This Couple Visited Every National Park in One Year
Ever wish you could quit it all, hop in a car and drive? One Missouri couple did just that and turned their adventure into a national campaign for the national parks. Elizabeth and Cole Donelson, a.k.a. the Switchback Kids, quit their 9-5 jobs to travel around the country in six segments visiting 59 National Parks, from Arizona to American Samoa, in just one year. See what they learned from their journey and get inspired to plan your own road trip.
Why This Adventure?
"We felt like in our careers we were racing up the mountain to this future goal to be successful in life," says Elizabeth. "But that tires you out. And it’s not scenic. This trip is a switchback for us. We’re trying to focus on the beauty of the journey. Switchbacks don’t make you climb straight up."
What's the Best View in America?
One of the views that was just so breathtaking was in the Virgin Islands National Park," says Elizabeth. "There’s a trail called Ramshead Point that leads to a 360 degree view over the bay and the entire island. That’s not what people think of when they think of national parks. There are so many diverse parks not based in the mountains."
Cole says the view from the south rim in Big Bend National Park is incredible. "I didn’t realize Texas had many mountains," he says. "At the south rim, you’re just looking out and the view seems like it goes on forever. With the colors of the rocks, it’s just so beautiful."
How Did You Save Money for the Trip?
"Once we made the decision we had about a year and a half," says Elizabeth. "We just put our minds completely toward this mission. Cole crunched numbers about flights. We had to fly to Hawaii and the Virgin Islands. He came up with a budget of $20,000 that included insurance, food and cellphone bills. And that was the goal. We took on side jobs. Cole drove for Uber in Kansas City and I painted furniture and made things to sell on Etsy. We cut out Starbucks and happy hours. But we weren’t miserable. We still had fun and went out with our friends but we spent much less than what we had in the past."
Elizabeth and Cole were also savvy about working with brands along the way. "We reached out to companies and got some gear sponsors like Garmin and L.L. Bean," says Cole. "And because of that we've developed better marketing and communicktion skills for our blog."
How Off Was Your Budget?
"We actually gave ourselves a buffer of $5,000 to have money for when we got back," says Cole. "I think we’ll actually go a little bit over by about $2,000 but we’re still proud of that number. There were things we spent more money on like food to get produce and fresh food to eat healthier. But other times we budgeted for things like hotels but we’ve actually been to eight hotels this year. We spent time with friends and a little bit of couch surfing and met new people and save money."
Cole said the one of the biggest expenses was flights. "I ran into a couple of hacks for getting credit cards with points so we were able to fly to Hawaii for free," he says. "And Virgin Islands we got half off. We did have to fly to American Samoa to pay. I signed up for one Chase Card, we both got the United card, Elizabeth got a Spirit Air card, and I got Alaska Air. That’s five total." And they aren't nervous about coming back with so many credit cards because they pay their balances off every month.
What Advice Would You Give Other Switchback Kids?
"Have a mission," says Cole. "Our mission is to share the national parks with people and make people more aware of and appreciate these incredible places we have across the country. The blog gives us purpose and accountability. It doesn’t feel like vacation. Try to find some sort of mission and purpose with your travel."
"One thing we’ve learned is how we want our lives to be after this trip," says Elizabeth. "Experiences are always more important than things. And adventures don’t have to be quite as big or crazy as ours. Just focus on experiences."
What Did You Learn From it All?
"Our country is gorgeous," says Elizabeth. "One thing that Cole and I wanted to focus on this year is exploring what is relatively close to us. We hear from tourists from other countries that they are dying to get over here and see our national parks. The parks are all so different and it's almost part of our duty as citizens to see these places.They give you so much perspective on our country. They’re positive places. People are in a good mood. You get fresh air. It’s so beautiful. It’s worth putting money into. And it’s worth protecting. It really is America’s best idea."
For more information on Elizabeth and Cole's trip, visit switchbackkids.com for tips and pictures from each national park.