What inspired you to travel the Pan-American Highway?
6 International Overlanders Tell Their Stories
We’ve been asked this question many times on our travels. Our original inspiration was to see the Americas, slowly and completely, rather than on a series of short holidays. Flights from Australia are expensive and you can’t see much in 4-6 weeks. We discovered it gave us so much more than that. It gave us a new way of life. So we’ve asked fellow overlanders tell us: What inspired you to travel the Pan-American Highway?
They were asked to consider various questions including the impact it has on their lives – present and future. For us, this is the most significant consequence of living the life we do. During our first trip from Alaska to Patagonia , we found that life feels like it passes more slowly. Somehow, when you are out of a routine and making many different memories every day, a month can feel like a year. You don’t hear us say: Wow, this year went really fast!
We also discovered that it was financially expedient; we can live on much less on the road than we can in our home country. One of the reasons for returning to South America for a second time was that we had reached an age where jobs are hard to come by in Australia and the cost of living had significantly increased. So, while we travel on our savings, we can stretch them much further.
So, let’s hear what inspired these overlanders to travel the Pan-American Highway.
For No Particular Reason – Mia & Axel Ripping South
On a fateful day in May 2016, my brother Axel and I were about to part ways for ‘who knows how long’, after unsuccessfully breaking my mini pickup truck out of the gated mechanics, when a stranger came along and unknowingly changed the course of both of our lives forever.
After an awesome visit from Axel up on the farm I was crewing in Washington, it was time for him to head back to his truck in Portland and onto his then home in Gunnison, Colorado. I had offered to give him and his motorcycle a ride back down south if I could get my truck out of the locked and gated mechanics. So, we hopped on our bikes and ripped over to the shop to see what could be done. After a good half hour of scheming we had come to the conclusion that my truck was not going anywhere. Just as Ax was about to jump on his bike and peel out for good, a random guy showed up and OPENED THE FREAKING GATE.
It was on this ride from nowhere Washington to Portland, Oregon that we hatched a contender for the simplest plan in the history of simple plans: to ride our dirt bikes south as far as we could go.
Growing up primarily riding track and trails, we had very little experience on the road, but ever since I can remember it’s been a dream to rip south on two wheels. Back in the 90s our folks took me (the oldest) and my 3 other siblings on a long road trip from Colorado, where we grew up, through Mexico, Guatemala and into Honduras. My brother Axel, who is a decade younger than me, was still in diapers, so I’m sure he remembers nothing whereas I got a nice taste for the possibilities.
On January 21st 2017, we set out on 2 Honda XR dirt bikes into Baja without the slightest clue what overlanding was all about. I have to say, it went better than I could have dreamed. I don’t think I’ll ever travel any other way.
We have had all sorts of ups and downs including some good crashes, lots of break-downs and a few painful ‘food incidents’. But the downer that takes the cake for longest span of low morale was forgetting to stamp our TIPs when crossing the border into Mexico, and attempting to lie to the immigration officers down in La Paz. I wrote a nice long post about how stupid we were. Basically, we were almost deported.
The best parts, which completely overwhelm any and all downers, are thanks to the kind and generous people who have turned up like angels and Fairy-God…Mechanics, just when we needed them. Did I mention the mechanics? So many times we have been in a compromising situation, completely screwed with literally no way forward and, without fail, we are always rescued by selfless, benevolent human beings. It is amazing.
As we continue to head south from Ecuador on our way to the end of the world, trying our darndest to stay off the highways, I truly look forward to breaking more shit on my motorcycle and forming long-lasting friendships with the awesome people who will no doubt save our day.
The Drive About – European René
I’m René, 40 years old from Italy, where I have lived most of my life. But, more than Italian, I consider myself European, since both of my parents are foreigners (Swiss and Dutch).
I am travelling solo in my 4×4 from Alaska to Patagonia. I started the trip in June 2016 in Seattle; went up to Alaska and now I am in Ecuador, very close to the Peruvian border.
I travel in a Toyota Landcruiser HZJ76 that I shipped from Italy to Tacoma (US West Coast). It is not my first time on a big trip (I have been backpacking in Asia and Australia for 2 years in 2007-2009) but it is the first time that I am overlanding.
At first, when planning the trip, the biggest concern was bureaucracy (border crossings, import permits and car insurance); but once on the road I found out that bureaucracy was not a big issue, at least on this side of the world!
