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00:32 Flights to Ecuador are back on for US Citizens
03:11 Nicole explains the layout of Ecuador
06:50 Plastic rules for the Galapagos
11:46 Cam’s trek to Ecuador
15:26 Stranger to the guest to the family
21:06 Let’s meet Katie and Ben
25:30 Partying in Ecuador
30:19 What are the Two Wandering Souls up to
“The people are really- they're very genuine but also like how the culture is built. It's very much based on sharing- having time for persons- if someone has one dollar, they will buy a beer and they will share it together”. Nicole
“It's just an incredible country. It packs in a lot of stuff in a relatively small amount of space.” Cam
“I didn't really have any expectations coming in (to Ecuador) but just after finding out everything that you can do within the whole country, it's so small but it has so many things to do that it just- it's really fun.” - Ben
Nicole Roodenburg is from Colourful Ecuador Travels. They organize everything around Ecuador and the Galapagos and really believe in what the country has to offer
Cam Honan loves to hike. In this episode, he reveals a couple of his favorite places for hiking in Ecuador, Cajas National Park and the Volcan Cotopaxi. Cam has also written a couple of books The Hidden Tracks published by Gestalten.
As well as its predecessor, Wanderlust: Hiking on Legendary Trails. You can find Cam on Instagram and Facebook.
Katie and Ben, otherwise known as Two Wandering Soles, seek adrenaline rushes, good food, authentic experiences, and adventures off the typical tourist path. Follow along for responsible & adventurous travel tips, and inspiration that'll get you packing. Since last chatting to us they have kitted out a van and joined the Vanlife community. Follow their journey on Instagram.
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Kim: Kim and Phil here. Thanks for tuning in to the World Nomads Travel Podcast, please rate, share and subscribe from wherever you get your favorite podcasts because there are plenty of travel stories to share and places to visit. Commercial flights to Ecuador resumed in June and is open to US Citizens, but what do they need to know Phil?
Phil: So, at the time of recording, all travelers arriving in Ecuador should provide proof of a negative COVID PCR test taken no more than ten days before entering the country. If you don’t present symptoms of COVID, you do not need to perform mandatory quarantine, but special rules apply for Galapagos Island. If you (regardless of nationality or residency status) wish to travel to the Galapagos, you must have taken a PCR test with a negative result within 96 hours of entry into Galapagos province. We will share more thorough info in show notes along with our email address to get in touch.
Kim: We have edited a previous episode we launched featuring Ecuador reminding you of the stunning waterfalls and hikes and even tips for traveling light. We kicked off with Nicole from Colouful Ecuador who caught up with at a conference in Edinburgh asking her what is it that she loves most about Ecuador.
Nicole: It's the people. The people are really- they're very genuine but also like how the culture is built. It's very much based on sharing- having time for persons- if someone has one dollar they will buy a beer and they will share it together. It's not about a very selfish culture, it's just about life, and like for me that is what makes me happy in life. Of being able to have the time to share of but not being busy now with what I'm actually going to be doing tomorrow, in a couple of hours. Also, to have this thing that you can basically do what you want to do at that moment. So for example, when we have a busy day in the office and we're just like, "Let's just go out the whole office for karaoke." Everybody can. Even if we say it's at 2 o'clock in the afternoon like a few phone calls are made to parents and grandparents and boyfriends and girlfriends and husbands and wives and at 5 o'clock we are all singing karaoke. That's a bit of how the spirit is. It's basically of living there and it's not the most efficient culture in the world and we might- like if we were working in Europe we would do with a lot fewer people but we have fun. There's a genuine happy vibe always, everywhere.
Phil: And so, how is it one of those countries where the majority of the people live in the capital or is it spread out or...
Nicole: It's quite spread out. The capital is Quitoso that has about 2 million people. Guayaquil's biggest city in Ecuador, it's one of the most productive cities. It's based on the coastal area so there it has about 2 and a half million people. So there's like the two main areas where people live, in total, we have 30 million people all living within Ecuador. A lot of more of Ecuadorians living outside of Ecuador. After Quito and Guayaquil, like the big city's Cuenca that's about 500,000 so it goes down.
