We are @TheBusAndUs, which consists of Dillon, Tessa and our 1975 Volkswagen Bus, Rita. It was 2014, while we were two young working professionals making a life for ourselves in Alaska when the travel bug burrowed deep into us. Tessa was happily in a special education teaching career in Anchorage, spending her free time camping, skiing, fishing and exploring the large state she calls home. Dillon was working in supply chain management and with what little time off he had he could be found weekend warrior-ing to the max, trying to snowboard, surf, and camp as far from town as possible. It was then that we realized that we would rather be road tripping, camping, and adventuring full time rather than being in town and found more reasons to make a change than not. The frustration with fitting a week’s work of adventuring into a weekend, compounded with our nagging calling for long-term travel was the impetus of our now two-year long road trip of a lifetime.
We decided doing the Panamerican highway from Alaska to Patagonia would satisfy our desire for international travel and then some. The choice of vehicle should have been the harder part of the decision, but we already knew what our dream road trip car would be; the iconic 70’s VW Bus. We planned on leaving early in 2014, but we ended up down the rabbit hole that is restoring a vintage vehicle; the only 70’s VW Westfalia bus that was for sale in Alaska at the time. What we thought would be a quick, get it running and resurfacing of the cabinets turned into a complete tear down a rebuild, attempting to learn thorough trial and error as we went. Eight months behind schedule, after putting in insane hours working to the wee hours of morning every night we had the bus fully rebuilt with a Subaru Motor, a new paint job, a Yakima rack system, and a cabinet layout we desired.
When we left Alaska our goal was to chase snow and waves; to ski and snowboard where we wanted to, to surf all of the famous and not so famous breaks along the pacific coast, to experience local culture, food and language along the journey, and to reshape our lives by going with the ebb and flow of the open road. We did not know it at the time but Rita would become the third member of our relationship, needing constant attention yet being the reason we would be receiving such a warm welcome everywhere we went.
We worked our way down through Canada and the United States, skiing, hiking, and surfing, following conditions and attempting to stay on a track that would put us on the most scenic drives. It was at this period of time when we were preparing to cross the border into Mexico that we realized our lifestyle choice meant becoming part of a larger community; those who identify as vanlifers, and those who define themselves as VW owners. Someone read our blog and reached out to us, we saw another person on instagram who wanted to do the same trip and we all linked up. We suddenly had a VW convoy going into Baja, a good introduction to Latin American travel with the security in numbers mentality. We branched off with new international van travel confidence as we made our way through mainland Mexico meeting other van travelers, having mechanics lend hands, getting constant smiles and waves, and feeling fully stoked on life.
We caught up on reading, learned quite a bit of Spanish, tasted incredible food, drank strange liquors, sailed through the tropics, ogled at colorful textiles, surfed incredible waves, took in as much culture as we could and did it all at our own pace as we made our way to Patagonia. This is the beauty of Van travel, you have your home with you at all times; you can throw a ton of gear in your RocketBox and be prepared to do any assortment of activities. We often joke that our Yakima rocket box is like our Mary Poppins bag. We seem to fit endless amounts of gear up there. Somehow we are able to fit 2 camp chairs, 2 sleeping bags, 2 backpacking packpacks, 2 sleeping pads, a skateboard, snorkel gear, a spear fishing sling, 2 packrafts, 2 paddles, 2 life jackets, 1 tent, and 1 area rug for camp in our box and are still able to pop the top to sleep ‘upstairs’. With vanlife one can determine where they want to go and when they want to get there, they can pick up hitchhikers and get local advice. It’s a way of travel where even conversations with gas station attendants off the beaten track may get a vanlifer an invite to stay at a local’s house.
We love traveling this way, and so when we were done with the Panamerican we shipped our bus back to the states and have been traveling throughout the U.S., skiing and visiting national parks. What we’ve seen and experienced along the way has changed our perception of the world. It has morphed us into what we are today; a couple who travels slow, who now spends more time in less places, who has learned to stop and smell the roses, who feels part of a community of people who realize that to get what they want out of life they may just have to pack up and go experience the world.