Destin natives and friends, Megan Stewart and Kristen Blanton have been planning their cross-country road trip for nearly seven years. Now, that dream is becoming a reality as the two plan to embark on a photographic quest around the United States this month.
"To take this trip together, the one right before we really start our adult lives, is not something that best friends often get the opportunity to do," Blanton said. "It feels like our whole lives have brought us to this exact moment."
The group of four — Stewart and her husband, Josh, and Blanton with her boyfriend, Matt Jozwiak, will be traveling by car and van. Stewart and her husband recently purchased a 1966 Aristocrat trailer and will get to take it on the open road soon.
"We have many plans for our lovely little trailer beyond this journey," she said. "It was the best choice as a means of a little home for us Stewarts on the road."
The Road Ahead
In preparation for the trip the quartet have been selling belongings and making small sacrifices to save money. Megan and her husband moved in with his mom six months ago and Blanton sublet her apartment in Austin, Texas, moving what she hasn't sold in to her parent's house in Destin.
"We have our car, our camp gear, cameras, a few clothing pieces and Matt's snowboard," Blanton said.
As newlyweds, Megan and Josh even opted out of the traditional wedding registry, instead asking guests to donate to their trip fund.
"It's not a typical way newlyweds start off their new lives together, but we certainly aren't your typical folks," she said. "Josh and I haven't seen much of our beautiful country and we are eager to lay our eyes, ears and hands on it."
On their journey, the couples plan to make use of national parks and friend's houses, which are spread out from New York to California, for lodging.
"We have also met a lot of fellow travelers via Instagram," Blanton said. "It sounds strange, but it's one of the coolest things that have happened to us with this trip. We will be meeting with many of them, camping and exploring."
What will be the costliest aspect of the trip is photography.
"We take photos, each in our own corners of the world," Blanton said. "Megan does a lot of newborn portraits, Matt does landscapes and I'm a music photographer."
Costs and benefits
Even with the ease of snapping photos with a phone or digital camera, they all choose to shoot on film, while also snapping a few photos on their Instagram account.
"Film is expensive," Blanton admits. "At times, it feels like a sinkhole. When you fork out $30 to purchase, develop and print one roll — that's only 36 pictures. But digital doesn't capture light the way 35mm does. It doesn't have a tangible quality."
The adventure has turned into a project they coined Hello America. The four have created a Kickstarter to raise funds for the photography book they plan to publish at the end of their four-month journey. the only caveat is that it's all or nothing."If we do not raise our total goal amount, we will receive none of the funding that has been donated," Blanton explained.
What the group plans to accomplish besides travel the country is to share their photos with the world.
"Hello America is a vision," Blanton explained. "We see many things in its future. One is a book titled "Hello America." Another is to display our work in galleries across the United States. It's a big goal, but it's our dream."
No matter how long she stays on the road, Blanton said Destin will always be home.
"Not only do our families live here, but it's our safe haven," she said. "The water is a pulling factor — I swear there are healing properties in that Gulf. We are, after all, just a couple of beach babies who decided to explore."
WANT TO HELP?: Support the traveling pack and become a part of the Hello America photo project. Visit www.kickstarter.com/projects/901613798/hello-america and donate. The fundraiser ends March 23.
FOLLOW ALONG: Go to cargocollective.com/helloamerica or follow @helloamerica_ on Instagram.