Inspiration for the New Year from PanAm Overlanders
A New Year is upon us. We thought it a good time to bring you the 3rd post in our series, where we share stories from overlanders. They answer the question: What inspired you to travel the Pan-American Highway?
Here are 6 new stories: North Americans, Argentineans and Dutch; in a variety of vehicles, including a ‘Beetle’; from retired couples to a young family. All have different reasons and different experiences that they share here.
We hope you will find inspiration from them to live your own dreams this year.
Llevados por el Viento – Guided by the Wind in a ‘Fusca’
We are Jor (Jorgelina, 31) and Gonza (Gonzalo, 38), a couple from Argentina, who decided three years ago to leave our comfortable lives in a small town in South Brazil to travel the Americas. Unlike many people, we had cool and fun jobs… but it just was not enough for us, to save some bucks every year and travel for a few weeks. Traveling became our absolute passion and so eventually we had to try out living constantly on the road.
We already had a VW Bug, a 1980 ‘Fusca’ (as they call it in Brazil) and the decision to travel in it was pretty quick and without much thought. To be honest, we did not want to spend more money on a newer but unknown car (we had the bug already for 10 years) and we also did not want to spend much more time, either saving money or preparing a new ride for our adventure.
A 1000 days have passed, and we are still rolling and living happily on board our Beetle. A few weeks after we began the trip, we already knew we wanted to keep going, so slowly we started to update our car with furniture, appliances, a roof top tent, etc… We learned by need, what we wanted and really needed.
Nothing bad has ever really happened to us, except many mechanic problems, due to the mileage and age of the Bug. But we have always learned from them, and it has usually brought a lot of friends into our lives. A classic VW will always attract attention; many good, kind people approach us and offer us meals, lodging, gas or just want to get a picture taken with us and the Fusca.
We left to the unfamiliar territory of Brazil to embark on an unlimited journey. Although, for now it is meant to be only in the Americas, time has stopped being a variable. The day was March 21st 10.00 am local time and the first 48 hours were essential, since it was then that our most important lessons of the trip already occurred.
On the highway, while Jor was driving and Gonza taking a nap, a strong bang was heard from the back left: our tire had literally left the car, with the screws and everything gone!!! It was Sunday afternoon, so our expectation of finding a tire shop open was low. Jor hitchhiked into the next town, found the home of the tire-man and came back with a used tire to replace our broken one. In two hours we were back on the road, and the lessons learned were vital. First: do not fear to ask for help, as most people are very willing to help out travelers. Second: you can never be too prepared; shit happens and you need to be prepared for exactly that.
Exploring the World – in a variety of ways
We, Betty and Gerard, are an “older” couple from the Netherlands. When we were young we didn’t have the opportunity to travel. We started a family and worked till we were around fifty. At last we had the possibility (time & money) to realize our travel dreams.
First we walked a long distance path (E2) from the Netherlands through the Alps to the Mediterranean (2.400 km). It changed our pace and orientation in life.
That went on while travelling in Europe with a VW-Camper and during our desert trips in Tunisia, Morocco and Mauritania in a Toyota Landcruiser HZJ78.
In 2002 we bought a Toyota Landcruiser HDJ100 and had it rebuilt into a tiny campervan. This way we had the ultimate combination of driving comfortably and an excellent off-road vehicle: TOY!
Since then we have been exploring the world: Libya; South America (Venezuela, Brasil, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina); more sand dune-trips in the most beautiful place of the world, the Sahara-desert; all around Africa (East down and West up); Mongolia (Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan); the Middle East (Turkey, Syria); Australia all over the place, and from there we drove back home via East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey & Europe; and last year we made a roundtrip on Iceland.
Now we’ll go back to South America. In 2002 we had an expedition-like driving experience. This trip, however, we want to take our time going up on the Pan Americana. Travel some months and go home some months to spend time with our children and grandchildren.
We love the encounters with people, as well as driving and being together in breathtaking places.
And the worst thing that happened to us? In East Timor a rat (on the ship from Australia to East Timor) had bitten all of the most important wires. It was a mess! But we had the luck of finding an excellent mechanic. After a week we could drive again.
To travel like we do, you have to be flexible and inventive. But being open and trustworthy leads to real deep moments of joy. It is fascinating to witness a tiny bit of other cultures. And most of all: we feel privileged to experience the beauty of our planet, but also to recognize her vulnerability…
In general, we do some very rough budgeting. Our expenses fluctuate between €25 and €60 pp/day.
Betty and Gerard maintain an extensive website in Dutch on ExploringTheWorld .
TerraTrekkers – a young family, adventuring around the globe
We are Sonja and Chris from Seattle (United States) and we’re traveling south to Ushuaia with our children Ben (age 6) and Emma (age 3) in our Toyota Tundra with Four Wheel (pop-up) Camper.
