Just over a month and a half after her 35th birthday, Molly Hayeslip achieved a travel goal that few people, and especially few people so young, get to accomplish. With the bump of tires hitting asphalt and the subsequent “Welcome to Albuquerque!” announcement over the intercom, she officially began her visit to her 50th American state.
I’ve known Molly for over fifteen years (or, that would be true if I were old enough to have made adult friends so long ago), and it has been so much fun watching her work toward this goal! I’ve been fortunate to have been along for the ride for many of her new state experiences, including our 2011 road trip across the USA, our long weekend in Iowa and Nebraska (specifically to knock them off our lists), and our most recent trip to New Mexico, where she crossed the finish line.
Since I’m still a few states away from fifty myself (I’m coming for you, Michigan, South Carolina, and Hawaii!), I wanted to get some perspective from Molly on what it feels like to achieve such a huge travel goal. I’m grateful that she was willing to indulge me with this interview, which I hope you’ll enjoy!
Hi Molly. While we’ve met you before, let’s start by having you tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hi internet! My name is Molly and I live in Baltimore, Maryland with my husband and two furbabies. I’m a lover of food, fall, football, and photography, and if it’s not soon obvious, I also have a passion for traveling.
What ignited your love of travel? Did you travel much as a kid?
As a kid, my travel mostly consisted of state-side road trips, primarily going to Pittsburgh to visit family or to Tennessee where my grandparents had a timeshare. My first overseas trip was in high school, when I participated in an exchange program to Germany. I stayed with a family there for five weeks and my exchange partner stayed with mine that fall. That sparked my interest in travel and wanting to see what else was out there.
Tell us about this goal. Where did the desire to visit all 50 states come from, when did you really decide to pursue it, and how did you make it happen?
It was certainly on my bucket list, but I never thought it would happen by age 35.
This all started when I first met Gwen at the University of Delaware in 2007. We were randomly assigned as roommates for our on-campus summer jobs. We immediately bonded over our shared interest in travel and discussed all of the places we’d like to see one day. Taking a cross-country road trip was an idea that came out of one of our talks, and we vowed to do it together someday. It seemed like such a fun idea and certainly something I wanted to do, but I never thought it would happen only a few years later.
I also worked as a tour director for Holland America Cruise Line in Alaska for two summers in 2011 and 2012. Having time off in between summer tourist seasons to travel and work temp jobs gave me a flexible schedule, and we were able to take our dreamed-about road trip during the fall of 2011. Seven weeks and thirty-two states later, I only had six states left to go. 2012 brought a trip to Hawaii, 2013 brought a trip to Maine and Rhode Island, 2017 brought a trip (with Gwen again!) to Nebraska and Iowa, then finally 2022 was New Mexico.
How did it feel finally touching down in that last state?
SO exciting! Especially after a messy travel day where we had to get off our first flight, wait in an enormously long line to get rebooked (luckily Gwen called customer service which escalated the process), get rerouted to a different airport, sit through a longer layover, and finally arrive in Albuquerque about 8 hours after we were supposed to get there. While it was disappointing that we missed a solid day of exploring, I had finally made it to #50!
Now let’s get down to the details. Which were the first states you ever visited, and which were your final five?
First five: Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennesee
Final five: Iowa, Nebraska, Maine, Rhode Island, New Mexico
And now a potentially impossible question: which state (or states) did you love most?
This is a tough one. Alaska certainly has a special place in my heart, but I’m pretty biased because I spent two incredible summers working there. Delaware is also a special one because I spent my four college years there and it always felt like home. Aside from those, I really loved the American Southwest; Arizona and Utah were beautiful to visit in the fall, and the drive from Seattle down the coast to San Francisco was gorgeous. The sunsets along the Pacific were spectacular.
At the risk of scandalizing some readers, were there any states or experiences that you didn’t particularly care for?
I thought about this one for a while, and, honestly, I can’t think of any! There were certainly states that I liked more than others and places I want to visit again before others, but I think a lot has to do with who you travel with! Eastern North Dakota isn’t the most exciting state and doesn’t have as many sites to see as its neighbors, but Gwen and I had a hilarious time taking a campus tour of North Dakota State University (go Bison!) and visiting the World’s Largest Buffalo.
Which state(s) surprised you?
I can’t say any really surprised me, but I was surprised by just how vast our country is. You can never really appreciate its size and grandeur without driving across it.
Which state was most challenging to cross off your list?
Funnily enough, my last state of New Mexico! I had been sitting at 49 states since 2017, and every time I researched flight options, it was too expensive to justify going there versus putting that money towards a trip to Europe or the Caribbean. Amazingly, my sister had planned a surprise bachelorette trip with my closest girlfriends to New Mexico, but, like my COVID-impacted wedding, that plan got punted (and we ended up having an amazing time in Virginia!). A few months ago, though, Southwest Airlines had a deal and flights to New Mexico were cheap, so it seemed meant to be!
Which state(s) are you most anxious to visit again and why?
I’d love to visit Alaska again, and I’m dying to visit Vermont in the autumn to see the fall foliage. My husband and I are big Harry Potter nerds, so it’s also on our list to visit Orlando, Florida, to check out The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Can you share a couple of your favorite travel memories from some of the states you have visited?
Seeing the Milky Way in the middle of the desert in Utah, walking on a black sand beach in Hawaii, landing on a glacier in Alaska, walking the Freedom Trail in Boston, celebrating Halloween in New Orleans, and eating a meal that consisted of a cocktail, bacon-wrapped filet mignon, baked potato, Texas toast, lettuce wedge with homemade ranch dressing, and a delicious slice of grasshopper pie all for $22 (with tip) in Hill City, South Dakota… to name a few!
What have you learned through this process?
I learned that who you travel with can really make or break the experience, so pick the right travel companion(s)! I have so many amazing memories from these states because I traveled with the right people.
What advice would you give someone who wants to achieve the goal of visiting all 50 states?
My biggest piece of advice is to take a road trip around our beautiful country! So many people focus on international travel, but our country has some amazing sights to see! You also develop such an appreciation for the United States after seeing everything it has to offer. Even though it’s pretty difficult to see all fifty states on one road trip (or Hawaii on a road trip at all), ours allowed me to visit thirty-two, and that gave me quite the push toward achieving this goal at a young age.
Do you have any other specific travel goals?
At some point, I would love to also hit all seven continents! I have two left, Asia and Africa, so both of those are definitely on my bucket list. They will both require pretty long trips, though, so they will likely have to wait a while.
What’s next for you, travel-wise?
We don’t have anything on the calendar right now, though we’re talking about visiting Aruba again. We went there for our honeymoon and absolutely loved it!
A huge thank you to Molly for sharing her story, and especially for taking me along for the ride as she achieved this enviable goal! I hope that her travels have inspired you to get out there and see some (or some more) of the beautiful USA. Let’s start planning your next road trip, shall we?
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I feel like such a celeb! Thanks for featuring me 🙂
Thank YOU for being awesome and inspiring!