Fill a Basket of Travel Dreams

Map with Question Marks

Our touring bikes remain nestled inside the shipping boxes in the garage. We’ve swapped out our merino wool wardrobes; Kristin for an assortment of business attire, me for denim and fleece. We no longer stream pixelated movies on a thirteen-inch laptop, but now chomp our popcorn in front of 65-inches of magic that we first saw at the Sony showroom in Tokyo. I’m sitting at a table that we actually own. Things have indeed changed. But we still have our bucket list.

We’ve only been home for three weeks—days spent on what has felt, at times, to be one endless shopping trip—but the calendar once again hangs thick from the hook and begs the question: Where are you going to travel this year?

If you’re like a lot of people, there are plenty of places you want to go and things you’d like to do, but maybe you struggle deciding the where, when, and how of it all. How do you decide?

Thanks to an idea I dreamed up while we were in Bali, we have an answer to that question. But where we’re going in 2016 is irrelevant. It’s how we decided that I want to share with you today!

Step 1: List Your Dreams

One of the lessons we learned early on when planning our bicycle trip was that no matter how many lines you draw across a map, you’ll never see it all. Though we returned home having toured over twenty countries, there are still countless places and activities we’d like to experience. Actually, it’s not countless. The number is 104. I know this because of the Travel Basket.

Dreams of an around-the-world tour is something that, for most people, will always remain a dream. But how about forgetting the world as a whole and just focusing on all of the places you really fancy going? Smaller trips you can customize to fit your own desire, comfort level, financial situation, and vacation allowance?

I’ve always hated the phrase “bucket list” (the term’s usage has largely diminished since the movie, thankfully), but we often hear people use that phrase when describing the things they hope to do and accomplish before dying. But how many people have actually put together such a list?

Why not?

The first step in putting together the Travel Basket is to make a list of all the places you’d like to go. I recommend doing this in a spreadsheet program so that you can easily sort by country. Go ahead and put one column for the continent, one for the country, and another for the specific sites/activities/region you wish to visit. This third column is key because it helps you be specific and offer some guidance in the future.

A sample from our travel wishlist, sorted by country. A fourth unseen column contains specific details and personal notes to be referred back to for planning purposes.
A sample portion from our travel wishlist, sorted by country. Note the multiple entries for different regions in China. A fourth unseen column contains specific details and personal notes to be referred back to for planning purposes.

We created a preliminary list just off the tops of our heads and from panning around Google Maps, but then we fine-tuned it and added plenty of detail by paging through a couple of travel-inspiration books such as “Journeys of a Lifetime” and “100 Countries, 5000 Ideas”. We also queried our Facebook followers for their own bucket list ideas. Large countries like the United States, China, India, and Australia ended up getting multiple entries each. We also combined some countries into a single entry, knowing they could be visited in one trip.

What you put onto this list is purely up to you and could be as specific as you wish. For example, one of our entries is a very specific trek in the Swiss Alps known as the Tour du Mont Blanc (as recommended by a FB follower), but we have other entries that are no more specific than saying “beaches, landmarks, cities.” Though it’s good to get specific in this stage to help you manage larger countries and specific activities, feel free to put “general touring” down for some of the smaller countries. Remember, you’ll have plenty of time to plan later.

Also, it’s important to note that you don’t have to include far-flung destinations and outrageous expeditions. Maybe there’s a museum nearby that you just really haven’t gotten around to visiting, or perhaps you’ve always wanted to just once live it up for a weekend in the city you commute to. This is about your lists of desires and dreams. There are no wrong answers; only a tool to help you start checking off items on your life’s wish list.

Step 2: Get Crafty

The second step is your chance to embrace your artistic talents and go as fancy as you wish… or not. Crayons and construction paper is perfectly acceptable. Anyway, the goal now is to write each of those entries in your spreadsheet down on a separate strip of paper.

We stopped by a Japanese bookstore in Seattle and picked up five sheets of handmade decorative washi and a couple of colored markers. We cut each sheet of paper into two dozen strips of paper long enough to have each country’s name and activity written on them nice and large.

