Graphic designer Shannon Wright is working remotely from an RV for two years while traveling across the U.S. We asked her to document this unique experience. Here’s part one:
When I got the call, our dream of road tripping around the country had seemingly gone up in flames. I answered the phone, in the middle of the night, to my boyfriend asking me where the fire extinguisher was for our camper van. My heart sank.
We planned to use this van, a Roadtrek RS Adventurous, as our home and offices for the next two years while traveling around the country. Jonathan had driven the van and our beagle-sheltie rescue, Meara, on a short trip to visit his parents in Massachusetts – the first time taking it on the road. However, a few hours after arriving, he noticed a flickering light through the window and saw smoke coming from under the van’s hood.
A week prior, I had shoved the fire extinguisher in a tight space to prevent it from rolling after its latch broke. My actions made it harder for him to locate the extinguisher as our van was ablaze in his parents’ drive, so he had to call me. Ultimately, it made no difference – the hood release had already melted shut, and, soon, the fire was burning out of control. Flames spread to Jon’s parents’ house and melted the vinyl siding off their neighbor’s home. Everyone got out safe, but the RV was a shell.
We thought that would be the end of our dream to work remotely – gone were our aspirations of having Zion National Park, the Colorado wilderness and the Grand Canyon as our office space.
It was Jonathan’s idea, originally. We have been living in D.C. since graduating from Rochester Institute of Technology four years ago. He’s an imaging scientist for a government contractor and I work as a graphic designer for Hill+Knowlton Strategies.
He’d always wanted to build his own camper van and travel the country. I was open to living somewhere other than the Northeast, where I’d been my whole life, but figured living in a van was not very realistic. Over the next couple of months, though, Jonathan showed me YouTube videos of national parks we dreamed of hiking and I started seriously considering it. Once we began ironing out the details of remote work and places to stay, I really wanted this cross-country adventure.
My job in client services presented the biggest challenge. It can be unpredictable, so I needed to be available at a moment’s notice. Our solutions are mapping out a route with the help of cell coverage data and keeping separate work stations within the van. We are doubling up our coverage, using both AT&T and Verizon, so we have a back-up network if one fails. We’re using equipment like hotspots, antennae, mobile routers and a device that makes public WiFi private for us (confidentiality is crucial for some of my client work).
Once I knew we were personally and technologically capable of this trip, the next step became convincing H+K.
My boss, Melanie, has been really supportive! (I’m looking forward to meeting her in person when we stop at the Austin office for a few days.) H+K knows that so long as I’m putting in the effort to make this work, especially communicating with my teammates, it will work fine. My coworkers have faith in me. It’s awesome that I get to see the country while keeping my full-time job and pretty much everyone I’ve talked with agrees.
After the initial van fire, our troubles did not end. We had to fight the insurance company for five weeks before we were reimbursed in full. However, once that was settled, we bought the same model and christened her with an apt name: The Phoenix.
We’re just weeks away from hitting the road, starting with my family’s annual vacation to Acadia National Park. We have the first six months planned out, and then we’ll take it from there. I would like to visit Alaska and, hopefully, ship the Phoenix over to Hawaii, getting to spend a winter there. I’ll be sharing photos on H+K’s Instagram and reporting in here every couple of months on our road adventures – I will be sure to document trials and errors that happen while working from campgrounds and mountain tops.
Surprisingly, I’m not worried much now that it’s finally here. I figure the worst has already happened, but, if there is another fire, we’re prepared: we bought TWO new fire extinguishers. My boyfriend, my dog and I are ready for anything with our Phoenix.