My husband and I have had a goal to visit all 50 United States and we recently achieved that goal! Our only rules were that we had to visit the state together and we had to do something there. This could be as simple as a scenic walk or as iconic as visiting Mt. Rushmore. Oh, and airports didn’t count.
We both grew up in Maryland and our travel history as kids was mostly beach vacations on the southern east coast, visiting family, a few Disney World trips, plus a weekend or two in New York City during college. My husband lived in Alabama for his sophomore year of high school so he saw a lot of the South during that time. I went to Hawaii with my high school friends after graduation thanks to the very generous parents of a good friend. So we had seen a sampling of the country but much of it through the eyes of a child or teen.
We started this journey in early 2013. We were 25 years old and had been married a little over a year. We didn’t have kids and we still don’t. Our travel history together was a few family vacations not too far from home and our honeymoon to the Bahamas which was the first time either of us had traveled internationally.
All this to say we were FAR from travel pros when we decided to do this.
So back to early 2013 when we knew we wanted to take a vacation somewhere but didn’t know where. We decided on Dallas, Texas for three reasons. We would be traveling in the winter and it wouldn’t be super cold there, my husband is a Dallas Cowboys fan and wanted to see the stadium, and it was cheap. We liked the idea of going somewhere that wasn’t a typical vacation destination and of seeing a new part of the country. We had a lot of fun in Dallas and it inspired us to see more of the country we never had before.
I can’t remember if it was during the trip or once we got home but we soon had an idea, an idea that felt really big and important, though I can’t quite put my finger on why. “Let’s travel to all 50 states!” We agreed on the rules and pulled out a map. We made a list of the few states we could already check off and started dreaming about the rest of them.
We didn’t set a time limit but it became clear that this wasn’t going to be a lifelong goal. This was going to be as fast as we can with our schedules and budget goal. Both of which became more flexible over the years but never unlimited. We knew we didn’t want to do a cross country road trip or plan vacations where we would be driving 12 hours a day. So for most of the trips we clustered the states into groups and we would fly to an area, rent a car, and make our way around visiting each state in the cluster. Sometimes that meant a week-plus journey through the West or New England and sometimes it meant adding on a morning in Michigan and an afternoon in Wisconsin when we went to Chicago, IL for 4 days.
The best explanation I can give of why we decided to do this is that we love America, it’s our home, and we wanted to see more of it to both experience and understand it’s past and present. I was a political science major in college with a focus on American government, though neither of my jobs has anything to do with that. My husband is an 8th grade U.S. History Teacher. It’s safe to say we like American history and politics. We were excited by the thought of seeing iconic and historical landmarks, visiting National Parks and coastlines, and seeing what all these different states were really like. While we love America we see her for her faults as well and did our best to incorporate things like the Birmingham Alabama Civil Rights Museum, the Iolani Palace in Honolulu Hawaii home of the Hawaiian royal family in the 1800’s , and the Suquamish Museum in Washington state that shares the story of the indigenous peoples of that area. We wanted to see the good but we didn’t want to leave out the bad and the ugly either. We wanted to experience the whole story of America as best we could.
So let’s talk about how we did this!
How We Did It
To achieve this goal efficiently we grouped states where we could and planned destinations around what allowed us to visit more states at once while not constantly being in a rush. Our longest trips were usually 8-9 days and our shortest ones 3-4 days. Many of the states located near Maryland and on the southeast cost, we visited as one offs since we could drive to them easily and spend just a night or two. For several states we were visiting family there. Here is how we broke things down from a geographic perspective.
- New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine & Vermont
- Connecticut & Rhode Island
- New Jersey
- New York
- Maryland (HOME)
- Washington D.C.
- West Virginia
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee & Arkansas
- Michigan, Illinois & Wisconsin (technically we drove through a portion of Indiana here too)
- Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa & Minnesota
- New Mexico
- Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Back To Wyoming & Colorado
- Oregon & Washington
I get asked a lot what my favorite states have been to visit. This is a really hard question but here is my best answer.
** One caveat I have taken Maryland and Washington D.C. out of the running here. Maryland is home and growing up so close to it D.C. feels like home too. Though I know if I grew up somewhere else D.C. would absolutely make this list. **
My Top 5 Favorite States to Visit:
1) Hawaii – It is simply magical. Clearly the landscapes here are unique in the U.S. and there are breathtaking ones everywhere. There is so much to see and do I can’t want to visit more of the islands.
2) Wyoming – The National Parks here are fantastic.There is just so much nature to explore here. Some of the views at Yellowstone are so vast and amazing that you have to pinch yourself to prove they are real.
3) New England – It’s hard to pick a specific state here. I really enjoyed the whole region and for a lot of the same reasons. Big cities like Boston and tiny towns like Stowe, VT, costal locations like Newport, RI or Kennebunkport ME, it was all uniquely New England in style. There is also so much history in this area.
