As any given article, post, or interview can't provide all the details, a number of "Frequently Asked Questions" have arisen.
Below are answers to some common questions, and I'll update as/if more come along.
"How is Mikah funding this trip? And his earlier travel?"
Growing up, my parents always said if I wanted to go to college I'd have to pay for it by myself. Hoping to both leave my home state of Nebraska and to travel, I worked throughout high school and saved for this goal. When I couldn't afford to leave Nebraska, I enrolled at the local university and tried again after a year. I was fortunate to receive a life-changing full-tuition music scholarship to the University of Memphis, then later a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship to be used for grad school tuition outside of the United States. During every year of college, I had at least two jobs to pay for living expenses, then built travel into my summer jobs (working at camps in other states or at a boarding school in Europe). I hope my example shows others in similar situations that interweaving travel into their jobs is one alternative to funding their wanderlust goals.
To launch my current national park trip, I worked three part-time jobs in Washington D.C., including living at a boarding school, and saved for four years. Working in music and education, I wasn't able to save up the $300,000 that national park experts conservatively estimate my trip will need. However, my hope is that a combination of living very simply, my personal savings, and donations from companies/individuals will allow me to reach this goal of becoming the youngest person to experience all 400+ national parks, and sharing the diversity involved with the system. *I am not receiving any financial support from any of the national park organizations.
If you would like to support this trip, there are a number of ways--both financial and otherwise--at this Support link.
*And since I'm asking you to Donate, I wanted to let you know I'm paying it forward: every week I donate content to Voice Of America (the U.S. federal government's news agency) and they share summaries of all 400+ parks with their international audience of 187.7 million. Encouraging greater tourism and helping the U.S. economy in underserved areas.
"How do we know he'd be the youngest, and only person to do all 400+ in one trip?"
The National Park Travelers Club is a wonderful resource of over 1,500 dues-paying members. They keep records on this, and details from their Club Secretary can be read in this Washington Post article: He’s quitting his jobs and starting a quest to visit 411 National Park Service sites
"He's white. How is that 'diverse'?"
Having a minister for a father, I grew up understanding that social justice, and standing up for "the least of these," was an expected part of existing.
Though I may be white, as someone who is openly gay and grew up in a very conservative state, I recognize my privilege and am hoping to use it to help other minorities, whether that be sexual, racial, gender or otherwise, to realize that even though they might not be a cisgendered straight white man, whatever their unique diversity is, the national parks tell their stories. That's why I'm going to all 400+ of them, to show that there are parks that focus on women's issues, and racial issues, and LGBT issues, etc. That it's not just the Grand Canyon or one of the 59 "capital P" parks.
As a 30-year-old, I'm also hoping my trip will encourage other millennials and youngsters to experience nature. One of the problems the Park Service has had is attracting younger visitors. The average age of a visitor at Denali, for example, is 57-years-old. In Yellowstone it's 54. So in this case, me being young is something the Park Service sees as diverse, and is happy to have help reach new audiences.
I wish I could represent every type of diversity possible all within one person, but as I can't, I hope I can use those things that make me different to help others in whatever way I can.
How can you just go on vacation and ask people to donate?
I love this question. Because I get it a lot.
Most of what gets shared about this journey are the beautiful vistas, spectacular sunsets, and interesting adventures. The goal is to show the splendors available in our national parks to help encourage people to get out and experience them--especially underrepresented groups like millennials, the LGBT community, and racial/gender minorities.
A lot of behind-the-scenes work goes into creating that content and reaching those audiences. Even as the world sees a "vacation," I spend most of my time planning logistics, pitching media, writing blogs, seeking sponsors, and doing advocacy work. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of my time gets to actually be spent at the parks, and when I'm there I'm usually working to create content so I can share the park with those underrepresented communities. So by supporting this project, you aren't donating to a vacation, but rather a 24/7 job of sharing our national treasures in ways never done before. If you'd like to support those efforts, you can do so here via the Donate page.
You shouldn't be racing through the parks! They are meant to be savored.
Bang! Did you hear that sound?
Neither did I...
I'm guessing when people see "world record," their mind automatically thinks, "A race!" Fortunately, my journey is not a race, which is why I planned out my entire journey with the help of national park guru, and National Park Travelers Club Platinum Member--meaning he's visited all 400+ units: Chris Calvert.
Chris helped me work out the ideal amount of time to spend at each park so I can experience it fully. The idea being that I want to really get to know a park, and not just get my stamp and move on. It's the reason I use the word "experience" over "visit" when I share about the "youngest person to experience all 400+ units" and other world record talk.
"How can I visit a national park?"
Check out my Journey Map page. It has one map of places I've been on this trip--with recommendations of "5 Highlights You Can Do" for each park.
It also has another map that shows the location of all 400+ national parks in America. Zoom in to find the one closest to you and then "Find Your Park" in person!
"How can he quit his job to do this? Is this just another lazy millennial wanting a handout?"
When my dad passed away from esophageal cancer at age 58, losing his chance at retirement, I learned a valuable lesson that tomorrow isn't guaranteed. Because my first independent road trip happened only 10 days after his funeral, at age 19, I also learned that life is too short to delay your dreams. As I've taken one road trip every year since to honor that experience, I've had a chance to put those lessons into motion.
After I took my first "epic" road trip (a 260 day, 16,400 mile "Dream Road Trip" from age 25-26), I made it a goal to take one year every five years (age 30, 35, 40...) as a "year of retirement." That way if I also pass away at age 58, I will have already "retired" seven years and not missed out on the finish line most workers assume they'll get.
This unorthodox view has made me look at work in a different way. So while I did quit the stability of working for someone else so I could take this trip, I transferred my job to working for myself. On the road I will be supplementing my savings by:
- Blogging about my journeys and earning ad revenue as readership grows (please consider subscribing to my email list at the bottom of this page, or social media in upper left corner)
- Singing at churches
- Business partnerships
- Selling my book about my last epic trip
For this national park trip, I don't see it so much as "quitting my jobs," but more so, trying to create a lifestyle that allows me to also live my values. If that lifestyle means I can keep doing this, then great. If not, I'll get another job and save up for the next adventure.
"How can I do something like this?"
#1 - Believe in yourself!
Even more than money, whenever you set out to do something beyond the norm, the number of voices telling you "No" will be far greater than the ones who say "Yes." Whatever your goal is, trust that if you do all within your power to make it happen, it can happen.
Will there be hardships along the way? Yes. Will you have to sacrifice other things (security, relationships, simplicity)? Yes. But you only have one life, so if you have a goal, don't let the "No's" overtake your passion.
#2 - Save your money.
It's so cliché but also so true.
For the past four years I asked myself, "Would you rather have that beer or two gallons of gas for your road trip?" I packed sandwiches to avoid eating out, and I attended social events that were cheap or free vs. ticketed. I always kept my eye on the prize, and my dollars headed toward my savings.
For the two years preceding my national park trip's launch, I contacted over 600 companies/individuals about sponsoring my journey. These were all businesses I thought could benefit by partnering with my expedition. While I've had a few small successes, these all came very close to launching the trip, and to this date only cover approximately 2% of my trip's expenses.
Saving your pennies is still the best way. Marrying royalty might not hurt either ;)
Is there a question I missed? Comment below and I'll update this blog.
Want more coverage of the parks? Support this journey here.
Click here to read about each of the 400+ national parks.