If someone would have asked our newlywed selves about our future travel plans, we would have said that we would travel without our child until around the age of ten. It seemed logical. Traveling can be expensive, and who wants to spend that kind of money on trips that the kid(s) will not even remember. Then our daughter was born, and our thoughts changed. We were not willing to leave her at home nor were we willing to give up traveling.
Shortly before our daughter was born, a friend casually mentioned that our child would be the only child at her school starting kindergarten having visited all fifty states. We thought that statement was absolutely crazy. There was no way, no how that she would be that well-traveled at such a young age. After all, it definitely did not mesh with our pre-child thoughts.
It took eight months before we decided to take our first domestic trip with her. Her first international trip was at just over one year old. We have not looked back since.
Even though we did not realize it at the time, we jumped right on into traveling to all fifty states with her. The first two years of our United States travels with her kept us in the eastern half of the country. We found when she was young it was beneficial to keep her as close to her normal schedule of meals, naps, and bedtime as we could. Thus, time changes far from our own time zone were not preferable. The next year we ventured into the mountain west then on to the west coast the following year. The first four years of travel had us all over the United States. There were fifty states to choose from, and we often chose based on cost and convenience. Many of those trips were road trips or a combination of flying to a city then road tripping from there.
Then this thing called school popped up, and oh my, was that an adjustment! Our daughter is in a public school Montessori program. We found that school certainly impacted our trip planning as we now were forced into smaller windows of time to travel. Still, she started four-year-old kindergarten with thirty-two states visited. By the end of the school year, visited states increased to forty-two thanks to a New England fly and road trip during the last week of school. During the entire summer, we only managed to visit one new state. Kindergarten started at forty-three and ended at forty-eight with zero new states during summer break. Our daughter made it about three weeks into first grade before Labor Day weekend brought a road trip to state forty-nine. That was state fifty (Michigan) for us parents. We sometimes laugh that our fiftieth state is in our own time zone. Spring Break will bring state fifty (Hawaii) for our daughter which will mean all fifty states before the end of first grade.
One of our family rules is that we all must learn something during our travels. We incorporate many National Park Service sites into our itineraries. If available, we always take part in the Junior Ranger programs. To be honest, generally speaking, we believe that we have learned more during our travels than we ever did about the same subjects in school. Perhaps because when one is standing in Lexington or Concord, Massachusetts it is actually a real place versus something mentioned in a classroom setting. No amount of stories read or told could have ever prepared any of us for experiencing the thunderous sound of glaciers calving in Alaska.
To be real, we had to have a “mean parents” moment in Glacier Bay because a certain five-year-old wanted to watch The Lion King instead of looking at the glaciers. We have definitely learned that as well traveled as she may be, she is still a kid and sometimes wants to do kid things. We have visited more parks and zoos around the country than we can count. We have had meltdowns over (the lack of) Cheetos on the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. Sometimes we have eaten at the same restaurant multiple times on trips because she eats well there. Travel with kids is sometimes difficult. However, fostering her love for travel and learning far outweighs the tough times.
Our first travel goal of visiting all fifty states is soon to be complete. We are still deciding on what may be next, though Canadian Provinces (five down, already) or continents are both considerations. We know for certain what two constant themes will be – never stop learning and never stop exploring!