Updated: Jul 30
Visiting all fifty states was not something I dreamt about growing up. In fact, with the exception of a handful of places, I didn’t really dream of traveling at all. My family vacations when I was young consisted of several weeks of camping at the same campground every year. And I loved it. I continue the tradition to this day, camping at Two Lakes Campground in Drummond, WI. Though instead of two trips of two weeks each, I generally spend about five days here each summer.
Sometime in the late 1980s I think, possibly early 1990s, we spent Christmas in Florida with my snowbird grandparents. We drove from Minnesota to Panama City Beach; my parents, myself, my sister and brother. I vaguely remember this trip, but do recall riding the waves in on the beach, having burning eyes from salt water, being the only ones brave enough to swim in the ocean in December, spending evenings at the pool, playing mini golf right up the road from my grandparents condo, and collecting seashells with my grandmother. We also went to Disney World and Sea World. This is the only time I remember leaving Minnesota other than family visits or camping in Wisconsin, and one camping trip to South Dakota with my aunt and uncle - what I didn’t appreciate nearly enough being a moody teenager at the time.
That is until I was 19 years old. My very first time on an airplane. My mom and I went to Pennsylvania for a church retreat. While there I also took a tour of Washington DC. Also at 19, I took several girls road trips to Canada. Legal drinking age was 19 and at this time passports were not required.
In 2002 my sister and I decided to visit our parents who were traveling for work and currently staying in New Jersey. We were young and this was a great opportunity to take a vacation, with the only expense being gas. We drove straight through from Minnesota to New Jersey, not stopping to sleep at all. My niece was 2 during this trip so imagine how adventurous this was at the time. It took us approximately 25 hours, of which I am pretty sure I drove 22.
We stayed in New Jersey one night in the extended stay that my parents were in. Then they moved to Queens, NY which is where we stayed for the duration of the trip. We did the typical tourist attractions; spent time in Manhattan, attempted to ride the subway (though we ended up getting off somewhere and taking a cab back to our hotel), and visited Ground Zero. We went and saw the Statue of Liberty and shopped in Brooklyn. Neither of us were 21 yet, so we did the PG version of a trip to New York City with our parents.
In 2004 I took my brother, sister, roommate and niece to Sarasota, FL, again to visit my parents while they were there for work. This time they were in a townhome and this time we took a plane. Again we experienced normal tourist activities. Beaches, the Myakka State Park, Busch Gardens, local bars – we ranged in age from 21 to 24 at this time.
That sums up my traveling when I was young. Very limited, and I didn’t know what I was missing.
September 2012 I took a girls trip to visit a friend that moved to Massachusetts. There were 4 of us that flew from Minnesota, so 5 women total, all friends since middle school. On this trip we visited Boston and went ziplining in New Hampshire.
In February of 2014 I was in a wedding. Not just any wedding, but a destination wedding in Riviera Maya, Mexico. We stayed at an adult only gourmet inclusive resort. It was absolutely amazing, and that is when I decided that not only would I continue to travel, but I wanted my kids to experience more than just where they live.
Which reminds me I forgot to mention that I welcomed my son into this world in December of 2006, and my daughter in April of 2009. In September of 2009 I married their father. In 2013 we separated, tried several times to work it out, eventually divorced, and he moved to Colorado.
Ok, so back to my travel. In 2015 I went back to Mexico to another resort in Riviera Maya. 2016 I was blessed enough to take my kids to visit family in Oceanside, CA. 2017 we went back to California, but visited the San Francisco area and drove down the coast. In 2018 my daughter and I visited Colorado to spend time with my son, who at this time was living with his dad. We also took another trip to Florida – my daughter, niece and nephews, sister-in-law and brother. As I mentioned I wanted to travel. I wanted to see what is outside of Minnesota and Wisconsin. I took another trip in 2018 with my sister-in-law to rural GA, and spent a night in Atlanta.
I know I flew through all of that, but it is because the point of this starts in September of 2018. This is when my husband and I started dating.
On July 24th, 2018 I closed on my house. I had finally climbed back from my divorce and was purchasing a home again, completely on my own. My daughter and I moved into a newly constructed, 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom split level house in the town of North Branch. The same town that I graduated high school from, and couldn’t wait to leave. As mentioned earlier, my ex-husband moved to Colorado, so I figured being back closer to family was best, and the home prices are significantly lower than closer to the Twin Cities.