We’re doing the route fairly quickly: we left home in June, and joyfully raced south to meet up with family members who flew into Southern Chile for Christmas. We’ll then spend another month exploring Patagonia before selling our vehicle and then traveling on to Asia, the Middle East, and Europe by plane.
We broke our trip into two segments: In 2016 we drove from Seattle to Prudhoe Bay (Alaska) as a ‘test trip’ to see if we could tolerate being together (in such a small space!) for extended periods of time. We loved it, although it was definitely an easier adventure as Chris originally hails from Alaska and we have family in both Anchorage and Fairbanks. This year we pointed the truck south to finish the remainder of the journey.
Chris and I have always enjoyed adventurous travel and we’d talked about a trip like this for at least the last decade. But we were always busy with work, renovating an old house, and eventually having children. One day we looked at each other and said: “Are we going to make it a reality, or should we just table the discussion for the next 25 years until careers are waning and children grown?” That pushed us into active planning and saving mode, although we didn’t depart until more than three years later.
One thing that kept us going with planning and saving was reading about the adventures of other overlanders on their blogs. We particularly loved Flightless Kiwis (From Series 1!), not only because they have the same (excellent) names as our children, but also because they’re quite witty and take amazing photographs. Desk to Glory is another favorite, written by a fantastic Canadian couple.
Our savings plan, plus the fact that we rent our house on Airbnb, are what have funded the trip (and allowed for a ‘re-entry fund’ for when we return home). For a long time, during our preparation phase, I almost didn’t believe that our plans would reach fruition. We dubbed it “GA17” (The Grand Adventure of 2017) and talked about it in secret, late at night.
In hindsight, I wish we had longer for the Americas – 8 months seems criminally short. Our favorite times of the trip have been when we’ve been able to settle down and re-establish our comfortable daily routines. In Costa Rica we rented a house and the kids attended local schools for a few weeks. They loved having other peers around, and we enjoyed having a bit of child-free time! Naturally, a trip like this is all about compromises: we don’t do as much hiking as I’d like and my son really wishes we’d visit more water parks.
We’ve had our fair share of ups and downs (the camper can feel very small with four people, particularly when it’s hot and humid!), but by far my favorite part of this trip has been watching our two children really come together as buddies and confidants; I hope it continues after we return to Seattle. We feel very lucky to have been able to embark on this adventure and look forward to seeing what’s around the next curve in the road. Happy travelling!
John and Mandi – Us —> Van —> Overland
Like most U.S. citizens, Mandi and I (John) were wholeheartedly committed to achieving the American Dream until a business trip in 2008 altered our course, eventually landing us on the Pan-American Highway. It is a convoluted story, much like our route, which can be tracked back to a tiny cafe in the small town of Apalachicola, Florida, just outside of our former hometown of Tallahassee. Truth be told, when we first heard of Luis and Lacey (Lost World Expedition ) and their then current drive through the Americas, we thought they were nuts. Approximately four years later, 7 since the fateful business trip, we set off on our own journey along the Pan-American Highway on the 2nd of May, 2015.
Before this trip, our travel experience was non-existent, cruises being our predominant exposure to foreign lands. While we had camped for years, starting with a ground tent and progressing through several different RVs, the idea of full-time living out of a 4×4 vehicle had never been considered. Hell, our passports didn’t even have a single stamp, yet driving through multiple continents, and personally meeting our neighbors to the south, has proved to be the proper segue to changing the way we live.
Two and a half years into our journey, we can absolutely attest that a trip such as the Pan-American Highway has an immense impact, in many ways more profound than we could have ever imagined. Our desires became evident well before the first mile was driven and evolve as we progress. At first, like so many others, we felt the need to press on and to experience as much as we could. Now we refuse to forsake a place, or moment, for the sake of another. We also avoid big cities, much like back in the U.S., realizing we have never fully felt at home in them. Maybe it’s because both of our lives began rooted in small towns, nurture proving a lasting impression deep within our psyche. The many truths and agonies that have percolated up while we have been traveling are a testament to travel itself, possibly becoming one of the greatest benefits. Bearing witness to the lives of others has shaped our world view, the kindness we have received has touched us, unimaginably so.
There have been times that had us questioning our commitment to this endeavor, breakdowns being the biggest bane to our lifestyle. Living in almost perpetual motion may not be for everyone, but for those of us who have succumbed to its embrace, it’s hard to imagine any other. Not every sunset is phenomenal, or place remarkable, and we have witnessed strife between different groups of people while simultaneously receiving the utmost of care from both of those same groups. We have grown to fully trust our instincts and are slowly getting better at accepting kindness, an unexpected struggle. When asked which our favorite place is or what our favorite experience was, we have no answer. While there are many standouts, our journey is the sum of its parts.
