The United States is the third largest country on the planet in terms of both size and population. Correspondingly, it's one of the most diverse nations in the world, not only in terms of its demographics, but also culturally and geographically.
Ostensibly, the US is one unified nation. In reality, it's more like 50 separate countries struggling to come to consensus on a wide variety of issues.
It's no secret this country is extremely divided at present, and is arguably the most polarized it's been since the Civil War. Much of this has to do with both liberals and conservatives failing to entertain the viewpoints of the other.
We will never move forward as a country if both sides insist on seeing their respective positions as sacrosanct.
If we are going to come together as a nation and truly live up to the ideals upon which we were founded, we need to make a more concerted effort to understand one another. There is no better way to do this than to explore all 50 states.
We are incredibly privileged to live in a country with such a wide variety of cultures and landscapes. Get out there and take advantage of all this land has to offer and teach.
You can't truly understand the world and its peoples until you've traveled. It doesn't matter how much you've studied history, anthropology, sociology, politics or geography; this planet is too dynamic to be fully captured in books or classrooms. The same is true for countries, including the United States.
Here are 50 reasons you need to visit all 50 states (consider each state a reason in and of itself):
Motto: We dare maintain our rights.
During the 1960s, Alabama emerged as the epicenter of the Civil Rights Movement, with the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965 forever standing as a symbol of this country's struggle for equality.
"Sweet Home Alabama" has everything from mountains to beaches, and is known for its great barbecue, seafood and love for football.
Motto: North to the Future.
It's easy to understand why Christopher McCandless, the protagonist in "Into The Wild," was obsessed with getting to Alaska. America's largest state, often referred to as "The Last Frontier," is the epitome of adventure.
Motto: God enriches.
Arizona, the Grand Canyon state, has some of the most dynamic and epic geography in the US. It's also home to Oraibi, the Hopi Indian village, which some believe to be the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in America.
Motto: The people rule.
The home state of President Bill Clinton has some of the most diverse geography in the United States, with mountains, rivers and hot springs. If you're the outdoorsy type, it's heaven.
It's also the site of Little Rock Central High School, which played a pivotal role in the desegregation of America's schools during the Civil Rights Movement.
Motto: Eureka (I have found it).
The third largest and most agriculturally productive state in the US has everything from beaches and ski slopes to vineyards.
This sunny, laid-back state is also the home of the most delicious burritos in the country.
Motto: Nothing without the Deity.
Colorado is one of the most awe-inspiring states, and a heavenly place for anyone who loves the great outdoors. It's no wonder the lyrics to "America the Beautiful" were written there.
Motto: He who transplanted still sustains.
As one of the original 13 colonies, Connecticut is rich in history. It's also home to one of America's first spies and earliest heroes, Nathan Hale.
Right before the British executed him, Hale apparently stated, "I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”
Motto: Liberty and Independence.
America's first state has beautiful beaches and forests and extremely friendly people. Go visit Lewes, a quant and affable beach town that was the site of the first European settlement in the state.
Motto: In God We Trust.
Known for sunshine, beaches, key lime pie and oranges, Florida is one of the most pleasant places not only in the US, but arguably the world.
Beyond the beaches, check out Ernest Hemingway's Key West home, now overrun by felines.
Motto: Wisdom, Justice And Moderation.
Georgia is the home of the great city of Atlanta, Coca-Cola and the producer of some of the best peaches in the world. It's also where Martin Luther King, Jr. established the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which was a vital organization during the Civil Rights Movement.
Motto: The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.
America's last state and the birthplace of President Barack Obama is paradise. Its indigenous population has a rich history and culture, and can be credited with bringing surfing to the wider world.
Motto: Let it be perpetual.
Millions of people travel to Idaho every year to witness the marvels of its natural wonders. If you're a fan of mountains, rivers, lakes and potatoes, you'll love this state.
Motto: State Sovereignty, National Union.
Illinois is the site of Chicago, one of America's most populous and historic cities. It's also where President Abraham Lincoln began his political career.
Motto: The crossroads of America.
Fun fact: The first train robbery in American history occurred in Indiana in 1866. More importantly, many escaped slaves seeking freedom were sheltered in Indiana on the Underground Railroad prior to and during the Civil War.
Motto: Our liberties we prize, and our rights we will maintain.
Iowa might be a small state, but it's the largest producer of corn in the country. As the site of the Iowa caucuses, this state is also extremely important when it comes to the nominating process for President of the United States.
Motto: To the stars through difficulties.
Known around the world as the setting of "The Wizard of Oz," Kansas is a state with a violent and difficult past. In 1954, a Supreme Court case that originated in Kansas, Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, changed America irrevocably by leading to the desegregation of its schools.
