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Why you should adopt a personal travel quest

I believe that travel quests are one of the best ways to inspire more travel. In fact, the original name of this blog was originally going to be—an ode to the quest that inspired so much of my own travel. That’s how powerful I think quests can be to getting out and adventuring more.

Virtually everyone I know that travels frequently for pleasure is pursuing at least one personal travel quest. But that doesn’t mean that their travel is always focused on those quests. Quests just tend to inspire you get out and adventure more.

So if you want to travel more, try adopting a travel quest of your own. Here’s everything you need to know to get started.

The two types of quests

Personal quests are divided into two main types: ones that “count down” and ones that “count up.” Some quests work better for counting down while others are better for counting up.

Quests that count down

Quests that count down usually take the form of “Visit all of the ________.” As in, visit all 50 states, visit every National Park unit, or visit every craft brewery in the state. There are a finite number of stops baked into the goal, and you’re usually trying to visit all of them. So you’re counting down how many you have left. Now, that doesn’t mean that the quest number stays static—it may not. For instance, when I started my National Parks quest, there were 379 units, whereas today, there are 417. But while the number may change, my personal goal really does stay the same: to visit all of the National Park units (however many that may be right now).

These types of quests are my favorite, but they’re a bit harder, as you don’t have any flexibility of which places are included. That’s a big part of the challenge, and often requires a little strategy and foreplanning to pull off so that you don’t “orphan” something off by itself that would require an additional trip.

Quests that count up

Quests that count up (e.g., “visit 100 countries before I turn 50”) are still focused on a goal, but usually involve just a subset of the available destinations. For instance, visiting 100 countries is a big task, but it’s quite a bit easier than visiting every country. These quests usually have a more specific deadline than “visit them all” style quests, often related to one’s age. In addition, this type of quest is regularly expanded once the initial goal is reached. To continue the example, if you successfully visit 100 countries, you might extend the goal to 150 countries—or possibly even shift to a “counting down” quest and try for all the countries.

What about bucket lists?

I don’t consider bucket lists, at least as they’re traditionally defined, to be travel quests. Bucket lists are usually a rather random collection of destinations to visit, activities to complete, experiences to have, and accomplishments to achieve. They’re a personal list of things to do before you die, where the items have no direct relationship to one another. Bungee-jumping, visiting the Taj Mahal, and earning a master’s degree are too different of things to be considered a quest. Don’t get me wrong, I think a bucket list is a worthwhile goal to pursue. It’s just something different than a travel quest, so I won’t cover them in this post.

Do challenges count?

Similarly, I usually don’t consider personal challenges—like the popular 52 Hike Challenge—as quests, mostly because they tend not to be tied to specific destinations. Depending on the details of the challenge, however, they might be closely related and therefore share some of the traits I mention below. I’ll address these personal challenges in a future post.

Travel quests help you travel more

Several qualities of travel quests help inspire travel. Here are some of the ways that quests have helped to inspire me to travel or adventure more often.

Quests ensure that you experience new places

It’s easy to go back to the same ol’ places when you travel. You know what to expect. You know how to get there. You know, generally, how the trip will go. It’s comfortable and easy. It doesn’t need as much planning, or require new gear purchases, or create any anxiety or angst. It’s safe and familiar.

But it also doesn’t expand your horizons, or teach you anything new, or provide you with an exciting new experience. In some ways, you lose out on quite a few of the inherent benefits of travel. Quests, on the other hand, help inspire you to visit different places, attempt new activities, adopt new perspectives, and expand both your skills and your comfort zone. That, in turn, helps expand your confidence to travel to even more places. The more you travel, the easier it gets.

brown v board of education
I would have never visited Brown v. Board of Education NHS if it weren’t for my national parks quest. I’m so glad I didn’t miss out on this incredibly moving experience.

