Lauren and Steven Keys logged more than 34,000 miles in their van in seven months earlier this year, but they saw some pretty amazing sites while doing it.
The couple, both of whom grew up in the Brandon area and graduated from Newsome High School, visited all of the United States’ 61 national parks between January and August without spending a significant amount of money. They detailed their journey, with tips and suggestions for readers, on their blog, Trip of a Lifestyle.
“We love to travel and this was something that we have always wanted to do,” said Lauren, who left her job before the trip but was able to develop a photography and freelance business while on the road. “We hope that by sharing our experience on our blog we can inspire other people to follow their own similar goals.”
The Keys, who are high school sweethearts, left Florida on January 7 in their Nissan NV200 cargo van, which they equipped with a full-size bed. Their plan was to stay in the warmer states throughout the winter and move northward as the weather warmed up.
“That was a good plan in theory,” said Steven. “But between the fact that it was a really cold winter and the government shut down, which meant that we couldn’t access some of the parks when we planned to, we had to be flexible.”
Their trip took them 34,000 miles in their van, which they drove to Alaska in June, and on multiple flights, including chartered bush flights, and boat rides to accomplish their goal of seeing every one of the parks.
Budgeting and making good financial choices are very important to the Keys, who describe themselves as diligent savers.
“Whenever we take a trip like this, our goal is for it [to] cost us next to nothing,” said Steven. “We plan and save far in advance so that even though we keep our expenses low, we have a buffer to fall back on if necessary. Our savings give us the freedom to really make our goals a reality.”
Lauren and Steven share many of their financial tips, and even expense reports, on their blog and found ways to continue to make an income, mostly by taking freelance jobs, while on the road. They encourage anyone interested in traveling to plan and save in advance, but say that although a significant savings account is helpful, it is not necessary.
The blog also contains details about their time in each park, along with fun and artistic shots from each area.
“I made it a goal to get one really fantastic image from each park,” said Lauren, who has developed a business offering photography at weddings and events since returning from the trip.
When asked which of the parks was their favorite, the Keys were easily able to answer thanks to a ranked list they put together on their trip taking into account three main factors.
“We looked at three things in deciding how to rank the parks,” said Lauren. “We started with the ‘Wow Factor,’ meaning how much the park amazed us; but also took into consideration the ‘Fun Factor,’ what there was to do there; and the ‘Solitude Factor,’ because we found ourselves really enjoying the places that let us get away and have time to ourselves to think.”
To learn more about the Keys’ trip, follow their blog at www.tripofalifestyle.com. Visit www.keysphotography.com/art to see and purchase photographs from the trip. Use the coupon code BACKFX at the checkout to receive a discount until Friday, November 15.