A Van + 5 People + 1 Dog + 19,000 Miles?
We met the Traveling Yorks last year in Park City at the shop. Their enthusiasm, optimism and love of travel is certainly contagious. You don't get to meet too many people with courage enough to take their children around the world, 17 countries, starting with Africa for "on the road schooling." More like an education of a lifetime! We asked Rebecca to share with us their latest adventure, Overlanding the Pan-American Highway from Alaska to Argentina, with their 3 teenage daughters and family dog. All we could think was - WOW!
Make sure to follow these guys on their adventures on Instagram!
First Rebecca answers our Indigo Highway Q + A.
- Please share with us your favorite travel memory: Our entire 17 country, round the world trip with our daughters will always rank as our favorite memory.
- Is there a favorite meal or food experience that stands our in your mind? At a market in Ecuador we had the best succulent roasted pig with hominy, lettuce and tomatoes for $1.75 US. We ate there twice. And then ordered some to go. Best meal ever. Our entire family at for less than $10.
- Do you have 3 essential items you always have packed in your carry on? iPhone, chargers and journal.
- What fuels your wanderlust and love of adventure? Zest for diverse culture and people. The foreign is enchanting.
- Do you have a favorite book or movie about travel? Kite Runner. Not so much for travel as it cultural explorative. I feel in deep curiosity with the Middle East after reading.
- What's next on your bucket list? After our Overlanding trip, we'll be re-doing suburbia for a bit but a Morocco adventure is in the works.
Overlanding...Not for Everyone!
We are a passport-blooded family. My daughters were international before they were one. We've traveled ever since. Then in 2015-2016 we sold everything to travel full time on a round-the-world trip (another story, entirely). Afterwards, we settled in Park City, Utah. While we loved being back within a community, our wanderlust stirred like a caged beast. So? Spring of 2017, we decided to delete our home life (again) and set out to explore more of the world. This time: Overland.
Overlanding is defined as self-reliant land travel to remote destinations where the journey is the principle goal. Like vagabonding but in a van.
We bought a Sportsmobile, put our things back in storage, hooked up a pop-up trailer and set off to drive the Pan-American Highway from Alaska to Argentina. We left Utah in April. We visited friends and family in FL, Louisiana, Michigan and AZ before officially making our way towards the Northern route of Pan-American Highway, camping through Idaho, Montana, British Columbia, Yukon Territory, spending the summer in Alaska before heading back down the Pacific Coast Highway through Washington, Oregon and California.
So let me first digress. We are not gypsies by trade. While we do indulge our wanderlust, we live in suburbia, drive SUV’s, work, travel, recycle. We firstheard of “overlanding” from a Colorado couple we met in South Africa who spends several months a year traveling throughout Africa in a Land Rover. While we were on a 3 week self-drive safari ourselves through 3 African countries, we had never heard of Overlanding- especially long term. It was rare, exotic and mysteriously underground. So when we decided to travel again, Overlanding came to mind! We went to an Overlanding Expo, bought an Overlanding magazine and we we’re in.
We traveled through mountains, back country roads, and swam in off-the-grid hot springs. Our girls fished salmon, hiked glaciers, made fires, and built leaf-n-stick teepees. We’ve had starry nights in British Columbia, and no night-nights in Alaska. Spectacular sunrises with Musk Ox in Purdhoe Bay, freezing dips into the Arctic Ocean, and did a petrified-human-toe shot in Dawson City, Yukon - among many things. And not to mention our sportsmobile is an ever and constant celebrity. From gas stations, to camp-grounds, to parking lots, to Harley riders giving thumbs up, people flock, comment, gaze, photograph and question our Zombie-Apocolypse-Mobile. It’s cool and tough and renegade. “We are doing this! We’ve got this! We are overlanders!” We boasted.
However – with a big swooshing comma. Let’s be real here. Overlanding is not for everyone and our zeal was short-lived. While my Instagram boasts my husband’s glamorous clam linguine, family game night around the campfire, off-roading through rivers, our kids Huck-Finn childhoods, or exploring small-town markets– a family of 5, traveling, eating, breathing, living and camping together 24/7 is claustrophobic at best and a nightmare at worst.
