6 More Overlanders Tell Us Their Pan-American Stories
What Inspired Them to Travel the World’s Longest Highway?
Welcome to our second post in the series, where overlanders share their stories about what inspired them to travel the Pan-American Highway. There are many reasons to take this route from Alaska to Ushuaia, and they are as varied as the people who choose to follow it.
Once again, we have a mix of ages from a young, adventurous French-Canadian woman travelling solo, to a German couple choosing to follow their dreams since their children have grown and become independent. There is also a mix of nationalities, including some ‘neighbours’ from New Zealand and a Turkish couple taking the drive on a motor bike. The group is rounded out by a US American couple who travel with Jaeger, their old Labrador, and a British couple on bikes.
We enjoyed reading their stories and we hope you do to.
The Traveling Beast – Joanie planning to take off in her Jeep, solo
Bonjour! My name is Joanie and I’m French Canadian. My journey began with what was meant to be a weekend road trip with a friend back in 2014, but she ended up bailing on me at the last minute. Normally, I would have stayed home watching Netflix, but for some reason, something clicked in my head and I decided to go by myself instead.
I had never really done anything by myself before; I didn’t think I could or that I would enjoy it, but I had so much fun and met so many people that I decided to step it up and drive across Canada by myself, equipped only with a tent and a backpack full of camping gear. I was hooked!
This first big adventure lasted only two weeks, but learning that I could do things like that by myself really boosted my self-confidence. I could do anything I wanted to! I needed to do more so, during the next year, I went across most of the mainland United States, met so many awesome people along the way, and saw some amazing sights as well.
For a while I honestly thought that was it, but then came the idea in my mind: is it possible to drive to South America? I looked online and found that not only is there a lot of people doing that trip every year, but there is also so many communities of people traveling with their vehicle! So now my goal was clear, I bought a 2010 Jeep that I named Beauty and I modified it myself to sleep inside of it and store all my things neatly.
I’m a total nerd and had no experience at all with things like that, but it was important for me to do it myself and the overland community was a great inspiration! I am taking the winter to save some extra funds (I’m a programmer so I could work remotely along the way, but I will try to rely on my economies first), finish my preparations and I am leaving for my Pan-American solo journey in May 2018!
For now I only have Instagram , but I already registered the domain of the same name and it is one of the things I need to work on this winter.
WU-Tour – Wolfgang & Ulrike in a Sprinter
We are two Germans, married for 37 years, who quit their good and fulfilling jobs to travel full time, with no time limit; just as long as we are healthy enough and we enjoy it. We just found the right space in life to do so: our parents are all dead, and our children are grown-up. When we left, our youngest was still studying (but you can calculate these costs), but now they are financially independent. Our eldest is living in our house in Germany. So we have the same address, someone trustfully looking after our property, and managing our German affairs.
Although we planned our travelling originally as a world trip, we don’t mind if this doesn’t happen. When we were young, we went backpacking to countries in Asia, South Asia and quite a few Arabic countries. Later, with the children, to most European countries, US, Canada, Iceland and Morocco with various campers. So we are not inexperienced…
Starting two years before going to South America, we began to learn Spanish intensively (definitely worth learning the language of the countries you want to understand more about), and it helps to keep our brain trained.
Moneywise we have to fill in the gap until we get our pensions – but with a bit of arithmetic that can be calculated. For us our health insurance is the most expensive part but, being German, we love to have some security…
Long-term travelling was no spontaneous idea: we have always wanted to do something like this, so we just enjoy our lives at the moment – and the advantages of internet, which makes it easy to keep in close contact with the ones you love dearly.
You can follow Ulrike and Wolfgang on their website (in German, but Wolfgang takes some great photos, so even if you don’t understand the language it’s a visual pleasure).
Flightless Kiwis – back home after 3 years on the Pan-Am
We are the Flightless Kiwis, Ben and Emma (two New Zealanders) and our Guatemalan street dog, Kaylee. Our Pan-Am drive was our first overland trip, but we don’t expect it to be our last.
We were sick of the 9–5 and it seemed like time to do something a bit different. Ben wanted to go on a classic cross-country US road trip, Emma wanted to visit the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. So we compromised, sold most of our possessions, and hit the road to drive from Alaska to Argentina.
It is difficult to say what the best things we experienced on the trip were. There were a lot. Like three years’ worth. The whole thing was an unforgettable experience.
