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The Imperfect Side of a Perfect Life

As I write this blog I’m sitting in a Walmart parking lot somewhere in Salt Lake City and there is a pot of rice boiling on my stove. That will be dinner tonight (along with a little bit of leftover chicken) as I work to save a few dollars after being slammed with a $1,500 repair bill to get new brakes, shocks, and struts on my home today. Now that’s a lot of money for a guy with no idea when or where his next paycheck will come from. It’s days like today that hurt and make me question why I do it. Why I don’t just join the masses and get a “real job” and settle down. You see, #vanlife is so much more than what you see on Instagram and Facebook. There are real people living real lives behind the accounts that we all adore. I don’t write this blog for sympathy, but instead to shed a light on the life that so many view as perfect.

Nearly every day I post photos of epic sunsets and sunrises from the world’s most scenic destinations. It’s the part of my “job” that I love, and I’m so grateful that I get the opportunity to capture life. But life on the road is a roller coaster, filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. The side that isn’t shown in the Instagram photos still exists. The darkness and the loneliness that exists in the life of a nomad can be painful. My job is to promote and inspire people to travel. Let’s face it, showing photos of me shaving in a Walmart bathroom amidst dirty looks from employees doesn’t quite scream “come visit Montana, it’s so beautiful!”.

At least the Bozeman Walmart is scenic..

The pretty photos I post represent maybe a 10% chunk of my day, the rest of my day is spent on the road, editing, cooking, or sometimes even just sitting in the back of the van questioning what the hell I’m doing. I’ve come to the conclusion that mankind was not meant to live in a van, but yet I would have it no other way. It’s lonely. Try forming a relationship when you don’t typically spend more than two nights in one location. Spoiler, it’s nearly impossible. I have more friends than I can count and for that, I’m so grateful. So many passionate, beautiful, amazing souls fill my life. I can show up in nearly any city in Montana and have a crew of talented individuals ready to hit the trail or the breweries. But then lies the problem of constantly leaving. These friends live in the real world, and after I spend my few days in town they resume their “normal” lives with their local friends. Tasked with naming who my best friends are and you’re left with a pretty small number.

Blackfoot Valley

One evening this past late fall I had a slight mental breakdown. I pulled up into the campground of Placid Lake State Park and quickly realized the campground was abandoned. The summer campers had all retired to their homes and a deathly quiet filled the campground. It was a somber reminder of how alone I was in this pursuit. At this moment there were no voices of support from followers or friends, this was now. Amidst the emptiness I felt I did what photographers do, I set up a photo. I wanted to capture this feeling, and to this day it’s one of my favorite images I’ve ever taken. It’s not an image that will end up in magazines or have big prints made up of it. But to me, it is as close to the perfect image as I’ll get.

Lonely night in Placid

People get jealous of the life I live and the adventures I go on. Which is why I want to show the other side. I can’t say it enough how much I love life on the road, and I’m happier doing this than anything I’ve ever done. But it comes with downfalls. My bed isn’t even long enough for my tall frame, and sometimes my furnace kicks off in the middle of the night leaving me to awake to a bone-chilling 25-degree temp in the van. I shower when I can find one and I could write a book on the things I’ve seen in truck stop bathrooms. When I get sick there’s no laying in bed to watch Netflix and eat soup all day. I’ve dealt with heartbreaks in foreign lands and crippling news of lost loved ones from afar. The news of one of my best friend’s lives being claimed by cancer came unexpectedly while I was hitching rides across southern Africa. There was no support system from friends or family, and I couldn’t be with others who were also grieving the loss.

Kitchen views on the road are pretty tough to beat

The list could go on for days about the weirdness of living out of a van where my kitchen is so close that I could cook bacon while never leaving my bed (maybe this isn’t a bad thing). Every day I’m told I live the dream, and that my life perfect. But there is no such thing as a perfect life. The secret to this life is to make the most of the one we are given or to take the steps to change it. Too often we live vicariously through others, hoping, wishing, wanting that life for ourselves. But what is stopping us? Fear of failure? Fear of the unknown? These are the sacrifices it takes to live the life you want. So if you think my life is perfect, well I challenge you to live it for yourself. And I hope it’s everything you ever dreamed of because it is for me. I’m living my dream, but even an amazing dream can quickly turn into a nightmare with no warning.

Stay positive friends and chase those dreams!

Andy Austin

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