Motto: United we stand, divided we fall.
Once explored by great frontiersman Daniel Boone, Kentucky is the home of bluegrass and the famous Kentucky Derby horse race. This state has a rich history, delicious food and some of the best bourbon in the world.
Motto: Union, Justice, Confidence.
Louisiana has an incredible history, influenced by Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. This is revealed particularly in the diverse and spirited city of New Orleans, with its amazing jazz music, delicious cuisine and colonial architecture.
Motto: I lead.
If you like people with a great sense of humor, and have a taste for lobsters and blueberries, you'll never want to leave Maine. It's a beautiful state with a vibrant and rocky coastline, as well as mountains and forests to be explored.
Motto: Strong Deeds, Gentle Words.
Maryland might be small, but its diverse geography and rich history make up for its size. The Chesapeake Bay is awe-inspiring, and helps produce the world's very best crab cakes. This state is also where the national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner," was written.
Motto: By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty.
Massachusetts is the home of one of America's oldest and greatest cities, Boston. It's the birthplace of the American Revolution, and the location of America's oldest institution of higher learning, Harvard University.
Motto: If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.
Michigan is a beautiful state with gorgeous lakefronts and a high quality of life. It has the longest freshwater shoreline in the world. With Detroit as its largest city, Michigan is home to America's automobile industry, as well as Motown Records.
Motto: Star of the North.
Minneapolis is consistently ranked one of the greenest, most bike-friendly cities in the nation. The Twin Cities are also home to the third largest theater district in the country, which includes the iconic Guthrie theater.
Also, there are 10,000 lakes, beautiful summers and a giant Paul Bunyan statue.
Motto: By valor and arms.
Mississippi might be one of America's poorest states, but it's rich in history and culture, as it played an extremely important role during the Civil Rights Movement. Not to mention, it's the birthplace of American blues music, which eventually evolved into rock and roll.
Motto: The welfare of the people shall be the supreme law.
Missouri is located along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Home to the great city of St. Louis, it's considered the "Gateway to the West." It's also the birthplace of Budweiser.
Motto: Gold and silver.
Montana is a wild and beautiful Western state, and the partial location of the first national park in America, Yellowstone National Park. As one of the least densely populated states in the country, it often gives you the feel of truly being alone on the frontier.
Motto: Equality Before the Law.
Nebraska is home to vast ranches and farmland and is full of hard-working, down-to-earth people. Fun fact: It's also where Kool-Aid was invented.
Motto: All for Our Country.
Both the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead reside in Nevada. It's also home to Las Vegas, known for gambling, amazing shows, dazzling lights and general tomfoolery.
29. New Hampshire
Motto: Live Free or Die.
New Hampshire stands as a pioneer in American democracy, as the first state to have its own constitution. One of the original 13 colonies, it's also home to Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeastern United States.
30. New Jersey
Motto: Liberty and Prosperity.
While it often gets a bad rap, New Jersey is more than just the birthplace of "The Sopranos" and "Jersey Shore." It's home to the best diners in the country, Atlantic City, Frank Sinatra and Jon Bon Jovi.
31. New Mexico
Motto: It Grows as it Goes.
New Mexico is full of history, from its time as a Spanish colony to its use as the site of the Manhattan Project during WWII. It's also home to one of the world's great natural wonders, White Sands National Park.
32. New York
Motto: Excelsior (Ever upward).
Although it's not the capital of the state, New York City is widely considered the greatest city in the world. It's a center of culture, commerce and diplomacy. Not to mention, it's the symbol of America's immigrant tradition, as the home of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
33. North Carolina
Motto: To Be Rather Than to Seem.
With everything from mountains to sandy beaches, North Carolina is one of the most beautiful states in America. It's also full of history, as one of the original 13 colonies. It should be said: You will not find a better BBQ pulled pork sandwich anywhere else.
34. North Dakota
Motto: Liberty and Union Now and Forever, One and Inseparable.
Motto: With God All Things Are Possible.
Eight US presidents were born in Ohio, but more importantly, Wendy's, White Castle and Bob Evans opened their first stores in the Buckeye State.
Also, don't ask Ohioans if they ride tractors to work. The state has 18 electoral votes, meaning it's extremely important for the presidential elections.
Motto: Labor Conquers All Things.
This state is resilient, however, and has continued to strive forward. Today, 39 Native American tribes have headquarters in this state.
Motto: She Flies With Her Own Wings.
Oregon has always served as a symbol of adventure and exploration in America, and was the final resting place for many as the country expanded westward. It's a beautiful state with an environment perfect for those who love the great outdoors.
