Jorn Vangoidtsenhoven (aka Vango) has just published Follow Your Bliss: Road Trip Into Central America, a 304 page book full of inspiration, photography, and overlanding tips.
Truck Camper Magazine interviewee and 2015 TCM Calendar Cover winner, Jorn Vangoidtsenhoven (aka Vango) has just published a spectacular 304 page book documenting his truck camping experiences in Central America with a 2008 Ram 3500 and a 2014 CampLite 8.5.
What follows is an exclusive sneak peak into Vango’s new book. It’s a must read, but be careful. First, it may entice you to sell everything and live free as a bird on the road. And second, you’ll probably want to read the whole book when you finish the intro.
Follow Your Bliss: Intro
Above: A colorful scene unfolds in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
This is our story: a thirty-something couple who quit their jobs, sold their home and hit the road in search of adventure. Mid-life crisis you say? Heck yeah.
January 15, 2014 at the Dodge dealership in San Antonio, Texas: “You’re going where? My family lives in the border area with Mexico and I don’t visit them any longer: it’s too dangerous! There are lots of problems with drugs and violence in Mexico. People get killed on a daily basis; it’s not safe to drive there. Be careful!”
We had brought our truck to the dealer for a final check-up when one of the mechanics inquired where we were heading and freely offered his advice. And so it began: our 150-day adventure into Mexico and Central America.
We used to sit in front of our computer and daydream about visiting all these remote locations. Free email subscriptions promise escapes to exotic locations. Travel websites dangle low price vacation packages in front of you like carrots. Most of us don’t bite however, or at least not as often as we would like. We live our lives by promising ourselves that we’ll go on that vacation sometime in the future.
Above: Thunderstorm over lake Peten Itza in northeastern Guatemala
For some people, wanderlust expresses itself by taking a one-week backpacking trip and not shaving during the entire trip. Yet, there are some who take control of their lives in the here and now: they quit their jobs and go off into the unknown. It was time for my wife and me to do just that. Our dog didn’t have a choice: she was dragged into this without being asked for her opinion. Neither did our cats: they were going to spend some obligatory sleepovers at my in-laws’ house.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s not an easy thing to do. First, we needed to save the money to make it possible. We have five mouths to feed: two humans, one dog and two cats. Second, and definitely as important as the money thing, we needed to build up the courage to actually do it.
I mean, what will happen if you quit your job: will you end up on a street corner with a ‘We are hungry’ sign? The fear of ending up a beggar is what makes many of us show up to work, each and every Monday morning.
Growing up in the western capitalist world is perhaps best described as a long brain washing session: to live your life how society expects you to. Go to school and get good grades until you’re 18; followed by college or university to get a degree that will lead to a decent career (if it doesn’t bankrupt you in the process). Then, a job that consumes your time for the better part of your week. Don’t forget to put in some overtime so the boss likes you, and hopefully you’ll get that well-deserved pay raise which will promptly be spent on the latest cool phone, jacket, upgrade to a bigger house or more luxurious car.
Until the day you get lucky and retire, and may finally have the money and time to go on all of those dream vacations that have been dangling in front of your eyes the last thirty or forty years. The big problem is: what if you never make it to retirement age? What if a financial setback happens along the way and retirement day never comes? What if you don’t have the energy or physical health required to hike to that great photo opportunity on top of the volcano?
It is so easy to get comfortable in your daily routine that most of us never leave it. Comfortable, not ‘happy’. And that’s a damn shame.
Working for The Man means that you have to show up for work 49-50 weeks out of 52. If you are bitten by the travel bug, that is as good as a death sentence. Wouldn’t you be happier if you had a little less money but a lot more freedom? Wouldn’t life feel more like living if you had more than just the weekend to enjoy the days in each week? Wouldn’t life be more fulfilling if you had more than just two weeks every year to go out and explore the big and interesting world we live in?
Working a full-time job doesn’t give you much flexibility. You can hardly ask your employer to pay you less if that will allow you to only show up for work a few months each year. Companies need someone sitting in your chair five days per week. So what do you do? Jump off the cliff with both feet first.
We decided to take the leap: one spring, we quit our jobs and sold our house in Austin, Texas. The real estate market had rebounded nicely and we were able to get some equity from the sale of our house: this became our piggy bank that allowed us to say goodbye to the rat race (for a while at least).
At first we traveled around in the U.S. and Canada: we drove from Texas all the way up to the Arctic Circle in Alaska. We headed back south with the winter fast approaching and we had a decision to make: do we settle down somewhere and re-enter the rat race or … do we continue to travel? The piggy bank still had some money left. But, where could we go during the cold winter months?
Having lived in Austin, Texas for ten years, we always regretted not being able to take a road trip into Mexico and Central America. That is, we didn’t think it was possible because of safety issues. Everyone you know, and their mother, frequently remind you that people get killed in Central America. As if no one is getting killed or car-jacked in the U.S. But still, what if it’s really bad down there? Will we make it out alive or are we idiots for even considering such a trip? Didn’t they recently have revolutions and all kinds of drug killings happen in those countries? We decided to go for it. After all: how dangerous can it be?
