PROFILE OF A MODERN-DAY ADVENTURER: The ‘Fancy Feral’ Life of a Vagabond Fashion Model
Did you ever want to just drop everything and go? Ever want to run away and join the circus, live a life on the high seas, train hop, hitch hike, explore abandoned buildings and have the greatest adventure of all?
Adventure, along with a problematic lack of patience, is what entices me to move from country to country. Despite what you may think, I am by no means a nomad. Yes, I travel, but I also live in an apartment, I have a steady job, and I have an EU passport. When the life you lead is sedentary, it may seem unthinkable to subsist without a home, a stable job, a freelancing network, and a neighborhood bar that tolerates you showing up at 10 am to drink whiskey and write a blog post in your pajamas.
There are those select people, though, who seem to do the impossible. This is an effort to remind you that you can do it, too. With the right preparation and with the right priorities you can leave your comfort zone and go exploring. What’s more, being a woman doesn’t make it any less doable.
EDIT: after publishing this article, the interviewee identified as non-gender binary and the pronouns have been changed accordingly. The author is noting this due to the use of the noun ‘woman’, above.
Leah, also known as Velocity, is an alternative model and a nomad. Their Instagram and Facebook account are studded with beautiful, polished, rainbow, alternative, nude photos taken by photographers all over the world. If you keep an eye out, you will see the occasional behind the scenes photo hailing from remote beaches that you’ve never even heard of. What may strike the onlooker most is the contrast of knowing that the person who has the ability to make themselves look like they want to turn you away from the coolest party in Hollywood also travels on a shoestring budget: they sleep outside, they hitch-hike, they dumpster dive, and can handle roughing it.
Rae: When did you start wandering?
Leah: When I was 18, in early 2009 I started traveling regularly around the east coast of the States for modeling gigs, and by the time I was 19 I was driving cross-country regularly. My first wanders abroad were in 2011. I’ve been settled for a month here, a year there, during that time, but I would say I’ve been nomadic for the better part of the past 6 years.
R: Can you think of a specific moment that pushed you towards a nomadic life, or was it a combination of events?
L: I’ve always wanted to be where I was not, and modeling opened up a huge door of opportunity to explore that possibility. It has always been in my nature, I just needed a reason- permission to find myself in impermanence.
R: What do you do for money?
L: Modeling is my full time job, but here and there I pick up costume design work, PA work, general labor gigs and house/pet sitting jobs. There’s an occasional performance gig here and there which I intend to focus more on in the coming years.
R: What’s the worst situation you’ve ever been in due to lack of money, and how did you get out of it?
L: I am lucky, and frankly privileged, to have a support system that doesn’t let a lack of money trap me in a terrible situation. My income is rarely regular but I have some friends who are wonderful and loan me enough money to get to the next chunk of work. I recently lost $1000 (most of which I had already spent) on a last minute cancellation in New Zealand, and it crippled me pretty badly. I had to delay my tour of Australia to recover and book additional work, but I was taken care of and able to pay back debts to people who helped out (in such a huge way!) when things swung in my favor again.
R: What piece of advice would you give people (in particular, women) in regards to the safety/ money?
L: Pieces, rather, because that’s a pretty complex question. First off, I am of the opinion that this world is not as scary as popular media would have people (particularly women) believe. Serendipity is just as prevalent, if not more so, than suffering. I say this in no disregard of the severity and frequency of suffering, but in honor of the amount of times happy happenstance and kind strangers have made my way easier and lighter. Regardless, we do live in a world where violence, sexism and oppression are regular forces at play in the physics of our interaction, so knowing how to protect yourself and being smart about your surroundings and presentation is wise. Walk strong, respond to compliments with a confident “Yeah, I know,” take self defense training and carry a street-legal weapon like a pocket knife or mace. Know how to use these tools in a high pressure situation. Don’t keep all of your cash in one place, and preferably keep it in strange and unimportant locations in your belongings. While I think all people should have these street skills to travel outside of the tourist norm, I feel it would be ideal for women everywhere to operate under this level of preparedness regardless of their degree of wanderlust.
R: How many of your costumes and makeup material do you travel with?
