CLICK HERE FOR THE INTERVIEW WITH US IN PORTUGUESE ON OUTSIDERS BRAZIL.
How did you two come up with this idea of traveling?
I must have mentioned to Erdem at some point that my dream life would be traveling with my family in a van and making documentaries. So, one late night, sitting on a hillside in the Californian desert, looking at a large red glowing super-moon in May 2012, he timidly took my hand and said he wants to go to South America with me. Of course such a courageous proposal soon turned our friendship into a romance, and the preparations for the journey towards the end of the world began.
How long have you been on the road? Where are you right now? And where are you going after?
We’ve been on the road since June 2014. What was planned as a 6 months journey, turned into 1.5 years of unforgettable moments. We started in Los Angeles, where we used to live for about a decade (originally I’m from Austria, and Erdem is from Turkey). After three months in Mexico alone, we realised the road has it’s own rhythm and our 6 months plan was completely unrealistic. We are now in the Southern part of Chile, zig-zagging our way down in Patagonia. We’re on our way to Ushuaia, the southern most city in the world.
Why did you choose this car? What’s the pros and cons of this setup?
We’re traveling in a 2005 Toyota Tacoma pickup truck with a FlipPac camper/rooftop tent. The vehicle is great in all terrains. It’s compact, reliable and was in a price range we could afford, considering a good re-sale value. We never had to worry about any road conditions, including crossing rivers and deserts dunes. The compact size allowed us to enter small mountain towns without any drama about any low hanging cables, and narrow roads. It also fits into a container for shipping, which is a big plus. Sleeping in a roof tent was great in the hot areas but a bit of a challenge in the cold, rain and in wind. Luckily we also have the option to sleep in the back without deploying the tent. The up and down side of our home on wheels is that we spend almost all time outside. We cook outside, eat outside. This is good since we’re more in touch with our surroundings and make easier contact with other travelers, but in bad weather conditions this isn’t all that comfortable. Nevertheless we camped almost all nights on this journey which was good for our budget. We enjoy a lot of things about our set up, but since our trip became a lot longer and work-heavy than originally planned, we’d prefer something that allows us to spend more time inside, and doesn’t require as much setup every day.
Tell me about Tara, how did you decide to travel with a dog? How is the travel now with her? Did you have to change anything about your routine?
There are so many street dogs all over Central and South America. We had played with the idea of having a dog anyways. One day, in the Amazon region of Ecuador, almost bordering Colombia, we stopped at a gas station, and there were all these cute puppies roaming around. They were starving and we decided to feed them. One of them kept on coming to us, sitting between our legs. She clearly wanted to hitchhike and come see the world, and we simply couldn’t refuse. She’s almost a year old now. It’s been a bit like raising a child, seeing her go through all the developmental steps, while trying to teach her how to behave. Not always easy. Some things are more difficult – like going to museums, national parks, restaurants. But other things are more enjoyable – morning cuddles, going out for walks more often, watch her make friends, seeing the world through an animal’s eyes, observing her relationship with nature; sometimes she is super excited about soft grass or soft sand and rolls herself happily, watching her look out the window when we travel and getting really excited when she sees nature around as we stop. She’s a good nature sensor and an insurance that we don’t go back to a regular city life in an apartment.
Do you control your costs on the road? Do you work with a budget? Are you spending more than you actually thought?
We’re bad with budgets. We just try to travel as cheaply as possible and work on the road. Every few months we look at what we spent and what we earned to see how we’re doing. So far we’re even, which is great. We noticed a few months into the trip that we’re not spending as much money as we thought we would. Our monthly costs including everything are about as much as we used to spend on a one-bedroom apartment rent alone, in Los Angeles. Since we kept on getting freelance jobs we can cover our costs and aren’t even using the savings we had budgeted for the journey. We’re lucky we both are able to work as graphic designers. We didn’t expect we’d be able to work much while traveling, but somehow it worked out. On the road, I feel like we have more space to be creative for our clients, are more flexible in our schedule, and happier to be working.
Have you ever felt scared on the road? Any safety issue?
I think it’s normal to have some fear of traveling through unfamiliar places. But by far the scariest thing is to actually quit the job, leave the apartment and hit the road! I was horrified when the day came close. One thing this journey teaches me every day, is that bringing up the courage to step into and through fear is almost always rewarding.
