All Posts By

Erin Sullivan

BLOGGING INSPIRATION

How to Monetize Your Passion

I work as an adventure photographer and writer. The biggest question I get about what I do… is HOW.

How do I travel so much? How did I get started as a photographer? How do I get paid to blog? How did I make this my job? How do I live such an adventurous life and still eat food make a living?

If you’re curious about what I do and how I do it, see my FAQs here. But let me make it clear that there was a time when these questions plagued me. The career that I currently have would have absolutely baffled me in my early 20’s. How the hell was I supposed to make money doing something I actually liked?!

It turns out it was pretty simple. I had to answer a few important questions for myself really thoroughly and often (they’re coming, keep reading), then I had to take action.

Before we dive in, just a note on this whole analysis paralysis thing you’re probably going through that brought you to this post. In order for anything to happen, you have to do something. This article isn’t meant to be passive. Read it, then answer the following questions.

Let’s go.

WHAT YOU DO THAT PEOPLE WILL PAY FOR?

Make a list of your potential products and services. What are you good at? What do people ask you for advice about? What are you known for in your friends group? What kinds of questions do people come to you with naturally? What are you good at making or creating? What do you enjoy doing?

And which of these things can you make money from?

Are people always asking you for travel advice? For exercises to get a firmer butt? For smoothie recipes? For gardening tips? For super sweet video editing techniques? For makeup or hair? For help figuring out what’s wrong with their car? You don’t have to do all this stuff for free.

Make a list of items you could potentially charge money for.

WHAT IS YOUR THING WORTH?

When I first started blogging for brands and companies, I had no clue what I should have been charging. At first, I worked in exchange for exposure because it was worth it to me at the time.

I get that this is hard. I get that you can’t exactly reach out to a complete stranger and ask them for their rates– not everyone is comfortable talking numbers. Maybe you have to get a little creative. Make sure your questions are specific. Who do you know that does what you want to do? Find some kind of connection to that person and explain where you are coming from. Maybe they can give you some insight.

Do some market research using whatever resources are available to you. That includes Google.

Eventually, you have to pick a price and go with it. “I didn’t know what to charge” is a dumb reason for not selling a product or service that people want. Whatever you charge is probably more than you’re getting right now ($0.00, right?).

If everyone is saying “oh hell yeah” to your rate without trying to negotiate with you, then you’re charging too little. If nobody is responding, or if your pricing is shutting down the conversation altogether, then you’re charging too much or you’re in the wrong market. Change something and see what works.

Next to the list you just made, write the range of what you can charge for each item.

WHO WILL PAY YOU FOR YOUR THING?

Figure out your ideal consumer/demographic. Who are they? How old are they and where are they located? What are they going through in their life? What do they do in their spare time? How much money do they make? Where do they shop? Why do they need your product or service?

You need to identify your target demographic for a couple of reasons:

  1. You might need influence
  2. You definitely need people to buy your thing

If what you do/make is made more credible or valuable by having a large audience, you need to attract this audience (side note- do not buy followers) and give them value. How can you be most valuable to this group of people? How will you attract them? And why will they want to buy your thing?

For each item you could potentially sell, write a sentence or two describing your perfect customer.

WHERE WILL YOU SELL IT?

Where do you want your thing to be available for purchase? If you’re a consultant, how will people know you exist and how will they contact you? If you sell a product, is your store online? Do you sell at pop-ups, craft fairs, trade shows? If you lead workshops, how do people book those?

However people are giving you money, make it easy for them. Look at your own spending patterns. How do you spend your money and why? When you think about your own purchasing experience, what makes it smooth and seamless? What makes you want to buy something again?

Give your customer options, but make the best deal clear and obvious– all they have to do is say YES.

Make a list of how and/or where you will sell your thing.

WHAT IS YOUR PLAN?

Look at your answers to all of the questions above. They should give you some clarity on your next step. It should give you some idea of the options you have and the avenues you could potentially go down. It will also give you an idea of how scalable your thing is– and scalability matters if you are looking to make a fully grown career out of your passion.

If this feels overwhelming, ask yourself which of the things you wrote down is low-hanging fruit, i.e. which one of them feels easiest? Which of these could you start selling this week? Which of these could you start selling today?

