’s not yet senior enough to get Christmas break or summers off. So those destinations that are best experienced in the summer are noted in my wander list but will have to wait a few years.
I have a wander list calendar with our vacation windows laid out for the next several years – all the way until my oldest graduates high school as I try to fit it all in before he leaves the nest! Pardon me while I go have a good long cry.
I try to balance each year so that we break up the long Midwest winter with at least one tropical getaway. I also try to pair the big budget trips with a less expensive destination.
In terms of timing, I know most people don’t want to hear this, but it’s best to plan a year out. In fact, accommodations for many destinations, like national park lodges, sell out 12 months in advance. So that’s when I start planning and booking, but I have an idea of where we might go several years out, which helps me be strategic about our decisions.
How to budget for your Wander List
For us, travel is clearly a priority, so we budget and live our life with travel in mind. We have two Chase Sapphire credit cards – one for personal and one for my business expenses – that we use for everything so that we get maximum points. And we are signed up for all the airline frequent flyer programs, including the kids. Those points and miles mean we rarely pay for our airfare and can sometimes use points for some of our lodging, too. Plus, owning a travel business definitely has its perks, and I can often get special discounts or free stays. Of course I try to get my clients the best deals as well!
As a family, you have to decide how much you are able and willing to set aside for travel. But I say dream big with your wander list and pare back as the budget requires. If you think strategically about your wander list calendar, you may be able to fit in more than you expected. I also believe you’ll be much happier doing one big unforgettable bucket list trip every year versus a couple smaller trips that are less memorable.
My Wander List and Travel Calendar
Here’s a look at my Wander List - bucketed by budget and time requirements. "Large" destinations require 10 days or more, a long flight and the biggest budget while "small" destinations require a smaller budget because they can be done in less than a week, are an easy flight or may be drive-able. "Medium" destinations are somewhere in between. I fill in openings in the vacation calendar with "small" destinations to balance out the bigger budget trips. Lastly, the destinations that are best visited in the summer are starred, so I know those can only be slotted in once my husband is senior enough to secure time off in the summer. Destinations we've already visited are not included in the list unless they're a family favorite and can serve as a smaller budget trip to fill in holes.
Here's how that Wander List might play out on our travel calendar, which I've laid out for the next several years. The close-in years are fully-formed whereas the out-years are still in the dreaming stage. But it helps to see what might be possible, where we have holes, and which destinations we didn't get to!
Create your Wander List together with your family. Or if you're like me and know it will be a more productive discussion if they have something to react to, take a crack at it yourself first. Let each family member vote on their top 3 destinations to help you prioritize. I actually think brainstorming wander list ideas is best done while on vacation. Everyone is in that vaca state of mind already, and you're all together with plenty of time on your hands!
If you need inspiration, check out my blog, the book 1,000 Places To See Before You Die, or google "bucket list travel destinations". If you'd like my help designing your next dream vacation or crafting your Wander List, schedule a complimentary call here!
Heather Vergara is a former Pepsico marketing executive who left the corporate world to be a Mom and never looked back. In addition to travel and adventure, Heather is passionate about kindness, community, whole food and fitness. Her travel business, Show Them the World, is more fulfilling than she ever imagined! In less than two years, she's helped more than 100 families see the world - Hawaii, Alaska, Costa Rica, Europe, Mexico and the Caribbean, National Parks, and more to come!
Heather has an MBA in marketing from Indiana University, a Digital Marketing Executive Education certificate from Columbia University, and a BA in Journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She lives with her husband, two kids, and two furry dogs in Zionsville, Indiana.