The United States of America: Land of the free, home of the brave, and country of unending opportunities.
And I’m about to road trip through every corner of it with my best friend and my dog.
Before we dive into that, though, let’s back up a little bit. In my e-mail list and scattered variously throughout this blog, I always do my best to encourage people to travel their own countries.
That advice, however, marks me a hypocrite.
I’ve seen about six states but stepped foot in nine (layover flights and whatnot), but any prospect of seeing all 50 was always low on my bucket list.
Deciding to Pack Up and Go… Again
Before I left for New Zealand, I was consistently bombarded with inquisitors demanding to know what I planned next. At the time, I didn’t think there would be an “after New Zealand.”
To me, New Zealand was it. I was so thoroughly convinced that I would never want to leave New Zealand, and when I said “goodbye” to California, I said goodbye to California.
Well, things changed, and quickly.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to stay in New Zealand, but visas know how to present obstacles. I wanted to convert my Working Holiday Visa into a permanent resident visa, but without a sponsored job, I was out of luck.
As my year in New Zealand neared its end, I was forced to think of the very question that taunted me long before I even set foot on foreign soil:
So… What do I have planned next?
America still wasn’t high on my list when I thought of where I should travel.
Truth be told, the year I spent in New Zealand was the entire duration of the 2016 presidential election. Watching all of that unfold from outside of American borders — no matter which side of the coin you support — was disheartening. Why should I come back to a place that saddened me when I could hop just across the ocean and spend the next year in Australia, if I wanted?
My decision to travel America, in the end, birthed itself.
While I was in New Zealand, I rewrote my entire first book, Immortality Awaits. One of the main reasons I traveled in the first place was due to my hatred for the First Edition of that book. I published it when I was too young and naive, and I wanted to put myself in my character’s shoes to flesh out the text.
I got everything I could have asked for and more in New Zealand.
After I finished the first draft of the revision, I decided I wanted to release the Second Edition in the city the story starts: Lowell, Massachusetts.
Living in California, I now had the option to drive across the country to make this happen. I wanted to spend some time in Lowell working on the final edits before I released the book, and the opportunity for the road trip of a lifetime weaved itself inside of my mind.
The purpose of the trip is simple: Travel to each of the Northern states and their capitols on the way to Massachusetts, release the book, then finish out with the Southern states and their capitols. As Hawai’i is one of the states I’ve already seen, I knew it would drive me crazy leaving Alaska as the only state I haven’t been to. Conversely, since I’m visiting all the capitols, I knew I couldn’t have a picture outside of every capitol building but Hawai’i. Therefore, I need to see all 50.
Along the way, I face a new obstacle I never faced in New Zealand: Challenge the negative portrayal of American media and show people all of the things that already make this country great.
The Difference Between New Zealand and America
When I traveled to New Zealand, I went alone. I didn’t know anybody, I threw myself into a whirlwind of confusion, and I conquered a foreign country.
Taking on America is different.
It isn’t hard to figure out there’s some scary things happening in America. The truth is, I didn’t feel safe traveling every state by myself. I asked around for people to join me, but to no avail.
When I gave up on finding human companionship, I turned to what has become the biggest challenge but biggest asset to this trip:
My dog, Piper.
Shortly after I got Piper, my best friend from New Zealand, Josh, informed me of tickets on sale from New Zealand to America. With a cheap ticket to San Francisco, I heavily encouraged Josh to purchase one and join me on this trip.
Planning the Road Trip
Before I’d invited Josh, I had already devised a “rough sketch” of the trek I’d make across the states. I could, of course, immediately follow Randy Olson’s trip across the 48 continental states if I wanted to take the easy way. That course would have me enter at least every mainland state and all the major landmarks, which is still more than most people do.
I, however, needed more.
The addition of the state capitols alone added a lot of miles, and I wanted the satisfaction of plotting everything out by hand. That process itself was simple, albeit time consuming. Here’s what I suggest doing if you’d like to do it for yourself:
- Pick a starting location. (If you’re coming to America from another country to execute this trip like Josh, this is an obvious duh. If you already live in the States, wherever you live is the perfect place to get going.)
- Pick an ending location. This trip, for me, is split up into the two trips: The North, and the South. They’re each expected to take around 4-5 months to complete, with the additional 2-3 months in Massachusetts finishing the book.
- Pull up Google maps, iPhone maps, or whatever map access you have. You can even buy an All-American Road Atlas, or use the Rand McNally TripMaker (as used in all map photos in this article).
- Look at each state individually. For us, Josh flew into San Francisco, which is where our trip starts. Zooming out on maps and looking at California as a whole, I merely picked out all of the stops along the way (being a California native helped.) Doing that for the rest of the states, however, took the most time.
- Get directions from each location to each location. For example, our second stop after San Francisco is San Jose, so I Googled the distance between the two cities and recorded it.
- Do this for every city, every state, every stop along the way.
- Have a fully mapped-out itinerary.
