Checklist Obsession

My love of a good checklist is widely known among those closest to me. I am one of those people that gets easily sucked into any Top 10 or Must See or Best Of lists, no matter how inconsequential the list actually is.You know that area of big bookstores that is full of fun coffee table books highlighting festivals around the world and natural wonders that you’ve never heard of? Yeah, those books suck me in like you wouldn’t believe, and the second I open one, I get this deep-seeded urge to literally visit everywhere in the book. No kidding.

In 2003, when the book ‘1,000 Places to See Before You Die’ came out, I immediately jumped on the bandwagon. Book in hand, I went through it page by page, literally checking off each place I had been, with corresponding date. When I added in Drew’s check marks years later, I even made him provide his travel dates – glad to know that his first memory of visiting NYC was 1986.

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That book by no means captures all or even most of the actual places in the world I want to see before I die. I’m not impressed by its lack of coverage of much of Europe, not to mention it leaves out nearly all of the Middle East and Africa. I hate that it considers fancy hotels to be worthy of a pre-death visit. Basically, the book is not good. And yet. I still go through it, probably once per year, and dutifully check off the new places I’ve been to on my travels.

I honestly cannot help myself.

Despite drastic downsizing when we moved overseas, we held on to many of our travel books, especially those catchy Top 10 books for holidays we’ve taken over the years. Another book with 5,000 travel ideas? Sign me up for ALL OF THEM!

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The book on 100 Cheap Eats in London is one of my current obsessions, and I consult it regularly for new ideas, while checking off where I’ve been in the index. Plus, there are 100, which is a nice round number and a totally doable list to complete. And they’re cheap. Let’s make a spreadsheet to get to the remaining 83 in the next 6 months.

I’m pretty sure that this quirk of mine is unnecessary and ultimately not the best way to live life, but I know no other way.

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Lately I’ve been revisiting the spreadsheet I keep about my European travel planning. As of this minute, of the 48 European countries that are on my list (this includes the Asia Minor nations), I’ve been to 27. I have plans this year to visit another 4, maybe 5.Next year, our UK visas expire at which point we will be making some serious decisions about where to live and what to do with our lives.

Using next September as an unofficial deadline, if all goes according to my very aggressive travel plan, I can reach 45 European countries by that time. Now this would include an insane 8-country road trip through the Balkans, and who knows how we would figure out how to manage that with work and all, but there you go. The rest would be visited using our normal methods – weekends, holiday weekends, one or two week-long trips.

The three remaining countries that have not made my list of 45 are a small cluster that could all be visited in one go, but which also hold less appeal to me as a tourist: Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova. It’s not that I don’t want to visit these places, but the three would probably require a full week combined, one requires a visa, and one is in a bit of a political situation these days, so this grouping is just not high on the ole’ tally of dream destinations.

So, here I am, the ‘completist’ without a plan to complete Europe.



The way I feel about an uncompleted checklist depends on the day. On a good day, it doesn’t bother me in the least. I like the feeling of making progress so finishing a list is only part of the fun. On a bad day, I get a nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach and annoyance washes over me. It’s not THAT hard to go to three more countries. There should be a way to make this work. And back to the spreadsheet and calendar and flight tracker I go.

Today, I feel fine about potentially leaving three unvisited European countries. I just booked a trip to Monaco, so life is good.

Can you relate to my checklist obsession? Are you also skeptical of those people who claim to not count countries, like I am?

  • August 12, 2015

    I feel your pain! I too have this affliction and my main list is 1000 Places To See Before You Die. I did conquer my “50 States before I turn 51” last year but am moving dreadfully slow on 1000 places to see.

    • August 14, 2015

      Those damn checklists! So tempting! The 1000 Places book is a fun reference, but does miss some major sites in minor countries, which is its downside. Luckily, there are lots of other lists to explore.

  • August 13, 2015

    AHHHHHH you have a spreadsheet for your European countries! I LOVE spreadsheets. Before we went on a long term travel, I made a spreadsheet with average temperatures, rainfall, and festival dates across Asia. I used it ALL THE TIME! I love lists. even if at the end of it all, it doesn’t matter.
    Jenia recently posted…Wanderlust Friday at the BeachMy Profile

    • August 14, 2015

      I excel at spreadsheets (pun intended). It’s the best way for me to organize my life, especially my travels. How else can I map out my conquering of the world!

