How to Live the Simple Life and Realize Your Dreams

How to Live the Simple Life and Realize Your Dreams

Who hasn’t contemplated the idea of living a simpler life? I know that I certainly have, pondering from time to time what my life would look with smaller bills and rent. What would my art be like if I could downsize just a bit? Could I ever dare? People everywhere are beginning to realize that they have become slaves to their own lifestyles. The need to be better and bigger than the next guy has taken over our lives, and had compromised our ability to live an authentic life. 

Meet Alexander Roe and his partner Martha Merino, a landscape photographer and an ex-fashion industry manager currently living in an RV named ‘Wayne’ in the Canadian Rockies. They began a video project together detailing the how and why of their lifestyle. I, for one, was very inspired and moved by what they had to share.

Alex, 24 years old from Australia who in 2011 quit his job and drove up and down the east side of Australia in his grandma’s wagon on his first landscape photography trip. Before leaving his life behind, Alex was like many of us, pursuing a career for himself as an electrician – a career that could have provided him with a good life and a good salary. But the grind of everyday life did not suit him. The repetition of his workdays, coupled with only four weeks of vacation a year drove him out.

“The road I was on was predictable, with pitiful amounts of photography time in sight.” Alex said. “Sure I could buy the gear, but what good is it without time and freedom? If you like photography in your spare time, chances are you are on the edge of opening a whole new world if you free up more time and freedom to shoot. Give your passion room to grow!”

He quit six months after achieving what most people would be happy to do as a career. He embarked on a series of month-long road trips alone with very loose plans. He drove as far as he felt like driving, observing the world. When he saw something interesting he would get an urge to photograph it. He would find a composition that worked, wait for the light, and shoot.

“I began to observe things in the landscape in more and more detail, curiosity is a delightful thing to feed. I started location scouting for specific images, planning different times and conditions to return and capture something from my imagination. It wasn't about photos all the time; it was a driving force behind adventure. By embracing my passion the rest of my life fell into place. My priorities felt clear and unmarked. Life had a new natural flow.” 

North Queensland

North Queensland



Alex's wagon in the Australian mountains

Alex's wagon in the Australian mountains

Alex bought a one-way ticket to Vancouver a year after quitting his job; “I needed to see the world and feast my eyes on different landscapes.” With a huge rucksack and his photo pack on his front he entered the world of “couch surfing,” staying in kind strangers’ houses and taking in their culture and life. It was a very simple life; photograph and exchange culture. “What I now deemed necessary for day-to-day life was incredibly simple, yet my happiness and satisfaction was growing. One of the most incredible weeks from this time was staying on a sailing boat in the Gulf islands. I had the freedom to paddle a dingy around the waters to photograph the sunrise or the sea planes taking off into the sun.”

One of the planes

One of the planes


View from the boat

View from the boat


My very generous host

My very generous host

After six months of couch-surfing and only $400 left to his name, he ended up in a town called Canmore in the Canadian Rockies. He fell in love shooting its epic landscape, and has remained there since. It eventually came time for him to return to the working world. Only now, things were different. His priories had shifted, and what really mattered to him was clear. He worked to save for more travel, for the chances to shoot different corners of the planet. “With this mindset, work dramas had little weight in my life, greatly reducing work-related stress. The freedom to shoot was now restricted, but the motivation remained.” Now he knew that he could experience an adventure bred from his own passion; “This is my bliss.”

"...she (the artist, the writer) doesn't wait for inspiration, she acts in the anticipation of its apparition."
― Steven Pressfield

After a year in Canada he met a Spanish girl called Marta, who threw new wild and exciting ideas into the mix. Soon, the days of driving around Australia began all over again in their red minivan, Fred. They built a bed in the back and started extending their reach throughout the mountains in all seasons.

“We talked about our different ideas and began to strive towards a lifestyle that allows a focus on our passions,” Alex said. “As well as my love, she is a creative partner planning different adventures to experience new parts of life. My photography has grown even more with the extra input and support. Dreaming together we are now addicted to the idea of living cheap and being time and location free.”

The simple life in the RV has allowed Alex and Marta more time for their landscape work, shooting or making more clips for time-lapse projects.

“This video project is just another fun creative thing for us to do that fits in our lives comfortably. The videos teach us about ourselves and lead us into places we would never had experienced. Now I look back, none of this would have happened if I didn't make a drastic life change driven by passion, I feel eternally thankful that I took the leap into the unknown. My photographs and stories are a representation of what could have never been.”

Marta and Alex enjoying glacier views

Marta and Alex enjoying glacier views

Like Alex, Marta (30) had that same dissatisfaction with her mainstream life. From the Spanish island Mallorca, she moved to the capital of Spain, Madrid, to pursue a degree in fashion. Big city, fashion lifestyle, fashion weeks, she did it all while working for Vogue Magazine. “It was fake, superficial, stressful and damaging for me,” she said. “I felt small, very small. I had a great apartment in downtown, a kind of cool life – social life. But I wasn't real happy."

