Since 14 years Herman and Candelaria Zapp have been traveling the world in their Graham Paige, built in 1928. They started in their home country Argentina crossing the three Americas to reach Alaska. After that they discovered Australia, New Zealand and Asia including many islands. Along the way their four children – Pampa (11), Tehue (9), Paloma (6) und Wallaby (5) – were born in different countries. It wasn’t planned that way, in the interview Candelaria explains how it happened.
At the moment they are driving through Africa followed by Europe. We met them in Cape MacLear in Malawi. As soon as they pulled into the lodge, many people surrounded them curiously asking questions and taking pictures. Also we were enthusiastic: Our two vintage cars looked very well together on the campsite.
We could spent more than one week with this amazing family, who really inspired us. They proff: everything is possible, if you really wanted it and have guts. At the beach I had the opportunity to talk to Candelaria in a very relaxed atmosphere.
“The journey and the car have to adapt to the family” – Interview with Candelaria Zapp
Your website and your book are called “Spark your dream”. What is your dream?
Our dream is to travel – it wasn’t to travel around the world and it wasn’t to travel in this kind of car. Our dream was to travel and then we made it bigger. What happens often is that you idealize your dream. Sometimes you start your dream and then suddenly you realize, that you are not feeling the way you thought. But when we started, we felt so good. Then we realized, that traveling really is our dream. So we said: “Let’s just keep going! At the beginning, of course, the limitation was the money. We were only able to save a little bit of money – for a low budget journey of six month. Then we ran out of money. Since we started to make money along the way, we don’t have any limitations – except maybe the age of my children. We might stop, when my oldest son becomes a teenager.
How do you make money during traveling?
In Ecuador, six months after we started, we ran out of money it was the best thing that could happen to us. Of course we needed some time to realize that. We wanted to keep traveling and reach our destination Alaska, so we had to find ways to do it. But at the moment we were in the middle of the jungle and we really didn’t know how to earn money there. So I started to paint and Herman started to write. We always wanted to do that but before we never did. Now we live from the sales of our two books – one in Spanish and one in English. Also we don’t spend so much money because we neither have to pay mortgage, rent or electricity bills. Many people asks us how we can possibly finance traveling, but if they would sell their expensive car, they could travel themselves for two years.
So at first you had a goal and the plan was not endless travel?
Yes, the first goal was to drive from Argentina to Alaska. Then, 30 km before before we arrived to Alaska, we were feeling very very sad because the dream was over. The best part of dreams is to live them, not when you get to the end.
Although you were sad, you returned home and what happened then?
We felt sad but we decided, that we have to feel happy because our dream is accomplished. Spending one more night in Canada we realized that reaching Alaska may be the end of one dream, but it is also the beginning of a new dream: We can do another journey. So we went back to Argentina for eight month to write our book, to be able to keep going. After that it was very difficult to start and leave everything behind again. Many people asked me: “Why you already did it before?”. But for me it was even worse than the first time. Before I had a limit, we were leaving for six months and I knew that I was coming back. At least that’s what I was thinking. The second time I knew I didn’t have any limitations and I would be doing what I love to do. And I was afraid about that, because I knew it will be for many years.
Where did your dream come from and since when did you have it?
We met, when we were very young – I was 8 and Herman 10 years old. At the age of 14 and 16 we started dating. So we were growing together and we had the same feeling that we would love to live in a farm and to travel – both of us. Reading about different kinds of travelers – in sailing boats, on horses and so on – made us ask: “Why not us?” Later we got married and made a plan: We will save money and after two years we will travel and afterwards we will have children. But then the years past and we always found an excuse to not go: We can’t do it now because we have to of the house, the car, the job and so on. Six years after our marriage we finally wanted to have children, but what happened to our dream: “If we have children now, we will never leave.” That’s why and how we started.
Start, do the first step and see what is going to happen
What advice would you give to people, how to live their dream?