Pick one of your products or services, and write yourself a 5-step plan from creation to sale. Here is a personal example:

Getting a project-based photography or collaboration job

  1. Make a list of 5 specific target brands
  2. Shoot or compile images I have taken that are consistent with their branding
  3. Make a portfolio specific to that style
  4. Send portfolio with package rates (& make one of the packages stand out as a great deal)
  5. Negotiate prices and packages

It won’t always be 5 steps– sometimes it’ll be 3 and sometimes it’ll be 10. Monetizing your passion can be big and scary. Breaking it down into actionable steps can make things seem much more attainable. After you make your plan, the next step is setting times or dates for when each of these will be completed.

CREATE, TRY, REPEAT.

Not everything you do will be a huge hit, and you have to accept that right now, otherwise failure will bog you down every step of the way. You can love it or hate it, failure is a crucial part of the process.

Do I think all passions can make you a ton of money? No. Do I think everyone should try to monetize their passions? No. But if you want to do it, now is the time. You are most likely not going to get any more clarity than what you now have. Entrepreneurship, creativity, starting a business or a side-hustle– these are not endeavors that come with a guidebook. You have to see what works and take it from there.

Get to it. And don’t forget to have fun.


 

Feature photo by William Reed Olds-Benton.

SUV CAMPING

Guest Post: How to Turn Your Subaru Outback into a Camper

A few years ago, I converted my SUV to a camper by building a platform bed in my 2009 Honda CR-V. It’s still a super popular post on this blog– see the original post here. Every so often, folks reach out to me with their own stories and how-to’s on how they converted their car or SUV, so I decided to start featuring them… and they’re even better than my original post!

Here’s Nicole Aichele on converting her Subaru Outback into a camper. All photos courtesy of Nicole.


After a year of health issues leaving me unable to camp, hike, or do many of the outside activities I love, I became deeply depressed and frustrated about my future. As I slowly regained my mental and physical strength, I found both a new gratitude for my health and a new determination to set my old dreams into motion… one of those dreams is to car-camp the entire western US.

After many months of researching, planning, and saving, I finally set the wheels in motion (literally) this past June. Here’s how I did it.

DECIDING ON DESIGN

Ideally, the design of your bed set up should reflect your own personal needs and preferences.

I also will say that if I can leave people with one thing when it comes to building a bed in your car, or really building anything, it’s the importance of taking good measurements. As my dad says: “Measure twice, cut once.”

The first thing to figure out is how long you want your bed. Having a long bed (6’2) was a top priority for my boyfriend and I because we are tall…but everyone is different. If a bed can fit without pushing the front seats forward that’s great, but in our Subaru Outback it would be impossible to have the length we wanted without having the front seats forward.
We also chose not to remove the seats since the car is new and we didn’t want to risk ruining it, and found it unnecessary anyway.

The second thing to determine is the width you want your bed. For us this meant measuring wheel-well to wheel-well. We made the bed platform flush with the top of the wheel well, so in reality there is a bit more space (roughly 5’’ on each side) beyond the platform. In total we have about 51” of space (almost exactly the width of a double bed) which snuggly fits our two large single Therm-a-Rest Mondo King mattresses, side by side.

The third element of the design is determining the height. We wanted to raise our bed as minimal as possible in order to avoid being completely cramped against the ceiling while sleeping, but still allowing for storage underneath. Raising the platform to 6” fits the under the bed storage containers, but also leaves room to have our legs up while sitting in bed, (just over 2 ft. at the tallest point and just under 2 ft. at the lowest).

The last thing to determine about your design is whether or not you want the bed platform to be foldable. We had no choice but to make ours foldable because we couldn’t keep the bed straight and drive at the same time, because the seats are completely forward.

THE BUILDING PROCESS

Supplies:

  • ¾” plywood, 42” wide x 74” long $33.00
  • Wood Glue $8.00
  • 2 Heavy duty hinges $16.00
  • Nuts, bolts, large washers, lock washers $15.00
  • Outdoor utility rug $20.00
  • Multi- floor adhesive $5.00
  • Legs (two 2x2s) $20.00
  • Pins and Brackets $5.00
  • U Bolts $6.00

Total: (NOT including our mattress) $128.00

For wood we used a ¾” piece of plywood that was over 74” long. The pros of using ¾” plywood is that it’s sturdy and can hold 2 adults without bowing, and also very easy to work with. However, it’s heavy and can be cumbersome, so if you’re making a bed for one, definitely not as necessary.

