One year ago today I cast aside fear, doubt, and the comforts of life and hit the road with no destination in mind. I gave up a good job, my apartment, and every ounce of a “normal” life because I had an itch. This itch to chase something, anything, and to live a little different than society tells me to live. The year to follow changed me, broke me, and made me who I am. I climbed mountains, swam in oceans, kicked up sand in the desert, explored castles in Europe, and the list goes on.
A lot happened in a year, and I saw more in a year than most people will see in a lifetime. I met the most amazing and inspiring people who, like me, set out to see what could happen if you sacrificed everything to live a life you dreamed of. So here I am, frantically writing this blog before I hop a plane bound for the country of Jordan. I thought how better to break down my year than with photos and videos from the year!
My first full month of life on the road was spent photographing my way around Europe. From paragliding off of the mountains of Macedonia, to the monasteries of Meteora, Greece, to croissants in French side streets, and Italian espresso in the alps. All in all, I logged 11 different countries over the 25 days I was there. It was an amazing experience, but also exhausting. I was determined to come back and see Europe my way, with the patience and love it deserves (but more on that later).
My life changed completely in June when I acquired my now home, a 2006 converted Dodge Sprinter van. This was a game changer. No more rent to pay, no utility bills, no landlords, just me and the open road. Now, #vanlife isn’t always perfect, and you can read about the darker side of the lifestyle here. Most of June was spent guiding for Austin Adventures, which took me all over the Tetons, Yellowstone and up to Glacier. It didn’t afford me many days off, but I finished the month with a one week adventure and the inaugural van-trip with my friend, Korin. We started the trip by doing an overnight backpacking trip up to Rimrock and Rainbow lakes in the Beartooths. We followed this up with an overnight on top of Beartooth Pass, my first real experience getting to sleep the van in an epic location. To finish the trip we surprised my family down in Bighorn Canyon for camping and cliff jumping.
Back to the guiding grindstone with no days off, I led people through Yellowstone, the Tetons, and even my home state of Alaska. I was born in Alaska, but moved away at an early age and spending a lot of my childhood taking trips back to the Turnagain Arm. Heading home felt unreal, the land merges magnificent mountains clashing with the ocean in spectacular form. A sense of nostalgia pulsed through my blood the entire two-week trip.
Right from the cooler temps of Alaska into the swelter of Pheonix, Arizona is how I kicked off August (I don’t care how “dry” the heat is, 114 is still 114). I helped lead guests to cooler temps and hikes descending from the rim of the Grand Canyon. Two weeks in the desert also inspired me to come back to the desert under cooler temps and on my own time. Coming back north for the final weeks of August was a relief and a great way to finish out my guiding season. I finished out the season in the Tetons, one of my favorite places on Earth. And it seemed mother nature wanted to give me a proper send-off with a ridiculous sunset.
With guiding season wrapped up, I finally moved into the van full time and hit the road. I spent the first week exploring Glacier with friends old and new. Sleeping out under the stars on the shore of Two Medicine, and jumping off the Belton Bridge were highlights of the trip up north. I came back from Glacier for one of the most important moments of the year, my sister’s wedding! After a long four months of no days off, it was nice to come back to Billings to relax and see my family. From there I flew Bozeman > Minneapolis> Anchorage (2 days) > Seattle > Fort Lauderdale (2 days) > Dallas > Bozeman. It was a whirlwind of conferences and logging miles.
For years I’ve dreamed of exploring fall in Montana, so in the month of October, I made that happen. Dubbing it the #MontanaFallTour (super creative) I set out to capture the state’s beauty in a less traveled season. As the screams of families left the tourist spots, beautiful aspens and larch trees took their place. What set out as a month to capture the beauty and diversity of the state I call home quickly turned into an appreciation of the great support system I have. Every town I came to had a group of people waiting to take me right into the thick of fall. No shortage of micro brews and campfires filled the month of October and I left the tour with a happy heart.
Coming off of a successful fall tour I decided to lay low for a few weeks. A constant month and a half of travel had eaten away at my body and I simply needed to rest. I spent time at home and even ran a 5K wearing a full suit. The highlight of the month came down to one weekend, however. I spent one Thursday and Friday amongst an amazing group of people in Bighorn Canyon camping and just enjoying life. I didn’t take many photos this trip but instead soaked in one of my favorite locations. The same weekend I headed to Bozeman for “Friendsgiving” amongst a group of friends who have become more like family since leaving college. On Sunday, nursing a hangover, I decided to go for a late November sunset summit of Sacajawea Peak in the Bridgers. While the sunset was a dud, I was rewarded to a small herd of curious Bighorn Sheep hanging out with me after the sun had fallen below the horizon.
