“The real work of an expedition begins when you return.” –Louise Arner Boyd
Many of us put in the work to plan, save for, and finally embark on a long-term adventure without a single thought as to what we’ll do when we get home. At the time of departure, the last thing you want to think about is your return. The vast majority of overlanders start off with “normal” full-time jobs, and “normal” lives at home. Part of travelling long term involves leaving the status quo and experiencing the world from a completely different perspective. A funny thing happens when you’re exposed to new cultures and landscapes, when you’ve lived out of a van/truck/tent/backpack for months or years on end, and when you start to understand what really makes you tick—you break.
I remember coming home from South America and sitting in a small coffee shop in Vancouver. I love coffee. I usually love coffee shops. But being thrown into a busy café, where I could not only understand every word that was said (sometimes I was blissfully ignorant in Spanish) but where I heard every single tiny complaint from the people within a 10-foot radius, I realized how real reverse culture shock was.
“Being broken,” as our friends Bryan and Jen Danger describe it, is a good thing. The square peg doesn’t fit into the round slot. Hell, it doesn’t even fit into the square slot anymore. This became painfully obvious to me when it was time to buckle down and get back to work. I lasted a total of eight months at a mechanical contracting firm catering to wealthy homeowners before I realized it was not a good long-term solution for me. Going back to a career that I literally ran away from should have been an obviously poor decision, but you know, income is a necessity.
Travelling changed me. I’m broken. My priorities have changed. Others have found the same, and even more will find similarities in the future. It comes with the territory.
This ramble is about changing careers, about what people choose to do with their weekends, about heading back on the road, and about realizing it’s okay not knowing what you’re doing with the rest of your life. Just don’t tell your parents I said that.
Jen and Bryan Danger—The Dangerz | ZENVANZ
If you can take a 1967 VW Type II Bus from Vancouver to Costa Rica and back, surely you can do anything.
Bryan and Jen stepped away from their fast-paced professional careers and have never looked back. Taking a cue from Yvon Chouinard, they chose a VW Bus to embark on the journey south. They spent three years exploring Mexico and Central America, begrudgingly self-apprenticing as air-cooled VW mechanics and sharing the entire adventure on their blog.
Upon returning stateside, Bryan and Jen started a company called Zen Box Design. Bryan combined his background in architectural design and classic design principles with his love (and extensive experience) of simple living to offer tiny home design consulting services. But wait, there’s more. Taking those same design principles, Bryan and Jen designed and built their own Sprinter campervan. But good things happen to good people who work their asses off. After one trip to Overland Expo in their beautifully bamboo-clad Sprinter, an overwhelming interest more or less forced them to get in the business of outfitting high-end Sprinter interiors. Zen Vanz was born.
After a couple of years of exploring North America in their van while building a business, it was time for Bryan and Jen to buy a sailboat. Wait; what? Did they let the fact that they had never owned a boat or had no sailing experience whatsoever stop them? Nope, just the opposite. They thrive on being new to something. It gives them the opportunity to live by their motto, “Leap, and the net will appear.”
I’m pretty sure that what they mean by that is that they leap and create their net on the way down.
The Dangerz are currently in the Bahamas, or Trinidad, Tobago, or some other location with turquoise-colored waters. Their dog, Karma, (which also happens to be the name of their boat) soaks up the sun on the swim platform while Bryan and Jen spearfish, work remotely, and live simply. These two do a phenomenal job sharing the ups and downs on the road (or ocean) on their blog and always leave their readers wanting more.
When the Dangerz tell you that you’re broken, you take it as a compliment.
Lauren and James Hart—Home on the Highway
These two changed my life when I stumbled across their blog back in 2013. When I saw their 1987 Toyota 4Runner, powered by the venerable 22RE, traversing the landscapes of South America, I was hooked.
The stories on their blog are hilarious, and they convinced me, without ever actually speaking in person, that we could do the same thing. The ONLY thing I knew about overlanding was that you could do it in an old Toyota while sleeping in the back. Hey, I can do that!
This was one of the first blogs I showed Ashley, to demonstrate to her that we too could hop in an old Toyota and wander south. Just like everyone else on the road, they’re real people who made a decision to make their dreams happen. Sure, their trip stories included a shady character named “Bill the Butcher” and their trusty 4Runner was on fire at least once, but that didn’t matter to us. The seed was planted, and we were itching to go.