Quests force you to go to places you might not otherwise go

A related benefit of quests is that they force you to go to places you might not otherwise visit. Not everyone would see that as a benefit, but you might be pleasantly surprised with places you had no intention of visiting. For instance, I had zero interest in visiting Topeka, Kansas—zero—but had to visit Brown vs Board of Education National Historic Site for my national parks quest. As a white male, I had never really understood what racism felt like, nor had I really sought out any experiences to learn. However, that visitor center had an amazing video display in a hallway that made you feel like you were one of the Little Rock Nine. It was one of the most enlightening experiences of my life. That’s just one of several examples I could point to.

Quests impose some structure to your travels

Another benefit of quests is that you always have something on your “To Visit” list. It’s easier to plan trips because you always have something on the agenda. Some people end up not traveling as often as they’d like simply because it’s hard to narrow down the glut of available options—a sort of paradox of choice. Quests, however, can help impose some sidebars to your travels. You know that you want to make progress on your quest, so you’ve already limited available destination options to a more manageable number.

Quests serve as a goal

Quests provide an inherent incentive to travel more—a motivation to complete the quest by the deadline. As a result, you’re more likely to pursue travel when opportunities arise. Let’s face it, there are always plenty of barriers to travel; staying home is far easier than planning and completing a trip. Having a running goal helps ensure that there’s a bit more impetus for making that trip idea come to fruition.

In a similar fashion, quests tend to inspire you to add more to your trip itinerary. “Hmm, what else could I mark off while I’m in the area?” is a common thought to someone with a quest. When you develop that attitude, you tend to bypass the barriers to travel that keep others at home.

Remaining quest objectives map
Don’t be surprised if you end up with a custom map detailing how you’ll finish one of your quests.

Quests often contain some social pressure

Once you start to make some progress on your quest, especially if you do so publicly on a blog or on social media, you begin to generate a bit of public pressure to continue. This social reinforcement helps keep you on track and making progress. The more “public” your quest, the more reinforcement you get. Once friends and acquaintances learn of your quest, you’ll likely get future inquiries on your recent progress—which helps to motivate you to keep marking off destinations.

Quests make unfun travel “worth it”

If you’ve done any amount of travel, you know that it’s not all fun. Sometimes, it can be an absolute slog. The weather doesn’t cooperate, you get stuck in traffic during your drive, you have to endure extended flight delays, and so forth. These delays and annoyances are a bit more tolerable if your trip involves making progress on a quest; after all, you’re still completing something important to you.

Conversely, having a subpar experience while marking off a quest objective also makes you better appreciate the places that were great experiences.

Quests inspire more quests

Just as travel tends to inspire more travel, adopting travel quests tends to lead to even more quests. It’s an interesting phenomenon—the more success you have completing your own personal quest, the more interested you get in adopting new quests or expanding your current quests. Travel inspires travel. The more places you check off your list, the more you add back onto it.

Quests make you feel accomplished

Completing one’s goals usually leads to feelings of personal satisfaction. And finishing a big travel quest? Well, “feeling accomplished” might be an understatement. Now, it’s a great feeling to finally complete a quest, even if it’s not the most challenging one on your list. But it’s absolutely true that the harder the quest, the greater the satisfaction. Either way, you’ll routinely smile with pride whenever you recount the accomplishment in the future.

In addition, I tend to get regular praise from both friends and acquaintances, who often introduce me to others as “the guy I told you about that’s trying to visit all the national parks.” Sure, some people will occasionally be jealous, but most come away impressed and supportive. As an excellent side bonus, those that hear your goals will be encouraged to travel more. Truth be told, it’s one of the main things that drives me to publish this site—I love the feeling of inspiring others to just get out more!

How to choose a travel quest

What’s your hobby?

Do you love old cathedrals? Maybe you should go see a bunch of them. Maybe you feel most alive when you’ve conquered a tall mountain peak? Sounds like you need to do some peak bagging. Do you enjoy eating at windowless Chinese restaurants located in sketchy Phoenix neighborhoods? Ehh, on second thought, maybe you should skip that one—that would be a ridiculous quest, right? Anyway, the point here is to choose whatever sounds like it could be fun for you.

