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A Different Kind of Education

By Kristy Nerstheimer

When I first became a teacher, I had no idea what a perk it would be when I became a mom. I went into teaching because I love children and couldn’t wait to educate them! But once I had children of my own, I have been able to be at home with them since we share all the same breaks. Coincidentally, I am married to a fellow educator as well, so we have all enjoyed special family time together. We decided to make these moments even more special by creating a goal of taking our daughters to all 50 states and that’s just what we did.


First we started them young…


Then we mapped out a yearly summer vacation, primarily road trips. As parents, we wanted to expose them to as much as possible: big cities, museums, history, adventure, and the wonders of nature. So, within our 50 states travels, we have taken them to 15 major cities, 12 national parks, all the major mountain ranges, a temperate rainforest, a tropical rainforest, the Atlantic, the Pacific, and countless state parks, small towns, lakes, rivers, and many, MANY souvenir shops.

Of course, being teachers, we wanted them to learn about all the amazing sights and would often stop to read all the various historical plaques at monuments, museums, state parks, etc. But we also wanted them to take risks and try new things such as (but not limited to!): mountain biking, snow skiing, water skiing, parasailing, snuba diving, canoeing, kayaking, surfing, paddle boarding, white water rafting, horseback riding, and hiking. Some of these risks were just plain fun, while others were challenging to say the least.

Admittedly, there were some states that were just a quick stop, but we always found something to see. You’d be amazed at what you can find right off the highway. Who knew Shoshone Falls, Idaho is known as the Niagara of the West? And just a quick detour off the highway can find you dining at Mystic Pizza (from the infamous 80s movie) in the quaint fishing town of Mystic, Connecticut.


By now, you may be wondering how two teachers can afford to do all this traveling. Not to state the obvious, but we both work additional jobs to save for our summer travels. We also drive older cars and live in a modest home. We are more about life’s experiences than life’s treasures because these experiences ARE a treasure.

Our daughters are no longer little girls but young woman about to take on the world on their own. And here’s what I hope they learn from all of our summer travels:


Dream Big: This may sound cliché, but that’s exactly what this adventure has been. A dream come true for me. We are teachers on two teachers’ salaries, but we worked hard to make it happen for our daughters. We didn’t take couple trips or girl/guy trips, we saved and made them family trips. I want them to have dreams of their own in which they will work hard at making them come true.


Grit: Otherwise known as perseverance. Climbing a mountain is tough! Mountain biking down a mountain is tough! Kayaking in rough water is tough! But you don’t get far in life without pushing yourself to the limit. I want our daughters to have grit to get through the hard stuff in life to make it to the other side. Life has a way of throwing us all a curve ball (or two), but I want them to persevere and come out even stronger than before. I want them to know that being afraid is okay and sometimes, even good for us.


Gratitude: We have seen amazing oceans, waterfalls, mountains, canyons, wildlife, trees, flowers, and different cultures. And we appreciated every bit of it. There are so many beautiful things to see and do in our country. We, literally, stopped and smelled the roses. We have also felt thankful for this time we have spent together as a family. I want our daughters to always take the time to feel gratitude for the beauty and people around them.


Spread Aloha: While in Hawaii this year, we learned that Aloha means more than just hello. It is all about spreading love, peace, and compassion. We have met many wonderful people during our travels.  No matter what side of the political fence you sit on, no one can deny that our country is made up of rich cultures, beautiful sights, and amazing people. I want our daughters to spread that love, peace, and compassion for all.  It just might make our world a little brighter.


Live Life: We are not stopping here! We will continue to travel (lookout national parks, here we come!). We will continue to live in the moment and put away our cell phones to enjoy time together. But I also know with a 19- and a 16-year-old, our summer travels may start to look different. I can only hope as they embark on their own adventures, they will continue to explore, learn, and seek new experiences…to live life!

Orlando, Florida 2006
Grand Canyon, Arizona 2009
Chicago, Illinois 2012
Mt. Wheeler Peak 13,065 ft. 
Great Basin, Nevada 2016
The summer we traveled to our 50th state.
Maui, Hawaii 2018
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