Kathy & I recently attended a travel show in Charlotte, hoping to get some ideas for places we’d like to go. As is inevitable at these events, someone along the line asked the question, “so what’s on your Bucket List? It’s a common question, and has gotten to be a bit cliché, but for the most part is simply used as a conversation starter. I don’t take offense at the question, but do tend to bristle a bit whenever I hear it. Let me explain.
One of the most valuable lessons that I have learned from my photography is that we can’t go everywhere or do everything – we can only do so much. We’re never going to see everything there is to see. There is always a “better” sunrise or sunset happening somewhere else. And traveling to exotic destinations does not guaranty good photographs. Not that there aren’t a lot of good reasons to travel to beautiful locations. My approach has become to travel to places I am interested in, take my camera and make photographs wherever I happen to be. Traveling to a place specifically to take photographs, more often than not, results in looking for preconceived or iconic photos, at the expense of seeing things through my unique eyes and vision.
One of my favorite ways to travel is to rough out a route, then look to see what else there is to do along the way. When I get to a T in the road, it is not unusual for me to go left when my directions tell me to go right. I’ve found a lot of interesting things – and interesting photographs – by going the “wrong” way. It’s nothing for us to be driving down a country road, see a sign for something or other and say, “let’s check it out.” We do and it is often a worthwhile diversion.
I try to avoid falling into what I have heard referred to as “get-there-itis.” That’s what happens when we are so focused on the route or the destination that we don’t take time to enjoy the journey. If we never stray from the highway, we never see that fish processing plant at the end of the dead-end road or stop at a waterfall that isn’t on the map. And that’s why I don’t like the idea of a Bucket List in the way I suspect a lot of people look at it. The problem becomes when we look too far ahead or focus too much on the list itself to the exclusion of other choices. We also run the danger of over-planning, and don’t leave time for serendipity.
There are obviously unlimited ways to consider a bucket list, and that obviously makes a difference when it comes to what it means. If we think of it as a list of places we’d like to consider going, but use it more as a guide in case we lose our memory before the money runs out, then yeah, that is probably OK. But taken to the extreme, if it becomes an “ohmygawdIjusthavetodoallthesethingsbeforeIdieormylifewillbeafailure” list, then it becomes – in my opinion – little more than a list of potential disappointments, for those things we don’t get to do, or because of things we pass by because we are too determined to cross off one more thing.
There are obviously a lot of places I would like to go and things that I would like to do. I even have a list! But there really isn’t anyplace I feel like I need to get to in order to be satisfied. I’ve wanted to go to Colorado since I was a kid, and finally got there last year. I’d probably love Hawaii, but as Kathy & I were reminiscing about our recent visit to Nevis – admittedly a “Bucket List-worthy” destination in its own right – we wondered just how much “better” Hawaii might be? Different, certainly. It’s hard to say, and we might get to find out someday. I’d like to go to several places in Europe, but if I don’t get there that will be OK.
Our son Kevin leaves today for a week in Peru, and I am quite envious. Is Peru on my “Bucket List?” No, but when he talks about the things he is going to do there, it sounds like a place I’d like to go. Somehow I had just never considered it. Will I add it to my list? Quite possibly. But more likely I will channel my thoughts to answer the question of “so, what is MY Peru?” What place would I love to go that I haven’t thought of? I’m not sure, and when I find it I hope there is a flight or a ship to take me there!
I find that I can be perfectly happy making the best of anywhere I am. Whether that is Waynesville or Belhaven, North Carolina, Key West or Fort Collins, those places are special to me also. Many of my best memories and favorite photographs are from places that wouldn’t be on too many Bucket Lists. But I get the most satisfaction from experiences and not from places. And I think my photographs reflect that, too.