Why Visiting All 50 States Is Not as Easy as You Think

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For many people around the United States, simply taking a trip to a nearby state is like others around the world taking a trip to another country. The vast space and distances between states in America makes traveling around a time consuming and in many ways tiring prospect. When you hear the term ‘visiting all 50 states’, for many this is an unrealistic and unthinkable target. But after 46 states for both Heather and myself, we are tantalizingly close to reaching the pinnacle of all 50 states!

I have been thinking about writing this post for quite some time as we have both moved towards our goal of visiting all 50 US states. Both Heather and myself are now locked in at 46 states following our recent North-West road trip that saw us visit several of our remaining states (Montana, Oregon, Wyoming and Idaho) but of course reaching 46 has been different for both of us.

visiting all 50 states

I want to share a few of our favorite highlights and experiences from traveling around USA to this date, along with our future plans and when we hope to reach the magic number of 50.

If you don’t want to wait to find out where we still have to visit, feel free to hop on over to our Interactive Maps page that highlights the 46 states we have visited so far.

Where Did It All Start?

Heather’s journey started in Arkansas where we both now reside and my quest towards 50 started back in 2004 during my first visit to New York City. At that time I knew nothing about Heather and probably not a lot about USA, especially some of the states that we have now experienced together.

new york city visiting all 50 states

In 2006 I arrived in the States on an ambitious attempt to become a professional golfer and was based in the bustling town of Hutchinson, Kansas. Although my aspirations never materialized (never give up on your dreams though right!), this did give me the opportunity to visit some of the lesser known states such as Nebraska, Alabama and Oklahoma.

gatlinburg tennessee

Let’s turn the clock forward to when I met Heather in 2010 and how our journey began to visiting all 50 states. We really started our ‘serious travels’ in 2011 after getting married and started our now infamous ‘weekend getaways’ to neighboring states such as Missouri, Tennessee and Texas.

The rest is history…but don’t worry, I will share a little more detail as to how we reached our current number of 46!

The Race to Visiting All 50 States

Ok, so it’s technically not a race but I love numbers and statistics so the moment I started keeping track of how many states we had visited together I was all about reaching 50! But just like the title of this post goes, it’s not as easy as you may think especially when you both have full-time jobs and you are trying to plan weekend getaways, epic road trips and short vacations to hit the magic 50.

visiting all 50 states

How long is a realistic timeframe to achieve all 50? It’s going to depend on a number of factors which I will go into shortly but I think it’s realistic to visit 10 or so different states each year, regardless of any hindering factors that may be working against you.

You are looking at around 5 years to visit all 50 using this formula and of course I am not suggesting that you can’t do this quicker or even be patient and drag it out over a longer period of time.

visiting all 50 states

When we look back on what we have achieved the five year goal has turned out to be a pretty good target. As we head towards our fifth year of marriage, with only four states remaining I think we are pretty much ahead of schedule! This is also going to bring up another factor though…what constitutes visiting a state?

visiting all 50 states

Factors Impacting Exploring All 50 States

I want to share a couple of reasons/factors that we believe need to be considered when you think about visiting all 50 states. There are not many people that will have the ability or even desire to follow Barry Stiefel’s epic road trip that saw him visit all 48 contiguous states along with flying to Hawaii and Alaska in just one week!

Ok, so this was back in 1998 when costs were lower but this is not the only factor impacting our ability to experience all 50 states.

1. Geographical Location

Depending on where you live, many states will be easier to visit than others. For example, for those that reside in NE USA, you should be able to explore the New England states relatively quickly given their geographical proximity to each other.

little rock arkansas

However, from that part of the country visiting states such as Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas are probably not quite as appealing.

2. Airports and Flight Routes

Our closest airports are Memphis (about a hour away) and Little Rock (about two hours) but neither of them have a great selection of flight routes. Southwest Airlines which has been our preferred airline over the past two years given that we acquired the Chase Rapid Rewards Visa card and subsequently the Companion Pass in 2014, operate out of both airports but with limited routes.

This has a detrimental impact on your ability to visit different states, especially some of those that are hidden away and have no international or even ‘major’ airports, except for maybe one that may not be geographically located where you want to travel to.

3. Costs

Both of the above factors leads to our next concern – cost! This is undoubtedly the major drawback of traveling around the States, predominantly because of the distances you have to cover to explore somewhere new.

There are low-cost airlines out there and we have been fortunate over the last year that gas prices have been relatively low, but the overall cost of traveling is certainly not getting any cheaper!

