My dad and I started traveling together when I was only 10-years-old. Each summer held a new adventure a different part of the nation to unpack and discover together. Typically, we would hit multiple states in one trip, flying to our first destination and taking a rental car from there. Soon, it became a race to visit all 50 states, and my dad made it his personal mission to see it through. This past summer, we checked off state number 36 (after counting and recounting our list at my dad’s favorite fast food restaurant, Taco John’s) and let me tell you, it has been a beautiful adventure already.

When we started these trips, I could easily rate them afterwards by checking off a few simple boxes. Did I get to add a snow globe to my collection? Did we play Radio Disney in the car at least once? Did the continental breakfast have cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate? These were the questions that plagued me as a 10-year-old, and in all honesty, still hold some weight. But as I grew up, and as we continued these adventures, I learned that our trips meant so much more.

As my dad and I cruise down the highway, we play the license plate game and jam to Pat Green and Tom Petty. We talk about the highly renowned “Rest-Stop Review” book that my dad insists on writing, as he claims to be very well versed in the do’s and don’ts of finding a place to stretch your legs and perhaps locate a Mountain Dew. We shamelessly slow down to take a high quality (very blurry) picture of whatever state sign we pass next, and honk to communicate with every cow, deer or random creature we can see on the side of the interstate. I know what you’re thinking, quite the duo, right?

Throughout the course of these trips, I have done some truly incredible things. I’ve whale-watched off the coast of Washington, taken a helicopter tour over the Grand Canyon, zip-lined on the outskirts of Mount Rushmore, kayaked in Cape Cod, snorkeled in Key West and so much more. However, my favorite part of these trips have little to do with the sights we see or the states we get to cross off our list. My favorite part of these trips is the relationship we built through them.

With our fair share of traveling mishaps, my dad and I always found ourselves laughing over whatever absurd situation we’d most recently gotten ourselves into. Through cracked windshields, pickled tea, cancelled flights, lost luggage and a faulty GPS system, I learned one thing in particular: I truly have the best dad.

As we drove for hours along never ending highways and across countless state lines, I had the opportunity to spend time with my dad. I learned about his college friends and got to see the places he grew up. I learned about his first job, first car and first move. We shared music and were surprised by the overlap of our taste. However, I suppose the apple really must not fall far from the tree. We talked about school, work, plans for the future and of course, plans for lunch. We talked about our similarities, differences, passions and interests. We told jokes, took pictures and became best friends.

Each trip holds a special place in my heart. Our tradition has made such a huge impact on my life, and shaped me into the person I am today. I have learned more about travel, family and life than I ever could have imagined, and I know the adventure is far from over. While I love that I’ve been to 36 of our 50 states, I love that I’ve been to each of them with my dad even more.

Photo Credit: Andi Risk