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How the Pandemic Changed My Bucket List

COVID-19 has forced practically every person around the globe to change their long- and short-term plans.

Woman jumping over green coronavirus under rampKlaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

A change to our collective lives

COVID-19 has changed our collective lives in uncountable ways. For some, that meant altering or halting dream vacations. For others, it meant a change of career, life goals, or a reassessment of relationships. Here are the inspirational bucket list changes that real-life people made during the pandemic.

power in being aloneCourtesy Jenell Riesner

Finding the power in being alone

The year 2020 started off rocky, with the expiration of a long-term relationship, and the selling of our home. Breakups can be very permission-giving, and I was excited to spend time learning more about myself. I remember writing in my journal, “I want to be alone in nature. So alone in my thoughts, that there is no outside noise to distract me. I want silence so I can hear my own voice again.”

What I didn’t know at the time was that COVID-19 was going to give me just what I wanted.

Leading up to the shutdown, I had moved out of our house into my own small apartment—my new beginning. I had been living there for two weeks when the shutdown happened. After years of serial relationships, I found myself completely alone. My work came to a screeching halt, dating wasn’t an option, even seeing my friends and going out wasn’t possible. Like so many people, I felt completely alone with little to distract me from my emotions and feelings. I couldn’t hide behind my busy schedule or my productivity at work. It was just me, with what felt like all the time in the world, and a ticking time clock that was screaming at me.

But my wish had come true. With no other option, I did just what I had wrote about in my journal months earlier. I went out into nature to be alone. I’d spend hours on a rock somewhere near the ocean, on the side of a peak, or in the forest… walking around alone in my thoughts. Getting to know myself again. Some days, I’d lay on the floor and cry. Other days, I’d write letters to my friends to let them know how grateful I am to have them in my life.

I started to face my fear of being alone. I started to get curious, asking myself why I was so afraid to be alone. I journaled a lot. I learned more about myself in three months than I may have during my entire 29 years of life.

While the process is still unfolding, I ended up terminating my lease in my new apartment and selling off almost everything I owned. I packed up my Subaru Crosstrek with everything I thought I’d need for the next year and hit the road.

I’ve always wanted to live a more nomadic life, and COVID-19 has allowed me to do that.

The pandemic forced me to slow down, to be less distracted. I’ve stopped numbing out and hiding from my emotions. I hardly watch TV, I quit drinking, and I have become more intentional with my time on social media.

I own very little now and continue to try to reduce. I’ve simplified my life. No matter what happens, I know I am going to be OK—because I continue to learn how little I need to survive.

COVID-19 allowed me to get to know myself better and to slow down. It was a reminder that all I really need to be happy is a strong relationship to self, good friends that are a phone call away, and the beauty of nature to lift my spirits. Jenell Riesner

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bucket listCourtesy Violette Larsen

Singing (socially distant) sidewalk serenades

As a young musician and artist in Los Angeles, my life and career have been significantly affected by COVID-19. This is the period in my life where I should be touring the world, but I’ve had three tours canceled.

After a COVID-inspired identity crisis, I realized my priorities, goals, and dreams had shifted for the better. I’ve started showing up on friends’ sidewalks and giving them concerts from a distance. I have also been setting up my portable amp during sunset by the beach and playing sunset serenades for people walking by. I feel a certain type of closeness, even from a distance.

All this made me realize that I didn’t want the typical touring life, where musicians are drained and flying from place to place without much rest, not being able to soak in the culture of where they are playing.

I came up with an even clearer dream—to bring music to people in a grassroots way, similar to my sidewalk serenades. Now, I have a vision of traveling the world and staying in one place for a while, to get to know the culture and community. And, while venues are still closed, I am still providing music to people and families from a safe distance, who need a pick-me-up. COVID-19 slowed me down and made me realize what’s really important. —Sarah Rogo

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bucket listCourtesy Corritta Lewis

A family gap year changes for the better

My wife, son, and I are a full-time travel family. In 2017, my wife and I decided we wanted to travel fulltime, and started planning a family gap year. In November 2018, after our son was born, we decided to get serious about traveling the world.

Throughout 2019, we prepared for our journey by selling items, eliminating debt, saving money, and downsizing. In January 2020, we finally took the plunge and left San Diego with five suitcases, and the intent of seeing the world.

We had several flights, hotels, and Airbnbs arranged around the world. We planned to start in Mexico, then make our way to Costa Rica, Shanghai, Singapore, and Malaysia. That would have taken us to November 2020, with plans to visit Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Indonesia, throughout the end of 2020 and into 2021.

As you could imagine, once travel came to a halt, we were concerned—what were we going to do? We had planned to use our family gap year to create content for our travel blog. How can we write about travel, if travel has been canceled?

Since our bucket list family gap year has come to an end, we decided to embark on a new adventure, and move to Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. We are more excited than ever to embark on this journey.

Although our initial plans were interrupted, we found a way to make it work. Also, my position was eliminated due to the pandemic and this allowed us the opportunity to focus on our blogs and create a nonprofit to help underserved communities.

Sometimes you have to look for a rainbow in the midst of a storm. The virus is our storm, but what we decided to do during this time has become our rainbow. – Corritta Lewis and family

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Reed Allmand bucket listCourtesy Reed Allmand

Learning to enjoy simple vacations with family

There is no way around it, living in the “Age of COVID” has forced me and my family to re-evaluate everything. Any kind of vacation or event that we had planned that would’ve put us in close proximity with scores of other people has been put on the back-burner, but it has also made us more creative with our recreational choices.

