Life On The Road With We Are Nomads
Here at TMDE we are constantly amazed by those who decide to go against the grain. Those who rebel against the norm and decide to live the life they dream of. So, when we came across nomads Connan and Cali from We Are Nomads, we knew we had to share their story.
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELVES
We are Connan Schilling and Cali Laffranconi; both born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, but raised all over. My father had a farm in the northern part of the country, so I grew up spending a lot of time there and joining him on his frequent trips to Patagonia. Cali has lived in Peru and Chile from the ages of five to fifteen, before going back to Argentina. So as you can see, we both have traveled a lot since a young age and have exercised our power of adaptability.
We are both professional photographers, which is what initially got us to spark up a conversation the first night we met at a birthday party. Cali is also a Holistic Health Coach, so she is the one that keeps us healthy on the road. While I work on content creation for brands.
What made you two decide to purchase an 87' Toyota Seabreeze?
The story behind our Toyota camper is pretty unique. We were in Argentina traveling in our VW bus that I converted into a 'Westalfia'. We re-built the motor after we bought it and took it for a test drive to Patagonia in Argentina and Chile, 1,500 miles later we blew up the new motor and we thought, "There is no way this vehicle is going to take us anywhere but to the mechanics."
I was about to scrap it when my brother who was in California at that time said to me, "don't do it! Sell it!" He advised that I can get some money out of it, fly to California and get a roadworthy adventure vehicle. "Look, there is a Toyota in the parking lot of a coffee shop that we're in right now, here you can get anything you like and at a decent price!" He started taking pictures of it and sent them... apparently there's a big RV/camper van market in the United States.
The owner of the Toyota saw my brother checking it out and approached him, my brother told him our story and he responded saying to put us in contact, he wasn't selling it but he would to us. One month later we were on a plane flying to Los Angeles and we bought it the day after we landed.
It had 18,000 miles and was in an outstanding condition. Although we weren't sure about an RV — it ended up being perfect. It's 21 feet long, so it's not that difficult to drive (in fact it's the same length as most long bed trucks and vans) and we have a bathroom, which is pretty convenient when you're in the middle-of-nowhere. After a year of living in it, it's in even better condition with 32,000 miles.
Had you taken a road trip before? Or traveled prior to your trip?
Yes, I traveled a lot when I finished school. I was a snowboard instructor in Cerro Bayo in Argentina during the winter time and I would teach at Mammoth mountain in California during the summer. I did this for several years until finally taking a year off to embark on a backpacking trip in Europe. What was intended to last one year... ended up lasting 15 months and from there I took another year off to backpack Central America.
After traveling for a while, I came back to Argentina to study photography. While Cali was planing a year-long trip exploring Australia with one of my best friends. It didn't take long for me to join and for three months we hitchhiked and camped in the Australian bush, which is where we first encountered "van-life". Once we arrived back in Argentina, we bought a VW bus and left on a nine month trip to Patagonia. Eventually, we kept heading north towards Central America until reaching Canada.
How did you prepare for a life on the road?
We didn't really prepare much for it, things just fell into place once we took off. Neither of us were tied down by a full-time job. I was a freelance photographer. We had some savings and we also made money creating content for social media accounts, websites and several brands. The best part about our journey was definitely our camper van build. The VW project took us for what seemed like an eternity. It was completely stripped-down and we had to build everything from scratch.
However, with our 87' Toyota Seabreeze it was different. Everything was all original... straight from the lot. An 80's type kitchen, pink everything, three different types of curtains per window, pink wallpaper, and shag carpet. Even in the bathroom. It was gross! So, we started by taking out the curtains and set up IKEA's automatic curtains — easy to install and great to look at. Then we replaced the rug with hardwood floors, painted all of the walls white, and added storage space. Installed a back up camera, changed the tires, added new batteries, new cold air intake... and so much more. We worked as fast as we could in order to hit the road.
Finally, we hit the road. Starting on the west coast, visiting all of the national parks in California, Oregon and Washington and now currently in the Rockies area.
Did the two of you face any critics after telling people your idea? If so, how did you overcome them?
