As Americans so many of us take for granted all the awesome stuff we have right here in our own backyard. So many folks feel it's not a real travel adventure unless they're going somewhere exotic and far away like Europe, Asia or Australia (I admit, I too have a hankering to discover Australia). How refreshing it was for me to hear from the Richard family, who after trekking through all the Canadian provinces with their kids decided to embark on a quest to hit all 50 states here in the USA before mom turns 50. As Canadians, their perspective is unique and interesting and offers so many great reasons to get out and explore.
Darrie-Ann, 41 is a stay at home mom and literacy aid at the local elementary school in Amherstburg, Ontario ,Canada who loves to read and learn about history and genealogy. She suffers from an extreme case of wanderlust and her family is only too happy to go along. Her husband Jason works for for an international steel company, is an avid golfer and huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan. He has to travel often to the US for work, but that allows him to rack up lots of loyalty points that the family then cashes in to fund their adventures out on the road. Rounding out the family is son Ethan, 13, and daughter Emily, 10.
Their passion for road tripping started with Darrie-Ann's parents who took their 3 kids from coast to coast across the provinces and many northern states. After getting married the couple continued to road trip but the experience took on a whole new meaning once the kids entered the picture. Their goal is to try to show their kids as many places as they can, particularly parks, cities, and museums. "There is a good chance that they may study so much of what they see like history, geography, or art. It will make everything they learn and see more important and they will remember the fun they had there, and make the lesson more enjoyable too."
I was particularly intrigued to find out what they discovered in their travels that they loved about America that most American's take for granted. Without hesitation, their number one answer was our National Parks and monuments. "There are so many of them and they are so diverse, so incredible, and so AFFORDABLE! You can disappear into another world, and come out having seen beautiful vistas, wonderful wildlife, and usually a history lesson or two." Many years ago they purchased a National Park Passport for each of their kids. Darrie-Ann says it was the best $7.95 they ever spent. It has facts and information on all the parks and a place to put a cancellation stamp for every park they visit. They've even planned trips around getting stamps. The kids favorites have been the Lincoln Memorial, Mammoth Cave, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (the Gateway Arch in St. Louis), and the Everglades National Park. They cannot wait to explore the rest they have yet to see.
In fact, collecting is only one way they keep their kids engaged. Darrie-Ann and Jason also love playing audio books in the car to pass the time especially books that are connected to places they're visiting like The Little House on the Prairie which has connections to several states. And their all time favorite is the license plate game. The family still laughs out loud thinking about how Darrie-Ann and Jason both spontaneously broke out singing Sweet Home Alabama at the exact same moment while spotting an Alabama plate.
The Richards are an adventurous sort and that extends to eating as well. Their wackiest road trip meal you ask?-Alligator for lunch in the Florida Everglades. Can't say I'm as brave, but I have a funny feeling it tastes like chicken. They've also loved sampling beignet at Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans (who wouldn't!), deep dish pizza in Chicago, and green chili cheeseburgers and sopapillas in Old Town Albuquerque....YUM!
And since kids are always the best judges of what's really cool and fun, here are Ethan and Emily's top 3 sites in the USA that are a must for every Explore All 50 traveler-so take note!
Kashe-Katuwe Tent Rocks, New Mexico-and awesome place to hike into the clouds
US Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, Alabama-Home of space camp and a great place to learn about space
The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri-Going underground to the museum where you catch the coolest tram to get to the top
Sanibel Island, Florida-swimming, and collecting shells all while watching dolphins swim near the shore
Albuquerque International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta- "Everyone needs to see this once in their lives-800 colorful and creatively shaped balloons taking off from the field while you stand among them-Amazing"
New Orleans French Quarter by horse and carriage-A great way to enjoy this historic and beautiful place.
This summer the Richard family is heading to the pacific northwest. Darrie-Ann says they rarely fly anywhere which I find truly impressive. They are avid Explore All 50 readers and they've even taken my suggestion and named their vehicle calling it "Dixie". Darrie-Ann is currently at 38 states with only 12 left to go. I am cheering her on and am pretty confident she'll hit her goal of seeing all 50 before 50. I am just not sure Dixie is up for a drive to Hawaii....;-)