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Usually when people talk about preparing for retirement, they’re referring to their finances. But soon-to-be retirees also need to make sure they’re prepared to transition to the retirement lifestyle. Planning how you’ll spend your days post-career can help you maintain your mental and emotional health, renew your social connections and navigate relationship challenges.
Being job-free can be liberating at first, but it can also be destabilizing. A 2013 study from the Institute of Economic Affairs found that retirement increases the probability of suffering from clinical depression by 40 percent.
“Leaving the workplace doesn’t just mean giving up a paycheck,” says Joe Sweeney, who is the founder and Chief Investment Officer at financial management firm Sweeney & Michel. “For many it’s leaving behind friends, routine, expertise and the excitement of daily challenges.”
Retirees who have a clear plan for rediscovering these things will have an easier time making the most of their post-career years.
“Some questions to ask yourself in preparation: What excites me enough to get out of bed every day? Who will I eat lunch with? What will I do to stay active and healthy? Is this where I want to spend the next 30 years, or should I move?” says Sweeney. “Some people refer to this big step as ‘re-wirement.’ [It’s] a shift in focus.”
Of course, finding activities to enjoy in retirement is often easier said than done. To spark your creativity and help you generate some ideas for retirement, we’ve curated the following bucket lists for seven different personalities. Whether you’re a thrill-seeking adventurer or a book-loving culture maven, a world traveler or a homebody, these bucket lists can help you plan the retirement you’ve always dreamed of.
Bucket List Ideas for Adventurers
For all sorts of people, travel is one of the most commonly cited dreams for retirement. Major adventures that would have required too much time, money or risk during your career can be excellent goals for your retirement years.
In Transamerica’s 2019 retirement survey, 67 percent of workers listed travel as a retirement priority, making it more popular than work, volunteer projects and even spending time with family.
Bear in mind, however, that adventure hobbies and activities tend to cost more than many other types of pastimes.
“Building a custom financial plan around people’s values and lifestyle is imperative,” says LifeManaged founder and Behavioral Financial Advisor Thanasi Panagiotakopotulos. “Retirement is different for everyone. There is no one-size fits all.”
Those with an exploratory side should be sure to save up more than the standard recommendation of approximately eight times your annual salary. Purchasing an annuity that pays out a regular return in retirement is one way you can be sure you have enough money to check off all of your bucket list items.
- Go on safari in Africa.
- Go scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef.
- Visit Machu Picchu.
- Go cliff camping in Colorado.
- Raft down the Amazon River.
- Book a dog sledding expedition and an overnight stay on a ship stuck in ice in Norway.
- Learn to surf in Southern California.
- Chase a tornado across the Midwest.
- Live like an Old West cowboy alongside wild mustangs.
- Stay in an underwater hotel room.
- Do a hot coal walk.
- Get a tattoo.
- Ride in a helicopter.
- Go paintballing.
- Be a street busker for a day.
- Vacation alone.
- Drive a race car.
- Sunbathe on a nudist beach.
- Learn how to fly a plane.
- Learn adventure photography.
- Become CPR certified.
- Learn to drive a manual transmission.
- Learn how to sail.
- Learn a martial art.
- Run a marathon.
- Do stand-up comedy.
- Do a polar bear plunge.
- Move to a new city.
Bucket List Ideas for Nature Lovers
While many retirees seek heart-pounding thrills, others are more interested in the types of adventures that put them up close and personal with nature. Nature-oriented activities can help retirees locate a new sense of identity and community as they uncover their environmental interests and find opportunities to socialize with other outdoor enthusiasts.
Additionally, time in nature has been proven to help improve mental health in people at all stages of life. Stanford researchers found that walking in nature helped decrease activity in areas of the brain associated with depression, while walking in an urban setting had no such effects.
- See the salmon run in Seattle.
- Take a snowshoe tour through the Colorado Rockies.
- Go whitewater rafting in the Grand Canyon.
- Follow Charles Darwin’s itinerary through the Galapagos.
- Stand on an active volcano in Sicily.
- Take a polar cruise through the Northeast Passage.