I am a travel addict and I find that overlanding, be it on a bicycle or a bike, in a car or a truck, gives you a huge freedom; something that I had not experienced when I was backpacking. It’s great to be able to go almost anywhere there is a road, to stop for pictures or for a cool overnight camp spot.
North, Central and South-America are new territories for me and that’s why I have decided to travel in this region. So far it has been fantastic. I love the great outdoors and, because of that, my highlights so far have been the Arctic region and the Western part of the US. Now I am looking forward for some great hiking in Perú.
When you travel, every day is different; it is a new experience, and this is what it makes special to me. I hate routine. Going back to “normal” life will be difficult, I already know, but at the moment I am not thinking too much about it. I live in the present and try to enjoy every single day as much as possible.
To finance the trip I am using my savings. I have decided to focus on travel and see as many things as possible. I consider this trip a unique opportunity in my life and I want to take full advantage of it.
I have been travelling for 1 year and 5 months so far and I expect to be on the road for another 8 to 10 months. I have just started South America!
Tucks’ Truck – 2 Brits in a Truck
Hi. We’re Marcus and Julie Tuck, some of the very few Brits on the road in South America. Can’t understand why more Brits don’t come to this fabulous overlanders’ continent! After touring Africa and Europe, we spent 5 weeks at sea, sailing on a freight-ship with our trusty truck Cuthbert to Montevideo. Over two years in South America and many adventures later, we’re about to ship to Panama for the next phase: Central America. Curious?
Here’s our FAQs:
Why do we do this? Because life’s too short not to. Because no one ever looked back on their life and wished they’d spent more time at work.
Is it stress-free? What’s to stress about? Should we drive today… or stay put? Okay… if we’re honest… there’s occasionally the odd mega-stress scenario, e.g. our ‘worst moment’ below, something to look back and laugh at, (much) later down the road?
But isn’t it dangerous? No more dangerous than life anywhere else in the world. Just use your nog. Don’t do silly stuff. Enjoy.
Best moment so far? Hmmm… so many to choose from… sitting with mountain gorillas in Rwanda… wandering amongst penguins in Antarctica… watching giant 2 metre wide leatherback turtles laying eggs on the beach in French Guiana… swimming with pink river dolphins in the Amazon… showing the jungle kids in Suriname their first drone flight.
Worst moment? Sinking Cuthbert into a swamp on a beach of volcanic ash in Chile, when the tide was coming in! Or maybe sitting-out a severe tropical storm in Africa, watching buildings disintegrate around us with rooves blowing away and Cuthbert rocking violently in the gale-force winds.
How do you afford it? Work hard. Save. Choose your vehicle carefully. Travel to affordable places. And the biggie…. travel slowly, don’t drive too far each day (fuel is the biggest budget drain).
Boots and Coffee – Retired US Couple Heading to Panama
We are Sharon Benzil and Roque Gerald who, together with Gertie and Wolfie (our rig) are BootsandCoffee.com. We are a retired, married couple, who started our first overland adventure – our Pan-American journey – 10 months (and 40,000+ miles) ago in Washington, DC with Panama, Central America as our first “goal” destination.
Roque and I found each other relatively late in life, having been married and had children before meeting each other. Because we found the true loves of our lives recently, and due to significant personal challenges (including surviving colon cancer and losing our 18 year old daughter), we have strived to celebrate each other and each day to the extent we can.
Inspired by Roque’s father, who always wished to drive from Panama to Alaska (but who made it only to NY for the 1964 World’s Fair) and by an Argentine family who traveled to visit the Pope in Philadelphia several years ago, we decided to explore the possibility of driving to Panama, where we believe we may settle in retirement. As we began to explore the feasibility of this kind of road trip, we learned of the many others who overland on the Pan American Highway (and elsewhere) and our eyes were opened to the world of overlanding travel.
We are an inter-racial, inter-ethnic and inter-religious couple who are somewhat older than many of the “typical” Pan American highway travelers. We believe that a road trip of this sort is an extraordinary opportunity to experience local cultures and people along our way and that this trip needed to be done while we still had the stamina and physical health needed to drive long distances and survive and thrive in less-than-perfect circumstances. We also believed that this trip would bring purpose to our lives and allow for a transition into our retirement lifestyle and income, opening our eyes to new experiences and new possibilities. It has been a way to sleep with 360 degree views of glaciers and 24 hour sunlight north of the Arctic Circle. It is a way to change our backyard anytime we choose!
