How nifty, Kim Jones has been to all 50!

This summer, Kim Jones, liver transplant nurse coordinator at UNC Hospitals, completed a life goal of visiting all 50 states. To commemorate the achievement, she made t-shirts that read, “How Nifty, I’ve been to all 50.”

How nifty, Kim Jones has been to all 50! click to enlarge Jones (l) and Noble (r) at Artist Point at Yellowstone National Park.
How nifty, Kim Jones has been to all 50! click to enlarge Noble (l) and Jones (r) with t-shirts celebrating their trips to all 50 states.

by Hannah Crain - hannah.crain@unchealth.unc.edu

Kim Jones has a passion for traveling. She loves seeing new places, meeting new people, and learning about new cultures. She enjoys traveling so much, in fact, that she recently achieved a major milestone, and did so in what takes many people a lifetime to accomplish.

“I don’t think too many people can say that they’ve visited all 50 states,” says Jones after accomplishing her goal this summer.

Reaching every state wasn’t easy for Jones. Born and raised in North Carolina, Jones traveled to a few states in her youth. During high school and college, she participated in team sports and visited California, Texas and New York, among other states. But three years ago, while on a Southwest flight with longtime friend and freelance writer Amy Noble, of Durham, the two friends set the goal of making it to all fifty states within a couple of years.

“On Southwest flights they have napkins that show the continental U.S., and we were traveling together and said, ‘I wonder how many states we’ve been to,’” explains Jones. “We started listing all of the states, and there weren’t many that we hadn’t visited.”

At that moment a light clicked and the two began making preparations for their trips around the country, with each of them taking on different planning responsibilities.

“Amy is the main researcher,” says Jones. “She would do the research to find the best deals for tickets and rooms. My job was to find the best local restaurants in the area. People say that I ate my way through the United States because I’m always looking up the good restaurants.”

Simply setting foot in each state wasn’t their goal. They wanted to do something memorable everywhere they went.

“When we decided to do this we said that we have to do something in each state—you can’t just fly into the airport or drive through it; you have to either stay there or go see what the state is known for in order for the trip to count,” laughs Jones.

The two women planned a variety of activities for every stop. They watched killer and humpback whales, rode in a horse-drawn carriages in New Orleans and New York City, enjoyed walking on a vehicle-free Mackinaw Island, Mich., snorkeled in Hawaii, watched goats graze on the roof of a Wisconsin restaurant, and took a two-mile sled ride with Iditarod dogs. For Jones, while each state had something unique about it, her most lasting memory is Yellowstone National Park.

“I feel like every person in America should have to go there because it’s just so amazing,” says Jones. “When you’re driving through the park, you see wild animals—buffalos and bears. The landscape is just phenomenal. Parts of it feel like you’re on the moon. It’s just breathtaking!”

Jones and Noble met new people and got to know and appreciate towns they’d never seen—especially the smaller ones—by staying at bed and breakfasts, where they would sit around a table and get to know the inn owners and other travelers.

“For every trip, whatever that state had to offer, I wanted to experience it,” says Jones. “When we wanted to meet people, we asked the locals, ‘where do you eat?’ We wanted to go where the locals go, which is different and makes you feel immersed.”

Making new friends has created a variety of opportunities for Jones and Noble in the future.

“There’s nothing that fosters getting to know people more than staying at a bed and breakfast,” says Jones. “Not only do you get to meet new people who give you ideas of what to do in their states, but when I was in Alaska, for instance, I met this family, a member of which works on medical missionary projects in Kenya, and now my next trip might be a medical mission trip to Kenya.”

Seeing all of the states has taught Jones to value the remarkable qualities that the United States has to offer, especially the people.

“Because I’ve traveled and met so many people, it just helps me appreciate the people I meet on a daily basis.”

Her experiences have given her a chance to share her stories with her coworkers and patients at the hospital as well as hear about the kinds of trips her patients take.

“Whenever this comes up with patients or coworkers, there’s this light in their eyes because it’s exciting and everyone wants to see something new,” she says.

Over the past three years, Jones traveled to upward of 20 states, with the final state being Alaska. She and Noble traveled so much—built up so many frequent flier miles—that they only spent $25 on airfare to Hawaii. But her travel bug hasn’t ended. In addition to a trip to Kenya, Jones hopes to make it to Ireland one day.

Despite the distances between those countries and North Carolina, she’ll never be far from the Old North State—she’ll always be a Carolina girl.

“No matter where I travel, I am always thankful to come back home to North Carolina,” she says. “I still think it’s the best state.”