Popularised by a 2007 film starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman as two men racing to realise ambitions before they ‘kicked the bucket’, the phrase ‘bucket list’ sums up a list of destinations we’d all love to visit before we die.
Prior to the pandemic, the term became a dirty byword for over-tourism, as tourists flocked to the same honey-pot attractions. But confronting our own mortality – and being confined to our homes during the lockdowns – has resulted in a shift of opinion: now more and more of us are determined to tick off a list of once-in-a-lifetime holidays, regardless of how obvious and popular they might be.
“Since Covid, there’s been a realisation that people will never take travel for granted again, and we have a renewed appreciation that the incredible access we have to the world is extraordinary,” says Tom Marchant, owner and co-founder of Black Tomato.
“This appreciation and acknowledgment is manifesting as a determination to go big and travel like never before. The pandemic has made people appreciate what they were unable to do, and pine for things they’ve never done but want to do. While previously there were myriad reasons for people to put off realising their bucket list, now, that has changed.”
According to Audley, almost three-quarters of their bookings for 2023 were for a much-awaited bucket list trip. Likewise, escorted tours specialist Newmarket Holidays has seen a big increase in sales of wish-list holidays compared to 2019, and launched its 2025 long-haul programme in April to meet unprecedented demand.
“Pandemic restrictions have fuelled a desire to visit wish-list destinations, and escorted group trips to exotic locations mean travellers can join tours and activities that have been carefully curated to take them beyond the guidebooks, at prices that benefit from group rates to keep them as low as possible,” says Newmarket’s CEO Niel Alobaidi. “No matter what hurdles this year throws at them, people keep on demonstrating a huge appetite to travel.”
So, which destinations and experiences have captivated travellers?
The wide open spaces of Canada
“We saw post-pandemic the 60+ age group were the last generally to start to travel again – so, therefore, have missed out on more travelling than some of our younger clients,” says Mike Collins, managing director of Tropical Sky.
“With savings in the bank from not travelling, we are seeing big trips being booked and taken. Canada has been at the forefront in 2023, as the train and tour trips provide great adventure, whilst still relatively safe with no language barriers. For 2024, we are seeing the Canada surge in bookings continue.”
Expedition cruises to polar regions
David Tanguay, global head of sales for AE Expeditions (part of Aurora Expeditions), says the company has seen a 53% increase in booked berths across their voyages to the polar regions, as well as the British Isles and Latin America.
“This increase can be attributed to several factors, including the desire to fully embrace bucket-list plans and travel to remote and wild places like Antarctica and the Arctic, free from large crowds and full of opportunities for genuine adventure,” he says. “The company’s customer age bracket is also widening, with travellers in their early 40s up to their 90s joining expeditions.
“The younger demographic is often drawn to the company’s optional activity programme, which includes experiences such as skiing and alpine trekking, rock climbing, kayaking, snorkelling and diving, all in the polar regions. Several of these are unique in the expedition space and are often pivotal in decision-making.”
Seeing the Big Five on safari in Africa
“Spotting the Big Five in their natural habitat has always been a highlight for many travellers, however in the post-pandemic era, the allure of these magnificent creatures is stronger than ever,” says Greg Fox, co-founder and director of Mahlatini.
“The pristine wilderness of the Okavango Delta, the majestic Victoria Falls, the endangered mountain gorillas of Rwanda and Uganda, and the remote wildlife experiences in the Republic of the Congo are all proving popular. Additionally, Egypt’s rich historical treasures are experiencing a resurgence in popularity among globe-trotters.”
The company has also seen a surge of interest in East Africa’s wildebeest migration: comparing 2019 vs 2022, Kenya bookings are up 56% and Tanzania has increased by 42%.