The longer we travel, the more couples like us we discover or even meet. Like us they dreamed about traveling, like us they made the big trip happen, and like us they document their experiences online. In the Two Toothbrushes traveler interview series we introduce fellow traveling and blogging couples to share their story and draw inspiration from them.
Bryan and Jen aka the Dangerz, a nickname their friends gave them, have been traveling together with Karma, the wonder dog, and E, their ’67 VW bus, since 2012. Traveling led them to living life through a different lens: they refocused their attention from merely surviving each week until the weekend to living a life where they make decisions based upon happiness. Their home base in Portland, Oregon, is a garage they converted into a tiny home (they have since turned that experience into a business). On their blog, The Dangerz, they keep in touch with those they love but don’t see often enough and create something to look back at over the years and remember their journeys.
Where are your toothbrushes, where are they headed next, and why?
Our toothbrushes are currently [early February 2015] in Mexico and headed north. We are in the middle of a 3-4 month journey to bring our E (our ’67 VW bus/camper) back to Portland, Oregon, where our toothbrushes plan to live a significant portion of every year.
After that, who knows. Our toothbrushes have become mostly nomadic at this point. We spent last year focused on setting up a home base in Portland, but traveled about 100 days out of the year despite being focused on home. Our toothbrushes currently have plans booked to visit New Orleans, Vancouver, BC, the Oregon coast and wine country, and backpacking in Washington. Trips further afield are being discussed as we speak.
What’s your definition of home?
Home is a continually evolving concept for us. Not so many years ago we thought our goal was to live on a deserted beach or island. We recently realized the Pacific Northwest wasn’t what we were running away from, only our jobs. We enjoy living an urban lifestyle in the community that Portland allows, but also very much enjoy exploring new places and people (especially those deserted beaches). Our home in Portland exists as more of a jumping off point for our travel and interests than the traditional definition. We built a small home/loft for us to live in out of what was our garage so that someone else can pay our mortgage, which allows our travel/exploration to happen. We love being en route to our next destination and temporary home, but what we now love even more is the fact that we are always excited to end each trip and return home.
How do you make yourself feel at home wherever you go?
All it really takes for us to feel at home is typically being there together. We go everywhere together and if/when possible that includes the dog, Karma. Our year spent driving around Mexico and Central America made that easy as we had our home on wheels at all times, along with the ability to cook, make cocktails, sleep and drive—all in about 64 sq ft. Clearly, we genuinely enjoy each other’s company.
Why this (or the most recent) trip, why now (then)?
Two years ago we drove our VW bus south through Mexico and Central America looking to find ourselves and change our lives. Then we came back to Portland and began building our home base. We soaked up “home” for almost 18 months, but it was time to return and bring our vehicle, the home away from home, back with us.
What were your greatest challenges in making the trip happen? How did you overcome them?
Before the first leg of our trip we had the same battles as anyone else trying to free themselves. We had to create a savings plan, downsize, pay off debt, and quit our jobs. But even more difficult, we had to convince ourselves that it was okay. Okay to leap into the unknown and to seek a different lifestyle than what we had always been told was acceptable.
Because our plan was primarily to be in Mexico, our years leading up to the trip came with ample warnings and fear-based conversations. “Really? You’re going to quit your jobs in the worst economy of our time??” “Mexico? But aren’t you worried you’ll be beheaded?” We had to focus on not only our goals and savings, but also on not being dissuaded by those around us. We had to keep checking deep inside ourselves for whether it was worth it, and whether we were simply insane. It’s not easy for most people to admit that something other than “normal” is possible, and the reaction from many is usually to convince you not to even try.
What do you enjoy the most about your traveling life?
We no longer wake up to an alarm clock and don’t own watches. We no longer have a required routine. We struggle making plans more than a few weeks in advance and get to continually ask ourselves what we want. What do we want to do today, tomorrow, next month, next year?
