“I’m so proud to introduce the profoundly mindful Whitney Leigh Morris, whose The Tiny Canal Cottage® I’ve so long admired, to the SteamLine community. Whitney not only travels beautifully, she lives all her messages of communal care and otherly love at home and on the road. With her keen eye for poignancy and dedication to the environmentalism movement, she literally makes the world a more beautiful place. Thank you, Whitney, for sharing so much of your wisdom with us.”
SteamLine Founder, Sara Banks
OUR CONVERSATION WITH WHITNEY
SLL: It’s so wonderful seeing Little West throughout your photos! Has having a child changed the way you have travelled thus far, what you would like to see, or how far from home you are most comfortable going?
WLM: Traveling with a little one can, of course, be a bit of a challenge. (“Please don’t put your mouth on the seat-back table, West!!!”) But it’s also an immense joy. West has flown over both the Pacific and Atlantic at this point. No journey is too long or too short—it all just takes a bit more consideration than it did before, and that’s quite all right.
SLL: We know you cut down on air travel to cut down on your carbon footprint; tell us more about that and how you still embrace road trip travel?
WLM: Flying less often is such a simple way to significantly cut back our negative impact on the planet. (A single cross-country flight here in the US represents about 1/18th of a person’s annual carbon emissions!) So while our small business and family hasn’t cut out air travel entirely, we’ve certainly decreased the number of trips we take by air. We’re only flying for rare/unique business occasions, or to be reunited with family after long stretches of time apart. As far as road trips are concerned, we’re staying close to home. Luckily SoCal is rich with mountains, deserts, old-growth forests, and vast beaches. In just a few short hours, we can be transported to so many breathtaking places. Plus, we live in a tourist destination—we might as well stay home and enjoy it.
Whitney's son West, on a "tiny adventure" in Palm Springs, 2018
SLL: Do you have any places that you are looking forward to going first when the world reopens?
WLM: Puglia, the Cotswolds, and the Aveyron region of France.
SLL: Regarding your road trips, what is your biggest travel tip for traveling with a kid for long car journeys?
WLM: Children’s audio books! (West is wildly in love with Sarah & Duck via the Pinna app.)
SLL: Back to your carbon footprint—the way you are cutting it down in terms of travel and at home is really admirable. What are some good “hacks” for greener travel?
WLM: Less than 20% of the population has ever been on a plane, yet the negative environmental impacts of air travel affect the entire planet. So if you are in the privileged position to be able to fly, challenge yourself to do so less often. When you do have to travel by air, little modifications can help, such as flying coach, packing light, bringing a reusable coffee/water bottle to fill after security, financially offsetting carbon emissions via a trustworthy source, and routing directly whenever possible. Additionally, while on-the-go, skip the disposable goods (marketed for “travel” or otherwise) at the airport, in the sky and while at your destination by opting for reusable / washable / refillable alternatives. Additionally, educate yourself in advance of a vacation, and consider how tourism is impacting the local community and infrastructure of the community you wish to visit. Confirm that it has the capacity to sustainably manage tourism.
SLL: Although we are all getting more comfortable in our little bubbles while we socially distance, we remain deeply interested in the connections we make with people with whom we mightn’t have much in common when we do leave our home spaces. In terms of past trips, can you recall one of the most meaningful exchanges you've had with someone while traveling? Both/either on the road or at your destination.
WLM: I enjoy staying in actual, old-fashioned Bed & Breakfasts. They lead to so many more human moments in otherwise highly curated experiences. When visiting our home away from home, Belcastel (Aveyron, France), I'm always moved by the little things… like a local grabbing us a head of lettuce for our dinner from their garden, or business owners opening up their kitchen after-hours to provide us with bread and wine. I ache for our late night dances by the river there, and to hear the villagers sweetly laugh at us while we huff-and-puff our way up the steep hills (paved with medieval cobblestones) as we slip out the backs of our sandals and wipe sweat from our sunburned faces. Sigh…
Whitney's husband Adam rinses West's feet in the Aveyron river in the medieval village of Belcastel (Aveyron, France), Whitney’s home-away-from-home for the last ten years.