Everybody has fears – just like us. You have to try that the fears do not block you. So go for your dream with your fears because you will never be able to go without fears. The question is, are they in front of you or are they behind you. My advice is: Start, do the first step and see what is going to happen. Usually when you do the first step, you’ll think why I didn’t start before. People always feel like they are not prepared. They say: “First I have to have all this money, I have to have this and that.” But if it’s your dream, something that you really really want to do, then you are already prepared and you will be able to do it.
What did your family and friends say about traveling?
‚Well, the first time, they didn’t believe, that we are really going to do it until we started. At the beginning they also thought, that I was following Herman’s dream. They didn’t realize that it was also my dream. But then they could see that we were very happy. Also later we wrote the book and they read it. Now they support us emotionally.
I read on your website that most of the times you stay in people’s homes, how do you meet them?
For example we do shopping and the people see our car with the signs on it. Then they come close to ask us what we are doing and where we are staying tonight. I think that we end up in the family homes because we don’t have the money to finish the journey. Everybody asks us: “How do you finance the journey?” We answer, that we have the book plus a lot of help of the people. They can see, that we don’t have any sponsor and instantly they look more happy and ask “Why don’t you come to our house?” They regard us as one of them, so they invite us. Also we go inside of farms and we ask if we can camp there. And then it’s like a chain: Many people tell us:”Oh, I have a friend who lives in that city, why don’t you go and visit him., too.”
We didn’t choose the car, the car chose us.
We thought our Hanomag is old, but your car is even older – exactly 40 years. Why did you choose your Graham-Paige?
We didn’t choose the car, the car chose us. Our idea was, to do the journey with backpacks. Then a mechanic offered Herman the car. At first he refused, but the guy insisted: “Come to see the car, maybe you know somebody else, who wants to buy it.” So he went and fell in love with it right away. But I was doubtful: “Now we have to fix it, to be able to travel with this car. We are going to postpone our dream once again.” Also I was afraid that during the journey we would have to go to a mechanic shop all the time. In fact, it was a great idea to go with the car. It has very simple technique and also no electronics like air conditioning or radio. So if something brakes it is easy to fix.
How long did it take you , after you bought the car, until you could start the journey?
We set a fixed date, because we realized, that we were postponing our dream all the time. That is also an advice I would give to people: Always set a date. Tell yourself: “On this day I am leaving, if I am ready or not.” Otherwise you’ll never do it. Everybody asks us: “What was the most difficult moment in the journey?” It wasn’t to have the babies along the way, it wasn’t to run out of money, it wasn’t to build a raft for the car to navigate the Amazon river. The most difficult moment was the first day, to leave everything behind and to go with your fears to the unknown. So we set a date, and we left that day.
Was there once in the journey a really big problem with the car, which was not so easy to fix?
Actually it was just now – 14 years after we started. For the first time we had a big problem in the engine. Also that we could solve with the help of a guy who owns a lot of vintage cars. We had to take out the whole engine out of the car and we needed two month to fix it. The other ones were for example problems with the wooden spokes or the axle in the back. On the first day there was a problem with the wooden spoke, so we did only 45 km and stopped in the mechanic shop.
Do you have any restrictions because of the car – like do you try to drive on tarmac most of the time?
No, we drove on many roads, that are only for 4×4 – even through very deep sand by letting out a lot of air. If we get stuck, we just put some branches or another material.
How about mud?
We got stuck very bad in mud in Zimbabwe on our way to Mozambique, as we wanted to camp in the bush. Immediately many local people came and tried to help us by pushing the car out of the mud and cutting branches to put under the wheels – but no chance. It was getting late, so we decided to go to sleep. The people promised to come the next day with oxen and they really did. So in the morning we digged, cut branches, tied the two oxen to the car, everybody pushed and finally they teared us out. But then we got stuck again and we had to do everything all over again. It was so funny and nice – just like in the old times. Good that we got stuck.
When you started you were a couple, now you are a family of six. How did you manage to fit everyone in such a small car?
Every time we got a kid, we had to reorganize everything: For example give away things we don’t need anymore to make room. Because when they come, they come with many stuff like car seat, diapers, clothes and toys. It was a good deal, there always was so much happiness in receiving this new life. Also we stretched the car and made it 40 cm longer: This way we were able to have more children because we could fit a second seat row in the back – and we really wanted to have more children. It’s not that we have to adapt to the journey and to not have children, but the journey and the car have to adapt to the family.