  • August 13, 2015

    quite insightful, thanks for sharing
    Naeem recently posted…Finding, where mermaids live… in CopenhagenMy Profile

    • August 14, 2015

      Thanks, love me some spreadsheets!

  • August 16, 2015

    Great post, Julie.
    I can relate to this too. On a non-travel related level, I often use lists as a way of achieving things when feeling unproductive. A sheet of ticked off ‘to do’s’ come 5PM means I can feel I have earnt a chilled evening. Back to travel and every time I look into going somewhere new, I’m straight on my laptop, googling top 10’s and must see’s.

    PS. Travel dates along side the checked off destinations is surely a must. I’d experience cold sweats if forgotten. Keep Drew in check! (no pun intended) 😉
    james@theglobewanderers recently posted…7 Places to Enhance your Singapore ExperienceMy Profile

    • August 16, 2015

      Hi James! I’m totally guilty of making a checklist when I’ve already done a few items, just so I can write them down the check off right away. Yikes. And we made our biggest travel planning error ever a couple weeks ago, totally forgetting the date we were supposed to check out of a hotel – yeah, I didn’t realize it was possible either. Cheers!

  • August 17, 2015

    You’re definitely a girl after my own heart! I love a good checklist and travel spreadsheets. Have you ever tried OneNote?! It’s deliciously good for the checklist/spreadsheet-inclined crowd.
    Susan recently posted…Master Bath Mini MakeoverMy Profile

    • August 18, 2015

      I haven’t tried OneNote. Looks like I have to check it out!

  • August 20, 2015
    Maaike -

    Haha, hi, nice to meet you, I’m one of the people are sceptical about. The ones that actually don’t count the countries they’ve been to and are absolutely fine with it 😉

    So I don’t keep a list of places I’ve traveled to or places still on my list (although I do have that book 1,000 places to visit before you die, at home. But that was a present to our family from a friend 😉 It’s still untouched and not written in or ‘ticked off’), but I do use lists for other purposes, such as to-do-lists and shopping lists. Also I want that book of cheap places to eat!!

    • August 20, 2015

      To be fair Maaike, I don’t count countries either or adhere to the checklists for travels. I have given up on eye-rolling about her spreadsheets and goals for world travel domination. I’m fine repeating countries or cities if I like them, but I go along with Julie on her EU goal because it is also fun to see new places. I just do it without the help of Excel!

  • August 21, 2015

    OMG – me too! Laughing about the 1000 places before you die comments because it’s true – it’s not that great a book, yet I’m compelled to look before I go somewhere, and check off any places I return. I also use mine as kind of a scrapbook – if I’m reading a magazine and tear out an article on a destination, I’ll throw it in the book.

    I’ve tried to start using Pinterest to catalog my “wish list” of destinations, but nothing compares to a good ol’ spreadsheet!

    • August 22, 2015

      there are a lot of weird picks in that book, but it is somewhat bizarrely addicting to flip through the pages. I like the idea of the wish list in Pinterest.

  • August 26, 2015

    My friends make so much fun of my obsession with lists. I’ve always got at least 7 different lists going at a time, and the satisfaction I get when I cross something off is amazing. Good luck with your lists, can’t wait to read about all of your European adventures!
    veena recently posted…book number eighteen of 2015 + booker prize winner 1984: hotel du lac [anita brookner].My Profile

    • August 28, 2015

      Julie does lover her lists and crossing things off. It gives her a surprising amount of enjoyment.

  • September 13, 2015

    Avid Listmakers Unite! I feel as though I could have written this post. You nailed it completely. I had to have the 1000 places book too then realized its not as good as it should be. 🙁 now I want the 1000 foods book even though I’m a picky eater. Oh lists. They make me happy.
    Tricia @ The Adventure List recently posted…Life on the Alaskan North SlopeMy Profile

    • September 14, 2015

      We need to check out the 1000 foods book! We are both adventurous eaters, so now I’m wondering how many things we have sampled from the list. We still look at the 1000 places book, but like you said, it is not actually very good. Way too many luxury hotels listed as “must visit” in places where there is a lot more to see than a elaborate lobby.