The Road Trip Itinerary
Before long, you’ll find yourself with an itinerary that looks a little something like this: (Please note, this is only for the first half of the trip that takes us through the Northern states. I’ll get to the Southern later.)
- San Francisco Airport – Muir Woods: 29 miles
- Muir Woods – San Jose: 64 miles
- San Jose – Santa Cruz: 33 miles
- Santa Cruz – Monterey: 42 miles
- Monterey – Pinnacles National Park: 53 miles
- Pinnacles National Park – Paso Robles: 82 miles
- Paso Robles – Pismo: 42 miles
- Pismo – Santa Barbara: 82 miles
- Santa Barbara – Long Beach: 115 miles
- Long Beach – Hollywood: 30 miles
- Hollywood – Anaheim: 32 miles
- Anaheim – San Diego: 95 miles
- San Diego – Joshua Tree National Park: 164 miles
- Joshua Tree – Bakersfield: 217 miles
- Bakersfield – Fresno: 109 miles
- Fresno – Yosemite: 92.2 miles
- Yosemite – Sacramento: 166 miles
- Sacramento – Santa Rosa: 98 miles
- Santa Rosa – Fort Bragg: 117 miles
- Fort Bragg – Eureka: 154 miles
- Eureka – Mt. Shasta: 216 miles
- Mt. Shasta – Central Point, Oregon: 83.8 miles
- Total: 2,116 miles
- Central Point – Coos Bay: 161 miles
- Coos Bay – Siuslaw National Forest: 90.4 miles
- Siuslaw National Forest – Salem: 95.4 miles
- Salem – Portland: 47.4 miles
- Portland – Astoria: 96.8 miles
- Astoria – Olympia, Washington: 122 miles
- Total: 613 miles
- Olympia -Mount Rainier National Park: 64 miles
- Mount Rainier National Park – Seattle: 64.6 miles
- Seattle – North Cascades National Park: 107 miles
- North Cascades – Spokane: 379 miles
- Spokane – Payette, Idaho: 338 miles
- Total: 952.6 miles
- Payette – Boise: 58.5 miles
- Boise – Craters of the Moon: 174 miles
- Craters of the Moon – Lava Hot Springs: 137 miles
- Lava Hot Springs – Idaho Falls: 84.7 miles
- Idaho Falls – Jackson, Wyoming: 88.4 miles
- Total: 880.6 miles
- Jackson – Yellowstone: 80 miles
- Yellowstone – Big Sky, Montana: 99.9 miles
- Total: 179.9 miles
- Big Sky – Butte: 119 miles
- Butte – Helena: 67.8 miles
- Helena – Glacier National Park: 193 miles
- Glacier National Park – Great Falls: 172 miles
- Great Falls – Lewis and Clark National Forest: 54.4 miles
- Lewis and Clark National Forest – Mount Harlow: 122 miles
- Mount Harlow – Billings: 147 miles
- Billings – Bighorn National Forest, Wyoming: 163 miles
- Total: 1,038.2 miles
- Bighorn National Forest – Shoshone National Forest: 132 miles
- Shoshone National Forest – Casper: 208 miles
- Casper – Cheyenne: 178 miles
- Cheyenne – North Platte, Nebraska: 222 miles
- Total: 740 miles
- North Platte – Lincoln: 229 miles
- Lincoln – Ashland: 23.6 miles
- Ashland – Omaha: 28 miles
- Omaha – Ponca State Park: 122 miles
- Ponca State Park – Yankton, South Dakota: 52.1 miles
- Total: 454.7 miles
- Yankton – Sioux Falls: 79.5 miles
- Sioux Falls – Pierre: 225 miles
- Pierre – Weta: 111 miles
- Weta – Hot Springs: 144 miles
- Hot Springs – Rapid City: 57.1 miles
- Rapid City – Mud Butte: 88.1 miles
- Mud Butte – Bowman, North Dakota: 129 miles
- Total: 922.7 miles
- Bowman – Theodore Roosevelt National Park: 75.3 miles
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park – Bismarck: 134 miles
- Bismarck – Rugby: 147 miles
- Rugby – Devil’s Lake: 58.4 miles
- Devil’s Lake – Grand Forks: 89.7 miles
- Grand Forks – Fargo: 81 miles
- Fargo – Mankato, Minnesota: 271 miles
- Total: 856.4 miles
- Mankato – Clear Lake, Iowa: 108 miles
- Clear Lake – Iowa Falls: 52.2 miles
- Iowa Falls – Des Moines: 81.8 miles
- Des Moines – Iowa City: 114 miles
- Iowa City – Davenport: 56.9 miles
- Davenport – Cedar Rapids: 83.1 miles
- Cedar Rapids – Waterloo: 54.6 miles
- Waterloo – Rochester, Minnesota: 114 miles
- Total: 556.6 miles
- Rochester – St. Paul: 80.6 miles
- St. Paul – Minneapolis: 13.4 miles
- Minneapolis – St. Cloud: 65.7 miles
- St. Cloud – Land o’ Lakes: 113 miles
- Land o’ Lakes – Duluth: 112 miles
- Duluth – Chequamegon National Forest, Wisconsin: 97.7 miles
- Total: 482.4 miles
- Chequamegona National Forest – Eau Claire: 118 miles
- Eau Claire – Green Bay: 194 miles
- Green Bay – Oshkosh: 50.3 miles
- Oshkosh – Madison: 86.6 miles
- Madison – Milwaukee: 79.1 miles
- Milwaukee – Kenosha: 41.3 miles
- Kenosha – Chicago, Illinois: 66.4 miles
