I recently reached a goal that I’ve been working on for most of my life: I visited all 50 states.
And I’ve been surprised by how many others I know who have been on the very same quest. “We’re seeing more and more people with this goal,” said Alicia Rovey, founder of the All Fifty States Club, in an interview for AP Travel’s “Get Outta Here!” podcast. “It seems like any room you go in, there’s at least one person that is trying to get to all 50.”
What’s behind the trend? Gas is cheap. The 50-state bucket list appeals to all age groups, from millennials who love to travel, to folks who travel a lot for work, to empty nesters and retirees with time for road trips.
For Americans, traveling around the U.S. is also cheaper and less daunting logistically than traveling internationally. And because the U.S. is so big and diverse, every region has something different to offer, from cities to farms, from mountains to beaches, from Southern food to Tex-Mex.
Some travelers use apps or online maps to track their travels. Others use real maps. Alyssa Kauanoe sells a product online called JetsetterMaps ($28) that lets travelers “scratch off the states you’ve been to and get your own personalized travel map.”
Because there’s no real way to check on those applying for membership in the All Fifty club, “we don’t ask for proof,” said Rovey. “It’s kind of an honor system.”
For a visit to count, Rovey says, “You have to touch the ground and breathe the air.” That “rules out airplane layovers.” But she says most 50-staters set their own stipulations: having a meal, spending the night, going to a historic site or spending time with a local.
Jefferson George visited 50 states in 50 days. He drove to the lower 48, starting in Maine and ending in Seattle, then flew to Alaska and before noon on day 50, made it to Hawaii. But he didn’t just set foot in a place to check it off: “I wanted to see something of note in each state, whether it was an established attraction like the North Rim of the Grand Canyon or something maybe a little more obscure like the first paved road in America in a little town, Bellefontaine, Ohio.”
Kelly Will did the 50 states in a year, using social media to find families to stay with everywhere she went and immersing herself in each community for a few days. She’s written a book about the experience that she hopes to publish titled, “Little Miss Willful: An exploration of feminism, fear and faith across 50 states,” and said the education she got spending time with folks around the country was equivalent to “about six different master’s degrees in college.”
For some, the trips offer solace. Jen Miller, author of “Running: A Love Story,” set out to see the 18 states she hadn’t visited after her dog died and she was forced to sell her house “because of a terrible neighbor.” She got through the 18 in just one summer, and along the way, adopted a new dog in Boise, Idaho.
Kris Nazar, who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Poland in 1986, worked as a truck driver and drove a semi through the lower 48. He crossed off Alaska when he got a job helping to clean up the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, and plans to see Hawaii with his wife in 2019 as a 25th wedding anniversary trip.
WHICH STATES ARE LAST?
Rovey says more than half of the club’s 4,000 members name Hawaii and Alaska as their final stops. That makes sense: Those destinations require more planning, time and money than just driving across state lines. But the other place at the end of the 50-state road for many travelers is North Dakota.
“That seems to be a state that is not on the way to places for people,” said Rovey. “Many of our members have had to make a special trip to get there.” One recommendation for travelers hoping to reach all 50: If you’re close to another state, make that extra trip.
Former AP newsman Dick Lipsey is running a marathon or longer race in each state: “I have four states left and plan to finish up in North Dakota.”
Melinda Frederick and her husband have been knocking off the 50 states along with another couple. “We are simultaneously keeping track of each other,” she said. “We have an agreement we will all cross into North Dakota together.”
I thought North Dakota would be my last, too. But my travels through the 50 states have been somewhat random compared with those who themed their trips or set deadlines. As it turned out, I got to North Dakota’s beautiful Theodore Roosevelt National Park a few days before I made it to Idaho. But I did mark the moment when I ended my quest. I made my husband pull the car over and posed for a photo beneath the sign that read, “Welcome to Idaho.”