ROBIN ESROCK, whose book “The Great Global Bucket List” will be published next year, has traveled to 100 countries on seven continents, but he still dreams of visiting Bali. “It seems ridiculous that I’ve explored Albania and Ethiopia but have missed countries that blip so loudly on the global adventure radar,” said the Vancouver, Canada-based author.
Increasingly, even more modestly ambitious travelers have formulated a bucket list of places they’re determined to see. For those who haven’t, books, including Mr. Esrock’s, provide inspiration, as do apps such as TripBucket, which let competitive travelers flaunt their trips in a form of voyeuristic voyaging one-upmanship.
Travel companies are also catering to “country counters,” as such globe-trotters are sometimes called, by helping them to tick off all the locations they hope to see in their lifetimes. “Our clients come to us specifically because we travel to the places they want to visit,” says Annie Lucas, vice president of MIR Corporation, a Seattle tour company specializing in obscure destinations including Azerbaijan, Iran and North Korea, which it added last year due to high demand.
Books, apps and tour specialists all have their place, but they’re not the only ways to build a bucket list. As fans of old-fashioned, insistent questioning, we asked luminaries from various walks of life to name the places on their own lists and to recommend favorites they’ve already crossed off. Plenty of their picks are far afield—including bleakest Siberia, which one panelist makes sound more alluring than a tranquil Japanese ryokan (though one of those also makes the cut). India, the Galápagos and African safari destinations are on multiple wish lists. And if you’ve already been there and done that, there’s always outer space.
Author of the forthcoming “My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life” (Sept. 29)
BUCKET-LIST DESTINATION: Shanghai. There’s the food, but the real attraction of Shanghai is that my Berlin grandmother, who missed the last boat to America in the 1940s, ended up spending the war there. I have a great desire to walk through the streets of the city that saved her life.
ALREADY CROSSED OFF HER LIST: I recently went to Japan for the first time in thirty years. One of my favorite Tokyo restaurants is Sushiso Masa, a 7-seat sushi bar that forever changed my mind about what sushi can be; I’m not sure I’ll ever have anything to equal it (4-1-15 Nishiazabu, Minato, +81-3-3499-9178).
Executive director, Committee to Protect Journalists
BUCKET-LIST DESTINATION: I want to visit Aleppo, Syria. Friends who visited before the civil war erupted described it as a magical place, built around a magnificently preserved old city, with amazing food and welcoming people. Of course, if I’m visiting Aleppo as a tourist, the Syrian civil war has ended and peace has been restored.
ALREADY CROSSED OFF HIS LIST: I love visiting places recovering from conflict or in political transition because they are not swarmed with tourists, so your interaction with people tends to be more authentic. Mozambique, where I stayed at the magnificent Polana Serena Hotel (from about $270, serenahotels.com), and Medellín, Colombia, come to mind.
BUCKET-LIST DESTINATION: I’ve been in love with India since I read Kipling as a child. I want to see both the big cities and the rural areas. I want to walk through the streets, get a feel for the culture. I am fascinated by the “otherness” and mystery and religions of India, all a world away from my own.
ALREADY CROSSED OFF HER LIST: My visits to Egypt and Greece in the ‘70s were perhaps my biggest dream trips. I cannot say what it meant to me to see the pyramids of Giza. There is no substitute for stepping out of a car and walking toward the great pyramids, for seeing them not in a photo but under their sky. Your whole sense of the planet on which you live will be expanded.
Writer, fashion commentator, creative ambassador at Barneys New York
BUCKET-LIST DESTINATION: I’ve always wanted to go to Hungary. From Franz Liszt to Zsa Zsa Gabor, all the most brilliant creative people have Hungarian blood. There must be something in the water. Maybe I will go there and drink lots of water. I’d also love to visit a place in Wales named Portmeirion. It’s a fabulously surreal Italianate mini village.
