My Top 10 Bucket List Experiences
Updated: Aug 3, 2019
Every year my already extensive Bucket List just keeps growing! I'm always so inspired by the people that I meet on my travels; where they're from, what they've done... and I always think, how can I achieve that too? How can I experience that? On the list it goes! I now have over 300 must-do activities logged - so no pressure. In the last 24 months of globe trotting I've managed to tick more off of this list than I have in my entire lifetime beforehand, so let's hope I can achieve my goal of wiping this clean before I am 70!
As I have (sorta) successfully made it past my two year travel anniversary, I spent this afternoon reflecting on some of the bad ass experiences I have been lucky enough to have and shared during my life so far...
Anybody who knows me will probably be able to vouch for the fact that my over-organisation (though very practical and efficient) is probably my biggest catalyst for self-inflicted stress. I create lists EVERY SINGLE DAY. I did this as a kid and now it is ingrained in my brain that if I don't abide by my lists, then I have failed to be productive. I get into little tizzy's all the time when I have spent my day off not doing what I had originally planned. Ticking items off of my to-do's make me a high achiever, and that is the way I have always liked it. Occasionally I even write things on my list that I have already done just so I can get the satisfaction of crossing it off. That's some weird Monica Gellar OCD shit right there huh? I'm sure that if it was necessary I would schedule in my own toilet breaks.
However, I have realised that this is not a healthy way to live. So I am trying to focus my attention now on the things in life that I have already done, already enjoyed and already achieved, instead of just constantly wanting to take on more and more (my bucket list is here if you want to check it out!). It should be a celebration of what memories I have created thus far, rather than a contest to see how much I can squeeze into a year.
That is what brings me to this... erm... other list... there are many things that could have made it on to this Top 10, but I wanted to focus mainly on typical 'adrenaline bucket list' ideas that many other travelers experience at some point on their journeys. I am so grateful for having had the time, drive and funds to be able to make these happen - but, they happened because I made them happen. I am a strong believer that we devise our own paths and as long as we are courageous enough to see them through, then any human, given the opportunity to say yes, can do so.
MY TOP 10 BUCKET LIST EXPERIENCES (so far and in no particular order)
LOCATION: AIRLEE BEACH
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? YES.
Now, I did say in no particular order but this definitely has to be my number one world experience of all time. It was all over so quickly, but the extraordinary feeling of plummeting weightlessly towards your home planet is the most exhilarating and unrealistic sensation my body has ever felt and my mind has ever tried to articulate. I jumped out of a plane over Airlee Beach at 15,000ft and all I can remember was trying to scream but the upthrust of wind had literally taken my breath away. My lips were stuck to my teeth so trying to smile into the GoPro lens proved difficult, but there was no amount of gravity that could take that huge grin off of my face.
My tandem guide asked me how I felt once the parachute was open and we were casually soaring through the atmosphere, I said "LIKE PETER PAN!" - and I genuinely did feel like I had been touched by magic.
2. Bungy jumping
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? NO
In some ways this was scarier than skydiving. Although I had a fear of flying and heights and suffer badly from motion sickness, it was the bungy that I don't think I could hack doing again. I was extremely nervous as I ascended the stairwell up to the 50ft ledge where I was supposed to willingly leap from. "3..2..1..." the instructors counted me down and with my eyes closed I lent forwards an anxious amount and stopped. "It may help you to jump if you let go of the railings" the instructor laughed as I realised my left hand still had its fingers tightly curled around the safety bar.
They say if you don't jump after three attempts, then you aren't going to do it. It's best to just forget about every fear you harness and leap on your first try - but as you can imagine, it's not uncommon to stutter your stance and chicken out when you're stood above potential impending doom. But not wanting to be 'that guy' I told myself that if I was ever going to achieve greatness in my life, then I had to throw myself off of this ledge, today, right now.
I did what the pro's call the 'Titanic'; the instructor grips you by your waist harness and you lean forwards off the ledge with your arms spread like Jack and Rose on the bow of the ship. The cheeky sods count you down but let you go on 2 rather 1 so you have zero chance of panicking and missing your shot. Then without much time to articulate, you're free falling like Pocahontas towards the river below (which my ponytail managed to dunk into!) and then you're been flung around like a rag doll until you lose momentum and eventually hang limp.
After being helped into a small boat and dropped off back on land, I was running purely on adrenaline - so much so that I decided I wanted to do it again! Unfortunately, I didn't get to because ten minutes later I was racing to the bathroom to throw up and ended up bed ridden for the rest of the day due to motion sickness. Damn my chemical imbalance. So, although the experience was pretty awesome overall, my body clearly can't hack that amount of unnatural movement.
Since then I have also undertaken the AJ Hackett Ledge Swing in Queenstown, New Zealand - against my will please note - and hated EVERY SECOND OF IT. I took a bag of sick home as a souvenir... never again.
