Read This: The 50 States Bucket List: The Ultimate Journal for a Journey Across America

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Oh, I have SUCH a great travel journal to recommend to our wandering educators today! The 50 States Bucket List: The Ultimate Journal for a Journey Across America, written and illustrated by Jessica Laughlin and published by Quarto, is THE most fun travel journal I've ever seen. 

Read This: The 50 States Bucket List: The Ultimate Journal for a Journey Across America

Beautifully illustrated and vegan leather–bound its organized by region, with fast facts about each state, like the state's nickname, state bird, and state flower. Theres’s also write-ups on key attractions in each state, along with a list to check off your bucket list items and customizable destination plans, with beautifully illustrated state maps, giving you an overview of the best each state has to offer. 

I love the handfeel of the book (give me a flexible, oversized travel journal any day, thank you so much), the extraordinary art filled with small details that both locals and travelers will recognize (the roller coaster people at Ohio's Cedar Point crack me up), the suggestions for travel planning and learning, and the utter joyfulness of thinking about exploring our nation and documenting those incredible journeys in this beautiful book. 

Tip: If you're looking for a unique baby present, gift the family this! It will spark a lifetime of travel memories.

Highly, highly recommended.

We were lucky enough to speak with Jessica about her book, inspiration, favorite road trip, art, and more. Here's what she had to say...

Jessica Laughlin. From Read This: The 50 States Bucket List: The Ultimate Journal for a Journey Across America

What inspired you to create this incredibly fun journal?
Thank you so much for your compliments about the book and for giving me the opportunity to share some more about how The 50 States Bucket List: The Ultimate Journal for a Journey across America originated! It began with the illustrated maps that I worked on for several years before the book was a concept. As a pen and ink artist, I’ve always drawn on a smaller scale - tiny buildings, people, and scenery seemed to come naturally to me. I also love traveling and especially going on road trips. One day, my passion for art and travel came together when I had the idea to begin drawing illustrated maps.

I was very inspired after I completed my first state map of California. From that point forward, it became my goal to ultimately work my way across the country. I loved drawing the maps, but it was a slow process and a hobby. Along the way, I learned more about the unique qualities of the states, from iconic landmarks to the obscure roadside attractions. I haven’t been to all fifty states, but it was a way for me to somewhat travel with my pen. As I neared the end, I began envisioning a book about a road trip across America. It just so happened that the wonderful team and editors at Quarto had a similar idea! I was given the opportunity to write and illustrate the book. It’s truly been a dream come true for me, and it makes me happy to know that others are now enjoying what I created.

Washington. From Read This: The 50 States Bucket List: The Ultimate Journal for a Journey Across America

What was your favorite road trip, ever? (And, perhaps, worst?)
It's hard to narrow down my favorite road trip, because I’ve taken many over the years! One of my most memorable trips was when we went to the Grand Canyon and Sedona in the fall. Living in Las Vegas, it’s an easy drive to this part of Arizona, and also has so much to see on the way. Northern Arizona is gorgeous in the fall, when the leaves change colors, and the air is crisp. I’d been to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon before as a kid, but I was able to experience it in an entirely new way now.

My husband and I stayed in the small town of Williams, often referred to as “the Gateway to the Grand Canyon” mainly because the Grand Canyon Railway depot is located downtown. Old Route 66 runs through the center of Williams and is perhaps one of the most well-preserved segments of the road that exists today. Fun souvenir shops and casual restaurants stay open until late into the evening. After spending a day at the Grand Canyon, the glowing neon signs create a lively atmosphere while walking around in the cool mountain air. There’s also a good mix of western cowboy culture, and retro Route 66 memorabilia throughout town.

After staying a couple of days in the area, we went onward to Sedona by way of Flagstaff and down highway 89A through Oak Creek Canyon. This particular drive is just as incredible as the destination. The road gently twists and descends into a remarkable canyon, which is full of wildlife. Ponderosa pines grow into the bright red canyon walls and once you reach the canyon floor, you enter a forest where Oak Creek runs along the side of the road. Because you’re in a canyon, the sunlight is softened as it filters through the trees, and everything appears golden. Eventually, the canyon opens to a wide open view of Sedona below, with towering red rock formations off in the distance. It’s one of the most surreal and interesting places that I’ve visited. We’ve since returned to this part of Arizona many times, always finding it to be a place of endless new adventures.

As for my least favorite trip – that’s hard! Well, I guess what first comes to mind is when we drove in a rainstorm along Highway 1 from Mendocino to north of San Francisco. Mendocino was absolutely stunning; however, the way back down the coast was pretty frightening. It was a beautiful day, but after an hour on the road, the rain started to pour. I don’t like heights much, so I drove my husband crazy, as we slowly made our way along the dramatically steep, long and winding road. Note to self and others, always check the weather and road conditions before heading out! 

I love your art and graphics for journaling! Can you please tell us more about how you created them? And what you hope readers achieve with it?
Thank you so very much! The illustrations were all done by hand, in pen and ink, using fine tip Micron pens. For the color, I use a mix of both watercolor and a tablet for some additional digital coloring. It’s a mixed media process with the illustrations to make them print ready.

My hope is that readers find it fun to look at the art and maps, while also writing about their own experiences in the journal pages. I’ve always been fond of atlases and maps, so I can only imagine how much fun I personally would have had with a journal like this as a kid. I’ve heard from many people of all ages who say it brings out the kid in them again.

MIchigan! From Read This: The 50 States Bucket List: The Ultimate Journal for a Journey Across America

How can families best use this journal for family road trips?
This is a great journal for families to plan their trips and record their memories. It’s a keepsake and a good gift idea for all ages. It could also be used to play some trivia in the car, because I included a variety of interesting facts about each state. The journal and maps are sure to keep kids busy for hours! Whether you’re going across the country, or simply driving a few hours away, you’ll find this book is a handy reference guide for historical landmarks and unusual attractions in every state. I’ll also mention here that going on an adventure doesn’t need to be expensive. Sometimes a great trip may only be an hour away or found in exploring places that you didn’t know existed in your own state. My husband and I sometimes just do day trips. We know Nevada pretty well by now, for this very reason!

Michigan and Minnesota. From Read This: The 50 States Bucket List: The Ultimate Journal for a Journey Across America

What's up next for you?
I hope to work on creating more books in the future, and I’m always drawing! Currently, I’ve been delving into more detailed scenes of America in pen and ink. I’ve gone from a bird’s eye view with the maps, to now focusing on specific locations. I’m always busy working on something new: whether it’s art, photography, or writing. I find inspiration by staying curious about everything around me, exploring new topics and reading. I live a very creative life. I also hit the road as often as possible, because nothing inspires me more than going to new places.

How can people find your work?
The 50 States Bucket List: The Ultimate Journal for a Journey Across America
is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, Walmart, Quarto, and wherever books are sold! You may also find it in hundreds of bookstores and gift shops throughout the country. My artwork is available on my website, and on Etsy. I have an Instagram page @jessicalaughlinart, where I post new artwork and photographs. Thank you!