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The Life-Changing Magic of Throwing out the Bucket List

Consider ditching the guidebooks and letting curiosity shape your travel itinerary: It might lead to the vacation you’ve always wanted.

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I was born a traveler. My grandparents danced their way through Scandinavia as young adults and spent their senior years in Taiwan; my parents met on a fishing boat in Alaska. As a kid, I dreamed of far-off places and the stories they held. And as an adult, I’ve spent most of my professional life working in travel media: traveling, telling stories about traveling, and helping others tell their stories of the ways travel can transform us.

Along the way, I’ve discovered the power of allowing your passions to guide your trips. It’s easy to let guidebooks lead the way. But I’ve never believed that we should be ruled by arbitrary lists about what to do and see in a place—just because someone says these are the best things to do in Paris, or Lagos, or Buenos Aires, doesn’t mean they’re the best for you.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t do research before a trip—absolutely, we should all look to understand and learn about a place before we visit. I just believe, strongly, that we should let our own curiosities guide the way. Even if that means you miss the Eiffel Tower (yes, really!).

That’s the perspective we celebrate on our award-winning podcast Travel Tales by AFAR. Each week, we hear from someone who traveled for their passion, whether that’s food, or art, or hiking, or surfing. And because they followed their interests, these trips made a bigger impact on them—for some, these experiences even changed their lives.

So what do you want to guide your trips? Read on for stories, podcasts, and even a butterfly video that will thrill and (hopefully) inspire you.

Image by Canvan Images / Getty Images.

A Love Letter to the West Coast by Rail [LISTEN]

Apple Podcasts

“Did you know that train fanatics are called “foamers?” That’s one of the many delightful things I learned when AFAR contributing writer Chris Colin told a Travel Tale about riding the Coast Starlight train from Seattle to L.A. Along the way, he met those foamers (there are some real characters), learned how to sleep in the Transformer-like cabins on Amtrak, and bonded with his teen daughter.” - Aislyn Greene

The First Female Flamenco Guitarists, Turning Suffering Into Passion [LISTEN]

Apple Podcasts

AG: “This was one of the most meaningful stories I’ve ever worked on. Lavinia’s late father was a well-known flamenco player and until she was a teenager, she had trained to follow in his footsteps. After a falling out, Lavinia walked away from music—and her relationship with her father never recovered. After he died, Lavinia wanted to travel to Spain to meet with the tocaoras, female flamenco players, now leading the way. It was a journey of healing, of grief, and music. Soon after, she also shared it as a Travel Tale, complete with some of the very music she traveled to find.”

Alone at the Edge of the World

Cassidy Randall

AG: “This lengthy piece—about the only woman sailing around the world as part of the Golden Globe Race—is like a great novel: You just can’t stop reading. Susie Goodall’s passion for sailing, for adventure on the high seas is catching, and I gobbled up every sentence, wondering how her adventure would end.”

How to Tread Lightly in Fragile Places

Elaine Glusac
The New York Times

AG: “Sustainability might not feel like an obvious travel passion, but five years ago, I had the chance to sail to Antarctica. Ever since, I’ve been deeply invested in the “how” of travel in this fragile place. We can protect the places we visit by understanding how getting there—and staying there—have an impact, and I loved Elaine Glusac’s take on the matter.”

Montréal: Voyage Voyage [LISTEN]

Not Lost
Apple Podcasts

AG: “In other fun podcasting advice, run, don’t walk to listen to this episode of Not Lost by Brendan Francis Newnam. His premise for the show? To travel to cities across North America and attempt to convince people to invite him to a dinner party. It’s wacky, honest travel fun.”

Why America’s Gas Stations Are Great Dining Destinations

Eater StaffNaya-Cheyenne

AG: “I love an offbeat travel passion, and this ode to gas station food and road snacks fits that to a T. It’s a utilitarian guide to eating well on the road, yes, but more importantly, it captures stories: The history, and importance of, Black-owned gas stations in the South, and the reason that Hawaii’s gas station fare is so freaking good.”

Saving the Butterfly Forest

Brendan George KoCarolyn Kormann
The New Yorker

AG: “I’ve always found Brendan George Ko’s photography arresting, but this celebration of the monarch butterfly is outstanding. Nature lovers, it doesn’t get any better than this.”

My Health and Wellness Plan? Icelandic Horses.

Pam Houston
Outside Magazine

AG: “’She sent me home to find a reason to live and I chose Icelandic horses.’ Sometimes, all it takes is a sentence to hook you on a story, and that’s the one that did it for me in this Outside piece by Pam Houston. On a seven-day ride in the Icelandic highlands, Pam explores the mysteries and pleasures of these wild creatures.”

Aislyn Greene

Aislyn Greene is a writer, editor, and podcaster who heads up all things audio for AFAR. She hosts and produces both of AFAR’s podcasts, Travel Tales by AFAR and Unpacked, and travels as much as life allows. A Seattle native, she graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism and has written or worked for several publications, including Sunset, New York Magazine, and of course, AFAR. She lives on a houseboat in California with her wife and one grumpy cat.