Originally published as the cover story in Main Street Magazine, Issue 4 Summer 2014
Where’s My Office Now?
Thursday, November 28th, 2013. Thanksgiving. Emily King takes a cold outdoor shower from a hose attached to Boscha, her 1987 VW Vanagon Westvalia. Today, she and her sidekick, in travel and in life, Corey Smith, are hitting route 89A, on their way to Sedona, Arizona. Their van makes its’ way past the Red Rocks, the beautiful red sandstone canyon that lies outside the city. The sky tonight is a hue of golds and pinks. While most people are sitting down at their houses for this traditional annual meal, Emily and Corey are on their way to have their Thanksgiving dinner in the desert, with other van life friends. Fully equipped with camping stoves and foldable chairs, they eat their home-cooked meal under the stars while looking out at the Arizona horizon. This must be the life.
Both University of New Hampshire alumni, King (’06) and Smith (’08) left New England in January of 2013 to pursue their life “on the road” and in a vanagon. They currently run their livelihoods out of their office-on-wheels, while experiencing the adventures of a lifetime in some of America’s most beautiful places. Welcome to the lives of our present day nomads. But somewhat different from past cross-country goers and vagabonds, King and Smith have utilized their journey to create a community and interactive experience. Their website, http://www.wheresmyofficenow.com, is an online scrapbook and constantly updated collection of their travels. Full of blog posts, photos and video footage, King and Smith boil it down to connection with people and the environment.
“On January 28, 2013, we left New England and headed west. It was the dead of winter and was extremely cold. Thus, we quickly crossed the country and spent a lot of time in the South West,” King says, explaining the mapping of their journey so far. “As the weather warmed, we turned north and journeyed from San Diego, CA to Whistler, BC. We have since come back south, all the way to Mexico, and are now spending the colder months in Sedona, AZ. We’ve driven over 20,000 miles.”
Their third companion in travel, Boscha the van, can be seen in most of their uploaded photos on the internet; a true “model” vehicle.
“We named her Boscha because there’s a German parts company named “Bosch” and the previous owner’s name was Sasha. She was once used to film an online-based documentary about the Mexican/US border,” Smith says. Aside from King and Smith’s 20,000 miles, Boscha has probably seen thousands more in her twenty-seven year life span.
Perhaps one of the most gratifying facets of the journey for King and Smith so far, their utilization of social media and the Internet has made their travels a communal experience.
“Sharing the journey via our website, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube has turned into one of the most rewarding aspects of this adventure because it has connected us with so many amazing, inspiring people,” King says. “We’ve reached out to our followers asking for mechanical advice and even places to visit in a given region. The support and good vibes is humbling.” Nearing 3,000 likes on Facebook and 5,500 followers on Instagram, King and Smith’s expedition has reached and inspired people from every corner of the country
Attempting to slow down their lifestyle and appreciate the simple things, this traveling duo has also managed to run their business from their moving vehicle. Because they are in the website development/design industry, one would think wifi could be difficult to find in some of their remote destinations. But King assures that they make it work.
“The technology of today is amazing. As we travel, I work from the van using my iPhone as an Internet hot spot. Sometimes, we work at cafes, which is always a welcomed change. We have a secondary battery in the van that charges while the van drives and when the sun is shining. Most of the time we have all of the electricity needed to power computers and charge batteries – to run the “office.”” King also emphasizes how working a more relaxed schedule correlates directly with their cost of living.
“I am only working approximately 20 hours per week. Living in a van is cheaper than paying rent or a mortgage. Our spending habits have decreased due to the simple fact that we only have so much space to put stuff.”
As expected, they have come across some challenges. Travel difficulties come with the territory, but preparation is key.
“Corey broke his collarbone on the Lost Coast of California – twenty-five miles on back roads in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone service,” King recalls. “I ended up driving over two hours to a hospital, winding down switchbacks with burning brakes. It was the first time I had driven our van fully loaded on the entire trip.”
In addition to challenges, many unique opportunities have come their way over the course of the journey, as well as some very elusive ones.
“When we were first in Sedona, AZ, by chance I was hired by a film crew from a major television network to be their production assistant,” Smith explains. “They were filming a documentary about alien and UFO sightings in the area.”
It is not everyday or anywhere that one could assist in an alien excursion.
Logistics aside, it is perhaps the spiritual side of the adventure that has been the most prolific and abounding aspect for these two. Not only has their understanding of themselves grown extensively, but their interactions with humans across the country has taught them immeasurable lessons.
“The past year on the road has changed me. It’s slowed me down. I’ve become more open to new experiences, people and places. Although finding a balance of work and play on the road can be challenging, I now recognize the importance of this balance.” King proceeds to paint us an unforgettable picture.
