Cynthia Viola Photography

Life on the Road

PersonalCynthia ViolaComment
We swallowed the chaos because we knew we didn’t want to be ordinary
— Robert M. Drake
Cynthia Viola Cross Country Trip

I’ve had a lot of people tell me lately they are living vicariously through me, or that I am their spirit animal, or that I am living my best life, or that I have it made. Which, of course I love. I love to be in an inspirational role, and I do, in fact, love my life as well. It sometimes makes me sad though, because it’s usually said with a tinge of jealousy or regret of an unlived life.

I think so often, it’s easy to look at another’s lifestyle (or social media presence) and think they have it all, and wonder why our own life isn’t all that we thought it would be. (Looking at you Jasmine, Michael and Sasha!)

But if it’s my life you think you want, you can certainly make choices to follow in the same footsteps. Yes, even if you have kids, even if you have a full time job, even if you’re in school, even if you’re married. You’re never as stuck as you perceive yourself to be. We make decisions every single day that bring us one step closer or further away from the place we want to be.

Unless you’re imprisoned, in a coma, caught in trafficking, paralyzed, or a child, you can typically make your own choices. Do so.

I just wanted to share a few of the struggles for those considering a similar path to mine. While I love this life and wouldn’t choose anything different, it definitely comes with it’s own set of struggles that are not for the faint of heart.

Packing for two months at a time

I am a very light packer. If I think I can get by with one pair of shoes or one dress, I will. I will do anything it takes to not have to check baggage at the airport and I usually have my camera AND laptop with me. This means stuffing clothes and shoes in all the spare pockets of my equipment bags and/or wrapping my camera in clothes so I can put it in my duffle. That said, when I know I won’t be going back to my parents house (where most of my stuff is currently stored) for TWO months, I can’t pack quite so light. It takes a LOT of planning and preparation. And then there’s the challenge of the seasons changing while you’re gone; this requires yet another bag of warmer clothes to add in as needed. My little car only holds so much, and the trunk is already packed with all my light stands and other camera equipment. Then when you get where you’re going and realize you forgot an important piece; you have to decide if you’re going to drive the extra 6 hours out of the way to go back to get it, find a way to borrow, go without, or buy new.

Having gear in multiple locations

I have two cameras with all the trimmings, an iMac, a Macbook, a photo printer, a paper printer, light stands, external hard drives, and backup gear which at any different time might all be on me, or might be scattered in multiple locations. This was never more of a problem than when I dropped my external hard drive in LA, lost all the data, and only had the back ups back in Charlotte. All because I forgot to press start on the online back up on the Charlotte computer before I left. I simply had to tell my clients they would have to wait an extra four days to receive their images, but when my workflow usually has weddings delivered in seven days, four is a big deal.

Not having a “home”

I’m quite comfortable in my own skin, and as such, usually feel “at home” wherever my feet are planted, but there is definitely something to be said for having all your things in one location that you can return to in order to refresh, repack, organize your thoughts and feel safe. For me, that is currently spread across 4 cities. So while I feel partially at home in each of those locations, I’m never completely at ease. I am definitely looking forward to having something more structured when I return from my travels in the Spring.


While I constantly surround myself with different clients and friends and family, there’s something about this lifestyle that feels very lonely. It's probably related to not having a home to return to, but big empty beds and tents, never ending roads and trails can be quite lonely. Especially for an extrovert. The path of least resistance does not interest me, however. Comfort can easily lead to complacency and that is not something I strive for. Each location grows me in a different way, and each moment spent alone in my head offers new insight. Figuring out who you are and what you want out of life, what you’re good at and what moves you to compassion, is the best thing you can do for yourself and others. If that requires a few lonely moments, I’ll take it without complaint.


If you’re a routine person, this is not the life for you. In most things I love the chaos of an ever-changing environment. However, when it comes to my diet and my workouts, I do best with a routine. I’m at my best with 5-6 days a week in a Crossfit box and 6 protein packed smaller meals per day. This is rarely possible. Crossfit works on a class basis and my schedule often doesn’t aline with their options. Not to mention that it is meant to be paid for on a monthly or yearly basis, keeping the cost down. When you have to pay a $20-25 drop in fee PER class, it becomes simply too much. I’ve worked deals with 4 boxes in the 4 cities I’m primarily in, but it’s still more expensive than a long term rate.

And meals are another challenge entirely. At each place I stay, I’m not sure how much access I’m going to have to a stove or refrigerator and my diet is almost entirely raw foods. (not to mention the super generous hosts who love to cook for me and offer snacks that just don’t align with my lifestyle). This however, leads me to my first of many blessings.

The Good Stuff

One of my greatest strengths has always been adaptability, but it has never been stronger than it is now. Whether I’m sleeping on the floor, sharing space with kiddos or multiple animals, whether or not I have access to a microwave, shower, washer and dryer, or whether I have to drive an hour or more between my host and my photo shoots, I can handle just about anything that presents itself.

I have been given 12 different keys to peoples’ homes to keep. I don’t anticipate needing to show up unexpectedly to anyone’s home (and definitely don’t remember whose is whose honestly), but the gesture is so kind. The idea that I’m always welcome, even if they’re not home gives me such a sense of love and adoration for the entire human race.

Speaking of the human race, no matter how much the news or movies try to scare us into thinking all people are naturally bent toward selfishness and evil, I simply cannot believe it. Every single day I witness people opening doors for each other, letting others go first in line, giving up preferred seats on planes so families can sit together, buying coffee for the person in line behind them, picking up trash on the sidewalk that’s not their own, and offering their home to someone they barely know. All without regard to color, gender, religion or age. If you choose to look at the world through a lens of hate, you will see hate everywhere you look. But if you choose to look at the world with love, well, that’s exactly what you’ll find. I’ll make that choice every time. Some will say that is naive, but I believe the alternative is a life of anxiety. I’d rather walk boldly in love, knowing I might get hurt, than cower under the weight of ignorance and fear, never truly seeing all the world has to offer.

The world is good my friends. People are good. So very good.

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.
— Roald Dahl

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy my thoughts on living in NC, or life on the Appalachian Trail.