Photo grad makes wanderlust work

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Jessica McCaffree Mans ’03 works on a design project at a hostel in in Santa Fe, Panama. Mans, her husband and her brother are traveling 30,000 miles from Seattle to Argentina.

Jessica McCaffree Mans ’03 (photography) spent 10 years working as hard as she could, saving as much money as possible, to travel around the world.

After each trip, she would return to the United States broke and start the cycle again. Then she realized something that changed her life—she could travel internationally while working remotely.

Now Mans, her husband, Kobus, and her brother, Jared McCaffree, are trekking 30,000 miles in a 1997 Toyota 4Runner from Seattle to Argentina. They left in October 2011 and hope to arrive in Argentina this January or February.

“The idea of a wireless world where you can be anywhere and still be reliable and still be good at what you do is now,” says Mans, who works as a freelance graphic designer. “So many people think this era is coming. No, it has been here.”

Mans caught the travel bug in 2002 when she was among the first RIT students to study in Croatia, RIT’s first international campus. She knew she wanted to travel but had no idea where she wanted to go until she visited the Study Abroad Office and found out about the new program at American College of Management and Technology in Dubrovnik. She signed up and spent the summer overseas. “I graduated right after winter quarter and all I wanted to do was go back to Croatia,” she says. “I told the Croatian students we had met there that I was going to come back and they didn’t believe me.”

Mans took several minimum-wage jobs and worked seven days a week. By the following June, she had saved $1,200, enough for her to return to Croatia for three weeks and make a believer out of her friends there.

The following summer she went back again and ran into Andrew Moore, who at the time was dean of the College of Liberal Arts. He was doing an archeological dig and happened to need a photographer. Mans returned to the U.S. and worked some more odd jobs so she could go back to Croatia for another summer to work with Moore.

She later landed a stint as a photographer on a cruise ship, where she met her husband. Mans and Kobus continued traveling, driving from Johannesburg, South Africa, to Kampala, Uganda, and back. She enrolled in graduate school but dropped out and settled down as full-time freelance graphic artist in Seattle.

Before they knew it, the couple had saved enough money for another big trip. But this time, Mans had one client who wouldn’t give her the time off. So she continued working for the client while vacationing in Australia and ended up making enough money to pay for expenses.

Mans, her husband and her brother realized that if one of them could work and travel, they all could, and they planned this 30,000-mile adventure. When they arrive in Ushuaia, Argentina, in January 2013, they will have traveled through Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina.

They all work remotely for about 15 hours a week and designate work days when they know they will have Internet access so their clients can contact them. (Her brother is a software developer and husband is a Web designer and developer.)

“Big companies love the idea. I was really expecting my clients to go, ‘woo, hold on. This is not OK,’ ” Mans says. “And they were OK. Every one of them said, ‘This is incredible. Go and do it and we’ll figure out the details.’ ”

The rest of the time, they are typical tourists. They stay in a place about two to three days, sightsee, camp, hike, try the local cuisine and learn about the culture.

Contacted halfway through the adventure, Mans says she has no regrets. She has learned more than ever to not be afraid of failure and to take risks.

What’s next for Mans?

“We will definitely continue traveling,” she says, adding that she would like to go back to Croatia where her wanderlust was first formed.

To learn more

Keep up with Jessica McCaffree Mans’ adventures at She also provides information and tips about how to work remotely, including what to bring, where to find Internet access and how to budget.