This Family is Taking an Epic Road Trip From North to South America

The Harteau family overlooking Peru, one of their South American stops. (All photos courtesy of Adam and Emily Harteau)

In October 2012, Adam and Emily Harteau decided to cast off the definition of “normal” life, hop in a tricked-out Volkswagen Westfalia van, and drive from California to Tierra del Fuego in South America. They planned to return one year later. If you’re thinking this merely sounds like an extended road trip, you should consider that Emily and Adam took their daughter Colette, then 21 months old, with them.

This crew is still on the road, trekking through South America at their own pace. On June 22, Emily gave birth to her daughter Sierra Luna.. And she concedes that being on the road during a pregnancy is no small feat.

“The first trimester on the road was rough,” she recalls. “We were at 12,500-foot elevation for a good two months, a height that’s difficult enough without the added hormonal rollercoaster of growing a child. Adam was able to spend a lot of time with Colette, so I was thankfully able to get some very necessary rest.”

Rest is relative for this family. They have no plans of stopping, documenting their journey on the website, Our Open Road. Read on for their incredible story, as told by Emily to Yahoo! Travel over email:

Harteau family baja

The family in Baja California, Mexico.

“When we departed, Colette was 21 months old. Strangely, we do not have a pic of the three of us with the van at departure. Colette is now 3 years old. While we don’t have a curriculum we follow to ‘home school’ her, we value education very much. We explain and discuss the things we experience, read books daily and integrate learning into our daily lives.

1990 Volkswagen Westfalia T3

“A 1990 Volkswagen Westfalia T3 became part of the family in 2004. After six years of loyal service and many miles, the original VW motor gave out and the long-talked-about conversion to a Subaru EJ2.2 motor began, upping the horsepower from 95 to 135. Before we hit the road, GoWesty rebuilt the front end, installed Fox shocks and a 10-foot roll-out Fiama shade awning.”

1990 Volkswagen Westfalia T3

“We do our best to be organized, given the amount of room we have, but we are by nature not OCD-type of detailed people. After 10 months on the road, Adam built custom cabinets throughout the van that function as closets for each of us. This allows us to have our personal space and have no suitcases to move around. Four 30-watt solar panels give us 120 watts of power, which supplies enough power for just about anything we need, including our refrigerator. We also have some small panels that charge laptops and phones on the go.”

diving chile

Making a leap in Chile


On the road in Peru

“We use the term ‘slow travel’ because we (generally) have no set itinerary, or if we do it is generally pretty loose … like, ‘We need to make it to Point A in 5 weeks, so what do we want to see between now and then?’ What inspires us to stay at a place varies as much as the locations do — stunning scenery, a great surf swell, beautiful weather, interesting food culture, bountiful crafts, or unique sights are a few of the draws that call to us.”

peru blankets

Looking for cool blankets to sell in Peru.

Adam and Emily never planned to stay on the road for this long. Before starting, they sold off everything and hosted a crowdfunding campaign. When the plans changed and they decided to remain nomadic, they hatched an idea to run an online PDF catalog, selling artisan crafts they came across while traveling.

“We continue to stay on the road hosting online flash sales we call ‘24 Hour Bazaar.’  When in craft-rich regions or market towns, we work with local artisans and curate a selection of fair-trade goods (such as rugs, blankets, ceramics, ponchos, toys, and other items made with love) offered directly to our customers for a limited time,” Emily says.


Blankets for 24 Hour Bazaar

“We are so pleased that 24 Hour Bazaar has created a circle, which connects the artisans, an international audience and us. All the craftspeople we work with are stoked to share their goods with a wider audience and make a fair wage doing so; to support tradition and process in the arts is infinitely rewarding to us as artists. This flow of finance, art, and inspiration is a pairing that we could only have dreamed of before our departure. To sign up to receive our PDF catalog, please email us here:”

Baby Sierra

Baby Sierra, born in Florianópolis, Brazil.

“We had regular medical attention throughout the pregnancy — and in four countries! I just brought the paperwork from the previous appointment with us and explained to the doctor our nomadic life. As a cash patient in South America, it is shocking that the full payment is far less than a co-pay for a visit is back in the States. I delivered at University Hospital in Florianópolis, Brazil, which was a wonderful experience. They are great supporters of natural birth and gave excellent care. Sierra will have dual citizenship for Brazil and the USA, which we think is a wonderful birthday gift for her.”

welcome to chile

The family has been through Brazil, Peru, Argentina, and Chile, to name a few of the countries, but the southernmost tip of the continent is still the goal for now.

“Mid-August we will be stateside for two and a half months, visiting with friends and family, and Adam will have an art exhibition,” Emily concludes. “When we return to Brazil in late October, we will start our journey south. Heading into Patagonia, eventually making it to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America.”

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