By Guest Blogger Karen Jacobson

Today’s blog is about a grand adventure that took the blogger a mere 46 days to cover 48 states with her kids. A trip of this magnitude might take weeks or months plan, but now could be the perfect time to organize (and save money) for an adventure like this for next summer. Or perhaps your family wants to venture out now while learning remotely! Either way, be sure to follow CDC guidelines and use your best judgement wherever your travels may take you!

My late husband and I had a shared goal of getting our two children to all 50 states before they finish high school. Being a thorough planner, he began mapping out the country with educational themes such as Civil War South and Colonial New England and figuring out at what age each of these would fit best with what they might be learning in school. When he passed away in 2016, I was determined to still get them to all 50 states, but changed strategies. I decided to get 48 states done in one trip.

I had seen Randal Olson’s maps of 48 state road trips and was fascinated. He has multiple maps for the most optimal routes for road trips both in the US and abroad. I highly recommend you check out his website here. The beauty of his maps are that you can start from anywhere and wind up right back where you began; no need for one way plane tickets or travel to starting points. We chose the route that would take us to 48 state capitals.

I like to take a little more spontaneous approach to travel, but I knew I had the time constraints of summer vacation to work within, so I took the Randal Olson map, calculated the distance and driving time between each capital, then divided it up into manageable chunks that I knew I could drive in a day, since I would be the only driver. We also added in few side trips and extended stays to see family and friends, so I had to calculate those in as well and make some adjustments to our route. A college friend of mine lives in Manhattan and offered us the use of his apartment, so we spent a few days there so the three of us could each live a dream – Ellis Island for me, a Broadway show for my daughter and the Nintendo store for my son. Among other things, we spent some time in Illinois with my in-laws and in my old hometown of Tulsa and made multiple special stops to see things like Mount Rushmore, the Space Needle, the Winchester house and the St. Louis Arch.


So this became our summer challenge for 2018. To complete the challenge, we had to collect postcards from the 48 states and get pictures of the 48 capitol buildings. We also tried to get pictures of all the welcome signs at each state, but sometimes the kids slept through them and as the driver, I couldn’t safely snap them.

We packed up my little Subaru Impreza and hit the road as soon as school got out, generally spending between 8-14 hours a day on the road, and we just had a ball. If we saw something we wanted to check out, we stopped and checked it out.  World’s longest candy counter in New Hampshire? Yes please!  Alpine Slide in South Dakota? We rode it again and again. Make saltballs (instead of snowballs) in the Great Salt Flats of Utah? Absolutely!

I did not make hotel reservations before we left home. Instead, as we began to approach our approximate planned stop for the night, we would search for a place to stay, racking up multiple free nights along the way. I wanted to keep the flexibility in case something took us a little longer or we felt up to pushing the drive a little farther. This served us well as we found fun places to visit, as well as when my daughter caught a stomach bug that delayed us by a day, and also when we got rear-ended in Seattle and got stuck waiting 3 days for the car repairs.


Amazingly, I didn’t really start to get road fatigue until we were well into our second half of the trip. I distinctly remember passing the welcome to Iowa sign and deciding we were going to stop early. I was asleep by 7 pm and slept until nearly 8 am. But I never once thought, “I can’t wait to get off the road and be home.” In fact, when we got to Atlanta, we treated ourselves to a couple nights at Great Wolf Lodge and somewhere in all the fun we had, we all found ourselves getting a little teary-eyed about the fact that we were almost home. After finishing our last state capitol of the trip, we made a joint decision to spend the night in Columbia rather than drive home because we just wanted one more night on the road.


In my ideal world, we would have taken more time to stop at more landmarks and visit more friends and family than our timeline allowed, but I loved every minute of this trip and am so grateful I was able to do this with my kids. It was a lot of driving, 15,391.7 miles to be exact, but worth each and every one.

A few practical tips:

~ Knowing I was going to take this trip, I started stockpiling gas and restaurant gift cards throughout the year to use on the road, sometimes getting them cheaper during store promotional sales.
~ I joined all the hotel rewards programs, but found was the quickest and most flexible way to earn free nights on the trip.
~ I bought license plate sticker books on Amazon so we could track all 50 state plates. It was a fun bonus challenge and so exciting when we finally found Hawaii!
~ The Next Exit” by Mark Watson is an invaluable guidebook to exactly what is at every interstate exit. It was helpful for the kids to look for upcoming food, gas and rest stops without using my phone, which I needed for navigation
~ To keep kids off screens the whole time, we downloaded books on tape, listened to podcasts, had photo contests and bought some of those invisible ink game books.
~ Keep an eye on the mileage so you can plan for oil changes on the road and be able to find a find a facility.
~ One thing I wish I’d had was a dash cam to capture all the pictures I couldn’t take at the wheel.
~ Be flexible and take everything in stride. Sometimes the unforeseen changes in plans turn into the most wonderful memories.

~ For a twist on this adventure, consider this blog 5 Tips to Cross Country Camping in a Pop-Up Camper” from our archives!
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