When celebrity gossip columnist and Beaufortonian Kelly Will decided to change her life last year, she didn't get a haircut or buy a new pair of shoes. What she did was sell almost all her material possessions and hit the road in her Honda CR-V in search of adventure.
Her goal was straightforward, if not daunting: See all 50 states in one year.
She would use social media to find friends and friends of friends to stay with along the way. Each day, she would write about her travels and share her story online.
After 45 states, 345 days and 32,248 miles traveled, Will is stopping back in Beaufort to meet with friends and speak to the public about her journey. Will is speaking at 7 p.m. April 29 at the YMCA of Beaufort County and 10 a.m. April 30 at the Fripp Island Community Centre and All Faiths Chapel.
"I just didn't feel like I was pursuing the fullest version of myself," Will said. "I wanted to change myself, and I wanted to see what the United States looked like today."
Four years ago, Will made a living interviewing celebrities in New York. When she grew tired of that, she moved to Beaufort and worked as a spin instructor at the YMCA and as a sales manager at Fripp Island Resort. Last May, at 34 years old, she came up with her idea to travel America, and hasn't looked back since.
She's traveled from well-known locales like Key West, Florida, and San Antonio to lesser known places like Redfield, South Dakota.; Show Low, Arizona; and Ketchum, Idaho.
"I couldn't have told you where Idaho was on a map before this," Will said. "But driving through Idaho blew me away. It's all flat farmland surrounded by gorgeous mountains."
Besides enjoying the scenery, Will has enjoyed people's generosity.
"I haven't had to buy a drop of food since the moment I left. I've eaten like a queen," she said.
In Rhode Island, a shipbuilder made Will ratatouille for the first time. In New Hampshire, she tasted a shepherd's pie that was "out of this world." And in Washington, a young mother made her the best whole grain bread from scratch.
While the food has been one of the best parts of her trip, having to be always "on" has been the most challenging, Will said. The constant traveling and meeting new people and trying to show them the best version of herself took its toll the first few months.
"It was very draining at the beginning. I slowly learned how to enjoy every connection. I learned how to squash bad moments. To recognize them and throw them away," she said. "It's an incredible teaching tool to learn how to be positive 99.9 percent of the time."
Will still has Alaska, Hawaii, Arkansas, North Dakota and Utah left to visit.
"I have a lot of work to do in the last few weeks. But no matter what, I'll get those states in," she said, even if she has to go over her one year mark by a little bit. In addition to fulfilling her personal goal, Will plans to write a book and make a documentary about her travels, and has been shopping around for agents and literary deals.
"I'm so proud of myself. I have loved every moment," Will said. "My life is brilliant because I did this."
Follow reporter Erin Shaw at twitter.com/IPBG_ErinShaw.