September 16, 2018 I started dating my husband. We were friends in high school, though never anything more. We started flirting over face book messenger, met for drinks and a Viking’s-Packers game at a local bar, and the rest is history.
2019 was a busy year for us. My husband (then boyfriend) Matthew took his very first plane ride in February. We went to Arizona with two friends. While here we also road tripped to Las Vegas to watch my step daughter in a volleyball tournament.
The weather was terrible. Anyone traveling from the Midwest in February understands how much you crave sun and warmth. That is not what we encountered. The highest temperatures we saw were 50 degrees, and this was the day we flew home. It even snowed while we were in Arizona and again in Vegas! Even with the cold we had an amazing vacation. We stopped and saw the Hoover Dam, walked the strip in Vegas, went on the High Roller. We aren’t big gamblers, so we didn’t spend a ton of money in casinos, but did play a handful of slot machines. It was cold and windy so we had to bounce between walking outside on the strip and warming up in a casino. We get to say we went to Vegas, but it wasn’t either of our favorite trip, and we don’t care to ever return.
Arizona was gorgeous. Both Matthew and I had already been here. Myself for work, and Matthew visiting the same friends. Sedona was absolutely breathtaking. If I go back I will plan a couple of days in this area. We drove up to the town of Jerome and enjoyed this little mountain town, but they were closing the town completely shortly after we were there with snow coming in. Due to snow we weren’t able to visit the Grand Canyon.
Over Easter Weekend, Matthew, Galytea, Whitney and I took a waterfall trip up the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. This was an awesome weekend experience, though some areas were still snow covered, the waterfalls were full with the melting snow.
In August we took a long weekend and went to Colorado to visit my son. We were able to watch him at football practice and enjoyed a day exploring the area right around Denver. It was a quick trip and we drove the 16 hours from Minnesota. Both Matthew and I had already visited Colorado prior to 2018, so we have experienced the magnificence of the Rocky Mountains, even if it isn't part of our combined story.
In October 2019 we took a family trip with all three of our kids to Sarasota. We rented a house with a pool and about 3 miles from the beach. We definitely explored on this trip. We visited the Myakka State Park and every beach we could drive to in a reasonable time. We found sharks teeth at Venice Beach, enjoyed the white sands of Siesta Keys Beach, shopped at Lido Beach, and walked through the jungle of the state park.
Matthew and I were married July 25, 2020. The significance of this date in relation to the pandemic lockdowns and how it affected our travel is obvious.
We had a venue booked in Minneapolis and were going all out. The big expensive dress, open bar, photo booths, 3 entre menu, full 10 hour photography/video package. This wedding was going to be fun!
Unfortunately, weddings weren’t allowed because of the COVID crisis. We ended up having a small ceremony at Matthew’s sister’s house, with only immediate family due to space constraints. Our honeymoon was booked for a week on the Maine Coast, a state Matthew has always wanted to visit. Because Maine had some of the strictest shutdown rules in the country we cancelled our honeymoon and looked at places we could visit that were still open. One state that didn’t close down was Wyoming and it was within driving distance through South Dakota, also wide open. I will admit, Yellowstone National Park was not on my bucket list. Had the pandemic not hit I’m not sure we ever would have gone. But I LOVED this park. It was breathtaking, there was so much there to see. We saw all of the major attractions, plus several animals, spending two days in the park. Along the way we drove through Needles National Park, stopped at Mt. Rushmore, visited the Badlands and Black Hills. Now is as good of time as any to mention that I am a total nerd. I’m almost through my backstory so you’d find out very shortly anyway. On our drive through South Dakota we couldn’t miss Wall Drug and The Corn Palace. Nerds. Maybe it is the fact that I am now in my 40s but this trip made me realize that I wanted to see the parks and landscape of this country, not just beaches and cities.
The Pandemic made travel interesting. Though I was never personally worried about traveling, I was worried about travel interruption. So, not scared of the virus, definitely scared of being stuck in an unknown place. We didn’t travel much after our honeymoon. We did however buy a camper that year, and went on several camping trips.