SLL: As a small business owner who’s influential on social media, what does this look like when you travel? Do you ever find the need to power off—and if so, how do you do this? What role do social media and communications play on your trips?
WLM: I rarely power down when out of town, but I don’t think that has to be a negative thing, depending on how it’s executed. Though it certainly has taken me years to figure out how to most efficiently navigate work vs play while on trips, and remember to look up and breathe.
I’ve found that, for me, sharing compilation posts and videos across my blog and social channels AFTER the trip allow me to focus on living in moments (and capturing them as I naturally would anyway), and then I can edit my footage and imagery on the journey back home while my son is occupied with an audiobook or with my husband. While on the trip, I do feel that it’s important to share a bit about the environmental toll our activities take (or don't take), in real time, as it draws awareness to the impacts of travel, and sparks some productive conversations on ways that we can all be more responsible and mindful of our actions and footprint.
SLL: What is the biggest mistake you have made or tend to make when traveling?
WLM: When traveling by car specifically, I tend to bring too much, despite how much I value a minimalistic approach to packing. (I suppose it’s simply because I know exactly how much space we have available to us, and how easy it is to access everything…)
When traveling by air, we fly direct as much as possible for environmental reasons. However, the duration of some flights can be more taxing on a little one. I suppose there’s no real answer to this “mistake” other than limiting how often we fly.
SLL: How do you generally plan or design your trips? Do you build around visiting loved ones / people or certain places or things?
WLM: We have no family here in LA, so we tend to “use up” most of our travel time and money on visiting family members elsewhere. But when we plan a trip based on a place itself, we always overlap it with business in some substantial capacity so that we can better justify the journey and expense. (And when traveling by car, we are much more flexible with planning in general.)
SLL: I really appreciate your candor and advice re: WFH challenges, such as how you said, “Even though I can’t work uninterrupted for more than a 30-60 minutes at a time, I do try to practice helpful habits like separating myself from the rest of the family, clocking-in for the task and clocking-out when it’s completed, and having necessities and comforts within arm’s reach (and notifications off) so I’m not sidetracked.” Our founder Sara has four boys (five months-seven yrs) and is attempting the same! Her travel mantra of “slow down, look up”, i.e., powering on or off (not both!), being present, and single-tasking well over multitasking poorly, feels similar to your ethos. Do you think these disciplines have the potential to improve home and travel life in our post-COVID-19 world?
I certainly hope so. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we remember and honor such findings, rather than fooling ourselves back into believing that we have to do everything… perfectly… and all at once. It’s okay to be the tortoise rather than the hare if that’s what it takes to cross the finish line with integrity and peace of mind.
Whitney and West balancing work and play at home.
SLL: Your sentiment also really resonates that, “This is a time for heightened flexibility, compassion and patience—with others, and with ourselves."We’ve also been thinking a lot about the culture of communal care alongside that of self-care. Do you think we might come out of this with a more neighborly, less-judgmental world?
WLM: I think that communal care is crucial to a healthier tomorrow. In becoming more connected and reliant upon localized and collaboratively managed resources, we can potentially alleviate much of the burdens carried by our planet, and better provide for everyone—not just those who can afford it. This time has also been a loud reminder of what jobs and skills are most necessary (and thus should be respected and compensated accordingly) to keep our communities safe and functioning.
SLL: Lastly, you seem to use space so cleverly and never seem to have too much of anything around, but just enough that you can highlight things you use or “spark joy,” to quote Marie Kondo. Does your use of space apply to how you pack? What are some essentials you might bring with you, and do you tend to be a light or heavy packer? Any tips for packing for kids?
WLM: We tend to be easygoing and toss things pell-mell into the car when on a road trip. But for air or train travel we’re highly organized and minimal, typically sharing one suitcase and limiting ourselves to two carryons so we still have hands free to hold each other. Since we have a straightforward and simplified relationship with “stuff” in our house, it’s now fairly effortless to translate that into our packing system and routine. On a more detailed sidenote, West’s favorite activity is reading books, so we take a small stack of slim and lightweight paperbacks in our carry-on, and then we always try to visit the library wherever we go. A library can be such a fantastic window into a community’s personality!