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Our Family Gap Year: 36 States in 11 Months

by Megan

We just spent a year traveling the United States, and I cannot wait to tell you about all of the fun and exciting things we saw and did!

This post is going to cover our entire trip- the cities we visited, the places we stayed, and some of the things we did. Look for more posts soon that will go into more details on each destination!

Must-Read: How to Take a Family Gap Year

We traveled from the southwest desert to the Pacific Northwest, down the California coast, up into the Rocky Mountains, down to the Mexican border, into the swamplands of the southeast, up the Atlantic coast, and then back west, through the midwestern fields.

It was quite the trip.

We left Phoenix on September 8th. Our house was sold, our van was all packed up with kids and everything (we thought) we needed, and a storage unit down the road was full with everything else we wanted to keep for later.

Don’t head out on the road without reading about these awesome Road Trip Car Hacks!

Our first destination was Freeland, Washington, a small town on Whidbey Island, off the northwest coast near Seattle. It was a two-day trip from Phoenix.

We stopped in Las Vegas to have lunch with my brother (who the kids lovingly call “Uncle Chairstopher”), and then we pushed on to Lund, NV (basically the middle of nowhere) to stay for the night.

As we drove the next day, the desert gave way to gorgeously green landscapes, and at about midnight we were on the ferry to Whidbey Island, where we checked into our Airbnb.

It was also Melody’s 2nd birthday!

For four weeks, we were islanders! Our Airbnb on Whidbey Island was absolutely perfect and a fantastic start to our adventure. The kids shared a giant room with their own bathroom, there was a ’50s-style kitchen table around which we worked and homeschooled, and the kids loved jumping on the trampoline in the yard. Most days we walked down to Beverly Beach where we could make driftwood forts and pick and eat blackberries.

It was an absolute dream. I have so much I want to tell you about Washington, but I have to save it for another post, or we’ll never get through this one!

After four wonderful weeks in Washington, it was time to head down the coast! Before we planned this year of travel, my parents had already booked a 40th anniversary trip to Disneyland for our whole family, so we timed our travels just right so we could be there for that.

So we left the Seattle area and drove to Portland. We spent the day and night there, and the next day we made the drive to San Francisco, via the Redwoods State Park.

We spent a day and night in San Francisco, doing all the San Francisco things! From there our plans were to drive the Pacific Coast Highway in two days, arriving in Anaheim in time to meet the rest of my family.

We stuck to the coast as much as possible, driving through Santa Cruz, Monterey, and taking a quick beach lunch in Carmel-by-the-Sea. We drove the Big Sur, taking in the views, and visited the elephant seals before spending the night in San Simeon.

The second day took us through Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Malibu, and then we ended our coastal drive at the Santa Monica Pier.

We had to stop in the tiny town of Harmony to get a picture. Melody, Harmony, get it?

We joined my family at Disneyland and had a great time at the Halloween party (well sort of, it kind of downpoured!) and a couple extra days spent in the parks.

From there, it was back to Arizona for a few weeks spent with family, and then we booked an Airbnb in Springerville, AZ for the month of November.

Springerville is a very small mountain town, with no other towns nearby, but we had a historic movie theatre and a nearby playground to keep us entertained!

Ironically, this was the coldest place we visited, dropping down in the single digits and actually snowing on Halloween!

We were also able to visit nearby family for Thanksgiving, so that was a nice bonus.

At the end of November, we headed out for a weekend in Denver, and then a day in San Antonio, Texas, on our way to our next Airbnb, on South Padre Island, TX!

South Padre was one of our favorite places we visited! The island is long and skinny, so pretty much every place there is beachfront, or very close! Our condo was a very quick walk from the beach, and we spent lots of time there. Even in December, it was warm enough to be in swimsuits and in the water!

We had a great time trying out all the restaurants on the island and heading to nearby Brownsville on the mainland for holiday parades and live theatre. We celebrated Christmas there, and soon were off to our next destination!

While we were having fun in Texas, my parents moved from Arizona to Florida, so their Florida house was our next destination! We stopped for a couple of days in New Orleans on the way there, including spending New Year’s Eve in Jackson Square!

