After a Decade on the Road, It’s Time for These Married Travel Journalists to Share Their Best Travel Advice

Trans Americas Journey
Karen and Eric at 18,385 feet on top of Cerro Toco in northern Chile. Photo credit: Eric Mohl

We are Karen Catchpole and Eric Mohl, two married travel journalists (writer and photographer, respectively) from the US. We believe that travel journalists should actually travel, so we took our careers on the road by creating the ongoing Trans-Americas Journey working road trip through North, Central, and South America.

Since 2006 we’ve been traveling full time, driving from north to south (right now we’re in Peru). We freelance from the road for some of the best travel publications in the US including Travel + Leisure, Afar, The Wall Street Journal Magazine, Roads and Kingdoms, CNN Travel, BBC Travel, and many more (here’s our online portfolio). We also produce our own Trans-Americas Journey travel blog where we’ve published more than 650 posts about travel in the Americas.

Trans Americas Journey
Taking a break in Ecuador. Photo credit: Laurence Norah

How and why did you get into traveling?

We’ve always loved to travel and have spent many years of our lives exploring the world. In the 1980s, Eric traveled extensively in Europe and Karen moved to Australia for a few years after high school graduation. Together we spent 1995-2000 backpacking through more than a dozen countries in South and Southeast Asia before we started planning our Trans-Americas Journey through the Americas.

For us, travel is a natural extension of our journalistic curiosity and our desire to see the bigger picture in the world, to understand (or not) how different people and places fit together. We’re interested in the similarities and the differences in the world and you can only really see those clearly if you get out there.

Trans Americas Journey
Purifying water with our first SteriPEN at Havasu Falls in Arizona. Photo credit: Eric Mohl

How do you prepare for your adventures and travels?

We’ve been on the road full time, every day, since we packed up the contents of our New York City apartment, crammed them into a storage space in New Jersey, and hit the road in 2006. So we don’t exactly prepare for travel the way most people do. Travel is just part of our daily life. We stay healthy on the road by taking part in outdoor activities like trekking and SCUBA diving. And there are a few tools that make the logistics of an independent road trip easier including ITMB maps and National Geographic maps, and Lonely Planet guidebooks (we use the actual books and the PDF versions). But when your goal is to see everything in everyplace in the Americas, prepping is simple: just go there and check it out. After all, plan is a four letter word.

Trans Americas Journey
Getting ready to explore Jericó, Colombia, the birthplace of Colombia’s only saint, in prescription Costa del Mar sunglasses. Photo credit: Eric Mohl

How do you finance your travels?

The Trans-Americas Journey is not a vacation. It’s not even really a trip. It’s a way for us to take our careers on the road and be better travel journalists. Therefore, we are always reporting from the road so that we can provide the best story ideas and the best stories to the editors we work with at publications back in the US. When that goes well, we get paid.

From day one of the Trans-Americas Journey, we’ve also had an impressive roster of top shelf product partners including Dell, BF Goodrich, Rare Parts, Bilstein, SteriPEN, Amsoil, Hydro Flask, and Optima. They don’t give us cash, but this network of supporters helps keep us stay on the road by supplying the best gear and equipment possible – much of it related to our truck, which is the third member of our Trans-Americas Journey team.

Why is traveling important for you?

We’ve spent so many years of our lives traveling that, at this point, it’s hard to imagine not traveling—it’s simply part of the day like waking up or taking a shower or breathing. Travel is also now part of our job, which obviously makes it even more important to us.

Trans Americas Journey
With our truck, the third member of our Trans-Americas Journey, in Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. Photo credit: Eric Mohl

How do you bring your things with you?

Our Trans-Americas Journey is a road trip so, unlike most travelers, we have a vehicle with us all the time. That vehicle, a Chevrolet Silverado 2500, has been outfitted with a custom aluminum cargo carrying system, which is attached into the bed of the truck. This provides us with a secure way to carry and organize all kinds of stuff that we need as full-time travelers and as travelers who work from the road. This includes backup computers, drives, camera gear, and other tech some of which his kept extra save in a Pelican case.

Less fragile things like shoes, toiletries, medicine and first aid supplies, non-perishable food, SCUBA diving equipment, camping gear, and more are sorted into Rubbermaid bins of various sizes with labels on them. High volume Mountainsmith duffel bags hold our clothes which run the gamut from beach gear to mountain gear. The stuff we need daily is packed into Briggs & Riley Explore Expandable Upright rolling luggage. It’s really rugged (it’s been in daily use for years) but it also looks good so we don’t feel like slobs when we arrive at a hotel.

Trans Americas Journey
Our Briggs & Riley luggage on another adventure in Panama. Photo credit: Eric Mohl

How do you organize things in your bags?

For us, our truck is really our main bag. Within that, we stay organized by keeping things primarily in stackable Rubbermaid bins, which are clearly labelled and always replaced in the same spot so we know (pretty much) exactly where things are.