We had the wood ripped (cut) to fit the width we had previously determined to be 42” (distance from wheel-well to wheel-well) to simplify all the construction at home. However even so, we completed a lot of additional cutting and drilling at home, because we have the equipment. If you don’t have access to a skill saw or other tools, then you’ll have to go back and forth to the hardware store, which is not uncommon. Some hardware stores even let you rent tools.

Step 1: Construction of the box platform

The box component is 42” wide x 36” long x 6” tall and has 3 sides. It purposefully takes up the entire back area of our car before the seats start (which is also where a slant starts). It maximizes storage and sturdiness while remaining level. Building the box was straightforward: we cut wood for the 3 sides, (2 sides are the same and are 6” tall x 35 ¼” long, and then there is a back piece which is 6” tall x 42” wide). We then glued the wood pieces to the 36” plywood piece and screwed them for ultimate stability.

Step 2: Construction of the hinged component

The hinged component is two pieces of 19” long x 42” wide plywood, hinged together. When hinged together the piece measures 38” long in total (38” plus the 36” of the platform box is 6’2”). We offset the hinge, in order for this component to be weight bearing. If the hinge is not offset, it would literally bend in half the moment enough weight was applied and would not work as a bed. In addition to offsetting the hinge, we reinforced it with oversized washers and lock washers along with the nuts and bolts. It’s important to note, the hinged component rests on a ledge that we attached to the box platform. We attached a 3” x 42” strip of the plywood, ¾” down from the top of the platform, on the back edge of the box.

Step 3: Applying the carpeting

The main reason we wanted to carpet the entire bed is to eliminate having splinters of wood all over the car, our pillows, and our foam mattress. We didn’t use fancy outdoor carpet, instead we found a multi-purpose outdoor utility rug for $20 at the hardware store and used a razor blade to trim it at home. We glued the carpet using “general use multi-floor adhesive” on the main faces of the wood (although I don’t know how necessary the glue really is) and then we wrapped the carpet around and tacked it securely underneath. Folding the carpet completely underneath the base component is aesthetically pleasing, and also adds a tiny bit of height to the storage area.

Step 4: Attaching of the legs

The legs serve as the main support for the hinge component, which supports our heads… so it was really important we made them sturdy and stable. We used two 2x2s and cut them to fit securely underneath the hinged component at 26” tall. They’re attached by a pin, to a bracket on the underside of the wood of the hinged component. We had to drill a custom sized hole through the brackets in order to fit the pins. The pins and brackets are awesome for easy removal, while also making it possible for the legs to pitch slightly forward for some added resistance to bending.

Step 5: Installation of the U-bolts

To secure the box platform to the hinged component we used two 4” U-bolts. We drilled a hole on each side, one through the box platform and one through the hinged component (through both the carpet and wood), 2 ½” from the edge. The U-bolts are then dropped into the holes in order to secure the two components together while sleeping. The U-bolts come out easily when folding the bed platform up in the morning.

I hope this guide encourages other people to be less intimidated by the idea of building a bed in their car, especially women. As I write this from a campground in the middle of nowhere in Utah, I can assure you it’s worth it.

Also, a big thank you to my boyfriend who traded in his car for this Subaru and then let me build a bed in it…and to Erin for supporting me these past months and giving me the tools to take on risks and adventures like this one.


 

I’m Nicole. I currently write, photograph, and live out of the back of a Subaru Outback with my boyfriend. Although I’m only on the road for summer, I’m always looking for rad adventures and new opportunities in the outdoor industry.

Follow Nicole’s adventures on Instagram at @nicoleroams, and comment here or DM her for any questions on this conversion or her trip!

JOURNAL

Moving is Hard (Even When You Want to Go)

On Tuesday I moved to LA. Honestly, there were endless reasons not to go.

There will always be reasons not to do the scary thing or take the risk. The reasons not to do something always seem to be louder, right? They scream and demand to be listened to. They show up to remind you that you could be lonely, that you could stay scared, that expectations are real and that they could be broken. I already know that’s all possible. It feels like I’ve lived through all of it many lifetimes over. I’ve been there, sat with loneliness on four continents, on islands and in cities and on beaches and rooftops. I have lived that solitary uncertainty more times than I can count in my early 20’s alone and in truth, I already know that it’s exhausting.

None of those reasons were good enough not to go.

