My life on the road

| May 4, 2012 | 56 Comments

Submitted by Alison Turner. You can read more of Alison’s adventures on her website at www.AlisonsLife.com.
Alison Turner
You know all the pesky ads that pile up in your mailbox and eventually end up in your recycle bin? That was my job. I worked for years selling junk mail until I realized there wasn’t anything positive about it other than the pay and benefits. This was a six-figure job, after all. I didn’t buy a new car or spend a small fortune on extravagant vacations or home remodels. Most evenings before I fell asleep, I would lie in bed, glued to my BlackBerry. I made sure my client’s coupons would be delivered in the mail on the exact day we discussed, though it was never as easy as it sounded. I put so much of myself into that job that I took even the details of junk mail personally. But one day I couldn’t do it anymore. I’d been saving for years, and the money couldn’t keep me trapped any longer. I quit my job to find my true calling, whatever that would be.

My employers assumed I was headed to work for a competitor. When I told them I had decided to wander the country and live in a trailer, the laughter ensued. Surely I couldn’t be serious. But I certainly was: I packed up my dog, some camping gear and my camera. I wasn’t sure what I was doing. I only knew I wanted to find my creative soul, which I lost when I decided to play by the rules of the corporate world.

Each morning on the road, I woke up and decided where I wanted to go. I didn’t have a set agenda or plans on how long I would be gone or what I was planning to do. I have to admit it wasn’t the best idea to venture out this way, but I wanted that freedom. At the time, I didn’t have an iPhone with handy applications to find my way. Instead, I relied on a road atlas that didn’t always warn me how things were going to be at the little tent symbol.

I started writing a blog so loved ones — mainly my mother — would know where I was and how I was doing. But I didn’t stay in one place too long and by the time I settled in a campsite, I usually didn’t feel like writing. Rather, I felt like drinking to toast myself on a job well done. That year, I took photographs with my point-and-shoot camera and when I did write posts, I made sure everyone knew I was having the time of my life and that leaving my job was the best decision I ever made. But in quiet hours, as I settled into my campsite, the questions sneaked into my head. I obsessed about details; I wondered what I was doing. I drank cocktails to quiet my doubts. It was exhausting to keep up my online persona as the happy adventurous spirit while I secretly stressed about what I was doing and why I was doing it. I didn’t want to quit traveling — but I did decide to quit drinking.

Alison Turner and Max

Photo courtesy Alison Turner

For the next two years I wandered the country without the trailer, without the alcohol, and with lessons learned from my first year. This time, I decided to camp in a tent instead of a trailer. A car was easier to maneuver and the trailer brought unwanted attention. I posted more and more photographs, and comments began shifting from, “You quit your job to do what?” to “What a beautiful photograph!” I always shrugged off these compliments. I would say, “It’s just a point-and-shoot camera.” In my mind, I didn’t have the right equipment or background in photography for serious work. But now that I wasn’t spending my evenings sinking into an alcohol buzz, I had a lot of time to pick up a new hobby, and photography presented itself. I wasn’t taking pretty pictures of sunsets or ocean views. I took photos of bird feet, tumbleweeds, my dog, Max, and odd sights along the road. The compliments kept coming.

While traveling, I didn’t keep up with the news of the world, but I knew the recession made it an uneasy time financially for me as well as for the entire country. I’d had the foresight to save my money for years before I decided to quit, but as my safety net grew smaller, I knew my time wandering around with seemingly no purpose would have to come to an end. Lucky for me, I found an entirely new revenue stream — one I never saw coming.

A Facebook friend suggested I go camping with a group of women who gathered annually with their Airstreams calling themselves the “Silver Sisters.” I didn’t know anyone, but I connected with them right away. I ended up taking pictures all weekend long. I sent the photos to people at Airstream, who liked them so much they wanted to publish them in their magazine. At the same time, a photo I took on that trip was selected for a group show at MOPLA (Month of Photography, Los Angeles). This was a huge honor and it validated a little of what people were telling me. I began to wonder: Could I actually make a living doing this?

