What’s on your bucket list?

Do you dream of backpacking solo across Europe, sunning on a beach in Australia, or getting off the beaten track in one of the world’s least visited countries? Does the dazzling theater scene of New York City or the age-old foodie culture of Paris fascinate you?

What if someone walked up to you and said you could do all that and more – that you would travel the world, tick off every item on your bucket list, and never have to worry about paying a dime? Where would you go? What would you see?

We posed these questions to 1,000 Americans, asking how long they would travel, where they would go, and who they would take. Keep reading to see what they said.

CURRENT AMERICAN TRAVEL HABITS

Before we dove into Americans’ dream travel destinations, we asked them about their current travel habits. How often do Americans pack up the car or hop on a plane, train, or bus and head to another city, state, or country?

It turns out, 31 percent of participants have never traveled internationally – a fact that may come as no surprise knowing only 1 in 5 Americans traveled abroad in 2013.

For those who do head across the border from time to time, the vast majority spend one to two weeks on their international jaunts, a strategy that especially makes sense if you want to allow enough time to deal with jet lag.

TRAVELING WITH AMERICANS

No matter your generation, if you’re heading abroad, you’re probably planning to stay a week or two. But who do you prefer traveling with? We found this varied significantly by generation.

Baby boomers were the most likely group to travel with a significant other or spouse (56 percent), while Gen Xers were the most likely to travel with family (36 percent). Further, millennials traveled with friends and by themselves more often than any other group – a trend that research says may be on the rise. In fact, 37 percent of millennials in a 2015 survey planned on taking at least one solo trip in the next six months, an 8 percent increase from survey results just two years before.

HOW LONG DO WE WISH WE COULD TRAVEL?

If you had unlimited vacation days and didn’t have to worry about money, how long would you travel? If you’re like most Americans, the answer is a pretty lengthy one: 26 percent of survey respondents wanted to take a trip that lasted six months or longer.

This may not be surprising, considering there are stories after stories about Americans young and old taking off to see the world, working along the way, or falling in love with nomadic retirement.

For those not interested in such a long adventure, 17 percent of participants each wanted to travel for at least one to two months, still twice as long as the average number of American vacation days.

However, work wasn’t the only reason Americans traveled less than half the time they wish they could. Money was the No. 1 reason cited, followed by work, and then pets (though a growing number of Americans are realizing vacation and pets aren’t always mutually exclusive).

IF YOU COULD GO ANYWHERE, WHERE WOULD YOU GO?

If you had unlimited money and time, where would you travel? If you’re like most survey respondents, you’d be honing your chopstick skills, visiting shrines, and taking day trips out to Mount Fuji from Tokyo, Japan – No. 1 on participants’ bucket lists.

The other top spots are already pretty popular, as well. France is the most visited country in the world, and Paris – home of steaming baguettes and magically romantic photos in front of the Eiffel Tower – ranked No. 2 on our list, followed by beachy Sydney, Australia, and ancient, gelato-filled Rome.

When we split the data by region, Western European countries got the most love from Americans, followed by Asia, Oceania, and Eastern Europe.

IF YOU COULD DO ANYTHING, WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

If money normally holds us back, how would our travel activities change if we had more of it?

When it comes to sightseeing and photography, not much would change. But, interestingly, the least likely group to don a camera and see the sights were those making more than $100,000 a year.

So what are those making $100,000 or more a year doing with their travel time? According to our survey, they’re most likely spending time exploring historical sites.

Also interesting is the fact that people at almost every income level were equally likely to eat out while traveling, except those who made between $10,000 and $30,000 and those who made $55,000 to $75,000 a year.

DESTINATION: ACTIVITY

Activities also varied by destination. Sightseeing was more popular in Oceania than Asia, while Americans preferred eating out in Asia over Oceania. And Eastern Europe was a more common destination for shoppers than Asia.

OUR MOST MAGICAL BUCKET LISTS

Let’s expand our dreams even further, shall we? What if your bucket list could include heading to Hogwarts or outer space? What if the Lost City of Atlantis was accepting reservations?

When we asked 1,000 Americans, Gen Xers were the first to jump on the outer space train (36 percent). Baby boomers, on the other hand, were fascinated by the idea of an undersea city (27 percent). Millennials, who grew up with “Harry Potter,” were ready to board the Hogwarts Express and head to wizardry school.

HYPOTHETICAL TRAVEL COMPANIONS

Expand the magic even further: If you could travel with anyone, dead or alive, real or imagined, whom would you invite on your worldwide adventure? A famous writer, the person who invented time, or your favorite fictional character?

Survey says Gen Xers would love to travel with their favorite writers (25 percent), while baby boomers are fascinated by world leaders (22 percent), and millennials would like to pluck their heroes straight from fiction (25 percent).

TRAVEL PREFERENCES, BY GENDER

Let’s play a game – a travel version of “Would you rather?” Would you rather go where you know the language or where you can’t understand a thing? Snuggle up in a remote mountain cottage or sun yourself on a busy beach? Cruise or fly?

Women preferred taking multiple short vacations each year, while men preferred a luxurious one-month trip each year. Women also wanted to see their favorite musical act, and men wanted to commemorate a historical event.

However, both genders preferred cruising to air travel – and who could blame them, with air travel constantly getting worse? Men and women also wanted the comfort of knowing a language.

U.S. BUCKET LISTS

Most may dream of Japanese sushi and Parisian cafes, but that doesn’t mean participants didn’t have some U.S. destinations on their radar. When we asked where people most wanted to visit in America, those who never traveled and those who traveled frequently said Hawaii, while those who traveled occasionally were smitten with the idea of California.

Alaska, New York, and Washington also made most people’s lists.

MAKING TRAVEL DREAMS A REALITY

Bucket lists and daydreams are all well and good, but for those who make their travel dreams a reality, how do they do it?

For most people, money is the biggest barrier to traveling, which is why we asked participants how they saved for the big trip.

Across every income category, the top answer was “minimized additional expenses” – a strategy that some financial experts believe also makes us happier.

Other common answers included working overtime at home (especially popular for those making between $10,000 and $100,000 a year) and working a second job (for those earning fewer than $10,000 or more than $100,000 a year).

WHAT’S YOUR TRAVEL DREAM?

These days, more and more people are turning their big travel dreams into big travel realities. And that’s a good thing.

After all, research shows traveling makes us happier, healthier, and better connected to those around us. It’s also more possible and affordable than ever before – especially if you have a knowledgeable agent to walk you through the process.

What are you waiting for? It’s time to tick off the boxes on your bucket list, have that sushi in Japan, visit the castles of France’s Loire Valley, and take that safari in Africa.

If you’re looking for us, we’ll be packing our bags. 

Methodology

We surveyed 1,000 Americans and asked them about their travel habits and goals to better explore what their travel bucket lists entailed.

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