Most of our research on overland travel was based in the blogs of Pan American highway travelers. Because we represent a slightly different type of traveler than most overlanders on the Pan American Highway, we pledged to “pay it forward” by starting a blog of our own. Our blog is focused on our reflections as we travel and not on the “day to day” experiences – we use FB for those sorts of posts. It is our hope that readers of our blog will imagine their own possibilities for exploration, whether on a road trip, another country or just the town next door.
El AntiTour – un Viaje de Vuelte a Casa
We are Pilar (29) and Jorge (35), an Argentinian couple from a small town about 200 km from Buenos Aires called General Belgrano. Pilar is an English-Spanish translator and Jorge is a lawyer.
Back home we were living quiet lives, but getting increasingly tired of just working to pay the bills. Then, in 2015, tragedy struck when Jorge’s father passed away. That sudden change in his life, along with us having become more and more unsatisfied with our professional lives, helped us make the decision to leave Argentina and go to Europe.
We didn’t have much of a plan, we just landed in Rome (we both have Italian passports as well) and spent a couple of weeks sightseeing. One thing led to the other and what was supposed to be a short getaway trip ended up being a 1-year adventure around Europe. We volunteered on farms, housesat in dozens of homes, met amazing people and saw beautiful cities all around the continent.
When we were visiting my cousin in the UK we decided it was maybe time to settle down for a while and start refilling our savings (which were pretty low at this point!). So we did just that: we both got jobs in Oxford and moved there for what ended up being 1 year and a half.
We knew we didn’t want to live in England for a long time (that weather!) and we were saving up, we just had no idea what our next step should be. Then one day Jorge heard a couple on the radio that was on their Panamerican journey. We instantly got excited about the idea, though it seemed so difficult logistically that we thought we’d never do it. But the idea sort of got stuck and we started researching how we could go around doing it.
We had no previous overland experiences at all – and our vehicle knowledge is pretty much non-existent. So we just did as much research as we could and found a Toyota motorhome model we liked (not too fast but cheap on gas!). We then called dozens of people in Canada until one lovely couple was kind enough to keep it for us with no deposit involved until we flew from the UK.
We started the trip in June and we’ve already traveled all around Alberta and British Columbia in Canada, and Washington, Oregon and California in the US. We are getting down to Mexico next month and couldn’t be more excited about it!
On the financial side, we are currently living off our savings we worked for in England. We have started a blog we are trying to monetize and where we plan on creating a few products, such as travel guides from our European adventures and a few design print-outs.
So far, the journey has been non-stop life lessons! We’ve had to learn about oil changes, engine sounds, electrical, plumbing, etc. We’ve minimized our lives to the maximum and we are slowly learning to live with less, which we are happily embracing. But most of all I think we’ve been learning how to be more flexible: I (Pilar) am one of those control freaks that likes to know what’s going to happen every step of the way. This journey is definitely showing me there is no way you can do that! The road surprises you all the time (with good and bad things) and keeping an open mind is the best thing you can do.
You can learn more about the travel adventures of Pilar and Jorge on their website or follow them on Facebook ! For other social media links, like Instagram and Pinterest, please visit the website of El AntiTour.
Lucana & Merce – an Unusual, Adventurous Pair from Colombia
The numerous problems I encountered whilst preparing Merce for her long voyages, never made me take them as an omen to give up on a project. Since 2006 however, my dreams-trips-challenges permeated my soul.
Every project (South America – North America) started as great endeavors do – with inner and outer conflicts; but time put them all in their proper place.
I learnt a lot from coping with my own fears and my apprehensions regarding my Merce, on who I was to depend. Eventually, I got to know how to listen to it, to understand it and in the end govern it.
During my 2 journeys I met extremely kind and supportive people, who became my friends and part of my adventure. Their invaluable assistance was a really great blessing.
The most important experience was – for the first time in my life – to take delight in my solitude and to discover that I can find peace by myself and within myself.
Whenever I felt fragile confronting the outside world, I felt safe within myself, unreachable and invulnerable. Now I am convinced that this has been the true meaning of my journeys, all the way.
Please note: all photos as part of the individual overlander portraits were submitted by these travellers and are the intellectual COPYRIGHT of these individuals. Please never copy without their permission!
Which of the above overlanders inspired you the most?
Now, after reading these amazing stories, would you want to travel the Pan-American Highway?
Tell us in the comments below!