TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – While other couples daydream about packing up and traveling across the country for months at a time, Lauren and Steven Keys have actually done it.
The pair are originally from Brandon and now reside in Gainesville. They recently returned from a seven-month trip to see every single one of America’s national parks, including those in the Virgin Islands and American Samoa.
“So in the past, we had hit a few other national parks just randomly on other road trips. And so every time we’ve ever been to a national park in the past, it was pretty much just straight-up amazing. Like they never disappointed us at all,” Steven told 8 On Your Side’s Daisy Ruth. “So when we were thinking of ‘what’s our next adventure going to be? What’s our next long-term travel thing going to be,’ because we had done some trips like that in the past, we were just like ‘maybe we should just take this list of all the national parks and do ‘em all.’”
Steven and Lauren let their employers know of their plans. Steven was able to work part-time, remotely on the trip and Lauren picked up a freelance job while on their journey. They sold the incredible photos they took along the way.
They also rented out their condo for a good portion of their income while traveling.
In a recent blog post, Steven wrote about the cost of the trip.
The couple spent $36,875 to visit the national parks.
“We’ve always been really, I guess, diligent savers, I guess you would say. So we felt comfortable going on this trip knowing the general plan we had didn’t work out, we’d still be alright because we had sort of like a cushion to fall back on that we had built up over the years,” Steven explained.
To cut down on hotel costs, the couple purchased a van and installed a full bed in the back.
“It was surprising how sustainable sleeping in the van was,” Lauren said.
“Apart from the nights where it was below 25 degrees during the winter and when we came back to the southeast during the summertime, it was actually really, really comfortable,” she added. “We found it was very doable having a real bed in the back, not like a mattress pad or a cot or anything like that. It was super important for us to have a known place to sleep every night. We were used to this bed. And so having a real bed made it very sustainable.”
Steven said the couple’s biggest expense actually came from plane travel.
“The largest portion of those expenses were these little charter bush planes that you have to individually pay thousands of dollars for in Alaska to get to these remote areas that are completely disconnected from the road system,” he explained.
Steven and Lauren traveled during one of the worst times to visit even one national park: The longest government shutdown in history.
“That was…yeah, that was something. When we started we weren’t really sure what was going to happen but we figured the actual parks themselves, the land itself, is open 24/7, most of them anyway, with a few exceptions,” Lauren said. “All of the visitors’ centers were closed. Our first 10 parks include a stop in Carlsbad Caverns, and to get into the caverns, you have to go through the visitors’ center. So we actually had to skip that one even though we were right on top of it on our route westward and come back to it later, it was probably a 20-hour detour of driving time.”
Lauren said they learned a lot while on their journey together.
“I think a big, important takeaway for us was when you have this kind of time to be on vacation, so to speak, it’s not just the time to relax but also the time to reflect,” she said. “So we did do a lot of personal development, gaining new skills, learning things along the way. We did listen to podcasts and find ways to really improve ourselves while on the road. We did a lot of talking, we started our blog, and so kind of having these goals.”
She said one of their big goals while on the trip was to come away with “an amazing image” from each park, something she feels like they were able to accomplish, making them better artists in the process.
“If this trip sounds exciting to you, or long-term travel in general sounds exciting to you, but you don’t know [how] you’d make it work in your life, like financially or logistically, that’s really what our blog is all about,” he said. “So we’re trying to encourage other people to try similar stuff and make it happen, so we have some tips for that and that’s really what our blog is all about.”