Well, the year may not be over, but my county collecting trips for 2016 are done. While I may still have one or two overnight stays near home before the calendar rolls, none will include new county seat visits, so I can now look back at all the places this blog has taken me during the year.
All in all, it’s been a good travel year. As I reflect on the past twelve (well, eleven) months, I realized it has been a little just about five and a half years since I made the decision to mail a postcard home from each of the 3149 county seats (or the equivalent) in the United States. As 2017 approaches, my postcard collection stands at 1896, approximately 60.2% of the total (up from 50.2% the end of last year).
In the spirit of full disclosure, I should note that I collected the 88 counties in Ohio during the summer of 2007, and gathered a couple dozen additional counties during a road trip in 2010, so that by the time I made the decision to go for the entire country in mid-2011, my collection stood at 113. It might be easier to explain visually, so here are a few maps showing my progress. For those unfamiliar with my color scheme, here is some addition detail. For counties I have visited, I use light blue (teal). Counties where I have been to the county seat, but not collected a postcard are green. The completed counties are blue. By the way, if a postcard I mailed doesn’t arrive, the county remains green.
First, this map which shows my travels across the country prior to 2007.
Next is where I stood at the beginning on 2011 – the year I decided to make this a nationwide project.
So, that’s how things stood at the time I decided to cover the entire USA. Note how little blue there was (just Ohio and a few other scattered counties).
Now let’s look at where the current year starts and ends. Here’s the map from January 1, 2016. Much of the teal and green, particularly in the north central and northwest parts of the country has not changed since 2011.
As 2016 draws to a close, my map looks like this. The year’s major additions are south Texas, most of the remaining counties in Florida, parts of Iowa and Minnesota, eastern Colorado, more of southwestern Kansas, and a that large, blue blob floating unattached out west (portions of NV, UT, ID, and OR). I also visited a little of New Hampshire and Vermont.
I still have not connected a path from coast to coast, though the gap has shrunk. Along the Mexican border, I have just three Texas counties to visit. Most of the counties/parishes on the Gulf of Mexico are done, as are the majority bordering the Great Lakes. I added Tennessee to the list of completed states in early 2016 bringing that total to 13 (all east of the Mississippi River, except Arizona).There are only eight states in which I have not collected any postcards – Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Washington. Perhaps I can reduce that list in 2017.
For anyone who might have missed one of trips, here are the 12 blog entries detailing this year’s travels.
There can be little doubt about the highlight of the year. The gathering of Insiders at the downtown JW Houston, better known around these parts as TIPPLE. When’s the next one?
A few other (surprising) things stood out this year. I stayed at 15 different Marriott brands in 2016 (9 by the end of February ). I also set foot in 40 of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia , as well as Canada and Aruba (though those had nothing to do with county collecting). For the first time I topped 100 nights in a year , 60 nights stayed (all leisure), plus over 40 bonus nights (credit card, rollover, etc.) and crossed the 1M lifetime points mark.
Here are some (interesting?) statistics from the road.
County collecting trips: 12 (plus 6 non-county collecting trips – Hilton Head, Aruba, Fort Myers, Philadelphia, Canada, and D.C., as well as a couple overnight excursions in northeast and southeast Ohio)
Average duration of county collecting trips: 3.5 days (down from 5 days the past few years)
Postcards collected: 314
Postcards that failed to arrive: 0 (only other years that happened were 2007 and 2013)
Miles driven: 17,083 (plus ~2,500 on the non-county trips)
Marriott brands visited: 15 - SH, FI, VC, CY, M, AC, T, G, R, ED, AU, RI, D, JW, and RC (in order of first stay)
Marriott badges collected: 8 - VC, brand explorer, G, AC, social, JW, 100 night, and RC
Number of properties visited: 51
Average reward category of hotels visited: 4.2
States visited: 40 - OH, FL, GA, VA, SC, TX, OK, NC, IN, KY, TN, MS, AR, MO, NY, NJ, CO, NM, WY, IL, IA, NE, MN, KS, PA, MI, WI, NH, VT, ME, MA, WA, ID, OR, NV, UT, AZ, WV, AL, and MD.
Miles flown (actual): 35,245
Number of airports visited (several more than once): 25 – CMH, MCO, ATL, IAD, CAE, DCA, DFW, AUA, FLL, CLT, BNA, JFK, LGA, MSP, DEN, ICT, ORD, RSW, PHL, RST, HOU, MHT, SEA, BOI, and PHX
Plans for 2017 are sparse at the moment. The only definite trip next year is Hawaii, which is scheduled for March. Other parts of the country I’d like to explore over the next twelve months include the Dakotas, southern California, and the Pacific Northwest. There is a strong possibility I’ll return to Iowa in the spring and I’d love to get back to New England next summer. Whether any of that happens, only time will tell.
While it’s possible I could add another 10% (~315 counties) to the tally in 2017 that seems fairly aggressive given what remains. I can envision collecting another 203, which will put me at the two-thirds mark. Getting to 2,000 only needs 104, so that’s likely to happen by summer. Undoubtedly there will be interesting courthouses to photograph, unanticipated sights to see, and plenty of Marriott branded hotels to explore. Who knows, maybe I’ll even try a few Starwood properties.
Unless something unexpected comes up over the next couple months, look for the next post in mid to late March covering my trip to Hawaii. Of course, if I do sneak in another trip before March, you can read about it here.