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Photo by Morgan Dansby

Eat, Pray, Zoom: Morgan Dansby’s Cross-Country Journey

Remote learning has created endless opportunities for students and given us the power to decide where our “classroom” will be. We all had to quickly adjust to the new normal of online learning last spring semester due to COVID-19. While some found the lack of physical learning and human interaction difficult, others took it upon themselves to seize the unique opportunity of being able to attend classes on the go! Environmental science and geology double-major Morgan Dansby made the most of this situation by going on a cross-country road trip with the hopes of gaining more hands-on experience in her field of study and, of course, a little bit of adventure. Around 5,000 miles later, Morgan is back with newfound worldliness under her belt and lots of stories to tell! 

Her Campus (HC): How many credit hours did you take during the fall semester?

Morgan Dansby (MD): I took 14 credit hours.

HC: How long did you intend to be on the road for and what was your desired route? Did you find yourself frequently changing the schedule based on issues you encountered?

MD: I intended to be on the road for three weeks. I planned to depart from St. Petersburg, Florida and head northwest through Alabama and Mississippi to eventually get to the first national park I was stopping at, Big Bend National Park. My first planned stop was Jean Lafitte National Historic Park in New Orleans, Louisiana. Unfortunately, the park was closed due to Hurricane Delta, so I had to quickly change my plans. I planned on driving nine hours on the first day but ended up driving 15 to McKinney Roughs Nature Park in Cedar Creek, Texas. The last place I planned to stop at was Yellowstone National Park. It was 17 degrees Fahrenheit two days before I was supposed to head that way and tire chains were required to enter the park. As a true Floridian, I had never even heard of tire chains...so I decided it was not the best idea to go to Yellowstone after all. I was on my way to the Grand Canyon when I realized I would have to change my plan. It ended up working out because I was about six hours from one of my friends in California. By a stroke of luck, I was able to visit my friend and go to two national parks that I haven’t been to!

HC: Where did you ultimately end up going? Are any other breathtaking parks or landmarks worth mentioning?

MD: I ended up going to Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, California, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia. In total, I visited 13 national parks! I visited Big Bend National Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, White Sands National Park, Petrified Forest National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Arches National Park, Zion National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, and Death Valley National Park. I also visited Sedona, Arizona; New Orleans, Louisiana; the Hoover Dam; and Los Angeles, California. 

HC: What inspired you to go on such a long trip alone? Did you meet any new friends along the way?

MD: I have been studying geology and environmental science for the past two years and I wanted to see the formations we were studying in person. It seemed like the perfect time to go, with our classes being remote and all. I met a lot of cool people on the way, some traveling by. I met another solo traveler from California at the Grand Canyon. The hike into the canyon was about 15 miles roundtrip and we did about 10 miles of it together. It was by far the hardest hike I’ve ever done and I don’t think I could have finished it without her.

HC: Were your family and friends supportive of you going on such a long trip alone? Was there anything you felt you were missing out on in Tallahassee?

MD: All of my family and friends were extremely supportive of my trip! Everyone loved seeing pictures and following along on my journey. I would FaceTime my mom every day to check-in and show her where I was. Honestly, no; the future was very uncertain with COVID-19 regulations and all my classes were online. It seemed like the perfect time to take a cross country road trip! 

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HC: How did you complete all of your schoolwork like taking exams, joining Zoom calls and writing papers? Would you set aside a certain amount of time to complete assignments when you had a stable internet connection?

MD: I had Zoom classes Monday to Thursday at 8:00 a.m. every day. All my other classes were on Tuesdays and Thursdays on Zoom from 8:00 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Most of the time I was in the mountain time zone, so my classes were from 6:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. On these days, I would go to a coffee shop and spend all day there. I made sure the coffee shop was close to whatever national park I was visiting that day or the next day. This worked out in my favor because my 8:00 a.m. class would finish by 7:00 a.m. in the Mountain time zone, so I would get to the national park around 7:30 a.m., just in time for sunrise! I made sure to not leave the coffee shop on Thursdays until I finished all my work for the weekend. Sometimes I would get there at 6:00 a.m. and leave at 9:00 p.m. I loved talking to the baristas and trying different coffee across the United States!

HC: What was the biggest setback you faced during your trip if any?

MD: When I met up with my friend at Joshua Tree National Park, I stayed with her for two days in Long Beach, California. When I was there, my car got towed, and I received a $280 fine. At that point, my trip was coming to an end and I was heading back the next day. It was risky… I only had about $250 to get back! It was bad planning on my part, but I didn’t expect something like that to happen. Luckily, my friend and I split the fine and I was able to make it back without running out of money. 

HC: Do you have a favorite memory or place that you would identify as a highlight of this trip?

MD: I was the happiest version of myself throughout the whole trip. If I had to say, my favorite national parks were the Grand Canyon, Carlsbad Caverns, Petrified Forest and Death Valley. Each national park was very unique, which made each hike so intriguing and fun. 

HC: What tips would you give to someone who is also hoping to take advantage of remote learning and use this time to travel? Do you have any specific tips for budget travelers?

MD: I would say to make sure you account for the time difference if there is one. That was my biggest problem, but it was also a blessing in disguise. Waking up earlier gave me more hours in the day to hike and do schoolwork. If you are planning to do a national park road trip, definitely buy a national park pass! This pass is $80 and you can use it to visit any national park you want for a year. This saved me a ton of money because most of the entrance fees are $20. 

HC: Would you consider doing more solo travel in the future? What are some other places you’re dying to visit in the United States?

MD: I would definitely consider doing more solo travel in the future. Solo traveling gives you the chance to discover yourself and meet new people along the way. I love traveling with others, but solo traveling gives you a different perspective on traveling and life in general. I am dying to visit Oregon and Yellowstone National Park and can’t wait to see how far this hobby can take me!

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Hi, my name is Isabella! I'm an Editing, Writing and Media major at FSU with a minor in retail entrepreneurship. I love all things fashion, food and travel (I run a food account on Instagram for fun @isabellalacarte).
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