How to Accomplish That Big Mission On Your Bucket List

Bungee NZ

“Must be nice…”

“You’re so freaking lucky!”

“I wish I could do that, but…”

Whenever I explain to people what I’ve done or where I’ve gone, these are the responses I get.  And I’m not gonna lie, I’ve done some pretty epic things over the past few years: living like James Bond in Monaco, finding Nemo on the Great Barrier Reef, and tracking hippopotamuses down a South African river. It’s been one non-stop, horribly terrifying, utterly exhilarating adventure.

In fact, the adventure continues this week: on Wednesday I’m off to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, for Carnival!

I’m not saying all of this to impress you, but rather to impress upon you what can happen to a shy, risk-averse nerd who decides to deliberately fill his life with adventure.

I’m also going to tell you that luck has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with it.  I’m not some lucky bastard.

I believe that life needs to be filled with stories and adventure, big and small. By the end of this article, you’re going to know exactly what your next adventure is going to be, how to get started down the path towards reaching it, and have a system in place to both plan AND pay for it.

This is one of the most detailed posts I’ve ever written on Nerd Fitness, and not for boring people.  I am going DESTROY every excuse you’ve ever had for not crossing that big goal off your bucket list.


Not only that, but I’m also giving away two free one-hour Skype consultations with yours truly to help you plan out your adventure!  All you have to do is follow the directions below…  

Reframe your mind


Want to know the BIGGEST difference I see between people who find happiness and have great adventures, and those who don’t?

Those that spend their days angry and miserable and stuck in a rut?  They hear a story about somebody doing something awesome, like losing a lot of weight or having an adventure of a lifetime, and the first emotion that pops in their head is ENVY – “Why does he get to do that when I can’t?” “Must be nice to be able to do that. I can’t because ________.” “My situation is different. She is so lucky.”

Those that find success and have adventures? They hear a story about somebody doing something awesome and the first emotion on their mind is INSPIRATION – “Hey, if he can do it, so can I!” “Sure, I might have kids and debt to pay down, but that is awesome and I want to do it too.”

I challenge you to remove anger, jealousy, and envy from your mind when you hear about people doing great things.  After reading Tim Ferriss’s Four Hour Workweek five years ago (a MUST read, even if you don’t ever plan on starting your own business), my world was shattered. Suddenly, that dream life I wanted but never expected to get suddenly seemed like an actual possibility…if I started making changes.

In the book, Tim describes case study after case study of people from all walks of life going on unconventional adventures:

All of whom decided, “I want adventure. I want a great story to tell.”

You don’t need to quit your job and travel the world (unless you decide that’s what you want to do), but I DO want you to start believing you have the time and resources to cross those big adventures off your bucket list.

Let me show you EXACTLY how you’re going to accomplish them.

Think epic, but be extremely detailed

bucket list

Everybody has a bucket list, right? 

According to the Rebels on the Nerd Fitness facebook page, everybody has at least one thing they want to do

Some people gave very specific answers, and others gave very vague answers.

Take fifteen minutes right now, and write down five epic adventures you’d like to have before you die.  These goals do NOT need to be expensive or even international, but they DO need to be things you’ve always dreamed of doing but haven’t done yet. Goals like: “run a marathon,” or “climb a mountain” don’t count. I want SPECIFICS:

  • I want to get scuba certified on the Great Barrier Reef.
  • I want to spend a week camping in the Grand Canyon.
  • I want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
  • I want to skydive in 2013.
  • I want to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

The more specific you can get, the better.  Why is that important?  Because it takes your goal adventure from an abstract “weeee wouldn’t that be fun,” and turns it into this very concrete, specific reality that needs to happen.

And remember, this isn’t a dream – it’s a reality!

Research the time, effort, and cost

zebra crossing

Now that you’ve identified your five dream goals,  pick ONE item on the list and spend 15 minutes researching the exact cost it would take to accomplish that goal.

