In “Why South America: Part One” we looked at whether traveling around South America is a safe thing for a family to do. In a nutshell: Yes. Being self-aware and making smart choices, there is no greater inherent risk than riding around North America. This brings us to the Next Big Question: “Nice try, but you’re not going to convince us that South America is safe. If you just want a nice, long vacation, why don’t you just travel around North America for a year? There are plenty of awesome things to see around this place.”
Well, there are a few reasons. First, I personally have explored North America pretty thoroughly. I’ve been to every state and nearly every state capital. I’ve been to every major landmark people think of when they envision U.S. travel, a great many national and state parks, monuments, historical sites, etc., and innumerable roadside oddities, amusements, and general Americana. I haven’t been absolutely everywhere, of course, but the other day I was listening to a random podcast discussing an event in Newfoundland and I found myself thinking “I know exactly where that is. There is a Tim Hortons right there.” Sure enough, they mentioned that Tim Hortons later in the episode. That happens quite often, which makes me feel like I’ve seen more of North America’s best nooks and crannies than your average traveler.
Am I done exploring North America? Not by a long shot. Monty only has barely a dozen states under her belt, so we’ve just scratched the surface of exploring with her. But North America is just so… accessible. With a few weeks vacation, we can wander at a fairly leisurely pace and still reach the distant corners of the continent. It’s so easy to conquer in little bites at a time; while it certainly would be wonderful fun to spend a year exploring North America, I suppose there just isn’t that sense that we NEED a year to explore North America.
South America, on the other hand, requires a greater time commitment for a number of reasons, so the opportunities to do deep travel there are going to be much harder to come by. There will be many international border crossings, something we rarely have to consider in North America. There is the language barrier: my Spanish is rudimentary and my Portuguese is non-existent. There are the logistical issues and expenses involved in getting our bikes to South America (or purchasing vehicles there). None of these things are insurmountable, but they do take time and/or money. Spending a week dealing with a vehicle shipping problem or full day tackling a border crossing could be a huge, frustrating delay in a two-week vacation, but it’s barely a blip in the scope of a year. And if I’m going to spend a year brushing up on my Spanish, I may as well get the most out of it. We’re at a point in our life where we can take a year off to travel, so it makes sense to take advantage by traveling to somewhere that’s hard to fully experience with a tighter timeline.
While there are certainly some expenses involved with getting ourselves and the bikes to South America, the cost of traveling around South America is significantly lower than North America. Budgets are as individual as the travelers themselves, but most overlanders report that one can live fairly comfortably on a budget of $50 a day. Most say that $100 per day would buy a pretty plush existence. Fully self-contained overlanders report overall averages as low as $25 a day. Most campgrounds in North America are going to set you back more than that. Those reported budgets included accommodations, fuel, food, insurance, vehicle maintenance, various entry fees/entertainment expenses, border crossing costs, vehicle purchase/shipping, everything. If we were just looking to subsist on the road in North America, we’d be lucky to keep it under $150 a day. Wanting to have a fun and enriching experience, we could easily spend twice that without ever coming close to “plush”. We do have a loose timeline and budget in mind; the fact of the matter is that within those parameters, we can travel longer and enjoy a greater number of experiences in South America.
There is one more reason, possibly the biggest reason, we chose South America over other destinations: We don’t want to spend a year riding around showing Monty people who look pretty much like her, live pretty much like her, with a culture pretty much like hers. We want to expose her to the wider world, help her begin to understand that there is so much more outside her comfortable, familiar life in the good ol’ USA. South America is our southern sibling, easier to access than, say Africa or Asia. As a continent it offers an absolutely stunning array of people, places and history in addition to the natural beauty of the land. We want to introduce her to new foods, animals, languages, customs, smells, sights, and sounds while she’s old enough to enjoy them and young enough to be impacted by them. I don’t necessarily think that overt racism is behind people’s concern about us traveling “down there”, but it is interesting that a lot of people specifically say that North America or Europe are both inherently safer options. I feel like “safer” is sometimes used as a euphemism for “more like us”.
Having a year to travel with no fixed itinerary, we’re free to be fully immersed in the areas we visit as opposed to just passing through. Am I expecting too much, hoping Monty will come home having shed the need to beg for every new bit of plastic crap they’re screaming about on TV? Perhaps. But after living a different life for a year, becoming friends with kids who don’t have TVs, let alone a constantly rotating buffet of toys, might she begin to realize that she doesn’t actually need those things quite as much as the advertising agencies would have her believe? Perhaps. It might seem like I’m hoping for a miracle, but remember that by the time we return, this trip will account for a full 1/6 of her life experience. That has the potential to make a huge impact on her, and us as a family. What if she just returns with an understanding that people are people, all deserving of respect and kindness regardless of our differences? I’m ok with that too.