If you know me, you know that I love to travel. I absolutely hate staying in one place for long, and I jump at the opportunity for a new adventure. One of the top items on my bucket list is to visit all 50 states by the time I'm 30 years old. To be honest, if I keep up at the rate I'm going (averaging 8-10 new states a year), I may reach that goal well before 30.
My current total is 29 (and I'm trying desperately to make it 30 before this year is over, because even numbers are better...). In the spirit of reminiscing and catching the travel itch, I thought I'd list my favorite thing I've done in each state. And in addition, my bucket list for the remaining ones!
Arizona - the Grand Canyon, obviously.
California - seeing the Santa Monica Pier, Hollywood, the Walk of Fame, & Beverly Hills (even though they were crowded and stressful), and also swimming with sea lions in La Jolla
Colorado - visiting Denver and seeing the mountains in Colorado Springs
Connecticut - this was a business training trip, but it was my first solo plane ride, so that's fun!
Delaware - spending my freshmen year at University of Delaware
Florida - spending a week with my very best friends in West Palm Beach after graduating high school, and going snorkeling for the first time!
Georgia - I guess I always just drive through Georgia, so I suppose I need to do something more fun than stopping at a Cracker Barrel next time I'm there
Illinois - Chicago! One of my top 5 favorite cities! And going up to the Willis Tower Sky Deck.
Indiana - visiting family for the first time and exploring a small town
Maryland - well.. I live here... Baltimore is growing on me, Annapolis is always a great time, and I've recently discovered a new love for Western MD. Having city, mountains, and ocean is pretty sweet.
Massachusetts - getting to finally visiting Boston after a lifetime of infatuation with it, and touring my dream college. Oh, and going to a Red Sox game at Fenway!
Michigan - exploring Detroit and Benton Harbor with my mom
Montana - West Yellowstone was pretty neat, but so was finally finding coffee at 5am after a few days of being on a tour bus with caffeine deprivation
Nevada - Vegas... I'll never go back, but it was cool to see once. Plus, our hotel had a water slide that went through a shark tank!
New Jersey - Again, I think I mainly just drive through, but I remember visiting the Statue of Liberty from the Jersey side as a kid.
New Mexico - walking around Santa Fe and trying to figure out why there were homeless (by choice?) hippies wearing dresses and yelling at cops. And eating the best fajitas of my life.
New York - New York City isn't worth the hype in my opinion. Upstate NY is where it's at. Hands down favorite memory ever was spending a month in the Adirondacks on Saranac Lake and volunteering on summer staff at Young Life camp
North Carolina - I've been a few places in NC, but my fav was spending time with my best friend and her family and getting to see where she spent her summers as a kid
Ohio - being in Cleveland during a Cavaliers NBA championship game against the Warriors
Pennsylvania - Philly will always be cool, but I really just love dog sitting for my godparents in the middle of nowhere
Rhode Island - pit stop in Providence for lunch on the way home from Boston, seeing Brown University was pretty awesome
South Carolina - okay, this is a worst memory; being forced to go to a Kid Rock concert by my mother and having my first panic attack... Thanks, Bobby.
South Dakota - Mount Rushmore, but it's smaller than you'd expect
Tennessee - going on a road trip with my Poppop, and having that memory now that he's gone
Texas - LOVE TX! Seriously, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Amarillo, I loved it all. Going to a rodeo and seeing Cadillac Ranch were a few highlights
Utah - Salt Lake City was pretty, and seeing Temple Square was neat too, but hiking in Arches State Park takes the cake!
Virginia - going to Rockbridge for Young Life camp three different summers in high school, where I rediscovered Jesus and began my relationship with him
West Virginia - honestly, the best part about going to WV is playing John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads" on repeat
Wyoming - exploring Yellowstone with my best friend and our bus tour full of non-English speaking Asians
My musts for the remaining 21 states!
Alabama - go to Talladega Speedway
Alaska - be there for the Iditarod and go dog sledding!
Arkansas - visit Little Rocker & Eureka Springs
Hawaii - scuba with the sea turtles, explore a volcano
Idaho - visit Boise, and as many natural sights as possible
Iowa - go to the National Balloon Classic
Kansas - see Monument Rocks
Kentucky - do an Underground Cave Boat Tour
Louisiana - visit New Orleans
Maine - eat lobster, because I feel like that's a must do
Minnesota - Mall of America!
