50 States Club


Professional Econ Nerd

How often do you travel for work?
If I count up the days, I’m on the road about four or five months of the year. Frequent travelers talk in miles: 86,720 miles flown since January; I will probably hit around 100k for the year.

How long did it take you to visit all 50 states?
Approximately 30 years, with a big break in the middle. I visited my first U.S. state as a little kid. Now, I’m dragging my heels on state #50 (Kentucky).

What was the first state you visited & when?
North Dakota in the early ’80s. (Yes, N.D. is a real state. Yes, people live there. And yes, people visit. Mostly Canadians searching for cherry Coke and a Target.)

What was the last state you visited & when?
I checked Hawaii (#49) off the list about two years ago. State #50 is only five hours drive away from my front door… maybe one weekend this summer.

What are your rules for whether a visit to a state counts?
The rules are as follows: (1) airports don’t count (but feel free to keep another list of airports visited); (2) you must walk around; (3) you must buy something.

What has been your favorite state?
My favourite state to visit is Wyoming (#45).  I spent a week backpacking in the Grand Tetons and now can’t imagine a more beautiful spot in America. Alaska (#43) is also wonderful—at least in the fall and summer.

Least favorite?
I don’t have very nice things to say about New Mexico, probably because we headed south from Albuquerque and hit the wasteland that surrounds Carlsbad. Abandoned drive-ins, shuttered diners, and eerily few people surrounded us. You know it is bad when you eat dinner at the Wal-Mart two nights in a row.

Best meal you’ve had?
I’ve had awesome BBQ in Mississippi, vegan meatloaf in Nebraska, salmon in Alaska, steak in Montana, Papayasin, Hawaii, and avocados in California.

Worst meal?
Did I already mention the Wal-Mart in Carlsbad, N.M.?

Best souvenir?
I bought bright yellow t-shirt at the Starkville Café in M.S. and loved it to death. I also bought yellow t-shirts in West Virginia (“Go Mountaineers”), South Carolina (“Fort Sumter”), and Oregon (“Bike theft is bad karma”).

Best story?
I have lots of stories. I was caught in a storm in Alaska on a kayaking trip; I handed out campstove curry to random truckers at a rest stop in Nevada; and I narrowly escaped a serial killer on the beach in California (or, at least, this is what I believed at the time).  And then there was that time that I tried to go backpacking in Death Valley and ended up in Russia…

What advice do you have for people trying to make it to all 50 states?
(1) Detours are totally worth it.

(2) Don’t let the rental car agent convince you that you’ll be comfortable on a six-day, 2000-plus-mile trip (Dallas-Austin-Houston-Alexandria, LA-Birmingham, AL-Nashville-Memphis-Little Rock-Dallas) in his Dodge Magnum. You will not; you will be miserable.

(3) Buy the T-shirt.

(4) A can of Pringles and a Slurpee cup fit perfectly between the parking brake and your seat.

(5) Tents dry really quickly when draped across the chairs in a room at the Super 8.

(6) Don’t forget your aux cable. A road-trip isn’t a road-trip without tunes.

(7) Avoid national parks with food courts. Or, at least, avoid the food courts.

(8) Historical societies, particularly in small towns, give awesome tours.

(9) Road atlases provide way more entertainment than online maps. How else will you learn the state flowers? 

(10) Leave the airport.

 Photo caption: My favourite moment in my favourite part of my favourite state. (2008, credit to rmk)