We walked on glaciers, climbed volcanoes and watched them erupt. We adopted a dog, learned a new language. We saw the majesty and fury of Mother Nature at her best and worst. We explored salt flats, ancient ruins, canyons and caves. Camped in valleys, deserts, jungles, mountains and golden, sandy beaches. Swam in rivers, lakes, oceans, lagoons, thermal springs and cool, clear underground pools. Navigated winding mountain passes, miles of open highway and dusty, nameless tracks. We wandered together through wild places, huge cities and tiny villages. It was an eventful three years.
Despite all this, the things that we keep remembering are the people we met. The silly little things that happened. The food we ate, the camp spots, the hundreds of sunrises and sunsets, the dogs who befriended us…
The worst thing we experienced? Preparing to come home, knowing that this adventure was over.
During our travels, the worst part was being away from home for the important life events of our friends and family. There were always day to day bad things that happened on our travels—it wasn’t some luxury cruise! Bad weather, nowhere to camp, medical problems, money troubles, bureaucracy. Sometimes it could be downright miserable. But facing negative experiences on our travels meant we grew and adapted and were better prepared for next time.
This trip has definitely changed our lives, for the better. We no longer feel tied to one place, to one job. We know what commodity is most important to us—our freedom.
We left home seeking a bit of a change, some adventure and excitement. Instead we found a new perspective on life, a whole community of like-minded friends, and a better understanding of who we are and what is important to us.
Emma ensures us, that she has the best intentions to one day finish their website Flightless Kiwis . You can find them on Facebook too!
The Traveling Together Journal – Amie & Matt & Jaeger, their old Labrador
We are Amie (from Washington State) and Matt Leichtfuss (from California). The two of us met many years ago at a small surf camp in Nicaragua.
A few years later we moved together to Maui, Hawaii. We met traveling, and once we settled into our lives together, we started to talk about where and how we would travel together. We made a list of countries and talked extensively about why we wanted to go to them.
We also had Jaeger, our old Labrador, to consider. At 13 years old, we didn’t want to put him through too many stressful flights. Getting in a car and driving somewhere became the obvious means of travel for our family.
The next most important thing was to be able to surf. Then we considered expenses. With these three major considerations, we chose to drive through Mexico and Central America. We looked to books and blogs, for what others had been spending to create a budget. We saved for 3 1/2 years for the trip. When it came time to leave, we set aside 15,000 for a truck and build. With the remainder at $50 a day we figured we could travel for 2 years. We spent way less on our vehicle, leaving us a cushion. After 506 days on the road, we stayed mostly on budget.
Neither of us had ever “overlanded” before, although both of us had done car camping road trips. While researching for our big trip, we learned the term that apparently the rest of the world had been using for this type of travel: OVERLANDING. Learning that one identifying word was very helpful in the planning process, and solved some problems we were having finding good information about the trip.
We are now completely addicted to this way of traveling. We chose to overland in a 4×4 Toyota pickup truck and built a camper on the back. We sleep inside with our 6 surfboards strapped above our heads and all our gear below, and we have been able to go everywhere we desired. We explored far off the beaten path for waves and waterfalls.
Long-term overlanding is not without its problems. When we got started, without us knowing, our brand new AGM solar battery was sulfated. Since we set up our solar ourselves and had never done it before, we spent the first two months very confused and frustrated, traveling around with a faulty system we had spent lots of money to set up. That was definitely the worst thing that happened to us, as it negatively impacted us daily for months.
When we started on this trip we thought we would buy property in Central America, maybe start a business in some surf town we fell in love with, but we became hooked on seeing all the beaches and mountains. We realized that we would maybe never find a forever spot. Along the road, we have decided to continue overlanding. We almost went to South America, since that’s what everyone else was doing. It sounded so attractive to just keep going. But ultimately, we did not build our rig for the cold temperatures that we would have experienced. We decided to return to California to work and save again, while building a global overland rig from the things we learned about traveling this way, and our needs.
AvVida: Life is an adventure for Kelvin & Suzie
We are Kelvin and Suzie, from Bristol in the UK, who set out on our motorcycles (two 1996 Suzuki DR650’s) from Bogota, Colombia in April 2017, having flown them from London.
Before this trip, we had only ever accomplished several two-week trips in Europe on our sports bikes. We fell in love with travelling and decided to trade our speed demons in (Honda CBR1000RR and Suzuki GSX-R 750) for our DR650’s.
We had talked about doing a ‘big’ trip for a while but hadn’t planned anything. Then, one evening in 2016, while eating an Indian takeaway and drinking vodka with our friend Fran, she asked, “so when are you two going to go travelling on your bikes”? Even though we knew we’d do it in a couple of years, something about being asked that just sparked off the desire to go sooner.
