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Who’s Out There Now? Karen and Eric

Written By: jeff

Posted On: November 29th, 2011

career break travel adventures in Canada, Lake Louise, Trans Americas Journey

Karen and Eric at Lake Louise in Canada. Copyright Eric Mohl

In this week’s ¨Who’s Out There Now¨ feature, we bring to you Karen and Eric of the Trans-Americas Journey. They’re traveling overland through the Americas in their Chevy Silverado truck capturing all their stories, photos and videos on their site, Trans-Americas.com and in magazine and newspaper stories. They may not have invented the concept of slow travel, but they sure are perfecting it. After almost 5 years on the road, they’ve only made it from the US to Central America. No doubt they are connecting with the countries they’ve visited and the people they’ve met.

1. So, where in the world are you answering these questions from?
Suchitoto, El Salvador

2. I mentioned in the intro that you are the poster children of slow travel. Can you go too slow?
You know you’re going too slow if you find yourself paying rent.

3. What kind of special preparation is required for the truck to make this kind of a journey?
Our Chevy Silverado 2500 diesel is pretty tough to begin with but we did have a custom-built aluminum cargo box made to fit into the bed. It holds our possessions including camping gear, SCUBA gear, clothes for every conceivable activity and climate, etc. It keeps rain, dust and sticky fingers out. People tend to think our odd silver box is refrigerated or (disturbingly) used to transport hunting dogs.

We also made a number of after-market modifications to the truck including BF Goodrich tires, Bilstein shocks, a Transfer Flow auxiliary fuel tank and switching to Amsoil synthetic oil and lubricants. If you want more details about all of our after-market modifications, take a look at the Truck Specs page on our website.

career break travel adventures in Belize, diving in Belize, TransAmericas Journey

Diving in Belize. Copyright Eric Mohl

4. You crossed the US-Mexico border (from El Paso to Juarez) at a time when most Texans won’t even cross over to make a day trip to the border towns for shopping. No qualms about passing through Juarez or coming up unexpectedly on someone dangerous?
A: Well, we didn’t hang around Juarez! And like we always say: unless you’re entering Mexico to deal drugs or become the chief of police the drug-related violence in Mexico (even in Juarez) will not be directed at you. We spent 18 months in Mexico and drove just shy of 25,000 miles around just about the entire country and not once did we see or sense danger or sketchiness of any kind anywhere in Mexico.

The worst thing about crossing the border from El Paso into Juarez is the crowds and chaos in both directions. It’s just a busy, busy border. We later learned to use the Santa Theresa crossing just a few miles from the Juarez crossing. It bypasses the town of Juarez together and is much mellower. This is a much better border choice if you’re entering Mexico from El Paso.

5. Career break, nomadic adventure, backpacking, how do you characterize your trips?

It’s certainly not a career break since we’ve literally taken our careers as a freelance travel writer and freelance photographer on the road with us. Don’t believe us? Check out the Published Work page of our website to see the stories we’ve done for various US and Canadian travel publications. We spend a substantial portion of the Trans-Americas Journey pitching, researching and writing stories, aka having careers.

We’re not backpacking either (unless you consider our truck a big metal backpack). We had a four-year backpacking adventure through South Asia from 1995 to 1999—THAT was a career break which inspired our current adventure.

We think the best description of the Trans-Americas Journey is one we adopted long ago: The Mother of All (Working) Road Trips.

6. What are some of the secrets to travel that you’ve discovered that you think more people who aren’t traveling should know?

  • Fear can’t stand to be looked at.
  • You need less than you’ve already packed.
  • Everyone you meet has the same basic needs as you do, even if they use different words to describe those needs.
career break travel adventures in Mexico, TransAmericas Journey

High Noon in Mexico? Copyright Eric Mohl

7. What was your first ¨We’re not in Kansas anymore¨ moment?

The first “we’re not in Kansas anymore” moment of the Trans-Americas Journey happened within the first 24 hours. In April of 2006 we departed Manhattan and made a bee line straight for New Orleans where we had a date with the annual Jazz & Heritage Festival. We drove through the night and after 16 hours we made it to Birmingham, Alabama where we stopped for breakfast at The Omelet Shoppe, in part because of the giant egg on the sign, blissfully unaware of its fate. There was something Humpty Dumpty about it (before the great fall).

We walked into the restaurant and the other diners stopped talking and started staring. Then our gloriously monotone breakfasts (nearly white eggs, white grits, white toast, white butter) arrived. When they say the south is a foreign country they’re not kidding.

