Amber Demeis and Shane Smith, both 29 of Elizabeth, PA, are about to set out west on an adventure most dream of experiencing themselves. Pulling a 1967 Taylor Craft Camper by a 2014 Ford Escape, and documenting every step of the way on Instagram*, the couple sets off this month on their journey, and I was very excited to interview them beforehand.
I have followed Shane on Instagram for quite a while, and have always been enamored at the incredible travel photos he would post. I heard Amber’s name around the city quite often, but never had the chance to meet her. I was surprised and excited to see that these two were about to start the journey of a lifetime together. I think most of our generation has the part of our souls that romanticizes a traveling lifestyle, wanting to see as much of the world as we can in our young age. Though most of us yearn for the experience, few follow through. Amber and Shane have the drive and passion to follow their dreams, but what makes them lucky is being able to do it with the person they love.
Amber and Shane have known each other since they were 12 years old, and were actually together when they were younger as well. “We were together when we were kids in high school, before we could really appreciate how special our bond was, but we stayed great friends throughout the years. We reconnected recently and the timing was just really perfect,” explained Amber, noting that their history is one of her favorite things about their relationship.
Amber is a notable tattoo artist, working for the past 5 years, most recently at Human Productions Tattoo Studio in Bethel Park, PA. Shane has worked as a filmmaker for about 8 years, primarily working as a Camera Operator on television shows and feature films, and currently as a cinematographer for a feature film. Shane plans to find local work as they travel, shooting rock climbing and whatever projects he can get his hands on. Amber, however, will have to take a break the duration of the trip, saying, “Art has always been a huge part of my life so it's going to be really important that I make time during this trip to keep creating and growing as an artist.”
The couple plans to hit the road on February 5th, and travel until at least winter of this year, at which point they will decide whether to rent a studio somewhere, or head back to the southwest and continue. The idea to travel is one that Amber says she has had for years, but never pursued, until the passing of her mother showed her she couldn’t wait any longer. “I stayed in Pittsburgh because of my mom. Losing her made me realize how fragile and short life can be and you can't always have a timeline for your future. Within the last year I started to get really antsy and waiting for it to happen just wasn't an option,” she explained. “I felt like I was wasting time.”
Shane spends a lot of time rock climbing, and has been traveling for quite a while. From an outsider’s perspective, traveling is just a normal aspect of his life.
“I’m an avid rock climber and with that lifestyle comes the urge for a more nomadic way of life. I started recognizing how living this way is actually much cheaper and obviously more fulfilling. I don’t want to be somebody that works their whole life away and gives up the best years of their life only to retire when you’re aren’t worth a damn anymore and sit around wishing you would’ve done all of that bad ass stuff back when you still could’ve.”
Amber and Shane aren’t the only experienced travelers on this trip, however. Accompanying the two is Shane’s dog Rocky, who has seen more of this country in his old puppy age than most of us will, maybe ever. “He helps clean our dirty dishes and walks me to the bathroom at night so he makes a great road dog,” Amber mentioned.
Rocky will be seeing much of the southwestern region, as the couple has a fascination for the desert areas. Their trip is going to be concentrated around states like Arizona, California, parts of Nevada and New Mexico, and Utah, which holds a very special place in Amber’s heart after a solo trip out there in September. “Utah made me instantly want to move, it holds a special place in my heart for sure,” she said.
With trips like these come many lessons learned, as one steps far from their comfort zone. Shane said that the biggest lesson he learned was to keep your footprint at a minimum and practice “leave no trace” ethics. “People need to understand that we can always build new buildings and remodel old ones but the gift of nature is what’s truly the most precious.” Amber’s experiences tap into a little more of a “self-nourishing” kind of vibe, saying, “Nature has a way of putting things into perspective. I've learned we really need so little to thrive. Some fresh air, sunshine, and a meal by a campfire is good for the soul.”
It’s sometimes hard to imagine just picking up and trekking out on an adventure and leaving all of your comforts behind, but its safe to say that the couple is way more excited than nervous about anything. “I'm excited for the freedom of it all; waking up with the sun and having beautiful places as our backyard… taking a step back from all of the things we've grown accustom to out of convenience and just living with what we actually need,” Amber explained. “Nervous? I'm always nervous about where I'm going to have to go to the bathroom,” she joked.
Shane’s excitements are endearingly focused on making new memories with his girlfriend. “I'm most excited to do all of this with Amber and to experience new places together for the first time. I’m also really excited to have her as my climbing partner and to see her grow,” he said, but with concerns for man’s best friend and making some extra money. “I’m most nervous about rattlesnakes for Rocky and also being able to maintain a healthy work flow. I’m hoping that by having the ability to work as a local anywhere and utilizing the relationships I’ve already made, I can break into shooting more rock climbing as well.”
Shane detailed his advice for aspiring travelers to seize the day but keep focused on what it takes to make it work. “Life’s too short to not say what you really mean and not do what you really want. Take advantage of it. If you’re traveling with the love of your life be up front and communicate all concerns, thoughts, and ideas to each other so that you can be a good team. Experience is always better shared. Keep it safe and have the most fun.” Amber followed up with three simple yet important tips: Soak in the moment, embrace being scared, and learn that baby wipes are indeed your best friend. I can most definitely vouch that last part. Here’s to wishing these two the best of luck on their adventures!
*Follow along on their trip with their travel Instagram: @wandering_acorn.