Driving out here was like 16 hours of meditation. All that time just to sit with myself. Somehow when there’s just road in front of you and it’s just you, there’s nothing in the way of wondering why you’re not working on your dream project or why you’re not finding the love of your life. You can go into that middle-of-nowhere gas station and buy as many peanut M&M’s as you want– those same fuckin’ questions will be there when you start driving again.

Moving is hard even when you want to go. Even when the going is the most important thing.

I know for sure that no song is catchy enough, no podcast interesting enough, no canyon stunning enough to take my mind off of the wounds I normally try to cover and hide from myself. Driving out here was 16 hours of showing myself the walls I’ve put up, and 16 hours of giving myself the forgiveness and permission to start taking them down.

It was finding acceptance and courage; it was stirring the pot of stuff I thought I left behind in Boulder or New York or Porto. Just sitting in my own history, remembering the main players in every game I’ve ever won or lost, the prominent characters of each chapter of my life, wondering if I might see them again as I turn another page.

I have moved around so much. I have lived in many houses (sometimes tents), alone or with someone else, and leaving– well it’s familiar but I’m not convinced it gets any easier. Part of me will always fight the belief that it’s best to not get attached so that you don’t have to hurt when it’s time to go. Part of leaving will always suck– apply it to whatever you want, it’s hard to uproot. You can know a relationship isn’t right but still love the person, maybe you still love why you fell so hard for them in the beginning, and maybe you still do. It doesn’t mean they are right or good for you.

I think the hardest part of leaving is that bit right before you do. You can imagine it for months, you can fantasize about your new life and how great it’ll be and how free you’ll feel and the exact thing you’ll wear as you board the plane or drive past the state line. Even when you’re ready to start over, it’s hard.

To some, it must not seem right that I’d trade mountains and open space for traffic in the city. But I would much rather return to the Rockies someday knowing that I followed my heart and soul; knowing that I listened to the cells of my body that pushed me West, and that I most importantly responded to that call. It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else. Remember that nobody else gets to have an opinion on your decisions without your validation.

When you make a change I promise you’re gonna get hit with all of it– the loneliness and the hummingbirds, the heartbreak and the starry-eyed wonder of the new place, whatever and wherever that might be. I know California doesn’t promise me anything different. It certainly doesn’t promise anything that I don’t look for. I know that I see magic wherever I choose to look for it. I am happy to be here. I am happy to sit on these steps in front of the lime tree and write this to you. I’m reminded of the porch at my old place in Colorado, how it too became a place where I’d sit and unload my thoughts here– where I handed over my dreams and my hurts in surrender and therefore, in strength.

If and when you move into a new story, remember that although you may feel like a stranger in the new place, you’re not a stranger to yourself. You can sit and know yourself anywhere, regardless of what tree you sit under. Life is hunch after hunch. But you have to trust that you know what’s best for you, and that the feeling that pulls you in whatever direction is not without purpose. If you don’t listen, how else will you get anywhere?

There will always be a million reasons not to go.

The point is that you are the only one who can decide to drive your life in any direction for 16 hours, or however long it takes you to get where you’re going. There will always be endless reasons not to go. Decide which call you want to listen to.

Know that nothing is wrong with you if it’s hard. It just means the chapter was meaningful in the first place.

INSPIRATION JOURNAL

How to Do it All

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You may have noticed that it’s been a while since I’ve posted here. I don’t love that– it’s unlike me. I stick to deadlines, even when I set them myself.

This is about balance, something I have been thinking about a lot lately. I knew this summer was going to be a hurricane; I mean, I designed the storm myself. I pushed the boulder down the hill in the first place, so I can’t be surprised that it picked up momentum. I balance my photography gigs, this blog, social channels, trip leading, a coaching practice and my life (i.e., my car getting totaled in a hail storm). I don’t always do it well, but hi, I’m here, so I’m obviously doing it in some general capacity.

An alternate title for this article might be “How to Keep Your Shit Together,” and SPOILER ALERT!!! I don’t actually know the answer. But if you continually launch yourself into the deep end, well, ya better learn how to swim.

“How do you do it all?”

Clumsily. Blindfolded. And on too little sleep.

My attempt at balance is messy. It’s a lot of throwing spaghetti at the wall— a metaphor I use all the time because what a visual… and that’s how it feels. It feels like pasta everywhere, with my laptop and cameras somewhere buried in there too.

