I've always had a life goal of visiting all 50 States. My recent attempts at accomplishing this.
Growing up, roadtrips were a common occurrence. Now, I know what you’re picturing: the whole family hopping in the car during the summer and making the drive to Florida. We absolutely did that. But we also traveled throughout the year across the Midwest and the rest of the US.
There were two reasons for this:
As a result, I’ve been to more obscure places like Morgantown, WV or Evansville, IN. But we did the same style of trip to more well-known places like Boston or Las Vegas.
My love of travel grew out of this. I hold fond memories of spending time with my family hurtling down an interstate. My family has been on so many roadtrips that we frequently complete entire days of driving without turning the radio on.
A fond memory I have: conspiring with my brother to make a “your driving sucks” sign to hold up to people who hang out in the left lane without passing.
A few years ago I realized I had started racking up a decent number of states that I had been to. It then became my mission to see all 50 (and DC!).
This summer I’ve been to 7 more. Here’s where I’ve gone:
I was really fortunate to be able to take a roadtrip with my parents out to the western US. It’s something we always wanted to do as a family but never got around to doing before my brother and I headed off to college.
My dad has a conference (see point #2 above) in Portland, Oregon. My mom and I spent a few weeks planning out a westward route, stopping in National Parks and interesting destinations along the way.
My parents left Ohio and stopped in Chicago to pick me up on the way. We then proceeded through Wisconsin and Minnesota. A lot of this portion of the drive was similar to what we see day-to-day in the Midwest. We followed some advice we received:
Do the early part of the drive as fast as possible. Once you get to the West, slow down and take your time.
There were definitely some unexpected surprises. For starters, The Badlands National Park was absolutely breathtaking. None of us really knew what to expect. It turns out to be a short, scenic drive through the heart of 30+ million year old rock formations.
The Badlands National Park greets you with spectacular geological formations.
We then proceeded to Rapid City, South Dakota and Mt. Rushmore. Rapid City was definitely cooler and more hip than expected. I have an ongoing theory that larger towns in otherwise rural areas serve as centers of culture and are more cosmopolitan than equally sized cities surrounded by even larger cities. There were breweries, yoga studios, coffee shops and art shops all along a surprisingly busy downtown region.
One of the many beer samplers consumed on this trip. They’re one of my dad’s favorite things.
Now as far as Mt. Rushmore goes, it was probably the most underwhelming portion of the trip. Everyone in my travel party agreed to this. I think it’s just what you expect when you picture it in your head. The scale wasn’t quite as impressive as I thought it was going to be. There is a hiking trail that lets you get closer, and I’d definitely recommend hiking it.
Our next stop was Devil’s Tower. It’s a mysterious rock formation that was featured in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a famous Steven Spielberg film. People were free climbing up the vertical sides of the Tower. I was terrified for them.
Devil’s Tower sticking out of the Wyoming countryside.
After our quick stop by Devil’s Tower, we headed toward America’s most famous National Park: Yellowstone. The vast area of the park is filled with lakes, forests, waterfalls, mineral flats, hot springs, mountains and wildlife. If you can find it in the western U.S., chances are you can find it in Yellowstone.
We took the breathtaking Beartooth Pass into Yellowstone.
We closed out the American portion of our adventure with a trip up Oregon’s Pacific Coast and a more urban feel by visiting Portland and Seattle. In order not to embarrass ourselves, I’m not going to tell you how many breweries we visited in this portion of the trip.
A view of the Oregon Coast meeting the Pacific Ocean
Lastly, we stopped in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Our signature story of the trip came from this stop. Within hours of arriving to Canada our rear car window was smashed in. We were visiting Granville Island, a small touristy area with an open market and restaurants. We stopped at the car to grab a jacket before dinner and made the discover. We still don’t know what happened. There was no evidence of a rock to break in the window, but the antenna was also broken off which makes us think it was intentional. Canadians were their kind selves and helped us get things somewhat under control.
My trip to New Mexico sprang out of a trip to Phoenix for work. I noticed after I booked my return flight that there was an option to connect in Albuquerque with a decently long layover. Because Southwest Airlines is the best and lets you make modifications with no change fees, I switched to the option with the layover.
I only had 4 hours to explore, so I made a step-by-step list of where I wanted to go. I hopped in my rental car and went to my first stop: the Sandia Peak Tramway. The tram carries passengers up almost 4,000 feet to an elevation of 10,000+ feet over a span of 15 minutes. It was amazing watching the valley drift away as you climb from 90°F weather into 65°F with heavy fog.
My next stops were food focused. Trying out local restaurants and cuisine is one of my favorite parts of traveling. I stopped at The New Mexico Pie Company and bought some pie and a bag of biscochito, the state cookie of New Mexico (and the first state cookie in the US).
I also stopped at Green Jeans Farmery Albuquerque which was an eclectic semi-outdoor market with a few restaurants, food trucks, clothing stores, a coffee shop, a brewery and a distillery. I had a beer at the Santa Fe Brewing Company and brought a 6 pack to bring home (yes it survives in your checked bag).
With that, my trip to New Mexico was complete.
My most recent new state was North Dakota. I started to get a travel itch, and I found a way to swing the trip for less than $200. I found a roundtrip flight from Chicago to Minneapolis for right around $100 (Pro tip: I generally avoid and hate flying on Spirit Airlines because I’m tall and there’s no leg room. The extra $20 for a “Big Seat” is totally worth it). My rental car was $22, and I found an Airbnb for $28. The deals were too good, so I booked things and took off.
A bison statue in downtown Fargo, ND.
I was only free to go from Saturday morning to Sunday evening, so once again I had to prioritize my travel. I drove from Minneapolis to Fargo and spent the remainder of my time exploring Fargo. Once again, my theory about large towns in otherwise rural areas held true: Fargo was home to interesting restaurants, multiple breweries, downtown lofts and even an LGBT film festival.
This trip was really important and helpful for my mental health. It was a great reset after a stressful couple of months.
Rather than hashing this out again, I’ve got a whole post detailing my travel to the Northeast this winter. It’s definitely a region I’d love to go back to.
If you’re curious, here’s what my US map looks like now: