Modern technology helps us from time to time to perform our daily tasks more easily, but for "technomads" Chris Dunphy and Cherie Ve Ard, there's no limit to the tech-driven journey.
They started their adventure as a new couple on a 7-month trial run in 2007, taking their careers on the road in a tiny trailer. Over the years, they've upgraded their mobile home-office, optimizing their living space for full-time travel and work, and they also started developing apps and web resources to support the traveling lifestyle. Today Chris and Cherie run their software & consulting business completely remotely while they travel and live in a vintage bus conversion.
Ready to geek out over this story of tech, romance, and the road? Check out my interview with Chris and Cherie!
1. On your website, Technomadia.com, you share the enchanting story of your life on the road from the beginning of your relationship, when you met in an online forum. At what point did you realize that your paths had come together for the long haul?
We first encountered each other in a Prius (yes, the hybrid car!) forum in mid-2006, just after Chris had hit the road solo in his tiny 16’ teardrop trailer. He was posting a farewell photo essay about the adventures he had been on in his Prius, which couldn’t tow a trailer - and Cherie had just bought a Prius. We actually had friends in common, and had heard of each other before, so we had context for each other. The first contact was just a ‘hello.. I know of you!’.
As Cherie lived in Florida and Chris was roaming around California, we really didn’t think too much of the connection. And then a few months later Cherie was flying out to California on personal travel to visit some friends (the same ones we had in common), and that started up a couple weeks of more intense conversation between us.
Just a few days before we met in person, we said to each other ‘If we’re even half as compatible in person as we sound like online - the world is in trouble.’
And we were right. Our first meeting was our first date - it lasted 27 hours as we overnighted in Chris’ trailer, illegally stealth camping on Treasure Island with a view of the San Francisco skyline. From that moment on, we knew our paths were aligned.
2. What changes, choices, or compromises did you each have to make to start your nomadic life together?
Cherie owned a house in Florida, that she had already wanted to sell - but the housing market was crashing so badly that it was near impossible to get sold. Her original plan, even before meeting Chris, was to move to California and start a new life. But those plans had to be put on hold due not being able to get her house sold.
Chris then mentioned that she could join him on the road - the travel costs would be minimal as the trailer was outfitted with solar panels and was designed for minimalist off-grid living. This was a perfect solution, as she could afford to continue making her house payments while the house stayed on the market and we traveled together.
The problem was, Chris’ “house” was only 16’ long providing 45 square feet of living space. We both had to downsize our belongings a LOT to make it work. There was solar power and mobile internenet on board - but no air conditioning, no shower, and no refrigerator. But those weren’t really the big obstacles.
The bigger obstacle was finding enough power and bandwidth to feed two geeks with hungry laptops. Chris worked on expanding the battery capacity of the trailer to support two technomads, and increasing our mobile internet options - while Cherie worked on getting rid of all of her stuff to squeeze in.
3. Could you imagine being solo technomads? In what ways are the circumstances of full-time travel different for a working couple?
Chris did start off solo, and he never imagined that his adventure would result in finding a life partner. Cherie was also doing her own form of solo nomadism when we met, by integrating in a lot of personal travel with her workday as a self-employed software developer.
Traveling solo does have some advantages - like not having to take other’s preferences into mind for routing, timing, or the adventures pursued.
Traveling together means making sure both of our needs are met, and that we discuss what our individual priorities are to make sure neither of us is compromising too much. Sometimes we go somewhere that is a priority for Chris, and sometimes a place that is a priority for Cherie. But most of the time, we go where our cat wants to go. *grin*
Working together in a small space does have some compromises - especially since we have slightly offset sleep schedules. Our first 4 years on the road had us in very small trailers, and while we enjoyed the small agile setup to go anywhere we wanted - not having dedicated office space got to be a problem. Now in our bus, one of us can be up late into the evening getting a project done, while the other shuts the bedroom door and watches re-runs of Star Trek. (Cherie is the bigger trekkie, by the way.)
4. Has your software company, Two Steps Beyond, developed with your lifestyle? How so? And how have you both evolved as tech experts since going mobile?
When we first hit the road, Chris had just come off a long career in mobile technology in Silicon Valley, and was aiming to start a consulting business. Cherie continued to run the same software development company she and her parents had run together for decades.
We immediately saw potential for teaming up on some projects with our combined skillsets, so we created Two Steps Beyond for the occasional freelance work we might pick up.
