Going on an incredibly ambitious journey, I set out to travel all 50 states of the United States in just 50 days after having traveled the world for free two years early (actually from Germany to Antarctica without money).
This new challenge would take me from the northeastern corner of the country in Portland, Maine, to the picturesque islands of Hawaii in the Pacific. As I started this adventure, my goal was to visit each state and face one unique challenge that embraced the spirit and essence of that particular state.
I planned my route to ensure a smooth and efficient journey, considering the shortest path across the country. The route resembled the shape of a “W,” starting from the northeast and heading southeast, then south, traversing the Midwest to the north, and journeying south again across the majestic Rocky Mountains.
Finally, I would head north along the breathtaking West Coast until I reached Seattle. From there, I would board a plane to Alaska and continue my journey to the magnificent state of Hawaii, where I would conclude my incredible adventure.
To make this audacious feat possible, I had to consider several vital aspects that would contribute to the success of my adventure. Let’s dive into the seven factors that made my travel work:
1. The Right Vehicle
Traveling all 14,000 miles within the 48 mainland states required careful planning and preparation. I acquired a well-equipped van that became my trusty companion throughout the journey.
The van was equipped with a mini kitchen, allowing me to prepare meals on the go and saving valuable time that would have otherwise been spent searching for restaurants or diners.
For example, in Montana, I enjoyed cooking a meal in my van using food from a supermarket, relishing the region’s flavors. Unfortunately, there was no time for a campfire or a farmer’s market to improve this.
Advice for you: Plan Your Route
Carefully plan your route, considering the most efficient path across the country. Consider visiting iconic landmarks like the Statue of Liberty in New York, the Arizona Grand Canyon, or the California Golden Gate Bridge—research lesser-known gems such as the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee or the stunning coastline of Oregon.
By planning your route strategically, you can include these must-see attractions.
The shortest route across all 50 US states here
2. Choose Parking Options
I frequently parked and slept in Walmart parking lots for safety, convenience, and easy access to amenities.
These locations provided a secure place to spend the night, and they were situated next to their grocery stores, allowing me to stock up on supplies and use clean restroom facilities quickly. This strategy ensured a comfortable and hassle-free experience as I traveled from state to state.
In Ohio, I parked at a Walmart, took advantage of their free Wi-Fi to plan my next day’s challenges, and conveniently restocked my supplies before heading to the next destination.
Advice for you: Overnight Accommodations
Consider a variety of overnight accommodations to suit your preferences and budget. While hotels and motels provide comfort and amenities, camping in national parks or RV parks can provide unique experiences and bring you closer to nature.
For example, you might find yourself camping under the stars in Yellowstone National Park or waking up to the sound of crashing waves at a beachfront campsite in Florida.
3. Research and Plan
To execute my challenges efficiently, I meticulously pre-planned all 50 of them before setting off on my adventure.
Each challenge was carefully tailored to reflect the unique characteristics and offerings of the respective state.
For instance, in Tennessee, I decided to immerse myself in the rich musical heritage of Nashville by attempting to write and perform a country song within 24 hours. With the help of local musicians, I tried to compose a heartfelt ballad that captured the essence of the state’s vibrant music scene. The result was called “great entertainment” by the locals, not sure if I’ll make it one to become a country singer.
Advice for you: Start your Research Early
Before your trip, take the time to research each state and its unique characteristics thoroughly. Identify the key attractions, landmarks, and cultural aspects that define the shape.
This will help you tailor your challenges to reflect the essence of each location. Consider engaging with locals, browsing travel blogs, or consulting guidebooks to gather insights and ideas.
Seek Local Expertise and Support
Engage with locals who can provide valuable insights and guidance. Connect with musicians, artists, or experts related to your challenge. They can offer advice, share their experiences, and even collaborate with you to enhance your challenge.
In Tennessee, the assistance of local musicians helped create an authentic and memorable country song experience.
