Meet Amy, a photographer based in San Francisco that recently returned from a road trip across the United States. I met her about two years ago when she began working in the same office as me but for a different company. We got to know each other well and frequently discussed our travel dreams. Well, in April 2014 she quit her job to set out on a two month road trip across America (and back), travelling west to east along the southern route and returning the northern route through the United States. I was so inspired by her courage and ambition to pursue her dream that I wanted her to be able to share it with others as well. You can visit her website amykarpowiczphotography.com for more of her stunning photography and upcoming photos from her journey.
Why specifically a road trip across the United States?
I moved from Chicago about 4 years ago and my family is in Ohio. Ever since my first trip to California, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I studied abroad in college and spent a semester exploring all the major cities of Italy and beyond. I promised myself that before going abroad again, I would explore all the parts of my own country I had yet to experience. I have friends and family scattered about that I haven’t seen in years, so I designed the route in order to incorporate these loved ones that I have missed dearly.
I also wanted my photography to be a big part of this trip, so there are obvious advantages to having control behind the wheel of a car, versus as a passenger on a bus, plane or train. My boyfriend is a saint for appreciating how much this trip meant to me and loaning me his Rav4!
What made you decide to move on from your regular 9-5 job to travel for two months?
I had been working in marketing and events for a number of years and had become, ultimately, uninspired. It was paralyzing. I realized that despite having placed myself on a seemingly successful career path, my ultimate career goals were ambiguous. I remember writing down this quote;
“Only free time, imagination, creativity and an ability to disappear will help you deliver value that nobody ever delivered before in the history of mankind.”
I don’t even recall where I read it, but it was the catalyst to my lightbulb moment. Instead of quieting my persistent itch to travel without limitations, I decided it was now or never. That if I was unsure of where I wanted to be in 5, 10 or 20 years, that now was as good a time as any to figure it out. It was liberating to recognize this change was not only necessary for the sake of my current happiness, but for a successful future. So I set an end date and a financial goal, and started planning. It was the most terrifying and empowering decision I have ever made.
What was one of your favorite places you visited on your trip?
I tried to pack in as many new experiences as I could, and I’m always partial to places I was able to spend the most time. New Orleans was subject to this advantage, and was definitely a major highlight. I’d never been before and had an old friend from Ohio meet me there, which was his first visit as well. I will always remember driving through the Bayou to get there. It was one of my favorite legs of the entire trip; gray and gloomy but warm, and incredibly lush. We stayed at this wonderfully kitschy bed & breakfast, which had a bright pink exterior and red brick interior. There were stray cats everywhere and a huge back patio with built-in overhead fans. It was eclectic and charming- very representative of its city.
I love blues music, so we were thrilled to find talented musicians everywhere; on street corners, in bars and restaurants, and an amazing 10-piece brass band in the middle of Frenchman Street. They were all teenage boys and seemed to be having the time of their lives, happy to play all night if they could. We avoided Bourbon Street until the last night and I was pleasantly unsurprised to find it every bit as dirty, grimy and touristy as I’d imagined. But before calling it a night, my friend decided to have his tarot cards read for the first time. It turns out the card reader was from our hometown in Cleveland and had lived in New Orleans for the past 20 years. He had these fantastic stories about our neighborhood in the 70’s, and seemed so genuinely happy to tell us about them. We talked for more than an hour and I remember enjoying his jolly, deep-bellied laugh while sharing these pieces of nostalgia he himself had forgotten about. I love random coincidences that help make small moments memorable.
Did you come across any challenges while on the road?
Miraculously, I traveled almost 9,000 miles without any major mishaps. Not even a speeding ticket! However, there were many nerve-wracking moments driving through the mountains and many, many moments of panic with the loss of reception, and therefore, loss of GPS. Thank goodness I did have an atlas for reference, and quickly realized the importance of finalizing my route for the next day before falling asleep. Screenshots became a lifesaver and made all the difference, if for nothing else but my peace of mind. The fear of an unplanned overnight in the Mojave Desert is a memory I will not soon forget.
Is there anything you discovered that you wish you would have known before starting your trip?
The website “Roadtrippers” was a huge help in estimating mileage, drive time and even money spent on gas. There was one destination, however, that despite being listed as a beautiful landmark, refused to be incorporated into my map. I found out the hard way that this is because Havasupai Falls, located in the Grand Canyon, is indeed not just a pit stop, but a journey in and of itself. Also known as, an 18 mile round trip hike through the Grand Canyon. I ended up meeting a wonderful couple from New Mexico at the top of Havasupai Hilltop who were kind enough to take me under their wing, since I was a solo traveler for this leg of the trip. We talked the entire way and I learned they had been together for 8 years. This was a celebratory journey for them as Ashley had survived lung cancer one year prior and had been re-building her stamina with only one lung.
Since we got a late start, we hiked the last two miles in pitch dark with the sole light of Jimmy’s flashlight, as the moon was completely hidden thanks to the canyon. I will never forget the sight of that first waterfall after our 6 hour journey, each of us coated in red dust from head to toe. The water was so clean and pure it rushed a bright white and seemed to glow in the dark. Our adrenaline was pumping hard by that point, so it was emotional to realize we’d finally made it to safety. The sun was bright and warm the next morning so before parting ways, we all went for a swim in the cold turquoise water (I was on a strict schedule and had to hike back solo). A perfect climax to such a challenging journey, the clarity I felt in that water made the entire trip worth it.
What’s next for you?
I’ve just signed on with a crowdfunding startup in the city as an independent contractor. I’m excited for the opportunity to discover and promote entrepreneurs across the country, giving them the means to kickstart their business. I’ve also been focusing on building my network in San Francisco to pursue my dream of shooting editorial photography. The collaborations and freelance projects I was able to produce on the road were a huge inspiration to officially go for it. Photography has always been such a personal hobby for me, so its intimidating to realize that my aesthetic won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Yet, fear continues to recede as excitement takes over. I plan to continue letting passion speak for itself. Hopefully this is just the beginning!