We didn’t regret it! As Ferris Bueller says: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Above: Local buys say hello to our dog, Sophie, in El Remate, Guatemala
I, Jorn, celebrated my fortieth birthday on this road trip in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Born in Belgium, I moved to Austin, Texas in 2003 for work. Besides having a degree in Computer Science, I graduated as a photographer and my passion is wildlife and travel photography: a passion that is perfectly aligned with an overland trip.
My wife, Haichong (or Hannah as she calls herself, since few foreigners seem to be able to pronounce her real name), was born in South Korea and relocated to San Antonio, Texas in the late 90s to study music at the local university. Since graduating, she has written five books to teach beginners how to play piano. She loves to travel and to try new foods: also two passions that are well suited to an overland trip.
Sophie, our rescue dog, joined us on this trip. She’s a Chesapeake Bay retriever mix and she loves to run and explore. She’s been face to face with moose, elk and both grizzly and black bears on our road trip up to Alaska: she even chased a black bear into the forest in Alaska! Doing a great job at marking her territory wherever she goes, at age two she must have one of the largest doggy territories in the world: it spans from Texas up to the Arctic Circle and from California all the way south to the Panama Canal!
Above: San Miguel de Allende’s beautiful Parroquia at night
How were we able to afford this? Did we have a trust fund or rich parents who sponsored us? How can you do this? It’s hard to imagine such a great leap when a short vacation squeezed into a full-time work life means airfare, car rentals, hotel stays – great expense for relatively short return.
We met a surprising number of long-term overlanders; people who travel mainly over land as opposed to by air; on our trip up to Alaska and down to Panama who had chosen this lifestyle. Some are retired and receiving enough retirement income to support their traveling habit until the day they die.
Others have enough income from investments such as rental homes to support their dream. We, however, fell into the category of most other travelers we met: we saved some money, quit our jobs and took the plunge into the unknown.
But, no matter the situation, all long-term travelers we met stick to a strict budget.
Traveling by air, renting a car, staying in hotels and eating out for every meal is about the most expensive way to travel. Traveling overland by car however allows you to carry your bed and kitchen with you, thus keeping your money in your piggy bank for that much longer. The same applies to backpacking, but overland travel in your own car provides you with more freedom than being restricted to public transportation to get you from A to B.
How much does it cost to travel by RV?
It depends. You can travel in a luxury RV, stay in full service campgrounds and eat out regularly. Some RV parks in the U.S. charge the same nightly fee as a hotel stay! Travel more wisely however and you can easily spend an entire month of traveling through Central America on a minimum wage salary. This includes all of your expenses, from car insurance to health insurance and from gas to food expenses.
Here’s a sample budget for one month of traveling around in Central America in 2014:
Gas and car expenses: $630
Miscellaneous (toll roads, laundry, park and museum admissions, border crossings): $440
Groceries (including eating out and dog food): $350
RV parks: $305 Insurance: $286
Total spent that month: $2,011.
We didn’t quit our job to spend our days living like beggars. We like to think we always ate well; slept in safe places; visited the tourist attractions along the way and even ate out a few times per week (usually in the local municipal markets where the locals eat at street vendors’ stalls to sample the ‘real’ local food).
It’s simple math really: if you have $10,000 set aside for a road trip, you can easily spend $5,000 per month and spend all of your money on a two month vacation. In our case, we chose to budget our living expenses to $2,000 per month. That meant going on a five month road trip!
How to read this book
Above: Catemaco, Mexico is a great place for birding
For every location we visited in Central America, we included a short write-up with our recommendations of what to see or do; where we camped; the driving distance from the previous location, the GPS coordinates of the campsite, and the altitude. Why do we include a campsite’s altitude? You’ll know why when you get there. The altitude is a very important aspect to be able to predict whether the weather upon arrival will be hot and humid, or deliciously chilly at night!
This book is written as a first person narrative of our travel experiences in all of the wonderful places that Mexico and Central America have to offer. You might take our word for it and follow our advice to go see the special places that we mention or avoid certain places (or you might be curious and go anyway!). Hopefully, you’ll follow in our footsteps and sooth that burning desire to go out and explore. We hope you enjoy reading our story as much as we enjoyed living it.
The second half of the book comprises of the author’s favorite travel photographs.
How to Order Follow Your Bliss
Follow Your Bliss; Road Trip Into Central America is available in three formats: eBook PDF for iPad, Nook, PC, and Mac for $5.49, ebook Kindle format for Amazon Kindle devices for $5.99, and in print. The print version consists of two separate paperbacks, one with the text for $19.95, and one with the full color photography for $19.95.
To order a digital or print copy of Follow Your Bliss (304 pages, 127 full-color photographs), click here.