Phil: I heard you speaking here at WYSTC. I've heard you speaking the other day about there are four or five regions of the country. Just take us through that
Nicole: Yeah, so we would divide the country into 4 regions. We have the sierra, we call it, it's the Indian region so it's everything to do with the mountains. We have a whole Indian spine going through the whole of Ecuador, basically from the border of Columbia to the border of Peru. We call it the Andes, it's the beautiful snow-capped volcano, villages, there are all the indigenous people living there as there. You've got colorful markets but also the capitals and the colonial centers. We have the Amazon, so it's the jungle area. It's the whole Amazon basin. We don't actually touch the Amazon, it's one of our biggest frustrations. They say that the Peruvians took it away, so that's a bit of neighbor ressentiment in that part. The Amazonian basin so that's everything that we call the jungle area. We have the coastal plains, that's the part mostly going up the coast, the whole Pacific coast, and then the Galapagos is a whole separate region for us as well. So that's the 4 ones, the Amazon...
Phil: Let's start with the big one, the Galapagos. Now is it heavily protected?
Nicole: It's heavily protected in a way that's it's not easy to move there. It's a part of Ecuador but it's considered complete- we have a special regiment that goes there. So there are special laws for the part of the Galapagos, there are special labor laws as well, in how much you pay people. For example, salaries in the Galapagos are 75% higher than the mainland, that's by law. So the minimum wage in Ecuador at the moment is 385 and in Galapagos, it's 575 so that's already a difference. You have to Galapagano to be able to live there. Becoming Galapagano can be born there or marry in. So that's the only way basically that you can get it and then as an Ecuadorian or as a foreigner that has a valid working visa, you're able to go and work there if you are allowed to by the government. So that means that basically as a Galapagos company, you can apply for it, you can say, "okay I've looked between all the Galapagonos that live there and there's none that fit my description I need- for example, a marine biologist with so many years of experience in researching turtles. I have this person." And then they tell you how much time they are authorized to do it. It's normally, maximum a year and you can extend it up until 5 times. So that's like the maximum. So that's one of the ways that trying to protect it because in the past, especially with the tourism industry growing a little bit there are people moving there and starting to work, especially as waiters and receptionists because also the guiding part is heavily protected. You can only become a Galapagos National Park guide if you are a Galapagano so that takes the level of the guide sometimes down quite a bit. So a lot, for example, the companies that want to have like a really good nature experience they send both a biologist and a Galapagos National Park guide to deal with the park regulations.
Phil: And what about just as a visitor though? If you...
Nicole: As a visitor, you are allowed to come for 60 days a year. That's the maximum you can stay there. So there, they put in some new laws that were put into place in May and they're actually going to be effective in November. So that changes the whole rules on plastic. There are no plastic straws allowed, there's no plastic, if you want, no plastic containers. So if you're going on a boat excursion you will get all- just normal plates and everything. There's nothing that can be thrown away and no plastic bags so you're not even allowed to bring your shoes in a plastic bag, nothing that is plastic that can only be used once. That's the biggest change and the law is going to be effective on the first of November and one of the other things that you can not go without an itinerary. So you already have to have a plan that you're staying in the legally approved hotels because of- other forms of accommodations also took a flight of people staying like in people's houses and that is not the idea. Like the idea is that the national park regulates all the hotels that are approved to be in the Galapagos National Park in the residential areas basically because only 3% of the Galapagos National Park is actually allowed to be lived at which are the four towns that we actually have and a couple of the highland parts where there's some farming allowed. That is controlled by how to do their waste management, how to do their water management. Also, to keep everything of low control, they have now installed that you can not travel there and just see what kind of hotel you're going to book when you're arriving.
Phil: What's your favorite part outside of the Galapagos?
Nicole: Actually, for me, there are places above the Galapagos within Ecuador. There are parts called, there are parts we call the paramo, which is above the three and half thousand meters. They have the most amazing landscapes. So if you drive, for example, from Quito to Tena, Tena is one of the easy, accessible jungles towns. You go from two thousand eight hundred meters up to four and half thousand more or less by the roads and that just gives you amazing landscapes with, we call it pahas, so it's like grass with lakes everywhere and then you go all the way down to the jungles. So like the nice thing around Ecuador just sits on a public bus or go and drive with someone in a car and just look out the window because it changes every 5 minutes you have a different view. So like the paramo would be one of it. You have near Cuenca, if you drive from Cuenca to Guayaquil you have El Cajas, it's a national park and it's actually one big lake and there's moss on top of it. You can walk on it...
