Introducing BOSSES: An Interview with Dani Bradford
For our new Bosses series, we'll be interviewing business owners, freelancers, and anyone who's boss of their own life. Dani Bradford is a self-proclaimed 'dirtbag solo adventurer' and digital storyteller who has traveled extensively across the globe. Her website, Lone Rucksack documents her travels and adventures around the world — and the challenges that come with it. As a MICA graduate, she has worked with companies like Underarmour, USA Today, and National Geographic, arming her to take the next step and launch her graphic design studio. Dani is a Wilderness First Responder, fire-building expert, and sleeps outside more often than in. We got a chance to catch up with her while she's on the road...
Dani, where in the world are you right now?
I’m in Bali, Indonesia right now, and I’ll be spending the next 4 months traveling around Asia and Europe.
You’re coming back strong after an accident on your motorcycle. How did you balance work during your recovery?
There wasn’t a whole lot of balance— I couldn’t do a whole lot else save physical therapy and working, so I worked 12 hours a day. It gave me a space of time to work on my company, find new clients, and build my business in a very focused way I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.
It looks like you started a full-time freelancing career last year, anything in particular lead you to take the leap?
I’ve actually been freelancing full time for almost 2 years now! It wasn’t until the end of last year I established an offshore corporation as a legal entity, so I could travel internationally full time while working on my 2 businesses— Lone Rucksack and my newly established digital design firm.
How do you structure your time between work and travel?
My life is so fluid, I definitely can’t separate work and travel, both are the same for me. Ultimately regardless whether it’s for Lone Rucksack or a design client, my role is a storyteller— and I can’t turn that off. Logistically, I do have to balance the reality of travel and movement so (at this moment) I try to only travel on weekends, and book a place for at least a week so I’m not constantly running around and have my own space. I like my alone time, and really need that quiet time to feel balanced. It’s great to try new things and meet people and constantly see new places, but it’s also important to have a space that feels like home, even if it’s only for a week.
It’s not always that balanced though, it can be incredibly difficult and exhausting when I’m working on a start to finish adventure project, like my motorcycle trip last year. I’d get up at sunrise, ride for hours, then stop for lunch to have meetings with clients and work the rest of the day (and hopefully at that point had found a place to sleep as well).
If I camp, it’s even harder because I’m sleeping someplace in the woods or on a beach, and thinking about all the work I have to get done and where I’ll be able to hop on wifi next. I had a meeting once in my tent at a campground in the middle of nowhere in Portugal trying to sound business-like stuffed in my sleeping bag in the pitch black, trying desperately not to knock over my bowl of ramen perched next to me in the tent. I love it though.
Does all this travel lead to new clients?
It does! I’m constantly meeting new people, whether it’s a collaboration with Lone Rucksack, or a new client via an acquaintance. Being on the road and not living a set routine allows me to meet people all the time, and be open to new projects and ideas in a way working and living in one place doesn’t allow.
How does your lifestyle impact your creativity?
My lifestyle adds so much to my creativity. For me, the creative process is a balance of alone time, new experiences, and working hard— my lifestyle gives me all those things and allows me to work on a range of projects every day all day long. Even if I’m shooting photos on a boat in the middle of nowhere, I’m constantly thinking of projects and leads and goals.
I think it’s important to know where to draw the line on connectivity though. As much as I work, I don’t believe in mobile phones, I have’t had one in years. When I close my laptop, there’s no way to get ahold of me and I can focus on whatever I’m working on in the present moment, without distractions. There’s no way I could do as much as I do in a day being constantly distracted and interrupted— connectivity can be a real creativity killer.
Where do you want to take your business in 2018? 2019? 2020?
As both my businesses grow, I want to work with more people on collaborations and tell a bigger story with other brands. I’ve got a lot of projects coming up this year, and over time and experiences, projects tend to get more complex and require more collaboration. I love working with other people who have carved out unconventional lives for themselves and are thriving.
I want to tell a great story and make a positive impact, and that’s my goal for the next 3 years—and forever really.
Any advice for freelancers looking to take their work on the road?
Absolutely. Don’t let anyone tell you what your life should look like— you’re never going to be anyone else, so create a life that works for you and brings you joy regardless of whether it makes sense to anyone else or not. Then work hard to make everything you want a reality, keep in check why you want it, and hold yourself accountable. But more than this, as Toni Morrison wisely said, the world isn’t a grab bag. Think about what you’re going to give back, along with what you want to take.
The world needs activists who think bigger, whose problems are world based— not driven by money and the bottom line and the self. Take what skills you have and apply them— there’s a huge world out there waiting for your impact. Find your skill, develop it, carve out your niche and think big. Drive positive change. Change a community for the better. Be humble and always, always, put out good vibes. Get on it.