Did you have some criticism because you are traveling for so long with kids?
We usually meet and stay with people that think the same way like us, because this are the people that come close and invite us. Of course we know that many people have different thoughts. But we are doing what our hearts are telling us to do. If you want to make everybody happy – I am sorry, no chance. At the end you will make people happy because it proofs there is another way of life. I am not telling you this is the way, but what I am trying to say is: There is another way of education, another way of love and another way of traveling.
One time I did a class of geography on a rock of the Everest.
How do you organize the education of your children?
The school has to adapt to the journey and the family. I use a lot the journey to teach: For example a lesson on the beach, so the sand is my blackboard. One time I did a class of geography on a rock of the Everest – telling my children which is the highest mountain of the world right there. I remember a Tibetan guy with his warm poncho watching our lesson. It couldn’t have been better. For me it’s very hard to do the school, although I am very determined and focused. I have dates, when they have to do a test – every two months. But it’s very hard to find a routine when you don’t have a routine. I always try to do the lessons in the morning, but often I have to pack because we are going to another place. And there are a lot of things to pack when you are a family of six. At the beginning I was doing everything myself. Now we are like a team – all of us have their own responsibilities in the journey. If we want to make that happen, everybody has to work as a team. This gave my children character and personality and it is a learning lesson for them as well.
The kids have all a different age – how do you deal with that?
Soon it’s getting complicated. Before I had only two kids to teach, now Paloma will start first grade, Tehue fourth grade and Pampa sixth grade. My oldest son Pampa is very responsible, so I can give him an activity and the be with the other one. Since I soon also have to teach Paloma, the girl, I’m gonna be struggling. But I will have do it and I will do it.
I can imagine that it’s not easy to homeschool a child in higher education. You cannot possibly know how to teach all subjects.
In the internet we research for Pampa and in the system I also have teachers who teach me how to teach. They send me activities and when I have a problem I can always ask them.
What kind of system is it – an online service?
Yes, the system also have online lessons. They really learn a lot in these lessons. For example they put on an activity about the recycling in the country that you are in: They have to ask the locals, if they are recycling and how they do it. Afterwards they answer the questions of the assignment online where they can see the answers of the other children as well. So they learn for example how recycling works in Dubai. In the system they have grades with children the same age who live in different countries. They learn so much from the other children.
How are you medically insured?
We don’t have medical insurance. If we have a problem we go to the doctor in the country we are in. Also I do all the vaccinations, we have everything up to date. When I was pregnant, I had my records with me – instead that one doctor will keep them. So every time I went to the doctor, I asked him to write a note for the doctor in the next country. Also I have doctors in Argentina who I can contact via e-mail. Now my biggest worry is Malaria. But we never had a big disease. Maybe it’s because my kids are always in contact with the environment. They are not kids who are always inside the house.
You planned to return home to Argentina when Pampa, your oldest son, is 10. Now he is 11 and your are still traveling. How come?
He is really happy traveling, he doesn’t want to stop. The other day he had a dream, he told us about. He dreamed that we will develop a very good repellent against mosquitoes and we will be doing business and earning lots of money. Then in the dream he asked us, what happened to our dream of traveling. It was a very interesting. Still, we are thinking of returning home when he will be a teenager.
So you plan to travel Africa and then Europe and after that you may be going back to Argentina. Your kids only know the life of travelers. How do you think, will they adapt to a life in one place?
They will also love it but they probably will get a little bit bored with the school and being in one place all the time. It will be different but it’s also nice to be with their cousins and the whole family.
What will you do when you return to Argentina?
We will try to balance living in one place and try to enjoy it at the same time. But I think we will be alright.
Do you want to work in a normal job again?
No, we will not be working in a normal job. We will be writing books because the books help us a lot to not miss the journey. When you write it is like traveling through the pages. Also we will do a lot of speeches. So its like to be traveling but in a different way. Maybe we can do something on a farm to receive people from all over the world – with all kinds of budget accommodation. That would be nice to keep in contact with travelers.