The Barnsley family have chosen to seize life by the horns. Mr. Jamie Barnsley contacted me in February 2017 asking for advice as he prepared to overland the planet in a Defender 130 with his wife, Angela, and two children. We have been friends since, and I have watched their journey from afar with envy. The Barnsley’s have voracious energy and curiosity which drives them to explore countries and immerse themselves in host cultures with humility and respect. Angela is a professional photographer, and she captures the essence of their journey: the joy and wonder of the family, and the natural beauty of the places they explore. An engine failure early in the trip threatened to derail the adventure, but the Barnsley family pulled together and have driven their faithful United Arab Emirates registered Defender from Canada to Argentina after a tour of Europe and Morocco. I pray that they will head to Africa next as the images and stories they generate are unique and thoroughly entertaining—Mother Africa would never look greater than through their eyes.
All images by Angela Barnsley (Buchanan).
Tell us about yourselves.
We are the Barnsleys: Jamie, Angela, Lily (11) and Spencer (8). We are from the UK, but before setting off on our big adventure, we lived in the United Arab Emirates for nine years during which I (Jamie) worked in construction/property development, and Angela was a partner in a photography company.
How did you begin travelling and when did you decide that the overland lifestyle was to be your future?
Travelling has always been a big part in both mine and Angela’s lives. Before we met, Angela had travelled extensively around Europe, Australia, and Asia both as a backpacker and VW campervanner. She returned from those adventures to take a job as a TV producer on a holiday programme in her homeland of Scotland. This took her to several more destinations around the globe but this time in a bit more style whilst earning money rather than spending it.
My travel roots were slightly more humble, with my first adventure working in Rhodes, Greece, for four summer seasons as a bungee jump instructor. Shortly after that, I joined the bandwagon on the backpacker circuit around Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. My first real adventure was very shortly after I had met Angela. It was an overland journey through 10 African countries from Kenya to Cape Town which I saw advertised in a newspaper. I convinced my friend Richie that sharing a big Mercedes truck with 15 or so others and tenting our way through East Africa would be a great idea, which it was. Returning from Africa, I moved to Scotland to start a life together with Angela.
With my little insight from four months of overlanding in Africa and our joint love of travel, we hatched a plan to move to the UAE and save up for something. We weren’t sure whether that was a campervan or overland vehicle or where we wanted to go, but we knew we wanted to do something big.
What motivates and inspires you to travel?
Our simple motivation is knowing that life is for living and that you only get one shot at it—you just have to go for it. A personal technique I use is to imagine that I am on my deathbed telling someone about my life. I imagine what I will say, the experiences I will recall, and what I will regret. It’s totally morbid, but it works.
Another inspiration of ours is to try and live our lives just a little outside the norm. Whilst the 2.4 children and white picket fence life in suburbia suits lots of people, it just does not suit us. Sometimes we wish it did—life would be so much simpler.
What is your life philosophy?
You’re here for a good time, not a long time.
What are your favorite overland destinations so far?
Every single country we have visited on our latest adventure, imaginatively named, “The Barnsley’s Big Adventure,” through Europe, Morocco, and the Americas has its own charm and particular traits to be enjoyed. But if we had to choose the best, we’d probably go for Morocco and Costa Rica. Morocco for its people, raw countryside, and great towns and villages; Costa Rica for its mind-blowing nature and pura vida way of life.
What do you love and hate about the four-wheel lifestyle?
We love being together as a family, eating meals together, talking, having breakfast at our own pace (without the daily screaming at the kids to get up, get their uniforms on, etc.). We choose what to do each day based on what we will enjoy the most, meeting the coolest people out there, and being able to camp on that secluded beach or up on that volcano.
Hate is a strong word. We don’t hate anything about it. I know Angela gets a little tired of public toilets and showers, and I miss a good chicken curry, but hate? No, nothing is that bad.
How has travelling changed you?