4) California – We spent our time in Los Angeles seeing sites in Hollywood which was so fun as someone who loves the entertainment industry. Visiting a movie studio, seeing the handprints at Grauman’s Theatre, and touring the home of the Oscars were things I had always dreamed of. Plus, it’s the home of Disneyland!
5) Florida – If you asked my favorites places to visit Disney World is my #1 answer but ranking by states, Florida, is not all the way at the top. Florida has to make the list for being the home of the “Most Magical Place On Earth”
- New York City, NY
Reflections on America
This section is going to sound preachy but it is my honest reflection on this journey.
This journey has taught me a few lessons I will never forget. These lessons are valuable not just for my future personal travel, my work as a travel agent advising others, but my life as an American and simply as a human.
Climate Change Is Visible Now – We saw it across the country and in places we didn’t expect. The obvious here is the Mendenhall glacier in Alaska,. The park ranger talked about how it was significantly larger when she started working there a decade ago. The most unexpected view was in the desert of Phoenix Arizona, where a rise in temperatures has led to more moisture in the air which means more rain in the desert, a place not built for rain. The rain results in more small brush growing throughout the desert and this brush is the perfect kindling to start and spread fires through the desert. On our ride into the desert our tour guides shared this with us and then on the way out we actually saw a small fire start and spread rapidly. Luckily the tour guides were able to put it out. There were many times we had to worry about extreme weather effecting our trips, as hurricane season stretches longer and longer, extreme heat waves hit place like Portland, Oregon, and fires rage in the West. Climate change is here and it is effecting all terrains now. Something has to be done to stop it.
There Is So Much History Everywhere – There are important historical landmarks and museums all over. Don’t over look them. While traveling I have learned a lot of history that I only had a passing understanding of before or didn’t know at all. When learning about history being in the actual place brings a whole new level of understanding and connection. It brings a new kind of empathy for the people who lived it. Those who don’t understand history are due to repeat it or so the saying goes. If you want the current country to change you have to know how we got here.
America Is Even More Beautiful Than You Think – There is so much beauty in this country that I think gets underrated. Especially when people are listing places they would like to travel. Go travel the world too but don’t forget to appreciate your own backyard.
There Really Are Two Americas – Poverty vs. Wealth. Liberal vs. Conservative. Democrat vs. Republican. The divide is strong, noticeable, and very real. This gap needs to be closed. So many Americans need help to be brought out of poverty. The need is in rural communities as much as in urban ones. I will never forget the first time I drove through an entire town in the rural mid-west that was so run down I could just feel the depression in the air. In the very same state I saw some of the most beautiful city blocks with historic homes. A clearly wealthy area just buzzing with energy. We need to help one another even if one of these places would be considered blue and one red.
But We Are Not That Different – Here is my not so exciting travel secret, sometimes when traveling I find myself with a free hour or two having finished the days activities and I go to the mall. I love a mall. It’s also a great way to see the people that actually live somewhere you are visiting. What I have glimpsed in malls and grocery stores across America is people and families are all essentially the same as each other that want the same basic things. America is the great melting pot and we have so many unique sub-cultures and a beautifully diverse population. We are stronger for it. But in the end we are all Americans who just want to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. We all need to remember that.
What Did This Teach Me About Maryland
It confirmed for me that I love Maryland. Maryland has a little bit of everything. We have beach, forest, mountains, a big city, small cities, suburbs, and tiny towns. I have access to almost every kind of activity I could want to do within a few hours drive or much closer. Maryland is diverse and overall liberal which appeals to me. It’s home and not one of these other states made me think “oh I want to move here permanently.”
Would I Do It Again?
Yes! I absolutely would and I suggest to every American to see as much of America as you are able to. Prioritize it in your travel plans. But will I do it a second time, nope. There are absolutely places in the U.S. I will go back to. There are also several states like Texas, and California that we only saw a little sliver of and I want to go back to see more. But there is so much more left to see in the world. Not to mention so many Disney vacations I need to take and can take when I am not devoting vacation time to long weekends in Kentucky. 🙂
First I need to commemorate this accomplishment and that starts with this blog. We took photos for the occasion the evening that we finally entered state 50, Washington, which are going to be something I treasure forever. These are the photos throughout this post. I also have a scrapbook and a home movie project I can finally finish. Plus a wall display I need to make some decisions about.
Everyone wants to know where we are going to travel to next? Do we have another list? The answer is no. We don’t have a list or a real plan. We want to plan our travel without a list for a little while. I know that I would like to do more international travel. Starting with more of the Caribbean, Europe, and Canada.
The biggest lesson I learned about travel doing this was to give myself little grace. It’s ok if I don’t see everything in a city or everything I had planned to. Make the itinerary but then focus on the moments while you are living them. A lesson that has taken me a few times to learn but I think I’ve got it now and it will stick this time.
I do know where I am going next though.
I visited all 50 States and what am I going to do next ….. I’m going to Disney World ….. a lot!