Holly Kennedy and James Turner

Holly Kennedy: Designing Life on the Fly

August 13, 2014 |

Each person’s unique vision of Nomadtopia is a reminder that there is no one way to create your ideal life, no right or wrong approach. Many people just like you—or in even more complicated circumstances—have made it happen, or are working to get there. Hearing others’ stories keeps us all inspired, and reminds us to dream big!

Holly is one half of KennedyTurner, a remote design consultancy that she runs on-the-road with her partner, James.

This British couple have been roadtripping in Canada and the US for the past six months and spent the first three months of their travel on a rural Canadian ranch bootstrapping their business.

Later this year they are heading to Asia and will most likely be found sipping French wine and eating indulgent cheeses in Lyon next spring (all whilst working, of course!). They blog about the design community they come across on their travels over at wanderingdesigners.com.

How would you describe your current Nomadtopia?

My current lifestyle is incredible!

My partner, James, and I run our experience design consultancy on-the-road as we travel the world. We only started out six months ago, so we’re fairly new to the game but loving every minute of the experience! We’re currently on a roadtrip across Canada and the US, working for our clients around the world as well as interviewing other designers and product owners as we go. We get to learn so much about the design community in each city and make some buddies along the way!

What was the first inspiration/motivation that led to this lifestyle?

Our primary motivation was actually a lack of motivation! In our day jobs we weren’t as motivated, inspired and creative as we wanted to be and we knew that had to change. We’re only in our late 20s, but we saw the dreaded question popping up in a few years time: ‘How did I even get here?’

So we decided to intervene before it reached that stage.

How did you make it happen?

We moved out of our ridiculously expensive London shoebox-apartment and rented out a cheap flat in a less expensive city for six months whilst we saved each and every penny. We sold everything we owned—clothes, cars, furniture—and left the UK with a carry-on bag each and headed to Canada. It was pretty terrifying at the time, but I don’t regret our decision one bit!

What is the most useful thing in your current Nomadtopia?

Freedom! There’s nothing like the freedom to change your mind and make decisions on the fly. We find our decision-making process is laughable now. We’re so easily swayed to go to one city/country just on an off-hand recommendation from a waiter or because a particular airplane happens to be flying there (this is why we’re heading to Hong Kong in October—A380, yay!).

What do you miss most that you didn’t (or couldn’t) bring with you?

What has surprised us the most was how much we DIDN’T miss our old material belongings. James is just fine with three t-shirts and I can definitely survive with less underwear than I thought possible! We don’t miss our shiny expensive belongings and wouldn’t be too upset if anything went missing on our travels (with the Macs and passports being an exception, of course).

Caring very little about material possessions has been the most liberating part of our journey and one we will definitely continue even if we do decide to settle in one place.

That being said, we do miss good mash potatoes and decent cider!

What is the most challenging aspect of this lifestyle?

We have A LOT of challenges, but half the fun is figuring out how to solve them.

We have the general day-to-day business challenges of working with our clients remotely. We lose some of the relationship building that goes on when you sit across the table and look someone in the eye, but we make it work with some of the really great remote working tools out there. Our clients are great about it too, understanding our lifestyle and realizing that they’re working with happier and more inspired designers.

Another challenge we half expected is being together 24/7. Prior to leaving the UK, we lived together for three years in tiny apartments, but every morning we went to work in separate directions, socialized with our own friends and had lots of exciting news and stories to share with each other at the end of the day. Now, our relationship dynamic has changed a lot. Not only do we work together, on the same projects, but we live together constantly. It’s been a fun challenge and one we’re still trying to jostle into a good routine!

What advice would you have for others who are hoping to do something similar?

Save save save. Having a cushion of money takes the pressure off those first few months. When a project doesn’t come in as you expected or your flights are hundreds of dollars more, it doesn’t cause undue stress and you just put it down to a learning experience.

If we had the chance to plan again, I don’t think we would have chosen the US/Canada for our first trip. Go somewhere cheap and figure out what and where you want to be!

My other piece of advice is not to worry too much about creating the world’s greatest travel blog. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no wordsmith and we worried how we’d fit into the digital nomad community without a strong voice and opinions about travel. But we really shouldn’t have worried.

We write a blog, but it’s about design rather than what’s in our hand luggage. We know our audience and we know our subject matter. Stick to what you’re good at! The travelling community is also super welcoming so simply sign up to newsletters and join forums to get into the conversations.

(And on a final note, roadtrips are exhausting!)

Just for fun: Would you rather spend one month in a place you’ve been to before, or 24 hours somewhere new?

One month in a place we’ve been before. Portland, Oregon, is winning as our favourite place on the roadtrip so far. Although we also adore Paris, so we’d be tempted to say somewhere with great French boulangeries (can you tell there’s a food theme?).

The first 24 hours in a new city/country is exhausting and we’re much more comfortable finding a rhythm and exploring at a leisurely place. Although this would be a super fun challenge to take us out of our comfort zone!

Thanks for sharing your story, Holly!

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