Nadine, 41 years old and Stéphane, 42 years old, travelled across the Americas in a converted van with their three daughters. An epic three-year adventure driven by their desire for a change of pace in life and discovery.
Nadine, forty-something, and her husband Stéphane travelled from Chili to Canada with their then 7, 13 and 16 year old daughters. They spent three years travelling across open roads, crossing mountains and enjoying beaches in their outfitted van. All at a relaxed pace: what really mattered was the scenery.
Before leaving, they were bakers in the 13th arrondissement of Paris, an overwhelmingly fast-paced lifestyle that did not leave any time for family. Stéphane had serious health problems. The bakery burned down. It became critical: they needed to live and discover the world, together. They took to the road and created a blog to keep in touch with family.
Can you describe yourself?
My name is Nadine and my husband is Stéphane. I am 41 years old, and Stéphane is 42. We have three daughters aged 7, 13 and 16 years old. We are artisan bakers.
Tell us about your travels. How did you organize the different stages?
We organized a three year trip in an outfitted van, travelling from southern Latin America to Vancouver, Canada. We travelled about 60 kilometers a day from city to city. That is not a lot. Over a three year period, we drove 75,000 kilometers. We really took our time. We started in Chili, went to Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Colombia. Then we took a plane to Cuba for two weeks, where part of our family joined us. Following that, we took a plane back to Mexico. The van was transported from Colombia to Mexico by boat. Then, we travelled across the United States and Canada.
Did you plan the different stages of your trip?
The trip was not organized around a fixed itinerary. We really went on feeling. In a typical day we would arrive in a village square in the morning, and would see if we could talk with people. They would tell us, “ there is something nice that way, go there, ” or “ we can eat there and let’s meet at this time. ” Like when we were in Mexico. People told us, “ there is a celebration. It is the San Sebastian. *» It was interesting to see. We were on site. I stopped someone to ask, “ but where is the procession going to be, can I park here? ” and they told me, “ yes, no problem.*” There were thousands of horses and we walked behind them. We sang, we yelled. We talked and met someone who invited us into their garden. We ate at their house and stayed there for two days.
What was your day-to-day life like?
In general, we liked waking up at 7:00am in order to start school at 8:00am. Around 11:00am-12:00pm, we would go wander or hike. We ate a big meal in the morning and at night, but not at noon in order to really enjoy the day. In the evening, we would arrive in the town square. We would check out the bars, and grab a little something to try to fit in with the locals. We would ask if everything was alright and if we could sleep there. We would always settle in before nightfall, around 4:00pm- 5:00pm in order to make sure it was safe and that we were not bothering anyone. We never imposed ourselves: we always asked before settling in.
Did you have any constraints?
Our only constraint was the children’s school. They were educated via the CNED, an organization that provides long distance education. Stéphane and I shared the duties. He taught the sciences and I taught the more literary subjects.
Water was also a constraint. We would take the necessary steps to ask if we could use a little bit of water or wash our laundry.
Why did you live in a van?
It was not our first trip - in 2007 we went to Latin America. We travelled with the children for ten months in a camping car. Why did we switch from a camping car to a van? During our first trip, we realized it was not adapted to what we wanted. We had too many things. One-third of the space went unused. Also, the van is less luxurious; people find it more approachable. They were more likely to come knock on our door to talk with us. It was really nice. It is also more solid and robust. We wanted to buy a van that we could outfit how we imagined it. It was really organized, starting with the design of the vehicle.
How did you use the telephone and internet?
We had to connect to the internet at least once every three days for the children’s school, but we managed to make it daily, in order to download courses and send exams. We also used it almost every day for the blog. That allowed us to keep in touch with family. We use it less to meet travelers like us. Those meetings mostly happened by chance on the road. And we called our family on Skype once a month.
How did you decide to take this three year long voyage?
We had always dreamed of travelling, but it seemed really inaccessible to us due to our high-speed lifestyle. We had a bakery in Paris. We realized that we did not see each other, neither my children nor my husband. We were strangers. The bakery burned, Stéphane had a heart attack, and we said to ourselves “we need to discover the rest of the world while we are still alive.” That is how we decided to leave: first to discover each other and second to discover the world while we are still living, and also to live a slower paced life.
What do you like about this lifestyle?
First of all the scenery, especially on our trip because it was really varied. We took a lot of photos. Visually, it was something that we were seeking. And discovering others, other cultures. We learned Spanish, we jabbered in Brazilian and spoke English. It is important to communicate with people and speak their language. It is something that we would like to defend and that we promote: look beyond what is right in front of you.
Why did you end the trip? What was it like to return?
The main reason we came back was because our eldest, who is 16 years old, started her sophomore year and it became difficult to keep up with her school work. It was also hard for her spend time in a place making friends, and then lose them each time we left. For us, returning was quite difficult after three years on the road. We no longer had a home and currently live with Stéphane’s sister in Essonne. We have just signed on to manage a bakery that is not very far from where we currently live. The goal is to leave again when the girls are grown up. But they will still be able to come if they want to. We call it the virus of discovery.