The United States is a surprisingly large and diverse country. The more places we visit, the more I appreciate how many amazing things there are to do within the United States. This desire to learn more about America is the reason I wanted to visit all 50 states with my family.
Update: As of August 2023, we have visited 34 of 50 US states and are excited to be on pace to hit our goal! I’ve included links to travel ideas for each of the states we’ve visited plus have some advice on how to achieve your own 50 state challenge.
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Our Inspiration And Goals For The 50 US State Challenge
My goal is to visit all 50 US states with my daughter before she begins college. We have traveled regularly since she was a toddler, and a few years ago she received a gift of a small scratch-off map.
I was a little surprised that by 8 years old Elizabeth had already been to 10 US states. In comparison, the average American has visited only 12 states over their lifetime according to this 2016 poll. This got me thinking, could we manage to visit all 50 US states before she left home for college?
Requirements For Recording States In Our 50 State Challenge
Our only rule for recording a visit to a state is we must do something noteworthy in the state. That means flying into an airport and driving without a tourist stop or having a layover in a new state does not count toward the goal.
Why Visit All 50 States?
It is easy to forget the size and diversity of the United States. For example, the state of Texas is roughly the size of the entire country of France. Traveling state to state in the US is more like going country to country in Europe. America has an incredible amount of diversity of climate and cultures within just one country.
The United States has amazing historic sites, national parks, and places unlike anywhere in the world. As a bonus you don’t need a passport or lots of money to visit most states in the US. This ease of travel is one of the reasons we are inspired to visit all 50 states.
Just for fun think about the unbelievable scale of America: It takes about 42 hours to drive from Los Angeles to New York City. In Europe that same drive would take you from Porto, Portugal all the way to Moscow, Russia.
Tips For Doing Your Own 50 US State Challenge
Do A Road Trip
Road trips are a great way to see multiple states with just one vacation. A road trip can also be an economical option for travel, since flights tend to be expensive when kids are out of school. If you are thinking about travel during school this article has ideas and questions to help you evaluate taking your kids out of school to travel.
It is important to note that I am not a road warrior. When we do road trips, I carefully plan our itinerary to have two-night stays and less than six hours of driving per day on travel days.
Although I love Google Maps, I use a traditional paper atlas to plan road trips, and I also bring the atlas along on the road. This is an especially important safety tip when traveling through remote areas. For example, we were without a mobile phone signal for significant stretches of road on the way to the Grand Canyon and the paper atlas was a helpful guide.
Plan As A Family
One of the best tips I have for planning family travel is to include everyone in the planning process. Young kids might not have particular suggestions, but older kids may be inspired to visit places based on movies, books, or topics covered in school. Including kids in the planning usually means they are more excited and participatory while vacationing.
A fun way to introduce kids to each of the states is this National Geographic book (affiliate link: Buy on Amazon). This book has a map, interesting facts, odd traffic laws, and destination inspiration for each of the 50 US states. We bought this book when Elizabeth was 7 years old and she still likes to flip through it when we talk about visiting new states.
Keep A Spreadsheet Or Notebook With Trip Ideas
Unless you are a full-time traveling family, visiting every state will take several years. I keep a Google Sheets spreadsheet with a list of every US state, if we have visited, and some ideas for places to see.
There have been many times someone is talking about a trip they took or I’ve read an article about a place I am inspired to research further. I just add it to the spreadsheet and then have instant inspiration when it is time to plan a visit to that particular state.
Sometimes The Best Trips Will Surprise You
Everyone has a list of places they really want to visit and I encourage you to plan those trips. However, the more we travel, the more I learn that some of our best vacations come from less common vacation destinations.
One example of this is our trip to visit South Dakota. I planned a special trip for myself, my daughter, my mom, and mother-in-law to see Mount Rushmore. Visiting this iconic National Park was a bucket list item for both my mom and mother-in-law.
Our trip to South Dakota was one I researched and planned but wasn’t particularly excited to take. However, South Dakota is one of the family vacations we remember most fondly.
Make A Deadline For Your 50 States Challenge
Making a deadline can feel scary, but I suggest doing it anyway. Having written goals and a deadline is one of the best ways to reach a personal goal. If you miss your deadline there isn’t much downside, but imagine how much you’ll celebrate if you make it!
Destination Inspiration For Visiting All 50 US States
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of everything to do in every US state, but rather serve as inspiration for your own planning.
I will update these links as we visit more states and work towards completing our 50 state challenge. If you usually follow along on our Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Cruise, and Universal Orlando vacations there will still be plenty of theme parks in our lives even as we work on this challenge.
We Have Visited The States In Bold. States In Bold Blue Have Articles With Travel Ideas:
|Indiana||New Mexico||West Virginia|
Final Thoughts On Our 50 State Challenge
Although it can seem like a daunting task to visit all 50 states with kids, there are lots of people of all ages and backgrounds working toward this same goal. Vacations don’t have to be expensive to be meaningful, and I encourage you to explore someplace new with your family whenever you can.
Please send any state specific destination recommendations you have to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for being part of the Smart Mouse Travel family!
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