Parents on the Go: Our Open Road

Harteau family

Parents on the Go: Our Open Road

2016-01-05 - In this series we get to know some adventurous families who are teaching their children about the great outdoors from day one. Meet the Harteau family, traveling the world in a van since October 2012.

What was supposed to be a one-year drive from their home in California to Tierra del Fuego in South America turned into an extended journey for the now family of four. This month marks the family’s third year on the road and we caught up with Emily, Adam, Colette and Sierra as they make their way through Chile.

Travel has always been a part of Emily and Adam’s lives. Adam, born in Southern California, grew up traveling California and the Pacific North-West before his family settled in the mountains of a desert of Juniper Hills, CA, where his father built their house and they lived off the grid until he was 15 years old. Emily, born in Santa Cruz, CA, spent summers traveling the Western US packed into the back of the family caravan, exploring National Parks and small towns. “The ‘family road trip’ is very much in both our blood and these early experiences are essential to who we are,” says Emily.

The couple met in Los Angeles in 1998 while studying at the Otis College of Art & Design. While they dabbled in art and surfing (him) and the fashion world (her), they continued to dream about faraway places. They occasionally traveled to foreign destinations and filled their lives with adventures in their own backyard: California.

Then it all changed. In 2011, they were presented with the possibility to move to India and Nepal for Adam’s work. When that fell through, they knew the time had come to plan their own grand voyage. It was to be a one-year road trip to Tierra del Fuego in South America, funded by a crowdfunding campaign, garage sales and fundraisers at friends’ restaurants. In October 2012 it was finally time to go and Emily, Adam and Colette (who was 21-months-old at the time) set off in their repurposed 1990 Volkswagen Westfalia Camper.

Five months in they decided to embrace an unknown future and the rewards of slow travel. “We knew we were (are!) on the journey of a lifetime and rushing to check off places visited seemed very unlike the purpose of our departure.” Currently, there is no end in sight. A sale of curated, fair trade, artisan goods, also known as the 24 Hour Bazaar, continues to finance their nomadic lifestyle (sign up for the curated catalogs here). They share their travels on their blog and on Instagram. They also contribute to various online and print publications, produce original photo content and exhibitions, and host pop-up vegetarian dinners inspired by their time on the road.

Their adventure on the road hasn’t gone without a few hiccups. Emily shared one in particular: “At a remote wild camp in the Peruvian highlands, we were awoken one night by the sound of someone knocking on the front passenger window. It was a strong, urgent knock – the kind you know means business. Adam rolled over and looked out of the top triangle tent window to three machine guns with lights on the end pointed at him. After we gained enough composure to communicate, we quickly discovered they were policemen who were highly confused that we were just tourists, not the drug smugglers with rocket launchers on the top of the van that they thought us to be. Needless to say, our attempts to go back to sleep that night were in vain and we celebrated when the sun rose.”

So what’s next for the family? Will they ever settle down? Emily shares their dream of someday opening an eco-lodge with a garden, small restaurant and art studio. But that would require them to be in one place. “For now our hearts and our lives are on the road. Each day is still a thrill.”

Thank you Adam and Emily for sharing your story. All photos by the Harteau family.