Adventurous lifestyle calls couple to Alaska and beyond
Less than a month after taking a two-week vacation through Arizona's national parks, Danielle Watson and her husband, Brian sold their boat, rented their house out and bought a truck and camper. Their plan was to spend two years visiting all of the national parks in all of the 50 States.
"We just hit three years and have no particular end in sight," Danielle shared.
To date, they have visited 43 national parks. The remaining include Alaska's Kobuk Valley, Katmai and Glacier Bay, Wyoming's Yellowstone and Grand Teton, the Petrified Forest and Saguaro in Arizona, North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt, Wind Cave and The Badlands in South Dakota, Voyageurs in Minnesota and American Samoa and the Virgin Islands.
The couple's travel schedule rotates around Brian's work as a merchant marine, where he is at sea for 75 to 90 days at a time. In order to maintain flexibility between work and travel, Danielle, a biologist, has been working seasonal jobs to coincide with Brian's schedule.
In 2016, they drove to Alaska to visit the national parks they knew they could easily access by the road system, including Wrangell, Denali, Gates to the Arctic and Kenai Fjords. When they made their way down to Homer, they explored the shops and town and camped on the Spit. Danielle was intrigued by the community and set out to find a seasonal position while Brian was at sea.
"One day, we were wine tasting at Bear Creek Winery and I asked one of the workers if she knew of any part time jobs," Danielle shared. "She offered that the winery might be hiring, and a few days later, I had a job."
The couple flew home to Massachusetts to attend a wedding, then Brian went back to work and Danielle flew back to Homer. She worked part time at the winery and lived in their truck and camper at an RV park downtown.
For the past two years, Danielle has spent summer months working at the winery and the rest of the year doing stream surveys for the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife.?"Living this adventurous lifestyle is the best decision we ever made," Danielle said. "I can take these seasonal jobs and go wherever I want to go.?
Born in Massachusetts, 32-year-old Danielle was raised in the suburbs, but spent a lot of her childhood at her family's rustic cabin in Vermont. The couple met at a Merchant Marine Academy state school in Massachusetts in 2005, and in 2008, they both graduated with Bachelor of Science degrees, she in marine safety and environmental protection and he in marine transportation.?Newly out of college and struggling to find work locally, Danielle applied for a fish technician job in the small Alaska fishing community of Cordova. She was hired, flown into Cordova and then to the tiny Alaska Native community of Eyak. In addition to learning the ins and out of the fisheries job, she learned bear safety and how to use a gun. Danielle spent her summer being flown by helicopter to fisheries camps along the Copper River, where she ran fish wheels and tagged Chinook salmon. ?"I fell in love with the area, the fish and the work and I realized that there was so much more to see and understand about the world," she said.?When she returned home to Massachusetts, she worked odd jobs, everything from a coffee barista to a park ranger, but after working in Alaska, she was hooked to not only the seasonal lifestyle, but to Alaska.
"I like the way Alaska makes me feel," she shared. "And Homer is the perfect place to feel at home."
Eventually, she found seasonal fieldwork in Maine, working for NOAA and studying Atlantic salmon and herring. Then she returned to Alaska in the winter of 2012 to work as a fisheries observer, living and working on research boats near Kodiak.
While she loves the freedom the lifestyle affords, she shared that she and Brian do look forward to settling down one day.?"I miss my garden, having a long hot shower and having pets," she said.?Danielle said that their nomadic lifestyle has taught them how few possessions they need.?"We've learned how little we need, how to use what we have and that what we have is more than enough," she said. "Literally everything we own, except for our house in Massachusetts, is being towed behind us."
She also shared that they are just beginning to consider where they might like to settle down.
"One day, we'd like to settle down and live a sustainable, simple lifestyle," she said. "Leaving home is always bittersweet, but that feeling of being ready to go and move on is always in the back of my mind. There's always a sense of, what's next?"
Currently in Oregon, Danielle is renting a room from a friend, while the truck and camper, which they refer to as Star and The Hideout, respectively, are parked in the driveway.
"It's nice to have a place to be still for a while, but it's also nice to look out the window and see our rig and know that I can take off anytime," she said.
While they travel, Danielle posts photographs and stories on her blog, bdusahideout.blogspot.com.