MAMA, SOCIAL MEDIA MAVEN & INNKEEPER
San Diego to Joshua Tree, California
When Geneva Karwoski and her husband Andy welcomed their daughter Prairie into the world they began to reevaluate their priorities. Living in San Diego, they knew the only way they would be able to afford to stay would be if they both continued to work full time. Factoring in the cost of childcare, Geneva would only be bringing home a small fraction of what she made previously and she would be sacrificing precious time with her daughter. With the end of her maternity leave end in sight, they began contemplating moving to a place with a lower cost of living so Geneva could leave her 9-5 non-profit job and stay at home with Prairie.
Geneva and Andy were married in Joshua Tree several years earlier and the desert landscape has always held a special place in their hearts. When Andy’s job approved his request to work remotely, they packed up their lives and moved to a rental in the town of Joshua Tree. When they arrived they were greeted by a rattle snake in their driveway – a welcomed reminder they were no longer in the city and that they needed to be alert in their new desert landscape.
Coping with the isolation of being a new mom in a new place, Geneva began exploring her desert home with her daughter by her side. She started documenting their daily adventures and posting them to Instagram and her blog. With a great eye for photography and an incredible backdrop for daily inspiration, Geneva’s online community rapidly grew. Geneva realized she had a unique opportunity to generate some passive income so she could continue to be able to stay at home with her daughter. She now works with select brands to promote their products to her followers. She works with companies that she believes in and only promotes products that she uses herself. In addition to her sponsored content, she also manages her friend’s inn, The Joshua Tree House, with Prairie in tow. On any given day Geneva and Prairie can be found hiking through Joshua Tree park, playing make believe in their VW van Goldie, and greeting the newest wave of guests at The Joshua Tree house.
With a year-round population of roughly 7,500, Joshua Tree has gained in popularity lately. Many former single-family homes and year-round rentals have been converted into short-term vacation rentals. These conversions have helped some locals make a living by renting out properties to people visiting the area, but it has also drove up the price of real estate and made it difficult for people to find affordable long-term rentals. Geneva and Andy had to move three times their first year because their landlords decided to convert their properties into short-term rentals. After the third move, encouraged by their friends at the Joshua Tree House, they decided to purchase a home so they wouldn’t be priced out of the market. With both property values and rents on the rise, they knew they wouldn’t be able to afford a place if they waiting too long.
Now, after three years in Joshua Tree, this family of three is firmly planted in the thriving creative community. Leaving city life behind was a leap of faith but it ended up being the right choice. Prairie spends most of her days exploring the outdoors, Geneva has pieced together a couple of part time positions that allow her freedom to be with her daughter and Andy has the security of a city salary and his night and weekends free to hike and camp with his family. While they miss the San Diego ocean breeze on sweltering Mojave summer days, they couldn’t imagine returning to the traffic, stress and expense of the city again. Being able to step out of their front door and take a walk under the sprawling pastel skies of the desert at sunset is something they wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.
Why did you decide to leave the city?
My husband Andy and I decided to leave San Diego shortly after the birth of our daughter Prairie. I didn’t feel ready to return to work as my maternity leave drew to a close, and so we started thinking of moving somewhere with a lower cost of living. We had been visiting Joshua Tree for years, and even got married here a few years ago. The magic of the desert really spoke to both of us, and we loved the eccentric small town vibes of the town. Andy asked his work if they’d let him switch to working remotely, and when they agreed we decided to make the leap.
Initially what was the hardest part about making the move? What challenges came later?
We didn’t know anyone here prior to moving, and in San Diego we lived in the same neighborhood as my sister and her family. Moving to a new town with a newborn and no support was really scary. We moved here in October, so after settling in our next challenge was dealing with our first summer in the desert. I felt like that was kind of a make or break it event in my mind- would we be able to deal with the extreme temps or would we go running back to San Diego. Our next challenges were with housing. Joshua Tree has become such a popular place for people to buy properties to turn into vacation rentals that it’s getting difficult to find long term rentals. We moved 3 times in the first year and a half of my daughter’s life. Eventually the rising cost of housing here convinced us to go ahead and buy our own place, as we felt like if we waited much longer we’d be priced out. The next challenge on the horizon is the lack of schools here that we feel good about. Will someone please move here and open a Montessori or Waldorf school please??
Have you had to get creative with work/opportunities that present themselves? Do you feel like living in a rural area has presented you with more opportunities or less?