3. BEING A FOREIGN EXCHANGE STUDENT in milan
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? NO
I say no purely because there is no amount of money you could pay me to go back to school - particularly in Italy where they expect you to attend 9am-6pm mon-friday and all the lectures are in a language I didn't understand a word of. However, I need everyone to know how much my time in Milan meant to me as an experience overall.
In my second year of uni back in Birmingham in the UK, I was in a very dark place. My little world was crumbling like a packet of Maryland cookies; I had lost so much and had pretty much given up on trying to battle my depression. But I felt like the only way to get better was to completely remove myself from my current harrowing situation and give myself a new lease of life - somewhere strange, with people who didn't know me or what had happened to me, people who I could begin again with and the excitement of being able to travel and explore in a new country.
It was hard - I almost failed the university course at the Politecnico Di Milano due to poor attendance because I was bunking off to site see and party in the Cavalli Club... but I did pass! And I just about survived... after being mugged on a night bus, rushed into hospital after having a fit and paralysing my body due to kidney stones, and then literally having my life saved by my room mate who woke up to me choking on my own sick after my drink was spiked at a spa party in Budapest.
Yeah, you may be wondering why this made my Top 10 best experiences, but it was because it was the first time in two years where I felt an innate sense of serenity, passion, enthusiasm and happiness. I grew so much in the six months that I was there; mentally: I began my healing process. I had opted out of the sad life I was leading back home, and blossomed into the Annie that I was so fearful I had lost. Physically: I put on a lot of grub-chub due to all the pasta and pizza. Italy welcomes a high carb diet and so did I. I even learned to love eating olives - which I detested before, much how I then began to learn to love myself again, after enduring so much self loathing in the two years prior. Quite aptly, I see the olive branch as my symbol of peace with myself because of this period in my life, that seemingly gave me a glimmer of hope for the reinvention of my mind and purpose (is this year finally the year I get this inked!?).
I would recommend exchange programs to any student considering on embarking on a solo journey to a new destination. Perhaps my only advice would be to behave better than I did...
4. HANG gliding
LOCATION: BYRON BAY
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? YES
I would hang glide again and again and again. Especially because when I did it, Mother Nature decided to weaken the wind and I was probably in the air for all of two minutes. But what a fantastic two minutes gliding over Byron Bay it was! I volunteered to go first out of my friends and after being snugly strapped into the apparatus, the instructor and I ran like the Flintstones off a cliff side, clutching onto a giant kite and soaring through the warm air above the beach where we eventually landed.
I am so devastated that I don't have any video footage or photographs of this activity. Guess I'll just have to do it again...
5. WHITE WATER RAFTING
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? YES
I loved white water rafting - I definitely think this is more my jam than jumping from a ledge tied to a bungy cord! The sun was scorching, we were in our bikinis and life jackets and we were nailing the waves that sent our raft leaping through the air down the Progo river in Yogyakarta. We had great guides who let us jump into the river afterwards and pulled us along by their oars (health and safety laws in Indonesia are but a scratch on that in the UK). We each got a chance to sit on the front of the raft, clutching onto the side ropes for dear life as we got bucked about like a bronco. As you can imagine, we got soaking wet, but we made friends and smashed a medium level rafting course despite it being our first time. I would do it again definitely, but only in the summer!
6. SCUBA DIVING WITH THE THRESHER SHARKS
COUNTRY: THE PHILIPPINES
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? YES
After completing my open water PADI diving course, our final day on the island of Malapascua in The Philippines consisted of a 4am get up and a boat ride to go diving in the hope of spotting a Thresher shark. Malapascua is the only place on the entire planet where sightings of the shark are regular and all-year round, as generally the thresher is a shy creature that lingers in deeper waters off-shore.
The sharks can grow up to 20 feet in length and have big googly looking eyes (I thought they looked like a dog toy, as if their eyes would bulge out if you squeezed its belly!), a small mouth and their most notorious feature; a long whip-like tail. The tail is used to stun fish before they attack, though they are safe for humans to encounter with only one recorded attack in history due to a diver attempting to grab its tail.
It was pretty dark and very unnerving as a novice diver swimming towards the cleaning station, which is a drop off point in the ocean where we're most likely to catch a glimpse of our carnivorous friends (think Finding Nemo 'he touched the butt!'). After 20 minutes of idly bobbing over the ocean floor, we had to call it a day due to our oxygen levels and spun around to make our way back to the boat. Then all of a sudden - quite literally out of the blue - one large thresher gracefully passed right over our heads. HOLY SHIT. It was both terrifying and tranquil. The gentle giant did a few circuits, as if for show, and then disappeared back into the depths of the sea. I couldn't believe how lucky we had been. Speechless.
7. SNORKELING WITH REEF SHARKS
LOCATION: NAQALIA LODGE RESORT
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? YES
Whilst island hopping in Fiji, we stayed at Naqalia Lodge resort where we signed up to snorkel with white tipped reef sharks. We rode a little motor boat into the middle of the ocean where our Fijian guide randomly cut out the motor and told us to dive in. Immediately I panicked and asked a gazillion questions regarding our safety for him to reply; "They are very friendly, they no hurt human. They no hurt fish until night time, you join them when playing". We trusted his word and anxiously jumped into the water - before long we were hovering over a beautiful coral bed surrounded by nine 1.5m long reef sharks!
