Alexandra Keeling

Alexandra and her travel partner Winston are both photographers by trade, currently in Utah in a custom-built 9′ x 5′ teardrop camper trailer with Alex’s former foster pup, Rocko.

From a breakdown to a break-in, life on the road hasn’t been free of challenges. Alex’s story reminds us that it’s okay to change plans and roll with the punches.

Learn more about Alexandra. Interview below!


Meet Alexandra

Tell us about your travel partners, Winston and Rocko. How did you decide to set off together?

Winston and I have been friends for going on 4 years. Travel has been one of the building blocks to our friendship since day one. We took our first trip together within two months of meeting. We both share a love to travel and photography, and have longed for more time to do the things we loved. We both wanted to explore more, and knew we would get further together.

Winston and Rocko
Alex and Rocko, joyful together in the desert – photo by Winston Shull

Rock is my failed foster dog that has been attached to my hip since the day I got him. When I was fostering him I tried to take him out as much as possible for socialization and we bonded on car rides and walks. We’ve gotten each other through rough times. There is no way I would have left [home] without him.

You initially set off in a motorhome and got from Michigan to Illinois. What happened then? And what inspired you to keep going?

Our original motorhome was a 1987 Itasca Phasar. We bought it two months before we left and tried to get everything tuned up and checked out under the hood. We forgot about what’s on the dash and weren’t aware that our coolant gauge was broken until the motorhome overheated 2 days into our trip.

For about a week we were stuck in the middle of nowhere trying to figure out what was wrong. When we finally got the news that the motor was shot, we had to either give up and go home, or find another way to continue.

Want is what kept us going. Want made us become resourceful and find a way to keep going. We didn’t have a motorhome anymore, but I still had a car back home which we’d taken on many trips in the past. Although it wasn’t our comfy camper, it was all we needed.

Tell us about your teardrop camper. What makes it feel like home?

We found our little Tin Can through Facebook Marketplace in Grand Junction, CO. It’s a custom built teardrop camper that’s 9′ long and 5′ wide. It’s lightweight and has a high clearance, which has allowed us to go places that we wouldn’t have been able to take the motorhome.

The little “Tin Can” – photo by Winston Shull

The interior is still a work in progress but it is cozy. It looks like a little wood cabin inside, which I love. We have a postcard wall of all the National Parks we’ve been to, and string lights to give it a warm feeling.

I think my favorite thing is our new hammock setup. We can attach it from the camper to the car. I love being cuddled up with my dog in the hammock right outside my house.

You and Winston are both shutterbugs. What details do you love to capture? How do your photography styles differ? 

We both love capturing any and everything that makes us feel something. This trip has really helped us figure out what type of photography that is.

I have found that although I enjoy landscape photography, my true love is in portrait and lifestyle photography. There are so many little things about people and things that add to a story.

Alex and Rocko relax in the hammock – photo by Winston Shull

We both love capturing any and everything that makes us feel something.

Winston has more of a passion for landscape photography. He has a way of capturing those same little details I love in people, in wide open spaces.

Your vehicle was broken into and much of your photography gear was stolen this year. How did that affect you? Has it changed the way you travel?

That was the first time I’ve ever been robbed. It’s different knowing that this wasn’t a “what” that caused the change, but a “who”. It was hard to look at everyone around me and not wonder if they were the “who” that did it; it made me mad at the world.

This experience has made me more cautious and careful. As Maya Angelou once said, “I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it.

I hate that it made me look at strangers differently, but when traveling you never know what you are going to get. This experience has made me more cautious and careful. As Maya Angelou once said, “I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it.”

I still plan to not take expensive items with me when in big cities because I much rather have my car broken than me. We do plan on adding hidden storage in the camper that’s more secure in the future.

What’s been your favorite place to wake up? What places do you still long to see?

Favorites: Monument Valley, and a random hot spring in Nevada. Both times I woke up and walked outside, and felt like I had teleported in my sleep. We stayed in a Hogan for New Years Eve in Monument Valley. When I walked outside on January 1st I was greeted by the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen. Everything was glowing. It felt like I was on Tatooine.

Sunrise over a Navajo Hogan in Monument Valley

I love warm locations like the valley, so Baja California is on the short list of places I want to go next, but I do love a good mountain and forest so Alaska would also be amazing. The list could go on and on.

How do you plan your route?

I try not to plan. I’ve always been a planner, but part of my lifestyle change was to change the way I approach things. I found that when creating a plan, you also create expectations, which if not met, can make a place seem underwhelming.

I found that when creating a plan, you also create expectations, which if not met, can make a place seem underwhelming.

 

I pick a state and general way to get to the next state and then drive. I do try and keep a list of places that I would like to visit there, but besides that, I just try and figure things out once we get there.

It can be crazy at times, but for my own long term sanity, it works better to not plan as much. Locals are always more informative than the internet anyway. 

Take a photo of your 5 must-have items for van life. Why can’t you live without each one?

Alexandra's five things posed on orange sand of the Utah desert

  • Baby wipes – These are lifesavers on the road. We use them for a quick “bath” and to clean dishes. Water is limited so we try not to waste what we have on washing and rinsing dishes.
  • Shower hose & gym membership – There is a thin line between van life and hobo life. Cleanliness is the difference for us. Winston upgraded his planet fitness membership before we left, which has allowed us to use their showers all over the nation when near big cities. For when we are boon docking I have a batter powered shower head we put in a bucket of water that gives us a pressurized shower. 
  • Water jug – Surprise! Another water related item. This one is the most obvious something to hold the most highly-sought commodity on the road. Water consumption and conservation is one of the highest priorities. We have traveled in a lot of dry locations so having a 7-gallon jug is hugely important.
  • A good book – We don’t get great cell service in the camper, and most of the free places we camp are in the middle of nowhere so there is no cell service at all. Having a good book is what keeps you from going insane when cooped up in the camper when the weather isn’t great.
  • Battery pack – We can normally charge our phones and small electronics in the car, but having additional power in the camper is nice when dry camping. It allows me to be able to charge stuff in the camper at night and even use some more modern conveniences like the TV and Xbox. 

Where will you be one week from now? One month?

Par of traveling is to find places you love and connect with. I felt a connection with Moab so I decided to come back. There is still so much in Utah that we didn’t see in January, so I plan to hop around the area.

Delighted by the desert – photo by Winston Shull

Travel is great, but never staying in one place for more than a week can be taxing at times. We decided to set up here for a while to reset, repair, see what we missed, and restart for the summer (or until it becomes too hot).

Anything else to add?

If the past six months have taught me anything, it’s that life will get weird if you let it. Embrace the weird because there is no normal way to do it.

 

Photos courtesy of Alexandra Keeling and Winston ShullSee more from Alex on Instagram @alexandra_abroad


 

Do you dream of taking your life on the road?