Kristin carefully cutting the paper into long strips.
Kristin carefully cutting the paper into long strips.

We didn’t want the entries to be visible so we folded each one lengthwise twice and then tied the strip in a knot, much like the paper prayers get tied onto tree branches and twine at the temples in Japan. Folding the paper twice not only helps conceal the entry, but also adds enough strength so that you won’t tear it when tying the knot. Nevertheless, be careful when tightening the knot. I generally stopped as soon as the paper started to bind, at which point I just creased the knot and smoothed it out firmly against the table.

Folding each finished travel wish twice lengthwise, then tying them each into small knots.
Folding each finished travel wish twice lengthwise, then tying them each into small knots.

When done you should have a pile of knotted strips of paper, each containing a different item on your travel wish list. As I mentioned earlier, we ended up with 104 entries. I’m sure we could have had dozens more, but it felt right to stop around one hundred. That and we were starting to run out of paper.

Step 3: Fill A Basket

These pieces of paper are now the physical embodiment of your travel dreams and wishes. That’s pretty special stuff. Far too special for a mere bucket. Find yourself a nice vessel to put your travel wishes in, whether it be a basket, a box, or something else entirely. Consider finding something with some room for additional pieces of paper to be added, that’s decorative enough to display in your home and feels worthy of the task it will be given. Think long term.

The couple that owned the house we rented in Bali also owned a bead shop in which the wife sold all of her handmade belts, jewelry boxes, and baskets. We bought a large basket with a matching lid from her specifically to house our travel wishes. It doesn’t matter where your basket comes from, but make sure that it’s something that you won’t mind looking at for years to come, as glancing at the basket and being inspired by the promise it holds is half the fun.

A pile of 104 travel wishes, ready for the Travel Basket.
A pile of 104 travel wishes, ready for the Travel Basket.

Once you have your basket, mix up all of the paper wishes so that there’s no possible way for you to know which one is which and place them into the basket. Go ahead and give it a good shake too, just to be on the safe side.

Step 4: Let Fate Decide

We’ve all heard the stories about people taking a backpack to the airport and getting on the first international flight they can find a seat on. I used to find that idea intoxicating, but I know that’s not really our style. We’ve learned to not over-plan our trips and to not try to cram too much in, but I also like having at least some time to prepare a basic itinerary.

So what if there was a way to combine the two? A way to blend the random spontaneity of going to the airport, bag-in-hand, and the need to have some time to plan? The Travel Basket is the answer.

Kristin reached in and drew the winning destination for 2016.
Kristin reached in and drew the winning destination for 2016.

Before going to bed on New Year’s night, Kristin gave the basket one final shake, took off the lid, turned her head, and drew our 2016 Travel Destination.

When I mentioned to a friend that there were a couple of entries in the basket that we would have had a really hard time pulling off this year—a cruise to Antarctica and a ride on the Trans-Siberian Railway being two of the more time-consuming, costly adventures—he suggested we draw two or three and then decide which makes sense. That’s one idea. After all, we all have to face the reality that “life’s dreams” can’t always be accommodated by “present circumstance”. Fortunately, Kristin didn’t draw either of those entries. Else we would have taken a mulligan and I would have drawn an alternate location.

Aside from running out of paper, the other reason that we stopped at 104 was because we were becoming acutely aware that every additional wish reduced the chances of us drawing one of the ones we were most excited about. There was some talk about only including thirty or forty wishes for this reason. After all, if we only draw one per year, and we’re already 40 years old… you get where this is going.

We didn’t stop with just a few dozen wishes though. And the reason is because we know surprises lurk in all corners. Sure, a visit to the Baltic States might not be on par with a canoe trip down the Zambezi River, but we wanted that chance to be pleasantly surprised. And we wanted to stay true to the idea of this being a random draw of (almost) anywhere in the world.