- Total: 635.7 miles
- Chicago – Springfield: 202 miles
- Springfield – Champaign: 86.9 miles
- Champaign – Indianapolis, Indiana: 126 miles
- Total: 414.9 miles
- Indianapolis – Fort Wayne: 126 miles
- Fort Wayne – Kalamazoo, Michigan: 122 miles
- Total: 248 miles
- Kalamazoo – Holland: 53.3 miles
- Holland – Grand Rapids: 28.7 miles
- Grand Rapids – Lansing: 68.2 miles
- Lansing – Ann Arbor: 65 miles
- Ann Arbor – Detroit: 42.9 miles
- Detroit – Toledo, Ohio: 59.2 miles
- Total: 317.3 miles
- Toledo – Lima: 78.8 miles
- Lima – Cincinnati: 126 miles
- Cincinnati – Columbus: 110 miles
- Columbus – Wayne National Forest: 130 miles
- Wayne National Forest – Wheeling: 74.2 miles
- Wheeling – New Philadelphia: 52.6 miles
- New Philadelphia – Cleveland: 85.9 miles
- Cleveland – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: 147 miles
- Total: 804.5 miles
- Pittsburgh – Jamestown: 90.3 miles
- Jamestown – Erie: 58.2 miles
- Erie – Jamestown, New York: 48.7 miles
- Total: 197.2 miles
- Jamestown – Buffalo: 70.7 miles
- Buffalo – Niagra Falls: 23.5 miles
- Niagra Falls – Rochester: 79.8 miles
- Rochester – Syracuse: 88.5 miles
- Syracuse – Albany: 146 miles
- Albany – Manchester, Vermont: 60.6 miles
- Total: 469.1 miles
- Manchester – Burlington: 100 miles
- Burlington – Montpelier: 38.8 miles
- Montpelier – Lancaster, New Hampshire: 64.6 miles
- Total: 203.4 miles
NEW HAMPSHIRE (1)
- Lancaster – Story Land: 46.7 miles
- Story Land – Carrabasset Valley, Maine: 131 miles
- Total: 177.7 miles
- Carrabasset Valley – Bangor: 96.3 miles
- Bangor – Mount Desert: 44.6 miles
- Mount Desert – Augusta: 99.4 miles
- Augusta – Portland: 69.6 miles
- Portland – Concord, New Hampshire: 90.8 miles
- Total: 400.7 miles
NEW HAMPSHIRE (2)
- Concord – Manchester: 18.1 miles
- Manchester – Lowell, Massachusetts: 33.6 miles
- Total: 51.7 miles
CURRENT PROJECTED TOTAL: 13,821.3 miles
As I said, this is just the first half of the trip. After the final stop in Lowell, we’re going to take a much-deserved break before I publish the book and move South.
After You Plot the Road Trip
Regardless, after the initial plotting is done, there are a few steps you should take to make sure you have the best possible trip:
- Familiarize yourself with every state’s driving laws. Maximum speeds vary, legal limits of alcohol vary. Some states have cameras over the stoplights, some states have “speed light” cameras that ticket you. The more you know about the driving laws in each state, the less likely you’ll be to break one and damper your trip. It may not hurt to familiarize yourself with a few regular state laws while you’re at it. Remember, the less negative attention you draw to yourself, the better.
- Make sure your vehicle is ready for the trip. Check tires, battery, engine, brake fluid, oil, the whole nine yards. The better shape your car is in before you go, the less likely you’ll be to have a breakdown.
- Research things to do in every place you’re going. This is pretty standard for every trip, but consider the vastness and diversity of America. Every city, every state, every county is different from the one right next to it. They each have something unique and memorable to offer — but it’s your job to find them.
- Buy an America the Beautiful pass. If you’re into nature at all, this will be vital. Priced at only $80 and valid for a year, this pass permits entrance into every National Park in the country. That includes over 2,000 locations that are each priced at around $10-40 apiece for entrance. Buy online or at the gate of any park.
- Enjoy America. It’s no secret the media blasts the negative, and after watching a misrepresentation of America for a year, I’m choosing to challenge that. The landscapes in this country are among the most incredible in the world. The diversity spread across the borders is what makes tourists so eager to catch a glimpseof the land. Enjoy every second of it while you have the chance.
Join the Adventure
From this point, I’d like to invite you on the journey with myself, Josh (the kiwi), and my dog, Piper. Through this blog, the podcast associated with it, and our brand-new vlog, come along as we examine all of the finer aspects of the United States of America.