When was the last time you made yourself laugh? A time where no other human was nearby for company and you were fully present and at peace with your own thoughts? Surprisingly, such an experience is rare for most of us living the day-to-day routine of this life.
We live comfortably in homes with at least one companion and head to work alongside a team of others, engaging in generic chit chat between projects needing completion. Our evening social life is exactly that – social. friends, family and acquaintances who conveniently take up 100% of our free time, allowing us the seeming luxury of avoiding our innermost thoughts.
And while human connection is vital to the health of our spirit, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Before long, we forget we even need to be at peace with who we really are and thus begins the settling of layers of confusion at our place in this world.
Mandy Lea came to this realization not long into her adult life. She knew she wasn’t suffering anything as serious as depression, but did she really need to be in a bad headspace for permission to make a change?
In an attempt to breakaway, Mandy headed to a lake in Michigan near old friends. She took her brand-new kayak and paddled solo to a deserted island filled with sand dunes and fresh air. Three joyful hours flew by as Mandy sat alone, drawing messages in the sand and even making herself laugh out loud– the rarity of which caught her by surprise.
Soon after, in June 2016, Mandy Lea bought a tiny T@G teardrop trailer she named “Phoenix” and took off on a much-needed solo adventure across the United States. She’s documented her journey online and has continually shared her important message of self-acceptance along the way.
The main activity Mandy engages in while on the road, is photography. She has taken her fierce passion of documenting wild beauty to a professional level, by becoming a full-time landscape photographer.
In retrospect, Mandy realized that when she waltzed into a photography store at the age of 16 and asked for a job, she launched an obsession with the myriad of footage that can be documented with a camera. Throughout her seventeen years working in photography stores, Mandy has excelled particularly as a portrait photographer and the go-to photojournalist for important events.
The landscape and nature pictures Mandy now shares with her audience are beautiful beyond words. Every image captures a serene moment in time. She has the skilled ability to ensure every photo participates in making a statement of the experiences she’s had along the way. We join Mandy in moments of tranquilizing calmness, as her gaze follows the zigzagging snow winding up a mountain. A synchronized pattern that is perfectly mirrored in the still lake below.
Other times we can reflect with gratitude on even the smallest details that make the world a special place. We quiet our minds with Mandy as she ignores the distractions all around and focuses solely on the beauty of a single flower in full bloom. She allows its petals to consume the edges of the photograph and soften the chaos of our thoughts.
Everyday Mandy enjoys the fruits of her decision to step away from the stress of her traditional life back home. She consistently gives back to her supporters, by sharing the beauty of this life with them.
On Instagram, Mandy reflected that she,“Often equates her road life to that of chapters in a book. Travelling to a new location each week, enjoying that unique adventure, and then moving on”.
The landscape she is immersed in, is mostly people free. She gladly attributes this to her conscious decision to free camp as often as legally possible. She wakes up with the world at her finger tips, enjoys a little breakfast and heads off to a perfect vantage spot to watch the gorgeous sun as it breaks free from its nightly confinement of sleep. Mandy might capture the peeping sun behind a rushing waterfall, or watch it rise graciously, to the backdrop of gigantic mountains as far as the eye can see.
Her living room of bursting colors and mountain air soon gives way to a theatrical display as the moon takes its place in the sky. Often, an early night’s sleep is required as Mandy has been known to rise well before dawn. Bleary eyed, with coffee in hand, she waits to greet the milk way as it begins to form in the macro sky. Glistening stars dance as her camera captures their beauty, and Mandy smiles with content at the experiences she gets to call her life.
The more time Mandy has spent on the road, the more she has been able to calmly acknowledge her loneliness and fears. Eventually, these fears gave way to peace and Mandy has openly come to terms with it being OK to become her own best friend. She has gained confidence in listening to her gut and has been inspiring women all around the globe to also be confident in their own skin.
Along her journey, Mandy eventually joined forces with expert mountain climber, Kendrick Callaway. When they met, Kendrick had already been living his own version of the minimalist lifestyle. For 4 ½ years, he’d been travelling in his renovated 4WD.
This pleased Mandy, for if she was to share her life with anyone, she hoped it wasn’t a newbie to the “tiny” lifestyle. Two weeks after meeting, the couple separated their belongings on her parent’s lawn and made equal sacrifices on what personal items they would bring on the next leg of their trip. Soon, Mandy’s solo teardrop camper lifestyle made room f two.
Kendrick and Mandy are now travelling in her upgraded T@B teardrop Outback, nicknamed “Rocky”. She’s been getting more involved with mountain climbing thanks to Kendrick’s passion and expertise. On August 28th, she summited Grand Teton – the tallest mountain in the Teton Range in Wyoming. This was climb part II, with their first Grand Teton attempt being hindered just shy of the peak, due to the onset of poor weather. The pair demonstrated great determination to re-hike the mountain only a few days later.
To fund her adventures, Mandy makes a living running interactive, multi-day intensive photography workshops and speaking at events around the country. She also sells prints of her photos, licenses her images to other users online and works with companies aligned with her vision, in sponsorship opportunities.
As of June 2017, Mandy had travelled 48,946 miles, visited 3 countries, 35 states and seen 9 bears. She’s learned to be comfortable with her own decisions and refuses to give in to the pressures society places on her as a photographer, a woman and even simply as a person. She has learned to never give up, and most importantly, she has become her own best friend.