It seems glamorous to travel the world and write and take photos. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it feels easy. Do not mistake this article for a complaint. I am in love with what I do for work and I wake up thankful every day. I also recognize the great privilege that has been present in my life allowing me the opportunities that got me to this point. But you can get run down or burnt out doing literally anything, and I don’t think it’s supposed to be fun or easy all the time.

Sometimes life turns up the volume on every channel at the same time. Sometimes you wish just one thing would slow down. Sometimes you just want to catch one little break, but the punches keep coming. You cannot always control the volume. It becomes really important to look at what is actually in your control, and act in your own best interest, because nobody else can do it for you.

The following points are written in the first person, as affirmations. That’s on purpose.

I NEED TO ASK FOR HELP

I’m accustomed to being a one-woman show. I over-commit, over-volunteer, over-extend. I can do it all! WATCH! Then upon finishing “it all,” I promptly start laugh-crying into a large pizza (that is, on good days).

Sometimes even the highest achievers need to ask for help. Willingness to ask for help is a strength. And shocker… sometimes you can even hire people who will do something better than you can, allowing you to spend your time doing the things you are best at.

Ask your friends for help. Ask specialists for help (and, ahem, pay them accordingly). Ask the people in your life for help who have told you over and over that they are here for you. It’s usually not an empty offer.

I NEED TO SAY NO

Time and energy are the most precious commodities we possess. You do not have time for bullshit, you do not have time for people who do not show up for you, you do not have time for things that drain your energy and give you nothing in return. You do not have time for people who poke holes in your dreams. So say no to all of it, because it’s not making you better. And it’s most definitely not helping you keep your shit together.

Say no to jobs that do not pay you what you’re worth, say no to people who suck up your time and energy, say no to shitty food and giving up on yourself. Say no to the wrong things so you can make space for the right things.

I NEED PERSPECTIVE

When was the last time you felt small? When was the last time you reminded yourself that we’re all just floating on a rock in Space? When was the last time someone reminded you that your problems are just not that big?

It’s not always about you. And don’t allow yourself to feel bad about that fact– that’s not the point here. The point is that this world, your life, everything you’re connected to, is much bigger than whatever is stressing you out. Listen to a podcast. Watch a movie. Read a book. Do something that puts things in perspective. Remember to celebrate your wins when you can. Remember that this isn’t the first time you’ll have to deal with something hard. And remember that you are not in this alone.

I NEED TO STOP COMPARING MYSELF TO OTHERS

Comparison does not make you better. It doesn’t. It puts out your fire because it convinces you that other people have better ones. It dilutes you, makes you feel small, and makes you feel like you’re not enough. Comparison does not improve you or your work– it doesn’t lighten your load.

I do not know a single person who does not struggle with this. I compare myself to other people in my industry, to people I know and people I don’t know, to my best friends, to people my age. It has never helped. We have to just stop. Don’t get sucked into it, and notice when you do so you can pull yourself out.

I NEED TO TAKE CARE OF MYSELF

You must have energy to do work that matters. So take the requisite time. Decide to eat well, to exercise, to devote time to your spiritual practice or mental health, whatever that means to you. Notice what you need– do what you can to make rest possible. If you’re working multiple jobs, I feel you. It’s hard. It sucks. It feels impossible. Do what you can.

I don’t believe in Hustle Till You Die. If The Hustle is killing you, change what you are doing. It doesn’t matter how “successful” you are at the top if you sold your soul or your health to get there. You have a limited amount of time and energy. Spend some of it on your personal well-being.

I NEED TO STAY FOCUSED ON MY VISION

Why are you here? What makes you feel fired up? What gets you out of bed? Maybe you don’t have a super passionate idea of what that is right now, and that’s OK. But follow the clues your life is giving you. And stay focused on the purpose-driven stuff. Don’t get distracted by the shit other people are doing, gossip, negativity, or the million reasons people will tell you your goals won’t work out.

Listen. The storm will never stop, it just changes form and intensity. That’s life. Life will bring you challenges, then push you into the deep end and throw the entire pool off the cliff. It’s your job to learn to swim regardless.


 

Thanks for reading. If you liked this post, or if you know someone who would find it helpful, please share it– handy share buttons below.

JOURNAL ON THE ROAD

The Home in Everywhere

This post is sponsored by Zappos.


I haven’t lived here– really lived here– since I was 17.

