Sole Sister Spotlight: Emily of Our Open Road

Thursday, August 28, 2014

After becoming a mother 2 weeks ago, I've wondered if it's still possible to continue traveling. So I started to look at blogs of traveling families for inspiration. It's amazing how they have been able to continue living a nomadic lifestyle despite the demands of raising young children.

Emily of Our Open Road has been traveling with her husband Adam, their toddler Colette, and their new baby Sierra. What started as a dream and developed into a 12-month plan- is now life on the road. This nomadic family departed California in October 2012 in their VW Westfalia, with the goal of reaching Tierra del Fuego and returning a year later. They decided to embrace a future unknown and the rewards of slow travel. Two years in, they still see no end in sight!

Here's my insightful interview with her:

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What inspired you to take that big leap into a nomadic life?

Adam & I have traveled together for over a decade, always dreaming and planning our next adventure. When I was pregnant with Colette, Adam was working on a project that would have put us in India and Nepal for 6+ months. When that fell through, we knew the time had come for us to plan our own grand voyage. It was born naturally of a dream we developed together and wanted to share with Colette.

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How did you guys prepare for the big trip?

It took over a year of saving and fundraising, planning and preparing before we departed. We are nomads at heart, and spent much time pre-departure exploring the wonders of California.

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How do manage to keep traveling? Is there any special work that allows you to fund your trips?

A most poignant moment on the road was as we entered Ecuador from Colombia, we ditched our plans to travel to Tierra del Fuego and back in a years time. That was the decision that changed it all! We did not have the finances to stay on the road longer, but felt confident that with our hearts open and heads together, we could figure out some way to support our life on the road. We discussed juggling at street lights (a talent which neither of us possess), turning the van into a mobile kitchen and selling food after bars close (not very conducive to having a young child), having Adam work with a scuba outfitter as an underwater cinematographer (fun if you want to live somewhere, but quite un-nomadic), so when we mulled over the idea for 24 Hour Bazaar- we instantly knew we had found our winner!

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24 Hour Bazaar is a flash sale of curated, fair trade, artisan goods that we host when in craft rich regions. Items include rugs, textiles, blankets, clothing, hats, jewelry, masks and vary according to our location. The one-of-a-kind items are available for a limited time and ship worldwide directly to our customers’ door.

We are so pleased that 24 Hour Bazaar has created a circle, which connects the artisans, an international audience and us. All the craftspeople we work with are stoked to share their goods with a wider audience and make a fair wage doing so; to support tradition and process in the arts is infinitely rewarding to us as artists. This flow of finance, art and inspiration is a pairing that we could only have dreamed of before our departure, and are thrilled to now call our work reality.

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What does a typical day look like for you and your family?

The wonderful thing about life on the road is that there is no “average day.” Our twists and turns are determined by many factors- both in the grand scheme and on the daily. Weather and finances help determine what activities we do. Guidebooks, our own Internet research, recommendations from fellow travelers, and the most valuable: local knowledge are all sources of information. Tuning into the energy of a place, we decide where to camp and how long to stay. We have a standing rule that if one of us does not like a campsite, we move- no questions asked. On the road, you are stripped of so many outside filters and your intuition is your best, most vital gift.

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What was the biggest challenge that you've faced as a traveling mother? And as a traveling family?

We see traveling as a family as a great benefit, not a challenge. Officials and locals alike warm to us as foreigners in a way that is vastly different than our experiences traveling without a child. The stern officer’s tough face suddenly softens as he sees Colette sleeping peacefully in the back of the van; a rural family that we may view us as rich gringos, suddenly views us as parents and our common ground brings us into the folds of their community in a very simple way as our kids play together.

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A most recent challenge was deciding where Sierra would be born. We chose “the magic island” of Florianopolis in the south of Brazil. Cesarians are super common in Brazil and many other South American countries, but Floripa is a center of natural birth. Southern hemisphere winter is also the best season for surf, so my hubby was stoked. June is off season in this beach filled paradise, so we were able to rent a little house for a fraction of what it costs in high season. It all aligned and we have enjoyed our time here immensely- a little house on the beach to nest in and welcome our babe into the world naturally. Hooray!

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What was it like being pregnant and giving birth in a foreign country?

The first trimester was rough. We were at 12,500-foot elevation for a good two months — a height that’s difficult enough without the added hormonal roller coaster of growing a child! Adam was able to spend a lot of time with Colette, so I was thankfully able to get some very necessary rest. The moment I hit 15 weeks — when the placenta attaches — we also arrived at lower elevations, and it was like I got switched back on to my normal self. The second and third trimesters I had lots of energy and was able to enjoy our travels.

I had regular medical attention throughout the pregnancy — I just brought the paperwork from the previous appointment with us and explained to the doctor our nomadic life. It was always met with a raised eyebrow and a smile. As a cash patient, it is shocking that the full payment in Peru, Chile, Argentina and Brazil is far less than a co-pay for a visit is backing the States.

For delivery, we went to the public (and free) University Hospital which provided excellent care. My Portuguese is very limited, so I looked into having an English speaking doula assist, but UH only allows one birth attendant. I couldn’t imagine not having Adam by my side! The hospital was very accommodating and was always able to find someone who spoke English to translate for us.

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What kind of advice would you like to share with families who are thinking of doing the same thing?

Do it! If you can work it out, the rewards of spending time with your littles on the road is incomparable. Children are highly adaptable, and what you show them — offering the world as a playground — is a wonderful gift to share.

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What is the best thing about sharing this unique lifestyle with your children?

The TIME that we have together as a family is the greatest gift.

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What kind of life lessons would you want your children to have and look back to when they are older?

We hope to instill an appreciation of the world’s rich natural beauty and the cultural, artistic, religious, socioeconomic, stylistic, and racial diversity. An attitude of gratitude and an eagerness to learn are traits we hope will remain with our daughters.

Emily is a fashion designer and camp chef, currently working on a cookbook. Follow the Harteau family at and

*All images are used with permission from Our Open Road.

Want more? Read other features on Sole Sister Spotlight.

Do you know of travelers who conquer the world one country at a time? We would love to interview them for Sole Sister Spotlight. Please send us an email at solesisters .weare@gmail .com. We look forward to your suggestions!

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