A Florida couple traveled to 61 national parks in their red Nissan NV200 van.
The last time Lauren and Steven Keys went away for an extended period of time, the couple packed their belongings and headed to Hawaii for a six-month-long honeymoon in 2015.
Upon return to their home in Gainesville, they decided they wanted to embark on another vacation longer than the average weeklong trip. The two 29-year-olds decided to hit the road and gallivant through every national park in the United States and its territories.
Since January, the couple has lived out of their red Nissan NV200 van, complete with a mattress in the back and some storage areas, and checked off all 61 parks. They returned from their final destination, the islands of Dry Tortugas in South Florida, last week.
“We decided on going to the national parks because we had been to a few before, and one day we thought, ‘Let’s go to all of them in one, huge trip,” Steven Keys said.
By working freelance and part time, the couple stayed financially afloat, and designated work days at coffee shops around the country. They also rented out their Gainesville condo.
The game plan was to head west through the southern United States during the harshest cold months, swing up the West Coast to Alaska and then circle back down from the northeast for an average of one to three days per park. But the endeavor began in the midst of the 2018-19 federal government shutdown, and a winter season that overstayed its welcome in much of the country.
The shutdown meant all park visitor centers were closed, and the couple had to backtrack from California to the Moab Desert in Utah and Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, among other places.
“It probably cost us an extra 20 hours of driving,” he estimated.
The federal government reopened by the end of January, as the pair made their way to Channel Islands Park in California.
After driving their way up through the Pacific coast, the couple headed to Alaska to visit the state’s eight national parks, most of which can only be reached by plane, sometimes a two-hour flight each way.
On one excursion, they booked a ride for a float plane that could only sit three people. The small quarters, Lauren says, caused for a bumpy ride and a bout of motion sickness. The crew on board was equipped for such an occasion, providing them plastic Ziploc baggies.
“We made use of those Ziploc bags,” Steven said.
Beyond the plane ride and a small crack in the Nissan’s windshield, the couple say they experienced few glitches throughout their journey. And driving, they say, made all the difference.
“Being able to experience the changes in scenery definitely varied the trip enough over the course of seven months,” Lauren said.
The two ranked the 61 parks in order of their favorite spots, and generally agreed on a handful that share first-place status. Among the couple’s favorites: both Yosemite and Death Valley National Parks in California and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Now that the trip has ended, he plans to return to full-time work. They will continue detailing their experience on their blog, Trip of a Lifestyle (www.tripofalifestyle.com), and post tips on how to survive such a trip, such as buying a $22 monthly Planet Fitness membership that covers both exercise and shower needs on the road.
A low-maintenance and flexible attitude are key, they said.
“Right in our own country, we have so many completely and wildly different landscapes. You don’t have to travel internationally,” Steven said. “The best times are when you arrive somewhere and it takes your breath away.”
This story originally published to gainesvillesun.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network via the Florida Wire. The Florida Wire, which runs across digital, print and video platforms, curates and distributes Florida-focused stories. For more Florida stories, visit here, and to support local media throughout the state of Florida, consider subscribing to your local paper.