It’s hard to remember now, but just a few months ago, I was putting in my 40 hours every week from a cube in the Washington, D.C., office. But now, I’m creating infographics and animated videos from scenic overlooks and remote campsites.
More than two months into our adventure of living and working around the United States in a van we named The Phoenix, my boyfriend Jon and I have already crossed Rocky Mountain National Park, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Zion National Park off our list.
I’m looking out the window at Arches National Park as I write this and it’s so different from what I’m used to in the northeast. How red and saturated the rock is – it’s like being on Mars. Our dog, Meara has gotten into the routine now, too, and loves looking out the windows with me. She got to chase a jackrabbit today. She’s fast, but the jackrabbit was faster.
I’m also loving the desert vegetation – there’s prickly pear cactus everywhere, which is fun until you get a needle in your foot like I did this morning.
Some people were skeptical that I could keep up with work from the road, but I think being on the road has helped focus my work – it doesn’t make the work easier, but it alleviates the stress I would normally have, because when we’re done for the day, we get to go out and explore. I’m getting experiences and inspiration I never would have had otherwise. On days off, sometimes we’re driving all day, but we try to make the best of our free time, much more so than if we weren’t on the road. We try to plan at least one full weekend for each of the spots we’ll be staying in, just to hike around and take it all in.
Of course, it’s not all vacationland. We’ve had some trial-and-error while working from some very remote locations.
We’ve learned that sometimes our generator won’t work when it’s cold (hey, Rocky Mountain weather!). We tried to turn it on when it got down to 20-something degrees, and it made me really glad we have a furnace that works off of gas. It’s definitely colder than I expected in the desert overnight.
From a professional standpoint, it’s definitely working. The end of my three-month trial came at the same time as my review, and my boss Melanie gave me an A-plus. Because Jon’s job as a computer programmer allows him complete flexibility, he does most of the weekday driving, and Meara co-pilots from the passenger seat while I work in the back of the van.
When we popped a tire on a dirt road, we needed to stop and figure out what to do, and luckily, I’ve been able to be flexible and do work later in the day when things like that happen. I’ve even gone a work trip – flying back to Chicago to help produce a photography shoot for a client. The constant travel doesn’t bother me, it keeps things interesting.
We have been trying to stick to free camping spots on BLM land to save money, and luckily have been able to find spots that get some cell signal, which we can improve with a booster. This was by far one of our best purchases.
Also, being so mobile has been to our advantage. If we can’t get a signal at all, we can drive down the road to look for a spot, or just drive into town to get some work done.
I like that we have that freedom. With the generator, we don’t have to be hooked up to electric, we can come and go as we please, so that has bolstered my confidence about making this work for two years. And we save money not relying on established campgrounds all the time. We did the math and figured out that staying at those kinds of campgrounds would only save us about $80 a week over what it cost us to live in an apartment in Washington, D.C. But in the last week, we’ve saved $300. Plus, it’s nice having our own spot that isn’t so close to our neighbors.
We spent the first half of November in California, where we visited Joshua Tree National park and friends in San Diego before looping back through the warmer southern states – with a stop at H+K Austin – to spend Thanksgiving with Jon’s grandmother in Florida. She helped us get this van after the one she first gave us caught on fire, so it’ll be good to show her that this one is still standing!
After a couple of weeks in Florida, we’ll pass through D.C. on our way to spending Christmas with our parents in New York and Massachusetts. It is likely to be the only time we will see them for the next year, unless they fly out to see us.
Being so isolated is really the only downside to this adventure. Jon and I are both introverts, so my only concern now is making sure we push ourselves out there to meet people. We’ve met one other couple of “full-timers” so far, and in the future, we hope to meet up with more people in the van life community on Instagram that also travel the country by van or RV.