Not All Who Wander Across North America Are Lost

Names: Marc Kramer and Eliana Ardila
Hometown: Miami, Florida

Road trip destination: Miami, Florida, to Alaska and back again.

Date started: June 4, 2008.
Anticipated end date: Around Feb 4, 2009.

Months on the road and ground covered: A total of 8 months on the road, somewhere around 25,000 miles of driving, 25 U.S. states, 3 Canadian provinces, and a small taste of Mexico.

Where and when did buy the van, and what custom work did you have done on it for the trip:

Despite our hesitations in purchasing a vehicle "sight unseen", we had our hearts set on a 70's VW Bus for making this trip. The availability of Buses on the east coast is pretty limited, and after looking around for a while locally in Miami, we just weren't able to find the right one.

Resorting to the internet, we acquired our 1978 VW Westfalia Campmobile Bus through eBay on Feb 14, 2008, from a seller in Oregon. The exciting day we won the eBay bid was Valentine's Day; hence, our Bus's name, "Valentina"!

When the vehicle arrived in Miami six weeks later, it needed a lot more work than we anticipated from the eBay seller's description and photos. Imagine that! Rolling off the shipping trailer from Oregon, the Bus was filthy, the muffler had broken off in transit, the engine wouldn't start, and there was all kinds of unexpected
damage. The interior was dirty and tattered. That was a big let down. My Dad took one glance at it and said "get rid of that thing". But Eliana and I were determined to make it work and little by little, began the restoration process.

The Bus spent a month at a local mechanic's. They fixed the malfunctioning braking system, installed a new fuel pump, windshield washer pump, CV boots and hardware, fuel hoses, various dashboard indicators, and fixed a whole bunch of other odds and ends that cost a good chunk of change. I was surprised they hadn't

done much with the engine, but they said it was fine (we soon learned once we hit the road that that wasn't the case).

Over the next month, the two of us worked around the clock to restore the interior of the Bus. We removed the cabinetry and upholstery and stripped everything down, piece by piece. It was a mix of frustration and rewards. Our days were spent sanding, unscrewing, re-screwing, gluing, painting, and shopping the internet for Volkswagen parts. We traveled back and forth to hardware stores and did a lot of Volkswagen repair research on The Samba, a forum for VW enthusiasts.

We came a long way after a few short weeks, and learned that restoring a car can be quite gratifying! It can also require a knack for creativity, especially since many original VW bus parts are no longer available. We've got a detailed list of the restorations and custom work we did on our blog.

Our favorite, and most visible change, was upgrading the old Bus front seats to Vanagon seats fitted with the original retro-plaid Mexican beige fabric and inside arm rests. It looks sweet

Favourite feature /aspect of the van: The fact that we can just pop up the pop-top roof, and are instantly ready to camp wherever, whenever.

Top 3 campsites so far:

1) Gold Bluffs Beach, Redwoods National Park, California
2) MontaƱa de Oro State Park, California
3) Smokemont, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Preferred guidebook(s):

Let's Go: Roadtripping USA On a Budget (St. Martin's Press, 2007) is our most used and favorite resource. It's well written, humorous, covers several major travel routes in the U.S., and is oriented toward the budget traveler.

We liked The Milepost for coverage of Alaska and the Canadian road system leading up to Alaska.

Top 2 travel gadgets/devices:

1) We feel like we couldn't survive without our Mac Book Pro laptops. We're digitally addicted. It's a good way to stay in touch with family and friends, instrumental in blogging, and necessary to manage our huge library of digital photos.

2) The second most useful devices are our GPS's. We've got a TomTom One to navigate the roads, which has been indispensable. A second GPS, a Garmin 60CS, saves all our track data so we can accurately record our course. We also use it a lot for geocaching.

Best relationship survival tip:

Understanding your partner's needs and respecting their boundaries is important. Having common interests really helps. Patience is a virtue.

Top 2 books read on trip that relate to where you have been traveling to: Wide-eyed Wanderers by Richard and Amanda Ligato was part of our original inspiration for the trip. It's about a young couple, a gringo and a Latina (like us), that traveled for 2 years in their '78 VW Bus, from California, through Central and South America, Africa, and back to the U.S. We began reading it before the trip, and slowly worked our way through it while traveling. Although their travel destinations were much more adventurous than ours, several parallels can be drawn between their trip and ours and it's fun to be able to relate to what they were going through on the road.

Shadow Mountain by Renee Atkins details the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park, one of our favorite trip destinations. As we're avid nature enthusiasts and have a conservation-driven mindset, we could really appreciate a book that painted a picture of victory for the natural world. Wolves were historically extirpated from Yellowstone and most of the continental United States by settlers and ranchers. A void was filled when they were brought back into the park, and slowly, balance is being restored to a damaged ecosystem. As we explore so many new natural areas on this trip, we hope to learn of more triumphs like the wolves coming back to Yellowstone.

Most challenging part of living in a van:

It's a small living space, and storage space is at a premium. It's a challenge to be efficient and not acquire unnecessary items. Actually, determining what is absolutely essential in there is a big part of that challenge. Keeping things organized and compact is key to our sanity.

Also, it's inevitable that with a 30-year old vehicle, things are going to break down. Every week we have something new to repair, whether it's a door lock, an oil leak, or an engine malfunction. Figuring out how to fix each little hiccup is definitely a challenge.

Best piece(s) of practical advice for someone following in your footsteps:

Set a goal of approximately where you want to go, and how long, but leave a lot of room for flexibility. With an extended road trip, there are numerous factors that can alter your plans, like inclement weather, auto maintenance and repairs, and needing a rest, so it's important to be able to bend with the wind. It's also more fun if part of the plan is to not have an exact plan!

Sticking to a budget is helpful. Figure out how much money there is to spend, and over what time period it can be stretched. This can really help in planning your daily activities. We keep an accurate spreadsheet of all our our expenses, and incorporate a lot of free activities. We're lucky that a lot of the things that we enjoy -- hiking, geocaching, birdwatching, and getting out to explore nature -- are low cost activities. Investing $80 in an annual National Park "America the Beautiful" pass has saved us hundreds of dollars in federal park admission fees. Have a slush fund for unexpected expenses, which are inevitable.

Marc and Eliana's website:

Glad you all are almost

Glad you all are almost home. We missed you!

You guys rock!

You guys rock!