Its largest city, Portland, has been ranked as one of the country's most livable cities.
Motto: Virtue, Liberty and Independence.
The soul of America was brought to life in Pennsylvania, as both the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed in the amazing city of Philadelphia.
Philly also served as the nation's capital at certain points, and we can't forget about how delicious Philly cheesesteaks are.
39. Rhode Island
Rhode Island has wonderful beaches and a rich history; it stands as one of the first states to work towards abolishing slavery. Rhode Island is also where jazz was born, in Newport in 1954. The Newport Jazz Festival is still held every year. Also, coffee milk is quite a treat.
40. South Carolina
Motto: While I Breathe, I Hope.
South Carolina is the epitome of Southern charm. It's also where the Civil War began, a conflict that would claim over 600,000 American lives. Today, the historic city of Charleston continues to be celebrated for its beautiful colonial architecture and friendly people.
41. South Dakota
Motto: Under God, the People Rule.
Tourists continue to travel to South Dakota to see Mt. Rushmore, a massive monument featuring the faces of several American presidents. This monument, as well as much of the state's history, stands as a testament to the difficult and often oppressive relationship between the US government and Native Americans.
On a more positive note, the state is home to the vast and beautiful Badlands National Park.
Motto: Agriculture and Commerce.
Tennessee is widely recognized as a hub of both blues and country music, resonating from the great cities of Memphis and Nashville. This state is also renowned for its delicious barbecue.
Tennessee is also home to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in America.
Texas is a larger-than-life state with a dynamic past and culture. This state has seen some of the most violent and infamous events in American history, including the siege of the Alamo and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Texas is known for its love of football and delicious steak. We can also thank Texas for the proliferation of tacos throughout the US.
Utah has a beautiful landscape, with everything from mountains to deserts, and it's great for hiking and skiing. It's also known as the hub of Mormonism, and the location of the annual and globally recognized Sundance Film Festival.
Motto: Freedom and Unity.
If you're a fan of the pancake, head up to Vermont for some delicious maple syrup. Well known for its ski slopes, Vermont is also very progressive and was the first state to recognize civil unions between same-sex couples in 2000.
Motto: Thus Always to Tyrants.
You can't tell the story of America without Virginia, as it is the birthplace of America's first leader, George Washington. It also played a pivotal role in both the American Revolution and the Civil War.
It's a beautiful state with amazing nature, from the Blue Ridge Mountains to Virginia Beach.
Motto: Bye and Bye.
Washington is the birthplace of some of America's most innovative and artistic minds, including Bill Gates and Jimi Hendrix.
Located in the Pacific Northwest, it experiences a great deal of rain. The upside of this is it's beautiful and green, providing a natural playground for outdoor enthusiasts.
48. West Virginia
Motto: Mountaineers Are Always Free.
West Virginia is wild and wonderful. It's a state that shall remain perpetually untamed and naturally beautiful. West Virginia is also a gritty state with a hard-working spirit, providing a great deal of this country's coal.
Wisconsin is known for its strong work ethic and friendly people. It's also where Oprah Winfrey was raised and the home of the Packers. Yes, it's cold, but did we mention there's cheese and brats?
Between Yellowstone, Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming is an epically beautiful state. It still holds true to the cowboy culture of the American West, and has an extremely wide variety of wildlife.
In 1869, Wyoming also became the first territory in the nation to allow women to vote.
Bonus: Washington, DC
Motto: Justice for All.
Although it's not a state, Washington, DC also deserves a visit. Given the chaotic nature of American politics, DC is often viewed in a negative light; yet, the city is much more than the seat of the government.
It's a lively, urban center with a unique culture of its own. Don't knock it 'til you try it, as they say.
Citations: I Only Regret That I Have But One Life to Give for My Country (Huffington Post), UNDERGROUND RAILROAD SITES IN INDIANA (Indiana Department of Natural Resources), One Year From The Iowa Caucus What We Know (FiveThirtyEight), Brown v Board of Education (PBS), Daniel Boone (History), Manhattan Project (Encyclopedia Britannica), Seeking Quality Of Life Move To Portland (NBC News), States (History), The Story Behind The Star Spangled Banner (Smithsonian Magazine), Native Americans and Mount Rushmore (PBS), West Virginia (US Energy Information Administration), Selma to Montgomery March (National Park Service), Death of An Innocent (Outside Online), Little Rock Central High School (National Park Service), Katherine Lee Bates (Biography), Our History (South Christian Leadership Conference), Ohio Presidents (Ohio Secretary of State), Trail of Tears (PBS), Dust Bowl (History), Westward Migration (National Park Service), Fort Sumter (National Park Service), Grand Teton National Park (National Park Service)