8 Lessons From Life On The Road

Every day is a new lesson when you live on the road and that is one of the most exciting things about it. The anticipation of what is to come. The endless potential and opportunity each day brings. I think the thing I liked the most is simply being excited about the day.

Badlands Sunset
Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Here are 8 lessons I learned combined with 8 of my favourite images I made during my first year as a full-time travelling photographer:

1. Simplicity = Freedom

You give up a tiny bit of freedom with each thing that you have going on in your life. Every time you buy something not only did you give up time that it took it you to earn the money to pay for the thing, but now you have ongoing obligations for the thing. You have to learn how to use your thing, you have to store your thing, clean your thing, maintain and fix your thing. You might even have to insure your thing and lock up your thing. Your things own you.

This doesn’t just apply to stuff. It is everything that is going on. Maybe you have a job, you’re taking a course, doing volunteer work, and have a gym membership. I’m not saying all of these are bad things. Just that each thing requires time and/or money. Each thing takes a piece of your freedom so if you have too many things you no longer have any freedom.

Most people would define freedom as being able to do what you want. So remember each time you acquire a thing you are giving up a tiny bit of freedom.

Every time you buy something consider the freedom you are exchanging for it. I am reminded of when my husband and I were in Florida considering buying bicycles. We weighed the freedom we would loose by buying them (we had to spend money, we had to use limited space on the rack of the RV to transport them, we had to maintain them, we had to lock them up) with the freedom we would gain by having them. This is one of the few cases where the freedom gained outweighed the freedom lost.

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

2. Making judgements about other people is harmful to yourself

Take a moment to think about what makes you feel good about yourself. Go ahead … I’ll wait… Got it? Ok.

So did freedom even cross your mind? ‘Cause like I just spent four paragraphs writing about freedom :)

Most people tend to judge themselves and others by things that are quantifiable. It’s easy to count the value or size of your house, how much money you make, your weight or how far you can run.

It doesn’t seem inherently wrong to feel good about yourself because you own a home, make lots of money and can run 10 miles. There is nothing wrong with those things. But why do you feel good about them? Because of ego. Because of the appearance of success to others.

But the things that really matter in life are those that are not quantifiable like love, friendship, freedom, happiness, peace, independence, kindness, integrity, honesty.

It is easier to relate to other people when you can look past the superficial things that separate us.

When you are out there in “normal life” you know so many superficial things about a person as soon as you meet them. Maybe they are wearing a suit and you meet them downtown, or they are carrying a surfboard on the beach, or collecting cans in a park. We make snap judgements about people.

But when you are travelling, other than perhaps the size of someone’s rig, you don’t really know anything about them. And you tend not to judge by the size of someone’s rig because you have no idea if that’s all they have or if they have a mansion at home somewhere. You just don’t know anything about them. No one is working and everyone is wearing shorts and sunglasses. Pretty soon you find that you stop asking people what they do or did for a living. You ask them where they are from or what direction they came from and what is over there that they found interesting. You tend to talk about history or the beauty of nature.

Eventually, you learn to let go of your ego. There is no keeping up with the Jones’ here because you encounter a different set of people every day. It no longer matters what other people think when you’ll never see them again.

If only we could look past the superficial things all the time and not judge people based on them, they would stop judging us, and perhaps the things we value in “normal life” would change.

Boone Hall Plantation, Charleston, South Carolina
Boone Hall Plantation, Charleston, South Carolina

3. Change is easier than you think

Some people think that whatever is supposed to happen will happen. Fate or destiny will take over. The chips will fall into place. No they wont. Your ship isn’t going to come in unless you are at the helm.

Having said that, it is easier than you think. You are not the first person to do this. Once you start travelling learning to adapt to change gets easier all the time.

Hopewell Rocks, Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick
Hopewell Rocks, Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick

4. It is not a lonely life

You can be as social as you want. There is no shortage of other travellers to befriend. Sure, most of the friendships tend to be short term, but that is not always the case.

