I would be lying if I said I first discovered Emily and Adam from Our Open Road while developing last month’s Van Life story. The truth is, I’ve been following their 4 year long journey across South America for a while. The family of 3 (that became 4 on the road) left California behind to become full time nomads. That fearless pursuit of their unconventional dreams, along with the insane landscapes they share of places like Patagonia and Peru, is enough to inspire even the most settled among us to pack a van and live a totally different life. They were kind enough to find the time (and the wifi) to answer our questions and tell us more about their version of the American dream. I hope you enjoy getting to know Emily and Adam as much as I have!
How long have you been on the road? Do you have an end goal in sight?
When we left California in October 2012, our plan was to travel overland for a year. 5 months in we shifted gears and decided to go with the flow and slow down. We knew we were on the journey of a lifetime and rushing to check off places visited seemed very unlike the purpose of our trip. Now we’re full-time nomads, and we’re blissfully enjoying our time on the road with no end in sight.
What were you doing before you went mobile? Was there any crazy life moment that made you realize this is what you wanted to do?
Adam & I have traveled together for 15 years. Our decision to get on the road this time was made from what we dreamed we would share with our ‘future family.’ When I was pregnant with Colette, Adam was working on a film project that would have put us in India and Nepal for 6 months. That project fell through & we knew the time had come for us to plan our own grand voyage! We left a life in Los Angeles, a life of moving the car from one side of the street to the other to avoid parking tickets. I was a fashion designer and worked for NewbarK pre-departure. Adam is an artist.
Are you working from the road? If so, how do you interact with clients or approach your business overall?
Yes, we are working from the road & internet is the key to making it all work! 5 months into our trip, as we left Colombia for Ecuador, we had 8 weeks to reach Tierra del Fugeo before the weather would make it improbable to do so safely. We decided to embrace slow travel. But we didn’t have the finances to stay on the road much longer and needed to figure out a way to support ourselves, which is when we came up with the 24 Hour Bazaar. The Bazaar is a flash sale of curated, fair trade, artisan goods that we gather in craft rich regions. Things like rugs, textiles, blankets, clothing, hats, jewelry, ceramics that vary based on our location.
After 3 ½ years of this richly rewarding work, we have seen the direct impact our purchases make in these rural communities.
We also take paid assignments, producing original photo content for global brands. In October 2014, Adam had a solo art exhibition titled “Terra Incognita” which featured over 50 new original collage, photo, painting and mixed-media works. I hosted two “Puertas Cerradas” pop-up 6 course vegetarian dinners inspired by our time on the road, cooking for 45 folks per night, sharing the stories of each course set in an intimate environment.
What is the scariest / most interesting thing that has ever happened to you during your adventures?
Definitely the pregnancy and birth of our second daughter Sierra Luna! We found out I was pregnant just a year into our trip. My first pre-natal doctor’s appointment was at a hospital in Cusco, Peru. Every month following, we would find the nearest clinic from Peru into Chile, then Argentina and finally in Brazil. Our plan was to travel through Patagonia, but when we figured Sierra would be born in June we chose somewhere warmer and less remote. We decided on a natural birth on the isle of Florianopolis, and it offered Sierra dual citizenship, which is the best birthday gift we could think of!
What has been the most rewarding part of living on the road?
The most rewarding aspect of this life is TIME. Both of us parents are present in our kids’ daily achievements, big and small. We’re waking up slowly, teaching through experience, connecting to the patterns of nature, sharing grand vistas and simple moments. Our first child, a boy we named Aaro, was stillborn. Having survived that intangible sorrow, we rejoice in the gift that is life and we aim to exploit every precious moment.
What are the main things you miss from traditional life, if any?
Kale & almond croissants: both are a rare find in South America. I’ve found kale at an organic farmer’s market in Lima. However, the best almond croissant is at Ramos General in Ushuaia. But what we miss most from traditional life is family & friends.
You’re traveling with your two young daughters – how old were they when you started van life and what do they think of the whole thing?
Colette & Sierra both think living in a tiny house on wheels is pretty darn cool. We can have a beach house one week and a mountain cabin the next. They love returning to California to visit family & friends, and are enjoying life on the road!
What do you hope to instill in your daughters through this journey?
We hope to raise them as aware, active global citizens who cherish the natural wonders of the world. Children are forthright and do not always ask the easy questions! We discuss malnutrition, extinction of species, war, and poverty to their wide eyed wonder. Of course we filter these heavy topics and guide our discussions, it is impossible to hide the world.
What’s the most challenging part about raising a family on the road?
The biggest challenge is to be so far from family & friends. We miss impromptu dinners, holidays shared, weekends in beautiful places, easy chats and so much more.
Raising a family anywhere will have its challenges- whether it be in a Tokyo high-rise, a Mongolian yurt, or a van traveling around South America.
How did you adjust to doing normal things on the road, like taking a shower?
Taking a shower is the main challenge of living in a tiny space without a bathroom. We have a solar shower that works well for places with enough sun & enough space to employ it. Many hotels will allow us to pay a nominal fee and most of our campground stays are based on their shower facilities. Baby wipes are a very helpful tool, but nothing replaces the joy of warm water on your back.
What advice would you give to seekers of nomadic road life?
Our reexamination of “the America Dream” is like an onion, we keep peeling back layers. Modern culture pushes for an unattainable dream that focuses on commodities, not experiences. It seems there is a shift in collective focus: one that is growing, one that is spreading by sharing the power of simple living, that by having less, we find the pleasures in more. We continue to invest the time into sharing our experiences with a global audience, and in return continue to learn from those who share this common goal of stripping away false dreams, of putting dreams into action.
What’s one thing you hope people take away from following your journey?
When folks say they are jealous of our lives, we shake our heads a bit- they are missing the point! Nobody gave us this life, we created it. We dreamed of it, worked towards it, planned and scrimped and saved and researched. What Adam & I envisioned when we left was only a small piece of what our life is now. We hope people will be inspired to LIVE. Whatever that means for each individual, we hope they will work towards realizing their own goals and dreams, shaking off their own robes of comfort to live a full life free from the shadow of “what if.”