The pandemic has taught thousands of Westporters that they can work anywhere.
Joe and Ashleigh Saponare knew that already.
In 2018, the couple hit the road. They’ve traveled around the country ever since.
Joe — a 1998 Staples High School graduate whose father Joe Sr. is Westport’s animal control officer — manages his PsiMac Apple consultancy — remotely. Ashleigh quit her former jobs teaching English, yoga and mindfulness, and now works for Go Zen!, whose animated programs help children learn social and emotional skills.
They work in their RV, in coffee shops and anyplace else with WiFi. They hike before breakfast, take fewer showers than before, and move whenever the spirit moves them.
Being together in the cramped quarters of an RV has strained their relationship. But the wide open spaces of national parks and other natural wonders has strengthened it.
Joe and Ashleigh have branched off on their own American dream. But the roots lie here, in suburban Westport.
From his early days at Kings Highway Elementary and Bedford Middle Schools, Joe’s life was shaped by access to technology. His Staples mentor was computer teacher Jim Honeycutt. When Joe hated his first corporate job, Jim encouraged him to call TBI, the Apple service provider then located on Post Road West.
Joe left later to start his own business. Life was good. But he and Ashleigh kept watching YouTube videos of people living nomadic lifestyles. They worked remotely, and documented their adventures for homebound viewers to enjoy (and dream about).
The couple spent 2 years trying to figure out how to join them. They realized that payments on an RV would be only slightly more than their car. They planned how to work from the road.
They found a renter for their condo. Three years ago next month, Joe and Ashleigh flew to California to pick up their new home.
They headed up the California coast, to the Pacific Northwest. They spent a lot of time in Montana, working and looking at bison.
They headed south, and fell in love with Sedona, Arizona.
Everywhere, the couple met people who wanted to talk. They offered tips on what to see, where to eat. Their desire to help was genuine — and invaluable.
In March of 2020 Joe and Ashleigh were temporarily back in New York, visiting friends. Coronavirus was closing in.
“We realized our lives were going to change,” Joe recalls. “We knew we had to be in a stable campground, near the outdoors.”
They headed back to Sedona. Despite the pandemic, it was a “great experience.” With tourists gone, downtown was deserted — so much that wild boars roamed the streets.
The couple hiked every morning. They had the trails to themselves.
Then it was off to Boulder. They stayed in the Rockies through the holidays.
“Once we took the leap, it changed our lives,” Joe says. “We’d sit somewhere in a town working. We’d get to know the people and the place. We’d take hikes they’d recommend. Our work and our lives were integrated so much better.”
Ashleigh adds, “The morning routine of primping, and putting on a professional outfit, is not necessary.” They fill that time with hikes, meditation or yoga.
Of course, life was not always perfect. “We had epic fights in epic places,” Joe laughs. “It’s hard to have a relationship in a van. But after a normal domestic argument we’d open the door, and on one side would be Pacific Ocean waves. On the other would be rolling hills. That puts everything in perspective.”
Also in perspective: the amount of waste 2 people produce, even in a van.
Living in a tight space magnifies waste. Ashleigh and Joe constantly throw out excess packaging.
The travelers’ eyes have been opened wide, both say: to the prevalence and effects of wildfires. The number of homeless people, particularly in warm climates.
And, says Joe, “I know it sounds trite, but I’m open now to much bigger ideas. I’m not trapped in the bubble of day-to-day experiences. There is so much natural beauty. There are so many great towns, with different ways of life.”
Still, he notes, “people everywhere are a lot more similar than different.”
The prevailing wisdom is that the US is deeply polarized — divided into 2 opposite camps, with no overlap or even real contact.
In fact, he says, “sitting in coffee shops, we’ve had great conversations with lots of people. We didn’t realize we had completely different political views until the end.”
This month, the couple are temporarily back in the area. They’re seeing friends and family, checking in with their East Coast roots.
It’s great to have roots. But the West beckons.
Joe and Ashleigh also have wheels.
(Joe and Ashleigh blog about their adventures. Click here to see.)