Airstream hired me to be the official photographer of an annual event in its factory in Jackson Center, Ohio. A year and a half after I stopped drinking, I sold my 188-bottle wine refrigerator and my entire wine collection to buy a new camera. It was the best trade I’ve ever made. I bought a Canon 5D Mark ii. Portraits I took of another women’s camping group, “Sisters on the Fly,” were published in Trailer Life magazine. Soon after, the photographs I took at the Silver Sisters rally were featured in Airstream Life magazine. I continued to travel, and the people I met opened doors I did not know existed before. I met a wonderful couple who offered to let me stay at their home in Maine if I ventured up there. I took them up on their offer and met their neighbors, whom I adored. I wrote a blog about them, which caught the interest of Maine: The Magazine, where I continued to contribute. Every opportunity led to another.

Alison Turner and Max

Photo courtesy Alison Turner

In 2011, I got more serious about photography. I continued to learn how to use my camera and decided to document the many characters I met on the road in portraits. Eventually, my passion turned to environmental portraits. This year, I had photographs published in Dog Fancy, Trailer Life and Airstream Life, which included two magazine covers. An image of mine was selected to be in the Art of Photography show in San Diego over the summer (15,444 entries and 109 photographs selected) and other photographs were selected for two exhibits (“Dreams” show in December 2011 and “Portrait” show in February 2012) at the Center of Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins, Colo. Earlier in the year, the Long Beach Arts Council selected a group of my images of Long Beach to be in a permanent outdoor installation at its newly renovated transit mall in the heart of the city. And lastly, another photograph was chosen by Photographer’s Forum to be in its hardcover book, “Best of 2011.”

I used to try to convince people that quitting my job was the right thing to do, but I don’t have to do that anymore. The fact is, I have learned to live with less, and while I know I won’t be making the same amount financially, that is fine with me. I know, in my heart, it was the right thing to do for me. It can be scary to be out here, particularly during a recession, but being my own boss has its rewards. I don’t have to answer to anyone but myself. I am not suggesting that you should quit your job to hit the road, like I did. For me, I made the decision only after careful consideration. But because of this experience, I’ve reconnected with my creative soul. I’ll never leave it again.

Story by Alison Turner originally published on Salon.com.   In a few months Alison will be on the road again, this time living out of a van. You can follow her adventure on www.alisonslife.com. You can reach Alison at alisontravels@gmail.com

Category: Reader Stories

Women's Adventure

About the Author ()

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Comments (56)

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  1. Anne Maxon says:

    Great job, Alison! Nicely written! I have loved your photos from the start, and look forward to seeing even more of your talented work. Good for you! 🙂

  2. Thank you Anne!! 🙂

  3. dannyboy says:

    what kinna animal is that with you on the beach?

  4. Dian Reid says:

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again … I just love your story. It’s inspiring to see someone take a look at her life, decide it’s not what she wants, and do something about it. And I love that years later you’re still doing your thing and doing it well. Cheers to you and your path, my friend.

  5. Ha ha dannyboy… That’s my dog, max!

    Thank you Dian!

  6. foster says:

    Alison,
    You’re also a gifted writer. I so admire you for following your convictions. You have courage to go with all that talent. Well done….and keep onward through the fog!

  7. Thank you Foster, I appreciate the kind words. 🙂

  8. bumper says:

    great job. keep moving. you never know. congratulations and looking forward to your future adventures and photos.

  9. Suzie Compton says:

    Very inspirational….such a wonderful life journey….amazing how the twists and turns in life lead us down paths which shape our lives….i commend u on your bravery to follow your dreams which lead u back to your creative spirit….

  10. Joan says:

    Alison, you are a true inspiration! I like to idea of living out of a “camper van” instead of a trailer. I have been a portrait photographer for many years but am looking to “traveling & photographing” when I “retire”. Thanks especially for sharing your decision to live “alcohol free”.

    • Thank you, Joan!
      After one year in a teardrop trailer, two years in a tent, I am now going to live in a pop top van. I am looking forward to all of the luxuries. Traveling with a small dog, I feel that the van will be a bit safer in bear country since Max is a bit of a snack for the bears. Living alcohol free was the best decision for me. My life is much richer because of it.

  11. anastasia b says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. When I grow up I wanna be Alison Turner. You’ve managed to do what most of us just dream about.

