Shelby and Simon are wedding photographers from Ottawa, Canada who had become enamored by the hashtag vanlife. “We started getting hooked on it, all those Instagram pictures that we saw of people parked in state and national parks, oh check out this parking spot it’s on the edge of a cliff and I’ve got this campfire and we’re all singing and have got guitars, it’s just lovely, like that was a huge sales pitch right, and we didn’t know we thought that’s what it’s going to be all about, wicked, cool let’s do that,” explains Simon. “And then got into maybe like the first week of it and we were parked in the Walmart for like the third time and we’re like I think it’s not quite like that.”
The couple decided to buy a camper van (a 1992 Dodge Ram) and trick it out for long-term travel (solar, wifi antenna, extra batteries and a generator). Given the seasonal nature of their work, they could spend 6 months of the year traveling and working remotely booking weddings for the summer months back home.
“With the popularization of the tiny house and of the hashtag vanlife we’ve been romanticizing this idea, oh yeah, just like ‘live free, live simply’,” explains Simon.
After over six months on the road, the duo have realized that their romantic ideals around van dwelling are perhaps a natural by-product of most photographers’ desire to capture beauty at the expense of a fuller reality. “We’re photographers so we have this issue we want to be real but also we take beautiful photos,” explains Shelby. “There’s always this tension between showing something beautiful and also showing something real and are you telling the truth and is art ever the truth. So I think we’re trying harder than a lot of people to make it look like it’s real. To talk about the fact that we’re stuck in a storm, freezing wet and miserable, that are pipes are frozen or that we haven’t showered in a week.”
The couple are using their youtube channel to talk about stealth camping (often at Wal-Marts), the pursuit of free wi-fi (often Starbucks parking lots), how to avoid the police knocking at the door (avoid the wealthier ‘hoods”, waste disposal and “hobo showers”.
Simon: “We had the expectation that this trip would make us better people but we didn’t understand what that meant and how we were going to become better people.”
Shelby: “In this small space we’re always hitting our heads, we’re always in each other’s way, something’s always broken because it’s old, we’re always tired, and then you realize that you just have to be happy inside yourself and at peace no matter what is going on around you because it’s always changing, it’s always chaotic.”
Simon: “It has to be something you battle with and then you find yourself. And maybe that’s what it’s all about, maybe it’s about putting yourself through the crucible of tiny living to come out the other side as a better more peaceful person.