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This Family Took a Five-Month Road Trip Across South America

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Photo by Javier Echecopar

A father, mother, and daughter packed their lives into a 4x4 vehicle and traveled South America on a mission to explore and photograph its diversity. Here’s what happened.

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Javier Echecopar’s Instagram bio tells his story. His Instagram feed says even more.  The “professional traveler” and “unprofessional photographer” was born in Peru and raised in the United States, Peru, and Chile. He has a distinct sense of the many differences that exist across cultures but also the connections between them.

In 2016, Javier, his wife, Isa, and their then seven-year-old daughter, Fiore, packed up their lives, moved into a 4x4 vehicle, and hit the road on an open-ended adventure across South America. They spent five months (April through August) traveling the continent, documenting their adventures and the stories of the people they met through #ourandeanadventure. We caught up with Javier about his exploration of culture through photography, his love for South America, and his family’s unique experience living on the road. Here’s what he had to say.

Where did the idea for this adventure originate?

“I’m very passionate about South America as a destination. I spent time growing up in both Peru and Chile and also worked as a guide leading treks up some of the tallest mountains on the continent. The concept of this trip focused on themes that my wife and I are both extremely passionate about—the mountains and the connection between the different countries and cultures of South America. We said, ‘Why don’t we do a trip that goes from the southernmost tip of the continent, through small villages and mountains, towards the northernmost tip?’ And that’s what we did.”

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Why did you decide to travel by car?

“I had backpacked around South America from a very young age, but I wanted this trip to be completely different from anything I’d done. We decided to live out of a completely autonomous 4x4 vehicle—we had food, fuel, water, shelter, and everything that we needed for about a week at a time—so that we could design our own adventure. The sense of liberty, of not being restricted by any route, was incredible.”

How extensively did you plan?

“When we started our trip, we didn’t even think about when it was going to end—only the idea of where we wanted to go and what we wanted to explore. We would plan about three to four days ahead, and everything else was spontaneous. We started in Santiago and drove down to Ushuaia. For about a month we traveled through Patagonia, crossing back and forth between Chile and Argentina. After that, we spent about three weeks in Bolivia, then crossed the mountains of Peru and continued north toward Ecuador. We spent time in the mountains of Ecuador, then drove west and descended the entire continent by the coast. In total, we traveled about 16,000 miles.”

Your daughter came along on the trip. What was that like?

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“Our daughter Fiore [who turned eight years old during their travels] wasn’t an accessory to the trip—she was a part of it.  She actually helped us see things we might not have seen otherwise. We spent time in Peru’s Sacred Valley, where she went to school with local children and learned Quechua, the local language. She brought a different point of view to the trip, and I think she came to understand that her very fortunate position in life is due mostly to luck—that she’s really not different from another eight-year-old girl that was born in rural Peru and has a very different life ahead of her.”

What would your advice be to parents who are considering traveling long-term with children?

“One of the beautiful things about traveling with my wife and daughter was how much of a bonding experience it was. Taking the time to spend five months together, sleeping in a tent together, cooking our food together, figuring out our day-to-day plans with each other—those things truly connected us and made us a more stable family. There is a sense of uncertainty that comes along with embarking on a long trip. The big decisions you have to make in order to commit to traveling long-term—quitting your job or asking for extended time off—can set forth feelings of doubt. But, in my experience, everything that I learned while traveling with my family was actually incredibly helpful for me in coming back to the so-called real world. I think people need to realize that the risk involved is not as high as they think and that the benefits are tremendous.”

A large portion of this adventure for you was also dedicated to photography and your interest in documenting culture. How did your role as a photographer impact the trip?

“The photographic element of the trip was hugely important. It completely changed the dynamic. I approached this adventure wanting to express what the continent of South America is about—how the countries are similar and also different. I stopped in places I normally wouldn’t have because of something like lighting, and I often had conversations with people I photographed, which helped me learn perspectives I wouldn’t have otherwise. Photography changes the way you travel—you see potential in smaller moments, and you can learn a lot from those moments.”

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>>Next: The Importance of Family Travel—and Its Future

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