On May 31, 2003 we threw our stuff in and on top of the Land Cruiser in a frantic rush to get going. The new owners of my house had arrived, I had handed them the keys and so the house now belonged to them – it was time to start our overland journey!
With a home on wheels that tilted way to much too right when turning a corner because of the bad balance and an awfully long to-do list we waved our neighbors goodbye and were on our way.
With nothing more than a map of Europe and a guidebook of Greece we headed to Asia with the idea to drive as far east as the continent would allow us, expecting to need a year or two. We had known each other for a little over a year and had no idea if we’d stay together and reach the end of our overland trip as a couple. We still don’t know because 16 years later, we are still overlanding the world…
Our two-year journey has grown into a nomadic lifestyle.
With a growing number of overlanders wondering how they might travel and be together 24/7 for so many years, we get questions on how we create personal space, deal with arguments, and appreciate each other. Last year we shared our answers on Expedition Portal and since they still hold true, we are sharing them today with you, here on our website.
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Our ‘Normal’ when Overlanding
“Sorry to interrupt. Coen, on the bed are clean socks, underwear, and a shirt. The shower is all yours,” I said as I walked into the living room of our friend’s home in Bolivia. Coen and our host Willy were having a discussion while I had been doing chores and had just finished taking a shower.
Two pairs of eyes turned my way, Coen’s neutral but Willy’s eyes opened as she fell silent.
“Did I hear what I just heard?” she asked.
“You decide which clothes he wears? You pick his underwear?!”
“Of course. I always do.”
Her eyes grew wider, which made me reflect on our exchange for a moment. I laughed. “Well, yes, that does sound odd, doesn’t it?”
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From the beginning of our trip I have dug up clothes for both of us from one of the storage compartments. Just as I dig up anything else that is in those compartments. Small and agile, I move around with much more ease in the back of the Land Cruiser than Coen.
Initially I may have asked what he wanted to wear and too often he may have answered ‘it doesn’t matter’, so I stopped asking. I can’t remember. We do know it has never been an issue.
In Willy’s home we discussed our division of labor and I realized that ours is about the most traditional imaginable. What a world of difference from the time I lived with my ex-partner with whom I fought forever about who was to clean the toilet, with me mostly starting those discussions and ranting about how we should share the household chores.
During our years of overlanding the world, I have done most of the laundry, most of the dishes, as well as all the cleaning and organization of the Land Cruiser’s bowels. Cooking is one of the few tasks we have often shared; the task has never ‘belonged’ to either of us.
Over the years people have remarked on this ‘female’ side of our division of labor. However, interestingly, nobody has ever has remarked, “Really? You don’t fix the car? Coen always has to do that?!” Apparently the fact that he, the man in the team, takes care of mechanical issues is a given.
And, in our case, it’s true. I have never fixed the Land Cruiser. I not even changed a tire (I do dig up the tools and put them away again). This has always been Coen’s job, just like taking care of bureaucratic rigmaroles, organizing visas and car papers.
Read More: The Magic-number Car Tires for Overlanding
Our Overlanding-the-World Survival Story
This story is not about how things should be done by anybody. Are you a couple that loves sharing everything? Great! Are you a couple where the woman prods into the car’s engine and hubs and the man does the laundry? Fantastic.
This story is about how Coen and I have lived together 24/7 for the past 16 years in and around a Land Cruiser without killing each other and – most of the time – in harmony. If you are struggling to find that harmony on the road, maybe you’ll find something useful here worth giving a try.
Despite having these tips incorporated into our own relationship, doesn’t mean we never screw up. We do. We fight, we argue. And that’s okay. Life isn’t meant to be always good, perfect, easy and fine.
Struggles, disappointments, pain, and grief are all part of life. Some of these things we can influence, others we don’t. Living together 24/7 in and around a car is no small feat and a long overland journey is not a holiday. Finding the right balance is key.
Let’s take a look at what we’ve learned over the years.
1. Creating personal space
Tip: If you feel you don’t have enough time for yourself, divide your tasks. It doesn’t matter how; just search for a way that feels good for both of you.
Our division of labor is about creating personal space. About not sharing every single action or even having to discuss them, as in “Will you do this while I do that.” Of course, we help each other and situations aren’t always as black and white as I state them here.
We share so much already, the whole journey, our work as freelancers and therefore it’s a necessity to do some things alone as well. In most relationships you’ll automatically have a form of personal space, time away from your spouse because of your work, sports club, friends. This often takes you physically away from each other for hours (or longer) at a time.