At any single moment of the day, one – if not all, of the events are happening:
1. Our daughters hate us or each other
2. Something is missing
3. Something is breaking
4. Someone is whining
5. Someone is screaming
6. Someone is crying
7. Someone is annoyed
8. Someone has to go to the bathroom RIGHT AFTER we JUST STOPPED to go to the DAMN BATHROOM!
9. We are eating junk snacks from a gas-station
10. We’re cracking a drink open by noon
This is where I begin to hallucinate about those poor women who pioneered across the American plains in wagons. No cell, no GPS, no #wolves-attacked-today-but-we-survived social-media updates, no DVD’s, Netlix, or even a “Traveling Fun" app. “How much longer?” Their children would whine from back of the wagon. “Oh, about 6 more months or so. Who knows! Isn’t this a fun adventure?” She’d desperately try and persuadeherself and her children.
And we pitch ourselves the same desperate way. “We don’t need running water!” “Houses are over-rated!” "We’re living one with nature!” “Wow! We’re showing our daughters so much of this beautiful world!” As we poop in outhouses and haven't showered in days. We bite our lips as we squeeze past each other in our glorious 20 square feet. We are on edge, on fire, and ready to snap as we navigate each day’s challenges, wonder, beauty, and break-downs. Every scene is downright homicidal (Oops! I meant comical, every scene is comical).
I once read a book on Navy Seals and during their intense and hell-like training that there is a bell you can ring to call it quits. If pushed beyond your limit, you simply walk (or crawl) to the bell and ring it. And you’re done. No questions asked. You’re out. When overlanding? WE ALL THE RING THE BELL. Every single day we ring the bell.
We can’t take it. RING!
We want to quit. RING!
We hate overlanding. RING!
We’re sick of camping. RING!
Get us out of here. RING!
We’re done. RING! RING! RING!
But instead of leaving? We wake up in the same damn van – over and over and over again. We’re 3500 miles from home and there’s no way out and nowhere else to go. Hate it or not. We’re in and we’re staying.
So we sift, and sort, and calm, and drink, and talk, and hug, and cry, and laugh our way through each hour, each day. Flat tires, sulfuric acid burning from our battery, our dog eating poisonous mushrooms, minor-injuries, 10 hour driving days, rain, snow, raging heat, all within a living space the size of a thimble, and much to our daughters horror: limited wifi and zero cell service.
And as we drive around the earthsmagnificent landscape, we awe and gleefully point out such beauty - to which to our three teenagers firmly assert (and I directly quote), "Are sick of living in this STUPID van looking at DUMB mountains and rivers!”
My husband and I – defeated. We sulk. Was this a mistake? Clearly there is a lesson here. Maybe we’re not overlanders. We’ve been around the world, surely, we can camp! Our daughters begged for a “normal” teen-age l experience. My middle daughter sighed, “Mom, I haven’t even held a boys hand!” I reached over, “You can hold mine.” Well, to show you how that suggestion went, we’re pausing our trip after California. Instead of heading to Central and South America, we’re re-doing suburbia until our girls finish high-school. While all of us love adventure, deep down I think we're all secretly relieved as we count down the miles back to civilization and indoor plumbing.
Now, understand, we are seasoned travelers. We've been to every US state, over 40 countries and our daughters have been to 29 countries. But Overlanding? Camping for months and months through mostly vast wilderness is a unique breed entirely. I.E. Going to Paris, Rio, or Shanghai is slightly different than camping in Chicken, Alaska. I don't care what the brochure says.
And as we end this Overlanding journey, I can’t help but think of – and readily compare this adventure to the Navy Seal training. While Navy Seals might scoff at such an idea, I’d like to invite those elite special forces to leave their field missions and put themselves, and their spouse, plus 3 strong-willed teenage daughters, and a dog, is a van, and travel for six-months.
Until then? I think I feel just as proud and accomplished as a Navy Seal who finally finishes their tortuous recruit training and I will proudly shove my fist in the air as I crawl out of my van crying, “I did it! I did it. It did it!”
As for the future? I think we'll be flying and Airbnb'ing. Cheers from the road.