The End of Goals: Thoughts on Turning 36

Nomadic Matt hiking in Africa surrounded by jungles
Posted: 6/13/17 | June 12th, 2017

In 2013, I created a list of 19 things I wanted to do before I turned 35. This list was going to serve as a guide for all my travels until I hit that all-important (OK, not really) birthday. Last year, when I turned 35 and realized I wasn’t even close to completing it, I mentally tweaked the list title: it would now be 19 things to do through age 35.

Today, I turn 36…and out of those 19 things on my list, I did a whopping FOUR.

Yup, only four.

In a sense, I failed pretty badly. I set out with a simple list of goals to accomplish over a three-year period and didn’t even finish a third of them.

But, as I look back at that list and think about it, I realize I just don’t care.

I often called it my “non-bucket-list bucket list.” You see, I don’t actually like bucket lists. I mean, I love lists and making plans, but to me, bucket lists convey this idea that only things on that list are worth doing and that accomplishing those things will somehow make your life complete.

“If I do these things, I can be happy when I kick the bucket!”

While I think it’s great to have goals and dreams, how can we convey all those dreams on one little list? After all, life changes, dreams change, and goals change. Why should a list you make at one point in time define your life before you “kick the bucket”?

The bucket list we create at 20 will be a lot different than the one we create at 60.

Plus, the things we don’t include on the lists are often the things that bring us the most satisfaction in life – friends, family, that amazing hike in the park, the new job, the hobby you pick up. They are often the things we look back at when we judge our lives.

Bucket lists are often an exercise in futility.

(And, apparently, non-bucket-list bucket lists are too.)

I wanted to journey to Antarctica, backpack all of South America and hike the Inca Trail, see India, visit Pacific islands, travel to the Seychelles and East Africa, see a World Cup game, and so much more.

Did I do any of those things? Nope.

But in their place…

I published a book and drove across the country for five months.

I ran tours around Europe.

I hiked in Patagonia.

I attended Carnevale in Venice.

I backpacked in Thailand and Laos.

I moved to Austin.

I traveled to Dubai, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.

I went back to Australia.

And, then, just like that, 35 came to an end.

I could say that I pasted my list to my wall and referred back to it — but I didn’t. It went mostly forgotten. I was too busy enjoying life, finding flight deals, starting new projects, and traveling to exciting places to think about it.

Life gets in the way of lists and plans.

My friend Blake and his girlfriend Molly just sold everything so they can travel around the world for a year. They are planners. When we had brunch and they showed me their spreadsheet, I told them two things:

First, there’s no need to spend half your trip in Europe (that’s way too long).

Second, none of this was going to matter because once you start traveling all your plans go out the window.

“But don’t we have to give people dates for when they visit us?” Molly asked.

“Sure, you can give people dates, but an exact place? I wouldn’t. You can’t know so far in advance. I’ll bet $100 most of your itinerary gets dramatically changed and you won’t be where you’d think you’d be.”

Like my friends, I love planning (heck, I just spent three hours researching the Loire Valley before I wrote this) but I know it goes all out the window hit the ground.

Apparently, so does even a basic set of goals.

And so, as I turn 36, I hereby declare I give up on bucket lists, not-so-bucket-list bucket lists, and pronouncements that I’m going to go to “X” later this year/next year/whenever. I can’t stick to such goals. Life keeps getting in the way of my plans…with even better plans!

There’s a lot I want to do in life. And, as I grow each day, my goals keeps changing. Maybe one day I’ll get to all the places on that old list. Maybe I won’t. I keep saying this is the year I finally get to Brazil and Nepal but who really knows?

I keep living my life and enjoying every moment of it. I don’t need a list to make that happen.

I’ll just keep following where the road takes me.

It hasn’t led me astray yet.

Cheers to another year around the sun!

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner. It’s my favorite search engine because it searches websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is being left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Want to Travel for Free?
Travel credit cards allow you to earn points that can be redeemed for free flights and accommodation — all without any extra spending. Check out my guide to picking the right card and my current favorites to get started and see the latest best deals.

Need Help Finding Activities for Your Trip?
Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace where you can find cool walking tours, fun excursions, skip-the-line tickets, private guides, and more.

Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.