“As we sit high up in Boscha, driving in the slow lane, we observe. Everyone seems to move so fast, focused on doing, achieving, and succeeding. But at what cost? Our time? Our dreams? Our health? The environment? When I find this inner balance, it seems that everything becomes more effective and efficient. I’m more productive with my work and more inspired to play and continue on this journey.”
It is quite the beautiful thought; to slow down our minds and find the richness in what is important. In addition to this, King and Smith emphasize the extraordinary stories of the American people they have encountered. Their travels have brought them in contact with people residing in many different states, living a variety of lifestyles; different housing, different income, different jobs, etc.
“The world is not what we see on the news. We have witnessed nothing but good-hearted people, in both the US and in Central America,” King says. She goes on to elaborate about the inspiring lifestyles some of these people are living, completely constructed by their own hands.
“There seems to be a nomadic living movement. Everywhere we go, we are encountering people who are creating the lifestyle of their dreams. Everything is possible and we become what we dream and work towards. More and more people seem to be letting go of irrational fear, fear that holds us back from living fully and creating something amazing. People are realizing that they create their own worlds and that with the technology that we have today, the only limits are the ones we create with our minds.”
Emily’s recollection of her journey so far is nothing but soulful and full of recognition. In videos on their website, Smith emphasizes the honest quality of the people they have encountered. These people are as much a part of King and Smith’s travels as the two explorers are, themselves.
With so many vagabonds at heart, young and old, dying to stir up some excitement by starting a life on the road, King and Smith extend all of their support and advice. Their website even includes a very thorough “how to” van life manual for prospective travelers to reference.
“Assess your needs versus your wants, and have patience and a well-defined plan,” King says. “When I say plan, I mean, know how much it will cost and prepare by either saving money or finding a way to work on the road. There are many ways to work on the road. We’ve met web developers, writers, artists, health coaches, personal trainers and even a guy traveling in his van running a knife sharpening business.”
While many imagine leaving home to join the “road movement” as more of a capricious decision, it is clear that King urges careful planning to avoid surprises and hardships. In addition to this, she emphasizes the concept of work. While traveling, have goals and motivation to produce something.
If you’re looking for relationship advice too, King has you covered. The couple has had to adjust to living in such a small space, as well as dealing with each other’s wants and needs. The pair once worked together as kayak guides and connected over their love of surfing and interest in the world. King explains how they “put out the fire” when things aren’t so easy going.
“Another challenge we’ve faced is the logistical, physical and psychological challenge of living in such a small space with another human being,” she says. “Fortunately, we have fallen into defined van life roles which helps keep conflicts at a minimum (with the exception of directions and getting lost). If we find ourselves in an argument, Corey works it out on the mountain bike, and I’ll do yoga, or go for a hike. We eventually realize the silliness of it all, and that neither one of us is necessarily right or wrong, and we move on.”
In a blog post from December, King and Smith highlighted their beliefs on the concepts of possibility and opportunity while traveling on the road. King ponders where they will end up and what decisions they will make for the long run.
“Only through actions in the now, will we figure out what to do with our winter. One of our visions is to find an organic farm in Hawaii to live on in trade for work on the farm, website development, social media, and photography services. Another vision, is to head back into Arizona, exploring some of the Southwest that we haven’t seen, and ending up back in Sedona. Two visions out of world full of opportunities,” King writes.
Their blog includes pages of inspiration as well as gorgeous photos taken by Smith, the photography enthusiast. King and Smith’s blog is yet another interactive picture of their dreams becoming reality. A burnt amber rising sun, carved paths in the sand from an indigo tide, a torrid piece of dessert with mountains lining the background. The beauty is overwhelming.
And lastly, the final, most anticipated question- what does being “on the road” mean to you?
“Interesting you should ask, because we have been talking about re-defining what “on the road” means to us. In the beginning, it physically meant that we were living out of our van, traveling “on the road” and sleeping anywhere that we ended up,” King explains. The journey morphed from a physical connotation to a spiritual rebirth.
“We are realizing that it’s grown to symbolize a journey of the mind and spirit. And we are ALL on the road. It’s grown into a metaphor for mindfulness and enjoying our lives fully. “
Tonight we can expect that King and Smith are more than likely cliff jumping into dark water underneath the satiny stars, sharing drinks with other van-life friends around a fire pit in the forest, or simply going to sleep after a long day’s work in the back of Boscha with the soft hum of the radio in the background. In fact, they probably did all three of these things this evening. And tomorrow brings even more promise for adventure. King summarizes it perfectly in a caption from one of their Instagram photos.
“Whether it’s stormy skies, potholes, speed bumps, or what we perceive as wrong turns on this road of life, embrace it and enjoy it. We are where we are meant to be at this moment, right here, now, and learning and experiencing this. Relinquish attachment to future/past thought patterns that can hold us hostage and live fully for today and whatever it is that you are experiences, potholes and all.”-
@wheresmyofficenow (Instagram, Facebook, Youtube)