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Courier Life

Taking the family off-grid

Adam and Emily Harteau, along with their then toddler daughter Collette, set off for South America in a VW van from California in 2012, planning a year long road trip. Some three and a half years later, and they’re still travelling, having decided to lead their life ‘permanently’ on the road.

5 Nov 2016

Funded by fair trade ’24 hour bazaars’ (selling goods from their travels online), a Kickstarter campaign, selling art work created by Adam and commercial partnerships, the family have weaved their way through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil (where their youngest daughter Sierra was born), Uruguay and Bolivia.

In February 2015, they reached Lapataia Bay, the continent’s southernmost tip and have since been slowly driving north. They’ve not abandoned tech, posting their travels online and connecting to the rest of the world. The lack of internet access for long periods of their trip does however make the idea of a daily screen quota for the kids a lot less of a problem.

Courier caught up with the couple to hear about the rewards and challenges that come with raising a family from a van.

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What were your feelings when you set off?

The main courses flowing through our blood were exhilaration and excitment, served with a side of exhaustion, a small side of fear and freedom for dessert.

What’s the best thing about the children growing up on the road?

Growing up on the road means living in the world, more than in a van. The girls have seen nesting penguins in Tierra del Fuego and swam with pink river dolphins in the Bolivian Amazon. They’ve climbed to 16,000 feet to camp at Andean cultural events, met farmers in every country and studied the circle of food. Geography lessons take place where they have actually been, history is studied in Incan ruins, maths through currency and marketplaces. Experiential learning through this life on the road has offered incomparable lessons.

Would you recommend other families do what you have done?

Absolutely! Being a full-time family is a highly rewarding (and often challenging) commitment. Life on the road is not a linear or predictable experience, so requires much patience for all involved. The rewards, however, are immense and often exceed our wildest dreams.

What are the biggest challenges of travelling with children? 

Kids get sick, throw tantrums, and ask a million questions anywhere you raise them. Trusted babysitters are hard to come by, so on the road there is little chance for time away from kids.

How often do you now move around? 

Our twists and turns are determined by many factors – both spontaneous and planned, in the grand scheme and on a daily basis. Weather and finances help determine what activities we do. Tuning into the energy of a place, we decide where to camp and how long to stay. We have a loose idea of where we want to be for, say, a season, or that we need to be at a place to meet someone in three months, and we adjust our course accordingly. Early on we adopted a standing rule that if one of us does not like a campsite, we move, no questions asked. On the road, you are stripped of so many outside filters and your intuition is your best, most vital gift.