Mandy Lea and Kendrick have been living the full-time RV life since they met in 2016. While both had previously spent time on the road on their own, living and working in the same space required some adjustments. In this post, they talk about living and working together while living on the road full-time.
What misconceptions do you think people have when they envision a life on the road together?
Mandy: The number one misconception I see for either couples or single people on the road is that it is going to be easy and glamourous. I blame social media (mostly Instagram) for this misconception. People see images of others that appear to be living a vacation dream. But in reality, those who are living a “vacation” are probably living on savings, which quickly run out. If you want to make life on the road a long-term endeavor, then you have to work, just like anyone else in life.
Kendrick: I agree that a lot of the “van lifers” on Instagram and other social media platforms give this misguided illusion that living full time on the road is one big vacation spent doing shoots in your van and yoga in pretty places. In reality, it’s pretty un-glamorous. Tiny spaces can be pretty difficult to share. Something as seemingly meaningless as leaving out the lighter after lighting the stove burner can turn into a huge peeve. You learn really fast what drives you and your significant other nuts and try really hard not to do those things.
Mandy: There are good days, there are bad days. There is bad weather. There are boring days. There are days without a good view. There are days where you do nothing but work. But at the same time, there are amazing days that make up for all of it. Living the RV life full time is more than a road trip. For me, it was a very difficult process, but in the end, very freeing.
You run Mandy Lea Photo as a team while living on the road. How did that come about?
Mandy: People often ask how we make money. It’s a lot of hustle and a lot of work to run your own business. When I met Kendrick, I was in the early stages of developing Mandy Lea Photo, a business focused on photography and teaching. Since I already had a “job” on the road, it took Kendrick a few months to find how he fit into it. I could tell it was a hard time for him, but I knew that he had an important place in the business, especially because it was becoming too much for me to handle alone. When Kendrick entered the picture, he was able to pick up a lot of my slack. While I handle most of the photography, instructing, and social media, he handles much of the business side regarding permitting, logistics, travel, and planning.
Kendrick: I try to help with as much logistics and paper-pushing as I can. I also picked up her spare camera and let her teach me how to use that so that I could assist in the photo workshops. Recently we discovered another way that I can put my background in endurance athletics to good use—we started offering guided backpacking trips! These trips really excite me because we get to take people to beautiful places (like the bottom of the Grand Canyon) that they may not have the opportunity to see without our assistance.
Mandy: Our income is from several sources including educational workshops, speaking engagements, licensing images, sponsored products and businesses, creating videos on YouTube, and online associate links. It takes a lot of behind-the-scenes work to keep all these balls in motion, which is why it’s great to have two of us.
What advice do you have for couples who are thinking of pulling up stakes and hitting the road?
Mandy: My advice is to understand that there is a huge difference between going on a long road trip, and actually living on the road. If you live part-time on the road (even for months at a time) you still have a place to go “home” to. You still have all your furniture and all that stuff stored away somewhere. When you really truly go full-time, the hard part is not living in your camper. It’s letting go of all that stuff that you have lived with for so long—your furniture, clothes, decorations—and keeping just a box full of sentimental items. Not having a place waiting for you to return to – that’s another big adjustment. So even if you go on a “test trip,” that just means you can handle a long road trip.
Kendrick: Narrowing down all of our stuff was definitely the hardest thing for me. I was in a tiny pickup truck and felt I had already minimized about as much as I could while still keeping the necessary gear for all of the activities I love doing. On any given day, at any given time I could simply drive anywhere and trail run, climb, ski, ice climb, and more because I had all of the gear with me. When we moved in together, I had to leave behind a lot of gear, which makes it harder to spontaneously do those activities.
Mandy: The first thing we did was lay all of our belongings out in the yard and start narrowing down the things we needed and the things we could leave behind. After knowing one another for such a short time, this was a huge emotional step (accompanied by a few tears) that most couples don’t have to face for months or years!
Kendrick: My advice would be to first spend a significant amount of time in a confined space with your significant other. If you feel you can do that, then I’d suggest next going through ALL of your possessions and start getting rid of things well before you plan to hit the road. If this proves to be exceptionally difficult and you still have enough stuff left over to fill up a two-bedroom apartment after your first time getting rid of stuff, then hitting the road full-time in a tiny trailer is likely going to be very, very difficult for you. But if you can do these two things with minimal problems, then you might be ready to hit the road full-time in a tiny space with your partner.
You can follow all of Mandy & Kendrick’s adventures on their social media profiles: