Welcome aboard my lifestyle of journey and self-discovery, it has been quite a ride so far. My name is Alleyn Parent but most people call me Al. This is since only my family and close friends know that I have a long, weird to pronounce, French Canadian given-name. My journey began in Massachusetts within the Pioneer Valley region of Western Massachusetts. Given that I like factoids, I once figured out that I have lived my whole life within fifteen miles of the hospital I was born in. I come by my sedentary position naturally as my father has lived on the same street for over ninety years. Without a doubt, I am a New England Yankee through-and-through but a friendly one that is not prone to one-word slang—ayuh! I had what I consider a traditional American lifestyle.
I grew up in a suburban neighborhood setting, went to elementary, middle and high school within my hometown, and participated in extracurricular activities such as church youth group and scouting. Like many young people, I went to an in-state junior college near my home and then transferred to a larger state college to complete my bachelor’s degree. During college, I made a pragmatic decision that would change the course of my life and in hindsight was a wise decision and a blessing. I had for most of my preteen and teen years dreamed of being a travel photographer scouring the world for images and adventure. That dream was a very idyllic and romanticized version of what a photographer does, and the skills and dedication to the craft necessary to be successful. I envisioned an Indiana Jones type, on wild adventures shooting for National Geographic or LIFE magazines. While I loved to photograph and play in the darkroom, my first and only college-level photography class burst that dream for me. In a class full of talented and seemingly intuitive photographers, I felt out of my element and realized my dream and reality were unlikely to come together. Also, the power of an individual’s influence was ever-present as I had a professor that had only criticism and critique for my photography and no memorable encouragement. She would become my go-to mental example of how an individual can crush dreams. Later in life, I had a supervisor that also had her as a photography professor and it was nice to be able to lament on our experiences together.
That brings me back to my decision, I had to consider my career pursuits and the kind of life I wanted to live. With the realization of the struggle, I would face to make it as a photographer, let alone make a decent living in that profession, I decided to give up my dream of being a travel photographer. I remember the decision as clear as if it were yesterday, it was one made out of a doubt of my own skills and the desire to have a wife and family in the future and be able to provide for them. Though it was a crushing decision at the time, it has never been one that I have regretted or been resentful of.
After college, I grew my career in marketing, communications and publishing operations with a handful of small and medium-sized family-owned businesses. My career, for the most part, was satisfying and purposeful with a number of opportunities to utilize my photography skills for my employers over the years. That helped to keep the photography dream flickering. I even had the opportunity of being mentored by two very successful commercial photographers that were vendors of mine. They were both encouraging and insightful about the photography business and tricks of the trade. I spent many hours hanging around the studios soaking it all in and feeding my dream. While I never pursued getting more serious about my photography, I did utilize my skills whenever I could for my family, friends, scouting and even the occasional professional project.
The plan of getting married and having a family did come to fruition and was a wonderful time in my life with many domestic adventures and a typical lifestyle in rural suburbia. My family life was a bit untraditional however with an extended family living situation with my in-laws living with us and my wife home-schooling our three children. Homelife went relatively uneventful for many years with the normal demands of life, family, and career.
Life went pretty well until September 2010 when my family and my life would change forever with my wife’s diagnosis of Stage-4 colon cancer. That is a long story of its own but suffices to say that my wife survived for close to two more years with surgery and chemotherapy and passed in early August 2012. Her passing was devastating to me and my family as she was the glue and energy of our little tribe. It took a number of years to come out of the fog of her loss and how it affected every aspect of our lives. During that time the company I was working for went through a down-sizing which I was a part of and as of the end of June 2015 I would be out of work. By then middle age and lack of local career prospects had caught up with me. I was in a pretty dark place and with no future plans, I needed to go in some direction and I knew my next step would need to be a big one and a lot was riding on it. So, I did something uncharacteristic for me and nontraditional and decided to take my severance and take a solo cross-country road trip.
I had not seen most of the United States and needed some time to think and consider my future. The seeds of Following My GPS began with that cross-country road trip as I tried to blog my travel experiences and destinations. I found that it was impossible to keep up with daily travel over sixty days and also create content and maintain a blog. So, the first iteration of Following My GPS was a fizzle but I did shoot over 20,000 images and drove over 12,000 miles in two months. That trip was a life-changing turning point for me and set the seeds for where I am at today with my new transient lifestyle and a second career as a travel photographer. It is funny how things work out. After my cross-country trip, I decided that I needed to formulate a new direction in life and a lifestyle and work that uniquely fit my personality and life purpose.
Having spent a career where planning and logistics were a big part of my duties, I called on those skills to design a lifestyle and business that dovetailed together and did not compete in their goals and resources to be successful. Through my road trip, I realized that I was very content with a minimalist existence and that ‘stuff’ and a big house no longer held a grip on me as they once did. Also, I got the travel bug and was blown away at how wonderful the United States really is. My perception of my country was formulated by a lifetime of media and hear-say. I learned that my perception was so off it made me upset that I bought into an image of America that was unjustified and short-changed its people, communities and beauty. Out of that realization, I came to my life purpose to be America’s cheerleader and a voice to promoting exploring the world outside our homes.
Whether is it local road-tripping to nearby gems of interest within our own communities or an epic cross-country trip, we are I believe, genetically programmed to be explorers. I want to inspire people through my images and stories to explore locally, regional and nationally and maybe someday the world.
Once I came up with my purpose and desire to live a simpler life the hard work began. My family was not at a stage where I could transition to a new life, but that was a blessing as it gave me time to finish raising my children, let my mother-in-law live out her final years in our home, and to deal with a life of consumption and a very large house. By far the house and all our stuff were the largest obstacles that needed to be overcome. It took close to four years to become an empty nester and to sell our home and get rid of most of its possessions. A daunting task that I am glad I had the time and very grateful for my eldest daughter who helped me cope in many ways. Throughout that time I was planning, watching a ton of YouTubers who full-time RV and are nomadic, and deciding how I was going to get into RVing; something I had never done before. I am very blessed for my planning and analysis aptitude that helped me sort through a mountain of details and decisions to get me on the road to life as a full-time RVer.
Now I am sitting in my very first RV, a new to me 2017 Airstream Flying Cloud 30RBQ with a Ford F250 Lariat tow vehicle. The transition to a nomadic lifestyle is complete and I have been in the Airstream for almost two months and I am very content with the choices I made and how well the years of planning and learning are now paying dividends. With the launch of the Following My GPS websites and necessary business logistics, I am now ready to start my journey and to inspire you through my photography and stories as I travel around the United States as an American Nomad.