Make a Bucket List

Competing in life’s hustle and bustle is not a goal that most have on their dream list, so why is it the No. 1 pursuit we each strive to maintain?

By Dena Levitz

Competing in life’s hustle and bustle is not a goal that most have on their dream list, so why is it the No. 1 pursuit we each strive to maintain? What do you want to check off your list of life’s goals before it’s too late?

Got it figured out?

Now join a bucket list group and get your life started.


After spending years residing in parts of Italy and Germany, Tracy Washington said life came to “a screeching halt” when she returned to the United States.

Her stint abroad had been her first time leaving the country and only her second time on a plane. So in comparison to the culinary adventures and historic sites she saw gallivanting around Europe, her home of Northern Virginia was a bit of a let-down. Soon, though, Washington came across a business opportunity that she believed might recreate some of the spark of traveling—involvement in the travel industry. Washington was able to start her own company, Regatta Family Travel.

At the same time, she began craving a network of female friends with whom to share her free time. First she joined existing Meet-up groups before deciding that, just as with her career, she wanted to be the leader. Washington didn’t waste any time starting her own group.

While in Europe she had latched onto the notion of bucket lists, proclaiming all of the things the list holder wants to do before they “kick the bucket.” And she thought the Meet-up group might be a way to not only build her list but to help her peers start and develop their own.

Unlike her first efforts at getting Northern Virginians to come together merely to interact, this concept caught on. Now, one year into the Meet-up’s existence it counts a few hundred members, with a smaller core of devotees.

Washington has come to think of herself as the consummate travel matchmaker. Because she owns a travel agency, she’s able to offer something tangible to the bucket list-focused ladies in her Meet-up; she can hook them up with deals around the adventures that are on their lists and make their dream vacations a reality.

“Above anything else, I really want to help them fulfill their lists. I was a poor single mom for so many years, so I can relate to struggling to make these trips happen,” she says.

Washington’s group is by no means the only one formed around individuals striving to tackle bucket lists. A veritable phenomenon seems to have formed around the pursuing one’s life dreams. From Las Vegas to Perth, Australia, like-minded and motivated strangers are convening in organized groups to help each other set lifetime goals and hold each other accountable on these goals, which they desire to do most.

Based on the website created by to manage such groups, Northern Virginia—and the larger Metro-D.C. region—is a particular hotbed of activity. D.C. itself ranks second in terms of individuals interested in these types of meet-up groups while Arlington is No. 6 and Alexandria is ranked 10th. Beyond those individuals putting themselves out there as bucket list enthusiasts there are a few dozen groups with online presences, some even filled and beginning waiting lists for members.

A quick search of the local groups includes “1,000 Things to Do Before you Die,” which asks its 1,400-plus “lifeseekers” to think about what they’d like to accomplish in the next six months. The group then lines up events around these mostly adventure-based activities like scuba diving and skiing.

Similarly, “Bucket List DC MD VA” aims to help its members enjoy their lives in the region to the utmost. The organizers emphasize that they don’t care if members “are new to the city, planning on staying forever, or on your way out.” They’ll base everything on those involved and looking to cross items off of their bucket lists.

And the Front Royal-based “Adventure 4 Fun” was formed so that in a part of the country known for its workaholics, meet-up members could have a release from the hustle and bustle and, instead, I take part in skeet shooting, tubing, etc.

It’s no surprise to Trav Bell, for one, that large swaths of bucket listers are finding each other and forming organized groups to make their way through their lists collectively. Bell, an Australian “serial entrepreneur,” has become known as “The Bucket List Guy.”

A personal trainer for some time, he wanted to expand the guidance and assistance he was providing to clients to go beyond helping them get in peak physical shape. Bell studied what was out there on bucket lists from a research perspective and tried to draw conclusions about the secrets of success. He also has maintained a list of his own since age 18, which he frequently tweaks and adds to, as more dreams come to him.

“I’d ask groups of people (when he began doing motivational talks) how many people had bucket lists,” he says. “I was blown away by how few people had them.”

The result was an entire business crafted around the art of creating and maintaining bucket lists. He travels around (mostly in Australia with plans to come to the United States soon) holding boot camps about his research and personal experience in bucket lists and has a wide array of Web-based bucket list references such as videos.

The social media community he has formed achieves many of the same things that bucket list Meet-up groups do, only virtually.

“One of the most important things you can do is to not be around negative people. If you’re around doubters while trying to fulfill your list, you won’t get the needed support,” Bell explains.

Instead, he preaches the notion of sharing your list widely. Bell’s Facebook page is a place where those who have come in contact with him at a boot camp can brag about their accomplished list items and share, throw around ideas, and metaphorically high-five each other. Bell will award Bucket Lister awards to participants and coax them to send proof of things they’ve done, such as Youtube videos of themselves skydiving or photos of themselves meetings their idols.

At his boot camps he takes great pains to not only get everyone started on writing a personal list but to get on the road to completing the list items they’ve catalogued. Writing it down is critical to get it out of their heads, Bell says. Follow-through is just as important to cross things off and build confidence in succeeding.

