It’s been more than 18 months since two Wahoo natives completed their well-documented trip that included visits to all 531 incorporated communities in Nebraska.
Seth Varner and Austin Schneider, who embarked on their journey in April 2020, wanted to do something other than watch TV and play video games all day when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down most of the state.
The pair’s journey started on April 22, 2020, as previously reported by the Daily News, and was finished on July 17 the same year. Varner and Schneider’s journey gained popularity as they crossed town after town off their list. A “Visit 531” Facebook page they had created documenting their expedition climbed to more than 20,000 “likes.”
Varner said he did most of the planning and organization of “Visit 531 Nebraska” himself, but Schneider was on board when Varner first broached the idea.
Visit 531 became such a hit that the two decided to publish a book shortly after they finished their venture. The book — “Visit 531 Nebraska: Our Journey to Every Incorporated Town in the State” — was published in November 2020 and was created in partnership with Wandermore Publishing.
The book offers Nebraska fanatics a look into each town through fun facts, photos and more. The 442-page book also delves into Varner’s and Schneider’s grown appreciation for the Cornhusker State, something they have hoped to spread to other Nebraskans.
But the two wanted more adventure and more discovery. And on March 30, 2021, Varner and Schneider took on a newer, bigger challenge. They set out to visit all 939 incorporated communities in Iowa, and they finished that trek on Sept. 12.
Varner and Schneider then went to work on book number two — “Visit 939 Iowa: A Journey Across the Hawkeye State,” which was published in November. A Facebook page documenting the pair’s Iowa trip has reached almost 35,000 likes.
In 2010, Varner’s family was working on a family tree project, and his father had taken him along for trips to various cemeteries in Butler and Saunders counties to take photos of family members’ gravestones. Seth and his father set out to visit every town within the two counties but didn’t reach many communities beyond that.
Those cemetery trips for Varner are what sparked his interest to someday visit every incorporated community in Nebraska; he just didn’t know when he would be able to do it. Almost two years after the Saunders County natives decided to find something to cure their boredom, they’ve visited 1,470 communities across two states and traveled more than 133,000 square miles.
Varner and Schneider spent several thousand dollars on travel expenses, lodging and food during both of their journeys, but each trip was well worth it, they said.
“I’ve really just been amazed at the number of people who have rallied behind us through this entire thing,” Varner told the Daily News. “We met someone in almost every town, and there were so many kind people; a lot of them gave us souvenirs as well. It really has been just an incredible journey.”
The time Varner and Schneider took to document their journeys is something that should be appreciated. The Midwest is sometimes viewed simply as a giant mass of farmland lacking interesting things to see and do, but the University of Nebraska at Omaha students did their part in showing that Nebraska and Iowa are anything but that.
“We really live in an amazing state,” Varner said. “You would think there isn’t a single thing to do in some places, but there are great taverns, sculpture gardens and fun things and fun people every place you go. You just have to be willing to go out and see them.”
Varner and Schneider not only showed the beauties of Nebraska and the underappreciated sights across the state, but their books include pages chalked full of historical facts about the communities themselves, the people who live in them and the buildings that make the towns what they are.
As for future adventures, Varner has said nothing is set in stone, but several years down the road, the two would like to embark on similar journeys with their families and see how communities have changed.
While the two have been open about how much they’ve enjoyed their trips across both states, their journeys included long, tiring days. They should be commended for their commitment to sharing the experiences they’ve had and the knowledge they’ve gained with Nebraskans and Iowans.