Update, Nov. 2: The Harteau family faced plenty of adversity during their “slow travel” odyssey in South America, but things became especially dangerous in late October as they made their way back home to California. The family was attacked by pirates in the Amazon River Delta on Oct. 29, according to police in the Brazilian state of Pará, but all four Harteaus survived the ordeal and are now safe.

The family was headed to Breves when armed assailants boarded their boat, the Associated Press reports, and forced it to go to the city of Porto dos Dias. The pirates reportedly fled after detaining the boat’s crew and passengers for several hours, but the Harteaus were missing when police arrived. Their van was later found in the forest, and a family spokesman tells the AP they decided to flee the boat and travel on foot to avoid the pirates. They spent a few days in the forest, according to the AP, before a fisherman found them. They are reportedly safe and in good condition.

For more about the Harteau family’s adventures, see the original article below.


After a long, hard day at the office away from your children, you’ve probably fantasized at least once about quitting your job, selling everything you own and hitting the road for an adventure with your family. But how many of us have followed through and done it?

Adam and Emily Harteau did. In October 2012, along with their baby, Colette, they left their California home in a 1990 VW Westfalia and headed for South America. They intended to drive all the way to the Tierra del Fuego archipelago, the southernmost tip of the continent, and back in a year. But as they say on their website, Our Open Road, they had a change of heart about five months in when they “decided to embrace a future unknown and the rewards of slow travel.”

In other words, they extended their trip indefinitely. How could they afford such a luxury?

“In case you were wondering, we don’t have trust funds,” they wrote on Instagram, “or a pot of gold which we live generously from. Our family is able to support this lifestyle from a modest income we earn in our #24HourBazaar and other creative projects.” Adam is an artist whose work, inspired by his experiences traveling with his family, consists of collages, photography, painting and drawing.

In June 2014, Emily gave birth to their second daughter, Sierra, who was born in Santa Catarina, Brazil, giving the newborn both Brazilian and U.S. citizenship. Two months after she was born, the family of four hit the road again.

To save money, they sleep “in our van (which we’ve owned for nearly 15 years) almost every night and typically do not pay for campsites.” Also, they eat off the land, including coconuts and maracuyas (a type of passion fruit), and they buy food at roadside stands from local farmers, like the one in the photo below in Brazil.

Their van comes equipped with two beds, including a “pop-top fold-out top bunk and the convertible bench seat below,” according to their website. They have a two-burner propane stove, a small sink with a 10-gallon tank and a small fridge.

You’re probably wondering about hygiene. Well, they have no toilet or shower, so they “water trees frequently,” as they put it, and use a “Swiss Army solar shower to keep ourselves fresh.”

In case you haven’t figured this out yet, their van is highly customized. Emily made seatcovers and curtains, Adam built interior cabinetry (including closets), and solar panels “keep our fridge cold, lights on and laptops and camera charged when camped remotely.”

Looking at their Instagram feed, it’s easy to believe their days are spent frolicking on beaches and taking in gorgeous scenery. But it isn’t all free schedules and happy bonding time. In the photo below, they show and explain what van life is like when your motor dies in the middle of Brazil.

And in this next photo, yes, they look carefree doing yoga amid tranquil surroundings. But read the caption and you’ll hear the tone of a tired parent who dealt with sibling squabbles and spilled food all day.

Lest you forget, this family pretty much spends all day every day together. Sure, the adults have gone on solo journeys occasionally for various reasons. But how would you feel about your family if you spent every day together for five years in a van in a foreign country? They admit it’s not for everyone.

After five years on the road, the Harteaus are coming back to the U.S. In a recent interview with mindbodygreen, they said they will return to Silver Lake, California, for 18 months to see friends and family and allow the kids to bond with those people.

They used Skype to keep in touch while they were away, but “it’s definitely not the same as being able to sit on your friend’s bed and have a coffee while your kids play in the other room, and watch their kids grow up and hug your mother-in-law,” said Emily. “It’s been worth it for five years. That feels like a good mark. And of course there’s so much more to see. But it feels like the end of 2017 will be a nice close to this chapter and we’ll start 2018 anew.”

They are continuing to post photos and stories from their time in South America on their website and social media.

“Our Open Road will serve as a modern family portrait, as they shed their robes of comfort to reexamine the American Dream, they hope to inspire others to create, eat well, spend quality time together, and adventure into their own great backyards.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated since it was first published in October 2017.

Angela Nelson ( @bostonangela ) is an exhausted mom of two young daughters and two old cats, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning digital editor with more than 15 years of experience delivering news and information to audiences worldwide.

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