Her dream was always to travel, and to move around as much as she could. But she didn't feel brave enough to do it by herself, so she convinced her roommate to go live somewhere else. After exploration, they decided to move to Canada, where they got a ‘Working Holiday visa'. She quit her job, broke her apartment lease, and got a one-way ticket to Canada where she started to discover a new world away from big city life. After working as a volunteer on some farms in Ontario she came to Canmore and, as most do, couldn't resist the mountainous landscape. She took up rock climbing and met Alex in the process.

"Marta dreams up things and just chases them relentlessly; moving into an RV and making a video series are two of those things." Alex said.

“Our dream is to escape in summer this year and explore without time limits, complete freedom to adventure and photograph. As workers in a town fueled largely by tourism it was difficult to save the money to purchase our next van so we decided to cut down our biggest monthly cost, rent. The idea to buy a cheap RV and attempt to inhabit it for the winter was seductive so we ran with it. A lot of work went in before the freeze hit, including purchasing a cheap RV, insulating, winterizing and finding a place we can park it with power. We have been living in Wayne the RV since autumn with temps ranging from 0 to -30.”

Q: What was the reason you decided to document this experience?

Alex & Marta: The idea with the videos is to give house dwellers a look into our life in ‘Wayne’, explain how we got to this point, and continue to make episodes on the happenings for the rest of Winter and Spring. We are also playing with the idea of photography, climbing, BTS and general lifestyle episodes. In the summer we will continue the dream when we move from ‘Wayne’ into a camper van and take our video series on the road. We’re aiming to explore the mountains, BC, the North and down into the States.

Marta: So far we have greatly enjoyed recording this experience, trying to inspire other people to do the same. I love to record and learn, and I love even more how Alex loves it and sacrifices himself just for a picture. Its really admirable – he doesn’t care if its minus 30 degrees in the morning, or if there might be a bear or a cougar or anything, he just cares about the sunrise. It’s so beautiful to see. (But always “be careful”, I say, “I need you”, ha-ha).

Q: When do you plan on making the rest of the episodes, is there going to be a set schedule, and will they just be available for everyone to watch on youtube?

Alex & Marta: At this point we are aiming for a new episode every 7-10 days. We have drawn up a schedule with each episode having a different topic covered, we asked ourselves "what did we want to know but couldn't find when we were doing research for our project?” This covers the episodes directly related to RV-winter living. As we go we will give in to creative inspiration and come-out with some other episodes not RV-related but still in the same traveling spirit. 

A few ideas we have talked about recently, are getting to know Canmore, dressing for extreme cold (useful for shooting time-lapse in winter), photography tutorials, inspirational books for creativity and travel, and doing interviews with other people around town living in vehicles.

The videos will remain available for everyone on YouTube. We like the connection with the van community and the information-sharing that comes with that.

Q: Do you have a plan? Where do you see yourselves in a year or two, or even five?

Alex & Marta: Yes, we do, we have a lot of plans, almost all related to travel. Our closest plan is, after saving enough money, to buy another van, a smaller one. We want to travel around BC exploring free campsites and video document the journey. After that we want to travel the USA. We really want to experience the great diversity of national parks. Then possibly back to Australia, Asia, and Europe... and keep going as we feel. We don't plan on settling in one location yet, not even in 5 years. We want to be nomads. There is so much variety out there in the world and we are drawn to try exploring and experiencing it all. After that, we will see.

"Imagination allows us to conceive of delightful future possibilities, pick the most amazing one, and pull the present forward to meet it." 
― Jason Silva
 

Q:You go over the logistics of surviving the freezing winter in your RV in episode 2. Can you go over some more logistics of every-day life without running water, such as shower and laundry? 

Alex & Marta: "Sure, those are some of the themes for the upcoming episodes!  Even if you are not going to live in an RV for the winter, the pipes must still be drained and winterized correctly as freezing can cause cracks in hard to-get-to places. We did find some people that managed to keep this whole system heated but in the end we decided that the extra maintenance on the system would impede the simple lifestyle we are going for. So we have a four-liter container on the edge of the sink, which has a plastic container in it. When the sink container fills up we simply dump it outside. We keep our water topped up by having a few two liter plastic bottles in the car, when we go to work or to shower we simply fill them up. We use roughly two liters a day so this isn't too hard and it helps out the environment. 

The local sports-center where we climb has showers, Internet and comfortable seats. We visit almost every day and do our daily self care and hang out for a while. As for our bathroom situation, like most van dwellers we just go #1 in a bottle and #2 in public bathrooms.

Laundry is done at the local coin laundry.

