Q) What made you decide to travel? What influenced that decision?
A) The two of us met in high school. We talked often of escaping our suburban roots. We hated the dull uniformity and monotony of the strip mall culture. Often, we sat on the beach, looking at the wide open promise of the ocean, and dreamt we’d become pirates, sailing the wild seas to nowhere. Rachel read and admired the Beat Poets, a group of societal dropouts and free thinkers, from an early age. Their freedom, their anti-corporate and radical lifestyle always inspired her to live Real, to live Now.
Really, though, what drove us to move out of our paths of career-bound members of average society, was the crash of the economy in 2008. We watched as our parents and the corporations on which they based their decisions, lost what they had built in the housing boom. So many people had worked so hard in the seemingly secure net of the “safe” careers only to see the banks take away their dreams. We realized that every lifestyle, including the cubicle 9-5, has inherent risks, that nothing escapes the real world of gain AND loss.
Why do something you despise, or feel indifferent to, for years, when in the end, you could lose it all anyways? We decided to do what we wanted now, while we were healthy and young and full of passion. Who wants to wait until retirement to see their dreams realized? So, without much thought, with a gut intuition and $5,000, we moved into our bus, Sunshine.
Q) Were your family and friends supportive in the decision that you made?
A) Our choice to live nomadically was not something that most of our friends and family could identify with. We were raised to graduate school, get a college degree, and enter the work force. Our parents did not pressure us to study something in particular, or push us down a particular career path. But, it is safe to say that we were expected to have careers. It has been a journey for our parents to understand why we have decided to live so unconventionally. However, they have always loved and supported us. They wanted to see us happy, but for awhile
Rachel’s father in particular has been upset that she has not used her college degree to further her life. He paid for her education and would love to see some sort of a return on investment. He is beginning to realize that many of my goals are being met through my nomadic lifestyle, but it is so far removed from his own reality that he cannot conceive what it’s all about.
Our parents worry that we put ourselves in high risk situations by trekking into remote and off the grid locations, outside the realm of society. We gently remind them that driving down a highway is one of the most dangerous things people do. We remind them that driving on the freeway is something they do every day and we never do (we stick to back roads.) Sometimes it is hard for people to see the risks inherent in normal, everyday activities.
Many others, though, have told us how inspired they are by our life. They also wish to simplify, be adventurous, be bold. They have expressed desire to rid themselves of so many material possessions and try new things. We tell them that they can. We are not special; we just realized what it was we wanted and did it. Far too many people are trapped by debt, by status, by fear. Anyone can live the life they dream; just raise some expectations and lower others.
Q) Would you say that you are happier now living life on the road than before when you lived a more ‘normal’ life?
A) Today, we are more joyful and free than we ever were participating in mainstream society. We acknowledge, however, that there are many paths that could have led us to this same fulfillment and contentment. It has been freeing to let go of things. Overconsumption is rampant in industrialized nations today, and living in an 80 square foot bus really limits how much stuff we have. The less money we’ve had, the happier we’ve been. We are poor in money but rich in life and skills. This idea of happiness through experience is a transformative one in our generation’s definition of “the good life.”
We are definitely on a constantly changing path to Truth and Happiness. Traveling is not necessarily the only path to change and growth. It has been effective and correct for us, but people living stationary can be on a path to joy and freedom as well.
Q) What would you say has been the best experience of travelling?
A) We have really been humbled to experience the wilder spaces that remain in North America. Most of our time is spent in places where little human development exists. We sleep down faint dirt roads where coyotes howl as they wake in the moonlight and the stars glitter silvery against a black sky. Bear scat is a common sighting. We bathe in cold gurgling creeks. We pee on patches of grass. We are cold when it’s cold and hot when it’s hot. We are not cushioned from the elements, and that is the most electrifying part of being alive. Modern buildings separate humanity from the Real World in which we reside. Our bus is primitive enough to let us be part of our surroundings. We rise with the sun and sleep with the darkness. We finally feel like physical beings. We are not always comfortable, and that has made us incredibly happy.
Q) What has been the worst experience?
A) Before initially moving into the bus, we were faced with a grave decision. James had acquired and been at his dream job, making films, for one year. Moving to the road would require him giving up what he had worked so hard to accomplish. We spent a lot of time with the decision to leave, and decided in the end, that the road was where our hearts were. It just felt right. We believe we made the right decision.
We have also struggled with interpersonal relationships with family and friends. On the road, it is incredibly difficult to maintain correspondence with people from our previous lives. Camping and living in wild places that are off the grid and out of service makes us hard to reach. We also do not have money to make it to important life events, such as weddings, birthday parties, funerals, and graduations. Some of our friends have been understanding of the limits of our nomadic lifestyle, but many have not. Some relationships have suffered, others have died. We have found that some people simply “get it” and others do not. People who are wanderers understand. It is difficult sometimes for others to empathize with how we’ve decided to live.
Q) How do you get by financially, is it tough to get enough money? Or did you save up enough before leaving?