Ideas for planning your trip here
4. Set Necessary Boundaries
While there were numerous opportunities along the way, such as friendly invitations to people’s homes or exciting prospects to extend my stay in a particular state, I set firm boundaries to ensure I stayed on the quickest route.
It was essential to resist the allure of these detours and remain focused on my goal. In Utah, despite being tempted by invitation to experience the stunning beauty of Bryce Canyon National Park, I reminded myself of my time constraints.
I continued along the planned route, appreciating the park’s wonders from afar.
Advice for you: Set Boundaries
While spontaneous invitations and opportunities may arise, setting boundaries is essential to stay on track. Consider prioritizing attractions and activities that align with your interests and goals.
For example, if you’re passionate about history, you might decline an invitation for a night out to ensure you have enough time to explore historical sites like Independence Hall in Philadelphia or the Alamo in Texas.
Let’s pause for a moment to enjoy Michael’s video trailer of this epic trip:
5. Time Management
To maximize my time and cover as much ground as possible, I devised a strategy to drive through at least two states daily, particularly in the smaller northeastern states. This approach allowed me to allocate more time to the vast and expansive states like Texas and California, where countless miles of driving awaited me.
Advice for you: Time Management
Plan your time wisely to make the most of each state’s offerings. You can allocate a shorter amount of time in smaller states, allowing you to spend more days in larger states with extensive attractions.
For instance, you could spend an hour or two exploring Rhode Island’s charming coastal towns and then allocate two days or more to fully immerse yourself in California’s vibrant culture and natural beauty.
6. Recover from the Pace of Traveling
The intense pace of the journey started to take a toll on my energy levels after reaching the 30th state, usually sleeping at most six hours and driving at least 500 miles a day.
To combat extreme tiredness and maintain my stamina, I developed a routine. Along with the much-needed fuel from copious amounts of coffee, I made it a daily practice to jump out of the van for a 45-minute run.
Even in the scorching heat of Death Valley, I would lace up my running shoes at 7 am, embracing the solitude and tranquility of the early morning hours while marveling at the breathtaking desert landscape.
Advice for you: Combat Fatigue
Long journeys can be physically and mentally exhausting.
Take care of yourself by incorporating rejuvenating activities into your routine.
For example, enjoy a scenic morning jog along the beach in Florida or practice yoga in a serene park in Oregon.
Additionally, consider incorporating relaxation hours into your itinerary, where you can indulge in a (quick) spa treatment or enjoy a leisurely day exploring a quaint town.
The adventure wouldn’t have been complete without embracing thrilling and exciting challenges.
In New Orleans, known as the birthplace of jazz, I took on the task of learning to play the trumpet within a mere 60 minutes. With the guidance of a local marching band, I immersed myself in the city’s vibrant musical culture, creating harmonious melodies that resonated with the soul of New Orleans.
Another remarkable feat was sprinting into the depths of the Grand Canyon within 60 minutes, conquering its 6,000-foot vertical descent and embracing the sheer grandeur of nature’s masterpiece.
Additionally, I seized the opportunity to throw a memorable party in the quaint town of Boring, Oregon, infusing the city with life and joy through a festive celebration that brought the community together. About ten people may have joined my spontaneous party.
Furthermore, I sought to experience unique encounters in each state. I visited an Amish farmer in Pennsylvania, immersing myself in their traditional way of life and engaging in conversations in old German, connecting with a rich cultural heritage that still thrived in this modern age.
Ideas for your 50 States Challenges:
- Conquer a Hiking Trail: Challenge yourself to tackle a marked hiking trail in each state. Each trail offers breathtaking scenery and physical challenges, from the Appalachian Trail in Maine to the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington.
- Sample Local Delicacies: Indulge in the culinary delights of each state by trying a signature dish or local specialty. From clam chowder in Massachusetts to beignets in Louisiana or deep-dish pizza in Illinois, immerse yourself in the flavors that define each region.
