Luisa Bell Global adventurer and overlander
Show Notes for Podcast Episode #63
Luisa Bell Global adventurer and overlander
Ashley Giordano interviews Luisa Bell on global travel in a Defender 130, crossing continents with your family, and managing life in the developing world.
Ashley Giordano completed a 48,800-kilometer overland journey from Canada to Argentina with her husband, Richard, in their well-loved but antiquated Toyota pickup. On the zig-zag route south, she hiked craggy peaks in the Andes, discovered diverse cultures in 15 different countries, and filled her tummy with spicy ceviche, Baja fish tacos, and Argentinian Malbec. You can usually find Ashley buried in a pile of travel books, poring over maps, or researching wild medicinal plants. Ashley is a co-founder of Women Overlanding the World and crew member of Expedition Overland. You’ll find this Canadian-born couple exploring a different continent in 2021, and sharing their trip every step of the way at Desk to Glory.
We are the Bell family – ordinary people who enjoy the extraordinary. Luisa and I inherited a particularly strong strain of wanderlust from our ancestors. We grew up moving around South Africa and both loved the outdoors and camping. As adults we were initially happy with the odd camping trip in one of our Land Rovers (we had three old oil leakers at one stage) but once returning to “normal” life after a six-month drive from Cape Town to the Serengeti, Tanzania in our Defender 130, we became restless and insatiable. We realised that the overlander addiction was too strong to ignore and eventually decided to take the leap into long-term overlanding. There were also other motivating factors. Having grown up in isolated Apartheid South Africa, we both wanted to explore the planet and learn more about this world we inhabit. The opportunity to spend every day with our children, to watch them grow and to be their primary educators was irresistible. We were not satisfied with the level of education the children were receiving back home and were determined not only to learn invaluable life lessons but to also share those life changing experiences with our wonderful kids.
Luisa Bell aka GingerNinja
Luisa is the high powered crazy glue that keeps the unit tight. She inspired Metallica's Enter Sandman, don’t believe me? Make her angry. When not drawing lists, she makes lists of the lists she’s made and should make and lists how she could improve her lists and listing skills. She charts our path and gets us lost, only to claim the glory when we are eventually found. Fond of great food and red wine, she can be found where those are available, in bulk, on special.
For information on books and updated travel and info on Luisa and her family, find everything you need to learn or help support them on their travels below:
Check out the KICKSTARTER!!
The Planet Overland - Field Manual - Second Edition
Learn the Secrets of Global Travel from Overland Gurus, Graeme & Luisa Bell
This book will save you $$$thousands$$$!!
If you've ever had the urge to quit your job, sell everything and jump in a cruiser or van to travel the world but don't know where to start, Travel The Planet Overland will serve as your field manual. Intended to inspire and educate others to embrace the great wide open, the manual walks the readers through comprehensive topics ranging from choosing and building your own vehicle to making money on the road, staying healthy, raising and educating children, dealing with border crossings, living in the great outdoors, and everything in between. Packed with beautiful photography, it's a manual that might be the last nudge you need to go off the grid.
Website info: A2A Expedition
Patreon: A2A Expedition - The Bell Family
are creating Travel Documentaries & Travelogues while overlanding the planet
This episode sponsored in part by:
Full Transcription below:
Scott Brady: [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to the Overland Journal podcast. I am your host, Scott Brady, and we have a special new edition of our podcast today. Matt Scott and I have been discussing the fact that there are so many travelers around the world and their stories need to be told, and it's very difficult to always get them into the studio or meet up with them at various events, so we had a conversation with Ashley Giordano who is one of our senior editors. She is famous for her involvement with Desk to Glory and their adventure from Canada all the way down to Ushuaia. She's not only extremely accomplished as a journalist, she's also very accomplished as an Overland traveler. So this is an opportunity for us to interview people that we may not encounter in our day-to-day work, but Ashley may encounter during her travels. So you will be hearing her [00:01:00] first interview, which is with Luisa Bell, so this is Graeme Bell's wife from A2A Expedition. They are also famous for their travels around the world in their Defender 130 and now has a camper on it, but this is a great conversation between Luisa and Ashley. We're so excited to have her involved with the podcast team. If you would like to reach Ashley, you can find her on Instagram at DeskToGloryAsh. And then of course, you're always welcome to provide feedback to me at Scott.A.Brady, where you can find Matt on Instagram as MattExplore. So please enjoy the conversation between Ashley Giordano and Luisa Bell.
Ashley Giordano: Hello, and welcome to the Overland Journal podcast. I'm Ashley Giordano, a senior editor at Overland journal and I have a really special guest here today with me at the Overland international headquarters. I'd like to welcome Luisa Bell [00:02:00] here, and we're going to have a really good chat about life on the road. Hey, Luisa. How's it going?
Luisa Bell: Hey, thank you so much for having me this is awesome. I'm really enjoying it so far.
Ashley Giordano: Awesome. So for folks that don't know who Luisa Bell is, she and her family have been traveling all over the world and the Land Rover for many, many years and if you want to just tell the listeners maybe a little bit more about your story and who you travel with and where you've been to.
