“There was a lot going on before we left, in both our lives,” say Jillian Mann and Kyla Trethewey, who met through their boyfriends (and three years later, coincidently broke up with them within days of each other). “We had reached our respective tipping points and something was going to change in a major way for both of us.”
In March 2013, with a plan to walk their dogs, Kyla texted Jillian with a drastic alternative: “Actually do you want to go Salt Lake City? If we leave now we can watch the sunrise on the salt flats. Please say yes.”
Since then the travelling photographers and their trusty trailer have driven across countless countries and clocked up 87,000 fans along the way.
How did this ‘whirlwind’ trip cement your decision to hit the road?
We had talked about this big escape and all we were going to do together before we had ever spent more than a few hours in a car with one another. That initial trip felt like a test drive, and over those 48-hours we realised our lives could – and should – be this exciting, effortless and free. And most importantly, we could do it together. We could travel without order, plan or clean clothes. We didn’t complain, we didn’t stress, and we could handle each other and living on the road incredibly well. That’s when the wheels really started turning. We left [for good] in August, did six months in the US, came back to Vancouver in February and since then have spent the last year travelling to Italy, Dominica, England, Scotland, Alaska, Central America, as well several shorter trips around the US.
How did you prepare?
We actually did very little to prep for the journey, which is a familiar pattern now for the two of us. We mostly spent our time working as much as possible before putting our notices in at our jobs.
We slowly started to sell the contents of our apartments on Craigslist, got rid of one apartment and moved into a shared studio, consolidating our lives and then whittling them down. We had found the trailer [dubbed Bobby Jean in ode to Bruce Springsteen’s song] a few months before we left, and spent a lot of our weekends fixing her up – painted her, reupholstered the cushions and started to pack her up. We had given ourselves a deadline of August 22 to leave. When the day finally rolled around, we still had a to-do list pages long, but we left anyway. We haven’t thought about it since.
You left with two goals – never make plans and never pay for a place to stay. Have you to stuck to them?
We learned early on making plans is a great way to ensure their failure. We never plan much further than a couple days on the road and that suits us fine. The plan changes every time we meet someone new, get pointed in a different direction or fall in love with a city, state or place. As far as not paying for a place to stay, that was easy too. There are a ton of free places to park and the trailer has everything we need to make a home wherever we are. This rule also really encouraged us to make friends along the way.
But the car broke down. Was that tough?
We couldn’t just go home, we had put everything into this. [But] with no car and very little money, we didn’t see an easy way out of it. We ended up living in a junkyard in Moab [Utah] for a while until we found a way back to Salt Lake City where we had friends. We spent days redoing our site on a friend’s pull-out couch, trying to set up an online store where we could sell the only thing we had left at that point, the images from the road. That’s what pulled us out and saved us. It took about a month but we were able to get back on the road. It’s crazy to think we almost gave up. That was a turning point for us. We had made it through the worst, it could only get better, we said. And it did.
Now full-time photographers, with 85K+ ‘travel buddies’ on Instagram, when did you realise Our Wild Abandon was taking off?
We created the blog and Instagram so we would have one channel to funnel our photos and memories through for safekeeping, and to share with our friends and families. It was so small at first. Slowly it started to get noticed and that was fun, having strangers tell us places to check out next or saying our photos made them want to go there too. Then it started to snowball. Of course, as photographers, you want someone to appreciate the work but we certainly didn’t think Instagram and the blog would become as highly trafficked as they are. It’s easy for the online popularity to overshadow the fact that we are photographers and this is still [a] passion we pursue, regardless of the size of the audience.
How much time and energy do you dedicate to it?
All of it. This has been an all-consuming undertaking and there’s nothing we’d rather be doing. This has become our full-time job, and whoever said, “find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” couldn’t have been more wrong. Find a job you love and you will work every day of your life. We are always striving to create work we are proud of, to document our lives and to challenge each other.
How do you sustain a life on the road?
It takes less [money] than you think if you can commit to it. We are both equally committed to our dream so it isn’t even a discussion when it comes to what we do with our resources; everything goes toward Our Wild Abandon and that is all we could ever want. Living on the road for extended periods of time, especially in the US where we cannot currently work, you need to be extremely budget-conscious. The money you leave with is all the money you have, a finite resource. We typically travel with our trailer, Bobby Jean, in tow, which is a huge help keeping expenses down.
Are there any personal struggles?
A lot of the personal, internal struggles we face stem from long periods of isolation punctuated by fast-paced stretches of time spent making new friends and having new experiences. It’s not like at home in your day-to-day where you have a consistent level of socialisation and patterned regularity. This pace was, and is, hard to come to grips with. In a time where we find ourselves constantly asking, “what the f**k are we doing?” you need to always be doing your best to answer to yourself. [And] physically, it can be exhausting running on little sleep in all these strange places across the map. We do our best to eat healthy and get out of the car as much as we can.
What is the mindset to have when taking a massive leap of faith?
A mix of apprehension, optimism and complete, blind dedication. It’s not a decision that can be made lightly. If things had gone sideways for us, we would have been going home to start fresh at the bottom, with no jobs, no home – not even a mattress between us. If you’re willing to take the risk and understand what that entails (and still want to do it), don’t wait much longer. We speak often about how we wish we had done this so long ago, but better late than never. This doesn’t necessarily mean travel; it’s about pursuing a passion. One you may have let fall by the wayside while you earned a pay cheque.
All photography by Jillian Mann & Kyla Tretheway @ourwildabandon