Mississippi - visit Jackson
Missouri - see Thorncrown Chapel
Nebraska - explore Omaha
New Hampshire - go to Robert Frost's home
North Dakota - go to Badlands National Park
Oklahoma - successfully avoid any tornadoes, and probably visit Tulsa or Oklahoma City
Oregon - visit Portland, but also do a ton of nature stuff, maybe camping?
Vermont - try skiing? This might take some self-convincing
Washington - visit Seattle and go to the top of the Space Needle
Wisconsin - I'm sure there are a ton of great things to do, but I would really just want to take a picture in a cheese hat by the Welcome to Wisconsin sign...
If I could offer one piece of advice to anyone who uses social media, whether it the younger generation growing up in technology, the older generation introducing themselves to Facebook, or my twenty-somethings generation trying to find themselves in the world, my advice would be this; do not compare your life to the life that others post on the Internet. What you see is not what you get, simple as that. When you really think about it, it is sad that edits, filters, and ‘the right angle’, are what encompasses the pictures we post online and what we share with others.
I recently took a road trip around the northern Midwest and one of my many stops was in Chicago, Illinois. I spent one night in the city, but man, did it take me by surprise. Chicago was full of incredible architecture, fun sights, and unique personality. The streets were clean, the people were friendly, and I never felt uncomfortable or unsafe. (Granted, my visit was confined to a small area of The Loop and therefore my experience is somewhat skewed, and I’m sure that there are parts of Chicago, just like any other city, that may not match my description.)
So let me walk you through my stay, where I visited, and what I ate- just in case you’re thinking of visiting the Windy City sometime soon.
Giordano’s – After the Willis Tower adventures, we were starving and didn’t want to search for food. Luckily, Giordano’s was right across the street and the sign in the window promised Chicago’s #1 stuffed pizza. Now, you cannot visit Chicago and not have stuffed/deep dish pizza for at least one meal during your stay. Just know that it takes about 45 minutes for your pizza perfection to reach your table, but it’s so worth the wait. And it’s safe to say that any type of diet or clean eating goes out the window in Chicago.
Cloud Gate / Buckingham Fountain – Two incredible sights to see in the parks and only about a 20 minute walk between each other. Cloud Gate, also known as The Bean, is the giant metal sculpture that Chicago is known for and is located in Millennium Park. It’s pretty neat considering it reflects the skyline in an artistic manner, however, every tourist will be visiting the sight and therefore any picture you attempt will be a bit crowded. Once you make it to Buckingham Fountain, which is next door in Grant Park, the crowd calms a bit and the fountain is so intricate and beautiful, you’ll just want to stare at it. One of the largest fountains in the world, it puts on a fantastic water show by day, and a light show at night. Plus, there are plenty of benches surrounding the fountain where you can sit and enjoy the view of the skyline behind the dancing water jets.
Buck’s Four Star Grill – This little food joint is right next to the fountain and can easily be missed, however it’s the perfect place to grab a Chicago style vienna hot dog while taking in the view. Order from the window and sit on their patio and try an all-beef dog with chopped onions, tomatoes, a pickle slice, and scout peppers, all on a poppy-seed bun. Add whichever condiments you like, except for ketchup! Apparently, it’s an unspoken rule that you just don’t eat ketchup on hotdogs in Chicago.
Chicago Riverwalk – One cool aspect about the city is that the Chicago River winds right through the skyscrapers and buildings. So as you’re strolling around, take the stairs down to the river and walk alongside the water, watching the boats and kayaks float by. Don’t forget to glance upwards for a magnificent view of the architecture!
Navy Pier – This is also a must-see during your stay. Extending into Lake Michigan, this pier offers view of a lighthouse, the lake’s surprisingly clean water, and another skyline view of the city. There are multiple shops and restaurants, as well as a Ferris wheel, and a variety of boat tours and cruises to choose from. Navy Pier is a premier host for many events, however it also suffices for a nice stroll on a warm day or a fun adventure as a tourist.
1. Mind the Gap
This really won’t be that hard to do considering those exact words are painted on the ground and announced from the speakers at every single tube station stop. You’ll actually grow quite fond of it and may even find yourself reciting it to your friends in your best (or worst) British accent. Regardless, this is an important tip because there is indeed a gap between the train and the platform and falling victim to it would really put a damper on your London adventures.
