Simply, waiting for tomorrow to live our lives is not a bargain we want to make. Ron and I both made this decision independently, before we met.
Rewind about five years…
Ron was working for one of the world’s most prominent tech companies as a senior software engineer – a good job with a lot of prestige and the pay to go along with it. I had just finished graduate school and a year co-leading the successful turnaround of a prominent Colorado nonprofit organization. We had both achieved a traditional definition of success at an early age yet were both becoming increasingly restless with each passing day. We each felt trapped by all this “success” and everything that comes along with it.
We both started searching for a way to pursue the things we found more meaningful in terms of life experience, especially landscape photography (my portfolio and Ron's portfolio) and travel. Ron decided to start an early retirement, thinking he would take off about a year to photograph and travel. Simultaneously, I started whittling down my debt to only a small mortgage, started a consulting business, and began making some other big life changes that would allow me more freedom and independence.
And then our paths crossed. Near the beginning of Ron’s retirement, a mutual photographer friend introduced the two of us. We spent some time photographing together, became friends, and stayed in touch as Ron continued on his travels. A few months later, that friendship turned into more and we spent the next two and a half years traveling extensively throughout North America.
Living the Dirtbag Photographer Lifestyle
During that time, we spent more than 350 nights across 38 states and two Canadian provinces sleeping in the back of our SUV or (less often) in our tent, in locations ranging from a feral-cat infested Piggly Wiggly parking lot in a South Carolina beach town to a lonely backcountry campsite a dozen miles from the nearest road in the Canadian Rockies. We also spent two months in Iceland over three separate trips.
Over these many miles, we ate dozens of delicious meals and many surprisingly disgusting meals (one lesson: 4.5 stars on Yelp doesn’t mean a lot for a Mexican restaurant in Virginia!). Many pieces of camera equipment were lost to waterfalls, rivers, and contact with a plain ol’ concrete sidewalk. Only a few nights of paid lodging were procured, primarily in Kauai (only to get away from the roosters who have overtaken the campgrounds and cock-a-doodle-doo at all hours of the night and morning) and also in Yellowstone last winter, because camping in sub-zero temperatures just isn’t my thing. We made dozens of photographer friends along the way and met all sorts of interesting people. We also wrote three ebooks on photography, with each sale getting us $15.95 closer to being able to do it all over again. For both of us, we fully experienced our own lives for the first time ever.
And Then Reality Came Knocking
Although I continued working through my consulting practice during our travels, Ron slowly drained his savings account over three years of travel. It was time to go back to work. We both returned to a full-time, regular work schedule in March and quickly realized a few things. First, we were incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to travel as we did. We both agree that spending the time to experience our lives in this way is the single best decision either of us has made. Second, we confirmed that we are no longer suited for the 9 to 5 grind. Photography on the weekends just isn't satisfying. Third, that we shouldn’t waste the opportunity that we have for the next phase of our lives. With flexible work schedules, there is no reason that we have to work from the same place every day and plenty of reasons why we shouldn’t.
The Next Chapter
While thinking about our options earlier this year, we quickly focused on the idea of buying a travel trailer and bringing our cats along for the journey. This would reduce the flexibility we had during our last period of travel (no more last-minute decisions to sleep in our car wherever we happen to be at the moment) while increasing the flexibility we have now by allowing us to travel and work simultaneously. The trailer will necessitate that we be more disciplined in our travel, stay in places longer, and get to know them better. Instead of driving several hundred miles every day chasing forecasts that were often wrong, we can spend two weeks exploring Zion National Park (note: our plan for ten days turned into being gone for a month!), getting to places we would have missed on a quick visit.
In late August... early September.... late September... well, actually early October (our dealer hasn't been great, as these delays demonstrate...), we will take ownership of our silvery new-to-us home away from home, an elegant, modern, and made-to-last Airstream trailer. We are making this investment with the goal of choosing this as our life for the foreseeable future – working from the road for longer periods of time, getting to know the places we visit more intimately, and then having the opportunity to return to a home we love in a lively urban neighborhood.
This is a big leap… Spending a large part of our savings on an RV (and tow vehicle!) turned out to be a big, stressful decision. Neither of us has ever towed anything larger than a boat or emptied the euphemistically-named “black tank.” The confusing concepts of towing capacities, tongue weights and fancy hitches never factored into our rosy picture of “let’s buy an Airstream!” Our kitties have lived in the same house for most of their lives and we know it will be a big transition for them (a car ride does not equal vet visit anymore, girls!)
Still, this choice represents the best opportunity for us to live our lives with more vigor, purpose, and adventure given the constraint of needing to make a living. Even though we live simply by American standards and could make enough to meet our needs through professional photography, the idea of exclusively making a living that way is an uphill battle that we do not want to fight right now. Thus, sticking with our current professions – software developer and nonprofit consultant with some photography income on the side – and working from the road for extended periods of time will be the best of both worlds.
We have many lessons to learn, places to see, and photographs to take. We invite you to join us on this journey!