- Take on a Water Adventure: Engage in water-based activities that showcase the unique waterways of each state. Try white-water rafting in Colorado, snorkeling in Florida’s vibrant coral reefs, or kayaking in Alaska’s pristine fjords.
- Attend a Local Festival: Time your trip to coincide with a traditional or cultural festival in each state. Whether it’s Mardi Gras in Louisiana, the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico, or the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, these events offer a chance to immerse yourself in the local culture and celebrations.
- Challenge Yourself in Outdoor Sports: Engage in exhilarating outdoor sports and activities. Go surfing in California, skiing in Colorado, zip-lining in Georgia, or rock climbing in Utah. Each state offers its adrenaline-pumping adventures.
- Explore National Parks: Visit iconic national parks and challenge yourself to explore their unique features. Hike the rugged terrain of Zion National Park in Utah, witness the geothermal wonders of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, or marvel at the towering sequoias in California’s Sequoia National Park.
- Engage in Historical Immersion: Learn about each state’s history by visiting significant landmarks and museums. Explore the Liberty Bell in Pennsylvania, the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, or the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota.
Additional Challenges for Visiting US Cities:
- Explore Street Art: Discover various cities’ vibrant street art scenes nationwide. Challenge yourself to find and photograph unique and captivating street art pieces in cities like Miami, New York City, or San Francisco. Capture the creativity and cultural expressions found in these urban landscapes.
- Attend a Live Sporting Event: Immerse yourself in the electric atmosphere of a live sporting event in different cities. Whether it’s catching a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston, experiencing the energy of an NFL game in Dallas, or cheering on a basketball match in the iconic Madison Square Garden in New York City, join the local fans and embrace the excitement of American sports.
- Engage in Music History: Dive into the rich music history of cities known for their musical legacies. Challenge yourself to explore iconic music landmarks, such as visiting Graceland in Memphis, the former home of Elvis Presley, or walking the historic streets of Nashville, known as the “Music City,” and soaking up the sounds of country music. Explore the birthplace of jazz in New Orleans or visit Motown’s Hitsville U.S.A. in Detroit for a deeper appreciation of America’s musical heritage.
Remember, the key is to personalize the challenges to your interests and preferences. Whether you’re an adventure enthusiast, a foodie, or a culture lover, these challenges offer a fantastic way to create unforgettable memories and fully experience the diverse offerings of each state.
Embrace the spirit of adventure, and let the obstacles enhance your journey through all 50 states.
In conclusion, my adventure to travel through all 50 US states in 50 days was an extraordinary journey that tested my endurance, planning skills, and ability to adapt to new challenges.
I completed this incredible feat by meticulously considering various aspects, such as traveling in a well-equipped van, utilizing Walmart parking lots, pre-planning challenges, setting boundaries, maximizing time, combatting fatigue, and embracing exciting experiences.
From the stunning landscapes and diverse cultures to the unique challenges and encounters, this adventure allowed me to explore the rich tapestry of the United States and create memories that will stay with me for a lifetime.
Speaker and Challenge Seeker Michael Wigge
Award-winning motivational speaker, Michael Wigge, specializes in documenting incredible stories about achieving victory over challenges. ‘How to Travel the World for Free’, ‘How to Barter for Paradise’ (where he turned an apple into a Hawaiian dream home through his skills in bartering for bigger, better things), and ‘How to Travel Europe Blindfolded’ are just three of his seven travel shows. He shared his amazing success stories on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (alongside co-guest Katy Perry) and the Today Show. His TV programs and books have been broadcast and published internationally.
Based on his incredible experiences overcoming challenges, Wigge began performing motivational speaking engagements and started CMW Coaching & Speaking. His most successful corporate keynotes are Challenge-4-Change Leadership Success and Challenge-4-Change Sales Success. He currently delivers presentations in the corporate arena, on college campuses, and for private clients in the US and as a speaker in Germany.
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