This is where I grew up. There have been weeks I’ve come back in my in-betweens in the past ten years. But not to stay. Since I left, I have carried the feeling of home with me wherever I go, and I think it makes every place hard to leave. This place taught me the meaning of home so thoroughly. I learned it well. And leaving anywhere is rarely easy as a result, because I see magic everywhere.

Home is the smell of the second floor of my parent’s house in the summertime. Home is the sideways light on the grass at sunset. It’s conversations with my grandpa at his kitchen table where I used to sit and eat boxed macaroni and cheese after school. He’s sharper than a tack without even trying.

Home. Where I don’t feel guilty for getting up late or just taking care of myself– something I have never been good at. Where the regulars at the old coffee shop remember me– and why on earth did I ever think I could get work done there, when I know I’d be happily stuck in an hour-long conversation– a recap of the past year of my life and theirs? Home is where I walk to the beach for a sunset, only this time I’ve got a camera in my hand and each time, more weathered skin, more wrinkles around my eyes, more freckles on my arms given to me by the same sun I know here.

Home is the same salad my mom makes every September when the tomatoes are ripe and red. Home doesn’t care when I leave and it doesn’t care when I come back. It’s a feeling anyway, like a memory, like nostalgia. And I take that with me everywhere.

Sometimes home is found at the bottom of my suitcase, the airport armchair I fell asleep on. Sometimes it’s journaling on the subway. Passport stamps and taxi rides and 40 cent fish soup on the side of the road next to a temple in Bagan. Sometimes home is restlessness in hotel sheets. Home is the endless hike down the mountain in the midnight sun. Sometimes it’s breakfast with someone I just met. And I’ll swear I knew them in a past life as we finish the blueberry pancakes.

Every place becomes a part of me, this one just carries more weight. It was the first place I knew, and for a lot of my life, it was the only place I knew. It taught me to know others– like your first best friend. Home is a deep exhale. I come here in the transitions now. I come here for a kind of grounding. A kind of reverence for the in-betweens and the closing of chapters and the starting of new ones.

I am wearing Teva Original Premier sandals, mom is wearing Teva Original Universal Rope sandals.

 

I knew the feeling of home here first so I could learn to feel it and hold it everywhere else. So I could find Home in every place I have ever been– in a park in London, in the blue and white tiles of old church walls, and under a waterfall of frigid snowmelt in New Zealand.

This was always home first. Sometimes I miss it. Sometimes I miss the shortcut to the house from the train. So I’ll take a few days out of the year to be here, and I’ll be home somewhere else the rest of the time.

I know this place by heart. But I know home is more than one place. After all, understanding that home had a feeling is what allowed me to leave it in the first place.


Our Teva sandals are from Zappos.com. Zappos’ free and fast next-day shipping and excellent return policy is perfect for my nonstop travel schedule. I am wearing the Teva Original Universal Premier Leather in Indigo– great for the beach or walking around London, wherever I happen to be. Mom is wearing the Teva Original Universal Rope in Cognac.

TRAVEL

Traveling with Anxiety

Trigger warning: this post talks about my experiences with anxiety, including dermatillomania and bulimia, and could potentially be triggering.

When I started this website, I imagined it as a travel blog. It started because my friends and family were constantly asking me how I traveled so much and so cheaply– so I figured I’d write the answers in one place. I have since written about a wide range of topics, but my experiences traveling inform my writing regardless of what it’s about.

For the first time since starting this blog, I’m going fully nomadic for a little while. I’m not a stranger to the lifestyle– I did it for three years– but it’s still a change. And unsurprisingly, as with any uncertain transition, my anxiety is making itself known.

I have always struggled with anxiety, but I didn’t know what it was. As a kid, I didn’t know how to name it– I just thought something must have been wrong with me. The other explanation I had was that everyone was struggling, and nobody was talking about it. I didn’t actually seek help for this stuff until I was in college.

In high school, I developed an eating disorder. It was something I thought I could control even when everything else felt crazy. With the eating disorder came a skin picking habit– I would stand in front of the mirror and scrutinize my face, trying to pick and pop at just about anything. I justified it as normal teenager stuff, but it wasn’t.

I remember being frozen in my dorm room, dreading my next class– not because I didn’t like the class, but because I had to physically get myself there. And I’d go, but what should have been easy just wasn’t. I’d walk through campus and feel like everyone was staring at me. I’d sit down in the studio or lecture hall, ears ringing, heart pounding, exhausted.

This is nowhere near all of it, but it should give you an idea.

