'Bucket List' Screenwriter Travels Around the World in 1,460 Days

Justin Zackham and his wife and two young kids are making a stop in Puerto Rico during a projected four-year tour that he hopes will land them in 'Guinness World Records' as the first family to visit all 195 countries.
Courtesy of Justin Zackham
Justin Zackham and his family in Puerto Rico.

Justin Zackham didn't just write The Bucket List, he's living it.

The 48-year-old Hollywood scribe called Rambling Reporter from Vieques, Puerto Rico, where he and his wife and two young kids are making a stop during a projected three- to four-year tour that Zackham hopes will land them in Guinness World Records: the first family to visit all 195 countries.

"Last January, my wife's dad passed away," he explains of the journey. "So we decided to start something new." During the voyage, Zackham's wife, Katherine, 38, is home-schooling the kids, Finn, 10, and Cole, 5 — while Zackham works remotely (his last film was Jennifer Lopez's Second Act). "We have grown so much closer," he gushes about their travels, which have so far has included 19 countries.

The experiment commenced September 2018 with a trek to Spain followed by stays in Morocco and Portugal. They headed back to the United States in October for a brief visit so their sons could celebrate Halloween by doing some trick-or-treating. Zackham says they didn’t set their sights on a setting a record until they were in “our favorite city” of Cascais, Portugal, and they realized how much their kids were embracing the ride. “They were thriving and loving it,” he says.

Zackham’s career is also thriving. He wakes up at 4:30 a.m. every day and writes until 7:30 when the rest of the family wakes up. His wife puts her two Ivy League degrees to work by home schooling the boys while he finds a café to put in a few more hours in front of his laptop. He’s currently at work on a secret project for MGM — “the most inspirational story I’ve ever heard” — and is plotting new projects.

The goal now is to “find projects like this one that is nourishing to me as a person" and not just another paycheck. "Through traveling, I’ve learned that life is too short to spend time polishing that sequel. There are only so many movies you can write, and I’ve been lucky to work on really great jobs that pay well. Now I’m trying to be more intentional.”

At the same time, the couple is mulling on how to turn their adventure into a possible series in the vein of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. They already are building an audience, counting 22,000 followers on Instagram via the account @thisbucketlistlife.

“We’re meeting all kinds of people who have been inspired to untether themselves,” Zackham says, aware that they're not the first to take the leap to full-time travel. Another family is already globe-trotting under the Instagram handle @thebucketlistfamily with an audience of 1.7 million. “Part of our goal is just meeting inspirational people.”

The Zackhams are also working a service element into each trip, whether it be volunteering or meeting people on the ground doing good. Still, not every country is safe for international travelers. At any given time, Zackham offers, there are about “15 countries that are dicey,” due to political or social unrest — or worse. “We’re constantly researching as we go,” he says. “We’re not going to Venezuela right now and we’re not going to take our kids anywhere that isn’t safe.”

There are compromises, though. “You’re not going to Somalia, but in the southern end, there’s a 5-star resort and that is OK.”

Up next: Medellin and Bogota, Colombia, followed by a journey through Ecuador, Panama and the rest of Central America. From there, they will head to Alaska, Hawaii and the islands in the South Pacific and Southest Asia to close out 2019. “We’ll figure it out after that,” he says, adding that it may take three to four years total, that’s if their boys are still smiling. “The minute our oldest son becomes a teenager and he may look at us like pumpkins and say he’s over it,” Zackham says with a laugh.

Experiencing new cultures in other countries is part of the charm, but they journey has also led the family to explore must-see stops in the United States. “The money in this for me is that we were in Little Rock, Arkansas, checking out the Little Rock Nine monument one day and the next day, we visited the Civil Rights Museum. To watch my 10-year-old go through the whole history and get to the end with Martin Luther King Jr., and he relayed that back to the high school and those nine kids, that’s a lesson he will have his whole life that no school will ever come close to.”

As for his own bucket list, Zackham is already doing pretty well even if they don’t complete the 195. He’s not yet jumped out of a plane, but that will come. “My biggest ones were to meet and marry the perfect woman and be the parent I never had,” he says. “Those are done.” 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Nailed it on the first try… Ha, not even close! Instagram makes it look so easy, but we finally got one in the ballpark after a couple thousand takes and ice cream bribes. In all seriousness, we’re so lucky to be here in this amazing place on this incredible adventure. Thank you all for following along and inspiring us along the way! . . . . . #itsbetterinthebahamas #bahamas #bahamas #abacos #travel #travelphotography #passionpassport #traveltheworld #traveldiary #family #bucketlist #exploremore #instagood #picoftheday #familyadventures #travelwithkids #childhoodunplugged #creativetravelcouples #momentsinthesun #voyaged #vrbo #funinthesun #fulltimetravel #globetrotters #dirtybootstravel #beautifuldestinations #trustthebum #aeriereal #unsettledown

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A version of this story first appeared in the April 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.