“If someone wants to run a marathon, for example, we’ll go online at the seminar and look for a race they can sign up for on the spot,” he explains.

Though it’s uncertain exactly when the term “bucket list” originated, it became mainstream via the 2007 movie of the same name starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson as men who find out they’re dying and, as a result, aim to do the things they have never gotten a chance to before their life is over. But Bell vehemently opposes the notion that anyone should wait until receiving a death sentence to start on their bucket list.

“Don’t wait,” he says, noting that bucket lists are for everyone.”What a bucket list does is creates a map of the world … and gives us motivation for everything we do.”

For Washington, going to global milestones like Juliet’s Balcony and making emotional visits to Nazi concentration camps, made her want to jot down even more prized places and read everything she could get her hands on about must-see trips and adventures to comprise her bucket list.

One of the advantages of the Meet-up group, Washington says, is hearing others’ goals and then, in a friendly way, borrowing from their lists to add to her own. This is a concept that is central to the group focus of bucket listers.

“They all have such original lists, and it’ll cause me to ask ‘How did you know about this place?’ and then look it up for myself,” Washington says. “One woman mentioned an ice hotel in the Arctic where you sleep with parkas in special beds. I would have never known about such an exotic place, but now I’m thinking we need to plan a trip for the Meet-up around that.”

More mainstream cruises have been popular thus far, too. Washington will set up the accommodations, putting the word out through the Web and let anyone sign up for the group excursion. She’ll also take into account budgetary constraints and whether those in on the trip are single, married, retired and on and on.

For instance, a recent trip was through Cruise for a Cause and involved raising money for cancer research, and an Alaskan cruise is in the works. Group members have also expressed interest in Niagara Falls. Washington just sent a bucket list group thousands of miles closer to New York City and has in the past secured trips to Chicago for food-themed adventures. For those wanting to keep things closer, once a month the crew will also gather at a Northern Virginia restaurant to try foods from different cultures.

“It might be closer geographically, but it’s helping them fulfill the food part of their bucket lists,” she says.



Make a Bucket List for the Region
Besides creating bucket lists for individuals, it’s certainly not unheard of to craft lists of things that must be done in a geographic area before someone leaves it. Here’s one for the area, with a heavy focus on Northern Virginia sights, attractions and quintessential experiences:

□ Spend a Sunday morning at drag brunch at Perry’s in D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood—a buffet of sushi and standard breakfast fare with a side of risque drag queen performances.

□ Take a brewery tour at Port City Brewery in Alexandria.

□ Spend a Sunday afternoon at Meridian Hill Park in NW D.C., jamming along to the drum circle that convenes when the weather’s nice—a tradition for more than 40 years.

□ Visit Natural Bridge, a geological formation in Rockbridge county in which Cedar Creek has carved out a gorge in the mountainous limestone terrain, forming an arch.

□ Walk a day in George Washington’s footsteps by heading to Mt. Vernon, the first president’s former stomping grounds. A boat leaves daily from SW Washington to get to the estate by water.

□ Sample late-night Korean food in Annandale.

□ Enjoy an outdoor concert at the Merriweather Post Pavilion, halfway between D.C. and Baltimore. The famed amphitheater has played hosts to legends like Led Zeppelin and The Who, and is situated smack in the middle of 40 acres of forest.

□ Tour the National Firearms Museum in Fairfax—15 galleries span six centuries of gun lore.

□ Get a glimpse into the highest court in the land. Beginning the first Monday in October, the Supreme Court generally hears two one-hour arguments a day, at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m., with occasional afternoon sessions scheduled as necessary. Arguments are held on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays in two-week intervals through late April.

□ Guzzle down cocktails at PX in Alexandria, particularly when the pirate is flying—code for unique retro-style cocktails.

□ Get drinks at the Skydome at the Double Tree Hilton in Crystal City, showcasing the best view in D.C. around.

□ Golf at popular course Hains Point in D.C., take on simulated golfing at Alexandria’s TopGolf or challenge friends to miniature golf at Woody’s Golf Range in Herndon, which features an Indiana Jones themed course.

□ Go rock climbing at Great Falls – an 800-acre park just 15 miles from the capital.


Trav spells it out…

Trav Bell has created this formula to spell out the components of a full, well-rounded list. He encourages participants at his boot camps to jot down things that “make their heart sing.” The object also is neither to put down items that are too easy to complete nor too impossible to ever finish.

People you want to
Meet (famous, accomplished in a field of interest, etc);
Your proud achievements;
Buy that special something (big-ticket purchase like a dream car or home); Your
Ultimate challenges;
Conquer fears (physical or mental);
Kind things for others;
Express yourself (tap into your personal creativity, artistic or imaginative side);
Take lessons;
Leave a legacy;
Idiotic stuff (because some things you simply want to do without making them part of a larger plan);
Skill you want to learn;
Travel and adventure.

(August 2012)