Voices from the Road

Leaving the grind behind: Two women, a van, and the beginning of the rest of our lives

There I was, turning eggs during an incredibly busy Sunday brunch shift. I was supposed to be running the expo line, but the egg guy called out that morning, so naturally, the leader stepped in.

I was flipping over easy-medium-hard eggs, simultaneously, in three different pans, while yelling to servers what plate to take to what table and telling the delivery guy in the back I’d be there as soon as I could to check and sign the invoice. It was the hustle that had defined me almost every day for the past 13 years. Forget 9 to 5—this was F&B, or the food and beverage industry. As a sous chef, I was working 12-hour days under the head chef who runs the whole kitchen.   

Breaks are not mandatory in F&B. Maybe they are on paper, but in reality, only smokers get regular breaks. What was it like being a non-smoking boss, managing a bunch of smoking line cooks? Most days, I wasn’t just flipping eggs, I was running the grill, fry, salad, pizza, and dessert stations while saying to myself, “Just start smoking.”

Growing up, I practically lived in my grandmother’s kitchen, watched every cooking show, and cooked for my friends. I went to culinary school and got into the business knowing it was my calling. I loved to cook. I took all the steps to make it my career. I asserted myself and made it up the ranks as one of the only female sous chefs in my town.

I was miserable.

Why am I babbling about this? Because I’d like to make the point that in retrospect, those 13 unforgiving years of my life got me to where I am now. So ultimately, I’m grateful. 

I realized that I was on the right path, but that paths were meant to turn, to twist, to progress. I did love cooking and I needed to go through that journey. I regret none of it and learned so much along the way. I’ve worked for some talented chefs who, in their own way, developed me into the badass chef and person I am today. Through the years I also developed some incredible relationships with co-workers, and, while fleeting, those relationships were my life. Those people gave me the mental edge to do that grind and for a long time, my heart was in it. As years passed, I started questioning this demanding, cyclical existence and during this time, I met a mysterious and talented girl who loved to travel.

Fast forward 7 years—that traveling girl is now my wife and we live in a van.

Starting the journey

While I was first getting to know Abi, I was enamored by how she viewed the world. She had such a free spirit and warm nature about her. She had her own photography studio. She painted beautiful portraits of people and places. Her eyes held so much joy, and she really liked me. I learned of her travels to India and her college semesters abroad in Italy and Ecuador. She’d been to the Galapagos and Cayman islands, Scotland, and Spain. I’d been to Spain myself, but aside from that high school itinerary trip, I had not been anywhere outside of a few U.S. states. 

I wanted to know what it would be like to actually rest my feet in the postcard views and National Geographic photos I saw. I wanted to understand different cultures and taste ingredients from their source. I had developed such a strong desire to travel, and falling in love with Abi while hustling in F&B cracked something open in me. I simply had to quit my job and follow my wanderlust.

I shared this idea with Abi, and she was immediately on board. She had her own successful business and was comfortable, but traveling was in her blood. We did some research and realized building out a used van would not only allow us to travel wherever we wanted, but it would cut rent out of the equation completely and would allow our money to go farther. We started working extra jobs and saving half our paychecks. We stopped going out for meals, canceled our Netflix account, moved from a 1,500-square-foot home into a small studio apartment behind a friend’s house, and sold almost everything.  

After a year and a half, with our determination leading the way, we were able to pay off all of our debts, plan and pay for our wedding, build out the van, and save enough money for a year’s worth of life on the road. The new, right path had begun. And in this one, I was the head chef.

Creating connections

This realization of a dream still gives me chills today. We’ve been on the road now for more than 2 years and I can’t begin to explain my gratitude for this lifestyle. I get to live a debt-free, intentionally simple life with my wife and two dogs, Bear and Peluche. I get to experience more therapeutic nature than I can truly appreciate, and all the while, I am growing into a whole, complete version of myself. I’m tasting ingredients from the source, living in postcards, embracing the universe, and my “smoke breaks” are endless. 

My wife, two pups, and I have been to 35 national parks, three countries, countless lakes, rivers, forests, mountain ranges, deserts, valleys, and cities, and we now interpret life differently. We are seeing the realizations of climate change and are doing our part to invest in a sustainable future. We value human connection like we never did before. We directly connect with the things that keep us alive, like water, food, and sources of warmth and wellness. We’re developing who we are because we finally have the time to do so, and we get to discern between our passions in life and our purpose.  

I am still a chef and I will always love cooking, but it is no longer my livelihood—it is just one part of it. We are all so many things. We were put on this earth to experience ever-changing, infinite versions of who we are. Every single person, place, and thing is a source of creation. Love is the heartbeat of it all and while our time is limited, it is meant to be realized and fully embraced. We can’t flip eggs forever while wishing and waiting for dreams to manifest. We have to take action, break a yolk, and quit it all. We have to pivot, and question, and fight for what we yearn for. We’ve got to crack our hearts until they break wide open.

Why am I babbling about this? Because I’d like to make the point that a version of this story could be yours. And I truly hope you write it.

Meet the Roadtripper

Natalie and Abigail Rodriguez