4. Time Constraints

“How do you guys find so much time to travel?” The million dollar question that we are frequently asked (along with cost). It’s all about time management of course but I will say that we are both fortunate to be working at a university that has great holiday/vacation benefits so we certainly maximize this time! Long weekend getaways are what we thrive on but at the same time there is only so much traveling you can do in a 2-3 day weekend.

haymarket district nebraska

Some of our most epic road trips such as through the Ohio Valley and another trip to Iowa, Nebraska and other Mid-West states were done over a weekend. But it’s tough trying to manage your time effectively enough to see all 50 states.

5. Definition of ‘Visiting a State’

Think about what you personally consider to be the definition of ‘visiting a state’. For some it may be simply heading through an airport while others may think that you have to spend a night there to constitute claiming you have visited ‘x’ state.

visiting all 50 states

We personally follow the philosophy of if we have spent some time in a state, outside of the airport, and spent some dollars (e.g. hotel, gas, food, souvenirs etc.) there, it is worthy of us claiming that we have visited there. For some states, you may not have any interest in doing anything else so I think this is a pretty good starting point.

Our Top 10 Lists

Without going into detail on all 46 states that we have currently visited (that’s what our website is for right!), we decided to give you a breakdown of what we have enjoyed and what we have disliked while exploring USA. Our opinions differ, just as I am sure all of you reading this will have different opinions, but that’s the beauty of traveling.

We all have different tastes so we are going to share BOTH of our top 10s with you and perhaps you can relate to one or both of us.

Chris’ Top 10 Favorite States

  1. New York
  2. Utah
  3. Massachusetts
  4. California
  5. West Virginia (District of Columbia)
  6. Wyoming
  7. Florida
  8. Connecticut
  9. Tennessee
  10. Arizona

Any logic behind the above list? Of course…I LOVE New York City! The ‘Big Apple’ was my first experience in the States and I immediately fell in love with the ultimate 24 hour city of the world. We have also been fortunate to explore other parts of New York which was really cool including Rochester for the PGA Championship at Oak Hill and Buffalo for Niagara Falls.

new york city

From one side of the country to the other, Utah, Wyoming and Arizona are both included in my top 10 list simply because of the national parks. Yellowstone, the Mighty 5 in Utah and Grand Canyon are simply breathtaking and I can’t wait for an opportunity to return to all of these.

Who knows if this list will change once we have visited Hawaii, Alaska, North and South Dakota, but one thing is for sure that the aforementioned states will always remain near the top of my fondest places to visit around the world.

Heather’s Top 10 Favorite States

  1. New York
  2. California 
  3. Maine
  4. Alabama
  5. Missouri
  6. Tennessee
  7. Wyoming
  8. Washington
  9. Nevada
  10. Arizona

Here are Heather’s comments on why she picked the above list:

We both have very similar tastes when it comes to appreciating places, but of course with a few twists thrown in there! New York is amazing, the feeling of pride and so much culture the minute you walk up out of the subway and on to Times Square is a moment I will treasure every time I visit.

visiting all 50 states

Being from the central part of USA, I have been fortunate to experience states like Missouri and Tennessee pretty frequently but each time I enjoy them because we seem to stumble across something new and interesting to explore. Alabama beaches (Gulf Shores and Orange Beach) seriously are out of this world so that has my heart when it comes to sun and sand.

gulf shores and orange beach

Who wouldn’t mind a little rain up in Seattle walking around the public market and sampling the first Starbucks, while you are out west travel down to try your luck in Vegas and check out what Nevada has to offer outside the casino’s.

As you can see New York is at the top of both our top 10 lists and why not…it’s amazing!

visiting all 50 states

The Final Four

46 down and only 4 to go!

North Dakota, south dakota, hawaii & alaska…we hope 2016 will be the year!

The questions you may be asking are, how are we going to reach the final four and when will we hit the magic 50. We are hoping that 2016 will be the year. We already have a pretty hectic travel schedule planned for the rest of 2015 so realistically trying to visit any of our final four states will have to wait until next year.

We are delighted to have some added inspiration from some of our fellow travelers who have already visited these states. Their pictures are awesome and of course their hints and tips just make us want to explore these states as soon as possible! Thanks everyone for collaborating with us.

1. North Dakota

We think that visiting both North and South Dakota will be done on the same trip. I have a couple of ideas in mind, one being a road trip from Arkansas over a long weekend but this is probably ambitious given that Sioux Falls, South Dakota is 11 hours (743 miles) from Jonesboro, Arkansas…and that’s just to the southern corner of the state!

