A Photographer Takes the Long Road

Follow AAA Member Jon Mattrisch as he sets out in his van—along with his wife and dog—for an extended road trip.

Young couple blanket overlooking Colorado, Rattlesnake Canyon Jon Mattrisch

Jon Mattrisch is no stranger to big endeavors. When he was just 21, he helped the Wisconsin State Fair win the Guinness World Record for Largest Cheese Sculpture, which weighed in at a hefty 925 pounds. These days, Jon has a different kind of epic venture underway: an 18-month photography road trip with his wife, Krisha, and their 95-pound Great Pyrenees mix, Myka.

Road trip with a purpose

The trio set out in February in the customized van in which they’re living, working, sleeping and, of course, snapping photos. It’s Jon’s profession—he specializes in landscapes—and it’s also his passion. “I love going to explore and photograph new places,” he says. “To see an amazing view and capture it and share it with the world—it’s a cool feeling, and one that never gets old.”

Jon and girlfriend with their dog on a beach. Jon Mattrisch

Recalling many family vacations he took as a kid, Jon maintains that road travel “is in my DNA.” His mom would plan the trips with AAA, using TripTiks and TourBooks. The excitement of waking up with the world outside the car window has stayed with him into adulthood, and Krisha shares his enthusiasm.

They’ve road-tripped to Montana, the Southwest and even along Iceland’s Ring Road. “She loves figuring out where we want to go or whether we want to take a detour. It’s collaborative; it’s rewarding; and it’s fun!” Jon says.

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Inspired and prepared for their journey

It was in 2020, on their 11-day jaunt to Utah and Arizona, that the Mattrisches first thought of turning that fun into a full-time pursuit. “We’d packed Krisha’s SUV, and we were just having a great time,” Jon says. “But we saw all these camper vans and thought, ‘Wow, it’d be nice to have more room.’” After kicking around the idea of hitting the road full time, they realized, “If we don’t do this now, we never will.” 

Cue the planning and prepping. For Jon, that meant watching plenty of how-to videos while transforming a gray Ford Transit into a customized live-work space. Now Gracie Gray, as they dubbed it, boasts rooftop solar panels; a full electrical system; a sink; a refrigerator; a TV/computer monitor; a raised queen-size bed; a portable toilet; and a heated, portable shower. 

The next task was to marry their wanderlust with some old-fashioned planning—crucial if you’re hoping your road trip reaps memorable images. (See Jon’s road trip images on Instagram at @vanswerthecall). Jon’s first priority: Build an itinerary that leaves plenty of room for moseying. “We use mapping apps to plan so that we’re able to drive relatively short distances each day,” he says. “That way, we’re never crunched for time and can make plenty of random stops to shoot and explore.” Sunrises and sunsets also dictate the couple’s schedule, he adds, as the “beautiful, soft, natural light” creates prime conditions for landscape photography, with “golden hour”—the half-hour before and after sunset—offering particularly magical conditions.

The geography of wonder—and serendipity

With great photos as the goal, the couple also plan to visit popular areas, such as national parks, at off-peak times. “Getting good shots can be difficult when lots of people are around,” Jon says.

Jon recommends national parks to anyone getting into photography. “They make getting good shots easy,” he says. “Everything is there, ready for you to capture. Then, as you get experienced, you can take those skills with you beyond the parks to other wilderness areas.”

Montana, Hungry Horse Resevoir Jon Mattrisch

Another pro tip: Check out Reddit communities such as I Took a Picture—a site that Jon mines for inspiration and advice on the best spots to shoot. 

In the end, the most important images will be the memories the couple hold for the rest of their lives—breathtaking moments, such as the time they drove through a forest of Montana’s golden larches (pictured right), evergreens that turn a burnished golden hue in autumn.

“That’s when you have to ditch the timetable and the plan and just pull over to the side of the road and really take it all in. I can’t wait for when that happens again—those unexpected places or people that make us slow down and realize, ‘This is really incredible’,” Jon says.


Are You Road Trip Ready?

Before you begin your journey, it’s a good time to check in with your insurance agent to make sure you’re covered for every eventuality.

✔ If you’re driving a van or an RV, make sure you have that specific insurance.

✔ Make sure all drivers are insured.

✔ If you’re going to be living on the road, it’s probably wise to boost your car insurance, whether that means increasing your maximums for accidents, liability, etc., or making sure you are covered for every possibility.

✔ Check that your insurance is sufficient and valid everywhere you plan to go, including international destinations such as Canada and Mexico.

✔ Are you renting a car or an RV? Make sure your coverage is sufficient for a rental vehicle, as you’ll be logging lots of miles.

✔ Keep your insurance card in a safe and handy place while you travel.

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