Because we do a lot of outdoor activities and because we also need to take photos for our Trans-Americas Journey travel blog and for our freelance stories, waterproof bags are very important to us as a way to protect camera gear. We have waterproof bags in a range of sizes and designs but we particularly like our Sealline Widemouth Waterproof Duffel because it holds Eric’s entire camera bag and it’s easy to tote on and off of boats.

Trans Americas Journey
Essential dry bag gear on the deck of the Argo, one of Undersea Hunter’s live aboard dive boats, in the Cocos Islands off the coast of Costa Rica. Photo credit: Eric Mohl

How do your bags and gear hold up?

We’ve been using our Mountainsmith duffel bags, day packs and full backpacks for more than a decade and they’re holding up very well. The packs are pretty dirty from so much use, but the shoulder strap padding, hip suspension belt, and the zippers are all still working. The zipper pulls, however, came off years ago, which is a bummer. Eric uses a Lowepro Slingshot camera bag every single day and it also survives well on the road. When his first Slingshot began fading the company replaced it as part of its excellent product warranty.

Any gear you wish you had brought with you from the beginning?

If anything we wish we’d brought LESS from the beginning. We are living proof that your stuff fills the space available. Our truck is packed! Early on in the Trans-Americas Journey we purged a lot of stuff – mainly clothes. But we still, honestly, have too much with us and it all, somehow, seems essential.

What has been your best travel-related purchase below $100?

Chaco flip flops are comfortable and durable and they have a grippy insole, which means your feet stay securely in them even when wet.

You’ll probably have to wait for a sale to get one for under $100 (that’s what we do), but we’ve worn our Patagonia R1 Fleece Pullovers for years and they’re still our go-to layer in a wide range of weather conditions.

Trans Americas Journey
Sporting our long-wearing Patagonia R1 Fleece Pullovers (and traditional chaps) before a ride at Hacienda San Agustin de Callo in Ecuador. Photo credit: Eric Mohl

What other favorite gear do you have?

As full-time travelers, we use a lot of things on a daily or near daily basis. Here are a few of our favorites.

Our SteriPEN purifies water in a flash using UV light (no chemicals). Over the years, we’ve relied on various SteriPEN models and they just keep getting smaller and smarter. Our current model is tiny and it charges via USB so there are no batteries to throw away. Here’s more about why all travelers should use a SteriPEN to stay healthy and reduce litter.

Good sunglasses are a must and worth the investment, but it’s hard to find serious sunglasses that offer prescription lenses. Eric loves his Costa del Mar prescription sunglasses. They’re hardcore and comfortable and the lenses were made to his exact prescription.

Eric has always used Canon cameras and he has a range of bodies and lenses that he loves. But sometimes a big camera kit is impractical and that’s when his Canon Powershot G9X LINK small model comes into play. It’s small, discrete, fits into a case that can be threaded onto a belt for security and it takes fantastic pictures.

Karen doesn’t take photos, but it’s her job to spot the critters so Eric can get his shots. She often relies on her Steiner Optics Navigator Pro 7X30 binoculars (this post from our travel blog will help you figure out why those numbers are important and how to buy the best binoculars for travel). These babies are light enough to hike with, totally waterproof, and have a feature called Sports Auto Focus which means you can see things in the distance or up close without fiddling with the focus.

Trans Americas Journey
Cruising the Brazilian rainforest. Photo credit: Eric Mohl

What is your best advice for other travelers?

Don’t let anyone else define what your travel experiences should be. Everyone has different travel goals and different travel styles. There is no right or wrong trip. Also, all of us make mistakes out there. Sometimes we get lost, we waste time, we feel confused. That’s actually one of the liberating parts of traveling, the freedom to make those kinds of “mistakes” and turn them into experiences and treasured memories as you navigate your way back on track in a foreign situation. That’s satisfying and exciting and, hopefully, you learn a thing or two that you can bring home with you so that mistakes and setbacks even back on familiar turf are more easily handled.

Trans Americas Journey
Breaking out our Steiner binoculars near the Cotopaxi Volcano in Ecuador. Photo credit: Eric Mohl

What will the future bring?

Our Trans-Americas Journey has been on the road since 2006, covering about 185,000 miles so far. In that time, we’ve extensively explored all of North America, all of Central America, and some of South America (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia). But we still have much of South America in front of us and we anticipate many more years on the road before we reach Ushuaia and begin traveling back north. So, the future will bring more of the same slow, immersive, thorough exploration we’ve become known for. We’re sure to find adventures along the way (we always do), but one adventure is known for sure: after doing a lot of trekking in Peru we will finally be doing the famous Inca Trail in June of 2018 with Apus Peru. The gear we’re dreaming of adding to our tool chest includes a DJI Mavic Drone. We love our DJI Phantom 3 Pro, but the Mavic is so much smaller and quieter.

Visit Karen and Eric on their website, their blog, and follow them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube

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