Or you can simply be open to the idea when you accidentally stumbled onto something interesting, as I often have. Sure, my early national park road trips quickly evolved into a broader quest to visit them all, and I’ve purposefully selected other quests for a specific reason. But my High Points of Otherwise Flat States quest arose from a friend’s simple tongue-in-cheek comment that I should climb Mount Sunflower while I was driving through Kansas. I thought to myself, “Sure, why not?” and proceeded to have a good chuckle when I made it to the so-called summit. And a quest was born.

Similarly, I thought it’d be funny to visit the World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Cawker City, Kansas on that same trip. I had a blast, and even ended up going to door-to-door in the town to find some twine so I could add to the ball. When I learned that two other twine balls also considered themselves to be the “World’s Largest?” Well, I obviously had to go and judge for myself. Bam! Another quest.

Sharing a quest with someone

Sharing a travel quest with a close friend or significant other is an excellent bonding experience. It’s fun to travel with people you enjoy spending time with, especially when you’re chasing the same goal. Sharing expenses, driving duties, and trip planning often makes it all a bit easier, too. But, just like sharing a popular tv show like Game of Thrones with someone, it’s also fraught with some potential downsides. Two people means that there can be twice as many barriers to travel, for instance—be it schedule conflicts, money woes, or a lack of motivation. It can be frustrating when you’re excited to mark off the next items on your quest only to have your friend bail due to last minute work demands. Are you even allowed to mark off a destination without the other person? And if your quest was a “special thing” in your relationship that just ended in heartbreaking fashion, well…do you keep pursuing it? Spending a few minutes thinking these things over before you commit to a joint quest is probably a good idea.

Can you have more than one quest?

Of course! I have quite a few quests I’m currently working on. Some of them are long-term and difficult to complete, such as visiting 50 countries before I’m 50, or visiting all 419 National Parks units. Others, like visiting all of Arizona’s State Parks, are far easier and can be accomplished on the weekends over the course of a year. I even have some “back burner” quests that I’ve adopted but aren’t actively pursuing at the moment (primarily because of other, higher priority quests).

Micro-adventuring using mini quests

Not all quests need to be difficult or require substantial travel to complete. Some can be local and easy to accomplish, like picnicking in every public park in your town. These type of mini quests can help lead to small, everyday adventures that can be surprisingly fun.

For instance, my friend Wayne and I actually did complete that local quest to visit every sketchy Chinese restaurant in downtown Phoenix, complete with our own hybrid rating system. It wasn’t hard to schedule several lunch visits over the course of a few months, but we had an absolute blast doing it. We even ran across a couple of legitimate gems…though the majority were definitely places to avoid. Our friends found the whole thing hilarious, so they’d often send us tips on possible restaurants to add to our quest list or check in to see when our next lunch was. The point here is that, no matter where you live, there are quests to be pursued.

Setting some rules

Exactly what is included in the list?

The first thing you’ll need to decide is what exactly is on the list you’re trying to complete. On the surface, this sounds rather elementary, but it can be more complicated than you might think. Let’s use the example of a quest to visit every brewery in your state. First, which breweries count? Is it only locally-owned craft breweries, or are chain breweries included too? What about places that white label their brews, or ones that brew off-site? And keep in mind that these numbers might change as new breweries open and others close. Do you lose your “completed” status if another one opens the week after you finish them all? Or is your quest only focusing on the breweries that were in existence when you started the quest? A bit of thought will help sort this all out before you get started.

Exactly what counts as a visit?

Another important rule you’ll need to decide on is “what counts as a visit.” For instance, does a country visit count if you simply pass through its borders on a train and never deboard? Does it count if you drive across town to visit a craft brewery but they’ve inexplicably run out of their own beer? Are you allowed to count visits that occurred before you started the quest? These questions are best decided before you begin your quest—and trust me, they’re bound to come up along the way.

Here’s an important thing to remember: it’s entirely up to you to decide what rules you follow. If you want to count airport layovers as visiting a particular state, then by all means go right ahead. Your quest = your rules. Quests are for you, after all, not for anyone else.

boston nhp
One of my favorite traditions is taking a photo with a sign showing my quest progress. Here I am marking off national park #300 at Boston NHP.