Looking back, we too can see how absurd it may seem to sell all of your belongings to drive from Alaska to Argentina. Our estimated travel budget of $80 per day took a lot of sacrifices over the 7 years we saved. Working two jobs, paring down to one vehicle, no television, spending almost every night in our home…the eventuality of walking away from pretty much everything we’ve ever known. It cannot be articulated, the allure of overlanding, living in a rolling 66 square foot home.
Joe & Josée’s Journey – life’s too short…
We are Joe and Josée Parsons, retired US and Canadian couple. In 2014 we decided that life was too short and that we wanted to see the world while we were still “young” and healthy. But how, was the question! We had to find a way to travel, that we could afford and that was relatively comfortable.
It all came together when we saw a video of a German couple, who originally left on an 18 month overland trip to Africa and were still on the road 23 years later! We discovered a new word that opened the doors to a whole new world: OVERLAND. It was perfect for us.
Since Joe was already retired, Josée quit her job! We put our dream home up for sale, sold or gave away everything we owned, and registered for Overland Expo. We took a bunch of classes, met wonderful people, got inspired and confirmed that we were not crazy. Our house sold in January of 2015 and we put a deposit on our new home, a V1 XPCamper. There was no turning back!
We left Florida on May 5, 2015, in our truck; attended another Overland Expo; tent camped and stayed in Motels along the way until we picked up our XPCamper in Northern California. We have been enjoying the Camper Lifestyle ever since.
We figured that our first journey should be in our own backyard so the Pan-American Highway came as a natural choice. Not having to return, we travel very slowly with as many detours as possible, we are currently exploring Ecuador. After the Americas we will ship our rig, Silver, to another continent … we just don’t know which one yet!
We had no prior camping or overland experience besides Josée’s European road trip from Paris to the Greek islands and back in a Citroen 2CV in 1984!
The most surprising part of our new lifestyle, is the people! Joe’s law enforcement background conditioned him to expect security issues! We have since realized that 99% of people are kind, helpful and caring. On a social level, we never imagined that we would have more friends than we did before. Meeting other overlanders and people along the way has been extraordinary; we really feel like we are part of a big family!
Being away from friends and family is probably the hardest part, but we have our grandchildren visit us for a month during school breaks. We came to the conclusion that spending quality time with them in a different country every year would enrich their lives on a much deeper level in the long run… And we go home for the holidays.
We have found that a minimalist nomadic lifestyle, filled with adventures, is a lot cheaper than a conventional life in the US or Canada. Joe’s pension covers all our expenses. Another reason to keep going until we can’t or we get tired of it!
Until then … see you down the road!
Down the Line – surf & travel
After traveling together throughout the years to various parts of the world, we came across the idea of driving to South America. The fact that there is a road that spans from the US to Argentina is a major incentive. Ingrid and I (Matty) both surf, and having been to Peru, mildly exploring the coastline, we knew the potential of what was in store for us. Both Central and South America have a high concentration of consistent and quality breaks, on par with the best in the world. Before we left, we were approaching a fork where it was either settle down and have kids, or set out on a great adventure in order to strengthen our bond and further our relationship. We both come from adventurous parents, certainly they were inspirations and great supporters of us then and now.
The inspiration changes, starting from what initially motivated us to pack the van, compared to what drives us on. Most withstand, but after 2 1/2 years, what you scheme up as various outcomes and dream scenarios are replaced by the real experience. I can tell you that whatever you imagine will be greatly exceeded.
One or two of many high points would be crossing the border into Mexico, finally looking at the US from the outside. Then crossing from Baja to Mazatlan and being in mainland Mexico for the first time. Our greatest low came early on in Baja when the overlanding community lost two great travelers and surfers from Australia as they were abducted, executed, and left for dead in their burnt out van. We had just met them and were on a similar route as were so many others at the time; it shook us to the core.
Thinking about it, there are 3 types of inspiration relative to our choice in lifestyle. What previous personal experiences aided us to go for it, what we came across while researching van life and long term travel, and what has happened along the way. As a teenager my father took me on a trip to Guatemala, it made a great impression on me. While we were researching, we came across world travelers, Gunther and Christine, and Otto, their G-class Mercedes Benz. Also Ben and his dog traveling from Chile to Alaska in a Kombi called Co’Pito. We are currently inspired by the culture and people of Colombia and the fact that we are in a country that borders Peru. Snow inspires us. Mountains inspire us. The local radio inspires us. Cheap menus inspire us. Nice hostels inspire us. The experience inspires us.
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!
Has this series of overlander stories inspired you to plan your next trip?
Would you consider driving the PanAmerican Highway (or any other famous overland route) in your own vehicle?
Or do you prefer to travel in a more conventional way; by plane, bus, or cruise ship?