In 2014, illustrator Mary Ashley Krogh (MAK for short) and her husband, Owen Chikazawa, a motion graphics designer needed a change. Searching for hope on a late evening of working on freelance gigs—after they had already clocked in a full 9-to-5 day at the office—they wanted out in the form of empty freeways and unwritten calendars.
“Feeling tired and burnt out, we turned to each other and asked ‘Why do we live here, when we could freelance and live anywhere?’” MAK remembers. They put their big dreams and what-ifs into action and set a goal post to be on the road in two years, by April 2016.
They’ve been on the road ever since in their trusty 1985 Volkswagon Vanagon Westfalia named Stanley. It was the first van that they ever looked at in person, and it was love at first sight. But like breaking up with someone you once loved, their needs started to outgrow what Stanley could give. MAK shares the heartbreaking and scary process of letting go of their constant comfort, and offers her advice for those who want to pack up their lives and follow in their dusty tire tracks.
by MAK (Mary Ashley Krogh). All photos courtesy of Bound for Nowhere.
When I think back on my life thus far, the only constant has been change. I am a born and raised military kid and have an impressive resume of moves under my belt. My upbringing consisted of a different school every year for 8 years running, roughly 26 home addresses, and living everywhere from Hawai’i to Germany. Change and I are no strangers.
My husband and I have been living on the road for the last year and a half. We’ve been from Florida to Baja, Baja to Canada, and have no plans on stopping. In a world where it can feel like the order of your life is predetermined, there is so much empowerment in being able to choose where you wake up every morning. We’ve experienced the highs of surfing deserted waves, building a stronger relationship with each other, and growing a business. We’re now seasoned in the lows of numerous breakdowns, relationship clashes, and nearly running out of money.
While spending two years tirelessly preparing for our life on the road, we felt we'd thought of everything. As we’ve progressed through this first year and a half, small things have cropped up that we couldn’t ignore. The first was made clear to us as winter set in. The weather was seemingly inescapable. When the weather is cold, rainy, or windy we’re unable to pop our top and unable to stand in our home. We went three months without being able to make a meal standing up straight.
The next was that our workspace was no longer enough to accommodate the growing demands of our work. As an illustrator, my driving force for wanting to live on the road was the desire to chase what inspires me. Being outside, surrounded by the unknown, and filling my days with new experiences constantly influences my hand. For a long time, my work has focused on happiness and the small, seemingly insignificant moments in life that are evidence of happiness. I have chosen to live in a way that makes me incredibly happy, and as a result, I’m making better work and improving faster than I ever thought was possible.
But being an illustrator means that I work with a good number of supplies. There simply wasn’t enough space to function anymore. In search of space, we started frequenting coffee shops where we would pull eight to ten hour work days. Working at large coffee chains can be more grueling than the work itself, and at the end of the day, it was starting to make us hate our work. Our work is what keeps gas in our tank, and us moving down the road. As those feelings started to creep in, it made us start to question the path we had chosen for our lives.
“We love being on the road. Why are we struggling so much recently?” felt like a question that was on repeat in my mind. Coming to the realization that all of the obstacles that we were experiencing could be solved by switching to another vehicle was one of the saddest realizations I've ever had. The thought that we spent two years putting so much time, money, energy, and love into this van only to realize in the end that it wasn’t the right fit is still an idea I’m struggling with. Stanley has been our only source of familiarity and comfort in the face of all that changes on a day to day basis. I don’t want to give him or that comfort up.
Until now, I thought that I was good at change. I thought that I was endlessly flexible to all that could come my way, and take it with a smile on my face. Having to part with our home/van, that I love so much, has made me realize something. Changes in scenery is now my routine, it’s where I live, and I’m comfortable there. That routine is what grounds me. Change as far as personal growth is concerned, is a moving target and I've now walked up to the edge of my comfort zone. It's time to be thankful for all that I've learned, all that I've loved and take a step into the unknown.
The face of my unknown is a 1985 4x4 Toyota Sunrader. She's extremely capable, reliable, much more spacious, and yet to be named. She checks off all the boxes on the wish list for our home, and then some. Switching into the Sunrader, as challenging as it may be, is a move that we're making out of preservation for our life on the road. With a full build out ahead of us, I know that once we are through this process, we will have made the right decision to honor our progress and growth on the road.
I can’t wait to continue driving off into the sunset every night, alongside the one I love. No matter the mode of transportation, we will be stoked for what lays ahead because we know it’s what we’re meant to do.
Words of advice for those who hunger for a life on the road:
Full-time travel, especially with a significant other, is not for everyone. And that is ok! I couldn’t recommend more that you take a few extended, test road trips, to work out your processes. Even if it is not in the vehicle you end up in, it is imperative to learn how to live with less, the importance of organization, if you and your travel partner work well together, and if living on the road is for you. Test trips allow you to come back, fine tune and do it better the next time. Owen and I are still perfecting our “processes” and are always finding ways to be better at living nomadically.
If you want to work as a freelancer of any kind on the road, I recommend taking extra time to bolster your client list. The reason Owen and I took two full years to hit the road was that we wanted to be sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that our business was strong enough to follow us on our journey. By ensuring your income you are preserving your ability to stay on the road to your heart's content, without having to stress about how you are going to fill your tank with gas!
Routine and balance is always a challenge on the road. No two days are ever alike. It seems like every night we have to devise a plan for the day to come, to compensate for the ebb and flow of being in new places and working on a wide array of projects. All the things that inspire me also tend to draw me away from productivity. Sometimes it can be the hardest thing in the world to sit down and get work done when I know there are waves to be caught and mountains to be explored.
Talk to strangers/locals. They will always know the place that is unfamiliar to you. We have found that if you approach locals for advice, they are always so excited to share what they love about their home, and their excitement is always contagious. Locals have consistently recommended the best restaurants, places to see, and things to do. Who knows, you might even get a new friend out of the deal!
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