Starting a tradition

I think traditions are particularly important components of quests. Some people dance, while others collect passport stamps, or repeat the same selfie in front of an entrance sign. Some bring a trinket or figurine that they photograph at each destination. It doesn’t matter exactly what you decide to do, but I’d recommend adopting at least one tradition for your quest. I tend to have several traditions for each quest I undertake. Some demonstrate my quest progress, such as holding up a sign of what park number I’m on. Others, like a selfie of me in front of the park sign, will be part of a fun slideshow when I’m finally done. Whatever you decide to do, the earlier you start these traditions the better.

Generating some evidence

Most travelers end up with some form of evidence of their various quest visits. For some, it’s a photograph of themselves at a famous landmark, or it might be a passport cancellation, or a national park passport stamp. Whatever tradition(s) you adopt, make sure that at least one of them produces some tangible evidence of your visit. While quests are for your own benefit—not for others—you’ll still appreciate this evidence by the time you approach your quest goal. Just trust me on this.

Keeping track of your progress

Bust out the spreadsheet

You’ll definitely want to keep track of your quest progress, and spreadsheets tend to be the easiest way to do that. If you don’t own a copy of Excel or Numbers, there are free online versions such as Google Sheets or Excel Online. Spreadsheets are great for keeping track of more than just which destinations you’ve visited and which ones you have remaining. You can also keep track of a wide variety of other useful information, such as the date of your visit, links to any photos or videos you posted from the visit, or other details that’ll inform a future visit. Believe me, it’s a whole lot easier to create and use a system to keep track of your progress than having to go back and researching it each time.

park stamp passports
Passport stamps are a great way to document your quest, but it’s a whole lot easier to keep track of your progress in a spreadsheet than having to repeatedly flip through these pages.

Note: if you’re adopted a quest to visit all of the national parks, I’ve made a spreadsheet counting tool available at Download a copy or add it your Google Drive to edit it.

Know your number

You’ll always want to know what your current “number” is, meaning how far along your quest you are. When someone asks you for an update, you should be able to easily answer (“I’ve been to 88 countries, just 12 more to complete my quest!”). And when you mention your quest to someone, expect their first question to be how close you are to finishing. Also, by keeping track of where you stand on your quest, you’ll help stay motivated to continue increasing that number.

Establish and celebrate milestones

If you’ve adopted a long quest that’ll take a number of years (or even decades) to complete, then it’s worthwhile to add some intervening milestones to shoot for. I like attaching some deadline goals for some of these to help ensure that you remain on track for completing the larger quest. Be sure to celebrate completing each of these milestones, too—you deserve it.

Visualizing your progress

globe with pins
A pushpin globe is a fun way to show your progress on a countries quest.

Visualizing your progress is an especially fun part of quests. If you’ve adopted a common quest, like visiting all of the national parks, visiting all 50 states, or marking off countries, you’ll have quite a few options at your disposal. There are a variety of products, from cork-backed wall maps to scratch off wall maps, and cork globes to image-generating apps—and quite a few other options, too. You can personalize your own paper map by taking a highlighter to the places you’ve been, or photoshopping a digital map, or by simply hanging postcards on the wall.

No matter which approach you choose, I recommend doing something to show the progress you’ve made. Not only is it a great reminder and motivator to keep at it, but it’s also a celebration of your efforts to date.

Documenting your journey

Depending on how you go about doing it, documenting your quest travels can seem nearly as time consuming as actually doing it. But that’s a big part of the experience, too. Most everyone takes photos and/or videos of their travels, and you should too. However, don’t rely solely on capturing everything via social media—and especially not in nondurable formats that disappear after 24 hours. These are memories you want to keep, after all.

I also strongly recommend blogging or journaling about your quest, too. Don’t worry if you’re not especially disciplined in doing it, or if you end up with big gaps. Something is better than nothing. Just the act of reflecting on your trip can make it more meaningful and tease out some unexpected insights. You may also come to appreciate the time you took to record a bit about your trips in subsequent years. Failing to do a better job of that and relying on memory recall alone is a common regret among longtime travelers.

