Here’s another interview from our series where we talk to travelers. We met up with Alisha McDarris, who is a self-proclaimed “outdoor-obsessed vegan who can always eat, loves making friends in foreign countries and despises rude bus drivers.” With her husband, she travels a great deal and blogs about her adventures at terradrift.com.
What led you to start traveling? What motivated you to start exploring new places?
I should probably give my parents a little credit. My family vacations were almost always road trips. Every year they’d load my sister and me into the van and we’d go someplace new. Almost always in the U.S., but always somewhere unique and exciting. We went camping and backpacking a lot, too, which sprouted my deep love for the outdoors. That’s probably what planted the seed, but the first time I went to the Dominican Republic on a school service trip I knew exploring new lands was something I wanted to do. Experiencing new cultures, trying new foods, meeting people from all over the world who lived a different lifestyle than I did…it was all so exciting! Except for the sunburn from being so much closer to the equator…that was somewhat less exciting…
Where have you been recently?
Last fall my husband and I, a travel videographer, spent two months backpacking around Europe. That was a blast. It was also nuts (I’m still learning how not to be sooo cheap that it tarnishes the experience-whoops). It’s also where we discovered that we needed to stop going to all the places websites and guidebooks recommend, and instead start going to places that meant something to us. While driving around Transylvania (we both love eerie history and literary legends), we realized how much more we enjoyed exploring countries and cities that really spoke to us over the ones we’re “supposed” to go to as travelers (I’m talking to you, Amsterdam).
This year, we’ve spent a lot of time doing just that: exploring the parts of the U.S. we’ve never been or always wanted to return to. We backpacked rim-to-rim in the Grand Canyon, hiked in Grand Teton National Park for the first time, and attempted mountain biking on the Kitsap Peninsula in Washington.
What is the most interesting place you’ve ever been?
That’s a tough one. Romania truly spoke to my heart and I loved being in rolling hills and by mountain lakes where there wasn’t any other foreign tourist. Add to the natural beauty the shepherds dotting the landscape and couples riding in horse-drawn carts hauling wood to their homes for the winter and it’s like stepping back in time. Plus we had a very witty Irishman in the backseat who kept us thoroughly entertained the whole time.
But several days spent on Fraser Island off the eastern coast of Australia with a group of volunteers that knew the ecology of the island inside and out was also pretty magical. That’s also where I discovered tide pools. Have you ever gone swimming in tide pools?! Dang. They’re freaking amazing. Now every time I see one on a map or somebody mentions one nearby I’m all like, “Tidepool? What? Where? How far? How do I get there?”
What is the craziest travel story you have? Has anything weird or strange or chaotic happened to you during your travels?
I feel like every time we travel we end up with ridiculous tales to tell all of our friends, whether it’s about missing buses, old Italian men trying to get us to kiss on the side of the road, or spending two days in Iceland with a couple of German backpackers with whom we hitchhiked. We always end up with the weirdest stories, probably because we try to travel so very cheaply. Think sleeping in our Prius on long road trips and hitchhiking from trailheads in New Zealand to avoid paying exorbitantly high transfer fees (we call that the tourist tax and we can always find a way around it). But one of our craziest stories I just wrote about in Get Lost Magazine. It was about couchsurfing in Cork, Ireland with a very kind and intelligent man whose home was filled with rotten food and moldy dishes. It was, shall we say, an experience. To this day the smell of stewed garlic, butter, and onions makes me nauseated. Long story. You’ll just have to pick up a copy of the magazine. ;-)
What inspired you to start blogging about your travels?
When I started Terradrift, it just seemed like the thing to do. I mean, I wanted to travel, I was already a freelance writer and journalist, and maybe other people would want to read about our experiences, or perhaps we could help others travel for cheap (or maybe my mom and dad would be my only audience, who knows?). But I didn’t really start thinking I could try to do it for a living (or at least a partial living), until maybe two years ago. I still don’t make a living from it, but my husband and I are working toward it every day! We talk a lot about spending less on travel, but these days it’s more about vegan travel and outdoor adventure.
How do you save money before and during a trip?
We have a separate savings account that we set aside just for travel. Every month we put a certain amount of our income in that savings account. But we travel so cheaply we rarely deplete it! We couchsurf, which is usually way more fun and interesting than a hotel anyway, find cheap flights or figure out how to earn and pay with points and miles, and usually skip the overpriced tourist attractions for more natural or lesser-known adventures. We also live a fairly simple lifestyle when not traveling: we live in a tiny house, keep to a tight budget, don’t spend on much we don’t need, and so end up having more money to spend on travel.
Do you have any travel tips or advice for others?
Go where your heart leads you! Just because everybody else is going to Bali and Amsterdam doesn’t mean you have to. Croatia is “big” right now. So what? If you’d rather go to Nicaragua or Kazakstan, go there instead. Also, we tell friends and family all the time who mutter things like, “Oh, I’d love to go to…” Just go! Trust me when I say we are by no means wealthy, but there’s always a way. You may not be staying in 5-star hotels and you may have to forgo luxuries you’re used to in everyday life, but the experience is always worth it. So just go already!
What are your future plans, travel or otherwise?
Plans? What are those? We decided to build a tiny house in two weeks. We decided to live in Australia for 9 months after about two conversations about it. We are notoriously not planners. We’re in the middle of a month-long road trip down the west coast of the U.S., and while we pretty much have the dates and cities planned out, we still have almost no idea what we’re doing or where we’re staying in those cities. But I would like to do some backpacking in South America next year and maybe spend a few weeks in Tanzania learning about a safari company that operates an elephant and rhino orphanage that’s doing a lot of good trying to preserve endangered species.