A) We saved half of our income the year before we hit the road. We didn’t exactly plan to; it’s just, when working fulltime, what is there to spend money on? The easiest way to have enough money always is to constantly need less. Most of what people spend money on are unnecessary luxuries. We do not need much, so we do not require much money. Simplify and your financial life will become simple. Also, we are prepared to do any job. No matter how tough, even if it is low pay. On the road, you can’t be choosy about getting an income. No job is below you, because when you need money, you need money!
On the road, our main income has been James’ film gigs, which he gets through contacts. We also do a wide assortment of odd jobs, such as housecleaning, chicken butchering, and event set-ups. We find these jobs by asking around in small towns.
Farm work is a crux of our travels. We love the work because it fulfills our bodies, minds, and souls. Every few months, we stop and do farm work in exchange for fresh, delicious, nutrient-dense food and a place to stay. Truly, we have fallen in love with farming and dream about buying land and homesteading in the future.
Q) Do you prefer to go it spontaneously or do you always know what you’re doing and where you’re going?
A) Spontaneity is a rule of the road. Tomorrow can only be planned loosely, for life always has a curveball to throw. We have an idea of where we want to go in the big picture. Day to day, however, we are free to stop when something captures us. We’re fin with continuing down the road if our original destination has a bad vibe. If a road beckons, we take it. If a rare bird appears on a trail, we’ll watch it the entire afternoon. If today happens to be the Sheep Festival of Idaho, we stop and eat lamb.
The beauty and magic of life is that it does not fit into a plan. Anyone who actually believes they know where they’re going is a fool. We can only surmise in life. Being open to change and resilient to life in its many forms is the most valuable skill anyone can have, on the road, or not.
Q) Do you want company on your travels? Do you think it’s doable on your own or is company a necessity?
We like to joke that the two of us are really one person. We’re never more than a few feet apart. We cannot imagine embarking on this particular journey without one another. We are truly on this journey together, and have brought each other to realizations we never would have had on our own.
That being said, we have met many people traveling solo. There is something beautiful to be said about walking your own path, about finding yourself unencumbered. Both of us traveled alone for stints before hitting the road together, and there are so many people you can connect with on the road. Traveling alone, you will come to know yourself intimately, and being comfortable in solitude is an invaluable skill to gain.
Q) Do you think that there is a certain level of happiness and fulfillment that can only be achieved by travelling?
A) Living nomadically is not an end in and of itself. It is a step on a journey towards happiness and fulfillment. It is obvious to say that we began traveling because we were dissatisfied with the conventional lives presented to us by our society. But we could have found other ways to explore alternatives. Just like anything else in life, you can travel the world and never truly see the places you visit. Life on the road is not about capturing photos or seeking thrills. Life on the road is an attitude of openness and humbleness. It is a willingness to learn. It is self aware and self critical. It is a struggle to find authenticity in an increasingly shallow world.
One of the reasons that we hit the road was to learn our place in the world. The suburbs do not lend themselves to true culture or connection with each other or the planet. Perhaps, if traditional cultures were more intact, people would not feel the need to escape their place because it would feel like theirs. Currently, very few of us have deep roots in a place or any sort of a meaningful connection to a “homeland.” We are on a search for something lost that we never had. This puts travelers in a difficult position.
Traveling has been the absolute best decision we’ve made so far. But it is not the only way to achieve happiness or fulfillment. As we are currently thinking, perhaps that can only come from deep connection to and community with our real, true, and changing Earth.
Yet again I have found myself dumfounded by the generosity and kindness of all these interviewees that I am reaching out to. These people are only responding to me due to a little message I sent to them on Instagram. It seems like the worry that there are no nice people left is uncalled for, I have found many! Rachel and James here have been exceptionally generous in their sharing of stories and the time it took them to write me these answers. They are the most off-the-grid travellers that I have spoken to and their conversation has been a new experience for me to find out about. As I said on my response email back to them, they remind me a little of Chris McCandless in his early days of travelling when he wrote “Tramping is too easy with all this money you paid me. My days were more exciting when I was penniless. I’ve decided I’m going to live this life for some time to come. The freedom and simple beauty is just too good to pass up…”. That line rung in my brain when I read their journal pictured above “Lucky, lucky we are, to have no money for swimming pools, but all the time in the world for waterfalls”
It seems like a phenomenon forgotten by the modern man is that money is not a necessity to be happy, we need not be doused in designer gear and sipping expensive cocktails from shishy bars. We can be just as happy without all that, as Rachel and James wrote, if we have all the time in the world for waterfalls – who needs a swimming pool?
For them, living nomadically is not a means to an end, it is not something which they do, it is something that is done to them. Travel teaches them and betters them and makes them happy, and if they are happy, then who should be able to stop them? It is important to note that, just like most of my other interviewees, they completely accept that travelling isn’t for everyone, and they disagree that happiness and fulfillment is mutual to travel, they just insist that it is right for them.
Thankyou so much to the Idle Theory Bus for this wonderful Q&A, they are wonderful wonderful people who deserve much more media attention. The news is all full of hurt and war, and not good-doing inspiring people like Rachel and James.
You can follow their travels across America at http://www.idletheorybus.com/