Taylor Walton (right) is living a life most people could only dream about. Her work days are a lot like anyone else's, noted the 2015 Mount grad. She wakes up, goes to work, and then enjoys her evenings.
"The one difference is, the place isn't always the same," she explained.
While the pandemic introduced a lot of us to the concept of working remotely, Walton has had that option for years. But instead of spending her days at her dining room table or home office, she hit the road in her souped-up van and began traveling throughout the United States, with her work computer – and her camera – at her side.
And it all started with an internship she got with a little help from the Mount's Career Center.
Life is a Highway
Walton is a Senior Actuarial Analyst at ConnectiCare, a Connecticut-based health insurance company. It entails, among many other responsibilities, analyzing data to determine what price the company needs to set for future premiums.
"It's fascinating because you're trying to predict the unpredictable," Walton said, adding that she is thankful to Mount Math professors Jennifer Bready, Lee Fothergill, and Mike Daven for "cultivating my love for math, which grew into my career."
In the summer of 2014, Walton did so well at her internship with ConnectiCare that the company offered her a full-time position. With a little help from Bready and Monica Merritt, associate professor of Education, Walton was able to rearrange her courses and started working for ConnectiCare in January of 2015.
In a preview of things to come, she finished her two remaining Mount classes online. "I guess I've always been into doing things remotely," she observed.
From 2016 through 2017, Walton transitioned to a fully remote work schedule. As someone who thrives on freedom, natural lighting, and travel, the switch has been a game changer.
"I absolutely love it," she said. "If anything, I work more because I don't have a commute to worry about and I have a setup I can jump on at any time, so it's easier to put in extra hours. From a personal perspective, it's been such a blessing for my restless soul."
Originally from Avon, Conn., Walton has traveled far and wide while working remotely. From the historical landmarks of Massachusetts to the fresh water springs of Florida (and everywhere in between), she has seen places and things people wouldn't believe. For example, the calmness and beauty of Acadia National Park makes it by far one of her favorite places in the Lower 48.
"It took my breath away," said Walton. "There's a magic that lingers in the air and that I swear you can physically see all around you. Being so removed from everything, it's untouched and wild and free."
The best part, she explained, is the stars: "I've never seen so many in my life. It's so dark and every star gets to shine there. I went on a 4 a.m. hike and spent most of my time looking at the sky."
Also ranking high for Walton is Washington state. "It's just so full of nature," she explained. "You walk outside and see these beautiful massive mountain ranges off in the distance and you can't help but be reminded of how tiny you are and how amazing this world is."
Through it all, Walton's Nikon DSLR camera has come along for the ride. A talented photographer, Walton has documented her one of a kind journey from day one. The results, as seen in this article, are nothing short of stunning.
Go Your Own Way
So how does one go from college grad to Carmen Van-Diego? Ironically, Walton's life of travel was born from her desire to settle down.
"I've been in love with tiny living and tiny houses since I was a teenager," she said. "I would talk about getting a tiny house all the time."
For the uninitiated, tiny houses are just what they sound like: homes of less than 400 square feet that offer the same commodities as a normal house by utilizing all available space as efficiently as possible. In the last decade or so, thanks in part to television shows like Tiny House Nation and Tiny House Hunters, the movement has gained a lot of traction.
It was a beautiful dream, but one that Walton thought she might never fulfill. "It was one of those things you want to do so badly, but there's that part of you that holds you back, that's scared because it's not the norm," she said.
And so, she tried the norm. After finishing her degree at the Mount, Walton moved to Boston, which brought new opportunities for her photography, new friends, and new adventures. But it wasn't long – only about a year – before Walton began to feel like she had outgrown that life. Her tiny house dream was calling again, but so too was her passion for travel.
"No matter where I was, I always wanted to get out and explore and see what the world had to show me," said Walton. "For the first two years out of college, I almost always had a suitcase packed for some trip and was flying coast to coast, but living out of a suitcase gets old." How does one reconcile the desire to travel, but also to have a familiar space all one's own?
Simple, said Walton. Live the van life. It's "a space that's cozy, comforting, and safe no matter where I [am] – a tiny house on wheels!"
With the support of her friends and family, Walton and her father headed to a dealership, bought a van, and Walton started down the rabbit hole of converting it into a mobile living space.
"After months of research, lots of tears, and help from my family, I had a home I could travel in," she said.
Stuck in a Moment
While the COVID-19 pandemic had little impact on Walton's work, it slammed a roadblock on her personal life. When the pandemic was declared, she had just started a cross country trip with the goal of settling on the West Coast. Just as the country went on lockdown, Walton rolled into Florida to visit some family members.
"Everything shut down and everyone was staying put, waiting to see what would come next," Walton noted. "Traveling wasn't much of an option anymore."
Three months went by as Walton laid low in the Sunshine State, but there was no end to the pandemic in sight. During that time, she suffered another blow: Her grandma passed away. With the pandemic still raging and her family coming to terms with their loss, she hopped in her van and set her sights on familiar territory.
"We as a family had mourning and healing to do, and for us, it was best done together," she said. "So instead of continuing my trip, I headed back to the Northeast to be with my family."
One of Walton's favorite places has always been one that's close to home: The Jersey Shore. In those summer pandemic months, she spent her days fixing up her grandmother's summer house on the shore.
"It was a way to keep the sadness at bay and honor her at the same time," Walton said. "In hindsight, it all happened for a reason. I ended up meeting my significant other, who's not only embraced all that I am, but he's also embraced van life! I'm so grateful for the ways life redirects us and for the reminder that the best things can be born from the toughest times."
You're My Home
Things are up in the air at the moment, with Walton still living in New Jersey.
"My life has changed a lot since I started this journey, but nowadays I'm almost always with or near family," she explained "This gives me a stationary, consistent place to work, but after work and on days off, holidays, and weekends are when I make sure to get out and explore!"
With her boyfriend Ryan at her side and the country opening up again, the future looks bright for Walton. After all, a new journey is always just a tank of gasoline away.
"Even as I look forward and have begun the process of putting down some roots for myself, I know I'll always be escaping on adventures," Walton said. "It's something my soul needs and I'll forever make sure we get it."
Photos by Taylor Walton