2. Buy an Oyster Card
An Oyster Card is a handy, dandy little card that holds the amount of fare that you load onto it, and you scan it each time you enter and exit the Tube station. If you don’t purchase a card, then you’ll have to buy a ticket for each trip. The card itself costs a few pounds, however, if you return the card to a kiosk before you leave London, you’re refunded that fee. Stay aware of how much money you have on your card because if you don’t have enough for a trip, the gates won’t let you through and then you’ll have to reload, or “top up”, which can take a while depending on the crowds.
3. Avoid Rush Hour
Just like you experience “rush hour” on the highway, the Underground also experiences this dreadful occurrence, especially considering most people use this public transportation to get to and from work. If you’ve ever heard the saying “like a can of sardines” and never actually experienced what that may be like, hop on the Tube during the evening rush and you’ll soon find out. You’ll be packed in with as many people that can squeeze into that car, plus a few extra. My best advice here- try to get to the back of the car and find a standing spot. Not only is it convenient to have the wall to lean on, but there is a sliding window that creates a marvelous breeze that will be a lifesaver when the temperature is rising and you’re feeling Closter phobic.
4. Blend In
This technically could be general advice for the American traveler in any country. Americans are notoriously known as loud and obnoxious and you don’t really want the stares that accompany this idea. The British are quiet and reserved people, especially on the Tube. Most people are by themselves, listening to music or reading a book. Those in pairs or groups either sit silently or converse in hushed tones. Hopping on the train with you girlfriends and giggling loudly will cause you to stick out and reinforce the “noisy American” stereotype, and you’ll probably earn yourself some dirty looks.
5. Map Out Your Route Beforehand
If you haven’t seen the Underground route map yet, go ahead and take a second to Google it right now. It’s a bit overwhelming, but once you learn how it works then it’s a breeze to navigate. Before you depart to a new place, I’d recommend going to http://www.tfl.gov.uk/plan-a-journey/, and you’ll be able to map out the journey. Just be sure to pay attention to the station names as you’re going along and hop off the train at the correct one! If your destination requires you to get off of one line and then onto another, don’t panic, just prepare ahead of time and pay attention while you’re on the Tube, and you’ll be fine!
6. Take Advantage
London is a marvelous city, and the fact that the public transportation is at your fingertips is just another reason to step outside of your comfort zone and explore. You can get from one side of the city to the other in such a small amount of time, so utilize this incredible underground transportation and have a blast in London!
One of my biggest pet peeves lately is when people tell me I must be rich because I travel a lot, or make comments like “it must be nice that your parents pay for your trips”. Firstly, nobody else has ever paid a dime for my traveling aside from myself, and secondly, I am not rich, I’m a college student. It is fully possible to travel smart, on a budget, and debt free, it just takes a little extra planning. Last summer, my two best friends and I road tripped from Texas to Southern California, and this upcoming summer, I’ll be touring through Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, and Utah. So how are we able to afford such trips on a student’s salary? Here are a few tips.
Be Geographic – One way that I am able to see so many places in a short amount of time is because I always plan to see multiple states along the way. For example, the road trip that the girls and I took this past summer consisted of five new states because we were smart about the route we were taking. Instead of just flying out to California, we started in Texas and drove the remainder of the way, which allowed us to see the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and a ton of secret gems (like Cadillac Ranch and Hope Outdoor Gallery). At the same time, we decided not to drive from the east coast to the west coast because that would have gotten pricey, so we compromised on half way. Even when I visited Boston, I just changed my route by an hour and was able to stop for lunch in Rhode Island. This summer, my adventure is taking me to five (possibly six) more new states, simply because I am geographic in my planning. If you’re already going to be in Colorado, why not see Wyoming while you’re there, right?
Do Your Research – This takes time, but that’s all a part of the fun! Map out multiple different routes. Research all of the famous and off-the-beaten-path attractions that you want to see. Roadtrippers is an awesome website and phone app that lets you add your start and end points and everything in between. I also faithfully use Pinterest when planning my trips. Just search the city you’ll be in and you’ll find what there is to see, do, and eat there. Usually, you’ll also find tips and tricks from the locals or others who’ve traveled, which are always helpful to read and consider. Plus, there are always a ton of free things to see and do in each city! In my opinion, Pinterest is the best travel agent you could use.
