FAQs for our 50 States Adventure

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Grand Canyon National Park

Roughly two years ago Jay and I embarked on what we call our 50 States Adventure. In those two years we have been to all 48 contiguous states as a family of 6. Our rules are that we have to spend the night in each state and do something iconic–something that captures that state’s personality or famous landmarks–for a state to count. No drive-throughs are allowed.

I’ve written about the emotional challenges and rewards of our trips and I’ve certainly Instagrammed enough pictures of them to share what we’ve been doing, but every time I see people in real life, they have questions. So here are the answers to some of the questions Jay and I get most often about how we travel with four kids on a pretty regular basis.

Q1-Do you drive or fly?

A1-Both, but mostly we drive.

We flew from our home base of Atlanta, Georgia to Seattle, Washington and rented a KIA minivan. We used our rented KIA and drove to Idaho, Oregon, and Northern California in an inefficient loop back to Seattle before flying back to Atlanta.

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The KIA went off-roading for this picture

We also flew to Los Angeles, California, rented a different KIA minivan, and drove to Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and then back to Los Angeles for a return flight home.

We will also be flying to Hawaii and Alaska this year. So, if you’re keeping track, that’s 9 states that required/will require flights and 41 other states we have just driven to in our minivan. The ole Odyssey has a lot of miles on her. Which leads me to…

Q2-Do you take an RV?

A2-No, that seems horrible to me. 

We had several cons against renting an RV. They are expensive–about $150/night for rental and mileage–which is not significantly cheaper than many hotels.

We would have to rent a giant one (even more expensive) to meet the requirements for occupancy for all 6 of us. And put gas in it. And fit it into gas stations. And navigate strange cities and backroads in an unfamiliar and unwieldy vehicle. And there’s something about the sewage that I don’t want to know any more about.

Also, we have driven on some pretty stressful roads that are hard to describe–sheer drop-offs to our deaths on one side and giant falling boulders on the other side kind of stressful. Watching the campers in their rented RVs make 16 point turns around hairpin curves cured us of any romantic notion to RV across America. I also cannot imagine Times Square or Santa Monica Boulevard or the Las Vegas strip in one of those. It’s just not for us.

Q3-So where do you stay? Do you camp or get hotels or what?

A3-We are very familiar with Hilton property suites.

For the most part, we stay in chain hotels. Our favorites (due to the number of people in our family and the desire to have a real fridge) are Homewood Suites and Embassy Suites by Hilton. We also like their Doubletree hotels, but they get a bit crowded for us.

We are Hilton Honors members which allows us to occasionally get a free or discounted room in major (expensive) cities and to change reservations last minute without penalty if we change our driving plan for the day. They also usually have a decent breakfast with the room.

We have also stayed at Springhill Suites by Marriott, something called The Magic Castle Hotel in L.A. that had magic tricks at breakfast and an ice cream phone, and a Best Western in Brookings, Oregon that was on the ocean and saved us from having to sleep in our car when we took an impromptu detour to Redwood National Park.

We have camped in Wyoming and North Dakota and stayed in National Park Service accommodations in Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona.

Honestly, we just kind of picked a brand (Hilton instead of Marriott because we liked their suites better) and used that to narrow down places to sleep. There are infinite choices and we would never have made any decisions if we had to look for the one best hotel in every place we’ve been.

Q4-How do you plan which states you’ll go to next?

A4-Hmmm…it’s a combination of time, money, interest, and accessibility with our family.

We started with short trips–long weekends to the states near us. And then we just picked one city in each state to go to for that weekend. These were the easiest ones because we had been to most of them several times before (sometimes with, sometimes without kids). We picked one or two things to see in each city. These are pretty simple.

The harder ones, of course, are the longer trips that are farther away. We blocked out the country roughly into regions and what we thought seemed reasonable for a week or two.