    Brava Sisterfriend!
    April T SOTF #607

    • Thank you anastasia! Ha ha.., you can grow up to be you! The you you’ve always wanted to be! I admit that it hasn’t been easy, but over time it’s the best decision I’ve made. I believe anyone can do anything if they’re willing to invest time and energy. Hope to see you on the road!

  12. Mona White says:

    Allison – what a truly touching story – one I would love to become my own. I hope to do something like this someday when I figure out what I want to be when I grow up, besides a tourist! Thank you for sharing and if you are ever in the Tampa Bay area – email me so we can connect!

    • Hi Mona,
      Thank you for your comment. You WILL do this if you really want to. I am still wondering what I want to be when I grow up. I am 40+ and wandering around the country like I am 20. I still have fun and that’s all that matters.
      Best,
      Alison

  13. leslie r says:

    Allison, I have been following your blog and am exceited you will be out traveling again. I will be leaving soon,a week or so,to travel and live in my 65 Safari Airstream. Maybe we will be in the same area some day, i would love to meet you. I love your pics and blog.Happy trails sister!!

    • Hi Leslie,
      Thank you for your comment! I am excited about traveling again too, can’t wait! Good for you for living in your Airstream! It’s a great life, isn’t it? Yes, let’s meet sometime, I would like that.
      Best,
      Alison

  14. Stevie D says:

    travel is an art form, and you’ve become an artist…kerouac, michener influenced me and i’ve been lucky enough to master the seasonal lifestyle and still see wonderful people. places and cultures while having a home (vermont)…have you found a home you love yet? where is your next international travel fantasy (and how did you choose it) ? …if you ever pass thru the green mtn state and want a couple of out of the way places to check out, just shoot an email…may you never run out of desired destinations (or batteries)…
    p, l & h
    steve d

    • Hi Stevie,
      Thank you for the note and for the kind words. 🙂 I love traveling the country and am excited to get on the road with my van. I look forward to running into people I would have never of come across if I wasn’t out traveling. The stories from people is what I love the most. As far as my next international fantasy? I would love to visit Europe and roam around there, perhaps in a van. I’ve never been to Europe.
      Best,
      Alison

  15. Deana W says:

    The complexity and simplicity of your journey reaches deep into me…thank you for your courage…and your ability to share your experience with heartfelt humility. Travel on Sister! 🙂

    • Hi Deana,

      Thank you for your comment. If this is the Deana I know, YOU are the courageous one! I share my experience with the hopes that might trigger something in someone to do what they’ve always wanted to do.

      xo
      Alison

  16. Erin says:

    so inspiring. thank you so much for sharing. i am at a point of transition in my life and have been fighting myself for quite sometime to figure out “what’s next.” thank you for putting things into perspective. . .i’ve always believed that it’s the people you meet along the way that can help guide you on your journey. this just goes to show how true that is.

    • Hi Erin,
      Thank you for taking the time to write a comment. I completely agree with you. Sometimes it just takes the right words at the right time from someone you know or a stranger that gets you in the direction you need to head. I truly believe that. I always wonder “what’s next” but until I find it, I just keep doing what I am doing. It will come naturally.
      Best,
      Alison

  17. Emily Beu says:

    YES! You are an inspiration, and your passion for life is, I’m sure, contagious. I’m definitely going to follow your journey via your blog.

    Three years ago, my husband (then boyfriend) Adam and I were freelance graphic designers. We got married, sold most of our things, moved the rest to storage, rented our house, and bought a 1987 Toyota Motorhome. We hit the road with our tripawd dog Dixie for an indefinite “honeymoon”. Three months and 10,000 miles later, my husband was offered a “real” job in San Francisco, with a great salary and location much closer to his ailing mother.

    Although we LOVE living in SF, have great jobs, and Adam got to spend the last year of his mother’s life by her side, we feel like this time is just filling the gap until the next time we can hit the road. The open road is calling! You learn so much about yourself, each other, our country and its people — there are no words to describe the emotions and feelings I have towards all I have learned and experienced out on the road. Anytime you get the chance for an extended roadtrip, take it. You will not regret it.

    • Emily Beu says:

      *1987 Toyota Dolphin motorhome

    • Hi Emily,

      Thank you for writing! Your husband did the right thing. The most important things in life aren’t things at all. I know what it’s like to hear the road calling! It’s calling my name right now and I am so excited to get on it and live there for the next several months. I think we have the same feelings about “stuff”. I hope to see you out on the road sometime!