That’s a tough question to which my immediate, simple answer would be to say that I don’t think it has changed us. Non-traditional travel has always been part of our make-up, even when we travelled within the constraints of normal working life. So from a mindset perspective, we would say nothing has changed. That said, as I type this from our dining table in the back of our Land Rover in Cusco, Peru, with our kids in bed 5 feet away from us and our kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom literally within arm’s reach, of course, it has changed us.
We have met and become friends with incredible people from around the world. We have received some ridiculous acts of generosity and seen a side of human nature which gets pushed to one side in favour of fear-mongering and wall building. Our kids have seen what life is about and the sheer generosity that everyday people from all walks of life will show you if given a chance. The idea behind the travelling was to spend time with the kids and shape them as best we can. We wanted to spend as much time with them as possible while they still think we are cool, as we all know that doesn’t last forever. I think we timed that just right. With Lily, six more months and I fear we will be in the teenage years, and cool is that last thing we’ll be.
Do you have any regrets with regard to your travels?
None, honestly. Anything we missed, whether it was forced or otherwise, will be there for another day.
How do you afford to travel the planet overland?
Our approach was to work hard, live reasonably frugal lives, and save. We have met a lot of people on the road and even happened on a convention of hundreds of travelling families from all over the world. From those interactions, we can report that there is a vast range of ways people pay for their overlanding journeys and that it is as varied as the people themselves. We find that the question is not about how much money you need, rather how much do you want it? If you want it enough, you can afford it; you just need to come up with a plan. We will never forget a French Canadian guy named Kevin we met in Costa Rica who started travelling the world overland with nothing but his car—yep $0. He travelled slowly, had a guitar which he played every night for a few dollars, and often volunteered at campsites he stayed at. Conversely, we have met older couples in $700,000 fancy expedition vehicles on awesome Mercedes or MAN chassis with all of the luxuries you can imagine inside.
There are massive variables to consider before people think that this lifestyle is beyond them, such as where you go and what level of luxury (or otherwise) you can sustain. How long you travel for will have a huge bearing on your budget. There’s something out there for everyone.
Overlanding with children can be both incredibly rewarding and occasionally difficult. How have your children adapted to the lifestyle and do you have any tips to share with other parents?
As with most things, the children adapt more quickly than us adults. You see them come into their own in ways you wouldn’t have imagined before. Our boy will be the first one into that freezing cold outdoor shower up a mountain somewhere. And our daughter will be the one who fearlessly asks waiters in Spanish for no straws in the drinks or no plastic bags in every shop, and doesn’t at all care when they look back at her like she’s asked for the weirdest thing on the planet. Seeing them jump into the water for their first-ever try at snorkeling as a whale shark swam beside our boat or watching them ask for something at a market in another language (having never spoken a word before we set off) are some examples of where travelling with kids is super rewarding.
Conversely, when they are arguing and annoying each other on a long driving day and can’t get away from each other, or when they get fixated on their devices rather than appreciating where we are and what we are doing can make for slightly more challenging times. In terms of tips to share, I wouldn’t for a second pretend to be the expert here. The rules are the same for travellers and non-travellers: give them love and honesty, arm them with self-esteem and confidence, make them laugh, and throw them into as many new experiences as possible. Easy, right?
What are your travel dreams and goals?
We have a pang for Iceland and would love to take the truck there. Our favourite country on the planet is India, so that would be a huge goal too, although I can imagine that having its own set of challenges. Generally, we want to go anywhere we haven’t been.
What has surprised you the most about overland travel?
How busy you are. There is always something to do when you’re on the road. I think my to-do list is longer now than it has ever been: fix that door, seal that leak, check the oil, fill the propane tank, arrange that insurance, reply to that email from a fellow traveller, call home, etc. I’m sure fellow overlanders can empathise. If you’re going on an overland adventure, particularly with kids, and expect it to be a long holiday of sipping G&T’s and smoking cigars, then think again.
Do you have any advice for those who are considering overlanding as a way of life?
