Less List, More Bucket?

“But why?” Phil wanted to know. “I don’t get it. It’s a two hour commute each way, so the day is shot.” I wanted to get out of Amsterdam Centraal as early as possible to travel to Giethoorn. “So what difference does it make if we’re out of here early or not?” Because. I’m sorry to report that was my well-thought out response. Not just “because,” but “Because!”

I had to stop and turn it over. Why am I so hell-bend on having ALL? All moments, all experiences, all boxes checked on the bucket list. It used to be so with food too, restaurants in particular. I had to eat at Alain Ducasse, for example (which I did, and it was too formal for my liking). I had to have the best brest in Paris. A list of arbitrary musts we give meaning to somewhere along our planning lives. Just to be able to say I was there? Not even to other people, but to myself, even if no one else knew, to know that I’d experienced this thing that was mentioned by someone else.

The true answer to Phil’s question of why I wanted to get to Giethoorn so early was because I was hoping I could squeeze even more into our trip. I know how fast vacations go by, and I want to use the whole animal of this trip, no scrap left, make a stock to savor the bones. I want to ravage my experiences with the same gusto mid-trip as I’d had at the start.


I feel like this photograph might make a lovely watercolor painting.

But then I stop to think about how productive I feel when I draw and paint, and how these introspective observations take time, so does reading. How pleasurable is reading a book when you’re on vacation? And you have to choose the book wisely because it can forever flavor your association with a city. I still think of Italy’s Capri as “The Hobbit.”

Today, I popped into the Van Gogh museum, but my work’s not finished there. I want to return alone, just me with an audio tour, or with Lucas who loves to learn as much as I do. I want to go to the park and just capture a small day in frames, a visual journal of what gave me pause. There’s an intimacy in that, in the slower route. Still, when Pinterest flashes me sexy little day trips to Germany, I start to get anxious. For the same amount of time it takes to get to Giethoorn, I can go to Cologne or Dusseldorf, Germany. I’ve never been to Germany. Maybe I should do that instead. The paralyzing choice can kill all choice.

Almost. I’m decided tomorrow is Giethoorn-worthy with my watercolors and sketchbook. Maybe even a trip to  Zaanse Schans, where the windmills are, where goats graze and cheese is made, where wooden clogs are carved. I’m not that fast of a sketcher, so I doubt I’ll cover it all, but that’s part of learning I guess. I’m thankful for vacations into these types of insights. Because like I said, I’m the same with food and beauty products and perfume collections and clothing stores and pharmacies where you can buy French milled soaps to bring back. Again, a list of false temporary pleasures.

sorbonne cafe parisThough to be fair, from my earlier trips to Paris, I purchased Hermes scarves to remember the journey, and they’ve stayed with me in a special way. When I wear them I remember the why and it makes me feel younger; it transports me to a younger, naive time, a time I thought I was happy (even though I wasn’t), but it’s also a time that I’m so happy I had, which is why I so much covet the scarf, a reminder of all of it. Tomorrow I will try my hardest to take as few photos as I can, so I may sketch and watercolor in real time. Because when I have a camera, it’s just another vehicle for covering more terrain and cramming more in.

Or maybe I should just follow all my passions, including my zest for seeing and doing it all. I’ll continue to think about this.



Men in Paris, Luxembourg


  1. It’s interesting for me that you’re having these thoughts in Amsterdam/NL, as living in Amsterdam has prompted similar thoughts for myself and other expats who come from more ‘achieve’ focused cultures.

    As a naturally curious person who loves to experience new things, I recognize the pull to pack it in, particularly while on holiday and even more particularly if there is only limited time on holiday. I am also surrounded daily by tourists who seem almost anxious in their desire to race around ticking off a list of pre-planned must-dos, on what is supposed to be a holiday.

    When I first moved here, I had a hard time slowing down, but gradually I’ve come to appreciate the Dutch ability to wholeheartedly relax and enjoy simple pleasures with no pressure (from anyone else but also crucially from themselves) to do or be anything more. There is no experience more Amsterdam than sitting on a sunny terrace for hours with your friends watching the world go by, reading your book or sketching/painting on the street, or having a long meander through the city with no plan.

    So I think the key is indeed to ask yourself honestly why do you want it all, is it what you really want, or is it coming from a place of fear? If what you really want is to experience as much as possible, then why not, the spirit of Amsterdam is the freedom to be yourself with no guilt or apology, even if that is confronting or inconvenient for others. But even if so, it might be worth keeping part of your trip slow and spontaneous based on whatever you feel like in the moment – it sounds like you might, as I did, find there’s a part of you that has just as much to learn and enjoy from standing still :-) I hope you have a lovely trip and are surviving the rain!

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