Now, instead of theme parks, we can go camping. Instead of flying somewhere that is a couple of states away, we are road-tripping and experiencing more of what our home state has to offer. On Memorial Day, we wanted to get out of the house and go camping. However, in Texas, it gets really hot and so we wanted to have an air-conditioned RV, but since we didn’t own an RV we rented one. During the day we did outdoor activities like ride bicycles, fishing, and arts and crafts. In the evening, we really enjoyed making a campfire each night to roast hot dogs and make s’mores. We also had a glow stick party one night. Then when we got too hot, we would go inside the RV and play card games and board games. It was a great way to enjoy family time without electronics. My wife and I still had to work some, so we took our mobile hot spot and laptops to check in with work and complete needed tasks.

The objective of a good vacation is spending time with family, gaining new experiences, and hopefully, a little relaxation. All of those things can still be accomplished with a little planning, and the willingness to pivot from your original vacation plans. Reed Allmand

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Christina Stanton bucket listCourtesy Christina Ray Stanton

Leaving the Big Apple for the Sunshine State

We had just celebrated a wonderful week with family in our home in New York City. I’m a Florida native but moved to the Big Apple almost 20 years ago. My teenaged nieces had arrived from Florida for spring break—a week planned full of Broadway shows and seeing the sights. But shortly after they arrived, lockdown began. My husband and I immediately made plans to fly back to central Florida with them.

We felt confident on the plane. It was nearly empty, the attendants were upbeat, we wore our masks and gloves, and we all felt great. When I looked at my nieces’ young beautiful faces, we knew we had made the right decision to get them out of harm’s way.

Once we arrived in Florida, however, I started showing symptoms. It started with a general malaise-y feeling: headache, fever, and body aches. My eyes stung and were red, I lost all sense of taste and smell. I had an insatiable thirst. My temperature was 102 degrees, and it felt like my blood was boiling. Twice I went to the hospital because my symptoms became unmanageable. The second time, I pleaded with the doctor to let me stay, knowing the tricky nature of this virus. After firmly refusing my pleas, I asked what had been on my mind since the day I began showing symptoms, “What are my chances of survival?” He took a breath and spoke frankly: “About 50/50.”

Fast forward: I survived, and never left Florida. I’d lived in the same apartment for almost 20 years in Manhattan, wrote a book about 9/11, but haven’t been back since mid-March. So now I’m enjoying the change of pace in Florida, and after 27 years of living in New York City, we plan to move here. I love being back in my hometown of Tallahassee, even after all this time living in the Big City. The stately oak trees covered with moss, the rolling hills, the homes with sprawling patios featuring swings and rocking chairs; the slower pace is enticing and soothing, which after our COVID ordeal is a very welcome change. The innate Southern friendliness made us feel right at home. Right now in our lives, we need slow, friendly, sunny, and relaxed. Where we are settling fits the bill perfectly.

So now, I think I’ll try to find work with a nonprofit. I also wrote a new book, about my ordeal, Faith in the Face of COVID-19: A Survivor’s Tale. My health is still affected by COVID, so I am still pretty stationary at this point, and I see a lot of doctors. It totally changed our lives! Christina Ray Stanton

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bucket list Simon EnsorCourtesy Simon Ensor

Exiting a business and a city

While I had somewhat of a three- to five- year plan, COVID-19 significantly accelerated this plan. Ultimately, it resulted in me exiting a business that I ran, the creation of a new business, a relocation abroad, and a different plan for my life.

As the world went into lockdown and countless individuals furloughed in the United Kingdom, my perspective on both my professional and personal life changed. I ended up viewing lockdown as an opportunity as a period of time where I could look to design my ideal life. A remote work environment, living abroad, increased freedom. There were substantial hurdles to overcome, not least the fact that I owned and ran a business in London.

Regardless, I set out on this project, and I’m glad I did. It has had an effect on just about everything I do. I get up in the early hours of the morning. My exercise and nutrition has changed. My view on material items has changed dramatically. My professional plan has certainly changed. The hurdles took time to overcome, but the majority of them have now been covered off. I’ve exited my business and set up a new one. I’m six weeks away from leaving a city I’ve lived in for ten years.

In short, COVID-19 has moved me more towards a minimalist lifestyle. A life where professional development is still important but doesn’t supersede other goals. In fact, the most important change for me is a focus on action. It’s a commitment to starting and committing to things quickly, rather than a tendency to “push it till tomorrow.” A commitment to “action” has dramatically changed my life. Simon Ensor

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alex beene bucket list covidCourtesy Alex Beene

Trading in travel for the joys of daily life

I work for the State of Tennessee and write children’s books. Prior to the pandemic, I traveled all the time. The most common place you could find me on weekends was behind the wheel on a road trip, or in a plane on my way to my next work-related destination.

Now, my bucket list has completely shifted. I’ve heard some say that the pandemic made them not take travel for granted, but for me, it was more a revelation that I spent too much of my time focusing on the next trip and not my daily life. I think the anticipation of my next adventure blocked out day-to-day disappointments and caused me not to focus as much on the moment at hand.

Now, I’ve rearranged my priorities. I’m focusing on improving my personal and professional life. I’m spending more time with family and doing additional jobs, like teaching college courses, that bring me joy.

Now, getting a doctorate ranks higher on my bucket list than traveling to Capetown. I’m sure eventually when it’s safe, I’ll travel again, but for the time being, I’m enjoying my new life. –Alex Beene

Read on to find out why one woman stopped making travel bucket lists.

For more on this developing situation, including how life might be different post-lockdown, see our comprehensive Coronavirus Guide.

Corey Whelan
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer and reproductive health professional who has worked with infertility patients and adopting parents for over 25 years. Her work has been featured in multiple media outlets, including Reader’s Digest, The Healthy, Healthline, CBS Local, and Berxi. Follow her on Twitter @coreygale.