To choose overlanding as a way of life is extremely brave. After being on the road for nearly two years, we can honestly say that fatigue definitely becomes a factor with time. We have met overlanders who have felt that after eight months, and we are starting to feel it as the two-year mark approaches. To say that you are committing to overlanding as a way of life suggests a purely nomadic existence forever, and in our opinion, this is only for the hardcore of the hardcore. The Bell family on their A2A Expedition are fantastic examples of this: these guys are leaders in the game in my opinion and in a better place than most to write the books and wear the T-shirts [Thank you, Jamie, you are too kind]. To take on overlanding how they have is not for the fainthearted. Our advice would be to not commit to a fully nomadic life until you’ve tried it for an extended period and know that it is the life for you.
Your photography is head and shoulders above the rest. What is your secret ingredient, and do you have advice for vehicle-based photographers?
Angela puts a lot of time and effort into our photography and takes every single photo we post to social media which is why anyone following us, who doesn’t know us, would think it is just a Dad and his two kids travelling the world. But it’s not. Angela is a professional photographer, so that is not really a secret. There are a few other factors which help. We hunt down the most photogenic places wherever we go in the world, but oftentimes, it is the “everyday” that makes great images: the kids playing and doing school work, the views from the window as we travel, or working on the truck. Also, we have two gorgeous kids who are happy to have their photos taken most of the time, although if they’re feeling particularly non-compliant, the use of threats and/or rewards has been known to happen.
In order to capture a great shot of the truck, Angela has been known to stop traffic, lie down in central reservations, and run after us through streets or down mountain passes. She loves details and storytelling with her images, and from the outset, she chose a particular look that she thought would go well with the Landy and what we were doing. It’s a kind of rough, not too polished style. She uses a matt film preset and manipulates individual photos in Lightroom, adjusting shadow, tone. etc.
If its social media “likes” you’re after, then you can take all of the technically perfect photos using the best equipment and editing software on the market, but if you post a photo of a Land Rover smashing through a river crossing, then you can’t go wrong.
Tell us about your incredible vehicle.
We have a converted 2010 Land Rover Defender 130 named Albus. He is an absolute beast and has up to this point handled everything we’ve thrown at him. We’ve driven in the Sahara, crossed the High Atlas Mountains, [traversed] the Andes several times, and also been through the centre of cities like Paris, Fez, Bogota, and Lima. I can’t say it has all been plain sailing from a mechanical perspective—there was a new engine required in Canada—but on the whole, we are more than happy with our choice.
We just passed 100,000 kilometres last week in Peru.
We are a bit of a lump, it has to be said, and fuel consumption isn’t something I have ever paid much attention to before this interview. It is what it is. I know we get about 600 kilometres from a full 80-litre tank, so with some basic maths that would mean the consumption is around 7.5l/100 kilometres.
A full living unit was added to the back with beds for four, a kitchen, fridge, dining area, portable toilet, 20l hot-water tank, 75l cold-water tank, solar panels, water filtration system and pop-top roof.
In terms of the Land Rover chassis itself, we upgraded the shocks (Koni Raid), fitted some BFG All-terrain tyres, had a small lift, fitted a roof rack, and fitted some protection to the underside.
I think we’ve done enough.
Loves and hates?
I love the fact that it’s a Land Rover first and foremost. This simple fact has led us to meet some of the kindest, craziest, most generous people you could meet around the globe. The global Land Rover community must be one of the tightest-knit group of car enthusiasts there is, and we are proud to be part of it. I think part of the reason for this may be that it’s a kind of sympathetic brotherhood in that we feel each other’s pain as the leaks appear and the strange noises are heard. I’m not sure we’ve met any fellow overlanders who have not had trouble with their particular brand of vehicle. So given that, you may as well have trouble with the best-looking one of them all.
Care to leave us with any last thoughts?
We’ve always said that the toughest part of overlanding is before you get in the vehicle to set off; the selling your stuff, resigning from work, giving up your house, and convincing loved ones you’re not mad. After that, it’s relatively easy. There is not only one way to do this, no one vehicle, no one speed, no one route or budget. Overlanding is extremely personal, and only you know what you want to get out of it. Sure, listen to some old heads about what you need, or more importantly, what you don’t need while you’re on the road. But this is your dream—do it your way.