ALREADY CROSSED OFF HIS LIST: I love, love, love Capri. It’s a magical alternative mini-universe with gorgeous vistas, mysterious passageways and bursts of exhibitionistic style: Caftans and gold-sandals and massive, oversize straw-hats…and that’s just the men. We like the low-key luxury of the Hotel La Scalinatella. From about $540, scalinatella.com
Creative director of Marie Claire, “Project Runway” judge, fashion journalist
BUCKET-LIST DESTINATION: I have two boys—three boys including my husband—and Patagonia is at the top of our bucket list as a family. I love the idea of nature and a sense of discovery and trekking all the way down to the south of the south.
ALREADY CROSSED OFF HER LIST: Last year, we took the boys to this little island called Panarea in the Aeolians to see the volcano on nearby Stromboli. From our rooms at the Hotel Raya we could see the volcano erupt like fireworks every 12 minutes. The little neighboring islands and their beaches are beautiful (from about $600, hotelraya.it).
Chef and co-owner, Le Bernardin
BUCKET-LIST DESTINATION: The street food is legendary in Thailand, Burma and Nepal. I want to experience the hospitality and visit the temples in each of them.
ALREADY CROSSED OFF HIS LIST: Bhutan is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen. The Tiger’s Nest monastery is an absolute must. It’s built in a cliff 3,000 feet above the Paro Valley, and it’s a really powerful experience. Stay in the Amankora hotel which has a circuit of 5 gorgeous lodges located throughout the kingdom (from about $465 per person, amanresorts.com).
“I want to cycle through Cambodia, from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, the site of the incredibly inspiring temple complexes of Angkor Wat and an emerging art scene. Siem Reap also has a lot of beautiful hotels that provide opportunities for relaxation and wellness.” — Jennifer Bandier, founder of the luxury fashion and fitness boutique Bandier.
Director of cosmetics company Orlane
BUCKET-LIST DESTINATION: I want to travel on a research expedition to Antarctica for the feeling of being at the end of the earth. I imagine it’s like being on the moon and would force me to be in contact with myself in a way I’m not from day to day…and help me understand what is really happening with climate change.
ALREADY CROSSED OFF HER LIST: One of my favorite spots is a traditional ryokan called Gora-Kansuiro in a volcanic region outside of Tokyo. It offers natural hot spring baths and is welcoming, secluded, discreet, and offers the very highest luxury without any real outward sign of it (from about $160 per person, gourakansuirou.co.jp/en).
BUCKET-LIST DESTINATION: Iceland has a real pull on me. Maybe it’s because of an incredible book of photographs I saw once that made it look mystical. And the fact that with a small plane or a motorcycle it’s a place I could see a lot of in one concentrated trip.
ALREADY CROSSED OFF HIS LIST: Kenya’s Campi ya Kanzi. You can go out with Maasai trackers early in the morning, go tent camping for a few days away from the lodge or hike up into the cloud forest. It’s an impressive combination of luxury, exclusivity and commitment to the community and a magical peak experience (from about $850 per person, maasai.com).
Anthropologist at New York University, documentary filmmaker
BUCKET-LIST DESTINATION: Traveling into space has always been a dream. Hint to Richard Branson: Want an anthropologist on board? I’ve also been dying to get to Mongolia to learn more about the nomadic and seminomadic lifestyles. Sleeping in yurts and horseback riding in the steppes sounds pretty romantic, too.
ALREADY CROSSED OFF HER LIST: Bolivia is one of very few countries where the indigenous population is the majority (even the president is Aymara Indian). There are jungles, the highest navigable lake and the largest salt desert in the world. Oh, and there’s also female wrestling in El Alto, complete with bowler hats and skirts!
BUCKET-LIST DESTINATION: I am desperate to go to the Galápagos Islands. It would be a once-in-a-lifetime holiday for my family.
ALREADY CROSSED OFF HER LIST: The Singita Faru Faru Lodge in Tanzania, where the elephants come right up to your pool and drink out of it. It’s a wonderful reminder of the beauty of nature (from about $1,425 per person per night, singita.com).
Travel writer and author of “100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go.”