Set up a simple Google spreadsheet or a text document.  Also, write down any time requirements as well:

  • How long will you be going for? 3 days? A week? A month? A year?
  • Do you need to fly there? Search to get the cost of your flight (tips later on travel hacking).
  • Will you require lodging? Search Expedia for hotel prices, AirBNB for apartments, or if you’re traveling cheaply.
  • Do you need a coach? If you’re learning a skill (martial arts? dancing? a new language?), search for a teacher in that area on the Google. If there are no prices listed, write down the email address of somebody you can contact for more information.
  • Are you taking a safari/adventure/excursion? Find a similar excursion online and get the rates.

Even if you don’t find your exact tour or the exact boat you want to rent, that’s okay. What IS important is that you actually determine the cost, time, and effort associated with your plan.

Again, this exercise serves a purpose; it moves the activity from vague to VERY SPECIFICALLY CONCRETE.  You now have a dollar amount on what you need to do.

Did you know that you’re 254% more likely to follow through with your goals when they’re specific and concrete, and that 63.7% of all statistics are made up?

Since we had a lot of Machu Picchu requests on the NF thread, and that adventure was the one that started it all for me, let’s go step by step to get you from your computer chair to Machu Picchu.

Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

If I were to plan a trip to Machu Picchu, and was just getting started, this is how I would do it:

1) We’ll need to save up for the trip, so let’s put the trip nine months down the road – in early November.  It’s in the southern hemisphere, so that’s a perfect time to visit (it’s also the time of year that I visited and the weather was great).

2) Googling “hike Inca Trail” led me to, which looks to have a reputable and reasonably priced Inca Trail package; it includes all fees, buses, trains, meals, and guides to get to/from Machu Picchu.

Screen Shot 2013-01-30 at 2.01.39 PM

3) Reading further, it looks like the Inca Trail experience leaves from Cusco. So we need to get from our home to Cusco. A 30-second search on Kayak led me to this:

Flying to Cusco

4) The trail group also recommends that we spend at least two days ahead of time in Cusco before starting the Inca Trail (to get acclimated to the altitude), which means we’ll need lodging in Cusco.  30 seconds on with a price range of $50 or less for a hotel produced:

Booking Hotel in Cusco

5) Want peace of mind? Get travel insurance through WorldNomads. A 1-week ‘explorer’ policy only costs $64.73.  Also, check with your credit card companies (especially American Express). You might already be covered with trip insurance!

Screen Shot 2013-01-30 at 2.09.29 PM

6) We’ll need to spend money throughout the trip on various meals and other expenses.  A quick search and we find that we can expect to pay only 5-$10 for a nice meal at restaurant. We also want to build an emergency 20% buffer in case there are any unexpected events or our flights get delayed and we have to spend an extra day somewhere – so multiply your total by 1.2:

Trip Costs

7) A simple Google spreadsheet reveals our trip, with the emergency safety buffer built in, will cost roughly $2,100.

Not bad for the adventure of lifetime that you’ll remember for the rest of your life, but still a good chunk of change.  What’s next?

Time to plan and prioritize.

Rearrange your priorities, start planning

Steve Alpacca

“Sounds great Steve, but I don’t have the time and I can’t afford that trip.”

That is the excuse I get from 95% of people when I ask them “you just told me about something you want to do, why aren’t you doing it?”

My response to that is always “liar, liar, pants on fire.”   I then set their pants on fire (I’m a man of my word).

Here’s why those two excuses are bogus:

When you say “I don’t have time for _____” or “I can’t afford ______,” what you’re REALLY saying is: “_____________ is not a priority in my life right now.”

If this trip is TRULY a priority for you, then you need to prioritize it in your life.  It’s not what you SAY is a priority, but rather what you DO that’s a priority.

If you “can’t afford” a trip, then you have two options:

  • Stop spending money on crap you don’t really need. Be absolutely RUTHLESS with this.
  • Find a way to make extra money on the side.

I’ve found that a good combination of the two works out great.  It’s time to audit your financials. 

I track ALL of my financials through, so I can tell how much is spent each month on food, entertainment, eating out, bars, on Amazon, etc.

