Archive for the Indie 30 Writing Project Category

Overland travel by camper

Over the next month, we are participating in the Boots N All travel writing challenge. As part of this challenge we will be writing on topics suggested on the Boots N All website and posting them on our blog. Hope that you enjoy the ride!

Air travel is like traveling by subway in a city. It’s fast and convenient, but it doesn’t give a sense of the landscape. You disappear underground (or into the clouds) and pop out somewhere completely different with no idea of how you got there or what the intervening terrain is like.

Home is where you park it

Home is where you park it

In my 20s I traveled by train through parts of Europe and Southeast Asia. I had a great time staying in hostels and meeting locals and other travelers. Later I had the opportunity to travel the length of Africa with my wife in a Land Rover with a rooftop tent.

Traveling with your own vehicle is at the same time liberating and confining. You are free to go where you want when you want without being subject to the restrictions and at times discomfort of public transport.

We saw firsthand the busses in West Africa, and while I know that many travelers use them successfully, we were happy to have the comfort of our own car.

Maybe I'm getting too old...

Maybe I’m getting too old…

With camping equipment on board, we were able to more easily visit out of the way places. We could bed down pretty much anywhere we found a suitable place to camp. We weren’t stuck on the bus until it arrived at its destination at 1 am.

Of course, everything comes with a downside, and the two main problems with traveling in your own vehicle are the expense, both of buying and operating it, and the stress that comes with knowing that if it breaks down, you might be stuck in that fantastic spot way off the beaten track trying to arrange a tow or repair in a foreign language.

If you’re camping, some of the expense is offset by not paying for hotels and by cooking your own meals. I love sleeping in my own bed every night, and I know from experience that eating at restaurants gets old after awhile.

South Africa, 2004

South Africa, 2004

In late June of 2013 my family and I embarked on another long-term trip. Unlike any other trip I’ve taken outside the USA, this one didn’t start by heading to the airport. We just got in our campervan and started driving. First we drove north through Canada and Alaska, then as the weather turned cold we set our sights on Mexico and points south.

Without our camper we would have missed some of the best experiences of our trip. One day a local mechanic came with me on a 250-mile tour of Sonora, Mexico, while trying to diagnose an intermittent problem. He loves car racing and shares his passion with his two sons. He told me about how his younger son had thrown a hammer through the family’s flat panel tv. With a 5 year old of my own I could sympathize and we shared stories of raising our boys.

Often when we stop in at a roadside restaurant for lunch while driving somewhere we are the only non-Mexicans there. Having our son along in these situations has helped to break the ice and has led to some fun experiences.

After 9 months on the road we are still heading south and we should enter Guatemala in a few weeks. We’ve seen the desert coastlines of Baja and Northern Mexico give way to the jungles of the tropics and then to the arid highlands of central Mexico. We travel more slowly, but for us overlanding offers comfort and convenience and at the same time exposes us to more local culture and places outside of tourist destinations.

Baja peninsula, 2013

Baja peninsula, 2013

What I’ve learned from travel

Over the next month, we are participating in the Boots N All travel writing challenge. As part of this challenge we will be writing on topics suggested on the Boots N All website and posting them on our blog. Hope that you enjoy the ride!

Travel has taught me just how interconnected everything in our world really is. Issues that can seem simple are often very complex, and seemingly insignificant actions that we take, such as buying a new piece of furniture or a tank of gasoline, ripple across the globe to affect people that we’ve never met in places we’ve never heard of.

One of the ways that I’ve learned this lesson came from an unplanned tour of a logging camp in the Republic of Congo. Over the course of one day we saw firsthand how trees are harvested from the dense rainforests there. We watched while a grand giant was felled and, in the process of falling, it took out several other smaller trees nearby. More trees were knocked down while retrieving that one valuable tree from the middle of the forest. The hardwood from this tree was destined for sale to a furniture factory to make a beautiful table or dresser for which someone in Europe, Asia or the Americas would pay top dollar.


At first I was appalled that so many old growth trees were being harvested. Then I realized that the logging company wouldn’t cut down trees if there weren’t a long list of people wanting luxurious furniture. Of course if no one bought that furniture then the people at the logging company would have to find other jobs to support their families, which could be very difficult to find and might pay significantly less. It is a tough lesson, but the fact remains that how we spend our money really does affect the world around us.


Another example of this interconnectivity comes from our time in Angola. We saw how the money that we spend on gasoline can not only affect the politics in another country but it can also keep leaders in office that provide little to no benefit to that countries’ citizens.

This is how it often works: Let’s say an oil company wants to drill off the coast of Angola. A representative from the oil company arranges a meeting with Angolan officials. It will cost the company some number of millions of dollars to drill in that country so the company pays that amount. It is simply “the cost of doing business”.

Meanwhile that money typically goes directly into the pocket of the Angolan officials, who use those funds to ensure that their party is re-elected in the next election. The cycle continues like this for years (or even decades) while literally millions of Angolans are living in the shantytowns sprawled outside the capital city with open sewers running through the streets. This kind of situation is not unusual at all, but few people have any idea that filling up their car with gas can limit the opportunities of others in another country.

So what does all this mean? It could potentially be argued that the people in these situations are not doing anything that is terribly wrong. From their perspective, they may only be doing what they need to do to keep their job and stay in business.

And what of the consumer? Should I buy that piece of mahogany furniture and contribute to the destruction of an old-growth forest, or not buy it and possibly put a Congolese logger out of work and cause his family to go hungry? How can we possibly know whether our gasoline comes from an honest company or if it supports a corrupt regime? These are all very difficult questions and they point to just how complex our society and economy truly are. Probably all we can do is figure out what is important to us as individuals, find out as much information as is realistic and then make the best decision that we can.

As for us, we do still fill up our car with gas, but we do our best to drive less and to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles. We don’t have the occasion to buy furniture very often, but we tend to buy gently used items if the need arises. Mostly we just think a little more before we decide where to spend our money. Ultimately we believe that deliberately choosing where we spend our hard-earned money is the most effective way for an individual or family to positively affect the way the world works.