Two years and ten months ago, Erika and Paul Piazza painted and renovated the interior of a Volkswagen van and left their home in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
On Monday, May 9, they arrived in Homer.
The Piazzas began driving through South America in August 2013 after losing their jobs — Paul is an actor and Erika is an art teacher — and deciding to take the time to travel. Traveling also seemed like a necessary step before settling down and starting a family of their own. The van was an affordable way to do it.
“We realized we always wanted to travel and backpack but we never did,” Paul said. “We get married and the next step was having kids but we said, ‘oh let’s stop here and do what we want to do first and then we settle down.’”
The couple traveled through South America, going through the Andes and along the coast for a year. They visited countries like Colombia, Guatamala and Mexico before crossing over via boat from Panama. Once in the United States, the Piazzas traveled through Florida, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, California, Washington state and then drove through Canada to Alaska.
Along the way they camped in their van or stayed with host families, using social media websites such as Couchsurfing, to connect with locals. In some South American countries, they were even allowed to stay the night in museums, which were unique experiences, Erika said.
Staying with local people means they primarily pay for gas and food. They have not needed to pay for a hotel or a campsite the entire trip. As they traveled through South America, they made money selling photographs and crafts out of their van. Since Paul was born in Florida and has American citizenship and Erika received a green card after they married, they are able to travel in the U.S. without visa restrictions and can work if they need to.
Depending on whether they have a family hosting them, they stay in an area for a few days or longer and learn about how they live. They currently have a host family in Anchorage they are returning to before heading further north in Alaska.
One of the questions the Piazzas hear a lot is how they spend so much time together in such close quarters, Paul said. For them, the constant togetherness is natural. Paul and Erika were in the same class in school from age 11 and started dating during their first year of college. They have been a couple for nine years.
“People ask us, ‘what about traveling together with the same person in this tiny van? How you don’t kill each other?’ Paul said. “We are really chill and relaxed about it. And if we have something to say to each other we just say it and we fix it in the moment and forget about it.”
In each country or state, they stopped in various cities and visited areas they wanted to see. While they did not start the trip with a master plan, they had areas in mind they wanted to see and then improvised from there as they entered into a new country. They especially have a love for archeological sites, such as Machu Piccu, and natural beauty. The Alaska landscapes, especially in Seward and Homer, reminded them of Argentina.
“I was seeing the landscapes and thought this is like Patagonia,” Paul said. “The big mountains with the lakes of a beautiful color. That’s something we really love.”
In addition to the mountains, the wildlife — the bald eagles and ever-present moose — have been some of the Piazzas’ favorite Alaska sights, as was the Aurora Borealis they viewed on Saturday, May 7 in Seward. Their travels in Alaska are just beginning, however. After they leave Anchorage, they will go to Denali, Talkeetna, Fairbanks, and then take the road up to the Arctic Ocean.
The Arctic Ocean will marks a turning point for the Piazzas in their journey, where afterwards their direction will be southern, leading to a long route back home.
“Getting to the arctic sea is going to be a whole deal for us. It’s the farthest we can drive and that will mean maybe the end of this journey, at least the end of this stage of this journey,” Paul said.
From the Arctic Ocean, the Piazzas will travel back through Alaska and Canada and spend the winter in Livermore, Calif., where they have a house-sitting situation set up for three months. Then, they will travel through Canada and down the East Coast, and then home to Argentina. They expect to be on the road for another year and a half.
“For us, Alaska was like coming to the other side of the world so that’s pretty much why we picked to come this far,” Erika said.
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Follow the Piazza’s on the next steps of their journey and see where they’ve already been. The title of their trip, Viaje Sin Destino, literally translated, “The Trip without a Destination,” or as they painted on the front door of their bus, “The Neverending Journey.”