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How to Road Trip Around the World
How to drive a VW van 59,480 miles (95,724 kilometers)from California to Uganda via Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina
Text by Joe Robinson   Photograph by Rich and Amanda Ligato
Photo: Rich and Amanda Ligato

WILD RIDE: Rich and Amand Ligato pause in southern California.

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Rich Ligato, 38, office manager   
Amanda Ligato, 42, vice president of human resources

Big Dreams
Photo Galleries:

Build It: An Island Dream House >>

Drive It: Drive Across Two Continents >>

Chase It: Sail Around the World and Surf >>

Relive It: Retrace a 1912 Trek to the South Pole >>

Share It: Bring Supplies to 60,000 People in Congo >>


Your Story: 
Are You Living the Dream?

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Rich Ligato was commuting to  work in San Diego one morning in 1994 when a billboard changed his life. The ad touted a California Lottery jackpot of
$14 million—a number that nagged him all day. "What would you do if money was no object?" he asked his wife, Amanda, later. Her answer was the same as his: travel the world.

But money was an object, not to mention careers and a comfortable lifestyle, with all its associated entanglements: a condo, insurance premiums, student-loan debt. Rich was the manager of a KOA Campgrounds office; Amanda worked at a financial company. "We were on the success track, but we weren't having fun," recalls Amanda. "We always made great plans for the weekend, but when the time came, we were so exhausted from work that we wound up just renting videos. We felt stuck in a rut, thinking, Is this all there is?"
The Ligatos' tale is a textbook lesson in not waiting until your number comes up. The couple decided to create their own lottery jackpot, a six-year savings program that would fund their dream: a road trip to the bottom of South America, up the coast of Brazil, into a shipping container, and across the Atlantic Ocean to Africa.

They put themselves on a strict budget, clipping coupons and shopping at flea markets. They lived off Rich's paycheck and diverted Amanda's to the expedition kitty. When the time came to hit the road, in September 2000, their self-made jackpot had grown to more than $50,000—or as Rich puts it, "enough to buy our freedom."

The vehicle of their liberation: a 1978 Volkswagen Westfalia camper van with a rebuilt Beetle engine (reliable and simple to find parts for in developing nations). By camping out and cooking most of their meals, they spent an average of $46 a day for just under three years.

En route they trekked the Inca Trail, ran the border in Guatemala to escape a corrupt guard, communed with mountain gorillas in Uganda and survived a nasty spill in Class V rapids while rafting down the White Nile.

Before they left, Rich admits, the unknown was a huge fear: "Are we going to get sick? Are we going to get robbed? What if the car breaks down?" But unpredictability was what they were after. They found it halfway through the Ecuadorian Andes when the van slowed from a crawl to a stall. Rich popped the hood and stared at an enigma. "I didn't know what I was doing," he recalls.

He fumbled with the timing, the engine came to life, and their confidence skyrocketed. "There's a joy in moving beyond your comfort zone and using skills and ingenuity that are dormant," he says. "It gives you a sense that there's really nothing you can't do."

Since their return, in the summer of 2003, they've self-published a book, Wide-Eyed Wanderers ($19), launched a Web site (www.vwvagabonds.com), and lectured on adventure and self-determination. "This is it," says Amanda. "We feel like we're living every day."
 
LESSONS LEARNED

Pay for Parking
"Finding a safe place to sleep each night was a huge challenge," says Amanda. "Often, throughout Latin America, there were no campgrounds to stay in, so we'd pull into a hotel that had a shared bathroom, and ask, 'Can we park in your lot, pay a few dollars, and just use the bathroom?' They would always say yes."

Don't Panic
"We stopped at a herder campsite in Kenya to negotiate for a camel trek into the Rift Valley," Amanda says. "In the middle of the night, out of nowhere, this monkey attacked me. It ran up shrieking and just bit right into my neck. We left immediately for Kampala [Uganda]. Richard was trying to talk me into going to the clinic and getting rabies injections, but frankly, I was more worried about the cleanliness of the needles I'd be facing. We eventually found out the monkey was someone's pet and had already had its rabies vaccinations."

Think Locally 
"One of the two drive shafts fell off in Swaziland," Rich says. "All these kids came running up, and we squatted down and looked at it hanging there. I didn't know what to do. But one little girl about nine years old was pointing to things, and her voice was so insistent that I started paying attention. She was saying that if I took a few bolts from the other drive shaft's connections, I could use them to fasten this one back on. She lived in a grass hut in the middle of nowhere, and she was right!"
 
Lock it Up
"Before leaving on the trip," Rich says, "I bought wire mesh and screwed it on the inside of the back windows. I also made a bar that went across the front window and doors, so even if someone smashed the glass they couldn't get into the vehicle. Regardless, we were never broken into—until we got home and found that our storage locker in San Diego had been looted."


DO-IT-YOURSELF: HIT THE ROAD

Sign On: The Road to Africa
On outfitter Guerba's 14-week transcontinental road trip ($7,780; www.guerba.co.uk) you can overland 6,500 miles from Cairo, Egypt, to Cape Town, South Africa, aboard an off-road truck designed for comfort in the continent's unforgiving outback. The journey takes in the Pyramids of Giza, the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Zanzibar, and Victoria Falls, with ample opportunities to pit-stop with local people along the way.

The Pioneer: Lonely Caravan
Robert Edison Fulton, Jr., 23, had never been on
a motorcycle when he decided to ride one around the globe in 1932. With a pistol under his seat, an early Bell + Howell movie camera, and 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) of film aboard his Douglas 600cc, the young American became the first to circumnavigate the planet on two wheels. He was jailed in a score of villages in the Middle East and survived numerous crashes. "Most of us go through life being the way we are, not because we want to," said Fulton, who died in 2004 at 95, "but because that's the pigeonhole we're stuck in. Travel shows us we can be what we want. You're as free as a bird."

Gear Up: The Field Marshal 
For years Sportsmobile West has been kitting out custom rides for campers, cyclists, boaters, and outdoors fans. But they've saved their most extreme makeover for the 4WD Ultimate Adventure Vehicle ($75,000; www.sportsmobile.com), which lets you ferry bikes, kayaks, or surfboards over tough terrain. This ride doesn't come cheap. But with a full-service kitchen, solar shower, and room to sleep four, it could serve as your primary residence.


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