We spent a year preparing for this trip, mainly by saving money and upgrading the van little by little to handle a trip of this magnitude.
In general, we live a pretty cheap lifestyle as it is. I guess you could say we are not very good participants in America’s consumer economy. We only buy what we need (although Aron would probably laugh at me on this one).
We are extremely fortunate to live in a cozy little studio/loft in the back of Aron’s father’s property in San Diego, so our expenses for rent and bills are only a few hundred dollars a month. This was a huge part of making it possible for us to save for the trip (thanks Eric!).
Besides our normal monthly spending including groceries, cell phone and auto insurance bills, most of our money is spent on going out for food and drinks so we tried to minimize this, which we sort of succeeded in… We became shareholders of a local farm (Suzies Farm) and received a box of fresh, local produce every week which helped us to stay in and cook healthy food for ourselves rather than eat out all the time. We still went out about once or twice a week but we did cut back a little. In general we just tried to be more conscious of our spending and put money aside each month.
Vaccinations and Prescriptions
We both got vaccinations for Yellow Fever, Typhoid Fever, and Hepatitis A and B. We already had vaccinations for the usual Measles, Mumps, and Rubella and also for Tetanus.
I bought as many anti-malarial pills that my health insurance would cover (a 100 day supply) but learned that most people traveling through the Americas do not take anti-malarial pills unless they are traveling in specific areas such as the “Mosquito Coast” in Honduras. There are a variety of anti-malarial pills out there but we went with the higher end Malarone since we prefer not to deal with crazy hallucinations and anxiety on this trip. Also, you only need to take Malarone two days before possible exposure and seven days after while other anti-malarial pills require that you take them up to three weeks before and after.
The travel nurse we spoke with also recommended that we bring over the counter Immodium in case we get sick (i.e. diarrhea) and a broad spectrum antibiotic called Ciphro in case the Immodium doesn’t cut it.
Aron would be writing this section if he wasn’t busy working on the van at the moment. I’ll take a stab at it for now…
After thinking about restoring his old VW engine on his own and realizing that might be a little risky to do for the first time before going on a 20,000 mile tour, Aron decided to order a fully rebuilt VW engine from Chris at Vanistan. It was tough deciding between a new Subaru or VW engine but in the end the VW engine won- I am half German after all. There was a 6 month lead time to get the engine which was shipped in a crate from New Mexico. It arrived in early October 2012 and it took Aron about 3 weeks or so to get everything connected and running. Removing an old engine and installing and connecting a brand new one is a lot of work, not that I understand much of it. The driveway completely turned into a mechanic shop with Aron working from dawn to dusk with the help of family and friends.
Other Van Upgrades
In the process of fixing up the van, Aron pretty much ended up replacing everything. It’s a 26 year old vehicle so a lot of parts were pretty worn. Aron might write more about this later but for now I’ll just say that he installed a new gas tank, new cv joints, boots, and axels, new wiring, and new fuel and oil filters. Feel free to write Aron for more information.
We bought a new Engel Fridge/Freezer through Go Westy which we chose for its energy efficiency and good reviews. It was a pricey purchase but we decided we didn’t want to deal with a cooler, ice, and soggy food for a year. It has proven to be a great choice!
Although neither of us have much experience with the installation and operation of solar systems, we decided to go for it. We bought a 100W solar panel and a 115Ah combination starting/deep cycle battery from Costco. The combination battery is not as good as buying a sealed renewable energy battery which would allow for even deeper discharge, but it was cheap and easy and we love Costco. Aron mounted the solar panel on the roof and designed the connections so that the solar panel can be removed fairly easily and placed in the sun in case we park in the shade. The panel is wired to a charge controller on the back of the jump seat which then connects to the battery which is in a battery box in the jump seat. The charge controller makes sure that the solar panel does not overcharge the battery and also that the battery does not get drained too low. This battery (the auxiliary battery) also gets charged by the alternator when we are driving so the solar is mainly to power the fridge and a few lights or the radio when we are stationary.
The original interior of the van was in pretty bad shape. The seats were a funky tan ripped courderoy which I spilled an entire glass of red wine on, so those had to go. We had the seats re-upholstered with Sunbrella, a sturdy material used for outdoor furniture. Aron bought some cheap laminate wood flooring from Ikea and put in a new floor pretty easily. We also ordered a new pop-top with side windows from Go Westy since our old one had holes in it and only had one window in the front. The air flow made possible by three windows in the pop top is well worth it.
When we ordered new windshield wipers from Go Westy, we won a raffle for a rain fly for the pop top of the van. Pretty exciting as we’ve never really won anything before- and the rain fly has already come in handy and worked extremely well.
We constructed our own shade awning after exploring a variety of expensive ready made options. Aron found some handy information on The Samba on how to make our own awning and it ended up being pretty simple (and much cheaper!).
In the picture above you can also see a zip up big screen that we purchased from Go Westy as well. We pretty much leave it on all the time and are able to open up the van to let fresh air in while keeping bugs out.