Our new lifestyle has us feeling like anything in life is possible. It’s not a single path, but a journey of exploration that might lead anywhere and to anything. We no longer know what our destination is, but we’re having a blast along the way.
Our home base allows us to relax among the comfort of those people and places we love and cherish, while our travels allow us a constant stream of new experiences, stimulation, insight and perspective as we learn from other people and places.
Share a moment from your travels that you will share with future generations.
Months into our time in Mexico we were staying in the mountains of Michoacan, completely removed from anyone or anything but the road that took us there. It was growing dark despite our lack of plans, internet access, GPS, etc., and we had to figure out what to do for the evening. We had been offroad long enough to no longer have the fears of a “hostile Mexico” that media and family had implanted in our heads before the trip, but even locals had warned us about the unrest in Michoacan. And we don’t love the idea of driving after dark or parking and sleeping half on-half off the highway.
We decided to take a few side roads looking for a secluded, hidden place to sleep. Our first choice led to a winding dirt road but without a flat place to pull off the side or turn around. We followed until it opened up to a field with a small cabin sitting in the center, then stopped to discuss the pros and cons of engaging whoever lived there. We were already trespassing and had no idea what type of person might live in the hidden shack in the mountains (or what type of crops those might be between us and them). But we proceed onward to turn around near the house.
As we started our turn we saw that a woman, clearly startled by our arrival, standing behind the fence. I slid open the window and apologized in my best broken Spanish for disturbing her while Jen hopped out and walks over to the fence. I watched for a few minutes but realized it wasn’t not going very well and should probably introduce myself in case the sketchy bald guy lurking in the van was the issue. I introduced myself but it was clear the woman was still uncomfortable. Jen asked her if we can camp for the night but the woman made the disturbing movement of her thumb tracing her throat and I was certain she just said that it wasn’t safe and we’d be killed. As she continued talking, I realized what she was really saying: she was terrified that we would kill her in the middle of the night.
“How do I know that you won’t kill me in the night?” she asked. Jen was clearly the perfect person for this job and began trying to ease her mind. Hoping to be a less commanding presence, I laughed at the kitten crawling around her neck and then squatted to take photos of the puppies curled up in wool shavings at her feet. Jen meanwhile asked her what we could do to prove that we weren’t a menace and wouldn’t be any problem. The ranchera listened to Jen’s reasoning and then explained that she lived all alone, had no lights or phone, and it was clear that while she was warming up to Superjen she wasn’t warming up to the idea of us staying. She asked where we were from, why we drove down her solitary dirt road, and whether we were married or had kids. We explained that we didn’t need to stay anywhere near the house and could simply sleep in the van parked back near the main road. She seemed a bit confused but I mentioned that there was a bed in the van that she could see to confirm our story.
As we walked toward the bus Jen told the woman Karma was friendly and didn’t bite, and as I opened the cargo doors she spotted Karma and immediately melted. “Que hermosa,” she screamed (how beautiful). She was clearly a dog lover and clearly yet another reason why we brought Karma all this way. Karma hopped out with tail wagging vigorously to show her some love, we pulled out the bed and shower her the stove to further solidify our complete low-maintenance nature. Suddenly things shifted in our favor. Elated that we weren’t there under malice, the woman turned and gave Jen a giant hug. I still got only the polite handshake, but she was suddenly more worried about our comfort and asked if we needed anything.
Her kitten also bravely left the safety of its nest in her hair to make its way inside to inspect the bus. Karma was curious about the intruder and maybe a bit stressed about the possibility of losing what little living space she had to an adopted cat. Jen offered our new hostess a poblano that we had in the basket, and she in turn hurried toward the house to grab a half dozen eggs from directly under the chickens. “Too many,” we told her, but she assured us we needed, “three for tonight and three for the morning.” A few more hugs were exchanged, we thanked her profusely for allowing us to stay and complete our U-turn to go back down the dirt track.
Talk about travel changing perception! In the amount of time it took for sunset to fade from golden orange to black we went from crazy North American throat cutters to welcome guests.