- Sleep under the stars far away from light pollution.
- Work on a sustainable farm.
- Take a falconry class.
- Swim with sharks.
- Adopt an animal.
- Participate in a baby sea turtle release.
- Learn how to camp cook.
- Learn to navigate with a map and compass.
- Start a fire without matches.
- Learn how to tie knots.
- Learn to communicate via smoke signals.
- Learn to navigate by the stars.
- Start a vegetable garden.
- Take up bird-watching.
- Start composting your food.
- Take up beekeeping.
- Write letters to your political representatives.
- Start an environmental club.
- Start biking instead of driving.
- Take up sewing and start mending your clothes.
- Go waste-free for a year.
- Attend an environmental protest.
- Visit every national park.
- Organize a beach clean up.
- Clean up 10 pounds of trash in a single day.
- Enter the Ocean Plastic Innovation Challenge.
Bucket List Ideas for Foodies
If you’re a foodie, retirement can offer opportunities to engage in your hobby in ways you’ve never tried before. There are countless amazing restaurants worth visiting around the world, or you can find authentic cooking experiences and learn to prepare dishes in the places they originated. Retirement is also a great time to finally sample the delicacies you’ve always wanted to try — whether abroad or at home.
This bucket list includes activities for both foodies and beverage enthusiasts. It also includes some kitchen and cooking skills you may have considered mastering in the past. Not only can learning a new skill in retirement keep your days interesting, but also setting goals and establishing regular practice or classes can help retirees reestablish routines, which in turn can help improve mental health and wellbeing.
- Tour a vineyard in Napa Valley.
- Wade in a cranberry bog on Cape Cod.
- Go truffle hunting in Oregon.
- Take a cooking class in France.
- Eat a real New York bagel in Manhattan.
- Experience a Japanese tea ceremony in Kyoto.
- Learn about coffee on a Peruvian farm.
- Stay in a giant wine barrel in Portugal.
- Stomp grapes to make wine.
- Milk a cow by hand.
- Prepare a fish that you caught.
- Extract honey from a beehive.
- Try molecular gastronomy.
- Eat an edible insect.
- Dine at a Michelin star restaurant.
- Learn professional knife skills.
- Make fresh pasta from scratch.
- Make your own cheese.
- Become a wine sommelier.
- Learn how to roll sushi.
- Toss a pizza (without dropping it).
- Assemble your own cookbook.
- Take up cake decorating.
- Learn to cook gourmet meals.
- Brew your own beer.
- Try taking up canning.
- Start a food photography blog.
- Try going vegan.
- Eat the spiciest pepper you can find.
- Have a meal from every country in the world.
- Cook every item in your favorite cookbook.
- Win a recipe contest.
Romantic Bucket List Ideas
Many married retirees find that going back to spending entire days together is a major adjustment — and one that doesn’t always end well. According to Pew Research Center, the rate of “gray divorce,” or divorce among adults ages 50 and older, has doubled since 1990. And among couples over 65, the divorce rate has roughly tripled.
In order to successfully readjust to life as a couple, retirees have to prioritize effective communication.
“I recommend clients practice being retired before they actually do it,” says Patti Black, a Certified Financial Planner and partner at wealth management firm Bridgeworth Financial.
Black describes a pair of clients (whom she calls “David” and “Sarah”) whose lifelong retirement dream was to buy a camper and travel across the United States.
“They tested their goal by renting an RV and taking longer vacations while they were still working,” she says.
By “practicing” retirement, the couple was able to learn their own preferences and work through challenges ahead of time, which benefited them greatly in the long run.
“As David and Sarah practiced being retired, they learned how much time traveling was not too long, not too short, but just right,” Black says. “They also determined how to spend time together when they were at home and not on the road — again, how much togetherness was too much and how much was just right.”
Kick off your healthy communication habit by sitting down with your partner, preferably a few years ahead of your retirement date, and chatting through what you both envision for your shared post-career life. Talk about big activities and daily routines, and consider trying some of the items on our bucket list to keep the spark alive.
