Our family has a goal of experiencing all 50 states together before our youngest son graduates from high school. We came up with this goal when our oldest son took a strong interest in history and geography at a young age. He loved looking at maps, memorizing states and capitals, and learning about historic events that occurred in these various places. We figured what better way to learn about these things than to experience the places where they happened!
To make this plan work, we have had to come back to a couple of core values. We believe it is more valuable to give our children experiences than it is to buy them the newest video game or the trendiest clothes. We believe road trips create family time and connection in unique ways; when you are in a car for hours a day for over a week, you have time and opportunity for substantive conversations. We know it works, and it is meaningful—because we have often chosen specific trips since we remember visiting the same places with our parents decades before. While we also see the merit in international travel (we have taken our children on mission trips to Haiti and the Dominican Republic), we are excited to explore together as much of our own country as we can.
When planning our trips, we want to make sure we have activities that will appeal to our children's various interests. We pick a direction and an endpoint - and then we just start exploring with maps and the internet. We attempt to work in museums, nature, cultural activities, local food, historical sites, monuments, and the occasional amusement park. It never hurts to work in a quick stop at a cheesy attraction like “the world’s largest fork” either! We try to plan out most of the trip in advance, but we always leave room for spontaneous roadside attractions or off-the-beaten-path adventures. For example, on our last trip, we realized our hotel in Tennessee was right beside Casey Jones' historic home, which our youngest son had just learned about in history class. It was a perfect detour for him.
On these trips, we get a taste of city life, such as staying in a high-rise hotel in downtown Atlanta, and we experience the wide-open spaces of Kansas and Nebraska. We enjoyed a close view of the peaceful Amish culture in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and experienced the country-western fun in downtown Nashville. We have experienced somber moments when visiting the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and the Flight 93 Memorial in Pennsylvania. We have seen the beauty of Niagara Falls from both the American and Canadian perspectives and taken in the view from the second-highest point in the Eastern United States.
At this point, we have toured most of the southeastern, mideastern, and midwestern states. So what’s next? We are still waiting for our youngest son to be a little older before we take a loop through Washington, D.C., and New York City. For our next trip, we are considering heading to Texas by way of New Orleans. We have also mapped out a trip through Chicago on the way to visit extended family in the Twin Cities in Minnesota.
One of our biggest goals is a longer trip to conquer the western states. We like to keep several options open and see what interests our family has as the time for the trip draws closer. Will we be able to see all 50 states together? Will we give our children experiences and memories to last a lifetime? We hope the answer is “yes” to all!