Once traveling, there are of course areas that are less safe than others, just like everywhere, but the majority of places are totally fine. In either case, we don’t drive at night, and in some areas we just ask locals, and stick to official campgrounds when we don’t feel too safe. In the 1.5 years nothing bad has happened to us. And I think women have a good natural instinct when it comes to safety anyways.
What’s more of a challenge is to deal with the different comfort levels within a couple. If one is scared, and the other isn’t, that’s the tricky thing. It takes time to adjust to the road, and everyone starts at a different level. It’s important to not push each other beyond personal limits, or disregard either one’s level of comfort. Most of our disagreements were about this topic, but slowly we’re getting to a similar level.
What did you learn about yourself on this journey? And what about Erdem, did you learn anything new about him that you didn’t realise before this journey?
A journey like this is intense. We’re learning so many things about ourselves and each other. We’re together 24/7. A year on the road is like ten years of marriage. There’s no escape. I’m happy to have learned that Erdem is a person I actually can spend so much time together with. He’s very dependable and grounded. Maybe I learned that he’s a little over-confident when it comes to going off the beaten path, which got us badly stuck in the Peruvian desert once, but even that we managed. I think we’re a pretty good team overall. The only hard thing is to find any time for myself. It must be the same for him. That’s the downside of this kind of life.
What would you have done differently on this travel?
I would have liked to have one continuous project. A documentary. Or a specific repeated behaviour, like a kind of photograph in changing places, or collection of moving images that amount to a larger project in the end. We documented a lot, and had a blog all the way through (www.nonurbia.com), took a lot of photographs and made many short documentaries, but somehow I regret not being able to connect the dots properly. It’s a challenge to keep a good balance between input and output. Once on the journey it felt like having jumped into a river: floating along, sometimes stopping for a little, but things move on pretty quickly with too may things to process and absorb. We found far less time to read and write and work on personal projects than I originally imagined. Other than that, I’m really quite happy with this journey. It’s a form of life we both enjoy very much.
Do you feel like you’re really getting to know the places you visit?
Traveling overland with our own vehicle allows us to visit many places that destination tourists don’t get to go to. We spend several weeks or months in each country. We go grocery shopping, to hardware stores, upholstery places, mechanics… We’re working on the road and trying to improve our set-up. We deal with bureaucracy and the police at times. We do many things people on “vacation” don’t do. Because we are actually living on the road. On the other hand our relationship to the places are not as deeply rooted as the local’s. We are transitory. It is a different kind of “knowing” the place. Maybe more intense, but not as rooted.
Is there anything that you don’t like about living like this? Do you miss anything?
I love this way of life. Being nomadic makes a lot more sense to me and feels more natural than the life I used to know.
One thing I miss though, is doing things my way at least sometimes. Living together in such a tight space requires a lot of discipline. Our daily routine is very coordinated. Every item has it’s place in the truck. It’s all very efficient. A bit too much for my taste. I can never leave my bed unmade, have a book lay around, or even buy anything new because there’s just no place for extra load.
Do you recommend any app that helps you on the road?
When we started there were only some camping books available, but now there’s a crowd-sourced app made by a fellow traveler that has a lot of camping spots listed. iOverlander makes traveling a lot easier. There’s rarely any stress or time wasted trying to find a place to sleep. But in some areas, it’s also very easy to travel without any guidance at all. Other than that we use Weather Underground, and then Skobbler for navigation paired with a Garmin GPS dongle.
A place, someone, or something that you will always remember?
These have been the longest 1.5 years of my life. There are so many places I will always remember. If I tried hard I could remember almost every day of this journey, because most of them were packed with experiences and impressions. If there’s a way to extend your life, it’s travel! It feels like we’ve been on the road forever.
What does happiness mean for you today?
The trip has changed my sense of happiness tremendously. It has become about the small things in life. We’re raised to believe that we need more and more – more money, a bigger house, a better job, a faster car. On this journey our daily life has been very basic, but my level of happiness increased a lot. We camp all the time. We feel the heat and the cold. We see the stars at night. I’m happy waking up in nature with no one around, and the dog coming up to bed to give us morning cuddles. I feel happy about a good meal, or when I can wash my face in a cold river. I can feel super excited about a hot shower – something that was a daily commodity before. The more basic, the more natural it feels, the more connected I feel to life. Humans have been nomadic and living in unity with nature for most of their existence. Traveling overland simply feels like a modern version of natural rhythms.