L: I travel with about 7-8 pounds of makeup, always prepared for all looks ranging from Clown face to simple “natural” contouring and more typical glamour looks. Now I carry around much less wardrobe or costumes exclusively for shoots and performing than I used to, but still would say it’s between 20-40 pounds of “shootables” depending on the trip. When I traveled to New Zealand, Australia and SE Asia for 6 months this year I averaged 80 pounds total- which is quite light for a modeling tour, historically- and about half of that was makeup or shootable wardrobe.
R: The idea of being a nomad usually precludes the idea of looking polished/glamorous/fashionable, and yet you manage to/have to pull it off quite well. How?!
L: Well, truth be told on my days off I am more likely to be found without any makeup on, wearing an animal onesie or yogawear, still funky and colorful stuff but certainly not glamorous. My clothing is mostly shootable/fashionable stuff because it needs to be multi-purpose when possible- but those few comfy outfits get worn more often than anything else. For grooming- I have to make sure to schedule my shoots around predicted lodging situations and shower availability, but I will often go a week without a proper shower if I’m not shooting. “Fancy Feral” is a term, or perhaps title, that I use in reference myself quite often: I feel like being polished and glamorous for a living has given me more freedom and inclination to indulge in the polar opposite. I enjoy the dichotomy immensely, but I also understand why my online presence may leave out some of the “Feral” because when I’m out adventuring selfies are fewer and further between, what limited posts I may make are often documenting my surroundings.
R: Do people have any aggravatingly inaccurate preconceptions about models/alternative models? If so, what are they?
L: Obviously, but they are SO varied: ranging from the idea that all models are “flakey” or unintelligent, or that all “alternative” models must be “bad girls” or “bitches,” to the absolutely absurd idea that nude models are- by default- also porn stars and/or prostitutes. A lot of people build up an idea of who I should be based upon my online presence and get upset when I am “too direct” in my communication, or otherwise behave differently than this imaginary person in their head. The flip-side is that most people who end up working with me in person are quite pleased to find me goofier, gigglier and more approachable in reality than on the internet.
R: Do you have to be in shape/strong to make it in this business? How do you do it?
L: I don’t think you have to be any one thing to make it as a model, but traveling full time requires a bit of strength and endurance- that 70-80 pounds I carried around this year was in 2 backpacks and I had to walk about a mile with them several times. In art modeling, no body type is really right or wrong, but since I enjoy fashion work as well, I try to stay proportional. I also like to stay active and in shape for my own personal well being, so I practice yoga and try to walk as much as possible. When possible, going out dancing, finding time for active play, or squeezing in a short strength based workout regimen all help my body feel and look even better.
R: What’s the biggest misconception you feel that people have about traveling on a budget?
L: That you have to live frugally ALL of the time. As of late, I eat lots of food I find in grocery store dumpsters, and eat rather well if simply- which saves heaps of money. But that doesn’t prevent me from treating myself and loved ones to decadent home cooked or fine dining experiences on occasion. Saving more money as the default, means you can splurge on even better things when work is plentiful and you aren’t on a shoestring budget. Also- that the cheapest transportation is not always the best option. If the cheapest transit to your next destination is a bus that will leave you sore for days and sleep deprived, get on a dang plane. The time spent acclimating to a new city is essentially dead time- and if a journey is more than 8 hours the average person will spend twice as long getting settled. In general I would emphasize prioritizing self care oriented purchases (like choosing a plane over a long overnight bus) over souvenirs and tourist traps. Finally, find your own path, most places I’ve been are just as beautiful free as they are fancy- it just takes a bit more footwork to discover the cheap/free/DIY things to do in any given locale. There will always be things -worth- paying for, but there will be so much more hidden in cozy or crazy corners.
R: Is it worth it? Why?
L: The short answer: YES. The long answer: Worth is inherently relative, so it’s hard for me to assess on any scale other than my own. The road is a fickle mistress, she sometimes takes without returning any favors, but I feel she has taught me more in my quarter of a century on this planet than I would have learned from any other companion, school, or singular place. The sheer volume of perspective and experience is invaluable, and I have yet to find myself sated.