North + Nomad

Karen Nagy and her fiancé Simon have been traveling in their Honda Element since September 2014. They added a bed platform and stocked it full of camera equipment, because along the way they are producing videos and creating content through their company North + Nomad. Karen has found the road and constant change creatively invigorating. Learn more – interview with Karen below!

Photos above and below by North + Nomad

Meet Inspired, Receptive Karen

How did your trip come to be? Is there a definite timeline?

My fiancé, Simon, and I had been daydreaming about taking a break from the fast-paced life of New York City and our demanding jobs in advertising and video production for more than a year. The tipping point came when a tarot card reader told me that my deceased grandfather, North, was sending his blessings and protection to us for a spiritual voyage we were about to embark on. It was too crazy of a message to ignore, and it gave us some sense that the universe was giving us two thumbs up to our adventure dreams. We had gotten engaged a few months prior but neither of us had much interested in planning a wedding, so we took the money we would have spent on a single celebratory day to fund an open-ended, cross-country adventure together.

In September 2014, we sold most of our belongings, bought a Honda Element, and packed it full of cameras, audio gear, hard drives and laptops, and headed out with the intention of making creative work from the road. We’ve been traveling around the U.S. for eight months, shooting video projects along the way, and we’re simultaneously scheming how to go further and make videos from even more remote destinations while also thinking about setting up a longer-term basecamp to work and travel from.

California desert by North + Nomad
California desert by North + Nomad

Why did you choose to travel in your Honda Element? What is your preferred sleeping situation? (tent camping, hotel, etc)

We liked the idea of having wheels and the freedom to travel from place to place on our own schedule; we also wanted to bring a bunch of video equipment to film and shoot projects along our trip. Simon built a platform bed in the back of our Honda Element where we can store gear below and sleep above, and we’ve used it to travel widely and sleep in all sorts of places across the country—from campgrounds to parking lots to people’s driveways. We’ve found that Airbnb is a great resource to find locals who will let you park in their driveway and use their kitchen and bathroom for a fraction of the price of actually sleeping in their house; it’s a fun way to have some amenities and be able to cook your own meals, pee in the middle of the night, and feel safe without paying for a full overnight stay somewhere!

Photos by North + Nomad
Photos by North + Nomad

You and your fiancé form the creative duo, North + Nomad, specializing in branded content and video production. How do you complement each other in your work? 

Part of our desire to take this trip was to learn to work together in a professional sense; we have complementary skill sets and had done video jobs together in the past for clients, but wanted to become stronger collaborators. Simon has years of experience as a photographer and director, and I come from a background of writing and creating content for major brands and TV networks. Our combined knowledge makes us a dynamic team capable of conceiving, producing, directing, shooting, and editing an entire short film project between the two of us.

Photo by North + Nomad
Photo by North + Nomad

How has life on the road enhanced your projects?

Always being in new environments with diverse people has proven to be a constant source of inspiration. When we were in North Carolina we were staying at a medicinal herb farm with an elaborate apothecary full of dusty vials, books, and dried herbs and we really wanted to capture the magic of the place. We found an up-and-coming indie folk band in Asheville whose down-to-earth vibe worked well with the mood of the location, and we produced a music video for them on site. That was our first project we tackled on the road; there are more short films in the works that we shot in Austin and the desert near LA that would have never happened unless we ended up in those places when we did and found the right people who were eager to get on board and support our vision.

Photo by North + Nomad
Photo by North + Nomad

What’s your favorite road meal?

We have had so much good food on this trip; one of the most memorable meals was chargrilled oysters, hush puppies, and crab and corn bisque soup for lunch in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. But usually when we’re on the move we try to keep lots of snacks in the car – dried fruit and the Happy Trekking trail mix from Trader Joe’s are our go-tos.

Take a photo of your five must have items for road travel.

Karen's five things
Karen’s five things

Notebook – We’ve been starting each day by taking quiet time to write a few pages and also note 3 new things we’re grateful for.

iPhone – While we’re traveling with a beautiful Fuji point-and-shoot and a big Sony FS700, I’m always snapping photos with my phone, and of course using it to stay in touch and navigate from place to place.

Aeropress – This is our favorite way to make coffee on the move.

Stumptown mug – There’s rarely a moment when this guy isn’t full of coffee.

Alpaca blanket – I picked up this blanket on travels through Peru and because I’m always cold it’s nice to have around to snuggle in by the campfire or in the car.

What’s your pace of travel like? How do you balance time filming and editing?

We have a rule that when we’re driving that when we see something that makes us think, “should we shoot that?” the answer is always yes, and we stop and assemble the camera on the side of the road and film whatever it is that caught our eye. We now have a library full of this kind of found footage. We’ve shot three full short films in the last eight months along our trip as well, which definitely require more planning. It’s harder to find time to edit projects when we’re constantly moving, as that requires setting up hard drives and having time to really sit down and comb through hours of footage. We spent a month at a little farmhouse in New Mexico editing the first project, and are now looking to set up another short-term basecamp to edit the next two.

Photo by North + Nomad
Photo by North + Nomad

Which cities have stood out? Which parks/landscapes?

We really loved Denver and met a lot of creative people there who were interested in what we’re doing; it’s still an attractive option to us for a future home when we want more stability. We were also both really taken with New Mexico; between the high desert, hot springs, Ra Paulette’s elaborate sand caves and the Earthship community near Taos, we found the whole place to be so magical and otherworldly.

New Mexico - North + Nomad
New Mexico – North + Nomad

What have you learned about yourself in your 8+ months traveling? 

I’ve learned that external spaces hugely affect my internal state of mind and outlook on life; when we’re in a space that’s light and airy I feel like the possibilities are limitless. I’ve also come to understand how little I actually need in terms of material goods; when we started this trip it was so freeing to get rid of all the unnecessary stuff we’d accumulated over the years. More than anything, this trip has really taught me that a strong relationship requires ongoing patience and communication and compassion; it’s not always easy to travel so closely for months in a small space together, but in our questioning how we want to live and what’s really important to us, Simon and I have learned a lot about each other and are definitely stronger for it.

Photo of Karen by North + Nomad
Photo of Karen by North + Nomad
Photo of Simon by North + Nomad
Photo of Simon by North + Nomad

Where are you now [May 19, 2015] and where will you be in one month?

We’re currently in Portland, Oregon, meeting with agencies and brands, hiking in the Columbia River Gorge, and exploring the city. I grew up in Oregon but it’s fun to come back as a visitor and see what’s changed. In a month we’ll be down in Oakland shooting a short documentary project with a talented tattoo artist as part of a new artist series we’re creating (and I’ll be getting my first ink to celebrate my 30th birthday!).

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Questions for Karen? Ideas for next stops? The perfect camp meal? Join in!

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