Emily and Adam of Our Open Road are living the dream…traveling the world…all together as a family, 24/7. We are so thrilled they agreed to share their world with us here.
Give us a little background on yourself/what you do/how you came to it!
Adam and I met in 1998 at Art School in Los Angeles, California, started dating 2 years later, and the rest is history… I am a fashion designer by trade, a cook by passion and a mother and wife by guidance of my heart. Traveling around California on our limited college budgets, we dreamed of seeing the world at large. Our first international trip together was to Thailand in 2003, which lit an insatiable desire to see more of this magical planet. We are nomads at heart, and have always found a way to travel within our means… we never had credit cards, cable tv or car payments, investing in our present instead of paying into a system that does not serve us. Pre-departure our lives were filled with adventuring into our own great backyard. California has small corners and wide expanses that are a natural paradise and fed our wanderlust and fueled our dreams of life unplugged.
The vision for our nomadic life was formed from pieces we gathered along the way and dreamed we would share with our ‘future family’, like the passing smile of a mother carrying her infant in a front pack on a remote hike in New Zealand, and on a tiny island in Thailand- two gregarious children that told us of how they were sailing around the world with their parents. When I was pregnant with Colette, Adam was working on a project that would have put us in India and Nepal for 6+ months. When that fell through, we knew the time had come for us to plan our own grand voyage, thus Our Open Road was born!
We left California in our 1990 VW Westfalia van in October 2012, looking to shed our robes of comfort and step into the world, ready to learn, an adventure that would start at our front door and lead us to a foreign country on day one. When 5 months into what we planned to be a 1-year long voyage, as we were departing Colombia entering Ecuador, we had approximately 8 weeks to reach Tierra del Fuego before the weather would make it improbable to safely reach our southernmost destination Ushuaia. So we opened to the possibilities set before us, decided to embrace a future unknown and the rewards of slow travel. We knew we were (are!) on the journey of a lifetime and rushing to check off places visited seemed very unlike the purpose of our departure.
That was the decision that changed it all! We did not have the finances to stay on the road longer, but felt confident that with our hearts open and heads together, we could figure out some way to support our life on the road, our finances being pretty minimal. We discussed juggling at street lights (a talent which neither of us possess), turning the van into a mobile kitchen and selling food after bars close (not very conducive to having a young child), having Adam work with a scuba outfitter as an underwater cinematographer (fun if you want to live somewhere, but quite un-nomadic), so when we mulled over the idea for 24 Hour Bazaar- we instantly knew we had found our winner!
24 Hour Bazaar is a flash sale of curated, fair trade, artisan goods that we host when in craft rich regions. Items include rugs, textiles, blankets, clothing, hats, jewelry, ceramics and vary according to our location. The one-of-a-kind items are available for a limited time and ship worldwide directly to our customers’ door. Subscribe here to get on the list.
As that stabilized our income, we have also diversified to include working as contributors to various online and print publications via Adam’s photography paired with my writing. We also take paid assignments, producing original photo content for the every hungry global audience. In October 2014, Adam had a solo art exhibition titled “Terra Incognita” which featured over 50 new original collage, photo, painting and mixed-media works. I have now hosted two “Puertas Cerradas” pop-up 6 course vegetarian dinners inspired by our time on the road, cooking for up to 45 folks, sharing the stories of each course set in an intimate environment.
How old are your kids?
Aaro, our first child, was stillborn May 2009.
Colette Nova, my first nursling, 5
Sierra Luna, my current nursling, 1.5
Where would you say you live?
We live in our 1990 VW Westfalia van, having traveled overland from California to South America. As full time nomads, our location is always changing, but our home on wheels is the constant. In a matter of weeks, we will have a radical shift in that- we have rented a house in the Sacred Valley of Peru for 6 months time! We have a handful of projects that require us ‘standing still’ for a bit. We are both excited and a bit nervous for this shift, having been in the van since 2012! Colette will be enrolling in a tri-lingual (English, Spanish, Quechua) Waldorf school for our time there, and she is so excited.
What is your mom uniform?
Black skinny jeans, black TOMS moccasins, striped shirt, Josie Maran argan oil then sunscreen, Peruvian floppy hat from our 24 Hour Bazaar, Raen Lucy sunglasses, and more that likely, my Ergo with Sierra in it.
Do you cook much…what are your go-tos both for self and kids?
Maintaining food integrity for our family is something I happily invest a lot of time in. Before we left, I was a bit concerned it’d be hard to eat as well as we did in California. Coming from Los Angeles, you can find almost any global ingredient or pre-made product- dried Aleppo peppers, atemoya, 17 types of edible flowers, or Tahitian Vanilla Bean and Egyptian Chamomile Blossom Matured Maple Syrup- all within arms reach. So the ease and convenience of such products are not available, but whole, real foods are (as well as processed over-sugared, over-salted crap that we steer clear of).