- Revisit your honeymoon destination.
- Hold hands along the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
- Explore Venice by gondola.
- Go camping together and watch the sun rise.
- Visit New York City at Christmas.
- Get snowed in at a cozy bed and breakfast.
- Travel to the setting of your favorite romantic film.
- Head to Aruba and take part in the largest vow renewal ceremony in the Caribbean.
- Kiss under the Northern Lights in Norway.
- Renew your wedding vows.
- Ride in a hot air balloon.
- Ride horses along the beach.
- Get a psychic reading together.
- Learn to give a professional-quality massage.
- Learn to cook each others’ favorite gourmet meal.
- Learn to write each other love notes in French.
- Take salsa dancing lessons together.
- Start a couples’ book club.
- Take up stargazing together.
- Create a scrapbook of your life together and add to it every anniversary.
- Explore your local museums together.
- Take up antiquing.
- Trade hobbies for a day.
- Kiss in all 50 states and all seven continents.
- Create a memory-lane scavenger hunt for each other to reexperience your favorite memories together.
- Take a fitness challenge together.
- Go out and pretend to be strangers meeting for the first time.
Bucket List Ideas for a Luxurious Retirement
Who doesn’t dream of living the life of luxury in retirement? Life post-career is the perfect time to reinvent yourself — and after all, you worked hard for it!
Glamorous retirement lifestyles are rising in popularity across the country. According to the AARP, roughly 700,000 American retirees live in “the most expensive of all long-term care options” called Continuing Care Retirement Communities, while still more opt for long-term travel arrangements or upscale renting or property ownership.
- Take a luxury cruise.
- See an opera at the Met in New York City.
- Stay in one of Bora Bora’s overwater bungalows.
- Go all out gambling in Las Vegas.
- Take a glamping trip in the Midwest.
- Sleep in a 1930s luxury ocean liner.
- Watch the Northern Lights from a luxurious glass igloo in Finland.
- Have your portrait painted.
- Attend a black tie gala.
- Attend a film premiere.
- Fly first class.
- Sit front row at a fashion show.
- Attend a televised awards ceremony.
- Sit front row at a basketball game.
- Join a country club.
- Take ballroom dancing classes.
- Try polo.
- Learn how to sail.
- Learn to golf.
- Become a sommelier.
- Get really into Instagram.
- Become an angel investor.
- Restore classic cars.
- Become a tobacco connoisseur.
- Collect fine art.
- Become a patron of a local arts organization.
- Be a keynote speaker.
- Start a charitable organization.
- Commission a community building.
Bucket List Ideas for Culture Buffs
According to psychologist Nancy K. Schlossberg, author of “Too Young to Be Old: Love, Learn, Work, and Play as You Age,” there are several different types of retirees.
“Continuers” will find their life in retirement looks much like life beforehand, while “adventurers” use retirement as an opportunity to try new things. You don’t need to be a traditional thrill-seeker to fall into the “adventurer” category. In reality, Black says, retirement is a journey regardless of how you go about it.
“Retirement is a major life transition,” she says. “You have to be patient with yourself and your spouse.”
Black points to David and Sarah as an example.
“There are some things they enjoy doing together like spending time with granddaughters who live in town, but there are also activities they enjoyed doing separately,” she says. “David and Sarah didn’t just wake up on day one of retirement and fall into an ideal routine. They tried many things, talked about what was working and what was not working and made adjustments to get to what was right for them.”
In other words, they found their balance through trial and error. They treated the process of retirement as an adventure.
- Travel cross-country by train.
- Visit all seven continents.
- See the Great Pyramids of Egypt.
- Visit Stonehenge.
- Walk the Great Wall of China.
- Go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.
- Go to a Renaissance festival.
- Tour Havana in a classic car.
- Take an eat, pray, love trip.
- Attend a Wimbledon match.
- Attend a Pride parade.
- Campaign for a political candidate.
- Stay overnight in a castle.
- Learn a foreign language.
- Pick up an instrument.
- Try book-binding.
- Form a book club with friends.
- Volunteer for a local charity.