We met Jeanie and Tom in South Dakota. They were from Nebraska. Tom was in a terrible propane accident. We learned a lot from them about life and love. They made us the best garlic sausages and invited us to visit them anytime. I know years could pass and we would still be welcome at their home.

Bill and Mary had travelled all over the east coast and they sat down with us and helped us plan our route marking specific highways and places in the map book. It was so much fun to hear about the places that could be in our future some of which we had never heard of but made sure to include in our plans.

We met Bob and Mark on the ferry to Newfoundland. They told us all about the beautiful place they live on Jekyll Island in Georgia and later in our trip we visited them there and shared a wonderful dinner.

At the same time we kept in touch with our families via the internet and Skype and made many new friends online in various travelling and photography communities.

There is no need to be lonely. If you share your experiences with others, they will share their lives with you.

Baby Bear Hiding
Baby Bear Hiding

5. You don’t have to be rich

♬ You don’t have to be rich to be my girl,

you don’t have to cool to rule my world

– Prince ♬

I have shared the exact number of dollars and cents I spent during my year of travelling around North America in an RV, but I assure you it can be done with far less money. In fact, it can be done with no money!

I met plenty of people who worked their way around the world. You can work on a cruise ship, do housesitting, volunteer at animal rehab centers, find work online. You can do it with your kids too. Not that I have any personal experience in that, but I met many families who were “unschooling” their children while travelling. It can be done.

Jekyll Island, Georgia
Jekyll Island, Georgia

6. Don’t wait for the grand finale

News flash: as you get older your body AGES – I know, it sucks. But it seems that a lot of people are unaware of this and they are waiting for retirement to travel around the world or do something else they have dreamed of their whole lives.

That’s a really bad idea.

Especially with today’s technology when people who do not have physical jobs could work later in life. The only thing of real value in life is time, yet so many people defer their dreams to some fictional time in the future.

Use the time you know you have!

Big Bend National Park, Texas
Big Bend National Park, Texas

7. Always pack a lunch

Once your life is unscripted you just don’t know what’s going to happen. But it sure is nice to know where your next meal is coming from even when you don’t end up eating it.

Roseate Spoonbill, Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge, Florida
Roseate Spoonbill, Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge, Florida

8. Being a nomad is not for everyone

Some people need roots and others need wings.

For some people security is external – it comes from having a job, a home, family, and friends. They like to stay in one place and grow roots and there’s nothing wrong with that.

My security comes from my wings – it comes from being self-reliant, independent and having no anchors to hold me down.

While I have chosen travel and photography as my personal dream, yours might be something totally different. Maybe you want to become a violin maker or open your own business. I’m not saying everyone needs to travel. But I do think everyone needs to fulfill their dreams now. And I think my lessons from the road can apply to everyone regardless of what their dream is.

Green Point, Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland
Green Point, Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland

Not all those who wander are lost.
– J. R. R. Tolkien

Did you learn any lessons while on the road? Share them in the comments below!

Share Button


  1. says

    Seems to me you have all the right reasons Anne. #1 is the most important to me (and why I’d never want to be a rock or movie star ;-).

    Life is too short, as we’re often reminded, to not get out there an experience as much of this incredible world as we can.
    Russ Bishop recently posted..Go With The FlowMy Profile

  2. Yaseen Noorani says

    Really enjoyed reading this piece. I wish to live this kind of nomadic life as well (you mentioned the do-it-now thing but I’m still in school)!
    Anyway, great pictures!

  3. Ursula says

    You’ve outdone yourself this time, Anne. Not only are your photographs stunning, you are also sharing some serious words of wisdom here! Thanks for the inspiring thoughts!

  4. says

    Such a wonderful post Anne. I think you have exactly the right philosophy. The fun is always in the journey as you have proven. I especially espouse #6. I retired “early” and many of my friends and co-workers didn’t think I could walk away as I loved my job and work. I miss it a little bit but would never go back. I am enjoying life while I can.

