When Elizabeth Bankhead decided she’d had enough of finance, she didn’t do what any Joe Schmoe would do (like get a different job)… She packed up her life and took to the road with a plan to spend a year visiting the 48 contiguous states. From her escapade came her blog, Adventures of a Couchsurfer — a combination of stories and photos from her travels. Now that she’s made the trip across the states, she’s turned to documenting her international journeys as well, and this is where we caught up with her to talk to her about her big trip, her current adventures, and, of course, couchsurfing.
- The Trip Tribe: You started your blog when you decided to travel around the US for a year. Did you make it to all 50 states? And did you couch surf your way across?
Adventures of a Couchsurfer: I did not make it to all 50 states, only the 48 contiguous states. I had already been to Hawaii, so I only have Alaska left. It has been on my list for a long time! My original intent was to couch surf my way around, at least to a degree, but plans changed. I joined Couchsurfing.org, but I planned this trip in two months and did not make it to any local events to make “friends” to vouch for me on the site. As such, the first person I reached out to, declined to host me! Beyond the initial set back, while my trip was generally mapped out, I didn’t know exactly where I’d end up each day, and etiquette was to request a stay a few days in advance. Many times I hardly had internet service, so my travels weren’t conducive to couchsurfing. Having said that, especially for the first 3 months of my trip on the east coast, it seemed like I had a friend, a friend of a friend, a relative, or a stranger offer their house or driveway to me on a weekly basis, so I did manage a real bed every 7 days or so. I can’t say I was quite as lucky in the Western half of the country…it’s more spreadout. I camped in my Eurovan in state parks, national parks, private campgrounds, national forests, city parks, Wal-Mart parking lots, and the side of the road.
TTT: Now that you’ve started traveling internationally, what kind of perspective do you take with you from your journey across the US?
AoC: So I’m having a difficult time answering this question. I traveled internationally extensively prior to taking my trip around the USA as I enjoy seeing other cultures and the beauty of other countries and know generally what to expect. What I might have to say is how my perspective on the USA changed while living in a car for a year. My previous travel around the USA was mostly to horse shows as a kid or to cities for work, and aside from a few places, I never realized there were so many magnificent natural wonders in America. Yes, there are the California coast, the Rocky Mountains, and Niagara Falls, but really, I could name at least one cool place in every state. Because of all the big cities and commericialization, Americans overlook some amazing jewels this country has to offer. The second thing I learned is that it is possible to live cheaply in the USA. It might not be easy or people often choose a different lifestyle. But if destitute, there are options. I found several free places to camp. I learned to use the library…something I hadn’t done since the 5th grade. While it might not be that healthy, people can eat 3 meals a day off the $1 menu at fast food places for $10. Gym memberships at $25/month are cheap and offer a way to stay in shape and a shower. I’m not saying I’d want to do it, and I’m certain facing hard times for an extended period of time would be difficult, but living in a car for a year really made me see what I needed in life, and how I could survive if necessary in the United States!
TTT: Can you single out one or two remarkable experiences that you’ve had traveling?
AoC: I think my remarkable experiences all end up having to do with animals, thus I have figured out I am an animal lover. My all time favorite trip ever, bar none, was a photographic safari to Africa. We watched a kill, a hunt, lions making love, the wildebeest cross the river, and the list goes on and on. Also, while diving in the Red Sea, we watched a moray eel attack a stone fish. It was too large for it to eat all at once so it began twisting into a pretzel and it would pull the fish through its body to break it up. Our group of divers must have encroached on it as we were mesmerized, and it dropped the fish and came swimming out at us. Naturally, our semi-circle expanded quickly and the eel turned around and continued with eating the fish!
Of course, both those trips took place before I started blogging, so if you need blog stories, here is one more: I had pulled into a campground in Colorado during my trip around the USA. I had one bar on my cell phone, so I had the sliding door of my van open, where I was sitting on the edge snacking on some goldfish crackers while talking to a friend. My dog, a doberman mix, started growling. I got up, looked around, didn’t see anything, but he was being a pest, so I hung up with my friend and got in the van with Petey. It was around 5pm, broad daylight, and warm. I popped the top of the camper, cranked the side windows out, pulled the shades, and turned on the fans to keep as cool as possible as I climbed onto the bed in the back to blog. Petey slept by my side. As I was typing I heard a grunt and the van shook. Odd, I thought, doesn’t sound like Petey’s yelp when he dreams. I looked toward my leg to see if he was trembling, another part of his dream routine. Nope. Then another grunt and the shake of the van. It was coming from the left-hand side window where my fig newton’s sat on the counter. I slowly raised the shade to find a mama bear raised up on her hind legs pushing on the van with two cubs by her side!!
Don’t say surprised to me and what a pitiful watch dog sleeping on the bed with a bear three feet from him. Lucky for me, mama bear was a black bear, not a grizzly, was just as surprised and ran away at the same time I jumped backward and looked for my camera! By the time I found it and rolled down the window, they were gone! The campers below me left out their trash, however, so the bears returned. I found this to be a double edge sword as I was excited to shoot some pics from a distance, but sad to know this bear’s long-term outcome wasn’t promising due to human carelessness. The mama was already tagged which meant she had visited previously, and could eventually be dangerous. It was definitely remarkable to be inches from a bear though.
TTT: Besides your own, what are some of your favorite blogs?
AoC: My favorite blog is called Hiking to Healthy. I like it for a variety of reasons. First, I find it inspiring that she is not only helping herself, but helping others by sharing her story about losing weight and getting back into shape through hiking. Second, I love hiking, and she highlights hiking trails all over Colorado (where I live). The posts are informative as she includes elevation, mileage, fees, and if dogs are permitted. Along with the statistics, she shares pics and her hiking story. That is the blog I follow regularly. I also like one called Where’s My Backpack. I like it starting with the title! It’s catchy and a fun travel blog. Otherwise, I just surf based on what my next adventure is going to be, so I’ve been watching a blog called Maldives Dreamer to find tips for my visit there, and I’ve been reading posts on Italy, but can’t say which blogs.
TTT: Describe yourself in 6 words.
AoC: Curious, determined, adventurous, intelligent, reliable, loyal.
I’m Beth Bankhead. I was born and raised in Dallas, Texas and currently reside in Denver, Colorado. After a long career in public finance, I decided to pursue my passion in travel and photography. In 2011, I took a year to travel the USA in my Eurovan to explore America’s beauty. Through this trip, my travel blog was born. Now, my blog includes additional trips from around the world as well as my award winning photography. At the end of 2013, I launched my photographic notecard business of which a portion of the sales are donated back to the things that bring me joy…the parks and the arts. I hope my photography and stories might inspire just one person to experience the natural wonders of the world.