FINDING MYSELF THROUGH FIFTY STATES

BY: aMANDA bUGOS

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON DECEMBER 9, 2019

My go-to fun fact: I have been to all 50 states. In just 17 years I have visited over 20 National Parks and state capitals, every major U.S. monument, and more battlefields than any 18 year should ever have to visit. Completing this milestone turned out to be more valuable than just checks on a map, it was a chance for me to discover who I was while obtaining priceless skills and knowledge.

My most cherished memories were made in the cramped space of a poorly air-conditioned silver 2008 Honda Odyssey known as “The Magic Bus”. There was nothing I enjoy more than the yearly tradition of a classic American road trip, visiting new and exciting places at the cost of sharing leg room with my six-foot three brother and an aux cord permanently occupied by my dad’s third generation iPod Nano. The rising costs of airline tickets, our desire to visit out-of-state family, and our unfaltering curiosity were the inspirations we needed to load up the car for our summer expeditions. Shortly after our tradition began, the casual trips converted into a vital operation to expand a short list of states to fifty. My dauntless father, a world traveler, made it his mission to expose us to the world while teaching us valuable life lessons, the importance of family, and that any detour within 15 hours was “so close, we might as well stop”. As long as his kids could recall all 50 state capitals, one thing we did in each state, and every John Denver song, my dad felt like he fulfilled his obligation.

Once we started the venture, I never realized the magnitude I would benefit from them. Although the trips had provided me many chances to say “I’ve been there” they also provided me a unique learning environment. Firstly, I was able to visit significant places I had heard about in history class or even science class, such as the spot where Abe Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg address or the active geysers in Yellowstone. This made it easier for me to get excited about learning in school where I still tend to struggle with engagement and pushing myself to be open to building my knowledge. Our travels erected an unconventional classroom, tricking us into learning without the traditional tests and homework. Secondly, I was taught important life skills and practices. Although traveling can seem glamorous at times, hidden behind my smiling face in an edited Instagram photo, are many trials and tribulations it took to get there. I have had to find a way to overcome many challenges such as reading trail maps wrong and adding 6 miles to an already 8-mile hike, running out of water in the 117-degree Death Valley, and stretching the last gallon in the tank to make it to the gas station. Internally, I have developed patience through sharing many hours in the car with three other moody teenagers as we drove cross country from Maine to California; I practiced optimism as I cheered my dad on while he raced to scenic outlooks before the sun set, and I fed my tenacious curiosity as I continued to challenge myself to ask questions and read every plague. Lastly, I became more in tune with my life, my culture, and the place I came from. Traveling to other places always gave me the chance to reflect on my own life and myself as a person. I often wondered how drastically different my life would have been if I had ended up in one of those places instead of Houston and how it would have contributed to shaping me as a person. I have always embraced who I am and who I strive to be, but this gave me a chance to further understand my roots and what made my upbringing special. 

Through these road trips, I was also able to find and develop my passions. I discovered my love for nature and wildlife through the many stops to National Parks. I will never forget the time I had my back turned to a 400-pound black bear, the cool summer nights driving cliff side with the windows down through Glacier National Park, or doing donuts in the white sand dunes of New Mexico. Each place was so unique yet so breathtaking in its own way. It is still hard for me believe that our beautiful nation can contain such an intense variety on one piece of land. Each time I left these places, I never forget the way they made me feel when I was there: free and peaceful. I sometimes get distracted and wander off to these far away places in my mind just to put myself at ease. It was quickly revealed to me how much I cared about nature and how much I craved to be immersed in it more often. When we decided which route to take, I tended to advocate for mountains and canyons rather than big cities. Although I am a business major, it is a dream of mine to one day be a park ranger so I can do my part to preserve what means so much to me. 

Being the third oldest out of four kids, I had started visiting colleges in about the seventh grade. By the time it came for me to start applying to schools, I have probably seen over 75 different ones. Picking The University of Alabama was not a very difficult decision at the time, and I realize now more than ever that it was the right one. I don’t think I completely realized how many people from out of state came here until I first stepped onto campus. Coming from out of state myself, I had only one friend I knew prior to moving here, and was eager to make more. My travels quickly became a gift when it came to meeting, making friends with, and connecting to others, as I could usually relate to where they were from. I love getting the question, “where did you go when you went there?” when I tell them that I had been to their home state or town, and then getting into a whole conversation about what are favorite parts of it are. 

Overall, I can’t begin to put into words all that I have experienced and I am extremely thankful for the things I have seen and the memories I have made. Each memory is a piece of what makes me who I am today, and I will always cherish all the good and even the bad ones. To my parents, I will be forever grateful for the time and money they put in to making this achievement possible and I hope to do the same for my own kids someday. I encourage others to push themselves out of their comfort zones and go explore places they have never been. You never know what you will learn and what passions you will acquire. Embrace every new and exciting experience because you may not realize it now, but I promise it will further add to who you are. Now, for me, it is time to take down the other 6 continents.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Amanda Bugos is a freshman from Houston, Texas majoring in marketing with a special interest in sports. Since she is a freshman at UA, she is just starting to get involved in campus. Other than being a new brother of Alpha Rho, Amanda is also a member of the UA Water Ski Team and an honors student in the business school. Her interests include watching and going to sporting events (especially the Houston Rockets), anything related to boats and water sports, photography, music, and of course traveling.


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