    Amazing images by the way. You managed to pick images of locations that I have never been to so maybe I ought to sell my home….
    Len Saltiel recently posted..RemembranceMy Profile

  5. Berta says

    Beautiful post and images. Lately I tend to reflect a lot on your first point, simplicity=freedom. Currently I live the so-called “american dream” of having a family, a house, a job, a doggie, and sometimes I feel trapped by it. But sometimes I feel freed by it too… I could give up the job, the house, no problem. But my family, my kids and my doggie give me LOVE. So I feel that I don’t have freedom (kids take the word “simplicity” out of the equation, from my perspective) but I am filled with LOVE and that makes it worthwhile.
    I also agree with your statement of not waiting to get old to do things, because I don’t know how I will be in 20 years from now! Now I am healthy, so I should follow my dreams now!
    Good luck redefining your new life now!

  6. says

    Wonderful post, Anne! I love your line “Some people need roots and others need wings.” If you’re a person who needs wings, it can be such a battle against societal expectations to find them–and spread them for flight. I so appreciate your continued insights from your amazing journey.
    Robin Black recently posted..How Flickr made me a better photographer.My Profile

  7. Cynthia Simpson says

    Absolutely breathtaking images Ann, I am so inspired when I look at your photographs. This is also a “deep” post, beautifully written making one stop to think a little deeper about this journey of “life” Thanks!

  8. says

    Some of my favourite images from your epic journey. And some home-spun, wise philosophy that is honest and makes one think. I’ve mentioned before that I am now retired and for me that was the start of ‘freedom’. I probably have far ‘too many irons in the fire’ (as we say in the UK). But with freedom came a real surge in my photography that a career had confined for far too long. It’s always inspiring to read and see your work, Anne.
    LensScaper recently posted..The Olympic RingsMy Profile

  9. Roger says

    There is more truth in these few paragraphs than I ever run across in untold years of searching for relevant answers to life’s questions. Your travels have taught you well. Thank you for sharing.

  10. says

    I’ve always had a dream to travell the world since I was a little boy. At 16 I left school and travelled all over with the Royal Navy. Now in my 50s I wish I’d taken so many more photos and dream of travelling again.
    Your’s work and words are an inspiration to so many people. Especially like this lesson on Simplicity and how things can own you… So True.
    Blessings, Joy and Peace on your journeys. Don.
    Don recently posted..Time Stands Still by Donald DavisMy Profile

  11. says

    Wonderful post – I’ve been thinking a lot over the past year about making some big changes in my life. Leaving a “secure” job that I hate to follow my dreams. It’s amazing how many people are horrified and discouraging at the very mention of it…friends and family who would seem to prefer that I stay miserable for the next 21 years (my early retirement date) than take a chance and seek happiness. It is incredibly uplifting to read your story.


    I tried to get that same sunrise pic of the hopewell rocks this past summer. Nearly hit a moose driving through pea soup fog at 4:30 AM, only to get there and not be able to see a thing. Just got a wet camera, a cold miserable dog and some photos of vague blobs. As soon as I saw your pic I said “ah! THAT’S it!”

    • says

      Hi Tracy, I highly recommend following your dreams. These days there is too much value placed on the security of a regular income and not nearly enough placed on living a good life. What good is the money when you get the end of your life unfulfilled? I bet if you take a chance to do something you love you will wonder why you waited so long. One way to ease yourself (and your family and friends) into it is to give yourself a year. Take a one year sabbatical to do what you want and then make a decision whether you will continue on or go back. It’s way easier to make the decision that way and it gives your loved ones a year to get used to your new lifestyle :)

      About Hopewell Rocks, I totally understand your experience. While I was lucky at Hopewell Rocks, I have had the exact same experience in other locations. All the more reason to have more opportunities to photograph I think.

