Monday, March 16, 2015

Our 50 Nifty United States Adventure

Are you singing the song right now? I certainly hope so. If you're too young to know the reference, please watch this short video before going any further. You're welcome in advance.

Yeah, the 80s were as awesome as you imagine them to be. So much jingoistic pride and an evil Communist enemy to justify it all. Sigh. RIP, USSR.

Anyway, Jay and I are actually attempting to take all six of our family members to all 50 of the nifty United States. We have high hopes and a slightly indeterminate timeline. We are planning for most of them to be done in the next 2 years, but outliers (looking at you, Alaska and Hawaii) are going to be a bit of a stretch. And I've already been to both of them so, you know, tie goes to me.

I'll be sharing our trips and some pictures and such, but I thought I'd do an explanatory post that sets up our reasoning, our "rules", and our goals for these trips. So, first things first; what counts as visiting a state?
Our scratch-off map of the USA-how cool is that?
For our purposes we must spend the night inside the state's borders AND do something unique to that state. Most major cities have an art museum, a science museum, an aquarium, a zoo, a botanical garden, and a children's museum. So unless that city has a world class facility (think MoMA, the San Diego Zoo, or the Smithsonian) we avoid those types of attractions. Ditto goes for colleges and universities, although we may visit one if we really can't find a kid-friendly thing to do in that state (let's hear it for the Cornhuskers)! I have a strong preference for natural landmarks and historical sites so we will be focusing primarily on those types of attractions.

Secondly, we are not attempting a comprehensive tour of every state nor will we attempt to visit each state equally. It's just not possible given our monetary restraints, the ages of our kids, and the number of miles between states. I am fully aware that most states have many beautiful or unique characteristics, but we cannot see all of them, especially with small children. So, yes, although I would love to cross your crazy bridge, West Virginia, the thought of doing it with my boys who have yet to develop a fully-formed concept of death makes be break out in a cold sweat. Which leads me to my next point...

We will be sticking close to major highways (and therefore, hospitals), major cities (and therefore, hospitals), and staying primarily in chain hotels (they are usually near hospitals). Before you think me a crazy hypochondriac I would like you to know that we have yet to go on a trip with 3 or 4 kids where everyone remained well the entire time. And I have walked to an emergency room in downtown Philly in the pre-dawn haze holding a baby who was having a hard time breathing. Don't judge me. Also, most places do not take kindly towards 6 people in one room and larger cities have more suite options. This is not an off-the-beaten path kind of adventure. Yet.

Because Jay and I have a deep appreciation and love for well-made food that we did not prepare ourselves, we will also attempt to eat something locally famous in every state. The goal is to do our best on that one--great restaurants are not always kid-friendly and new foods are not always compatible with small kids and long car rides. And as we all know, hungry children need food fast and I will not beat myself up if we eat at Schlotzsky's because it was what we could find in a hurry.

Some Logistics: We are not leaving our lives and driving around for 3 months. Jay has to work because we are not independently wealthy and we all like to eat on a regular basis.  Instead, we will be using our flexible school/work schedule to take long weekends and 7-10 day trips until we are finished. The intent is for us to drive to as many destinations as possible. That is useful, because we can pack the faithful minivan with our road trip necessities (which, sadly, now involves Clorox wipes, a roll of paper towels, and garbage bags instead of trashy magazines and massive amounts of chocolate), but it also means more time spent in travel. Clearly we will have to strike a balance. If we fly, kids have to be able to schlep their own stuff. Actually, that holds true when we drive, too. We are not planning our trips too far in advance so that we can work around extreme weather, peak crowds, and Jay's work responsibilities. Clearly, we have more flexibility for spontaneous trips the more we drive.

So, what do we hope to achieve?

Well, selfishly, it is a personal goal of mine (and Jay's). I like games and somewhat arbitrary goals and this is a fun one for both of us. We also want to instill a love of travel in our kids and the joy of seeing and learning new things through personal experiences. Obviously, we are also excited about spending time as a family developing a host of those shared experiences that are unique to our family team. We do NOT expect our kids to remember every state and completely understand Westward Expansion or the Civil War when we are done. WE will remember and that is good enough. Also, I need them to love maps as much as I do.

Traveling with small kids is never efficient, never convenient, and always vaguely embarrassing (except when it is overtly embarrassing). Tour guides will always comment on or to your children. They can't seem to help it. In fact, guided tours are not usually our friend, but that's a post for another day. Strangers will mention that you "have your hands full" as they walk by, arrogant in their unencumbered saunter and ability to have meals and go to the bathroom WHENEVER THEY WANT.

But that's okay. Our kids light up at the thought of museums and monuments and road trips. And, honestly, so do I.

***In case you, for some odd reason, notice that I don't ever write about the few states we've already all been to, I wanted to list them here.
  1. Georgia--obviously. If you live somewhere else and want to cross GA off your list head to Atlanta (super easy by plane or car) or Savannah (easiest by way of South Carolina)
  2. Florida--I have no idea how many times I've been to Florida. All of our kids have been to Disney World and to the Gulf Coast beaches, both of which are fun for families if you've never been.
  3. Tennessee--lots of Tennessee is beautiful. Memphis, Nashville, and Chattanooga are all fun places. Chattanooga has a little more for kids (they can't hit the Nashville music scene just yet) and it is close (2.5 hours) to Atlanta.
  4. Washington--This crazy far one is because Jay's sister lives there. We spent a week visiting her and saw Seattle, Tacoma, and my absolute favorite, Mount Rainier. We also got lots of stares and comments in the airport, the car rental place, and everywhere we went with four kids. One lady asked to hold my youngest for a picture to prove to her sister that you could, in fact, take a baby on Mount Rainier. I said yes. 

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