It’s amazing how many people who “can’t afford to do [awesome activity or trip]” gladly spend:

  • $150 a month on Cable TV.
  • Drink $5 lattes from Starbucks each morning.
  • Go out to a $10 lunch each day and grab takeout food on the way home.
  • Buy new clothes/shoes that they don’t really need.

It’s not that these people don’t have money, it’s that every one of these things above is a priority over travel or adventure.

Cut out the crap you don’t need.  Back when I quit my job to run Nerd Fitness full time, I had roughly $4,000 in the bank and no backup plan. I prioritized living a life on my terms over everything else, so I cut a LOT of things out of my life for over two years. I stopped buying video games, I stopped going out to lunch and dinner, I stopped going out to bars, and I stopped going to movies.

Yep, I chose to stop doing some things that I enjoyed or ‘would have been nice.’

I was okay with that – because going on these adventures was more important to me than those things above.  When I traveled I still made my own meals, slept in cheap hostels, and never watched TV. I saved my money so that I could spend it on adventurous excursions.

What’s important to you?  If it’s this adventure, I bet you can find a way to save up a few bucks each day to make it a reality.

Let me show you exactly how I would do it.

Break your goal into small steps

Wall of China

Let’s look back at our Machu Picchu example: We need to save $2,100 bucks between now and November.  That gives us roughly nine months to set that money aside.  Of course, if that’s too soon, you can set the trip for 12, 18 months out and start saving. There’s always a way!

Step 1: Since this big number might seem daunting, the first step should be to break it down into smaller pieces.  For our example, we need to save roughly $233 dollars a month.

Want to know the best way to do that?  Set up a free online piggy bank.

Step 2: This next tip comes courtesy of personal finance guru Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You to be Rich, which is the best book on personal finance I have EVER read. It changed how I manage my money.  Go read it. Now.

I use ING Direct (now Capital One 360) savings accounts – It’s free to set up with no minimum account requirements, you can segment your account into buckets, and you can have it auto-pull from your checking account.  Every 1st of the month, I pull money from my personal account into various savings accounts. I never see the money, so I am never tempted to spend it.  Automated finances FTW!

I set up some mock accounts specifically for this article, and added a “Machu Picchu Trip Fund”:


Step 3: After setting up the accounts, it’s time to fund them.  Because we need to save roughly $250 bucks a month for Machu Picchu, I set up an automatic transfer from my Basic Savings account into Machu Picchu.


If you can’t set aside $250 a month up front, that’s okay.  Set aside $100, or $50. EVERY BIT COUNTS.  As you find a way to cut more expenses or a way to make extra money, you can quickly put it into your savings account so there’s no temptation to spend it.

I challenge you today to set aside your first $50 towards your adventure.  Sign up for an online account and connect it to your normal account. Put $50 in a piggy bank. Bury $50 in your back yard.  Do SOMETHING with that $50 that earmarks it for “epic adventure.”

NOTE: I have zero affiliation with Capital One/ING – it’s just what I use for my online savings accounts and find it very easy to use and set up.

Extra tips and tricks

Angkor Wat

Take care of yourself!  If you are out of shape and in debt, get those things taken care of first.  Use this trip as your motivation; your reward that will reward you back.  I don’t advise that you go further into debt to take a trip: first put a solid plan in place to get yourself on solid financial footing, and then get back on the adventure train.  While you’re doing this, it doesn’t mean you can’t find some free or cheap adventures in your very own backyard.  If the Goonies can find hometown adventure, so can you!

How far out should you book my plane tickets and excursions?  According to this article, you should book domestic flights roughly 49 days in advance, and international flights roughly three months in advance.  If you are doing an excursion, do some research and find out how popular it is – the Inca Trail has limited capacity, so it can fill up quickly (so months in advance at minimum).  Other excursions, if there are lots of operators, can be booked in person once you arrive – just be ready for it to be sold out and the possibility of needing to change plans. I tend to prefer to book all of my excursions when I arrive, understanding that sometimes things are sold out. Most of the time, they’re not.