After Thanksgiving, I committed myself to spending more time with my family and more time working on my non-profit, Wheels of Change. I worked on and loaded up bikes until Christmas, and quickly headed out of town bound for Seattle. I had found a cheap flight out of Seattle that would take me on a wild European adventure for two weeks. I spent the first week and rung in the new year in a chalet in Zermatt, Switzerland. I shared this chalet with seven people I had never met before, but lucked out with an amazing and genuine group of friends. The trip was dubbed “It don’t Matterhorn” and the nonchalant theme stuck. I decided to use it as a real vacation, rarely even touching my camera for the two weeks I spent in Europe. From Switzerland I took a last second train down to Italy, spending two nights in Florence and three nights in Rome. I explored side streets and made new friends around every corner. From sunsets in de Plaza de Michaelangelo to night clubs in Rome, there are few photos from Italy but an abundance of memories.
Having spent my first week and a half in Europe I returned to Seattle where I was in no rush to return to the frigid temps of Montana. I played in the mountains and waterfalls around Seattle and caught up with old friends. “Camping” my van right in the heart of Seattle was an interesting experience all on its own. But pressing timelines for shipping the container of bicycles for Wheels of Change finally had me running back to Montana.
February was a month of embracing the cold, and also running away from it. Early in the month I finished off and sent out the container of bicycles bound for Jordan, where I would be joining them in April. But halfway through the month, I made my way back to Glacier National Park and the northwest. I met up with my friend Sam who explained to me that she was a competitive figure skater for 10 years. As luck would have it Lake McDonald in Glacier froze over, something that only rarely happens, and we took Sam out to skate. The video I produced gained an unprecedented 500,000 views on Facebook, making it my most successful video of all time. After this it was time to head south and get some vitamin D back in my life. I met up with my old friend Brooke, who I had not seen in almost two years. She flew down to Salt Lake City and hopped right into #vanlife. For the next ten days, we hit Bryce, Zion, Antelope Canyon, Grand Canyon, Sedona, and Monument Valley for a whirlwind visit to the the southwest.
Shortly after Brooke left the southwest another friend flew in from Montana to complete the tour. Mariah flew into Vegas and we hit the road for Death Valley. Reintroducing my body to 80-degree temps made me never want to leave, but the thought of those temps hitting 130 degrees in the summer convinced me to work my way back north. Before heading north we spent some time in the Alabama Hills of California, easily becoming one of my favorite locations I’ve ever visited. I didn’t want to leave and burying my van in the sand almost made it literally impossible to do so. But Nemo the van never gives up and north was where we were heading. After returning to the north I spent a few days with my family at home before departing “for a few days”. The next time I spoke with my dad I had realized I never told him that I was taking a spontaneous trip to the Canadian Rockies for a few weeks. I made a couple of new friends and joined their road trip of Banff and Jasper, and I also may have neglected to tell them I was celebrating my birthday. Well, Brooke (yes, Southwest Brooke is actually Canadian and apparently wasn’t sick of me yet) figured it out and let everyone know. We did an early season summit of Vision Quest over Abraham Lakes, and I decided to do it in style in a full suit (actually the full suit I ran my 5K in).
With an upcoming month long trip to Jordan, I wanted to spend the last partial month seeing as many friends as possible for some quality adventures. Two trips to Bighorn Canyon were in order and I even was able to catch up with my friend Jade, whom I had not seen in almost a year, as she did her annual road trip through the state. Easter was spent with her, and my friends Joe and Adam as we did NOTHING. It was a glorious day for someone who packs almost every single day to the fullest. As my year anniversary of life on the road approached it was a great reminder to slow down.
So that brings me to now, this present moment, finishing up the blog in my hotel room in Amman, Jordan. I’m often asked when I plan on giving up this #vanlife idea and join the real world, and well, I don’t have an answer for that. I love this life I’m able to live and the people that I meet doing it. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, as my friend Korin would say, and there are some definite downsides to having your house be 50 square feet of coziness. So that’s it! If you love my work and want to support me, please check out all the prints I have available over at AndyAustinPhoto.com . And if you enjoyed this article, please share it on social or in those weird chain emails that your grandparents send you.
When in doubt, just go!
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P.S. It’s almost midnight here in Amman and I haven’t slept in 30 hours, so my appologies if I began to ramble ;).