For our one year anniversary we took a trip to Riviera Maya. That trip was so incredible, but has nothing to do with the story of my 10 year plan for 50 states. That is the only vacation with the exception of camping trips that we took in 2021.
That brings us to 2022. The year that I put my travel plans to PowerPoint. Again, I already admitted that I am a nerd, so no judgement. I am a chronic planner. When I get something in my head, I have to lay it all out and see how it comes together.
Early in 2022, I can’t recall exactly when, I saw one of those cheesy travel maps. The kind that you put a picture in for each state you visit. So of course I had to buy it. And by buying it, I had to figure out a way to fill that map. And so the PowerPoint was born.
The map may be cheesy, but it's also completely amazing and I love it. It's super easy to upload pictures and they send you a sticker that you add to your map. If you are a little nerdy also, I recommend it.
When I say PowerPoint, I mean a full on, color coded, 10 year plan to visit all 50 states. When I bought the map, I thought it was a cute fun way for us to highlight our travels. But I didn’t want a giant map with pictures and a bunch of blank spaces. This meant we HAD to go to all 50 states. I know that many people talk about visiting every state. And many others think it is a waste of time, as there are so many other places outside of the United States to visit. I was on a mission though. Now, keep in mind, we are not young. I already talked about the fact that I barely even traveled when I was young. In 2022 I am 41 and Matthew is 44. Our kids are 13, 15, and 20.
We decided that any states we visited since we’ve been together – so since 2018, would count as states visited for our map. Our first trip out of state together was in 2019, so that is when it really begins. So, all of those places I mentioned earlier, as well as all of the places Matthew had been were obsolete. The trips we took in 2019 and 2020 counted toward our 50 state plan, and 2021 was a big zero for new states visited. If you are keeping track those states included are Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Florida, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Wyoming and of course Minnesota.
That is 8 states. And we need 50 states. And we are already in our 40s. So we need to visit a lot of states each year. I realize that 41 is still plenty young to travel. But if we need to visit 42 states, we can’t visit one a year. We have to figure out how to capitalize when we go, but still have enough time to enjoy our vacations.
I sat down and tentatively grouped states together, and surprisingly I put a plan together that I think could work. My plan includes us flying to certain destinations, renting a car and road tripping through several states. Additionally we will complete 4 long camping trips that include multiple states. I will say that planning a road trip from Minnesota isn’t that great. There are many states around us that are pass through states. Or at least the parts of neighboring states close to us. This may make some angry, but in my opinion it is true. Camping in those states is a perfect way to visit, and not feel like we are spending too much time to get less appealing states picture on our map.
In order for a state to count, we have to do one of two things. Either stay the night in the state - regardless of any other activities. Or, if we don't stay the night, we have to do something touristy. So, driving through Nebraska and only stopping for gas would not count. We also do have to take a picture for my map - obviously.
My plan allows for us to complete all 50 states by 2029. That is 11 years total with starting in 2019, but 2021 we didn't travel, so this can be done in 10 years. I’ve already tentatively mapped out every trip with what cities we will stay in, where we will visit, and what year we will go. Each vacation will be busy for sure, though I did factor in drive time and time allotments for sightseeing. The vacation plan is a guide, not a set schedule. I’ve listed out how I plan to achieve all the states and tentative timelines to determine if it is realistic. But if we miss a destination I had hoped to see, then we miss a destination, as long as we don’t skip any states.
Planning is ever evolving. To get started I simply looked up the can’t miss destinations in each state. That helped me figure out what states I could group together. Then I looked at sample itineraries in destinations within our trip. For example, I knew we were going to visit Olympic National Park while in Washington. I knew we would basically have one full day. So I viewed many itineraries that others had posted online and picked out what I knew I didn’t want to miss. I then estimated what time we would need at each location to make sure I was planning a realistic day or if I needed to pull anything off our destination list.
Having a plan is so important to me, I like things laid out. Being flexible is also critical. Every itinerary that I’ve put together is a guide, fully knowing that we may miss out on something. I take vacations to enjoy my time and different places across the country. Being too stringent on timelines and destinations is a great way to ruin a vacation because nothing ever goes perfectly. Our luck with weather is a great reminder of this.
Let the adventures continue!