During quarantine, UNO students Seth Varner and Austin Schneider hit the road and visited every town in Nebraska. Their project, “Visit531 Nebraska,” picked up quite a following across the state and received local media attention.
The Wahoo natives got the idea for the adventure from Varner’s previous expeditions to small towns with his father. He and Schneider noticed the low gas prices and decided to hop in the car and pick up where Varner and his father had left off.
“There’s something new in every town, you’ve just got to go out and find it,” Varner said.
After visiting a few towns, one of their friends suggested they make a Facebook page detailing their stops. They frequently posted images of historical markers and town landmarks. Their following steadily increased, amassing around 25,000 followers.
The Facebook page received state-wide attention, and many towns took note of their visit and would celebrate their arrival with parades. People would approach them and ask if they were “the Visit531 guys.”
“It got to the point where almost every town we went to, if we met someone, they knew who we were,” Varner said. “It was really weird.”
Before they embarked on the adventure, Schneider came up with the idea to use an Energizer Bunny he had in his room as a mascot for their travels. It became a trademark of their adventure.
“It’s perfect, because just like the energizer bunny never stops going, we never stop going,” Schneider said. “And you would be surprised—some photos we forgot to have it and people would be like, ‘Hey, where’s the energizer bunny?’ and we’d have to retake the photo.”
The rapid transition into local celebrity status has been interesting, they said.
“I can’t tell you how many times people would come up while we were working at the Dairy Queen, and be like, ‘Oh, how was your trip?’” Schneider said. “I mean, just dozens of people.”
Varner and Schneider both agree that it’s important for people from larger cities in Nebraska to visit smaller towns to learn more about the state.
“You really get to appreciate Nebraska more,” said Schneider. “You can appreciate the small-town living.”
Varner grew up in the country near Wahoo, so visiting small towns in Nebraska is particularly important to him. He said that going from living in a small town to living in Omaha has showed him how different life can be in different parts of the state. He said that in smaller towns “you feel that Nebraskan hospitality.”
The pair also noted that they learned a lot about Nebraskan history throughout their trip.
“There’s a lot to learn about our state in small towns,” Varner said. “In Blue Hill, there’s still a town ordinance that states that any lady sitting in public eating an onion while wearing a hat that can scare a timid person can be arrested.”
They read hundreds of historical markers and saw many unique buildings during their travels, which helped to highlight the way Nebraska has become the state it is today.
“You can learn a little bit of history from each town, every place you go,” said Schneider.
Looking toward the future, Varner and Schneider plan to write a book, possibly titled “Visit531 Nebraska,” detailing their travels. They anticipate the book will be out before the end of 2020. They currently have a fundraiser selling t-shirts to raise money for their book.