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  • Writer's pictureBrett Hayden

My Reverse Bucket List

2020 was supposed to be the year of checking off experiences on my bucket list; Spain & Ibiza, Boston & Salem (fingers crossed this is still a possibility).

Obviously COVID 19 took a lot of experiences away from a lot of people. Instead of dwelling on what the pandemic has caused me to miss out on, I’m choosing to focus on what 2020 couldn’t take away: the experiences I’ve already had!

Reflecting on this has made me realize that in a short span of 24 years I’ve had a ton of amazing opportunities. So, here is my REVERSE Bucket List, where I’m checking off things I’ve already had the privilege to accomplish!

1. Alcatraz Island

I think my first experience hearing about Alcatraz Island was seeing it featured in an episode of one of my favorite TV shows as a kid (& truthfully still to this day), Charmed. One of the main characters, Phoebe, goes to Alcatraz with a friend and ends up seeing a ghost. The rest is history, I was hooked. After learning more about the eerie history of Alcatraz, the true crime junkie in me added the island to my list of places I had to visit.

When I got the opportunity for an internship in Berkeley, CA I happily accepted the 3 week position and promptly convinced two of my best friends and some of my family to come visit me after the position ended. My friend Miranda and I visited Alcatraz during our stay in San Francisco and it was just as neat as I anticipated. There is such a unique history to the island where some of the most infamous criminals did their time. I would highly recommend a trip to San Fran & a visit to Alcatraz for anyone interested in true crime.

2. The Charmed House in Los Angeles, CA

And on that note, when visiting Los Angeles, the true fangirl in me knew I had to visit the house used as the setting in Charmed (and drag my best friend along). Turns out this house is in a very random residential neighborhood and there is absolutely nothing else to do around it. There are current residents living in the house, so sadly I couldn't peek inside. BUT my heart was very full after the short visit.

3. Paris & Normandy, France

I had been dreaming of Paris since the day I saw Anastasia as a little girl. I mean, is there any more iconic city than Paris? I was on cloud nine the entire week. Seeing the city that I had previously only ever seen on screen or in pictures in person was unforgettable. We made our way to the Eiffel Tour (of course), saw the Moulin Rouge, and went to the Louvre and found ourselves face to face with the Mona Lisa (but not really because the painting is actually so small and there were crowds all around). I would've lived off of escargot & wine that week if my mom would've let me.

After a few days in Paris we made our way to Normandy. We saw the beaches where the infamous attacks took place and had the opportunity to dive deep into the history of D-Day. It was such a humbling and haunting experience in one of the most beautiful places I've been.

There is something so charming & romantic about France that makes it a country that will always have a special place in my heart.

4. African Safari

When I was in high school I had the privilege to travel to Tanzania, Africa with my mom and stepdad. At a time in my life when I hadn't even thought about traveling to Africa, I had no idea what to expect. My mind was blown when we arrived at the safari resort we were staying at. It was in the middle of the Serengeti, meaning the animals were roaming free all around us. I even remembering hearing lions outside of our hut at night (so cool, I promise!).

Going on safaris was more amazing than I could have imagined. It's as if I was plopped down right in the middle of the Lion King. Okay, not really. But I did feel like I was judging the animals based on how they acted in the movie. It was such an amazing experience to see these animals in their natural habitat. There is truly nothing in the world like Africa. If it's not on your travel radar, I highly suggest looking into it!

5. Studying Abroad

the time of my life

I didn't always plan on studying abroad in college, but on a random winter night of my sophomore year at UW Eau Claire I thought to myself, "I need something to look forward to." So I looked into my school's study abroad program and, to my surprise, there were a lot of great options! Europe of course caught my eye right off of the bat, but deciding between all of the options was not an easy task. Unfortunately, I don't speak any other language besides English fluently (yet), so when I noticed there was a program for England I was sold!

I spent a month of that summer traveling all over England and a short trip to Scotland, learning more than I could've imagined (about myself and the public history of England, the course we had to take lol), meeting lifelong friends, and making memories I will never forget. Our home base was Harlaxton College in Grantham. Harlaxton is basically a castle, which is fitting because the whole experience was pretty magical. I already had a love for traveling, but this experience was my first time in Europe and one of my first experiences traveling without my family. Studying abroad fueled my desire to make traveling a high priority in my life. It truly was the time of my life.

6. French Quarter, New Orleans, LA

The history of New Orleans is what drew my mom, sister, and me there. We are very interested in all things haunted, historical, and paranormal, and New Orleans was the perfect location for just that. We stayed in the historic Hotel Monteleone, where Earnest Hemingway often frequented to write his novels (be still, my heart!). We strolled down the French Quarter where the streets are lined with as many beautiful buildings as they are bars. One day we took a walking history tour where we heard stories of when the city had corpses floating down dirt roads due to flooding and voodoo was in its prime, and even got to take a peak at Marie Laveau's tomb at the St. Louis cemetery. (Fun Fact: Nicholas Cage also has a tomb waiting for him in this particular cemetery...)

Not only did New Orleans offer us all things paranormal & historical, it also delivered some amazing food. We went to the historic Cafe du Monde and ate beignets and drank cafe au lait, which has been my go-to caffeinated drink ever since! As an added bonus, on the drive down we made a stop in Gulfport, MS - hometown of our beloved Brett Favre.

New Orleans is unlike any other city I've been to and I can't wait to get back someday.

7. Zanzibar, Tanzania

During the same trip as the African Safari, we were also able to spend an incredible week at a beach resort in Zanzibar. Lying on the beach in Zanzibar at night is an experience I'll never forget. There was practically no light pollution where we were staying, making the sky so incredibly clear that I felt like I was looking at the entire universe. My stepdad and I sat out on the beach looking at the stars for probably an hour and it was breathtaking. I've never seen a sky so clear before (or since) in my life!

It really is the experiences that you didn't know you needed on your bucket list that make all the difference.

8. Fixer Upper Tour in Waco, TX

The HGTV junkies in Austin & me had the best time visiting Waco, TX! We made it to a ton of the Magnolia stops from the tv series Fixer Upper. We went to the shops/bakery at the Silos, went to see the original shop, and even googled some of the addresses of houses featured on the show (maybe a bit creepy, but oh well!). The houses were just as beautiful as they seemed on TV and I wanted to break the bank and buy everything in the store. I highly recommend a trip to Waco, even if you're not an HGTV freak like us!

I am so thankful for all of the memories I've made and look forward to the experiences yet to come. I feel incredibly fortunate to say that this is not a complete list of all of the checks on my bucket list, but simply a highlight reel of some moments that really stuck out when I chose to write this.

At a time when it feels like we're losing and missing out on everything, it felt really important to reflect on somethings that can't be taken away. I'm choosing to use this list as a reminder that life will eventually get better, we'll make more memories, and we'll check more experiences off of our bucket lists!

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