Nicole: It's there are meters wide moss so you walk on top of it and you walk through this forest and it's like a whole fairy tale that came to life. It will make beautiful lakes and little trees and you can see well the rabbits, the foxes, different things around it and you make beautiful hiking there.
Nicole: So that it is really, really great. There are some areas where you have just a waterfall after waterfall. There's also there are parts where you very turning, winding roads so every time you look like there's another turn in the road you see another five waterfalls coming down. So those are beautiful and of course the whales like every summer I do try to go because it's just one of those things that you're- I was there a couple of weeks ago and just from the beach you can see the whales jump. So they are so big. It's always an amazing thing, it doesn't matter how many times you've seen them, it's just this whole bus size animal coming out of the ocean. Yeah, it's wonderful.
Phil: Tell us what it is you do. What your company does there and how people can get in contact with you.
Nicole: Okay, well I work for Colorful Ecuador Travels. We're a company that's inbound tourism so we try- we organize everything around Ecuador and the Galapagos if you want to go anywhere else we'll refer you to other people because we really love what we do. So as a company we really believe in what the country has to offer so we organize the trips. We put together and connect both providers with the clients in general and we've started also operating different parts of hotels. So we have Casa Aliso, it's a small boutique hotel in Quito. We work together with Indicia, it's an educational hotel or it's an educational center actually and the hotel supports the whole part of the center in Guamota which is about four hours from Quito. We have Musa Galapagos, so we do Galapagos Island hopping in a different way. Also, connecting the local providers so that there are people like the real situations that their people living on the Galapagos Islands. So it's also nice to support the local businesses which is the way that we do with a part of the island hopping and we also volunteer work and have a Spanish school in Quito.
Phil: So anything Ecuador, get on to it. So thanks so much for touring with [crosstalk 00:11:00]
Nicole: You're very welcome.
Kim: Yeah, Link's in Show notes. So Nicole painted a beautiful picture of Ecuador so let's start to pick it apart. We'll kick it off with Cam. He's written a couple of books including, "The Hidden Tracks" and as of 2018, he's hiked more than sixty thousand miles or ninety-six thousand, five hundred and sixty-one Ks in some 56 countries in 6 continents. Cam. How ya going?
Phil: Are your feet sore?
Cam: I think I'm a bit weary just hearing that actually.
Kim: Well yeah, you've tired me out. That's a hell of a lot of trekking. So can you expand on hiking in Ecuador?
Cam: Well it's been about- I spent about 5 or 6 weeks in Ecuador back in 2004 so it's been a while but the two things that really stand out for me in regards to Ecuador are the volcanos and the national park by El Cajas. That's spelled C-A-J-A-S. and in regards to the volcanos, Ecuador it's a pretty small country, I think it's a little bit bigger than Victoria in area wise...
Phil: I've got to say though mate, most of our audience in America so I'll check it out but it's got to be about the size of Rhode Island hasn't?
Cam: A little bit bigger than Rhode Island. But I think there's about [inaudible 00:12:23] volcanos and a bunch of them are active and probably the most- well definitely the most famous one and maybe the most beautiful is one called Cotopaxi. It's about, seeing most of your audience is in the States, almost 20,000 feet high, 5,800 meters give or take. It's got that beautiful symmetrical shape and there's a hike you can do around the base of it, you can circumnavigate the volcano. It's about 80KM long takes anywhere from 4 to 6 days and it's just an absolutely gorgeous hike and the whole you just get this series of views of the volcano and I think it's also one of the most active volcanos in the world. It's erupted more than 50 times over the last few centuries but maybe not in the last 100 years so it may be due.