The thing about food on the road is that people eat everywhere! Grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables are easy to find in every village or city we have been to. Taking some time each week to create a fridge full of easy to grab items that set us up for good choices, is a great investment of not so much time. There is always something in our fridge or pantry, and usually a pretty tasty and colorful assortment. When at all possible we shop direct at small farms, farmers markets, or roadside stands. Adam is used to hitting the brakes when I squeals “stop!“ as we pass such temptations. We usually find a verduleria, green grocer, and stock up there on all our fruit and veg. We go through a lot in a week, as I prepare produce-heavy food and like to have a wide variety of colors represented in each meal. If we are in a bigger town, there is usually a natural health foods store, where we stock up on harder to locate sundries like tahini, miso, nori, and organic dried legumes. Last stop is the regular grocery store, to fill in the blanks. In many places that is the only option, so I have become well versed in making the best with what’s available. In areas where there is no supermarket, which is pretty often as we love the open and wild places, we’ve already stocked up and we will be eating in style in the wilderness!
We have wild harvested calafate berries in Patagonia, coconuts and bananas from Mexico to Ecuador, Pan de Indio in Tierra del Fuego, miners lettuce from canyon cracks between rock climbing sessions, blackberries everywhere in Chile in summer, apples and pears in fall from campground lots and roadside trees, morels and dandelion in spring on hikes and Adam has fished countless rivers and streams along the way. From a hand full of farms, we’ve pulled our own fruit and veggies, thanking the farmers for their noble work. Giving place to where our food comes from, explaining this cycle, and connecting our girls to it is very important. So much of the global economy is food based and in making decisions with our pesos, we can vote for sustainable choices.
I cook 90% of our meals, serving the same food for all of us (hot sauce on the side for Adam and I, please!). For breakfast oatmeal is an easy staple that I make 100 different ways depending on what we have in our tiny pantry- either sweet (whatever fruit we have in the basket, some chopped nuts and a drizzle of honey) or savory (grilled greens, avocado, nutritional yeast, toasted sesame seeds, hot sauce, a drizzle of sesame oil). Lunch depends widely on if we are in transit or set up in camp. So perhaps a garbanzo bean salad on rice cakes, or fresh spring rolls filled with a rainbow of veggies to dip in peanut sauce if I have more time. Pressure cooker risotto (either sundried tomato or mushroom) with a pile of garlicky greens is a great dinner that feels fancier than it is.
Weeknight family dinner routine? Whats a typical weekend like? (editor’s note: we send the same questionnaire to all subjects!)
There’s little difference for us between weekday or weekend. Around dinner time, Adam plays with the kids, or the girls play together while Adam edits photos, and I make dinner. We eat together, read stories, then off to bed for the littles while we clean up the cyclone that hits our tiny house daily, then Adam and I read books and perhaps enjoy a glass of wine, stargaze and smile at our beautiful chaos.
Best kid purchase/ bang for buck?
Living quite minimally (and in a tiny space the size of a walk-in closet!), purchases usually come in the form of an experience, not an object. Whether that is gas in the van to reach a destination, entrance to a National Park, or the cost of an excursion. Making the shift from objects to experiences is one that we find holds the girls’ interest much longer and with lasting memories!
Any rules about tv/ screens?
We have no tv in the van and overall the girls have very little screen time; we prefer to raise them a bit analog. Occasionally we watch a movie on a laptop or let the girls watch some Peppa Pig on our phone as Adam and I work on the computers when we have the occasional wifi.
Fail-safe beauty product or routine?
Sleep, water, coconut oil, sunscreen, whole foods, exercise, time with loved ones.
Best family trip?
Transforming our lives from busy city folks (who escaped into nature as often as we could) into full-time nomads has been the greatest trip of all! When we departed, our plan was to travel for a year, but now 3.5 years into this adventure, we are blissfully enjoying life on the open road.
Any small business advice?
Trust your intuition, it is there to guide you. Do ask friends and family for advice, support and criticism. Don’t try to make your business based on someone else’s formula, creating a unique experience is your best bet. Do YOU.
Proudest moment in parenting?
Our first day in Bolivia, as we were at the border, an old Aymara woman walked past us, crying inconsolably. She sobbed that Argentine customs would not let her in to visit her daughter. Not fully understanding what she had said, Colette looked at us, eyes wide and then ran up to her and gave her a huge hug. The elderly lady took a deep breath and embraced her back, then picked up her huge bundle and continued back into Bolivia. This simple act of kindness was beautiful to witness.
Best parenting advice you ever got?
My mom is an incredible well of guidance and support. I find myself often hearing her voice guiding many of my mothering actions. Looking beyond the surface to get to the heart of a matter is a skill I use on the daily.