Over the years, those projects have increased and we frequently get hired as a team to serve as advisors to start-ups, technical consulting, orchestrating unique product launches, and as product developers. We also occasionally take on a custom app development projects.
Also, in the course of our travels we saw needs for mobile apps to solve problems we encounter everyday - so we developed a few apps along the way. They’re fun, and provide some nice more passive income too.
With the passing of Cherie’s father last year, we have shut down the family business - and now the work we do through Two Steps Beyond is our primary income source.
5. Would you say that your income is predictable, or does it vary with the projects that you take on? How have you learned to manage your finances on the road?
Our income can be quite variable. Some of our products - like our apps and eBooks, provide some passive revenue every month. But certainly not enough to live on alone.
And when we’re working on a paid project, it’s nice to have the bigger burst of income for a bit. As a long time entrerpreneur, it’s wise to put money away during those feast times, so that you can better ride out the famines.
One trait that deeply drew us together is we were both debt free and had already built some savings & investments when we met. So many of our age-peers were still struggling with paying off student loans and consumer debt, and living paycheck to paycheck… it was a breath of fresh air to find each other.
So we are blessed that we have a bit of a cushion to ride out the ebbs and flows of self employment. It also allows us to be picky about the projects we take on - is it something we’ll enjoy? Does it better the world? It’s also enabled us to work more speculatively with start-ups with some of the compensation being ownership in the company that might pay off down the road.
We enjoy the excitement of being involved with bringing an exciting new product or service to life!
6. The promotional content on your website is refreshingly sparse. Why is it so important to connect with readers by telling your story? And how do you market your products?
Oh, thank you - it’s great that you noticed that!
We were both bloggers when we met, so Technomadia.com started as just a meshing of both of our blogs into one place to record our travels, and keep our family and friends up to date. While it’s grown quite a bit over the years, it’s important to us to keep it personal and non-commercial.
As we have developed some products that are directly relevant to our audience - we try very hard to not make the blog about promoting them. Instead, we share the story of why we created them and how they integrate into our life. We’ll talk more about our work day developing or updating an app.. and because we have built up rapport with our readers, many of them are happy to help us spread the word when we release a new product.
We believe in just being us.. authentic about the trials and joys of working on the road. And it’s worked really really well for us. Our primary motivation for blogging is all of the incredible people we’ve gotten to meet over the years by just ‘being out there’. A lot of our sense of community comes directly from the efforts we’ve put into the blog.
It also helps that creating travel related products - like our mobile apps and books - isn’t the focus of our business. Strategy development, advising, and consulting to various business is where our passion lies. Unless we’re involved with a company that is targeting our audience’s interests, we don’t talk too much about that side of our lives on our personal blog. And even then, we try to keep it light.
7. Is there a growing technomadic community out there? In what ways do you support each other?
It does seem as technology continues to advance, that more and more folks are hitting the road and combining career and travel. For RVers, there is a bit of a community - and we enjoy meeting up with our fellow ‘technomads’ to be temporary neighbors for a bit. It’s always nice to be around others who understand we’re not retired early or on an extended vacation. We have to get work hours in, and can’t play all the time.
8. To what extent has "nomadic serendipity" shaped your journey?
In every way possible! We completely route by serendipity. We try not to plan too far in advance, and listen to what opportunities present themselves. It’s not uncommon for us to wake up in the morning and have no clue where we’ll be sleeping that very evening.
9. How have you designed your current living space for your lifestyle, both for comfort and productivity?
Buying our vintage bus 3 years ago had been a very fun project. We looked for something already converted and liveable from day one. But we also had a vision for creating an awesome office area for the two of us, and for doing a lot of high-tech upgrades.
It’s been a work in progress ever since - and we’ve tackled everything from kitchen remodeling, removing the dinette to make room for a built in dual desk, installing a cutting edge lithium ion house battery system, adding solar (a current project!), and more.
When we get done (done, what’s that??) - we want to have a home that is versatile to go into a variety of situations. From camping in amenity rich RV parks to boondocking in the deserts of the southwest US.
10. What does the future of technomadia look like?
All we can predict is.. whatever we’re doing, we’ll be having a blast!
The rest, you’ll just have to read along and find out - we’ll report it as serendipity reveals the plans to us.
Chris Dunphy and Cherie Ve Ard are two “gen-x geeks” who live on the road full-time with their RV. They share their story on their blog at Technomadia.com. You can also find them on Twitter at @technomadia