Perhaps a better approach would be to fly into Minneapolis next year for the Ryder Cup 2016 to be held in Chaska, Minnesota. From here we could drive to the Dakotas and visit both before flying back if we did a loop from Minneapolis.

Betsy Wuebker from Passing Thru shared her thoughts on North Dakota and why the perfect way to explore this state is by one of our stereotypical road trips!

North Dakota is an unsung hero, rich in spirit and natural resources. The one thing you must do here? Road trip! Just a few miles from NoDak’s western border with Montana, Theodore Roosevelt National Park rewards you with vistas of rugged badlands, painted canyons, and sweeping prairie.

north dakota visiting all 50 states

Continue east, stopping off in friendly cities placed about 50 miles apart (a day’s train travel in the 19th century). End up in Fargo, and good-humored residents will remind you that its namesake movie was actually filmed elsewhere.

Everywhere you’ll see the state’s wealth, not only in oil and crops, but pioneer-like pluck in its people. While there are many wonderful things about North Dakota, its miles of cheerful sunflower fields might just be our favorite.

2. South Dakota

Meanwhile South Dakota is one of those states that you may think has very little on offer…I know I was a culprit of thinking this but how wrong could I be!

Lucy Hemmings from Lucy’s Miles Away shares her experiences in South Dakota and of course highlights Mount Rushmore as a must-see attraction not just in the state but across USA.

While on our road trip around North America, my travel buddies and I picked out a handful of landmarks we wanted to see. Some of them were obvious – the Grand Canyon, Times Square and the Golden Gate Bridge… but Mount Rushmore in South Dakota? Maybe not so obvious. 

mount rushmore south dakota

While it might not be most people’s top choice – I think it deserves to be up there. The sheer size and detail is enough to amaze – it baffles me how it was made so flawlessly, plus it’s worth visiting South Dakota just to appreciate the beautiful landscape too – the rugged badlands, long stretches of roads dotted with canyons and waterfalls, not to mention the quaint little towns. 

mount rushmore south dakota

One last tip – if you do visit Mount Rushmore, be sure to check your photographer has included the main attraction in the photo! 

3. Alaska

We are tentatively thinking about visiting Alaska over July 4th weekend. This is probably one of the better times to travel to Alaska in terms of the weather and we would both really love to head north of Anchorage and explore Denali National Park.

How much we can see in the time we have available I am not sure, but this is a state I am excited about visiting and one that I consider to have potential to climb into my top 10 list.

Thanks to Lance Longwell from Travel Addicts for sharing why Alaska is yet another perfect road tripping state (let’s be honest all 50 states are best explored by hopping in your car and heading along the highway!).

The one thing to do in Alaska is road trip!  Alaska is the last vast wilderness in the United States.  You really don’t appreciate the scale until you’re in it. 

Everyone knows Everest is the highest mountain in the world, but Alaska’s Denali is the tallest – from base to summit (Hawaiians will object and claim Mauna Kea is taller, but it is mostly underwater). 

alaska

Visiting Denali National Park and seeing this massive beast of a mountain should be at the top of anyone’s list, and the best way to get there is to road trip.

4. Hawaii

Hawaii I foresee being the toughest state to visit, even in 2016! The distance is such that I feel a 2-3 day trip there would not justify the cost and time it takes to actually get there especially out of Arkansas. Perhaps this is a trip for either the Labor Day or Memorial Day weekends depending on the rest of our travel schedule.

Karilyn Owen from No Back Home has been fortunate to visit Hawaii and she shares her opinions on the Big Island and why this will be a trip we will never forget!

The Big Island of Hawaii is an adventure lovers dream. With so much to do and see, it’s difficult to choose just one thing, but our family pick is a visit to Papakolea Beach, aka green sand beach.

hawaii visiting all 50 states

Getting there is half the adventure. You can hike 2.5 miles through hot and windy coastal scrub lined with 4×4 tracks or you can pay a local to get a ride down in his truck. We recommend hitching a ride to save your strength for playing in the water. One of the few green sand beaches in the world, this is a must see.

big island hawaii

Alternatively, you can hike the Kilauea Iki Trail at Hawaii Volcanos National Park. This 4 mile hike takes you through lush rainforest, down into a crater lined with steam vents before taking you back into the rainforest. Hiking in a solidified lava lake with steam vents lining your path is truly a once in a lifetime hike that even non-hikers can get into.