  12. George says

    Think of how different the world would be if everybody spent most of their time doing what they enjoyed…. if even half of everybody did.

    As you address in the roots/wings analogy, there are many paths to fulfillment; the trick is recognizing yours. Good advice for all the “Tracys” out there. First you have to figure out what it is that brings you happiness, fulfillment (whatever you want to call it). Then explore how much freedom vs. security you need. Then you can figure out how to have it.

    Just to contrast Anne’s wanderlust, I went more the “roots” route but I made sure my job was my passion and I, and some of my colleagues, would find ourselves laughing that we were actually being paid (well) for doing something we would pay to do.

    I will not being going to my grave thinking, “I wish I had….”

    Thank you Anne for sharing you wisdom and images.

  13. George Synakowski says

    Enjoyed “8 Lessons From Life On The Road”. We have been fulltiming
    13 years and you have it right.
    We have also enjoyed your photos of the same things we did out west (although yours are a cut above).
    Looking forward to more.

  14. says

    Wonderful writing Anne.
    It seems to me that you’re already beyond the eighth stage of the story*:
    “Transcending time and space.
    At home wherever you go and have brought ultimate truth into your normal live.
    You go on your way with a huge smile and everyone you see is enlightened.”

    (* The herder and his ox.)

    • says

      Hello Aaanouel! Thank you very much for your comments. I had to look that one up and I really enjoyed discovering the zen story about the herder and his ox and the 10 stages towards enlightenment. I haven’t read about zen for a long time and I think it’s time to discover it again. Thank you for that.

  15. Pam Bryant says

    Hi Anne,
    I just discovered your site and can’t stop reading your posts. I’ve been reading them to Hubby, and he says it’s like I wrote them. We couldn’t believe that my favorite quote “All Who Wander” was in this blog posting. We have an RV, I love photography, we travel to the national parks, we recently retired, and we just sold our house and moved into our RV. I could easily live the full-time nomad life and dream of making a living as a nature photographer, but Hubby needs a few roots between the trips. Looking forward to following your inspiring articles and beautiful photos.

    • says

      Hi Pam! Wow, it does sound like we have a lot in common! Your husband will probably appreciate how we are now travelling for 6 months in the south and then coming home to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, for 6 months each year. It’s partially because we cannot be out of the province for more than 6 months if we want to keep our medical, but also it is gorgeous here in the summer and I love boating :) I can do without the grey rainy winters though. Thanks for stopping by!

  16. says

    Just came across your website/blog.
    Great photography and a great choice you have made; free spirits are necessary in this life!
    Safe driving and straight horizons.
    Look forward to following your journey.

  17. Steve Décaillet says

    Thank you for these beautiful words. When all is said it only remains to listen to one’s heart. And take the road for a nice trip. And thank you for your beautiful photos, this is a real tribute to nature.

  18. says

    At 68 I’m spreading my wings. Your article reminded of what I was doing part time the last 18 yrs, photography. The Bucket list journey begins this OCT, Asia and beyond. Jan Feb Vietnam with China, India and Spain to follow. This past Oct Morocco calling so I went. So, travel when you can and when you finally retire, just kid the scooter into HIGH Gear. Thanks again

    • says

      Good for you Chuck! All those places are on my bucket list too. This winter we’re going back to the American Southwest, but next winter I’m hoping to go to Asia. Thank you very much for your visit and comments, much appreciated.

  19. says

    Hi Anne,

    Love your website and thanks for the tips. What you have said in this article 8 Lessons From Life On The Road is so true.

    Like you we (my wife and I) are nomads but here in Australia. We have toured in North America cycling from Prudhoe Bay AK to Mexico.

    I am new to photography but am learning more and more all the time. We work and play as we tour and after some family commitments this month we will be heading off to the outback for some more exploring and photography before we drop back into some work for a few months to top the piggy bank up again.

    Thanks again for sharing your life, experiences, skills and teachings.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge