Brett and Jess Zwolinski both grew up in Cincinnati. In fact, they went to the same private school, though they were four years apart. They didn’t (really) meet until she was 19 and he was 23. Less than a year later, they were married. A year after that, their first child (a daughter) was born.
In the course of their 18.5 years of marriage, they’ve brought three more beautiful lives into this world. (The kids are 17, 14, 12, and 10 years of age.) As a family, Brett & Jess were living out the quintessential "American Dream." But ultimately, they've ditched it in pursuit of their own, way cooler dreams. The Zwolinskis had begun, like most of us, to accumulate things. They had a 4300-square-foot house, so they had plenty of room for “stuff.”
Well until they didn’t — at least, not mentally. “I proposed to Brett that we scrap it all. I wanted my family and longed for them to break out of those four walls and gain experience,” explained Jess.
So that’s what they did. They purged. They gave to the needy. They learned to value “experience over things.” And because they are professional photographers (who can more or less set their own schedule) and because they homeschool their children, it made it easy to do the next thing. They purchased a camper in June of 2015 and hit the road. “We named her Meriwether after the explorer Meriwether Lewis of Lewis & Clark,” said Jess.
Their first big adventure took them to the northwest part of the United States. They outran a tornado one evening through Missouri. Yes, that happened. The Zwolinskis spent eight months living out of the camper. (Note: This included a few months parked at Jess’s parents’ farm in Ross, Ohio.) During that time, Jess’s father passed away in December. “We wintered through tears, grief, snow, and below freezing temperatures, all inside a 300-square-foot metal box,” Jess said. “As heartbreaking as it was, I could see the blessing in us all being confined in that space. Those days will continually be cherished.”
Eventually they moved out of the camper and into a two-bedroom apartment in Madisonville. But it wasn’t long before the itch to hit the open road caught fire once again. And so, Meriwether made her triumphant return to their lives. This time, they went to the southwest states. During Jess’s late-father's illness, he would stare at a large coffee table book of the National Parks and dream about a time when he could visit them. Though he never got the chance, they did. “Nature was the best therapy session that we didn’t know we needed," said Jess.
Once they returned from that second adventure, the Zwolinskis realized it was time to settle in a more permanent space. After months of searching, they found a place in Milford. While 1/8 of an acre isn’t a lot, they plan to create a nice little homestead. And by the looks of the pictures in the gallery above, they’re off to a good start.
As of now, there isn’t another cross-country road trip set, but nobody would be surprised (least of all Jess) if the open road comes calling soon. “When I walk in and see the kids flipping through photo books from our travels, my heart swells,” said Jess. “It is all burned deeply into our souls.”
Meanwhile, you will catch them working on the new home and all that entails, chicken coop included. But no matter what it is they’re doing, here or on the road, the Zwolinski family motto remains the same: “Eat well. Love hard. Seek truth.” Also, "get out there. You won't regret it."
- - -
Jess & Brett Zwolinski are professional photographers. It was actually Jess’s passion for photography that brought Brett into the fold. And now, they are a tag team duo that can be found photographing weddings, senior portraits, families, and the occasional commercial project.
Scroll back to the top to see a sampling of their work, their family, and their trips from the road.
For more information, you can visit their website.