by Brittany Caumette
It was meant to be nothing more than a relaxing holiday on the beach. I had brought a swimsuit and a pile of books, but didn’t pack sexy underwear. I had no intention of meeting the man that I would marry and travel the world with in a camper van.
But that’s exactly what happened.
Let me back up a bit: I was finishing off a challenging year teaching on a farm in Zimbabwe. This was to be a final hoorah before my impending return home to get yet another degree. It’s what I’d convinced myself I ought to do.
I’d been traveling the world for the better part of a decade, returning to the West whenever I felt a pang of inner guilt telling me it was time to grow up and get a real job. “Real jobs” in the West, however, never worked out for me, and I was usually gone again within six months, volunteering, backpacking, or working my way around the world.
I was at the penultimate stage of my recurring loop–the point where I’d been abroad for awhile, had convinced myself to be responsible, and had made sensible plans for myself back home.
Bruno caught me in that moment, and reversed the course of my loop in 24 short hours.
“I have an empty seat in my Toyota,” he teased, an hour into our fateful encounter at a campsite in Vilanculos. Bruno had been traveling for 14 years in the back of his Toyota-cum-camper, and was just beginning his second trip around the world. “You could come with me, if you wanted…”
My heart leapt with excitement, before my mind brought it crashing to the ground. I had a career plan, responsibilities, cats! “I can’t throw all that away for a man I just met,” I reasoned with myself.
But when I looked into his eyes, overflowing with the curiosity of a child and the inner peace of a Buddhist monk, I knew I had to follow my heart. She knew what was best for me.
And so, on that beach, Bruno and I carved out a plan that changed the course of my life forever. Gone were ideas of master’s degrees, internships, and responsible career advancement. Instead was a simple idea – to do what I wanted to do, rather than what I thought I should do. And that meant traveling the world.
It’s been two years now since I boarded the empty seat in the Toyota, and I’ve never looked back. I’ve never played the “What If” game, except to think about how much less amazing my life would have been had I gotten that master’s degree instead. I wouldn’t have been surrounded by wild elephants in Namibia or climbed a dormant volcano in Kenya. I wouldn’t have tracked lions in Zimbabwe or spotted Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. I wouldn’t have slept on a salt pan in Botswana’s Kalahari Desert or seen the source of the Nile River in Uganda.
Traveling the way we do has infinite benefits besides ticking places and experiences off a bucket list, however. We have the time to travel slowly, to stay longer in places we love and to dig deeper into just what makes that place tick. We can visit off-the-beaten-track and hard-to-reach places in our own independent transportation. We stretch our dollars further, allowing us to be on the road–happily jobless–longer. Yet we have the comforts of home, sleeping in our own bed rather than living out of a suitcase.
More importantly, we have the control to live according to our own value system–which for us means contributing to local economies, living outdoors and in nature, and minimizing our ecological footprint. And most importantly of all, it means having the freedom to do what we want now, to follow our passions, curiosities and desires each and every day.
We’re not the only ones living this way, I’ve learned. We have met countless couples (young and old), families, and solo women traveling the world overland in their own vehicles. They travel for a few years or a lifetime (we know a couple on the road for almost 30 years!), sleep in tents on their roofs or in colossally comfortable campers, and with budgets tiny or large. What we all share is a passion for travel, for the constant surprises and thrills that a nomadic life on the road brings.
I guess you could say that I’ve finally accepted who I really am – a wanderer. My nomadic self was always inside of me, but it took love and a camper van in Mozambique to let her blossom and take charge.
Brittany Caumette has been traveling around the world almost non-stop for nearly a decade. To say it’s an obsession would be an understatement – it’s more of a way of life. Currently two years into an overland around-the-world trip and still stuck in Africa, she writes about her experiences on her website, Wandering Footsteps.