Crafting an Abroad Bucket List You’ll Actually Use

Darcy Jones
November 23, 2018

With my IES Abroad semester in Cape Town coming to an end, I’ve thought back on what I was able to “check off” my bucket list this fall. Was I able to do everything I wanted to do in "The Mother City"?? The truth: definitely not. So how do you plan a bucket list that isn’t impossible but isn’t too vague? While I don't have one clear answer to this, I’ve compiled a list of five important bucket list tips for a student studying abroad. Sure, bucket lists aren’t necessary, and they don't have to be a tangible list, but planning activities for the semester is inevitable when you are excited to pick up and move to a new city for the semester – so there's no harm in knowing what to expect. 

  1. Don’t only rely on the bucket list you made prior to coming

This may seem obvious, but your priorities and interests probably will change. How can you possibly plan for everything you may want to do before you set foot in your host country? Of course, you’re going to have some ideas of fun things to do, but don’t try to plan activities for every weekend before you even arrive. This will only cause stress later on and prevent you from venturing out of your comfort zone and doing things you may not have thought to do before.

  1. And it’s okay that they can change!

So maybe you thought you’d be big on hiking and take on Lionshead Mountain once a week – a feat I once insisted I would do. However, you definitely don’t have to be locked into any one activity just because it's on the list. For me, bucket lists can be intimidating because of how rigid they can feel. When studying abroad, so much is changing already that a flexible list of fun activities is a must. Don’t be afraid to ditch the activities you now aren’t too keen on but had included just because you thought you would be initially.  

  1. No goal is too small

You may be tempted to plan to hit all of the big hot spots you read about in that travel blog. The reality is that you probably won’t be able to get to all of them, so don’t stress! Don’t get too lost in the big destinations and emphasize smaller things that actually mean something to you. This could be trying a hidden coffee shop your family friend recommended or simply testing out a local recipe you think you would like. Who cares if it’s not in the travel magazine you flipped through on the flight over, it could end up being much more meaningful.

  1. Don’t add something because you just want to check it off

Often, big cities come with long lists of pre-determined things to do. For most students, these lists are augmented by previous study abroad students and family friends who have traveled to these cities. The positive side: tons of recommendations. The negative side: you might feel the need to visit that museum your great aunt loves that you don’t have any interest in seeing. Don’t add things you know you don’t want to just because it’s been pointed out to you. Appreciate the recommendation, decide if it’s worth your time, and move on. The same goes for the major tourist activities. For me, this was Devil’s Peak Mountain, the hardest of the three peaks in Cape Town. Had the opportunity presented itself, I would certainly not have said no, but I realized that the only reason I really wanted to do it was to say I did it. These goals are only going to take time away from the activities you really do want to do.

  1. Don't forget about group bucket list!

A personal bucket list can be great for keeping straight what you want to do, but a group bucket list gets you and your friends out and into your city! Many activities are better with a group, so try to find a few things you want to do together before the semester ends. For me, this was fantastic because I learned of things I wanted to do that I hadn’t originally thought of. It is also great bonding time, and you can hold each other accountable!

Maybe this is all obvious and repetitive, but moving to an entirely new city with new activities is obviously overwhelming. For me, mental lists and goals were set to help with this, and being able to manage those “lists” ultimately helped shape my experience in Cape Town (which, I will add, was amazing). Right now, as I prepare to leave, I’m starting a new list – of which the first goal is to find a way to get back to Cape Town as soon as possible!

Darcy Jones

<p>Hi! I'm junior at Wake Forest University studying economics and sociology. I spent the first seven years of my life in Africa, so it was a no-brainer that I wanted to study there in college. Home is right outside of DC, where I embrace the opportunity to act like a tourist in my own city. For me, a perfect day would entail a trip to the beach, true crime dramas, and roasted brussels sprouts.</p>

Home University:
Wake Forest University
Fall Church, VA
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