Summary

It’s been an amazing adventure so far exploring 46 states but we are always ready to experience more! We would like to reiterate our appreciation to our fellow travelers who shared their inspirational recommendations and stories on our four remaining states. Hopefully 2016 will be the year where we visit these but whatever happens we have some exciting journeys ahead of us.

How many US states have you experienced? Which are your favorites and why? Have you visited any states and been disappointed? What do you constitute as actually visiting a state? So many questions but please feel free to share your opinions below!

11 COMMENTS

  1. My husband visited all 50 states before he turned 51 – in his 50th year – so I, in turn, had to do the same. His last state was Alaska and mine was Wisconsin. Some people have reacted with “What’s the big deal? I don’t get it. Or why you would want to visit all 50 states?” and some think it’s super cool that we completed the challenge. If you ask us our favorite state, which most people do, his answer is South Carolina, because that is where we choose to live and love it. And I guess me, too. But our second favorite state is Hawaii – we both loved, loved, loved it there and want to go back. Great insight – and good luck on the last 4!

    • Thanks so much Jill! I like keeping track of stats like number of states visited but experiencing all of these states is more than just a numbers game. So many cool things to see while exploring USA, and yet there is still so much more to see even though we have visited 46 of them. That’s the beauty of traveling right 🙂

  2. This is fantastic! Someday I’ll make it to all 50, though I honestly think I’ve seen more of the outside world than I have my own country at this point! I dream of buying one of those VW hippie vans and making my way across the continental US of A. Good luck getting to those elusive last 4! 🙂

    • I was thinking the exact same thing about England! I have probably seen more of USA now that I ever did when I lived in England for the first 24 years of my life. But I think when you move away or start traveling further afield, that’s when you truly appreciate your homeland. Road tripping around USA is definitely the way to go 🙂

  3. Just finished my 50 state quest this weekend with a trip out to Alaska (and plan to go back next month). I’m 34 and my fiance is 29 and we managed to visit them all together in a span of 6 years – so your timeline really hits it on the head I think. We lived in D.C. and have also visited Puerto Rico, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, so we hope that we can complete the major territories as well with visits to USVI and American Samoa!

  4. Great post. I also have 46 left and if you switch Colorado and South Dakota, my list would be the same. I do, however, feel differently about what it takes to visit a state. Delaware and Kansas were literally 5 minute visits. Drove in, put my feet down and kept on my journey. My philosophy is, you can’t argue I wasn’t there 🙂

    • Your philosophy is spot on Aaron! Delaware is one state that we haven’t really spent much time in but it’s relatively small so there isn’t a great deal to do there aside from drive straight through it 🙂 Since the time of this publication, we have now reached all 50 states having experienced Hawaii in January. Even though we have hit all 50 which is of course an awesome accomplishment in our opinion, we still have SO MUCH more to see in every state. Let our travels continue 🙂

  5. Cool blog! I’m at 49 out of 50 myself. In 2014, I realized that life had taken me to 33 states already and that most of the 17 remaining were in the western half of the US (I live in CA) so it was doable. So I started banging them out. Over the last 3 years I’ve visited 16 new states over twelve trips, leaving only North Carolina left, which I hope to get to in August of 2017.

    Three factors that helped me visit all these states are: living in the northeast (NH, NY, NJ) until I was 27, my parents moving to Tennessee when I was 18, and living in California since I was 27. Plus winning an Alaskan cruise in a raffle when I was 36 helped, too. 🙂

    My rule is that “everything counts, except for layovers.” A layover where I leave the airport would count, but I’ve never done that.

    Sadly, there are three states I’ve spent less than an hour in (Arkansas, Alabama and West Virginia) that I would like to “upgrade” someday. These three states I basically drove into (or through) because I was nearby. And while I can claim I’ve probably spent 9-10 hours in Delaware and more like 16 hours in Ohio, they were basically pass-throughs and not proper *visits* (but at least my feet were on the ground and I ate something there, which I cannot claim for AR, AL and WV)

    One of these days I’ll “upgrade” those 5, but I’m in no hurry. Need to get to North Carolina first.

  6. Thank you for sharing your journey …This is amazing!

    Being able to fulfill our daughter’s goal to visit all 50 States, before turning 10 years old, was one of the best gifts we have given her. We had an amazing time traveling the country. We are happy to have been able to experience this with Isabella. Here is a video highlighting Isabella’s quest to see all 50 states.

    https://youtu.be/LHQs8gsN_ig

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