We have an oven and cooktop in Wayne so cooking is exactly the same as in a house, we even have a fridge, which requires no energy most of the time because the back is open to the elements.

Without the distractions of TV and the internet, we find so much more motivation and focus for personal projects and time to get out and explore. It’s about dropping the time and money wasters that don't contribute to your passion.

_____

I shared with Alex that I too had always dreamed of living a simpler life, and that I wanted to take my son on a road-trip this coming summer where we can both photograph. His advice to me was this: “I hope your imagination can get wild and free while planning a trip with your son. Dare to be bold and use photography as a vehicle for adventure and experiences. Start now; go for a 20-minute walk with your cameras after school, adventure and unique images will find you. Maybe consider a road trip to the Canadian Rockies?”

Marta had this advice for me: “I hope you make this summer trip with your son. He will really appreciate it when he grows up. Don't follow society, just follow yourself. What you want to be, your own dream, everything is possible if you really want it.”


Some more thoughts from Alex & Marta:

A few reasons people have trouble chasing passion.

Money

It's an unfortunate thing to admit, but money is necessary to obtain life's basics, whether it is food, shelter or water. But the rest of your income is fair game for your desires. At the core of my lifestyle lives a persistence to only spend money on what I deem beneficial to my passions, the things I lose track of time while doing, or want to tell stories about later. 

Time

Much the same as money, certain amounts of time are required for general life maintenance. But the rest is free for you. If you feel that "rest" doesn't exist a life change might be in order to make room.

Fear

I know being frightened of getting out of your bubble is a problem for a lot of people. Get stoked on your passion, simply take the step and trust you can handle the change. 

Lack of personal reflection

The biggest aids I have found for jump-starting life changes are podcasts and books. They contain new stories and ideas from a variety of different minds from around the world. This can inspire and provoke new thought, and it can open your imagination up to a whole new world of possibilities. 

To learn more about Alex & Marta:

Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCD04aV_mylCyTQp5DJQSbgw
Alex’s website: www.alexanderroephotography.com
Marta’s blog which details all of her adventures since coming to Canada (It is in Spanish):
http://workingonadream2012.blogspot.ca/ 

All images and videos were used with permission from the artists.

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18 Comments

Thomas Brown's picture

Great Article, Thanks for sharing!

which podcasts do you recommend, Alex?

Alexander Roe's picture

Hey Matt,
I listen to a few depending on what mood I'm in or the concentration level of the task ill be doing.

The first podcast that covers a bunch subjects and swings from intellectual convocation to comedy is the Joe Rogan Experience - http://podcasts.joerogan.net/ - not photography related but his guest range is great and I find the convocations thought provoking. There are a lot so read through the guest and pick something that sounds interesting. I like a lot, Jason Silva or Chris Hadfield is a good place to start.

Next is Bryan Callen Podcast - http://bryancallen.com/episodes/ - this is almost always intellectual and shorter than Rogan. They talk to a lot of authors of various books which I have since read and benefited from.

Finally The Candid Frame - http://ibarionex.net/thecandidframe/ - my link to the photography world (besides fstoppers) gives you access into the minds of many great photographers. If you like adventure photography a great place to start is here - http://ibarionex.net/search?q=national%20geographic -

Lately I have spent more time listening to audio books than podcasts, they can give you a great look into various subjects in the same way.

Cooper Valinoti's picture

Such a great read! Thank you!

Limor Garfinkle's picture

Thanks Thomas & Cooper!

Ross Jukes's picture

This is amazing, it is the lifestyle I have always dreamed of. However (unless I've missed it somewhere) I always struggle to see how you sustain this lifestyle? What kind of work do you do to keep you going?

Without putting a downer on this, but after 5, 10, 20 years - what happens when you want a house, a family, retirement & money etc? These are the things that scare me otherwise I would already be doing this!

Best of luck to you both, you're incredible people for being brave enough to do this!

Alexander Roe's picture

We work in town in construction and hotels. As Limor mentioned our monthly living costs are much lower than people that pay rent, internet etc. We also mostly shop second hand (including my lenses) and only for things that contribute to our passion and dreams. This combination seems to strike a nice balance for saving for the next adventure and enjoying mountains while we work.

Two really really good reads that reflect this "cheap life" and "work to travel" ideal are:
"Walden on Wheels" and "Vagabonding an uncommon guide to the art of long-term world travel"

The thing that really scares us is having gone 5, 10 , 20 years without the freedom and experiences we are now enjoying. We feel the big misconception is that in the future you will find yourself in a financially stable position in a world where debit is the normal, its impossible to know and we find living without directly "chasing the carrot" is a happier existence for us.

Ross Jukes's picture

Thanks for the response, it's an excellent insight. I absolutely agree that working 9-5 is not living (it's just existing) but it is a scary thing that you are doing. I was raised in a family that never had a lot of money etc. so financial stability and a solid future was always deemed the most important thing in life.

