How a Random Laotian Motorcycle Led to an Endless Road Trip

A guide to endless travel starts with rule number one: Don’t let fear hold you back.


This is a story of love. Before they met, Natasha and Pete had a passionate love of long-term international and domestic travel. Separately, they felt travel changed their perceptions of the world and made them more openminded and accepting of cultural differences. After they fell madly in love and were wed, the couple set out on a pair of adventures that changed their married life forever: a four-month U.S. road trip and a four-month trip through Southeast Asia. The U.S. on wheels hinted toward a desire to keep things rolling but a month-long motorcycle rental in Laos solidified a lust for international motorized adventuring.

“It was amazing to explore a foreign country with our own transportation,” Natasha explains. In November 2015, they set their sights and their steering wheel on the Pan-American Highway. It offered tons of outdoor adventures and, with the exception of Brazil and a few smaller countries, Spanish was the only language they needed to learn. They packed up their truck, put a camper on the bed, and stepped on the accelerator.

The plan was to make it to Ushuaia, Argentina. But travel proved slow. After 16 months on the road, Pete and Natasha hadn’t made it through Central America. They’re okay with it though. Slow going allows for better, deeper adventuring. The new plan is to finish Central America and return home to work and save for the final leg of the Pan-Am Highway. And Pete and Natalie want to build a tiny home. They want to spend a large part of every year traveling, for the rest of their lives, forever and ever, amen.

Year, Make, and Model?
2004 F250 with a 2004 Four Wheel Camper Hawk.

Does it have a name?
Unfortunately, she’s nameless. We haven’t been able to come up with one that sticks yet.

Years Owned?
3 years.

How did you get it?
We bought the truck locally after we decided on a pop-up camper. We weren’t too concerned with the model. We just wanted one that was in good shape and in our price range. The Four-Wheel Camper was much harder to find. There weren’t many used Hawks for sale, and even less available on the East Coast. A new camper was way out of our budget. We were doing our daily internet scour and found one for sale in New York. We contacted the owner instantly. A few days and several emails later, we sent him a cashier’s check sight unseen. He then kindly drove it to our friend’s house in Vermont. We drove up a few months later to pick it up. It was a bit risky but we couldn’t be happier with the camper or the interaction.

How did you modify it?
It had almost everything we needed so there wasn’t much to modify. We put in a new floor just for aesthetics. We put a second fan over the bed, which we are so thankful for. We’ve camped in some hot places, very, very hot places. We replaced the battery with two golf cart AGMs, and bought a 90-watt portable solar panel. We mounted a jerry can on the back and recovery tracks on the roof. We also added an ARB awning. Most recently, we’ve had to replace our three-way fridge with the only compressor fridge we could find in Nicaragua. That’s still a tedious work in progress.

What do you do for a living?
I’m a registered nurse and Pete works for a company that does audio-video installations.

Most memorable place or adventure?
Because we move at a snail’s pace, we’re just on our sixth country after 16 months. There’s been so many amazing places, so it’s hard to narrow it down. The beauty and solitude of wild camping in Baja was unforgettable. The entire Mountain Pine Ridge area of Belize was a favorite. We followed a stranger to a remote camp at Laguna Brava, an isolated lake in northern Guatemala. Camping in the backyard of a family in Todos Santos, Guatemala was a very cool cultural experience. The owner’s son would come over every evening, and we would share a beer and muddle through conversations about religion, politics, family, and music with our limited Spanish. Most recently, we camped under pine trees in the cool weather of Parque Nacional Montaña de Celaque in Honduras.

Sports done along the way?
Backpacking, scuba diving, and we just attempted to learn to how to surf. We are quite terrible and it is awesome.

Pros of camper ownership?
Being able to go where we want, when we want, without having to rely on public transportation is a big one. Also, we love the ability to stock up with a week’s worth of food and water, and camp in off-the-beaten-path areas. It’s really nice to be truly and completely self sufficient. While living and traveling in a vehicle, we often camp at people’s private homes or restaurants where there are no other foreign tourists. This has led to some beautiful and memorable interactions with people. And we are able to bring our dog along. That would have been much more difficult if we were traveling another way.

Cons of camper ownership?
We had no idea how hard it would be to live together in a small space for an extended period of time. You’re around your partner 24 hours a day. Unlike at home, when we were both working, there’s no chance to miss each other. For our first eight years together we rarely fought, but we’ve had some serious squabbles in the last 16 months.

Driving around in our home with all our belongings gives us much more freedom, but it adds an extra amount of stress. The entire trip weighs on the ability of our vehicle to perform well and whether or not we can keep it secure. Also, driving through the often-chaotic traffic of Mexico and Central America takes some serious concentration.

Advice for others looking to do a similar adventure?
We still feel like such novices, so it’s hard for us to give out advice, but what we have learned not to let fear dictate our travels. So many people warned us about how dangerous Mexico was, and then it was El Salvador, and then Honduras. Those countries turned out to be two of our favorites. Obviously violence exists in these countries and we don’t want to belittle the effect it has on the people that live there, but the overwhelming majority of people we’ve come into contact with have been incredibly kind, welcoming, and genuinely pleased that we’ve chosen to visit their country. If we listened to naysayers, we would have been too terrified to go anywhere. Instead we’ve chosen to listen to the other travels and the people who actually live in these countries. And we’ve learned the art of patience. Things move at a slower pace here and we have smooth and amicable interactions when we just go with the flow.

Check out Pete and Natasha’s adventures at hereuntilthere.com.

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Showing 2 comments
  • Kyle B.
    Reply

    The entire setup is a pop-up on the bed of a pickup, right? Very handy in that you don’t have to buy a completely new vehicle. No full kitchen, table, or toilet, but who really wants to be stuck in a vehicle once you’re parked, anyway?

    Looks pretty comfy, despite the size, especially during the warm season. I wonder how it fares in wet or cold weather and how it stays dry.

    • JJ
      Reply

      I’ve owned two of these (a Palomino and an Apache). Actually you CAN get a cassette toilet (like a boat’s) and shower on the long-bed models (8′). My Palomino had one. You don’t need a long bed to haul it, just drop the tailgate on your short bed and let it hang out 2′. A cold weather blanket kit to insulate the canvas is available (or make your own). They all have propane heaters. The do stay quite dry in the worst of rainstorms, but you need to dry out the canvas afterward or it will rot and mold.

      Other pros:
      1. Lightweight- a 1/2 ton pickup can handle one (My Apache would even fit a Tacoma).
      2. Inexpensive used, good ones start about $3k. The Four-Wheel brand in this story is considered top of the line.
      3. Quick set-up time, less than a couple of minutes. Plus, you can still use the kitchen, dinette and bathroom (if equipped) with the top down, unlike a tent trailer. Two mt. bikes fit inside with the top down, or hand them off the back on a bike rack hitch.
      4. Fuel mileage. I only lost 1.5mpg on the highway, vs. losing 8mpg for a travel trailer.
      5. A 4×4 pickup is ubiquitous, not so with vans.

      Cons:
      1. In Bear country you can’t hide all the food smells that accumulate in a camper over the years. I don’t think they are allowed in “Hardside Only” campgrounds. But you are sleeping 7′ off the ground so there’s that small consolation.
      2. Loading and unloading it from your truck is kind of a pain. I got it down to about 45 min. each.
      3. Best if stored inside a shed or storage unit when not in use- will last forever that way. You can push one around on a camper dolly after unloading it from the truck.

      Another option is the Capri Rodeo Camper. Pretty basic, and it’s not a pop-up, but they are about as light.

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