BUCKET-LIST DESTINATION: I’m dying to take the Golden Eagle luxury train across Siberia in winter. There is nothing more bleak and romantic than the Russian tundra. I literally dream of the lakes, the white, the expanses of birch trees and all the frozen madness seen through the window of my toasty room, piled high with fancy linens. I crave the desolation, the hum of the train, the shining cathedrals in towns along the way (from $16,000 per person, goldeneagleluxurytrains.com).
ALREADY CROSSED OFF HER LIST: I saw the Northern Lights in Swedish Lapland. They looked like electric candy acid stripes blazing across the sky, accompanied by a crackling sound. It’s astonishing.
Chef, restaurateur and owner of ThinkFoodGroup
BUCKET-LIST DESTINATION: I want to climb Mount Everest. At least get to the base camp. My friend and hero, Edurne Pasaban, the first woman to complete the ascent of the “famous 14” 8,000-meter peaks told me she’d help me get there. I’m going to do it.
ALREADY CROSSED OFF HIS LIST: With a lot of famous destinations, you have a sense of what to expect. Nothing could have prepared me for the Citadelle Laferrière in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti, high in the mountains and surrounded by lush, green forests. Seeing it was a truly humbling experience (Habitation Jouissant, from $125, habitationjouissant.com).
Karen Maezen Miller
Zen Buddhist priest and author of three books, including “Paradise in Plain Sight: Lessons from a Zen Garden”
BUCKET-LIST DESTINATION: I have a sense of inevitability about visiting the temples and gardens in Kyoto. At Ryoanji Temple there is a water basin in the garden for ritual handwashing. The calligraphy inscribed on the basin can be translated as, ‘I am content with what I lack.’ So if I never make it to Kyoto, or Ryoanji, I can still be satisfied.
ALREADY CROSSED OFF HER LIST: The abbey and the town on France’s Mont-St-Michel are wonders of architectural and ecclesiastical ambition, labor, power and indomitable faith. At night, when the tide comes in and fills the bay, you can walk the ancient stones under the stars the way the monks did. It can teach you something about time and your place in eternity.
David De Vleeschauwer & Debbie Pappyn
Photographer and author of “Remote Places to Stay”
BUCKET-LIST DESTINATION: Traveling to the North Pole has been a dream of ours for more than a decade. It’s not an easy voyage: Only one nuclear ice breaker is taking people now and it can be snatched away by big oil companies at any time.
ALREADY CROSSED OFF THEIR LIST: Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula was amazing. The French expedition ship L’Austral took us to stunning spots where we saw bears roaming the shores, erupting volcanoes, and fast flowing clear rivers filled with salmon. We still dream of all the salmon roe we ate (from $9,420 per person, ponant.com)
Creator of Smith Magazine and the Six-Word Memoirs book series
BUCKET-LIST DESTINATION: I’ve wanted to visit “The Lightning Field” in Catron County, New Mexico, since I first heard about it. It’s an art installation by Walter De Maria that consists of 400 steel lightning rods. You stay near it in a rustic cabin. If you’re lucky enough to see lighting strike, it’s magical. If not, it’s still an adventure to be there.
ALREADY CROSSED OFF HIS LIST: “Spiral Jetty,” in the Great Salt Lake, is a sculpture created from black basalt rocks that extends into the water. You can walk the spiral, swim off it, or just stare from a distance and try to make sense of it. It’s magical and like a lot of great trips, won’t be an option forever.
—Additional reporting by Deborah Dunn, Jeryl Brunner and Christian L. Wright
“I have been to India four times, but there are certain parts I want to travel through that I didn’t [get to] before, because I was at an ashram with my spiritual teacher and got caught up in meditation. I have never seen the holy city of Varanasi, one of the world’s oldest cities and an important site for Hindus, Jains and Buddhists.” —Sally Hershberger, celebrity hairstylist and owner of three eponymous salons in New York and Los Angeles
International opera conductor and founder of Opera Orchestra of New York
BUCKET-LIST DESTINATION: Finland. In the 1990s, I was a guest conductor with the Kirov Opera in St. Petersburg, and I changed planes in Finland. The people in the airport had such an aura of calmness that I’ve wanted to return.