So I started seeing a therapist. I heard a lot of new words– official names for what I struggled with. And the more I learned about what I was experiencing, the more I wanted to learn. The more I wanted to work on it. And I promised myself I would not let my anxiety get in the way of my life.

It’s one thing in theory, and another in practice. My first opportunity at solo travel came when a colleague of one of my professors invited me to come intern at a marine lab in Portugal. I was thrilled, and immediately started putting a plan in place. This was going to be my first time abroad– and I was going to do it by myself. I pictured my life there, what it would look like, what my friends would be like, all the cool outfits I would wear and all the European trips I’d be able to take.

A few months later, I flew to Porto. And when the novelty of everything wore off, I felt like I had made a horrible mistake. My anxiety was big. For the first few days, I didn’t even leave my apartment.

With routine, things improved. When I was busy, my brain didn’t have the space for anxiety. But it took a few months in Portugal for things to feel normal, and I learned it the hard way. Nobody told me I’d feel scared and nervous all the time. Nobody told me how intimidating it would be. Nobody talks about the harder part of travel.

I kept pushing. I figured I was already in Europe, so I was going to go see it regardless of if my anxiety wanted to tag along. So I traveled, and so did my anxiety. We went to Barcelona for a weekend. We went to Amsterdam. We went to Paris, but didn’t even go to the Eiffel Tower. I didn’t eat dinner that night, and instead retreated to my hostel dorm bed and tried to wait out the wave and the tightness in my chest.

My anxiety is very physical. My heart feels like it’s being squeezed. It’s a dull ache and it’s very, very real.

But I decided a long time ago that my anxiety is not in charge of my life– I am. Here are the tools I use, often daily, to manage my anxiety in my adventurous life, especially while traveling.

PLAN AHEAD & PREPARE

My outdoorsy folks will recognize this as the first principle of Leave No Trace. It applies here in a big way. Travel involves many unknowns, and anxiety does not like unknowns. So plan for it as much as you can. When you’re thinking about your trip, if you feel stressed about a certain aspect, plan for it. If I suspect I’m going to be stressed about a particular thing, I probably will be. So book your accommodation for the first few days at least. Look at maps, create a list of things you want to do or see, and make a plan for how you’re going to get around. Equip yourself with information. Unknowns are inevitable, but when you’ve done the research, your anxiety has less to hold on to.

FIND ROUTINE

Anxiety can make decision-making very difficult. But when part of your day is already planned, you have less decisions to make. Routine doesn’t mean you have to be boring– it just means streamlining part of your day so that it is generally consistent. When traveling, finding routine can be complicated due to place, time zone, food, and tons of other circumstances. So what is in your control? Getting up at the same time every day, journaling before bed every night, exercising, meditating– anything that is independent of place. Start small with the goal of eventually having a basic structure to your day.

HAVE A SUPPORT SYSTEM

Online or offline, know who you can count on if you experience anxiety on the road. Support systems don’t typically land in your lap, so you have to plan for this. Tell people who care about you what you might struggle with while traveling. Think about what would make you feel supported, then tell them how they can be there for you. Reach out when you need help– text or call someone, use a Facebook group, or even writing a letter to someone can help if you don’t have access to power or wifi.

DEVELOP HEALTHY COPING MECHANISMS

You will not always have immediate access to your support system, so it is important to develop skills and tools you can use when anxiety hits. Intentional breathing exercises, journaling prompts, podcasts, calming music, yoga– whatever sounds good to you, get into a habit with it at home so that it’s a natural go-to when you are on the road.

SPLURGE WHEN YOU NEED TO

Have a fund you can dig in to when you just need some self-care. Knowing you’ve got some cash set aside for mental health days is reassuring– it’s comforting to know you can go get yourself a room if you need some space. And if you’re ready to call it, you can use the money to get home sooner than you were planning on. Having the financial cushion here will take some of the edge off.

BE GOOD TO YOUR BODY

Everyone is different, so I will speak for myself here, but I am always more anxious when I am drinking. This sucks (I am a huge fan of craft beer), but I can’t deny it. Hangovers for me are always accompanied by some kind of anxiety or feeling of absolute dread. And although nights out can be fun, they aren’t always worth it. If this is you too, my advice is to limit your drinking, and to drink a lot of water regardless. I also notice that caffeine tends to make me more anxious– and unfortunately, I really love coffee. Overall, notice what your body needs and what it doesn’t. Notice what makes you feel good and what definitely doesn’t. And act accordingly.