Here are the trips we took:

  1. Georgia and Florida we counted as done before we started in 2015 because we live in GA and went to FL twice in 2014.
  2. We went to North and South Carolina over a long weekend in February, 2015
  3. The mid-Atlantic states we did over Spring Break, 2015 (Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C.,  Delaware)
  4. Memorial Day, 2015 we went to Ohio and Kentucky
  5. Our longest trip by far was out West over 2+ weeks in the Summer, 2015 (Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri). We had two weeks–we figured out we could get to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming in a week, stay there a few days, and gave ourselves a week to get back.
  6. Fall Break, 2015 we went to the Southwest (flew to L.A. in California and drove to Arizona, Utah, Nevada and back to L.A.)
  7. Long weekend February, 2016 we went to New Orleans, Louisiana and Alabama.
  8. Spring Break, 2016 we flew to Seattle, Washington and then drove to Idaho and Oregon.
  9. Summer trip we took to New England, 2016 (New York, New Jersey, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusettes, Connecticut, Rhode Island)
  10. Fall Break, 2016 was to Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Tennessee (we’d actually been to and through Tennessee many times, but stopped on the way home on this trip to spend the night again)

There’s probably a better/more efficient way to do it, but this is the way that got it done for us. We figured out how much time and money we had and allocated it as best we could.

Q5-How do you plan what you’ll see?

A5-We have a set of guidelines and we go from there

We eliminate things that most places have–children’s museums, art museums, zoos, aquariums and the like. The exceptions are world class facilities. So, we went to see Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, but skipped every children’s museum everywhere because they have other people’s children in them.

We focus on things run by the National Parks Service (parks, trails, historic sites, monuments, battlefields) and on nature. If there is something we can name off the tops of our heads (Statue of Liberty) we see that. If we can’t think of a thing (hey, Iowa) we ask locals (Iowa Starbucks girl told us we should just leave) and look for ideas from Trip Advisor.

We try to create a balance between a plan (we’re going to X tomorrow) and flexibility (well, it’s now sleeting in April so instead of that picnic behind Independence Hall we were going to have, we’ll eat in that food court over there. We should have brought coats).

Tie goes to things Jay and I have never seen because we’re paying for it.

Sometimes it works out, sometimes not. It’s all part of the adventure.

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Zuma Beach, California. This was unplanned, but was one of our trip highlights. 

Q6-What does Jay do for a living?

A6-He’s a wonderfully brilliant technology consultant. Do you need help with any technology services?

Hee hee. OK, really, I know people ask this question when they want to know how he gets this much time off.

He doesn’t, really, and our kids don’t usually miss school, either.

I do not have an outside-the-home job so I am flexible. Jay gets 3 weeks of vacation a year and uses all of them for this. We have not gone to the beach with family, or taken a week at Christmas for two years. We do not have travel sports teams that our kids play on.

Our kids do go to a homeschool hybrid (that means they attend classes two days a week), which does give us some more flexibility to have grumpy/tired children at the end of a trip. However, with the exception of our upcoming trip to Hawaii, all of our trips have been made during breaks that our local public schools also had.

Jay can (and does) do some work while we travel so that he does not feel overwhelmed or out of the loop when he returns. That trade off is worth it to us and I don’t mind driving while he takes calls or sends emails.

And if our kids do miss classes, we work hard at getting that work made up before or after we leave.

Q7-Are you worried the kids won’t remember all of it?

A7-No. I am sure they won’t remember all of it. We are not doing it for them. 

I expect our kids to remember some of it. Our oldest will probably remember most, if not all, of our trips. Our youngest will not. We are not doing this for their memories. We are doing it for ours.

WE will remember standing with our family, holding on to one another, as we saw the Grand Canyon. WE will remember touching the bison fur in the wallow by our campsite in North Dakota. WE will remember our 6-year-old calling Times Square “that place with the scary Minions.”

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Brothers Together in Yellowstone National Park

Our kids will remember that this happened. That it was important to us. They will remember a sense of family team and a long-term goal that we made sacrifices and life changes to accomplish. They will remember it through family legend and photo books.

They have lives ahead of them to see things again or create their own adventures in different locations or to become homebodies who are into woodworking or whatever.

There’s no perfect age–we decided to go anyway.

Q8-What’s next after you’re done with this?

A8-I don’t know.

We spend time dreaming  of leaving our lives and wandering the earth. We spend time daydreaming about what the future might bring. We plan for passports for children.

But, honestly, I don’t know. We sold our house and changed how we did school and I committed to staying out of the workforce for several more years and we started this adventure all at the same time.

To me, it still feels like we’re smack in the middle of this thing we started 2 years ago, not nearing the end of something.

So we will keep dreaming and praying and hoping for whatever comes next. It’s certainly been worth it so far.

 

Sally

P.S. I didn’t get into the deeper logistics–what do we pack, what do we eat, how much does this cost, etc. If you’re interested, send me those questions and I can answer them in another post. This one was already too long. But not so long that I didn’t add this slideshow of our 48 states so far. 🙂

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