I know it sounds cliché, but I didn’t choose the Vanlife, the Vanlife chose me. Really.
I was in the middle of a year-long trip and had no intentions to pick up a vehicle. I was pretty content hopping around with my backpack and camera.
People always ask… “What made you want to travel South America with a VW Bus?”
The honest answer is that the Kombi was more of a necessity than it was a desire. It comes down to a promise I made to a little ten-week-old puppy I adopted over seven years ago. A promise to give him a home and love him forever.
As my plans in life began to change from a settled down adult to a wandering vagabond, the need to travel became more and more important to me. When I bought a one-way ticket to Brazil two years ago, hoping to travel the world, Hurley (my dog) was a big question mark in being able to accomplish that dream. My aunt gave Hurley a wonderful and loving home for the first part of my trip. It was reassuring to know he was being cared for so well while I was getting my travel fix. However, six months into my one-year “round the world trip” I had only covered ground in two countries, and I realized a year wouldn’t be enough time to see it all. The slow-paced travel worked for me. I enjoyed uncovering to hidden gems and taking the time to learn cultures.
It dawned on me that I had no intentions to go home and Hurley was the only thing that was the anchor back to my life in the US. There were some offers to adopt him permanently; so I could continue to travel, and the thought of being able to move freely about the world had tempted me to take that route. However, I made this little guy a promise I was prepared to keep. With the help of some other animal travelers and advice from friends, I began to learn that traveling with Hurley was not only possible but not as difficult as one would think. Thanks to a one in a million chance encounter with @agypsytail on a trail in Tierra del Fuego, I finally had all the confirmation I needed. Veronica has been traveling with her dog for five years around the world and compiled an excellent resource. www.agypsytail.com
A couple of weeks later I flew home and grabbed Hurley. We landed in Chile and had no idea what we were doing. Thankfully I had @travelofsophie by my side, and we began to figure it out as we go. We found buses and hostels were nearly impossible with a dog, and we were complaining about it in a group chat one day, and that’s when a buddy said: “Dude, just buy a Kombi.” That message was the beginning of the what the last year has become.
Sophie’s trip ended, and I was left all alone in the middle of Chile with Hurley and no vehicle, trying to figure out what to do. I called my friends at Tetris Container Hostel in Foz do Iguazu, Brazil and asked if Hurley and I could come live there and build a van. You can’t walk to the grocery store without seeing a dozen Kombis in Brazil, so I figured it wouldn’t be hard to find one.
I lived at Tetris for seven months where I rebuilt the Kombi and got to experience the local culture. I learned Portuguese and met some great Kombi enthusiasts who helped me dial in Fofinha (My Kombi)
Fofinha translates into ‘Little Fatty” but is used as a term of endearment…you call puppies and babies Fofinha.
Now that I’m on my grand adventure, I can’t imagine traveling any other way. The bus gives me the opportunity to dive into each region and experience things that would have gone missed if I had been traveling by backpack. I have retraced my footsteps over the last eight months, redoing everything I did on foot and finding so many new and incredible experiences I didn’t even know where out there. Having a dog forces me to find things outside of my comfort zone because we just can’t crash in the safety and comfort of the hippest hostel in town.
The van is more than just a home on wheels. It’s a golden ticket. It’s a tool. It’s a lifestyle.
I’m not going to sugar coat it and say that the last year hasn’t been loaded with challenges. It’s still something we are figuring out. We aren’t allowed in national parks, and we basically live at the veterinarian because of the border crossing paperwork, stray dogs, shitty dog food, and a handful of other problems. But when the day is over, and we’re parked somewhere safe, and we’re just cuddled up in Fofinha, he reminds me why we do it.
Follow Neill & Hurley
Instagram @neilldrake
Website Neill Drake
Photo courtesy of @neilldrake




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