GET OUT AND DO SOMETHING

When you get stuck in a worry loop, anxiety wants you to curl up in a ball and not do anything ever again. Thing is, nobody is going to wake you up from your anxiety “nap” (aka laying in bed looking at the ceiling)– so you have to force yourself to do something, even if it’s as simple as walking down the street or sitting in a cafe. Most of the time, getting started on one thing will lead to something else.

DON’T GIVE ENERGY TO WORRY OR STRESS

Many anxious people are very self-aware. You probably fall into that category if you’re reading this. So when you notice yourself worrying, recognize that the worry isn’t really all that useful if it isn’t translated into action. Realize that worry doesn’t usually change outcome. Only worry about what is in your control, and take action on those things.

KNOW YOU CAN ALWAYS CHANGE YOUR MIND

This is your trip and your life. No one decision you make is set in stone. You can always change your mind, so give yourself this freedom and remind yourself of it often. If the plan sucks, change the plan. You can always cut things short or go home.


Anxiety can run your life if you let it. It’s not your fault that you have anxiety, but it is your responsibility to deal with it. I still struggle with my anxiety and all of the manifestations of it, and I know that it’s never going to go away, but that it can be managed.

I am happy to share all of this with you because I want you to know that living an adventurous life with anxiety is possible. I know it’s easier said than done. And it’s not a one-time thing either– this is recurring stuff. Things are allowed to suck. Things are allowed to be really difficult. Know that you have more control than you think you do.

OUTDOORS SUV CAMPING

Guest Post: How to Turn Your RAV4 into a Camper

A few years ago, I converted my SUV to a camper by building a platform bed in my 2009 Honda CR-V. It’s still a super popular post on this blog– link to the post here. Every so often, folks reach out to me by email or Instagram DM with their own stories and how-to’s on how they converted their car or SUV, so I decided to start featuring them.

Here’s Aric Sparmann on converting his 2008 Toyota RAV4 into a camper. All photos courtesy of Aric.


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Four years of sitting behind a desk for sixty hours a week starts to make you wonder what you’re missing after awhile. The idea of waking up someday as an old man with nothing to show but a lifetime of paperwork is sort of terrifying to me.

I spent most of my time staring out the window, so I decided that’s where I was headed.

I work as a kayak guide on the weekends now. A slow transition away from the dealership I still work at on the weekdays. When I have more free time I prefer to bicycle tour. But the location of the kayak shop is almost two hours away! There’s no sense in driving back and forth everyday, and it’s tiresome to do anyways. Hotels are expensive after awhile. What else could I do?

I’ve literally been driving the answer around every day. I became inspired by Instagram posts of people traveling full time in conversion vans or busses that they’ve made into homes. I didn’t see any reason I couldn’t manage something similar with my 2008 Toyota RAV4.

THE HOW

I removed one of the backseats and laid the larger of the two down flat. Old comfortable couch cushions wrapped in sheets make up the bed. A sleeping bag and pillows on top. Sitting where the other seat was, is a wooden shelf. There is plenty of storage for towels, books, and clothes underneath. A fan, some silverware, obligatory bottle opener, a candle, and an iPod speaker are on top of it. The warm glow of Christmas lights strung around the headliner make it even more cozy. My surf board fits along the side and reaches back between the shelf and the door. My kayak rides on top of the vehicle, with the seat and paddles stored in the lower storage area in the trunk next to back up survival gear, first aid, water jugs, jumper cables, and dehydrated food (ya know, just in case). There’s even a Playstation Two under the seat that plugs into my cars radio unit for rainy days.

Most campsites don’t cost more than $20-30 a night and offer power and water. An extension cord and a power strip light up the interior and charge my devices. The car battery gets disconnected once I park as the rear gate being open keeps the BCM awake and drawing power. But campsites aren’t always available and sometimes I get to rough it with no luxuries. Sometimes that just makes the weekend more exciting!

It’s a tight space, but a cozy one that I call home on the weekends. It makes the weekday drag more tolerable, and has only provoked a strong desire for more.

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Check out Aric’s adventures on Instagram at @asparmann. Questions for Aric? Email him at asparmann@me.com. Have a car or SUV to camper conversion you’d like to submit for me to feature? Shoot me an email at info@erinoutdoors.com.