ALREADY CROSSED OFF HER LIST: The real standout is České Budějovice, an ancient town in the South Bohemia region of the Czech Republic that has a centuries-old history of brewing. The beer is second to none. It’s not exported; you have to drink it there. In the morning, the town square is alive with vendors selling everything from fresh vegetables to lovely needlepoint, linens and tableware.
BUCKET-LIST DESTINATION: The Spanish riding school of Vienna has been the best in the world for the last two centuries. Its Lipizzaner stallions are a unique breed that go through the most elaborate training. I love horses and have never had the time to go to Vienna. It’s like a good cigar that I’m keeping till last.
ALREADY CROSSED OFF HIS LIST: I recommend Japan for the purists, the aesthetes and those who love order. It isn’t for the beauty of the landscape—[you can find] magnificent landscapes everywhere. It’s for the beauty, character and respect of the people. This civilization has kept a civility that no longer exists in France. Traditions are respected; the last craftsmen are humble and kind masters.
Sarah Robb O’Hagan
President of the Equinox chain of health clubs
BUCKET-LIST DESTINATION: I dream of taking a flotilla sailing vacation around the Greek Islands with my family and friends, and I am hoping to do it in 2016. It will require the whole family working together. The kids will have to help out with everything from anchoring, to lifting the sails to keeping the boat clean. Each day when we come ashore we will get to visit little Greek villages and learn about a different culture steeped in so much great history.
ALREADY CROSSED OFF HER LIST: My husband and I were lucky enough to attend soccer’s World Cup in Johannesburg. The Apartheid Museum, which documents the rise and fall of South Africa’s racial segregation is extraordinary and shows how the country managed in such a short time to begin the cultural shift towards equal rights. We stayed at the Saxon Hotel, Villas & Spa, which is beautiful. Nelson Mandela wrote his autobiography there (from about $400, saxon.co.za).
Artistic director of Diesel
BUCKET-LIST DESTINATION: I would love to experience the rich colors, spices and history of Morocco.
ALREADY CROSSED OFF HIS LIST: Florianópolis is a beautiful island-city 450 miles south of Rio de Janeiro with a glamorous party scene. Each of its dozens of beaches has its own personality, from glitzy to low-key.
“The restaurant Michel Bras started in Laguiole, in the south of France, has been first on my bucket list since I was in culinary school in the 1990s. It’s now run by his son Sébastien. Bras invented a cuisine of modern techniques that also respects nature. The area around the restaurant sounds peaceful and inspiring (bras.fr)“ —Sean Brock, Charleston chef and partner at McCrady’s, Husk and Minero
Rafael de Cárdenas
Founder of the design agency Architecture at Large
BUCKET-LIST DESTINATION: Cuba. My father was an exiled Cuban who dreamt of returning one day. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. But for me, he created this romanticized version of Cuba through almost daily storytelling. I think that finally going there will seem like time travel.
ALREADY CROSSED OFF HIS LIST: Tokyo has changed quite a bit over the years, but it always delivers on some incredibly extreme version of a European or American concept, heightening the details. It’s almost as though in Japan the contrast is turned up as high as possible on everything. An example is Échiré, a bakery in Marunouchi Brick Square that makes the best croissants in the world (2 Chome-6-1 Manrouchi, +81-3-6269-9840).
Star of “The Hotwives of Las Vegas,” a “Real Housewives” parody premiering on Hulu August 18.
BUCKET-LIST DESTINATION: I have heard amazing things about Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur. I would love to go and stay in one of their tree houses (tree houses from about $1,225, postranchinn.com). I also would like to stay at every Four Seasons on Planet Earth. Kidding! Or am I?”
ALREADY CROSSED OFF HER LIST: I spent my honeymoon at the Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco, a gorgeous, 800-year-old estate in the Tuscan countryside near Siena. It’s breathtaking: It appears out of nowhere with deer dotting the hillside and gorgeous lush grounds and a private vineyard. The chef makes the best pasta I had in Italy (from about $590, rosewoodhotels.com).