Yes, all of the time. Mostly from our families. They were always concerned about our future and where this particular way of living would lead. It took us some time to get used to the critics, but once we were traveling they saw how happy we were and now they support and enjoy it with us. For most people, living in something this small is unimaginable, especially full-time. But once they hop inside our home, they are surprised with how spacious it actually is and how comfortable it can be. To us, it feels more like a condo than an 1980's RV.
Living in such a small space can seem a bit challenging! How have the two of you managed to pull this off?
Well, considering the fact that the first time we lived together was in a tent... an RV was an absolute luxury for us. Space is important, but we've learned to travel light and be very technical about everything. Quality is something that is very important to us, so we are not shy spending the extra dime when it comes to things regarding the RV.
Relationship wise, it's easier than we thought it would be. We both get along very well, we have common goals and we are really supportive of each other. Of course we have our days, like any other couple, but we know how to survive them and make the best of any situation. If I sense that Cali is not having a good day, I'll usually take over her duties and help her go through the day. She does the same with me. Being together 24/7 can be a challenge, but it's also building a great relationship between us.
How has your overall experience been as nomads so far?
Outstanding! We couldn't be happier about the decision we've made. Again, we had our troubles along the road, but that's part of life. Without challenges, life is boring. Not that long ago we went back home to Argentina for a month to visit friends and family, it was crazy to go back and live in an actual home. We can't picture ourselves back in that type of environment for at least a while. I know that someday the day will come where we get tired of moving around so much, but until then we still have the energy and the will to keep on going.
What have you learned from this journey?
That's a broad question, but I guess the biggest thing that we've learned is that no matter how well we plan, things will always happen unexpectedly. I believe life gives everyone these unexpected surprises (some good, some bad) but when you are not living on a hamster wheel, life becomes even more uncertain and the number of surprises are even higher. In this nomadic life, if you don't learn to adapt to change, life will punch you in the face until you do.
"Anything worth doing holds some level of uncertainty" – Chris Burkard
Don't have expectations. Expectations will bring frustration. Do you know the theory of how happiness can be measured? Well, you have your expectations and your reality. If your reality overcomes your expectations, that difference can be translated into happiness. If your expectations are higher than your reality, that difference translates into frustration and sadness. So having no expectations makes for better days.
What advice would you give someone who is dreaming of selling everything off and living a life on the road, even if it's just for a short time?
Don't think about it too much. If you feel it, do it! Making this decision is never easy, but just know that there will never be the perfect time. If you want to hit the road, do it and the rest will be learned along the way. At least take a test drive. Try taking a short trip first to see how you feel — especially if you are doing this with someone else.
We don't encourage people to be van-lifers; but instead, we encourage people to follow their dreams. Whatever that may be.
Favorite place visited so far?
We are both mountain people, so we naturally feel at home in the Sierras and Rockies. It's our natural habitat. Australia also holds a special place in our heart because it was there that we were first introduced to van life.
Unlike most, we are not beach people. When we were in Baja, California, we enjoyed it a lot — but it got old for us pretty quick. We ended up staying there for longer than we expected.
Getting to know all of the cool van-lifers and nomads out there, also making their dreams a reality. Being happy because they changed their way of thinking and decided to take ownership of their own lives. Traveling "alone" although it's the two of us, helps us be more social than we were when we weren't living on the road. I'll usually spot a van and spark up a conversation with the owner.
Crossing the border into the United States. It's so frustrating.
Where to next?
New Zealand. After having some visa issues in the U.S., we are taking our travels to that part of the world. We would be granted a year-long visa and we wont have to worry about crossing borders every three months. We'll eventually finish our American road trip in a couple of years, once our passports get some more stamps on them.
Lastly, what does exploration mean to you? Why is it important?
The world is such a big and beautiful place. The fact that we are all born in one place, doesn't mean that we can only live and die there. Why not think bigger? Exploring makes you appreciate what is out there, while still giving you a sense of appreciation for where you come from. The diversity in land, culture, people, food... there's so much to learn about. Appreciation for the world makes us grateful for what we have and for what may also be out there.