Probably the most popular quest of Americans is to visit all 50 states. Quite a few are also counting countries or national parks. Others are trying to catch a game in every MLB ballpark or NFL stadium. There really are a countless number of quests that you could adopt. I’ve included some sample ideas in the sections below to get your imagination primed.

Local quests are excellent ways to explore beyond your own neighborhood. Many of these amount to “mini quests” that are easily accomplished over the course of a few weeks or months. Obviously, these quests vary substantially depending on where you live. If you live on Maui, then a quest might be to snorkel off every beach on the island; whereas if you live in Kansas City, it might be to eat at every BBQ restaurant.

Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

  • Picnic in every city park
  • Hike every official trail
  • See a movie in every theater
  • Play every golf course
  • Swim in every public pool
  • Enjoy a staycation at every resort
  • Eat at every sketchy Chinese or Mexican restaurant *
  • Sip coffee at every coffeeshop

* Not recommended.

Quests that cover your own state or province are probably the best ones to start with. They offer a bit more of a challenge than local quests, and there tend to be a sufficient number of destinations—such as counties or state parks—to make the quest both challenging yet accomplishable.

Quests start to get quite a bit more challenging when they span the entire country. For many, this is the sweet spot for lifetime quests. You’ll end up doing a lot of domestic travel, but much of it can be done by car and you don’t have to worry about visas, currencies, or foreign languages.

Obviously, these quests tend to be the most difficult, as they require the most travel to complete. But, wow, what adventures you’d have!

  • stay overnight in 100 countries (or all of them)
  • snap a selfie in each of the Seven Wonders of the World
  • pay your respects at the holy site of every major religion
  • step foot on all 7 continents
  • stand in line at every Disney theme park
  • visit 100 UNESCO world heritage sites
  • complete the Seven Summits
  • call your mom from every country in Europe
  • sail on every ocean
  • visit a town in every timezone

Have you adopted a quest?

If so, let me know what you quest is in the comments below—and be sure to tell me how far along you are.

5 thoughts on “Why you should adopt a personal travel quest”

  1. Very cool, read, Scott. My last blog post was on this very idea–travel goals. I’ve realized the more I’ve considered or started working at any of them, I end up “setting” more of them. I’m not even sure how many I really intend to complete, but absolutely agree with your social pressure notion–with baseball, I went from about all 20 to all 30 because folks were cheering me on. My goals were/are seeing the 50 states (only need AK for a second completion of that), touching the 5 Great Lakes and oceans (1 for 2 there), seeing every MLB ballpark (need Atlanta’s new one), NFL stadium (3 teams and about 5 new stadiums to go), Canadian Province (have all 10, but need the three Territories), attend a sporting event in each state (35ish), visit a brewery in every state (33), and visit every place mentioned in “I’ve Been Everywhere Man” (43 of 91, I think). Then there are the National Parks and Minor League parks–right now, I’m using them in tandem to build itineraries, a few days in NPs and then some evenings in ballparks.Not sure if all 59/417 (now at 35/136) is in my future for the parks or 160 (39 now) for the Minor League parks. But, yes, getting to halfway there, or getting to 100 of them, or all of the ones in the Continental Lower 48 or something might be more achievable. Likewise, picking a single league of a dozen teams is certainly more likely than all of them at this point. But, as you complete the subsets of the total, or cross the halfway point, and you start seeing the finish line, well, yeah it can then become a more practical (and pressured) target. Totally get that. Then for skiing, I have a number of ‘goals’ there, with some resorts I want to visit, and maybe hit a certain number (I crossed over 50 this past winter). tt

    • Sounds like you’ve got some fun quests there, Thomas! I especially like the I’ve Been Everywhere one; I looked up my total a few years back and had most of them but didn’t keep track of my total. I think I need to go back and do that.

  2. Great post. You mention count up and count down quests but what do you think about distance quests? I am thinking about hiking the AT or one quest that I am interested in (but too afraid right now) kayak the entire Mississippi

    • I’d personal consider those “challenges” as opposed to “quests,” but no matter what word you use, both sound like they’d be a blast! I followed someone on their journey to kayak the length of the Missouri River, and it was quite an endeavor and definitely a logistical challenge.

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