As a side note, we just read a disturbing conversation on the website for Road Food (required reading for any road tripper both in the electronic form and the book versions) and it seems the Omelet Shoppe chain may be no more. Goodbye giant happy egg!

career break travel adventures in Mexico, Trans Americas Journey

Logo from the Omelet Shop

8. What’s been your most ¨local¨ experience so far?

We were invited to take part in the re-burial of Frans Blom and Trudy Duby, the founders of Na Bolom, a non-profit organization based in San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico. Na Bolom works to preserve the culture and customs of local indigenous groups while improving the basics like health care and education. The Bloms, still beloved by the Lacandon, were going to be re-buried in a cemetery near the remote village of Na Ha, one of the few remaining Lacandon villages.

There may be as few as 800 true Lacandon left in the world. To get the chance to spend time with the Lacandon and witness rarely performed rituals was about as local (and lucky) as it gets. Eventually Frans and Trudy took their rightful place next to a former Lacandon leader in the local cemetery so, as the Lacandon believe, the three of them could continue the good conversations they used to have when they were all still alive.

9. What has been your most embarrassing moment?

Make that moments. We’re STILL butchering the Spanish language despite taking six weeks of Spanish school and spending more than two years in Spanish speaking countries. By the way, we have no idea what the Spanish word for embarrassing is…

career break travel adventures in the US, Grand Canyon, TransAmericas Journey

At the Grand Canyon. Copyright Eric Mohl

10. What’s your secret for getting the most out of your journey?

Not making plans or making assumptions. Both get in the way of actually having experiences.

11. Finally, our lightening round. (Just a quick short answer please. Indicate an answer for each of you)

  • Best dish you’ve found so far
    ERIC: I’m a sucker for BBQ. I’d drive back to Sweatman’s in South Carolina for a pulled pork sandwich right now if diesel wasn’t $4 a gallon.
    KAREN: Anything on the street in Mexico.
  • Most exotic food eaten
    ERIC: Char-grilled goat kidneys at a wedding in Kathmandu, Nepal.
    KAREN: Sautéed cow udder at a barbecue near Metapan, El Salvador.
  • Most breathtaking moment
    ERIC: Stripping naked and running into a perfectly lake-flat ocean after an all-night rave in Goa, India. This experience may have been chemically enhanced, but I don’t think so.
    KAREN: Watching a pod of orcas approach our zodiac and eyeball us from less than six feet away when we were in Antarctica.  Oh, and SCUBA diving with a trio of dolphins in Belize.
  • Biggest disappointment
    Couldn’t say. A disappointing day out on the road is still better than a great day in a cubicle…
  • Most memorable place
    With more than 20 years of travel between us there’s no way we could pick just one place.
  • Most memorable person
    ERIC: The Dalai Lama whom we met during one of his public audiences in Dharamsala, India.
    KAREN: Pancho in Lagos de Moreno, Mexico (you know who you are).
  • Best thing to have on a long bus ride
    ERIC: Wouldn’t know since we don’t do buses—but a well-stocked iPod sounds like a great idea.
    KAREN: A truck.
  • Worst thing to have on a long bus ride
    ERIC: An Indian movie turned up to 11.
    KAREN: A goat on your lap.
  • Best thing you packed
    ERIC: Our SteriPEN which keeps us from getting sick from bad water and means we don’t have to buy and then throw away a Mount Everest of plastic water bottles.
    KAREN: My Costa del Sol sunglasses which I wear every day (even when it’s shady).
  • Dumbest thing you packed
    ERIC: A sweater that I still haven’t worn after toting it around in the truck for nearly five years.
    KAREN: A round hair brush used to blow dry my hair. I ditched that at about mile 73.
  • Funniest travel habit you have
    ERIC: Drive. Stop. Eat. Work. Sleep. Drive. Stop. Eat. Work. Sleep. Drive. Stop. Eat. Work…
    KAREN: I always unpack our travel clock the moment we enter a new room. It makes it instantly homey. Plus I hate to be late.
  • Place you wish you could’ve stayed longer
    ERIC & KAREN: The beauty of our Journey is that if we want to stay longer, we do. So we have no regrets in this department.
career break travel adventures in Belize, Altun Ha ruins, TransAmericas Journey

Altun Ha ruins in Belize. Copyright Eric Mohl

You can follow Karen and Eric on their Trans-Americas Journey blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter @TransAmericas

Every week, Career Break Secrets profiles a different traveler or traveling couple who are embracing the ¨Because Life Is Out There TM¨ travel spirit.  These are people who have taken the plunge to embark on a career break and are currently traveling the world.

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2 Responses to “Who’s Out There Now? Karen and Eric”

  1. Fascinating journey. My wife and I are living the “traveling lifestyle” as well, but we’re in the Philippines at the moment. My career is all online, so I can bring my work anywhere I go. It’s nice not to be tied down in one place. You’re advice about fear and everyone being the same (humanly speaking) is so right on. Wherever we go, the people we meet, though speaking a different language, all have the same basic needs. It’s really a great life!

  2. In my line of work I get to see many people coming to new zealand on a working 12 month holiday. Infact I have noticed a lot more in the last 18 months or so.

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