Deviating from the conventional path to travel, create, and make time for themselves
Meet Alyssa and Brian of Northbound and Down — Traveling Designers
Could you tell us a little bit about your background?
[Alyssa] I grew up in North Carolina and studied graphic design at Appalachian State University, which is surrounded by mountains and sits along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Strangely, during my time there I wasn’t much into camping, hiking or the outdoors in general.
After graduating I moved to Austin, Texas to serve as a designer in AmeriCorps. After completing my service, I stuck around Austin working as a designer at various studios and agencies. I loved Austin’s laid-back lifestyle and year-long swimming weather.
[Brian] I studied graphic design at Texas State University, near Austin where I grew up. After graduating, I received a grant to work at Fabrica in Italy for a year, after which I spent 6 months traveling Europe and Southeast Asia. After returning to Austin and working at a couple studios, Alyssa and I met.
Soon after meeting we both felt the itch to move from Austin. We settled on San Francisco, and hit the road headed for California in 2013. We took our time getting out there, passing through New Mexico, Arizona and finally California, and during that drive, we fell in love with the freedom that overland travel offers. The ability to wake up with no plan and set off on a spontaneous adventure right after breakfast.
How did you get started as a full-time traveling designers?
After arriving in San Francisco, we were both keenly aware that we were coming to the end of our 20s, and like many people nearing 30, we questioned our priorities. We realized that things that had seemed so important to us for years felt less important and more limiting. We determined that our definition of success and happiness was changing, and we wanted to have more time for ourselves, each other and the outdoors.
We discussed plans for the future that would give us more freedom and adventure, and we made the decision to actively work towards living on the road. We forced ourselves to save money by skipping many of the perks of city life. Living in one of the most expensive cities in the country made saving that much more difficult.
Finally, in March of 2016, after a couple years of saving and planning, we bought a truck and a popup camper, quit our jobs, and set off towards Alaska. The rest of 2016 was a blur of glaciers, wild animals, hot springs, mountain peaks and midnight sun.
Along the way, we have been lucky to receive referrals from friends and previous coworkers to clients, and this work has allowed us to continue exploring. We feel so lucky to have found clients willing and even excited to work remotely with two people who’s timezone, schedule and wifi access changes weekly or even daily.
Now, a year after our initial departure, we’ve parted ways with the truck and have set off in a Land Cruiser. Our goals are the same — to travel, create, and make time for ourselves — and this time we’re heading south to Central America.
What was a defining moment in your life?
For us both, leaving good jobs that we enjoyed in San Francisco to set off on this journey. Looking back, we’re not sure we knew or understood how defining that moment would be.
It’s like we were on a train that was safe and taking us to a comfortable place where we would have everything we needed, but we jumped off in the middle of nowhere.
The course we’re on now is a little less predictable and a little more strenuous, but that makes each day more fulfilling and exciting.
What fears or resistance did you face in that process?
There’s always a fear of trying something unknown, and by deviating from a conventional path, we worried we’d be giving up too much. We worried that by giving up our jobs we’d be giving up on our careers. We wondered if we’d run into friction if/when we decide to get full-time jobs again due to our extended absence.
We also worried that life on the road would not work out. There was the fear in the back of our minds that we wouldn’t be able to cut it, or wouldn’t enjoy it, and all the time and money we had invested would be for nothing.
That being said, there wasn’t much external resistance. Most people were incredibly supportive. Even once we were on the road, we heard praise for how we were “doing it right”, and that taking time to travel at our age was a great decision.
Is there a favorite quote or mantra that gave (or gives) you inspiration? Or did you have a power song?
“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”
— George Eliot
“I chose life over death for myself and my friends… I believe it is in our nature to explore, to reach out into the unknown. The only true failure would be not to explore at all.”
— Ernest Shackleton
How do you define bravery?
Not letting fear overpower your desires. Being comfortable with being uncomfortable or even scared.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone facing a challenge?
Decide ahead of time that you’re going to have a positive attitude no matter the outcome. And then, of course, take it one step at a time.