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All 50 states: Itinerary of a lifetime

Jim Vavrina and his bride, Jean, visited Pikes

Jim Vavrina and his bride, Jean, visited Pikes Peak in June 1968, during their six-week honeymoon. Credit: Vavrina family

Traveling can be the stuff of dreams. Every year, bags are packed for adventures on the other side of the world, or a mere car ride away. Some people are drawn to different cultures and climates; others are content with hearing the ocean at Montauk.

According to AARP, boomers are devoted travelers, spending more than $120 billion each year on travel; some ambitious wanderers plan four or five trips annually. Younger generations may quibble about costs, but boomers want what they want and are willing to pay for it.

AARP’s survey results for 2016 indicate boomers are hot for travel abroad: “It will be a year of once-in-a-lifetime trips for many boomers: 32 percent will be embarking on an international bucket list trip. International trips will be especially popular in the spring.”

But there are still a good number of boomers who will make domestic travel a priority, AARP says. This year, 26 percent of boomers who answered the survey have plans for multigeneration family trips within the United States.

For some Act 2 readers, travel plans in the past have included a visit to all 50 states. Some gave themselves an age deadline; others imposed rules for qualification, such as “driving through does not count.” Others made the 50-out-of-50 goal something to complete with a loved one. Here are their stories, edited for space, about how they accomplished their mission.

— Act 2 Editor Gwen Young



It took me 60 years to visit all 50 states! Growing up with a dad who was a professor at Hofstra University gave our family several months in the summer to camp around the country. Dad planned our itinerary with visits to many places of interest — especially historic sites, national parks, and educational factory tours that gave away free food!

Boxes of Kellogg’s cereals and glasses of Coors beer (my brothers and I had to stick with Rocky Mountain Spring Water) with pretzels helped sustain us. My least favorite tour was at a meatpacking plant. I guess Dad, the son of a butcher, found it a lot more fascinating than I did.

We occasionally splurged on a motel but our limit was $1 per person per night. It’s hard to believe now but $5 a night for a motel in the 1950s was actually doable!

It probably helped with our travels that I had grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins in 10 different states — from Connecticut to Hawaii — so we could stay with family. Among my favorite memories are exploring the Native American ruins of Mesa Verde, Colorado; spending Christmas in a tent in the Everglades (we were in Florida for my brother’s Midget Football game), and waving to the astronauts in their “Mobile Quarantine Facility” at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii with 25,000 others when they returned from the moon.

I had been to all but a few states while I was still a teenager. However, it was not until several years after I retired from 33 years of teaching and shortly before I became a grandmother that I visited the last three and was finally able to cross “Visit all 50 states” off my bucket list!

First was Louisiana, followed that same year by an Alaskan cruise with my travel group. Finally in 2007, I took one of many wonderful Elderhostel programs with two fellow Sagamore Hill volunteers which included a stop at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and they helped me cheer as the bus crossed the border into my 50th state, North Dakota!

My brother who lives in Hawaii, reminded me that I was the first in the family to check off all 50 states. He did not get to North Dakota until we crossed through in the middle of the night when he was part of our train trip with friends to Yellowstone a few years ago. He said I insisted he get off the train when we stopped so it would count! (Our other brother still has Alaska and North Dakota left to go.)

Toby Selda,




I have lived in New York my whole life. As a kid, I traveled throughout New England with my parents. In my first year of high school, I went on a school trip by bus down to Washington, D.C., passing through the mid-Atlantic states. At 17, in the summer between high school and college, two buddies and I drove down the Eastern Seaboard to Key West, Florida, and then took a ride to New Orleans, driving back home on a northeast course.

The following summer, one of these buddies, plus three others and I, took a 2 1/2 week drive to the Southwest — turning north after Arizona and Nevada, heading up through Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. Coming home, we took a shortcut from Michigan through Ontario, to return to New York by Niagara Falls. For all these trips, the interstate highway system was only partially completed.

My wife and I were married at age 21, right after I graduated from college. With no job to hold me back, we took a six-week honeymoon, driving to the Southwest and California, zigzagging throughout the West to visit many national parks and monuments. I made sure to drive though a couple of states I had missed earlier, such as Kansas and Arkansas.

Five years later, in 1973, we took our two young children and my wife’s younger brother on a car trip to the Pacific Northwest and hit Oregon and Washington. We also hit Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, etc. That completed the 48 contiguous states. Two years after that, in 1975, I went to San Francisco on business — so my wife and I flew out there and took a side trip to Hawaii. So that was 49 states by age 28. But it took another 23 years (1998) before we were able to visit my 50th state, Alaska, via a land-sea tour that started in Fairbanks; a train to Anchorage; bus to Seward, and then cruising the “Inside Passage” down to Vancouver.

So, I guess you could say it took 51 years to see all 50 states.

Jim Vavrina,




I began traveling when I was 21 and have gone away almost every year since for my birthday. I’ll be 42 in June. I made it to Hawaii, my 50th state in 2009 at age 35. My trips, aside from Hawaii, have all been road trips, often with my cousins, Peter and Kelly, and sometimes Aunt Joanne (Peter’s mother). And then, in an effort to instill the importance of travel in my younger cousins, I started taking them on a weekend-long road trip when they each turned 15. Aunt Jo will still be missing Alaska, Peter is missing Hawaii, and Kelly has yet to get to Maine. So, I have a few corners of the country to revisit.

I am always asked which state was my favorite. I’m very fond of Massachusetts and its rich early American history. South Dakota has an amazing landscape. On my 30th birthday I woke up in the Badlands and went to bed in Deadwood. Hawaii, of course, is exquisite. And despite the warnings of an ophthalmologist, the drive to Alaska in 2006 was not “an incredible waste of time and money.” All trees do not look the same.

There is something wonderful to do and something beautiful to see in every state. Now that I have gotten through all 50 of them, I’m trying to see all the provinces of Canada.

April Earle,




Our journey began in 1967 with our first cross-country trip before we had our kids. During that trip we visited 23 states. After a few years when our kids were little, we visited eight more states as we drove to Florida to visit relatives. When our kids were 8 and 10, we again drove cross country and picked up more states. On our 15th anniversary we went to Hawaii. In 2005 we visited Alaska. In 2008, we picked up the states that we had missed. Kansas was our 50th state.

During these trips we have visited the capitol buildings for all the states and went to all the presidential libraries since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Ken and Phyllis Gross,




I finished the 50 states with my twin sister and my aunt in 2007. We had most of the states in the Northeast from traveling as kids. Then, while in college, we did two big camping trips during the summers. One trip was to the national parks out west and the next summer we hit the Southern states. Soon we realized we were at 42 states and we made it a goal to finish the 50 states before our 30th birthday.

We picked up the random states that were left, such as Iowa and Nebraska, and finished big with an Alaskan cruise with my parents and cousins to celebrate.

Everyone has their rules as to what counts. In our case, we camped or stayed overnight in most of the states, but our rule is that you have to do something. Driving through does not count. You have to do an activity or eat a meal. We have a scrapbook that documents the travels.

Noreen Matthews,



VACATION DO-OVER Do you have a vacation story you’d love to forget, but can’t? Swarming bees, monsoons, awful food, rude people, dirty hotels, missed connections, lost items or broken bones? Share your travel nightmare for possible publication. Include pictures if available. Email, or write to Act 2 Editor, Newsday Newsroom, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747. Include your name, address and phone numbers.

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