Kim: Cam, it would be a very quick 5 to 6 days then if you're trekking the base of an active volcano
Cam: Yeah, you definitely have your skates on for a lot of it. I mean, if you see all these puffs come out you probably go a little bit quicker. So it's- well if you go through all these dense forests and high grass lands and broad valleys and go over these lava flows and yeah it's just gorgeous volcano pretty much like Mt. Fuji in Japan or Mt. Taranaki in New Zealand. It's a stunning hike. And the other place I think about when I think about Ecuador when it comes to hiking is the national park I referenced before called Cajas which is just actually just up the road from this beautiful old colonial town by the name of Cuenca and Cuenca is the Panama hat capital of the world. It's a really lovely little town and Cajas is this national park maybe 10, 15, 20 minutes drive from there. It's got over a couple hundred different lakes and glacial valleys and rocky peaks and cloud forests and really it's off the radar. Not a lot of people go hiking there and it's really wet there, think Scotland but without the pomps and the bopies.
Cam: Yeah, it's just an incredible country. It packs in a lot of stuff in a relatively small amount of space.
Kim: So the book, "The Hidden Tracks," which I'm guessing is your latest book. It's great, which sounds so patronizing to say it's great by the way.
Phil: It's got the Kim seal of approval.
Cam: Yeah, you don't want to realize that it's crappy when you have me on for a podcast.
Kim: No I enjoyed it because it's super inspirational and there's a lot of other things about the layout of the book that I really like too. But it kicks off with this concept of a stranger to guest to family. What do you mean by that?
Cam: It's something I came up with probably about- I'm showing my age a bit here but probably about 25 years ago on a trip to the South Isle of New Zealand. It's basically what I call a natural progression which is something which is I guess it's a transformation that can take place when people spend a lot of time out in nature. A lot of folks first head out to the woods particularly if they haven't grown up in the country, they might feel a little bit like a fish out of water, a stranger in a strange land, the odd sounds at night they're not really used to or too hot or too cold or too muddy or too wet. Sometimes, for some people, the first time might prove to be the last but I think for those that preserve, and this is the key, in so doing really learn to accept Mother Nature on its own terms, a transformation this natural progression can take place and slowly but surely you become accustomed to those sort of conditions that have become the catalyst of those worries and fears. And as those experiences accumulate, worries begin to fade and instead of a stranger, you start to feel like a guest. A guest when you're out in the wilderness, a welcomed guest, and then in the third stage, the guest to family.
Kim: I like it. Phil, you love that kind of stuff, don't you?
Phil: Yeah, I love that stuff
Kim: So what was your motivation then for getting off the beaten track and obviously, at 60,000 miles you're a pretty keen hiker.
Cam: Yeah you could say that. Well, I think all the biggies like freedom and the challenge of it, the connection with nature but I think a lot of it for me is always come down to just simplicity. I think I realized that at a fairly young age that I was at my happiest when my life was at it's most simple and I was at most miserable when everything was complicated. I think spending time out in the woods when you got everything you need in the world on your back, it really hits home that you don't need a lot of stuff to be happy. I think that's always been a huge motivation for me for heading out into the wilderness
Kim: So what have been some challenges then that- you've painted a pretty romantic picture. This concept of a stranger to a guest to the family. As we know, with families it can often be a rocky road.
Cam: Alright, I'll give you the flip side. I'll give you the flip side. Back in the mid-90s, there was one time I was attacked by a rabid dog when I was hiking in the southeast Oasis in Egypt. Like actually, staying just outside of this oasis by the name of Siwa. There have been other times- there's this region in the north of Mexico called the Copper Canyon area. This incredible region, it's like four times bigger than the Grand Canyon. I've done about 5 trips there over the last 2 decades. But the very first trip up to it was the first bus ride I ever took when I came to Mexico, I was robbed by these masked bandits at like 2 or 3 am in the morning I had a gun held to my head.
Kim: Phil loves these kinds of stories. This is great. What do you get to do then? In terms of tricks
Phil: Yeah what have you- what do you want to do?
Cam: There's still a few places out there that- I've never been to Kurdistan. I've always fancied going to Kurdistan. Actually, the Kimberlys in Australia, it's a part of- I've been to Western Australia but I've never been up to the Kimberlys so I'd like to spend a bit of time up there. There's parts of Ethiopia, the rift valley area in Africa that I'd love to get to. I think it's one of those things where, irrespective of how much hiking you've done, how many places you've been, there's always something else to do and there's always other places to explore. It's been something that I've done pretty much my whole life and something that I plan to continue to do or I hope I can continue to do for the next 60 years or so.
