Amanda Sandlin is only 27, but she’s lived in a van, on a ship, and on both ends of the world.
And not in a clichéd, “quit your job and pursue your dreams” sort of way. In fact, through hard work and determination, she’s found a way to make adventuring her job. You could almost call adventuring her family’s business.
“I grew up on cruise ships,” she explains, where her mom taught arts and crafts and ballroom dancing. Beginning after first grade, she was homeschooled — or, rather, “shipschooled” half the year, and homeschooled on a farm in Pennsylvania for the remaining time.
“It’s pretty bizarre,” she laughs, looking back on how unusual her upbringing was.
Amanda’s unconventional start in life led her to develop a courageous spirit — one that would take her to places that most only dream of.
“It’s so easy for me to be moving,” she says. Though she returned to the mainland for high school and college, it took only a few months in the traditional work world for Amanda to realize that she belonged back out on an adventure.
This time, she turned to the outdoors, reading about and watching people who went climbing, biking, surfing. “I grew up traveling but I never really did much outdoors stuff,” she says. “I started thinking, ‘I would love that kind of life.’”
Finally, she decided to stop longing for it and start living it. “I packed up my car and my cat, and I drove to San Francisco.”
Throwing caution to the wind, Amanda chased her desires wherever they led her — all the way around the world.
But not before getting a writing job at a company whose employees worked remotely, allowing her to travel and climb wherever she chose. When she tired of weekends in Yosemite and Lake Tahoe, she took off for New Zealand.
After a year, she returned to the States, but her adventures were far from over.
“That’s when I was like, you know, I’m single, I don’t feel like anywhere is home to me, so why don’t I just build out a van and travel until I find the place that feels good?”
In her van, affectionately named Penny, Amanda looped her way all over North America.
“I started in Florida and went up the east coast to Maine. Then I drove out to Colorado, up through Oregon and Washington to British Columbia, and I stayed there for a while,” she remembers. “I drove down to southern California, up through New Mexico, and then made a loop back to Colorado.”
She decided to settle in Denver, where she lives now with her rescue dog, Dewey.
Though she’s no longer traveling full-time, Amanda is by no means back on the beaten path.
While out on the road, her work shifted gradually from writing into design and now, she’s a full-time freelance artist.
“It happened pretty naturally,” she says. As her work assignments became more and more visual, she started teaching herself graphic design and creating projects of her own on the side.
She began posting her projects online, and people started seeking her out for commissioned work. “That’s how I got my freelance clients,” she says. “They came to me.”
Soon after, she left her remote job to live off her art alone.
In her art, Amanda strives to capture the spirit of adventurousness — her own, and that of women like her.
“I’m really inspired by the women who are willing to venture into the wilderness, whether that’s mountains and forests or weeding through the difficult stuff you’re doing on the inside,” she says. That exploration inspires the portraits she draws of wild women.
“I draw a lot of women with their hair blowing in the wind. I think I like that motion of the hair,” she says.
“You know when you’re walking outside, on a ferry or something, and your hair keeps blowing and you keep trying to put it back, bobby pin it, put it in a ponytail, but it keeps blowing in your face, and finally there’s that moment where you just let it go?” she asks.
“It’s like a complete release, and that, to me, is the type of feeling that I aim to capture in my artwork.”
Perhaps most interesting about Amanda is the fact that she doesn’t think of herself as brave.
In fact, she thinks that anyone, really, could do what she does. Adventuring, she says, is not necessarily packing up a van named Penny and heading out on the road. “The wilderness is the internal and the external and being OK with not being OK.”
The satisfaction that she has gotten from being free to be outdoors, on adventures, to climb across the country and capturing art in nature, is well worth the struggle required to make her lifestyle work. And, she says, she hopes that others are inspired to find ways to pursue their own adventures, too.
“It’s scary to make a change, or to chase after what you want,” she says. “But it’s never, it’s rarely easy. It’s never going to feel only good. But it’s a challenge, and that’s what makes you grow.”
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