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#LiveYourSomeday: How the Couple Behind @HughesYourOwnAdventure Live to Travel

8/25/17 by Melinda Hughes

Since the day my husband Aaron and I met, we’ve dreamed of taking a long-term, cross-country road trip. We’ve both traveled to other countries and while there are still many places we’d love to visit, we felt particularly drawn to the idea of traveling through our own country—to see America through our windshield.

Over the years, we found ourselves putting off this road trip for one reason or another, always leaving it for the abstract, unknown, "someday." Someday we would have the money. Someday we would quit our jobs. Someday we would have the right car. Someday everything would fit into place and our adventure would begin.

One day it finally hit us: Someday isn’t going to happen unless we make it happen.

For the better part of the last decade, we lived in a small town in Northern California that we liked, with jobs that we enjoyed, surrounded by friends and family we love. Even though our lives felt fulfilling, we always thought there could be more: more time spent together, more fresh air in our lungs, and more adventures.

We dreamed of doing something different, but we needed a catalyst to get us there. And that catalyst came in a way that we couldn’t have imagined: Within a matter of months at the beginning of this year, our comfortable, familiar lives came crashing down. One of the biggest changes came when my office relocated to another city, increasing my commute from a comfortable jaunt across town to a multi-hour ordeal.

Soon after that, we found out that our landlord had other plans for the cute little house we were renting, leaving us without a place to live. These developments, along with many nearby loved ones moving away, plus a growing desire for change, inspired us to finally take the leap and make our dream a reality. In addition to exploring the country, we’d be looking for the next place we’d call home. So we moved out of our place and went to visit our parents, shuttling between their homes in Southern California for nearly a month as we prepped for our trip.

By April, our adventure was officially underway, with a short trip to Joshua Tree National Park to test out our gear. Soon after, we departed our our unofficial home base in Southern California and headed east for our first stop at the Grand Canyon.

We’ve been on the road ever since, and have covered a lot of ground in the last few months in our little car, from the Tennessee Smokies to the Canadian Rockies. Not everything turned out the way we thought it would, and we’ve definitely needed to change some plans along the way—like when we had to escape the rain in the South, or hide from the heat wave in Utah—but sometimes detours lead to even bigger adventures.

We feel incredibly fortunate to be able to take a trip like this, but our story isn’t unique. Even in our short travels so far, we have heard other versions of the story, from solo adventurers in big vans, to couples in small sedans, to brave souls who packed a few things onto their bikes and started pedaling. The common thread running through each is the same desire: to live life the way we want.

Since we’ve been on the road, we’ve gotten a lot of questions about how we made this trip work. We’re still figuring out things as we go, but with a delicate balance of careful planning and embracing the unknown, we were finally able to load up and hit the road. Here are a few of the big things we had to work through to get here.

First things first: finances.

There is tremendous freedom in paying off your debts before you hit the road.
    Photo courtesy of Melinda Hughes
There is tremendous freedom in paying off your debts before you hit the road. Photo courtesy of Melinda Hughes

Let’s start with the biggest hurdle: money. One of the most important pieces of this puzzle in the years leading up to our trip was to get ourselves out of debt. Student loans, car payments, unforeseen medical expenses, and so many other life necessities: Believe me, we’ve dealt with it all. The process of getting out of debt took many years for us, but we always paid what we could when we could, and that strategy has made all the difference. While we could have factored monthly payments into our budget as we traveled, ultimately, paying it all off beforehand gave us a lot more freedom and peace of mind.

People often want to know what our trip budget looks like, but the honest answer is that we don’t have one. Although we have always allowed ourselves some creature comforts— things like gym memberships or a weekend away, for example—we naturally gravitate toward a fairly minimal lifestyle, focusing on saving whatever we could. We never intentionally set money aside for our road trip, but when the opportunity presented itself, we felt confident we had enough savings to get us through.

Choosing our adventuremobile wisely.

