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If you’re planning a visit to the United States, you may start to feel a bit overwhelmed. After all, the country is so large and varied that it would be easy to spend an entire lifetime sightseeing there and never run out of places to see.
Maybe you’ve already been to New York and Washington and you want to see the rest of the country. What next?
Here’s an idea: Visit America's national parks and national monuments. Admission is cheap and there's a lot to see and do.
Think about how different the Statue of Liberty, Gettysburg and the Grand Canyon are from each other. You see? Whether you’re a city slicker, a history buff or a nature lover you'll find parks that you'll enjoy.
1. Get a passport
We had a lot of fun visiting various national parks with our kids, especially after we bought Passport® to Your National Parks. It’s a cute, affordable, spiral-bound, pocket-size booklet that contains a list and map of every national park in America.
We quickly learned to keep our Passport in the glove box of our car so we wouldn’t forget it at home. Not only was it a cheap souvenir of our visits around the country, we found that it's actually a great resource. The Passport contains maps that indicate all the national park locations, broken down and color-coded by region of the country.
2. Find parks to visit
Wherever we went, we’d check the Passport to see if any parks were along our route. That might seem crazy and meaningless at first glance, but it's a great way to find cool sites that might be otherwise overlooked. For instance, thanks to the Passport we found out about Jean Lafitte National Park, only a few minutes outside of New Orleans. It gave our family a chance to see a new historical site and learn more about the War of 1812.
We even planned our Las Vegas itinerary by using the map to learn where the nearby parks were.
I should mention at this point that the passport does not include UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are not part of America's National Parks system. (Maybe UNESCO should create its own special passport for that!)
3. Get a stamp at every park
Some travelers like to collect stamps in their international passport from each country they visit, but that's not for everyone. If you live in the U.S. and don't have the time, money or desire to go overseas, it can be just as much fun to collect stamps from America's national parks.
Collecting park stamps has become so popular that now there's even a club for people who collect them.
The stamps, which look similar to postal cancellations, record the name of the park and the date of your visit, just like a regular passport.
These cancellations are free of charge; all you need to do is pop into the gift shop at the park’s visitor center, find the stamp and ink pad (usually near the checkout counter), and stamp your Passport yourself.
You can collect stamps at national monuments and national conservation areas too.
4. Add stickers for more color and interest
Kids enjoy stickers, don't they? Ours were no exception, and the Passport has room for both stamps and stickers, so we bought a passport for each child.
Each year the National Park Service releases an annual commemorative stamp set. It includes nine regional stamps and one national stamp on one sheet, each with a photo from the park. At only $3.95 a set, it's a great deal.
Tip: The Passport has only 104 pages so you'll need to be selective about your stickers.
5. Enjoy the memories
It has been great fun to look through the book over the years and to reminisce about our trips, who we went with and when we’d been where. Along with our travel photos, it has become a wonderful, inexpensive souvenir of our trips as a family. Better yet, this is one souvenir that doesn't collect dust in a drawer.