Make a Plan – After you’ve done your research and narrowed down where you’re going and what you’re going to see, turn that into a plan. Write it all out, draw maps, add pictures. Whatever it is you need to do to have a solid itinerary. For our road trip, we listed each city we wanted to see and how long it would take to drive from one to the other, then we picked stopping points for meals and breaks. We even had a schedule including what time we would need to leave the hotels in the morning to make it to the next city before dark. (Tip: make sure you factor in time zones!) We also listed our must-see sights and our “it would be cool if we saw it but it isn’t a dire necessity” sights. Call us crazy, but we even made a food passport with multiple different food options for lunch and dinner in each place. Doing this kind of research before you go is super helpful when you’re all hungry and tired and can’t cooperate long enough to figure out where to stop; it’s already right there in your food passport! Also, if any of your activities require tickets, purchase them and print them out ahead of time, that way you know how much you’ve spent and don’t have to worry about it once you’re there. We saw a rodeo in Dallas and even saved a couple of bucks from buying in advance.
Budget – Once you figure out where you’re going, budget out transportation and hotels. This was pretty simple for us because we knew we would need six nights total in hotels so we gave ourselves a maximum of $100/night on a room. This would total out to $600 total, split three ways, so we’d each only pay $200/person. That was our budget. In reality, we only spend $480 on hotels, costing each of us only $160. As for flights to Texas and home from California, we found the cheapest airline and made sure we bought at the prime time. Many sources say that the Tuesday six weeks before your flight is when tickets are cheapest. Take that as you will, but we bought our flights for less than $500 total. In addition, we were smart about our rental car. We ended up having two separate cars from two separate companies because it was the cheapest way to go. Also, keep in mind that you save by picking up and dropping off at airports instead of neighborhood locations.
Ways to budget even better:
All in all, road trips are the best way to see the most. They may be a lot of work to plan, but I promise it’s worth it. Overall, for two rental cars, six hotels, two flights, gas money, excursions (Disney Land, rodeo, snorkeling, etc.), food, and miscellaneous spending money, each of us spent less than $1500 on our two-week trip. If you’re able to charge most of those expenses on a credit card, then it’s much more manageable. I’d also recommend a travel rewards credit card, because at the same time you’re earning points for your next trips (I already have enough for another flight!).
If you’re passionate about travel and seeing new places, then you’re smart in how you go about doing so. Just because you are a full-time college student in your 20s working a part-time job, doesn’t mean you have to spend your summers at home. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
After this summer, I’ll be halfway through the 50 states. Happy Traveling!
Cliche tourist photos and selfies in front of iconic attractions are great and all, but here are some tips I learned in London for different types of pictures that will help you remember your time abroad differently.
We are so used to taking pictures at eye level. We typically capture skylines and silhouettes, but I challenge you to look up when visiting a new place. Check out the architecture, learn the uniqueness of the city, explore from a different angle. I honestly have no clue where this picture was taken, but I can remember the story behind it clearly. We were on a photography excursion for class, and this was during our lunch break. We ate at a nearby café and, while eating outside, I noticed the interesting building art and string of lights connecting to the apartments. This picture allows me to remember unique parts of that day, because it is different from all of the other photos I took. Just look up.
Teach yourself about extended exposure and shutter speed. Learn techniques to capture motion and you’ll remember your trip in a whole new way. Luckily for me, I was taking a photography class in London and was supplied with a tripod and instruction on how to take such a picture, but a street bench and Google will do the same thing. This intersection is not relevant or important, however this picture captures the iconic red, double decker bus in a non-traditional way. When I look at this, I remember the constant bustle of those busses and their movement throughout the city. You can hop on public transportation and see all of London, traveling from one end to the other.
Don’t be afraid to look silly getting up close and personal with a plant or inanimate object. If it looks cool, take a picture, because those pictures will last forever and there are just some things you don’t want to forget. Photograph signs, flowers, animals, books, food, and your coffee cups. Embrace it! Don’t just take pictures of yourself, but really capture your surroundings. I took this picture at South Bank next to the Thames River at a little farmers market. They were selling plants and flowers and I remember the fragrances filling the air and the shelves of burlap. Yes, I probably looked ridiculous taking this, and no, the plant isn’t even that appealing, but it’s a detail of my day and a pleasant memory of South Bank that now I won’t ever forget.