In the end, we decided to live our adventure out of our trusty Subaru hatchback.
    Photo courtesy of Melinda Hughes
In the end, we decided to live our adventure out of our trusty Subaru hatchback. Photo courtesy of Melinda Hughes

The internet had lead us to believe that having a picture-perfect home on wheels was the only way to embark on an adventure like ours. We had considered various camper and cargo vans over the years, and had even come close to buying one a couple times, but the timing never worked out. Eventually, we realized that the more we searched, the more the quest for the perfect vehicle seemed to delay our trip. In the end, we decided to save that money and take our trusty Subaru hatchback. Sure, there are times when we wish we had something bigger, but overall this choice has worked out well for us.

There are many advantages to taking this route—more money for the trip, better gas mileage, ease of driving—but there is one major disadvantage: space, or the lack thereof. Obviously, the easiest way to circumnavigate this problem is to not take a lot of stuff, but it’s easier said than done. Which leads us to the biggest headache of them all …

The problem of stuff.

We couldn’t leave Meatball behind on this adventure.
    Photo courtesy of Melinda Hughes
We couldn’t leave Meatball behind on this adventure. Photo courtesy of Melinda Hughes

Another thing we get asked often is, “What did you do with all your stuff?” Everything we own is either with us in our car or in a small storage pod in Northern California. We’ve always tried to avoid accumulating unnecessary things, but we still had to do some serious purging before we left. There was a lot of Craigslisting, eBay-ing, donating, and panic-attacking before we got it down to a manageable amount. This process seemed to take forever, but with each item we unloaded, there was a weight, both literal and figurative, that went along with it that we didn’t have to carry anymore.

For a life on the road, certain things are necessary, like a tent, a couple of sleeping bags, a cooler, and a camp stove. But for the most part, we focused on bringing items with multiple uses. We spent weeks doing countless rounds of packing and unpacking, methodically considering every single item. The clothes, shoes, and gear that we carry with us now represent a small fraction of what we started with and every item has a carefully thought out use.

We like to think we have a pretty minimal setup, although it only takes a couple items out of place to make the car look like a tornado blew through. Even now, we are constantly reconsidering what’s useful and are removing unnecessary items from our bags. This doesn’t mean we didn’t allow ourselves a few luxuries; after all, we brought three bikes and a stuffed marmot named Meatball along for the ride.

Saying our goodbyes.

Just the two of us: Leaving behind family and friends for an extended adventure is bittersweet.
    Photo courtesy of Melinda Hughes
Just the two of us: Leaving behind family and friends for an extended adventure is bittersweet. Photo courtesy of Melinda Hughes

Once we dealt with the logistics of money, transportation, and belongings, the most exciting—and emotionally difficult—part was in front of us: hitting the road. Leaving behind friends, family, and familiarity is challenging for anyone, but for us, this isn’t just a vacation that, when over, will find us back home where we started. While we’re exploring all the beauty and wonder of our country, we’re also searching for the next place to call home. When we watched our previous home, jobs, and friends disappear in the rearview mirror, it was with a sense of undeniable finality to that chapter of our lives, and a hopeful eagerness for whatever comes next.

Change is good.

For us, the idea of home has changed dramatically.
    Photo courtesy of Melinda Hughes
For us, the idea of home has changed dramatically. Photo courtesy of Melinda Hughes

During our travels, we have noticed a shift in the way we think about home—and everything that goes in it. Before this trip, the idea of home had always been pretty traditional: a building with my bed and my belongings in it. I'm amazed by how quickly that perspective changes when you don't have those things anymore. My tiny two-person backpacking tent with my sleeping bag and husband inside are almost as comforting as the four walls and queen mattress we used to have—but as a light sleeper, I have to admit that I still miss having solid walls around me when I’m drifting off.

For Aaron, living out of our car has reinforced how little we actually need to live well. We joke that when we eventually open our storage unit, we’ll end up getting rid of half of what’s in there. It has been a freeing feeling to break away from the idea that we need so many possessions—and to know that we only need to take with us the things that are useful and that bring us joy. We’ve also discovered that we not only can make do with less, but that we thrive with less.

Aaron and I don’t have all the answers, and even if we did, everyone’s experience is different. But, we do know one thing for sure: Whatever your someday is, if we can live it, you can too.

Originally written by RootsRated for Marmot.