Travel hacking kicks ass – If you happen to live in the US, you can accomplish your big trips for FAR cheaper.  I won’t cover this topic too much here, as it would require another 15 minutes of reading, but I am a travel hacking fanatic (right now, I have about a million frequent flyer miles).  It’s how I spent three weeks in Peru for $1,000, how I hacked my way into the Fairmont Monte Carlo, and how I traveled 35,000 miles all over the globe for $418.  If you are looking for some more resources, check out Lucky at One Mile at a Time and the Points Guy. If you want a comprehensive resource, I got my start with Chris Guillebeau’s (recently updated) Frequent Flyer Master, which bundles up tons of info into an easy-to-understand eBook.  Looking back, this might be the best $49 I’ve ever spent.

Borrow your equipment – If you’re going on a one-week trip, there is NO need to go out and buy all new stuff.  Reach out to your friends and family and borrow for the week.  I borrowed my friend Mikey’s fantastic backpack for my trip to Peru, which saved me a few hundred bucks.  I guarantee there is somebody that you know, or someone they know that has what you need.  Save money on buying things so that you can spend that money on experiences that you’ll never forget.

“I’m confused about parts of the trip, and I need help.” Check your social network for somebody that has already DONE what you’re hoping to do and email them. Hop on a Skype call with them and have them explain where they stayed, how much they spent, what tour operator they used, and more.  Start reading my friend Nomadic Matt’s blog. Sign up for travel message boards (or even the Nerd Fitness message boards) and start posting questions – you’ll be surprised how helpful and responsive people will be.

I really don’t have the money! That doesn’t mean you still can’t have an adventure.  You can still do things incredibly cheaply.  Try for free lodging.  Travel hack your way to a free plane ticket.  Find a volunteer service and do service work overseas, raising money for your trip.  I bet your social circle would gladly donate a few bucks to help you go spend a life-changing trip helping others.  Google is your friend.

But I’m scared. Great. Then you should absolutely do it.  Hell, half the things on my list scare the crap out of me! I do them because I know it’ll make me a better person, expose me to new cultures or foods, or provide me with a new perspective on life.  If you spend your life running from anything remotely scary, uncomfortable, or challenging, you’re going to lead a verrrrry boring life.

Long story short: it’s your responsibility as a Nerd Fitness Rebel to do sh** that scares you!

Take the leap. And let me help!


Life is so damn short, so stop waiting.  

The perfect moment doesn’t exist.

The time will never be right.

Eventually never happens.

Tomorrow never comes.

Once your plans are solidified, mark your calendar, let your work know you’ll need the time off, and put down a deposit before you can talk yourself out of it.  Suddenly your perspective will shift from “should I do this?” to “okay I’m doing this, what else do I need to do to prepare?”

I’m giving away two 1-hour sessions with me on Skype to help you plan your adventure, no strings attached.  We’ll hop on Skype and you’ll tell me what you want to do and where you want to go. Then I’ll help you plan the details, connect you with people who have done what you want to do, and help you put a plan in place to actually make it happen.

Why am I doing this? I just want to help more people get to say “holy crap, I can’t believe that just happened…I will never forget this.”

HOW TO ENTER: Leave a comment that tells me where you want to go and what you want to do there.


If you are generic and vague, you’re disqualified because you didn’t pay attention!

Comments must be submitted by February 10th at 11:59pm. I’ll pick one winner at random, and one winner because they have a have a fun adventure I’d like to help with.

So, I ask you: Where do you want to go, and what do you want to do when you get there?


PS – Congrats to Nomadic Matt for putting out his book tomorrow (Tuesday): How to Travel the World for $50 a Day!  Thanks to Matt, I’m going to give away 5 copies of his book to people that leave comments. Simply leave a comment by Feb 10th at 11:59pm FOLLOWING THE INSTRUCTIONS ABOVE and you’ll be in the drawing!


All photos from my epic quest.  

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