A Changed Way of Life

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We are Dana & Stéphane, two French photographers and wild van lifers. In 2016, we decided to leave France and our desk jobs to explore North and Central America. Prior to that amazing adventure, Dana used to be a M&A Lawyer (yes, it is the sexiest job on earth) in a French law firm and Stephane was an IT System Engineer. Currently, we are both in professional retraining and, in a longer-term perspective, we want to work as digital nomads for half of each year. Living this nomadic van life is where our lives are currently headed in roughly one months time!

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Our first long term journey was a thirteen month road-trip from Halifax to Alaska, down to Costa Rica and back to the USA from 2016 to 2017. Originally, we planned to go south to Ushuaia but we realized on our way that one year was not enough time for this extensive amount of travel. Instead of rushing to cram it all in we decided to take our time and travel as we desired.

The idea for this trip emerged during a three week vacation in Guatemala in 2015. While we were walking around Flores, we saw two German motorbikes on the side of the road. We did not get the opportunity to talk with the bikers, as they were not around, but we began dreaming about going on a similar type of adventure. What would it look like to go on a road trip to explore a whole continent? We desired more than your typical vacation; we were craving a real and powerful journey. That is how it began, the seed started to grow in our minds!

Back in France we began the process of looking for a vehicle. We eliminated the motorbike as a means of travel (the reality of there being two of us on a motorbike and having to set up a tent everyday was bleak). We thought a van would be a good option, specifically a 4×4 van. The desire for freedom was the main goal of this journey. Thus, we thought a 4×4 van would be the perfect home on wheels to explore the wild sides of a continent. We wanted to be able to get off the beaten track. At the same time, we wanted to have our own tiny house; have a cocoon where we could feel safe and at home. After two months of searching, in the month of June, we bought our Iveco daily 4×4. We named it “Tikal” as a tribute to the country where the idea for this long-term road trip was born (Tikal being one of the biggest Mayan cities of Central America).

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We designed and built the interior of our van on our own. For an entire year we spent all of our weekends and holidays working away at it, making it our soon to be new home. It proved to be a challenging year, spending all week at work and all our free time brushing, painting, and arguing in our van! Though it was a challenging year, it was worthwhile and also a great and stretching experience. We learnt from scratch how to transform a van into a home, and that was a huge accomplishment for us!

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Once Tikal was ready, in July 2016, we shipped our van from Belgium to Halifax, Canada. We picked up Tikal, our van, on August 5th from the harbour and so began the journey to Alaska. We wanted to start our trip at the most northern point of Halifax. So, we drove on the Dalton highway and slept right at the Arctic circle. It has proven to be one of the most spectacular nights of our journey. The two of us, Tikal, and the northern lights!

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From the Arctic circle we started our way south. We discovered how amazing Canada and the USA are. Truly a paradise for wildlife and nature lovers! We fell in love with Mexico, where we spent five months, and discovered the jungles of Central America: Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Once we discovered that the weather was so wet and hot during the rainy season, we decided to go back north to spend a little more time exploring the south of the USA. So, we came back through the same countries (and Salvador) and visited Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. 

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On paper, this thirteen month road trip should have been a once in a life time hiatus in our lives. But we quickly realized that this road trip and the freedom we experienced was how we wanted to continue to live, we felt alive! We could not imagine going back to our day-to-day routine, to our desk jobs and our settled lives.  

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When we returned to France in 2017 knowing that we would hit the road again soon. Since we changed our itinerary, only completing half of what we initially set out to, we still had South America to discover, and we had now tasted the freedom that being on the open road has to offer and we wanted more! 

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The return home was kind of difficult. After the joy of getting back to our families, eating some good cheese and hanging out with friends, we felt a sort of depression setting in. Stephane went back to his previous work and Dana started to look after a job of legal adviser, that she did not want to do. So it was, we knew that we had to plan another trip. We began saving money for our next pursuit. Over the next year and a half we saved and began dreaming of our next project. We were after a trip that would be meaningful for us, and an experience that would transform the simple road trip into something else, possibly something greater.

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Our first trip changed us. With all that we discovered and experienced on our first trip we realized that we do not want to witness the changes on our Earth without taking action. As wildlife photographers we are specially concerned about biodiversity extinction. We are told that more than 60 % of wildlife has disappeared in the last 50 years. We acknowledge the impact humanity has had, and is continuing to have, on our planet, and yet all hope is not lost for change. We know that there are people working hard to protect the wildlife and nature on our planet. There are people who want to preserve the biodiversity and resurrect the wild. 

We desire to connect with the individuals who acknowledge that humans cannot live alone on Earth and who are fighting so that it never gets to that. Thus our knew project has emerged. During six months we will travel from California to Alaska, in our van, and interview women and men who protect nature, animals and plants; those who make biodiversity their priority. We want to share this vision and their actions through a documentary.

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We decided to call this project “Wild”: a documentary about wildlife and its protectors. This will be a first for us in video documentary, but we are very excited about this new perspective! We know for sure that we will meet amazing and passionate people.

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The countdown has started: we leave France mid-March, for our Wild road trip!

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For more from Dana & Stéphane click here or @lemondedetikal