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How a halt on international travel is helping my family complete our 50-state challenge

Jan. 03, 2021
4 min read
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For many families, 2020 was the year when time stood still. With growing international travel restrictions and safer-at-home initiatives, families like mine spent a ton of time at home in the first half of the year.

Like many others last January, our family thought that 2020 would be our year and that we would spend time exploring more destinations on our ever-growing bucket list. While that may not have gone as planned, the one benefit that came about during our time at home is our desire to explore more off-the-beaten-path destinations around the United States.

We focused on outdoor adventures and worked toward achieving our goal of visiting all 50 states. Here’s how ever-changing travel restrictions steered our family toward our 50-state challenge.

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International restrictions forced us to appreciate our own country

Photo by Sierra Redmond

A July military move across the country forced us out of the comfort of our home and into a multi-state road trip from Missouri to Nevada. By the summer, we were pretty much itching to be anywhere except home and the mandatory road trip was exciting for us to embark on.

When you're on a mission to travel the world, it’s easy to forget what opportunities are right in front of you. They don’t call it “America the Beautiful” for no reason. One of the best things about the United States is how diverse the country is and the unique attributes that make each state different. In our experience, no one state is like another -- regardless of region.

Because we were unable to travel internationally as planned, we gained an appreciation for the United States and added more states and attractions to the top of our bucket list. Even ones that we hadn’t previously considered. What we found in this new travel revelation is that you don’t have to travel internationally to experience different cultures, scenic views or gain meaningful experiences. All those things can happen right here at home without a passport.

We explored popular tourist attractions -- without the crowds

Have you ever wanted to visit a touristy destination but the crowds were a turn-off? During our travels, we experienced some of the most touristy destinations without feeling crowded or overwhelmed. Plus, it was easier to capture the million-dollar photography shot of our dreams. We’ve been able to safely explore destinations like Zion National Park, Cadillac Ranch, Sedona Red Rocks and Las Vegas without having to deal with crowds and inflated prices. It was quite refreshing to gain a new perspective on classic destinations.

Photo by Sierra Redmond

Related: Route 66 road trip planner: The best stops along the way

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We’ve created a bucket list in our state and surrounding areas

It struck us that while we’ve traveled across the U.S., we've spent so much time in the last few years trying to travel to dreamy international destinations that we have never given our surrounding states the time that they deserve.

The military gives us the unique opportunity to live in different locations every two years, but our recent travels made us question if we were really taking advantage of these nearby travel opportunities. Maybe you have never visited a state near your home base. Because of travel restrictions, we’ve now added a ton of in-state and surrounding state attractions to our list of things to explore.

We spent our first free weekend in our new town visiting Southern Utah and Arizona and hope to continue to do so any time we have a free or extended weekend available to do so. Some of our weekend getaways beat experiences that cost far more and took a ton more planning to execute.

Bottom line

If your family, like ours, has a desire to explore this big beautiful country in its entirety, there is no time better than the present (with safety precautions) to do so. We set out on this journey to explore the world after our son was born. Now he’s 4-years-old and has explored more than a dozen states.

Look around your state to determine what attractions may be a good bet for a socially distance visit. Check out state and national parks, wilderness preserves and open-air monuments. You'll be surprised how many cool places you can visit that are close to home.

Featured image by Photo by Sierra Redmond

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
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  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees