What I Learned from Traveling to All 50 States—Yes, All of Them

For Christmas when I was 5 years old, I received what I now consider the best gift EVER. My parents gave both my brother and I photo albums with a sticker on the inside that read “50 States Album." On that day, my parents promised the two of us that by the time I graduated from high school—Spring of 2018—we would have visited each of the 50 states for at least 24 hours. So, for the next 12 years, we went on many adventures by plane, train and automobile. Here is what I learned:

1. I am so privileged.

Every trip we went on, my parents would tell my brother and I at least once that we must recognize how spoiled and privileged we are. We were taking trips that I will remember for the rest of my life—Niagara Falls; Miami, Florida; mushing dogs in Alaska—and I owe my parents a huge debt of gratitude for what they provided me. I also owe them for reminding me to keep these experiences more to myself and to stay away from bragging and remain humble instead. Today, I recognize the enormous privilege of being a part of a family who is financially well-off enough to take huge road trips and have life-changing experiences. I am so utterly grateful that I was able to experience life this way and grow up in a family that values travel and new experiences over most other things.

2. Life is too short, so go out there and make some memories.

In 12 years, I visited all 50 states. Not many people get to accomplish this—or even want to accomplish this—in their lifetimes. Friends, family and other people I know have not even been outside of their home state, even though they are financially able and have the time to do so. It makes me sad knowing that there are 327.2 million people in the United States and that not many of them have travelled and made memories like I have. Of course, not everyone has the money or the time, but if there’s a will, there’s a way. You can drive 30 minutes outside of your town and have a picnic on a cool hidden bridge. You can look up hidden gems in your own town or city. You can do so much in little time with little money and still make those lifelong memories to carry with you wherever you go.

3. There are hidden gems everywhere, and they make the BEST stories.

This country is so beautiful. Yes, there are lots of problems with the way that it's run, but there is SO much out there that is more than worth your time. I remember a drive through rural Arkansas during which we came across this town that had a very highly-rated pie restaurant with awards and medals for their daily homemade pies. When we pulled off the highway, there was not much. We drove around for probably 15 minutes trying to find this pie place, and we finally did. Called Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales in Lake Village, AR, was this tiny, rundown shack of a restaurant. We walked inside, expecting exactly what we saw—an empty space with one old man standing in the rusty old kitchen. This scene was accompanied by my mother needing to go to the bathroom, as we had been in the car for over two hours, so she went to pull on the door, and it turns out that the door was just a piece of the drywall cut out with a handle slapped onto it. We had a good laugh about the place, but I do not think I have tasted a better pecan pie in my life. All the awards that this hole-in-the-wall place received were well-earned.

Looking back on those 12 years, I would not have changed a single thing. Through these years, I have realized that I still have so much to learn and explore and experience. I also owe my parents an enormous debt of gratitude for everything that they have done for me and for all of the life-changing and incredible experiences I was able to have before I became a legal adult. Please, go out and explore! This country has hidden gems and memories to be made. Have a little courage and a little patience, and I promise that you will not be disappointed.