Meet the couple who's spent the last 10 years on a trans-American road trip

The pair have no plans to settle down in one place, even after a decade on the road

Ravneet Ahluwalia
Thursday 13 July 2017 19:03 BST
Karen Catchpole and Eric Mohl document their adventures on the Trans-Americas Journey blog
Karen Catchpole and Eric Mohl document their adventures on the Trans-Americas Journey blog

We all know the feeling – it’s the last day of your trip and you’ve just heard about a must-visit spot that now you’ll never get to see. Karen Catchpole and Eric Mohl never have that feeling.

The couple, both 51, have been on the road non-stop for over a decade and they pride themselves on never planning anything. Eric explains that deadlines don’t work for them. “When you are committed to something it always leads to some resentment; you have this plan so you have to move on and then you find out there is an amazing festival on tomorrow! It’s why being open is great.

“We like to say plan is a four letter word because every time we plan it messes up one way or another.”

Journalist Karen and photographer Eric left their jobs in New York and set off on what they named the “Trans-Americas Journey” in 2006. They left with the aim of exploring all 23 mainland countries in North, Central and South America. So far they have visited 16, including the US, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. They live and work full time while on the road, freelancing for magazines, newspapers and websites as they uncover stories as well as posting on their blog.

The couple have a Chevrolet with a custom made storage box on the back

Karen believes their approach helps them to discover things that others miss out on. “What we have is time and curiosity and that means that we can say yes to opportunities,” she said. “We can take the time to talk to people who live in the country who know vastly more than we do.”

They became addicted to travelling after backpacking through Asia in the late 1990s. When back at home in New York the couple decided that they would like to live on the road, after realising that the advent of the internet gave them the potential to work remotely. Karen explains that they wanted to try and combine their work with their desire to travel. “It’s not a vacation, it’s not a hiatus, it’s not anything, except a really weird way to live your life – to not have one stable location but still have all the other responsibilities,” she explains. “That was what we wanted to create.”

The initial plan was to go to Africa but when 9/11 happened three blocks from their Manhattan apartment, they wanted to explore their “own backyard” and find out what connects the United States to its neighbours. “We had a realisation that we had spent many years travelling to places far, far away from our own home and maybe the time was right to explore the Americas,” said Karen.

Eric feels that in the current political climate this is as important as ever. “Somehow we – residents of the US – have co-opted the word ‘American’, but contrary to what Trump may think, everyone on the continent is American.”

Karen and Eric have adopted a nomadic way of life 

They chose driving for the freedom and independence it affords them, as the areas they wanted to explore were not often well served by public transport. Their wagon of choice is a Chevrolet Silverado 2500 with a custom made lockable storage system on the back. They carry all their possessions from place to place, including clothes and everything they need to work.

It’s not just the location that’s always changing but the type of accommodation too. “Sometimes we’re in really nice apartments, sometimes we’re in really basic guesthouses and sometimes we’re in the best hotels in the world because we’re writing about them – it runs the gamut,” said Karen.

The couple do stop for longer periods of time in one place. “It’s exhausting constantly changing your location. Every now and then you need to rent an apartment for a month; it’s important to do that to keep enjoying it. “

Alpacas in the Peruvian Andes where the couple trekked

As seasoned adventurers with years of memories it’s tough to draw them into a discussion on favourite places. “Is there a time I was completely blown away by somewhere? Yes, hundreds of times!” exclaims Eric. They both agree that their time in El Salvador surprised them. “We had zero expectations, we couldn’t really find much written about it unless you are a surfer and want to go to one of their surf beaches,” he said. “But we found it to be wonderful and we stayed much longer than we expected.”

“Most of the time places are really delightful,” Karen said. “It may not be something that’s worthy of a major travel magazine feature but it’s a charming place and there is something to be gained from experiencing it.”

Although it’s been 10 years the pair have no plans to stop. “We consider this to be a never-ending journey,” said Karen. “I have no idea when it’s going to be over, I have no idea what over even means.

“We want to go everywhere and see everything.”

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