The first half of January was spent at my parents’ house in Clermont, Florida, about a 40-minute drive away from Disney World and Orlando Studios, both of which we visited while we were there!

We booked an Airbnb in Crescent City, Florida, for four weeks, where our kids had lots of fun playing with the Airbnb owners’ kids, next door! They still keep in touch online. While we were there, we made a day trip to Daytona Beach.

In mid-February, we moved on to Nashville! Our Airbnb was about an hour outside the city, in the Tennessee woods. The owners actually have three houses on a large piece of property, and they rent out all three. We ended up staying in one house for the first week and another for the second. Both were gorgeous, spacious, and really comfortable. We wished we could have stayed longer!

While we were there, we made two day trips into Nashville to see the sights.

Then it was onto Atlanta, at the beginning of March. We stayed close to the city in a comfy Airbnb for two weeks. We explored World of Coke, and my 10-year-old and I enjoyed a day at Six Flags!

The last two weeks of March were spent in a big house in West Virginia. The owners were renting it out on Airbnb while they hiked the Appalachian Trail. Inspired, we decided to hike a small section of the trail that was nearby!

April saw us heading to Virginia Beach. This was a highly-anticipated stop, as we were considering the area for our long-term plans, and we scored a condo directly on the beach!

It was a little chilly at the beginning of the month, but it warmed up by the end! We got in some beach time, but right at the end of our stay there was a huge music festival that kind of took over the beach!

From Virginia Beach, we headed up to Washington DC for a week. We had a really cool basement apartment that had everything, including a small stove and dishwasher! We spent the week in and out of all the museums and monuments, and the kids got to tour the Supreme Court, Congress, AND the White House!

We decided to head south again for the rest of May, and we got a great Airbnb house in Surfside Beach, South Carolina. The beach was a short walk away, but our house came with access to a parking lot right at the beach, so we definitely took advantage of that!

Surfside Beach was beautiful, and I definitely took in more than a few sunrises on the beach.

It was also a short drive up to Myrtle Beach for all the touristy goodness. Lots of local, beach-front restaurants to try, an excessive number of mini-golf courses, and it’s safe to say that this stop went on the list for a potential long-term stay!

And then for something completely different- at the end of May we packed up our stuff, left the SC beach house, and headed to NYC, to the Brooklyn apartment we booked!

We spent the month of June in Brooklyn, where the subway stop was about a five-minute walk away, and then a 20-30 minute ride into Manhattan. We entered the Broadway online lotteries every day and won a bunch of times.

We ended up seeing something like ten different shows, eating lots of pizza slices and deli sandwiches, and playing on the Central Park and Brooklyn playgrounds. It doesn’t get much better than summer in New York City!

Unless, that is, you get to also have summer in Maine! Which we did. Maine is my home state, and we try to visit every other year or so. In fact, we rented the same beach cabin we stayed in two years ago!

In Maine we went to the beach, ate at all our favorite places, and participated in some of the local community arts activities!

The big kids did an improv class!

In a lot of ways, Maine was the culmination of our year of travel. That was our ultimate destination, and everything led up to there.

But then we decided to head back to Arizona for the rest of the summer, to visit family and regroup! And, as is our way, we decided to drive back via a route we’ve never taken.

We almost visited Mount Rushmore earlier in our journeys, but decided on the Springerville Airbnb over one in South Dakota, so we traveled back across the country with a quick stop at Niagara Falls, followed by a day at Mount Rushmore!

From there, our trip back to Arizona took us right through Denver, so we spent a day with my sister and her fiance before driving the rest of the way to Payson, AZ.

Our route took us through Wyoming, the last “new” state that we had never been to, and state #36 visited on our trip!

Pulling into my mother-in-law’s driveway, where we are staying for a few weeks (the house, not the driveway), we sighed a sigh of relief, patted the car’s dash and thanked her for trekking us all across the country without too many complaints, and headed inside to plan our next adventure!

Our family of 6 traveled through 36 states in 11 months- come find out where we went and what we saw!
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