Growing up in a lower-middle class home in Connecticut, I didn’t have the opportunity to leave New England often. School field trips to seemingly exotic locations like New York City, Washington, D.C., and Quebec offered me chances to see what was beyond the cul-de-sacs, rolling hills and murky beaches of my home state; these new places sometimes felt like different planets, despite still being located on the East Coast.
Throughout high school, I was attracted to the idea of being in a rock band, because people in bands got paid (well, sometimes) to tour the country and spend every night in a different place, each one distinct in its culture and landscape. I daydreamed all throughout classes of venturing past the East Coast—to the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River, the Rocky Mountains, the desert, the Pacific Ocean—while my classmates seemed determined to get good grades so they could attend the local college and work some office job. I wanted more than that. I wanted adventure, I wanted to be constantly moving and seeing new things and meeting new people, and I wanted the time and money to be able to explore the rest of a country that had felt so impossibly vast for most of my life.
The band idea didn’t work out (but that’s another story). However, the summer before my senior year of college I did embark on an ambitious road trip, the catalyst for the wanderlust of my twenties. My then-boyfriend and I decided we wanted to go to the Grand Canyon. We were both signed up for summer classes, and had only nine days to drive there and back. We had no idea what we were doing—how draining twelve to fifteen hours a day of driving would be, that we would only have about three hours to even spend at the Grand Canyon, that there were so many other beautiful things to see within a day’s drive of our destination. We went to Four Corners, but I didn’t know until years later that Antelope Canyon and Monument Valley even existed, and now they just sit impatiently towards the top of my bucket list. As soon as we were home, I wanted to be back on the road exploring more of the country, and I promised myself that I would get back on the road after graduating.
A few months later, at a family party, I told some of my relatives whom I don’t see often about the trip. My uncle, whom I’m not sure has ever really left New England, said to me, “You’ll probably never do something like that in your life again.” This comment made me so angry. I was sick of older adults telling me that my life would essentially be over once I entered the “real world,” that the best memories I would ever have would happen by the age of 20 and then I would have nothing to look forward to the rest of my life. I wasn’t going to just get a job and get married and have children and “settle down” and all of that as soon as I left college. I refused to live like that.
So, as I do with every comment someone makes about something I “can’t” or “won’t” do, I decided to prove him wrong. Nearly every year since I graduated college, I have gone on a road trip. Sometimes it’s just a weekend trip to upstate New York. Sometimes it’s a trip spanning multiple weeks and thousands of miles. Some are with friends, some are completed solo. Some have been successful, others have left me broken down in the middle of nowhere. I’m not taking a break until I’ve checked off all 50 states. And then once I have children (and they’re big enough to actually do fun stuff), I’ll do it all again, because it’s impossible to see everything a state has to offer in one trip, and because I want my future kids to actually see the world and have a greater appreciation for their country.
What constitutes visiting a state, you ask? If I’ve eaten a meal there and/or spent the night, the state gets checked off. Normally I’ll try to do more than that, but so far, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky and New Jersey have just passed the minimum requirements with me. (Though I’ve sold my soul in toll fees to Indiana and New Jersey… multiple times.)