Fast forward to today, and you’ll still find them sleeping in the back of an old Toyota, albeit this time an RV, in a semi-permanent camp in Loreto, Mexico. They’re working remotely while living the dream with their adopted Mexican street dog, Taquita.
Dave Connors—Washboard Highway | Canguro Racing
I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with Dave in the Canadian Rockies, Utah, and Baja. Each time I see him, he has a giant smile plastered all over his face and is behind the wheel of a Land Cruiser of some flavor.
After countless road trips between his home state of Utah and a summer job in Alaska back in the 1990s, in 2007, Dave decided it was time to tackle the southern portion of the Pan-American Highway. During the six months he spent on the road in his 80-Series Land Cruiser, he learned Spanish, travelled with old friends, made new friends, and finished his journey at the southern tip of South America, Ushuaia.
After returning home to the comfort (and stress) of a corporate job, it didn’t take long before Dave felt the need to experience something new. Driving thousands of miles on weekends and exploring the extensive washes and slot canyons of Utah in his Cruiser was an enjoyable “normal,” but one he’d known for 15 years, and at some point, Dave realized he wanted more.
Dave decided to do a little desert racing with a close group of five friends, in the infamous SCORE Baja 1000.
For nine years, Dave has been racing through the desert, including six Baja 1000 races, as well as many other local desert races. Eventually, he’ll hit the road for another long road trip, but in the meantime, he’s working with a tight-knit group of Cruiserheads chasing Baja 1000 dreams in their 200 Series Land Cruiser, Monica. Oh, did I mention they won their class last year, and they’ve got plans to race the 2020 Mint 400?
Travelling long term does something funny to the mind and soul. It shows you that difficult or seemingly impossible tasks or goals are not only possible but much simpler than you would ever expect. Just like everything else, it takes effort, but when it’s something you truly love, it doesn’t seem like work. Start with a goal, take small steps, be persistent, and work with your friends and teammates to make it happen.
Some people go back to their previous lives, their former jobs, and settle back into the life they left in the first place. For many, they weren’t escaping anything at all—they were just chasing adventure.
Others, on the other hand, do make changes. Whether this happens organically as a by-product of the journey or was something they were seeking out in the first place depends entirely on the person. Speaking from my own experience, it was difficult to settle back into my normal office job when I had just spent two years of my life living in a rooftop tent, worrying only about where to get water, fuel, food, and to find a place to camp. Priorities and standards change when you’ve lived a simple life on an extremely tight budget for so long, when you’ve seen people in rural South America who survive on next to nothing with huge smiles on their beautiful faces, when those same people who have so little are the most generous and giving.
Standards and expectations also change when you are inspired by close friends who put in a huge amount of effort to live their life on their terms.
Coming home is like plugging back into the matrix, but now you know too much, now you know there’s a different way of doing things. So, what did I do about that? I decided to take my own leap.
In 2017, Dave Connors had formally invited me (via Instagram, followed by a three-hour-long phone call, before ever meeting in person) to help chase his race team during the Baja 1000. I also had a friend who was itching to film a documentary, and I heard through the grapevine that Toyota Canada was looking for real content to help promote their new Tacoma. I slammed together a proposal and made a deal with myself. If I could get the green light on this project, I’d quit my engineering job and do my best to work as a freelance photographer and producer for as long as I could from then on out. I went to the Baja 1000 in 2017 and haven’t looked back since. That 12-minute commercial, “Chasing the Baja 1000,” can be found right HERE.
Since then, Ashley and I moved to the mountains and surrounded ourselves with those in the overlanding community that continue to inspire us. Ashley co-founded Women Overlanding the World Retreats, and we have been a part of Expedition Overland, the Rebelle Rally, and the Sonora Rally. It feels like we’ve settled nicely into our lives at home and could very comfortably spend some time by the fireplace with the snow falling outside, but we’re itching to find ourselves on the road again. There’s just so much out there to explore that it’s tough to stay in one place for too long.
Thank you to those above and for everyone else who lights a fire under us to keep chasing after new dreams.