The Road Less Traveled

The Road Less Traveled

2015-03-11 - With four children, little money and a car that pre-dates modern roadway infrastructure, the Zapp family still manages to make traveling look easy. Lauren Comiteau spoke to father of the clan Herman Zapp about life on the road—all 15 years of it.

When Candelaria and Herman Zapp left their steady jobs and the house they’d been building for three years to take a road trip from their Argentinean home to Alaska in 2000, escape wasn’t on the agenda.

“We weren’t escaping at all,” says Herman Zapp of the couple’s pursuit of the travelling dream they had shared since childhood. “We didn’t leave anything behind, but went for everything.”

 Fifteen years, five continents, 250,000 kilometers and four children later, their dream to travel the world is still alive and well and currently being pursued in Africa. Far from escaping life, they are making sure that life doesn’t escape them.

“Follow your heart,” is Zapp’s motto, who adds that the most important part of any dream is simply to start it. Although leaving behind everything they knew for the uncertainties of life on the road has been the most challenging part of their journey to date, “once you feel freedom, you don’t want to go back,” says Zapp. “We want the freedom to go anywhere. Real life is at every curve.” 

I spoke to Herman Zapp from Kenya, where he was waiting for his family to join him after two weeks apart, the longest they’ve been separated. “Families are meant to be together,” says Zapp of their 24/7 lifestyle, where the rewards, he says, outweigh any obstacles. When the family arrives, they will make their way to Ethiopia. After that, it’s either north to Sudan or east to Oman, a decision they’ll make democratically on the road—most likely over a game of Rock-paper-scissors"

“Whatever happens, we’ll just go for it,” he says.  

There were naysayers from the start, with many people questioning the wisdom of travelling with no money and cautioning against the dangers of the road. “No one said go for your dream, people will be there for you,” says Zapp. “But they are. And that’s why we keep travelling.” In addition to camping, they’ve been guests in over 1,000 homes, and it’s all the people they’ve met along the way that keeps them moving. 

“You can visit 1,000 cities, 1,000 beaches, 1,000 mountains,” says Zapp, “but in the end, one more is just one more. People, though, will be different, each with a story to tell.” 

Perhaps unexpectedly, it’s their unlikely choice of vehicle that has gained them entry into so many worlds. Their 1928 Graham-Paige, decked out with a picture of their car circling the globe and the words “Going Around Home,” was a happy accident. The car, that takes them places at about 50 km/hour, was towed in on a flatbed truck and offered to them. “I fell in love when I saw it,” says Zapp, whose wife needed more convincing. “There was no plastic, no electric parts. It was more curvy than any woman. People said the car will give you trouble, but it’s been such a door opener. We make friends because of the car.”

Not that there haven’t been challenges on the road: They’ve run out of money; been denied visas at border crossings (it probably doesn’t help that their kids have three different nationalities); navigated the Amazon River on a raft and in Tanzania, they got stuck during the rainy season.

But in an infectious optimism that’s apparent from the first contact with the Zapps, they seem to turn every possible obstacle into an adventure: they live mostly off the proceeds from the book they self-published about their adventures, Atrapa tu Sueño (or Spark Your Dream), and during their rainy season mishap, they were invited to stay in a five-star hotel in Dar es Salaam. “My kids complained,” said Zapp. “They wanted to camp and get back to the adventure side of things.”  

Their four children, ranging in age from five to 12, have been “road-schooled,” say the Zapps, following an Argentinean program but with a twist: biology lessons are supplemented by roaming elephants on Tanzania’s plains and geography lessons have been held at the base of Mt. Everest. And far from being the Luddites that their car implies, the family is very “connected,” says Zapp, with Skype, PayPal and Google Maps making travelling easier and allowing them to stay in touch with their family back home.

But the journey as they know it may soon come to a bittersweet end as their oldest son Pampa reaches his 14th birthday in two years time and they will return to their Argentinean home. That doesn’t mean, though, that their travelling days are over. “I want to go around the world sailing,” says Zapp, who says he still has to convince Candelaria. “But if I convinced my wife to go in this car without money and have four kids, I can convince her to go sailing!”

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