When grief becomes a part of life and you find yourself wondering if life will ever be the same, there is a hope that perhaps you’ll come out the other side a little stronger than before. Jessie tells us about life on the road, a lifestyle that came about from loss due to “needing spaces big enough to hold [her] heartbreak” and how she has gained “openness, creativity, connection and love” because of it. This feature doesn’t just highlight the beautiful places you can visit while on the road but shares the beauty found in the internal working a life on the road can bring about.
It is an honor to share the following with you—
Photos by Jessie Johnson
My life on the road is a response to a very difficult time in my life. I lost my dad to cancer a few years ago, and it was like a bomb had gone off in the center of my life. On the heels of that heartbreak I went through an unexpected and painful divorce. The divorce left me in a state of deep grief and shock. When my dad passed, I had really delved deep into grief work. So I knew when the marriage was lost that I wanted to channel the energy that comes from grief into something beautiful. I needed spaces big enough to hold my heartbreak. With no more anchors, I made the decision to commit to traveling full time, pursuing my love of landscape photography, and seeking out magic, enchantment, and grace.
Before starting this adventure, I knew nothing about living life on the road full time. When the idea to travel in an RV was just starting to rattle in my head the only RV brand I knew was Airstream, so I would say, “I’m going to buy an Airstream and drive around with Mags (the dog) for a while.” I was really saying Airstream in the same way people say Chapstick for all lip balms, and Kleenex for all tissues. But when I got serious about buying something, Airstreams were the first things I looked at. The classic exterior, solid build job, and clean, modern interior sold my little aesthetically driven heart in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. Plus, I am quickly distracted by shiny objects.
I needed spaces big enough to hold my heartbreak.
Yes, because how I operate in the world has shifted dramatically as a result of the losses. When my heart shattered, I wondered with concern if I would ever be able to put it back together. Where had all the pieces gone? If I found the pieces would they all fit together again? The only way I would ever know was if I tried. And in the process of reconstructing my dear heart, I left more room for openness, creativity, connection and love. And these qualities I gladly invite to continue to shape my days and be extended to those in my world.
The nitty-gritty truth about intention-setting is that once you set it in motion, the world shows up to show you all of the ways in which you are not living in alignment with your intentions. It’s the magic and the curse. This is my experience so far:
1) Radical self-care: Traveling solo has taught me that I had no clue about self-care. I try to wake up every day and listen to what I need in order to stay balanced and healthy. What it looks like is turning off my cell phone before bedtime and doing candlelit yoga in the Airstream. It is heading to Albuquerque every few months for precious face time with my best friend. It is keeping weekly appointments with my therapist so that I drain the grief to someone that knows how to hold space for it. It is eating my veggies (hold the broccoli, please). It is hugging my dog, it is flossing daily, it is finding a good dirt road to pair with a Fleetwood Mac song. Above all, it is keeping my internal dialogue in line with kindness, love, humility, and compassion.
2) Creativity as teacher and healer: This one is simple. I implement it by approaching my creative life committed and ready to work. I show up for creativity every day and stay committed to the path, even when I’m failing miserably. The lessons that come from continually showing up (to anything) are like manna from heaven.
3) Loneliness: Loneliness was my greatest fear when embarking on solo travel. I was afraid that loneliness would creep in so deeply that I would call one of my friends from the middle of a desert sobbing. With a little luck and a lot of self-care, that has not happened. When loneliness creeps in, I just sit with it, watch, and listen. The longer I sit with it, the more benign it becomes. If sitting with it fails, I dig in and get more committed to self-care. In my experience, there is more of a correlation between loneliness and lack of self-care than there is between loneliness and a lack of people.
4) Working with whatever the universe brings: I struggle when things become uncertain (because I’m human and like to be in control). So this one is never easy but always worth it. In the last few years I adopted the idea that the universe is always working in my (and your) favor. In reality, this idea may be true or it may not be true, but that’s not really the point. The point is that when you start looking at the world through that lens, all of life’s trials big and small become detours and teachers rather than dead ends. On hard days, I have to re-remind myself of this every 30 seconds, but it always brings life back to a manageable place. If we ever meet, and I hope we do, please remind me to soften into each moment. I’ll thank you for it.
Not necessarily. Intention-setting is a tool that can be used powerfully in a lot of different areas of life. But it would not be my first suggestion for someone that is grieving. Grief can be overwhelming and its path very personal. If I offer any words to the dear soul out there in the throes of grief it is this: Be compassionate with yourself. You are doing everything just fine. It’s okay that you feel like a big pile of mush (at best). You will feel better someday. Someday you will wake up and not feel like you want to dissolve into the wind. On that day you will see light and know that there are gifts in the dark. You will know on that day that the loss is not the end. Take care of yourself, your heart, your mind. And if you need support ask for it. The instinct is to try and run from it, sweep it under the rug, and just move on ASAP. I encourage you to lean in. You will have your own experiences and path through it but if you lean in and feel it, you will not drown. That is my promise to you.
I practice landscape photography because there is no other place in my life where I feel more fulfilled and in flow than when I’m out shooting in the outdoors. I feel and see the divine most strongly in nature, so that is where my camera gravitates. There is a long list of favorites but Death Valley is a strong standout.
1) Camera (for the archive)
2) Mags the dog (for cuddle time and dance parties in the Airstream)
3) Books (for sanity and wonder)
4) Technology (for maps, connection, campsite information, tunes, photograph processing, TV show bingeing on sick days, and Longreads)
5) The Flowered Life organic lip balm (for my eternally chapped lips)
My top choice is boondocking in a National Forest or on BLM land because they have the best vibes, rules (few) and rates (free!). State parks come in a close second.
It is the end of March, I’m currently boondocking outside of Sedona, Arizona. A month from now I will be in Patagonia on a photography trip. Patagonia!!!
Photos by Jessie Johnson
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