When Tad and Gaila of OverlandNow.com set off on their overland trip by motorcycle through Latin America, they wanted to volunteer and make a difference. Little did they know that one of the more impactful ways that they influenced the children they visited in shelters and orphanages was due to their choice of transportation. The fact is, kids love touring bikes that carry lots of cool gear. They are fascinated by the idea of traveling with everything you need stowed away in meticulously planned out packs and cases.
“As soon as the children of The Irapuato Home for Boys (an orphanage in Mexico) saw us coming,” remembers Gaila fondly, “they couldn’t wait for us to get off our motorbikes, not to interact with us, but so that they could climb all over our bikes!”
Children in developing countries usually only see mopeds used for going to work, transporting whole families and over burdened with supplies. The idea of traveling on one to see different lands and cultures adds a completely new way of looking at the world for many of these youth who typically experience “fly-in, fly-out” gringos. Seeing the moped in this new way led the children to believe the world is a little more accessible. It instilled hope in them that someday they can travel like this too.
Brenton and Shannon of RuinedAdventures.com had a very similar experience during their trip, but with their Land Cruiser which they personally converted into a fully equipped living space complete with bed, shelving, food and cooking supplies. Once those at Buen Pastor, a shelter for abused girls in Mexico, found out they the U.S. couple was living inside their car, they couldn’t believe it.
“Why would you want to do such a silly thing?” they all exclaimed. When Brenton explained that “this is freedom for us to travel cheaply, meet local people and really explore the world,” the girls were convinced. They climbed inside, lay down on the bed, played with all the compartments and declared, “This is the life, this is what I want to do!” A thirst for adventure and travel was born.
These motorbikes and trucks, in many cases are bought cheap, used and built up by hand over many years, as many portals devoted to this task (e.g. ExpeditionPortal.com) can attest. Overland travel itself does not require a big budget or extensive education. The travelers who come to visit appear to be real people with an interest in meeting others and an ability to roll with the unexpected—traits these youth find very similar to their own.
In fact, other overlanding travelers regularly blog about the impact that their choice of transport has on local communities. In an unexpected, small way, the idea of overland travel and the very vehicles used by this niche community easily capture children’s imaginations, instills a sense of adventure, gives them an idea of the similarities of the world “out there,” and removes boundaries on where they think their lives, and a motorbike, can take them.
Alice Gugelev is the Director of DoGoodAsYouGo.org, transforming the adventure travel sector by including volunteering as a standard part of every traveler’s plans.