Be creepy, be brave, don’t be subtle. Photograph the locals, their activities, and their culture. You’re in a new place and it’s inevitably going to have some cultural aspects that are different than back home. Embrace it! This photo is another shot from a class project, and my professor asked permission for us to set up tripods across the street. We all thought it was awkward and creepy, but a cool picture came from it. One thing I won’t forget about London is all of the business people gathering around the pubs after work for a casual drink and conversation with a stranger. There is movement, there is laughter, and there are stories. We received some humorous comments from our subjects, but nobody had an issue with a group of Americans capturing a scene that was routine to the locals. This picture encompasses what I learned of London culture.
Sometimes we forget to take a picture of the things we see every day or that are typical to us. Hotel rooms, rental cars, your morning coffee shop, the view from your window. These are the things that make your trip special and so why not capture them! This is a picture of the incredible floor-to-ceiling windows in our dorm room. Firstly, we were incredibly lucky to even score a triple room accommodation, but then the room ended up being gorgeous, so of course I took a bunch of pictures. This one is my favorite because it shows the amazing window, the light that it would let in, and the exterior of the buildings on that street. I also love that the window is open, because that’s how it remained for the duration of our stay because our room did not have air conditioning, which is typical in Europe. I am also reminded of the fact that, during the time we were in London, they were experiencing an abnormally hot summer and the longest drought they’d had in a few years, another fun tidbit from my trip.
Usually, when someone begins the process of looking into studying abroad and researching all of the different programs and countries, one of the first thoughts that come to mind is, “well, I’m not sure I feel comfortable traveling to and living in a foreign country alone.” That’s actually completely normal and makes a lot of sense considering that the unknown can be very frightening.
If you talk to anyone who has studied abroad alone, they will tell you that it was one of the best experiences of their lives because they were able to meet new people, make new friends, and form lifelong connections from all over the globe. I encourage you to go alone, to test your limits and learn about who you are while exploring a whole new world full of independence and adventures.
However, if you feel more comfortable knowing that you have a familiar face by your side, or if you and your best friend have been planning to go abroad together since you were kids, then by all means, do it! I studied abroad with AIFS during the summer of 2013 with my two very best friends, and it’s been the greatest experience we’ve had together. Nevertheless, there are still some dos and don’ts that I recommend in order to get the most out of your time abroad.
DO: Embrace the touristy and cliché together
Let’s be honest here, we all see the artsy pictures on Pinterest of a pair of friends candidly laughing next to the Eiffel Tower or pretending to hold up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Ask someone to take your picture and don’t be afraid to look silly because I promise you that memory will be worth it. Take a million photos. Sightsee. Try new foods. And do it all together! You’ll gain so many great new inside jokes and stories that will only strengthen your friendship! Did my best friends and I all hang outside of a classic London photo booth and make telephone shapes with our fingers? You bet we did!
DON’T: Miss out on what you want to do
A great aspect of studying abroad is that you’re inevitably going to meet other Americans on your trip, as well as the locals where you’re living. If there is something that you’ve been dying to do, but the friend(s) you came with aren’t interested, do not sacrifice it. Make a new friend who shares that interest and go together! In fact, it’s sometimes easy to miss out on meeting new people if you’re constantly in your tight-knit circle, so I encourage you to make plans with different people, and encourage the friends you came with to do the same. It’s okay to leave the group and explore new things. Make a list before you leave of the things that you don’t want to miss out on, and hold yourself to that. One of my best friends went on the Harry Potter Studio Tour with a few of the other girls in our photography class and she’ll tell you that it was one of her favorite things she did in London. Which then leads me to my next point.
DO: Explore on your own
You’re in a foreign country, you may not speak the native language, and you aren’t familiar with the area, so obviously use caution and common sense when exploring independently, but don’t miss the chance to do so. Sometimes it’s nice to be alone with your own thoughts instead of constantly doing things with the same people. I attended the Aston Martin Centennial Celebration car show in Kensington Gardens alone and had so much fun. No one was interested in going with me, but I knew I didn’t want to pass it up, so I went anyway. You’re a college student, you’re young, and you’re figuring your life out. Why not do it in a beautiful foreign land? Grab some coffee, take a stroll, find a bench with a nice view, and journal your thoughts. You’ll be amazed at how you see things differently in solidarity.
DON’T: Let your friends define your experience
Ultimately, this is a once in a lifetime experience and something that is so much more meaningful than the fact that you’re traveling with your besties. Don’t forget to really take in your surroundings and the culture. Define your time there independently from the way that your friends define it. Challenge yourself to discover new things and to change your outlook on the world. Your friends are going back with you to the States, but your time abroad is limited, so don’t leave with regrets.
What I Write About: