Our Open Road: One Family's Venture into the Unknown
Have you ever imagined upping and leaving the life you have created? The house, the car, the job, the friends and family? Just packing your bags, selling up, and hitting the road. We bet you have! Adam and Emily Harteau did just that. What started as a dream and developed into a 12-month plan is now life on the road. Adam, Emily & Colette departed California in October 2012 in their VW Westfalia with the goal of reaching Tierra del Fuego and returning a year later. Five months in, they decided to embrace a future unknown and the rewards of slow travel. They are blisfully enjoying life on the slow road, with no end in sight.
MIZU: What inspired you initially to up and leave life as you knew it and head out on the open road?
We have traveled together for over a decade, always scheming our next adventure. It was formed from pieces we gathered along the way and dreamed we would share with our ‘future family’, like the passing smile of a mother carrying her infant in a front pack on a remote hike in New Zealand, and on a tiny island in Thailand- two gregarious children that told us of how they were sailing around the world with their parents. When Emily was pregnant with Colette, Adam was working on a project that would have put us, in India and Nepal for 6+ months. When that fell through, we knew the time had come for us to plan our own grand voyage.
How difficult/intimidating was that? When we departed in 2012, our plan was to be gone for 1 year- so the original intention wasn’t quite as large a commitment to ‘raising a family on the road’ as it has become. When, 5 months into the trip, we decided to slow down, it was much easier to grasp the concept that earlier we could not have fathomed. We always knew we wanted Colette to have a sibling and since our life now is on the road, it was a natural decision to have Sierra in South America. Emily’s first trimester was very difficult, as most of it was spent around 12,000 feet in Peru. The challenges of that elevation coupled with early pregnancy hormones left her quite green. Luckily, Adam was able to spend a lot of time with Coco. We chose to have Sierra in Florianopolis, Brazil, which is the only non-Spanish speaking country we have been to on the trip. We thought our lack of Portuguese might be hard, but it proved to not be as big a challenge as we imagined. Florianopolis is the center of the natural birth movement in Brazil and the free public care we received was great.
MIZU: What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced?
Keeping the van running well on the road has definitely been the biggest challenge. In our 29 months on the road, the motor has come out 4 times now and we have spent more time than we would like to camping in greasy junkyards, while our motor gets rebuilt, and not to mention all the cash the repairs have cost. But, it is our home and without it’s function we are not on much of a roadtrip.
MIZU: What do you miss the most from your previous “conventional” life?
Family and friends are what we miss most. We have a pretty incredible tribe of loving, inspiring, talented folks that we miss the hell out of and make an annual trip back to the states to visit.
MIZU: If there was one luxury you could click your fingers and have while traveling by van, what would it be?
Is an entire Trader Joes too much to ask for? Either that or a hot shower.
MIZU: Do your children think this is a regular life, or are they aware of how differently they are living to the average American kid?
Colette knows most people don’t live in a tiny house on wheels as we do, but she thinks our life on the road is the best. We ask her if she would like to live in a regular house and she looks at us like we are crazy, saying “and live in a house that is always in one place?!” Sierra, being only 10 months old, knows that she has her core family around her all the time, and that’s all she needs.
MIZU: If you could have stopped and given yourself permanent roots along your travels, where would it be?
There are many places we loved and will return to. We enjoyed renting a little beach house in Brazil around the time of Sierra’s birth. Unfurling for a bit was great, and something we will incorporate into our nomadic life into the future. We are open to what chapters the future will hold and do not have any attachment to being always on the road. For now, we are pleased to be air-plants, which thrive & bloom without having to set roots.
MIZU: What lessons have you learned that you would want to pass on to all us regular folk living in stationary houses and buying in ready-made food? T
rade expectation for experience.
MIZU: Do you ever intend to return to a life similar to that which you had before?
Perhaps some day we may be less nomadic, but for now, life for us is on the road & each day is still a thrill!
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