I booked us tickets to the ‘Adventure Travel Show’ in London, plus entry to the Adventure Motorcycle Travel seminar. It was sitting in that room that we decided on South America for our first big trip, primarily due to ease of visas. We then booked to go to the HUBB UK meeting in June 2016 and the Overland Event in August 2016, all of which fuelled our desire to get going. As soon as we got back from the Overland event we booked our flights to Bogota, Colombia for the 10th of April 2017…no backing out now.
So far, the best things about our trip have been the people of Colombia and Ecuador, and the friends we’ve made along the way. We have been fortunate that nothing really bad has happened. There’s been a few breakdowns, me getting thrown off my bike into a ditch (a little scary but nothing broken) and bad cheese! Oh what I would do for a good old cheese platter and some Jacob’s crackers!
So, how has our trip influenced our lives? When we do get home we’ll probably throw away a lot of needless stuff and we both now know we love the life of motorcycle travel, so we’ll aim to see as much of the world as we can over the years. Obviously, we’ll need to work to save and then set off again, but it’s a great goal, and having a taste of it fuels the motivation.
Budget…we have about £42 a day budget, and that includes everything (fuel, accommodation, food, repairs etc.) We have blown it with the repairs to my bike but we hope to save a lot by doing a ‘work-away’.
Ayfer & Onur – bikers from Turkey
My name is Onur and my wife’s name is Ayfer. We are from Turkey and travelled from Alaska to Ushuaia with our motorcycle. We started our dream adventure in July 2016 from United States and finished the Americas part of the adventure in June 2017 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
We had done several trips to South America and Asia as backpackers but none of them longer than couple weeks. The inspiration for a longer trip built up in our first South America visit after meeting many overlanders. It was a dream initially and we lived with this dream from 2009 till 2016.
Along the trip, we met lots of travelers that we have bonded with for life; and met lots of local people to learn their lives, share their moments, and think about their lives. We have seen deserts, glaciers, falls, lakes and many beautiful places while we passed along some of the challenging roads with a loaded motorcycle. We have seen snow, rain and sun almost all seasons along the trip and tried to enjoy even during the tough conditions. As we said, always we dropped the bike but we picked up and continue forward. Never think to go back.
Here is one of the good memories that we never forget. We met a group of Peruvian and Ecuadorian riders around Baños, Ecuador. We had a problem with our rear tire and needed to replace but we did not find any tire to fit our motorcycle in Southern Ecuador. We saw that we can make it to Piura, Peru where these riders were from. We sent a message if they can find a tire and got a response quickly. They invited us to Piura and they had already found the tire. We made it to Piura. One of the riders that we met picked us up, then met with couple more riders and took us to lunch first. At the same time, another rider brought our tire to a mechanic. They replaced the tire and washed the motorcycle. We were speechless about everything. They also asked us to stay for a night and have a dinner together. Of course, we accepted the offer and had a long night with many riders. :) One of the riders hosted us at his home. He guided us out of Piura in the morning. Their humanity, help, and kindness are unforgettable.
The worst memory is when we lost our way in Mexico in heavy rain, small roads with potholes full of water and it turned into night. We did not find any place to stay and just continued to reach our destination. We saw many police and military engaging inside the fields while we were moving in the dark on small roads. It was the worst night or memory of our trip, but reached our destination safely. We learnt our lesson to find a place around 4 PM if the weather is not good and don’t trust the GPS.
We learnt that we can live minimally and simply; we are more patient and creative, feeling happy with small things. We developed confidence and we know what we want for our future much clearer than before.
The financial support is our savings for many years especially for this trip. There was no sponsorship during our trip. Our daily average for 2 people was 65 USD during this 11 month trip.
This post is part of our series of Pan-Am overlander interviews:
Part 1 of this series: What inspired you to travel the Pan-American Highway?
This post is part 2 of this series.
Part 3 of this series: Inspiration for the New Year from PanAm Overlanders
Part 4 of this series: Further Inspiration to Travel the Pan-American Highway
One thing these amazing stories showed us: whatever stage of life you’re in, these overlanders are here to encourage you to think about a road trip. There’s no better time than now to start planning! It doesn’t have to be as long as some of the featured journeys, the important thing is that you go out and experience new things, fuel “your batteries”, and broaden your horizons!
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!
Would you have expected to find such a variety of international overlanders on the Pan-Am?
Now, after reading these amazing stories, when will you pack up and go on a road trip?
Tell us in the comments below!