If I wasn't worried about my goggles filling up then I may have cried with happiness. Gliding through the aquatic life the sharks appeared serene and gentle, as fearless of us as we became to them. It was incredible. This time swimming with the sharks was a lot more playful and less daunting once we could see their easy interactions with the other fish and tourists - it drained some of that built up anxiety away anyway! It was a fascinating encounter.
For more insight and photos of the sharks, read about my trip to Fiji here!
8. DIVING THE GREAT BARRIER REEF
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? YES
Firstly, I need to just say that diving in Asia is ten times more beautiful than scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef. Unfortunately, because we humans like to destroy everything in our paths, much of the reef is either dead or dying. The colours of the coral are faded like a vintage photograph as oppose to the neon brights you can glimpse in The Philippines. But it doesn't mean that it wasn't magical. We spotted a sting ray chilling on the ocean bed very closely to a sand shark, which we edged cautiously around. I don't think there is anything that will send your heart sinking into your butt more than your scuba instructor putting their hand on their head like a fin to indicate that a shark is nearby!
The one thing that made this diving trip so immensely special, was the fact I got to see a giant sea turtle up close! GNARRRRRRLY DUDE...
9. HIKING MY FIRST MOUNTAIN SUMMIT
COUNTRY: NEW ZEALAND
LOCATION: BEN LOMOND
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? YES but I would choose a different mountain to climb, I don't believe in torturing myself twice for the same view...
I actually wrote a complete guide on hiking Ben Lomond which you can find here for the full story! But JEEEEZ that was a tough walk. The challenging 1,748 metre ascent took the four of us 5.5 hours to complete, starting at Lomond Crescent in Queenstown and trailing up through the woods, along the saddle on the mountainside and then finally battling through the treacherous one hour vertical climb to the summit. I walk a lot and enjoy hiking, but this was my first ever summit hike. Let's just say I am so very glad I took initiative and packed a towel because I was sweating like a pig in a bacon factory.
The famous Otago mountain is acclaimed for its spectacular 360 degree clear-day views of Lake Wakatipu, Moke Lake and all surrounding mountain ranges including Mt. Aspiring and The Remarkables - it did not disappoint! It was all completely worth it. I felt this overwhelming surge of achievement when I stood on top of that mountain and beat my chest like Tarzan.
10. CLIMBING AN ACTIVE VOLCANO
LOCATION: MOUNT BROMO on the island of Java
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? YES
Leaving our hostel in the pitch black at 2am, we clambered into the back of a 4x4 jeep which drove us part way up a mountain where we then climbed to a viewing point and witnessed the stunning Indonesian sunrise over the black sand desert surrounding Mount Bromo. After freezing our asses off up in the clouds, we were transported across Java's spectacular Tengger Caldera National Park and mounted horses to ride up to the base of Mount Bromo which sits 2300 meters above sea level. Ascending a steep 10 minute long staircase up to the rim of the crater, we stopped short of breath and gaped in awe as below us murmured smoke and light vibrations from inside the volcanic rock.
It was like nothing I had ever seen before. I was anxious yet completely mystified. We walked a little around the pathway, which as you can see, has NO ropes or barriers or steps or guides. It's just there; a huge drop into the hellish and fiery canal below. In all honesty, I wasn't equipped with a good camera at the time so was unable to capture the true majesty of Mount Bromo - but I recommend scrolling through Google images to really understand the intense beauty of what we saw that morning.
11. ROAD TRIPPIN' NEW ZEALAND IN A CAMPER VAN
COUNTRY: NEW ZEALAND
LOCATION: NUMEROUS LOCATIONS ON BOTH THE SOUTH ISLAND & NORTH ISLAND
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? A MILLION TIMES YES
Yeah yeah I said Top 10 but I actually couldn't narrow it down - of course all the adrenaline experiences will be on here, but it's important to also highlight what a life changing experience this was too!
September 2018 saw me embark on my first ever proper road trip... 33 days, two islands, 3400 driven miles, four best friends, one hospital admission, one van crash, two panic attacks, one Coachsurfing nudist, one missing shoe, several lakes, numerous beaches, many mountains, three museums, an unholy amount of beer, incalculable renditions to Disney and The Greatest Showman, walks, hikes, movies, card games, tears and laughs later, through blistering winds and scorching deserts... we made it all the way around New Zealand and back to our home in Queenstown where it all began.
My love for this country and all that thrives here is immense. Being with the best company I could have imagined, travelling in an ugly big green Juicy van and having not a care in the world for a whole month was stupidly fun, blissfully wild and probably the best trip I have taken to date, and perhaps ever will.
Read all about our travels across the South Island with 'The Ultimate Guide to Road Tripping the South Island, New Zealand'.
STAY TUNED: My Top 10 Worst Travel Experiences!