Kim: Well, listen, it's been fabulous talking to you and I guess it would be great to finish on a single piece of advice for anyone that's thinking about doing a long haul trek.
Cam: The big thing is preparation. Just do as much research as you can and getting fit as possible. And also, I think traveling lightly, traveling as lightly as you possibly can because it's tough to enjoy a long hike when you're carrying the kitchen sink on you back. That's a huge thing when I do talks and comps I'm often going on about traveling as lightly as possible and emphasizing necessity rather than surplus luxuries. 'Cause it all adds up and a lot of it gets back to the whole idea of simplicity, just not needing as much stuff.
Kim: I think they're actually bamboo underpants you can buy where you don't have to take them off for a week.
Phil: Bamboo fiber, I hope, and not just strapped from pieces of bamboo. I let my fingers do the walking while we're having a chat there, Ecuador is only very slightly smaller than Colorado.
Kim: Beautiful. We've got you the U.S. reference in there. Cam, thanks so much. We all have links to not only your books but also your Instagram and a couple of other things in our show notes.
Phil: Yeah, great talking to you Cam.
Cam: Just one last thing in regards to the undies. Look, I know the bamboo probably sounds nice but really you've got to go commando.
Kim: That's even better. Yes.
Phil: Fair enough.
Kim: That's even better. Links to where you can pick up "The Hidden Tracks" and more on Cam in show notes.
Now, Katie and Ben are otherwise known as two wandering souls and they have been to a number of destinations including Ecuador which they say was unforgettable. We've got the guys on Skype now. Hey, Katie, Ben, two wandering souls.
Kim: So what was so unforgettable about Ecuador?
Katie: I think there are many things that we could say that were unforgettable but the things that kind of stick out about our trip to Ecuador were being about to experience and explore the nature and wildlife and do a lot of adventure activities. So that's what kind of sticks out. We also just had an amazing experience meeting other travelers and having a few local connections as well.
Phil: Like what? What were some of the adventure activities that you got- that you got yourselves into?
Ben: We did quite a bit. Like we went canyoneering, we went mountain biking, we went puenting which is like a swing jump.
Katie: Kind of like bungee jumping without the bounce back
Phil: Kim is looking very perplexed. Puenting, from a bridge.
Phil: So you jump off that and so you end up sort of swinging underneath the bridge, like a pendulum.
Kim: Right. Yup, so you're off to the adrenaline rush there guys.
Katie: Yeah, we got quite a few adrenaline rushes in Ecuador. We also went snorkeling in the Galapagos, where we saw sharks and penguins and sea turtles.
Ben: Manta Rays
Katie: Manta Rays, yeah. So we had quite an adventurous experience in Ecuador.
Kim: Phil, I'm going to stop here and ask you.
Kim: With these chats that we've done about Ecuador, is this the kind of country you thought it was?
Phil: No. Not at all. No. I mean, I was amazed to find out about the waterfalls and the beautiful forest and what have you. And now we're finding out about the adrenaline activities as well. For a relatively small place, it packs a punch, doesn't it?
Kim: It does. Ben, what did you think when you got there? Was it above your expectations?
Ben: It really was. I mean, I didn't really have any expectations coming in but just after finding out everything that you can do within the whole country, it's so small but it has so many things to do that it just- it's really fun.
Kim: Phil, you found out it was the size of what?
Phil: It's the size of Colorado.
Kim: There you go.
Phil: There you go.
Kim: It puts it into context for you. Now, Katie, you also, both of you spent time working on an organic farm. So you go from this adrenaline rush to this kind of peaceful, village life almost.
Katie: Yeah, we- so we ended up signing up for this volunteer program through Work Away and the directions on the website were very, very simple. They were, take this local bus and have them drop you off on the side of the road where basically you're in the middle of nowhere and then the instructions say and hike up a hill for an hour and a half. We have our big backpacks and we're hiking, literally in mud that is up to our knees. So we have our boots on and we're hiking and we look at each other, the sun's going now and we're like, "Are we actually going to make it to this farm? This so-called farm that we don't even know exists?"
Sure enough, we made it. Thank goodness. Because we were literally in the middle of nowhere, but we spent a week on this farm doing kind of all sorts of different chores around the homestead and it was a really, really incredible experience.
