Arnie Weissmann
Arnie Weissmann

Last week, I shared the results of an informal poll I conducted among friends and colleagues about what was on their "anti-bucket lists," i.e., the places and activities that might top other travelers' wish lists but have zero appeal to them.

What sparked the inquiry was learning more about Virtuoso's Wanderlist initiative, an automated guide that, in the hands of professional travel advisors, can help them better understand what will make a trip satisfying to a specific traveler, family or group.

In hearing how the process works, it seemed clear that in order to make people happy while traveling, an advisor must also understand what might make them unhappy.

In the responses to my queries about anti-bucket lists, I found items that were repeated among multiple respondents (skydiving, mountain climbing, animal-related activities, crowded destinations, large ships). But the question also triggered more nuanced and detailed responses that I felt could have relevance to anyone counseling consumers about vacation choices.

I paid particular attention to the response from Patricia Schultz, the author of the book "1,000 Places to See Before You Die" (Workman Press, 2003). She's likely personally responsible for inspiring more travel bucket lists than any other human alive.

For people like Schultz, who possess a curious and open mind, it becomes difficult to say "no" to almost anything that crosses their radar. "How do you know whether the one thing you rejected could have been the experience of a lifetime?" she asked in her email response.

I suspect that her type of traveler -- the one who says, essentially, that everything sounds interesting -- is not an uncommon type of client.

Her book doesn't rank destinations, but Schultz provides some advice on how to deal with people like her: Get them to prioritize.

"I'll run out of time and money before I run out of places or experiences, so choosing with care is foremost in mind," she wrote. "Of the countries I haven't visited, there really are none I wouldn't consider, though there will always be priorities. Are Chad and Paraguay on that list? Yes, but maybe not my short list."

She went on to suggest that within categories of experience, there is a spectrum; it's not always a binary choice.

"I may not aspire to swim with great white sharks, but I'd be thrilled to swim with the far more docile whale sharks," she wrote. "Mount Everest doesn't call me, but I'd love to attempt the less technical Mount Kilimanjaro. The Appalachian Trail is probably not going to happen, but next month I'm walking the Camino de Santiago, where every foot-sore day will end at a welcoming inn with all the creature comforts. For every anti-bucket list item that comes to mind, I'm quick to add a 'yes, but ....' Never say never!"

Shannon Stowell, CEO of the Adventure Travel Trade Association, might represent another class of clients: those who might not have a specific trip option in mind but who have very strong and clear opinions about what they don't like.

Stowell was among the handful of people who specifically singled out large ships on their anti-bucket list. And he told me exactly why it was on his: He envisions crowds, casinos, wave pools, amusement park-like attractions and "pig-out" buffets onboard, "while you drift by cultures you'll never actually connect to? No and no. And then no. Maybe I'd choose it over a root canal, but at least that would be much shorter."

But how do you really feel, Shannon?

OK, you know what not to recommend to him. And even if you didn't know what his day job was, you might infer from the specifics in his answer that Las Vegas, theme parks and any destination mentioned in an article about overtourism would be missing from his consideration set. On the other hand, his criticism of ships bypassing "culture" is also revealing. He might enjoy an immersive experience in an emerging international destination.

And his apparent disdain for what could be characterized as human-created entertainment should prompt a follow-up question about whether he'd enjoy a nature-focused trip. He might even book an expedition ship; he said he didn't want to be on a large ship but didn't rule out cruising.

CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg's anti-bucket list contained a broad category that would likely eliminate 99% of all places travelers are sent.

"I won't go anywhere that has a gift shop," he said. "My refrigerator has reached its capacity for magnets. The more I travel, the more I've come to embrace JOMO -- the joy of missing out."

Greenberg's attitude might represent the ultimate challenge for Wanderlist, but the evolution of automation that accounts for likes and dislikes together -- the yin and yang of travel -- continues to progress.

Chemistry between advisor and client is important, and automation may be the element that produces the ultimate alchemical reaction: the one that converts travel unhappiness to travel satisfaction.


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