      Best,
      Alison

  18. Like others above have written, what an incredible inspiration you are. I adore your story. Happy to have virtually met you and I look forward to checking out your blog — and photography — and following your journey from this point forward. Reading this reminds me of one my favorite quotes — “fortune favors the bold.” You’ve given me hope. Thank you.

    • Hi Sherri!

      Thank you for the note. Thank you for the kind words and for checking out the blog and pics. You can do anything you set your mind to, I think.

      Best,
      Alison

  19. AnitaMac says:

    I know many of the other comments are saying it, but I have to say it too – amazing and inspiring story! I am so thrilled that you have found a new path in life that is better suited to you and your dreams. I find myself coming to that cross road, wish I had done a better job of saving, and hope that my belief that the universe will provide is true….I know there is a new, non-corporate calling for me out there! Will have to seek out more of your photography – I love the photos that you selected for this article. Wow – I have to say it again – inspiring! Thanks for sharing your story.

  20. Hi AnitaMac,

    Thank you for the note and kind words. I beleive you can find a way to do what you love and make a living at it. It can be a struggle at times but if you keep going after it and tell everyone what you want…suddenly, things will happen. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but it will happen. I am sure of it.

    Best,
    Alison

  21. Faith says:

    I’m taking off for a 3 month leave of absence at the end of June with my five dogs in a ’88 pop up I found on Craig’s List. We have no real destination, other than “cooler (summer) weather than Houston”.
    My high school BFF just emailed me your blog and I’m excited again–(was beginning to feel discouraged and scared!) Thank you!
    I’d love to hear more details on how you found places to stop. My plan right now is simply to talk to everyone and see what happens…

    • Hi Faith!

      Good for you! Wow, five dogs in a pop up? You are going to have a lot of company with you on your trip! It’s normal to feel scared…many times I think, “what am I doing??” but just keep at it and it’s an amazing ride. Talking to people is a great place to start! You will find some gems that you wouldn’t have found otherwise. I think your plan is right on what I do. There shouldn’t be a safety concern with your dogs being on guard but I would just remind you of how hot it can get in places in the summer. I never keep max in the car when temp is 75 degrees or up, unless there is a breeze and the top is popped. I’m glad you found my blog and thank you so much for writing!

      Best,
      Alison

  22. Aurora says:

    I love reading your story!

    I too left my job this past year and traveled around the world solo for 8 months….
    it was – hands down – the BEST experience of my life….

    at 37, and leaving a good job, people thought it was strange — and told me how brave I was. though I did not always feel that way…

    not sure what the next step is — but love reading how everything worked out for you!

    best —
    Aurora
    http://planetaurora.wordpress.com/
    https://www.facebook.com/PlanetAurora

  23. Evelyn says:

    Hi Alison! Thank you for sharing your courageous, wild at heart and dedicated story. I can totally identify with the need to be free. Recently, after 12 years of being a public school teacher, I quit the security and financial resources (and the politics!) a teaching career can give and decided to spend more time closer to my authentic self. I used to feel so TRAPPED stuck in doors all the time, spending all of my energy doing what other people told me, even when I didn’t agree with it. I was suffocating. Leaving teaching was the best thing for me. Now I spend A LOT more time outdoors, pursuing adventure. I’ve become a blogger, a photographer, a yoga teacher and a stand up paddleboard instructor. Never been happier! Thanks for being an inspiring woman. It’s people like you who gave me the courage to rise up and be myself.

  24. Malley says:

    Alison, just found your blog this past week. LOVE IT! You are where I hope to be in the next two years. Thanks for the inspiration:)

  25. Bill Hecht says:

    Great blog and fun to catch up on your latest adventures !
    I see you have some kind of VW camper?
    If ever back in the Finger Lakes feel free to camp here on Cayuga Lake.
    We will have Westyfest 4 (or is it 5?) here this year.

  26. Mike McFarland says:

    Alison, been following your sites and posts for some time and my wife and I both love your “eye” for great photos. You are so creative!!! I am retired and love to camp and take pictures as well but don’t have the freedom to wander as you do…so I guess I’m sorta jealous. I think I’m a really a gypsie at heart. Have a great adventure this year!