Phil: What were they growing? What was the produce?
Ben: They have a whole bunch of different vegetables and fruits that they were growing like corn, tomatoes, peanuts, just a whole variety of different things. They had different projects on the farm as well, like I installed a solar shower to help out other volunteers.
Kim: I like the way you travel. I'm a massive adrenaline junkie. I like being in the water and snorkeling and that sort of thing but-
Phil: But anything higher than a table [crosstalk 00:24:59]
Kim: Yeah no, can't do it. But you're into the food, you're into the authentic experiences and adventures that are off the typical tourist path. But you're also young and you talk about partying on the beach in Ecuador. How do they party in Ecuador?
Katie: Yeah well, this was the second country we visited after quitting our jobs and so we were kind of ready to let loose and Ben. Ben is a former engineer and he was very excited to have some freedom and we had heard all these stories about this beachside town of Mantaita and to be honest, it's mostly travelers there that are partying. We decided to spend a few days there and to be quite honest, it was not a cultural experience at all. It's not the most beautiful beach at all but what this town promise is an epic nightlife...
Ben: Yeah, it was a pretty fun nightlife. We stayed at this hostel and got to know a lot of other travelers there. Played some drinking games of course, and we walked to the beach. It's the kind of place where you can just get a drink at a street stall and roam through the streets or roam to the beach and it was a fun night.
Kim: So what made you quit your jobs? Obviously, we know why you quit your jobs and we speak to so many people that do it for a sense of adventure and just to really experience life. What were you doing Katie and Ben you were an engineer, so what you give it all up?
Katie: So I was working in graphic design and advertising. And we both actually really liked our jobs and we had a comfortable life and we had a great apartment, great family and friends but we just kind of realized that we could see ourselves in that same spot in 40, 50 years and we decided that we wanted just a little bit of a chance to experience something different. Honestly, what was meant to be 3 months in South America ended up kind of snowballing and turning into something that has continued for the past 5 years. It was kind of an accidental quitting our jobs and staying that way but yeah.
Phil: It seems to me that Americans have not really done that in the past. They've all been very career-oriented and I just get the feeling that more and more Americans are deciding to chuck it in for a while and go traveling.
Ben: Yeah it's tough when you're working at a company and you only have two weeks vacation for the whole entire year and that's kind of what we saw and we wanted to have a little bit more time to travel and so. I guess a lot of Americans want to have more freedom and kind of get out of that type of...
Katie: The everyday routine but I think just the ability now to work online and be able to make money remotely it will make it so much easier for people to pick up and quit their jobs and travel if that's what they want.
Ben: Or create a new job online.
Phil: Yeah, well a graphic designer Katie, that's easy for you to do remotely but it's probably not that easy to build roads or something Ben.
Kim: I don't think he wants to.
Ben: Yeah it's been a little bit of a learning curve for me just to pick up more website development and design. Katie has taught me a lot too. I'm making it work, it's pretty good.
Phil: We've been talking that lifestyle up but what's the worse thing about it? I mean, do you get homesick.
Kim: Good question
Katie: There's a lot of worse things actually. Yes, we do get homesick. We have missed out on a lot of events back home, a lot of weddings or births or just everyday kind of things that we feel like we're missing out on. But at the end of the day, it's- there's nothing that can really replace the freedom that we've been able to create.
Kim: Well the world is a big backyard. Your blog we'll share in show notes with some great stories particularly or not particularly about Ecuador 'cause all the stories are great...
Phil: All the stories are great.
Kim: But there are things there about getting down and dirty on the farm. Also, border crossings from Ecuador to Peru which Katie's not a big fan of, Katie?
Katie: Yes, we had a not so fun border experience and to be honest I think land crossings, like when you're crossing through a bus are never really fun experience.
Ben: Especially when it's in the middle of the night
Katie: Yes and especially when the bus is not the most comfortable. But it's all a part of the journey.
Kim: Speaking of journey’s I have touched base with Ben and Kate who are currently living in Bend, Oregon, and converted a campervan which they have been traveling around in. Kate said they have listened to quite a bit of the WN podcast during the build because it was fun to hear about travel stories while being stuck in the USA.