Joshua Tree is such an up and coming area, there’s tons of opportunities to be found. I have seriously gotten so many cool, exciting offers since moving here that I have had to turn down (since I am still taking care of my daughter full time while also devoting time to my own social media/ blog). When my dear friends at the Joshua Tree house asked me to come start working for them I had to jump on the chance though! I so admire Sara & Rich’s aesthetic, entrepreneurial spirit, and creativity- and plus I just love them as people so much. It’s a dream come true to be able to help my friends grow their endeavor which I feel so deeply invested in.
What advice do you have for someone interested in leveraging social media to earn a living?
Because of the physical isolation I felt as a new mother, coupled with the excitement of moving to such a beautiful area, I spent a lot of time experimenting with taking pics and sharing about our lives on instagram. When my following started to grow, I started a blog because I realized there was some potential of becoming a full time blogger/ content creator/ influencer/ whatever you want to call it. Right now, I still mainly focus on having fun with the platform, I haven’t ever gotten too too serious about really trying to grow or posting more regularly my blog- but I do feel like there is a lot of potential for growth there. I think it would be really frustrating to start on social media with the expectation of earning a living, because for most people it takes a lot of time and effort to grow to the point where you can make that happen, and there’s no way to really fast track it. If you are doing something cool that you want to share with the world and are excited to find an online community to become a part of, maybe start there and then see what happens.
What advice do you have for people dreaming of leaving the city behind?
A lot of people tell me things like “you are so lucky to live where you live!” And that always confuses me. I know some people are trapped by circumstances, financial or otherwise, but for a lot of us- you have a choice! If you want to try living somewhere, make it happen for yourself! One piece of advice I will pass along to anyone making a big more: we considered buying a place straight away but my sister recommended renting first, and I think that is great advice. I am really happy we took our time getting to know the area before we decided on anything more permanent and binding.
What do you appreciate the most about the life you’ve created here for you and your family?
I love all the time we spend together. I feel like it’s really a thing nowadays for everyone to talk about how busy they are, and then the push back has been this movement of slow living. Growing up my family was always very academic and achievement oriented (which is amazing don’t get me wrong) so it just never really occurred to me that there was a way of life other than trying to excel at your chosen career path. And I was never that great at school or careers. Now I stay busy with projects of my own making on my own time and I am so much happier because of it.
What surprised you most about living in the desert? Did it meet your expectations?
When we used to visit, we always felt like there was this really cool culture here. But we moved here not knowing anyone. So the community that we have discovered and become a part of has been really wonderful. Other less pleasant surprises have been the terrifying array of desert wildlife we happen upon from time to time- lots of horrible insects including tarantula wasps, scorpions, vinegaroons, centipedes, and also the occasional rattlesnake including the one who was hanging in our driveway on move in day. (NI actually love the rattlesnakes, just not, ya know, near my baby)
Is there anything you miss about living in a more urban area?
Yes! Tons! Uber Eats, being walking distance to bars and restaurants and shops and friends, stores like Trader Joes and Whole Foods, reliable wifi, having packages delivered to my home and recycling picked up from my home, and the list can go on and on. There are some major trade-offs to the charms of rural living. But if it all easy then everyone would do it!
Would you ever consider moving back to the city?
I think I have found that I prefer smaller towns to big cities. However, I love moving and exploring new places and am open to whatever the future may hold.
Do you have any favorite places you would recommend to someone wanting to come explore your area?
Joshua Tree National Park is insanely wonderful and I would recommend focusing your time on exploring it. One of my favorite trails is Barker Dam, and you shouldn’t miss the Cholla Cactus garden, but the whole park is seriously gorgeous! The park is experiencing some major crowding issues though, so to avoid long lines and waits and the entrance gate, I recommend trying out the new Roadrunner shuttle system. For a super fun meal I recommend Pappy and Harriets, which is located in an old western movie set town. For a super delicious more fine dining experience, I recommend La Copine. Also worth checking out is the local art scene, some favs of mine are the World Famous Crochet Museum and Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum.
What are your future plans/goals for the coming year?
As my daughter grows older, I would like to focus more on bringing in some more income, as I feel like it is really stressful for my husband to be responsible for providing for all of us. But I want to do it creatively, I can’t imagine going back to an 8:00-5:00 office job. I plan to devote more time to both my work at the Joshua Tree House and to my poor neglected blog .