  27. Erin says:

    Thank you Thank you Thank you for being YOU! When I was 19 I left everything behind and traveled in a truck and tent for over a year. It was the most amazing and peace filled year of my life. Gone was that empty feeling of meaninglessness, the constant craving for…? for what? for MORE! More life! More living! More adventure! But, I came ‘home’, I tried. I tried to live like everyone else. I tried to get a ‘job’ I tried, I tried, I tried. But, the harder I tried to live like everyone else the more unhappy and empty I became. It has been TEN YEARS since I lived on the road and I have to say they have been the hardest years of my life. I watched the people around me try to live lives of emptiness and unfulfillment, of stress and tragic endings…but, tonight, I began gutting my vintage camper…and then I came inside and found this article and now I know I can do it. I can do it too. I can live the life I long to live, to find that pure freedom and joy I cannot find anywhere else in the world. I have come to accept that I have a gypsy soul and I was made for leavin’! Thank you for the inspiration and I hope to meet you someday ON THE ROAD! peace,love and camping!

  28. Sage Green says:

    You are my hero!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  29. Sue says:

    Great Alison. Glad you went with your heart and found a way to do it.
    I too Love Photography and hope to incorporate that into fulltime Rving soon.
    I did live in a 19 ft. rv for 2 years in the mid 90’s and LOVED it but had a major health issue to deal with so settled down. Now, I am itching to hit the road again. In the 90’s I sold stuff, fairs, flea markets, etc… Now I am looking for a way to incorporate my biggest hobby into a living. And that is photography. So, I am excited to read this article by you and see all the ways you can use that skill.

  30. Robert (Fuzzy) Dumlao says:

    Okay, hello Alison! Found u in recent issue of PopPhtgr…Amazing stuff & whut a ‘wow’ sense of life!!! As if u would care; I too took a year of Photography in Jr. hi in Oahu, wished I had more interest then for now I know how much I could’ve captured. Yeh, First time in dark room, very dark & just using hands to load canister & develop class projects. So, also moved to So. Cal & I believe I was raised & grew up with the best there was, music, arts, Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank, Van Nuys, All the beaches…doing volleyball, playing football, Griffith Observatory, whoaaaa, STOP?! Okay, Best rip? when I lived in Las Vegas, my G/frnd at one time dropped me off at the post office at 5ayem and said, “quit yore job. Let’s go somewere.” So, I did & we left & spent time in Burbank & all around there, took PCH stopping wanytime we wanted to, sleeping on the side of roads at times, & once in someone’s front lawn in Santa Cruz. Lived in basement of Br’s house in S.F. for 3 mo’s, partied w/ole frined from years ago in Burbank then, took off one late nite for Tacoma. Anyway, enuff, I know…where is that roand w/caption, ‘One of the most beautiful roads just outside the park’? Did a similar drawing way back in the 70’s. I too finally gave up a P7Shoot Kodak, which was pretty good but finally broke down * got a, not as good as what u have, Canon T3 + a zoom lens. I like old RR traks, trees, cluds etc. Hope u geet this & read it. Love your work. Oh, forgot to mention, After Vegas, mpved to Denver. Lots of fotos of squirrels on my balcony…keep clicking & wish u well, Alison!!! Call me, fuzzy…

  31. John says:

    Alison your story is so inspiring. I wish I had the courage to leave everything behind and live on the road the way you have… Anyway I just wanted to let you know how awesome you are for doing what most of us can only dream about:)

  32. Anna Filipski says:

    Alison- it is blogs like yours that encourage me to keep traveling, exploring. I have moved all over, without a care, but I am embarking on a new journey… living in my truck. I am not quite to the place of total freedom- I will still be working 4 days a week and heading out on the weekends. I don’t want to put (lots of) my money toward rent that I will never see a return on. I would rather pay a few things off and then save it. When I read stories of like minded people (you) it helps me to realize that it can be done and is a beautiful thing. The thought of it brings me more peace than worry, so I know it is the best decision. My dog and I thank you for sharing your story so that people like me can feel confident to continue the process of peaceful, minimal, beautiful living.

  33. saskia vandenhootenban says:

    Way to go Alison!!!!! love your photographs and your writings. Good luck on your next adventure!…………….Way to go girl!!!

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