After losing my parents, I have this thought in my head that if you could ask them now 'What would you do with one more day?' - I bet their answer wouldn't be worry about money, it would be get out there and enjoy life!

Thank you again for your inspirational article and good luck with your future adventures!

Limor Garfinkle's picture

I couldn't agree more, Ross. I also come from a very modest background, and so psychologically, I also have this need to give my son everything I never had. But it is important to remember that the best moments in life have NOTHING to do with how much money one has. I bet you, like Alex said, not having debt like most Americans have, is placing them ahead financially right there.
The point of this article isn't to tell anyone to quit their job & move into an RV for the rest of their life. Although talking to Alex & Marta made me rethink a lot of the choices I've made spending my very hard-earned money. And that in itself is liberating. :)

Limor Garfinkle's picture

Those are all Excellent points Ross. They have crossed my mind as well. I believe that Alex and Marta do work, just not as much as the average person, since they do not have as many bills.

Dom Stuart's picture

Ahhh yeah, good to see people are realising that this 'normal' lifestyle mould is being broken more and more.
Such a good story :)

Get out there people!

See how I'm doing it too...
http://domandtom.tumblr.com/

Great article. You have me dreaming about my ideal place.

This is all very nice and very beautiful when you live in a place that at least lets you kickstart that lifestyle. Buying an RV or driving to somewhere nice is easy when your countries grant you a salary that is worth working for. Or when you live in a place where people actually realize how important it is to have photographers and artists. If you start living like that in southern europe, and let's face it, southern european countries are 1st world countries, we have ipads imacs and broadband (yeahhh baby!!!), but if you dare to live like that here, either you have won the lottery or your parents have a lot of cash to sponsor that.
Limor, the article ir great non the way, and believe me, i wish i could lose myself on the mountains of europe with a backpack and my camera, but unfortunaly, that's just for great countries like Canada, US and northern european ones, where people are fair paid for what they do most of the time.
I hope sometime in my lifetime i can manage to see the Half Dome or the Grand Canyon, or the Suiss Alps, ultill that day...i'll just keep dreaming of that lifestyle. :)

Limor Garfinkle's picture

Thank you Paulo.
Marta left Spain, and Alex left Australia. Believe it or not, making a living is not easy in the Unites States either. It's tough out there, but we all make choices with our money.

Alexander Roe's picture

Hi Paulo,

It's Marta: Thanks for your comment.

I totally understand what you are saying. I'm from Spain, so you know we are not in a great situation either, I don't come from a rich family or never won the lottery and I do not have any sponsors (I wish!!! lol). I left my country to find new opportunities with almost no money at all. Now I'm working in Canada with a visa that only allows me to work as a housekeeper, so you can figure out that I do not make a lot of money. :) It's not even fair pay, that's why Canadians don't want this work for and we get the visas. I live in a touristy town where everything is crazy expensive. So that's why we decided to change our lifestyle and challenge our selves to live in a Rv, because it's really cheap!!! :) That's the only way we can try to save for months to buy a camera or stuff like that. We don't have big expenses, we buy effectively, one thing, one jacket for 5 years or more and all the same way. We don't go to restaurants, we don't spend too much money at all. We also buy a lot or almost all in second hand stores.

So with all of that i would love that you get inspired and challenge your self to do it too and see how it's possible! In Europe we have great mountains and they are free!!!! You just have to strive to live as simple as possible and work hard to save as much as possible!!! :) And Go for your dreams!!!

Thank you for your kind reply Marta and Alexander.

As you might have noticed for my name, i'm from Portugal and i bet you know Potugal very well. It's hard here and it's getting harder by the day.
Still, even housekeeping in Canadá pays you more in a week that here in a month, you people know that we get paid 500USD a month here. I hope it gets better someday and i'll flee this life.
Thank you for the strength and i hope someday i'll be traveling across the world.

Alexander Roe's picture

Hey Paulo, cheers for the comment.

This isn't a question of salary but more a salary to expenditures problem. Living like this we have found will drastically reduce expenditures therefore salary does not need to be high. Like Marta said we also are thrifty with our shopping. For example when I upgraded to a full frame I could not afford lenses to suit, so I found some glass made in the 90's and traded my old crop sensor lens and a small amount of cash for two full frame lenses. Yes they don't focus fast and are not flashy but they do the job!

Moral of the story: you don't need money you need the will and drive to push for what you want and sacrifice the things that don't contribute to your dream. Trust me the grass is flourishing with wild flowers on the other side. :)

Alex

Here in Portugal we are starting to rent small pieces of land to grow food, it's a way to help us save more money. To buy my lenses i've spared a lot of money, nowadays it's not possible, lucky me i've made it to the 6D and my lenses by photographing small weddings and some fashion look books. But the goal is to leave and travell through all Europe and make some great landscape photography.