The Bus And Us

Tessa and Dillon quit their corporate jobs, refurbished a ’75 VW Westfalia, and hit the road in February 2015. They’re driving from their shared home state Alaska down to Argentina. Tessa has a relaxed approach to travel and is excited by meeting new people and seeing new places – all without a tight timeline or route.  Learn more: interview with Tessa after the jump.

All photos above and below (C) 2015 The Bus and Us



Meet Tessa, Alaska Born Lover Of The Outdoors

How did your trip come to be?

We were both itching for long term international travel and started planning out a trip to Southeast Asia. We are both big soccer fans and thought it would be fun to make it to the World Cup in Brazil 2014, plus South America has skiing so we quickly changed our travel itinerary. We had been avid weekend road trip warriors in Alaska since we started dating so we knew our preferred method of travel was driving together, so why not drive to Brazil for the World Cup? We laugh now at how long our bus restoration took, needless to say we didn’t make it there. We will likely not make it to Brazil until 2016, but that was what sparked the idea.

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Why did you choose the ’75 Westfalia Bus?

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We both loved the Volkswagon (VW) Bus, Dillon for the actual bus and me more for all it represents..  My mom had an early 70’s bus when she was my age and that is what sparked my interest in them. We chose a ’75 specifically because this was the only bus for sale in the state (Alaska) all winter, and we were total newbies about the specifics of VW buses. It was advertised as a ’76 which we knew had some features we wanted. When Dillon went to sign the title he realized it was advertised incorrectly, but it was our only choice and loaded on the tow truck so we went for it. It was a mistake that ended up costing us more than $2,000 in upgrades.

What benefits and challenges has the bus proven to have thus far?

Literally or metaphorically? We did a full restoration on the bus. At this point every bolt on that thing has been replaced. There have been plenty of issues with the bus, but nothing that Dillon hasn’t been able to fix. We broke down twice in the first three days of the trip, once at the Canadian border with a hundred cars behind us in line for customs but it was nothing a little duct tape couldn’t fix. The bus is aerodynamically challenged so it’s like driving a toaster down the highways with a bunch of weight on top. Semi trucks and any random gust of wind will blow us into a different lane or slightly off the road so there is never a dull moment driving. The largest challenge we anticipate is the lack of air conditioning in the bus. We both get grouchy in the heat so it should be interesting, especially when we have to crank the heat in efforts to keep the engine from overheating.

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That having been said, the freedom that having your house with you wherever you go is a feeling that is unmatched. It has allowed us flexibility in not having to make plans ahead of time. We can wake up and see where the wind blows us without needing to worry about hostel reservations etc.

What was the reaction of family and friends to your adventure?

My mom, having been a bus owner, was into the idea. My parents instilled the value of travel in my brothers and me at a young age, so they were supportive. With that being said, they are of the generation that went to college and immediately began working in their careers and didn’t really stop, so there were some societal pressures there that really made Dillon and I question quitting our stable career jobs. Our friends were all incredibly stoked for our adventure. While we typically surround ourselves with likeminded people that love to explore and do things outside, I was nervous about what professionals in my field and my bosses would say. Surprisingly, I did not have one response that wasn’t either ‘I wish I would have done something like that when I was your age’ or ‘I traveled when I was younger and it was the best decision of my life.’

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Take a photo of your five must have items for van travel.

Tessa's five items
Tessa’s five items

Camera, pee bucket, hat, journal, crafting supplies.

You’ve been on the road over two months – what’s been your most beautiful sight so far?

Aside from Alaska, one of our stand out favorite spots was camping in the desert outside of Canyonlands National Park. Being mountain people we didn’t have expectations for our time in the desert but we were floored by its beauty. We did a ski-in hut trip out of Telluride, Colorado and the hard earned views there were definitely the most stunning we have encountered thus far. There was also something very incredible about driving the bus through Big Sur. Now that I think of it, all of our favorite places have been areas where there are not many other people around, which is why we are stoked to get down into Baja.

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If you and Dillon’s “van roles” were a Venn Diagram, how would they overlap?  How would they differ?

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One of the most important roles is the constant need for organization which we share pretty equally. Dillon is the mechanic and the driver. I enjoy cooking more than he does so typically I make the meals and he does the clean up. I show up to an area and spend some time with locals to get the inside scoop of places to see and where to stay and Dillon is definitely more into researching ahead of time.

What’s your preferred camping location? Stealth, National Forest, campsites, etc.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas have been our favorite camping spots thus far. Coming from Alaska where you can camp anywhere for free, it was shocking to learn how regulated camping is in many parts of the lower 48 and how expensive it can be. BLM areas enable you to camp wherever you see a previous campsite, pull over on the dirt road, or sometimes they have inexpensive and expansive camp areas. [Editor’s note: You may camp for up to 14 days free in one spot]

It’s hard to decide our least favorite between campsites and stealth camping. Campsites usually have us within arm’s reach of our neighbors, they’re expensive, we are forced to listen to their music, and have their junk surround the bus etc. Stealth camping is usually quieter, free, but we have to sneak into the spot in a neighborhood by preparing the whole bus beforehand so we aren’t going in and out. We also learned to really pay attention to where we are stealth camping, we got a parking ticket for parking in a street cleaning zone, on the second Tuesday of the month, while stealth camping in the bus this morning!

They made it to Baja!
They made it to Baja!

Where are you now [April 15, 2015] and where will you be in one month?

We are currently in Newport Beach, CA. We are heading into Baja in a few days but we have no idea where we will be in one month which is the most exciting part of the trip! If we had to guess, we would say just getting into mainland Mexico.