Overlandia: Lessons from a Year on the Road

15 months ago Foster Huntington drove west. He quit his schmancy job as a designer at Ralph Lauren in New York, sold most of his stuff, and bought a 1987 VW Vanagon Syncro. He’d just scored a book deal with Harper Collins, based on his blog, The Burning House, a photographic tick list of what people would take with them if their house was on fire. He had, as he says, “enough money to chill for a year,” and when he burned out of New York he didn’t take much besides his camera.

He’s spent the last year and change driving across the left half of the country, crisscrossing from Durango to Baja to Bend, taking pictures and blogging for himself at A Restless Transplant, as well as for brands like Patagonia. He’s become, essentially, a professional vagabond, and he’s learned a few things along the way:

Say yes
Plans are overrated. Foster says that he’s been able to take advantage of almost any opportunity that’s come his way because he doesn’t plan that far in advance. He has the flexibility to go wherever he wants and to point his van toward an incoming swell or last-minute trip. He rarely has to say no. He just got back from a two-week surf trip in Kamchatka, Russia, which he says was like living in Jurassic Park. And even though he’s unhinged, it’s much less stressful than having a desk job in the city.

You don’t need much… 
The Syncro has a bed, a bench seat, a cabinet for clothes, a rocket box, and not a lot else. The crucial stuff — camera gear and his phone — stays close to the driver. “The nice thing about being 24 and single is that most of my possessions are replaceable,” Foster says.

…but you probably need a phone
Foster does social media like a guy who lives in his car should. He gets internet from his jailbroken iPhone and blogs from his front seat. He stopped shooting digital pictures because he was spending too much time in front of his computer. Now, he only shoots photos on his phone and on film, which he sends back to the town he grew up in to get processed. The format works. He’s tapped into a vein of wanderlust that seems to run deep.

Most people aren’t assholes
Being on the road, maybe because so many people travel by themselves, brings you close to strangers. Foster says he’s made a circle of friends who are on a similar schedule, but he’s also approached every day by strangers who care about his van, or want to talk about their own. He started a third blog, Van Life — and a well-used Instagram hashtag, #vanlife — about the people he’s met and how dedicated they are to that life.

You can’t plan to fall in love
And love can make you do weird things. Foster says the biggest surprise has been how much it’s made him love surfing, and how that’s shaped his trajectory. “I had surfed before but now it’s kind of consumed my life,” he says. “I feel like I’m 10 years old again.”

Momentum is a powerful force
The trip was supposed to take a year, but now that he’s rolling he’s not sure when he’ll stop.  “I’m going to do it till I’m bored,” he says. “I’m having the time of my life.”

Overlandia is the art, science, and romance of driving in the dirt.

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