2016 and Beyond

So Kristin reached into that basket of 104 knotted strips of paper and drew “Portugal and the Azore Islands” for our 2016 travel destination. It was a great pick! Portugal was on our original cycling route, but we ended up heading straight across Spain from north to south due to winter’s approach and the threat of snow in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. So here’s our chance to rectify that missed opportunity, albeit likely without the bicycles. Portugal is also a trip we could pull off given the limitations of American vacation allowances. To be honest, I had my fingers crossed in hopes that she’d draw something even closer to home, that we can drive to perhaps, if only just this once. A road trip to Crater Lake, Redwoods National Park, and Lake Tahoe would have been ideal. Oh well, at least it wasn’t Antarctica.

Maybe in 2018.

Portugal Sights: Photo from

That wasn’t a typo. Our hope/plan, subject to change as always, is to do a trip back to Japan every other year and draw from the travel basket on even-numbered years. Maybe in the future, when we’re older and have more time we’ll be in a position to draw from the basket every year or even twice a year, but for now, the basket is going to be in play every other year. And that’s fine for us.

The Azores: Photo from
The Azores: Photo from

We heard so many of you tell us that our cycling trip inspired you to think about doing your own long-term travel. Others said they knew they couldn’t do what we did; that they had to live vicariously through us. It’s our hope that this new adventure—the Travel Basket—not only inspires, but gives everyone who reads this a tool for tackling their life’s wishes. Don’t be paralyzed by the decision: let the random hand of fate decide for you.

PS: Be sure to save the spreadsheet so you can check the contents of the basket whenever a new idea hits you. Stuff the basket with duplicate entries if you wish, but we recommend using the spreadsheet to ensure you don’t inadvertently add the same wish twice.

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Doug Walsh

Writer, Traveler

Doug Walsh is a writer, traveler, cyclist, and gamer who spent two years traveling from Seattle to Singapore, the long way around, by bicycle and sea. He's the author of the upcoming novel "Tailwinds Past Florence."

  1. Nice. While we are both spreadsheet nerds we collect travel bits in a text file. It’s more things like “the Museum of Contraception and Abortion is in Vienna Austria”, “Kravice waterfalls in Bosnia/Herzegovenia”, “Hoover Mason Trestle in Bethlehem Pennsylvania”. Each entry has paragraphs of data.

    This works for us because our “choosing” style is based on how much we can spend, how much time we have available, and what airfare seems to be a slightly better deal than normal.

    When we did a six month trip we collected things. We knew our route (south through central/south america) and we’d have hazy plans of where we’d head over the next week, no further. But that let us collect things if we ended up in a certain area and paid off later- we wouldn’t have gone to Tikal or the epic Masaya market otherwise.

    Also, our two Portugal entries: Montemor-o-Novo Castle and Museu Nacional do Azulejo (tile museum in a convent).

    1. My ears perked up when you said Bethlehem, PA because I don’t live far from there and am putting together my own list for daytrips. That Hoover Mason trestle looks so cool! I’m adding it to my list.

    2. Thanks for the comment and the suggestions for Portugal. How much we can spend definitely factors into things (and could cause us to pick a second time in the future) but we’ve found that that we’re able to adjust our travel style to fit most any budget on any location. Of course, airfare is the big cost and there’s little getting around that. That said, we’re big fans of airline miles credit cards and/or hotel loyalty programs and have made extensive use of both over the years.

      As for extra info: no doubt! We’ve got a fourth column in that spreadsheet with more info and, specifically, links to where we can find extra details. Pinterest also comes in handy.

  2. I had been eagerly awaiting this post. Very cool! I love the idea and will do something similar myself. In fact, I think I will make a basket of day trips and pull one a month and simply begin widening my circle around the tri-state area. I’m already excited to get started on that.

    And I forgot – the Redwoods are on my list, too!

    1. Glad to hear it! We’ve actually put two other pages in the spreadsheet for day trips and short 3-day trips. We’re thinking of doing a short-trips basket for weekends, but that might be another project for another time. Right now, we’re really happy to spend most of our time in our old stomping grounds.

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About Us

We're Doug & Kristin Walsh, a couple of Washingtonians who love to travel, both abroad and in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. We set off to travel the world in 2014, primarily by bicycle. We're back home now, but the travel bug continues to be fed every chance we get.

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