Photo by Liz Lynch

Growing up in Bethesda, Zack Martin and his younger sister, Kaitlyn, were often asked where they’d gone on vacation. The answers sometimes surprised their friends.

“Oklahoma? What did you do there?” Zack, 20, recalls someone asking after he returned from a trip to the state.

The siblings’ goal of visiting all 50 states before graduating from high school meant traveling to places that other local families likely wouldn’t go. While there was nothing quite like surfing in Hawaii or dogsledding in Alaska, riding in a pickup truck to herd cattle in Oklahoma was among the most memorable trips, says Zack, a sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin.

The Martins stayed on a working ranch in a rural part of the state and got to know the owner. They learned he had never heard of lacrosse, which surprised Zack, who plays the sport that’s popular in the Bethesda area. But Zack came to appreciate how much the rancher valued close ties with family and friends. “It made me realize what really mattered. And to him, it was his relationships,” Zack says. “There are so many ways to lead your life all within this one country, and I never really understood that before I traveled around it.”

The Martins enjoyed beignets at the world-famous Café du Monde in New Orleans. Bottom right: Zack went dogsledding in Alaska. Courtesy photo

The idea for the 50-state adventure originated when the kids were toddlers and their mom, Laura Martin, met a neighbor who was taking trips with her children to every major league ballpark. “I thought we needed a milestone,” says Martin, who has a background in education entrepreneurship and is pursuing her doctoral degree in education. “I think you can learn so much by traveling. The country is so diverse that I wanted them to see it.”

Zack and Kaitlyn, a 17-year-old junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, each began their quests at age 5. Most trips were taken as a family, but some with just one parent, and the excursions were planned around the kids’ individual interests and schedules. They’d stay at least two nights in each state they visited. “We were big on doing something very local in each state,” Kaitlyn says. “We wanted to be travelers, not just tourists.”