We don’t have that except for the days that Coen goes to workshops and I do my own thing elsewhere. By creating our own domains within our small world, we create a form of personal space.
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2. Allowing for outbursts and not taking them personally
Tip: Acknowledge that, in most cases, there is nobody else to run down when the going gets tough and things go pear-shaped in your overland journey.
During our 1,5 years in Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh we were regularly at each other’s throats. When the words “you ALWAYS” and “you NEVER” become part of the explosion, realize it’s not about you. The other person is stressed out.
In the tropical heat of the subcontinent, forever surrounded by a massive number of local people demanding our attention, and amidst the most maddening and life-threatening traffic in the world (above which hovered guardian angels to save our lives) these were exhausting countries to travel in.
On the subcontinent we argued like nowhere else.
Check it out: the Landcruising Adventure Tote-Bag Collection
The tricky part about living together twenty-four hours a day, on and around a surface of about ninety square feet, is the absence of escape. We can’t get away and take refuge in a friend’s house, our jobs or a sports club. Without friends around to complain to, we have only each other to run down. It results in tempers rising quickly and high, with emotions direct and intense.
This has a positive side as well. Most of our irritations are settled rapidly, as there are no deep underlying emotions or hard feelings that need to be talked about or analyzed.
3. Embracing each other’s differences
Tip: Use each other’s characteristics to advantage on your overland journey.
Coen is extravert and bold, I am introvert and (often) shy. This means Coen enjoys talking to everybody, all the time. I like talking to people as well but not always – I also need time to retire into my own world with or without a book.
Coen likes to be in control and so it suits us both that he negotiates deals, works his way through bureaucratic hierarchies to achieve seemingly impossible things (like a one-year visa for India, or car papers for Venezuela after two weeks of having obstacles thrown in our faces by the officials).
Read more: Books about Overland Adventures
On the other hand, my reading sprees have led to adventures because I read about places and regions of interest that are not in regular guidebooks and far away from the commonly traveled routes.
‘Embracing’ is taking it one step further than ‘respecting’. To respect each other’s characteristics is fundamental which is not the same as understanding them. You don’t have to understand everything about your spouse; I even believe that may be a mission impossible.
4. Acknowledging pessimistic and optimistic moods
Tip: Don’t expect the other to be in a good (or bad) mood just because you are.
During our 750-kilometer hike in South Korea I had one of those days that I wondered why I had bothered getting up at all. I had no energy whatsoever and every step hurt. It rained, the forested mountains were obscured in dark-grey clouds.
The steep, narrow tracks were so slippery that with two steps up we slid one step down. I was complaining but Coen wasn’t responding. I felt ignored and started an argument.
Coen responded, using few, very clear words, “It’s okay for you to feel down. Just don’t take me down with you.” That was such a wise remark and, fortunately, I acknowledged it. I fought my own struggle, Coen hiked on at his happy pace, quickly out of sight.
At the top of the mountain he dropped his backpack, turned around, went down, took mine, and hiked up once more. It gave me time to breathe, think, recover and find my smile back.
Read More: Driving the Transamazônica (Brazil)
At other times Coen is the pessimistic and I the optimistic one, taking the lead. Both moods are valuable in a relationship. They make sure that as a duo there is a balance in being watchful (e.g. bringing up the “what if” in possibly dangerous situations) vs. challenging yourself, leaving your comfort zone, and having an adventure.
5. Living outdoors as much as possible
Tip: Allow for some time in nature
Driving, sightseeing, interacting with people are all part of overlanding and they are fascinating and rewarding. All of them are important aspects of our nomadic life. They are intense too and therefore we need quiet time. Lots of it. To digest, to rest, to regain energy.
Overlanding the world gives you the spaciest home in the world: the outdoors. Rough camping and going deep into the wilderness, void of people, is a big part of our life. Here we feel free, breathe clean air, have all the space we want for ourselves.
Read More: Where the Road Ends (Venezuela)
If the wilderness isn’t for you, opt for city parks, national parks or just a big grassy field somewhere. In the outdoors, in the fresh air, we connect with ourselves as well as with nature.
Here, far away from everybody and everything, we have our greatest adventures. It’s in the wilderness where we realize time and time again: we are the luckiest people in the world to live a life on the road.
6. Combining tip 1 & 5
The most obvious one, I guess: Bring your hobbies and passions to the road. Go for a run, do yoga, bring your mountain bike, surf or SUP board – whatever makes you tick. Have adventures by yourself while enjoying the great outdoors.
Which leaves me with one question: What are your tricks to stay sane when overlanding the world?
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