Ready to be inspired? Meet Ethel MacDonald, a 78-year-old sweetheart from Montana who has traveled over 10,000 miles in Europe and the U.S. on her bright pink bicycle.
“People say that I inspire them. That’s nice if I can inspire more people to bike and stay active.”
Ethel was a high school French teacher in Montana and began traveling to France every other year while she was teaching. Soon, however, she decided to stop teaching and start traveling.
“I just wasn’t having a whole lot of fun anymore,” Ethel says. “I thought, well, I could be biking right now and I have already done two or three biking trips. I finished off the school year and didn’t look for anything else.”
Couchsurfing to the Rescue!
During her second bike trip, Ethel was traveling in France, just north of Paris. She was using a service similar to Couchsurfing that is geared towards cyclists. She soon ran into a problem – she couldn’t find any hosts on that site within the next 50 miles. The host she was currently staying with said, “Why don’t you try Couchsurfing?” So, that’s exactly what MacDonald did.
She quickly created a profile and connected with her first Couchsurfing host in France. She found a nice couple who gladly took her in. They swapped travel stories and Ethel was particularly interested in hearing how her hosts had learned about Couchsurfing: In 2010 the couple was traveling in Iceland when there were volcanic eruptions that caused enormous disruption to air travel across western and northern Europe. They couldn’t fly home, so they utilized Couchsurfing to find locals that were willing to let them stay in their homes.
Ethel has had many great hosts over the years including an artist in Denmark, an avid traveler from Amsterdam and a retired couple in California, to name a few.
Ethel has a collage that she calls her “Guest Book.” It includes photos and stories from all the hosts and guests she meets.
All of the biking trips that Ethel takes are solo. She prefers to go alone for a few reasons. “I tend to be an impatient person,” she explains. “When I was a freshman in college, I learned that if I wanted to do things, I should just do them and not wait for somebody to do them with me.” She remembers not needing to have a friend with her to explore new things. Whether that’s attending a new academic club on campus, visiting a church, or going on a class trip, she learned to just do things by herself.
When it comes to biking she claims, “I just get on my bike and do it.” And with travel, “I just really like doing something when I feel like it. I’m used to just getting up, having my coffee and oatmeal, and let’s go!” It’s not to say she doesn’t enjoy the company of other people, but when it comes to her preferred type of travel, she explains “I like to do things when and how and where I like to do them.” Talk about an independent woman!
“I’m not averse to meeting people along the way and biking together or camping together for a while, but I just like the freedom of not being tied to another person’s needs and plans. When you travel alone, there is nobody to blame but yourself when you make mistakes. It’s up to me whether or not I let something bother me.”
“People love to be kind” -Willie Weir
Ethel admires some quotes from a popular travel writer named Willy Weir. She explains that from her personal experience, “When you’re on a bike, everybody is friendly. People everywhere are nice and they love doing favors. Especially for an old lady on a bike.” She continues explaining a concept that Weir introduced to her called “initiating kindness.” It’s the idea of asking someone for help which leads to a kind gesture. For example, asking for directions and someone offers a ride.
Ethel describes Couchsurfing as a way of initiating kindness. “If I host someone, I’m being kind to them and they thank me and tell me how wonderful I am, and that makes me feel good, and everybody feels good!”
If you haven’t already, you can easily create a profile on Couchsurfing.com to meet some amazing people from all over the world.