- Make your own candles.
- Write the great American novel.
- Give a TED Talk.
- Read all of the Great Books.
- Visit all 25 UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Quirky and Unique Bucket List Ideas
Lots of pre-retirees head into their post-career life with fully prepared plans, which can be excellent because it helps prevent depression, anxiety, relationship issues, health concerns and more. But if you’ve had your retirement plan hammered out for years, you may be looking for something exciting or unconventional in order to spice it up.
Our final bucket list consists of quirky, weird and unique ideas for retirement trips and activities.
- Visit Dracula’s Castle in Transylvania.
- Go looking for the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland.
- Travel to the Bermuda Triangle (and don’t disappear).
- Sleep in a hotel made from a Boeing 727 in the Costa Rican rainforest.
- Book a stay at a haunted military prison in Latvia.
- Head down a silver mine in Sweden and stay in the deepest suite in the world.
- Have a fairytale experience in a shoe-shaped home in New Zealand.
- Spend a night in a yellow submarine in Liverpool.
- Go glamping like a Medieval knight.
- Live like a fairy or a frog in a toadstool in Sweden.
- Take a dive vacation on an abandoned oil rig resort in Malaysia.
- Host a living funeral.
- Be a contestant on a game show.
- Participate in a flash mob.
- Go panning for gold.
- Spend a night in jail.
- Shave your head (bonus points if it’s for charity).
- Try a sensory deprivation tank.
- Attend a séance.
- Master the moonwalk.
- Learn to throw knives.
- Take a belly dancing class.
- Learn archery.
- Learn how to count cards.
- Learn how to beatbox.
- Become a lucid dreamer.
- Take up origami.
- Try geocaching.
- Join a LARPing community.
- Take up skateboarding.
- Solve a Rubik’s cube.
- Set a Guinness World Record.
- Win the President’s Volunteer Service Award.
- Go viral for something.
Though adjusting to retirement can be a bit of a challenge, post-career years offer unbounded opportunities for anyone creative enough to seize them. As you look ahead to retirement, your imagination should be your only limit.
“True wealth is time,” Panagiotakapttoulos says. “By identifying lifestyle goals and building a goals-based plan early, people can have the peace of mind and confidence that they will [be able to] live their ideal lives.”
With a little bit of advanced planning and the right retirement budget, you can create a plan to check off all of your bucket list goals.
9 Cited Research Articles
- AARP. (2019, October 24). How Continuing Care Retirement Communities Work. Retrieved from https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/basics/info-2017/continuing-care-retirement-communities.html
- Bratman, G.N. et al. (2015, June 29). Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Retrieved from https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2015/06/23/1510459112
- Institute of Economic Affairs. (2013, May 16). Retirement causes a major decline in physical and mental health, new research finds. Retrieved from https://iea.org.uk/in-the-media/press-release/retirement-causes-a-major-decline-in-physical-and-mental-health-new-resea
- Kubicek, B. et al. (2011, April 16). Psychological well-being in retirement: the effects of personal and gendered contextual resources. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6258024/
- Lavner, J.A. et al. (2016, March 22). Does Couples' Communication Predict Marital Satisfaction, or Does Marital Satisfaction Predict Communication? Journal of Marriage and Family. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jomf.12301
- Schlossberg, N.K. (2017, April 17). Too Young to Be Old: Love, Learn, Work, and Play as You Age. Retrieved from https://www.nextavenue.org/retirement-paths-will-follow/
- Stepler, R. (2017, March 9). Led by Baby Boomers, divorce rates climb for America’s 50+ population. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/03/09/led-by-baby-boomers-divorce-rates-climb-for-americas-50-population/
- Synchrony Bank. (2020, March 30). What's the Median Retirement Savings by Age? Retrieved from https://www.synchronybank.com/blog/median-retirement-savings-by-age/.
- Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. (2019, December). 19th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey: A Compendium of Findings About U.S. Workers. Retrieved from https://www.transamericacenter.org/docs/default-source/retirement-survey-of-workers/tcrs2019_sr_19th-annual_worker_compendium.pdf