Luisa Bell: Okay, so I traveled with my husband and two kids. My husband's Graeme Bell. He's written five books. I'm sure some people know him and my two kids. My son is Keelan and he's 22 years of age now and my daughter's now 17 and her name's Jessica. We've been to over 70 countries and five continents in the past 10 years.
Ashley Giordano: Amazing. Yeah, I know. I've been following you guys for quite some time, and this is the first time that we've met. So I was really excited at Overland Expo West recently to meet you in person and [00:03:00] the rest of your family, because we've been really inspired by your travels all over the world. So you guys are in the US now and you did some traveling through Africa recently-ish. Right?
Luisa Bell: In 2019, we drove down the west coast of Africa to South Africa and then kind of got stuck because of COVID. So we were in lockdown for a good eight months before the borders opened. And then yeah, we did the loop around Southern Africa. And then we were like, where do we go next? Because Ethiopia had a civil war, when we didn't know what to do next, the US was the next option.
Ashley Giordano: Yeah. So you're touring around the U S right now. And what are you driving?
Luisa Bell: So we're driving a 1994 long wheelbase Range Rover classic. We call it the Roach. We've got a quick pitch rooftop tent and awning system which stops done with walls and Graeme and Keelan sleep on the camping cots downstairs and we sleep upstairs in the loft, and we just have a SnowMaster fridge with some crates and a wagon lithium battery, and that's our set up. Simple and straightforward and pretty easy. It works [00:04:00] for us while in the US because you have availability to everything. There's always a fuel station or grocery around the corner. So we don't need anything like we have at home.
Ashley Giordano: Tell me a little bit more about the vehicle that you have back home that you've traveled in.
Luisa Bell: Okay. So it's a 2004 Land Rover Defender 130, so that's a longer wheelbase than your 90, or your 110 obviously, and it makes perfect sense cause we're a family of four in South Africa, so we're a little larger than most. So we had a double cab with a canopy before with the door system and everything else, and then when we were in the states in Florida in 2015? 2016? We converted her into a camper, so now we can live inside the vehicle, but while still enjoying being outside. It accommodates us and it's large enough and yeah, she's handled it perfectly since we bought the camper. So we were really chuffed about that.
Ashley Giordano: Yeah. Nice. And what experiences led you to decide to create that indoor living space?
Luisa Bell: Well, South [00:05:00] America was easy to travel with a rooftop tent. I'm sure you know. It's like you've seen, you guys did it with your vehicle. So it's easy to live on with outside space and so with the US as well, but we realized we were going to Europe, and we couldn't do stealth camping anymore because of the rooftop tent, it's so obvious when camping. So we're like, if we go into Europe and Asia as well, it's the same thing. You want to be more indoors or more hidden from the fact that you're camping. So we could sleep in plazas and everywhere else, and no one would be able to be like oh, you're actually physically camping and that's... and also four years in a rooftop tent with two kids, it became enough. That was hard work, and our cooking system was... we were cooking outside, and we weren't cooking inside, and we were tired. Yeah. So we wanted a little bit of a luxury.
Ashley Giordano: Nice. So what's your setup like on the interior, in terms of bed space? Cause you pretty much have four adult sized humans in there. So where does everybody sleep?
Luisa Bell: Well our system is really great. We've got a lot of windows, so it feels a lot more [00:06:00] open than the space that it really is. So from the outside, it looks tiny and when you sit inside, you're like, oh wow, this is huge. So we've got a couch that we can sit on and then there's the floor where the passageways are actually a bed. So we just put the mattresses down from the couch onto the floor, and I used to sleep there under the kitchen sink. But Nakheel has taken oversleeping on the floor because, you know, no mother should be sleeping on the floor. And then the double cab was cut, and it was just now the two front seats. And then... so you've got the back seats, but the seats are facing inwards facing inwards, and that becomes a bed. Then there's a steel frame around there just after the cab, and that is like a little loft area and it's like a bunk bed thing. And then the mattress is up there. So when the roof top pops up, which pops up to just over six feet, so Graeme can stand there fully, Jessica's bed is on the top of there. So she gets a little, I call it a coffin area, but [00:07:00] she loves it. It's a little private little space. So we slept perfectly fine. It's fantastic. I love it.
Ashley Giordano: Nice. It sounds like you've. Space really well, which is so important for those vehicle builds. That's great. So let's go back in time a little bit. You have all this experience, overlanding all over the world now and at one point, you and Graham didn't live this lifestyle. You're from South Africa. Right? Take me back to when you lived in South Africa, and you were living what you guys called the American dream and South Africa and what that looked like?
Luisa Bell: So we moved down to Cape town, and I started immigration business and it was pretty successful. And then Graeme joined a year and a half later, and it was. We were living the American dream as we call it because who doesn't want that? Right? You want the big house and the fancy cars and the brand clothing, and you want the freedom to be able to travel when you want, and we had all of [00:08:00] that. And my dad, he worked all life and when you got to the retirement age, he was just starting to... okay, now I'm going to travel. We were planning travel, overland travel, and we were like this is happening. Then unfortunately he passed away suddenly. Had a heart attack and that was it, and then we were like, you know, all those years of hard work and dedication to do something with your life, and then you're like looking at the end goal and you don't get there. To us, it was just kind of a waste and that was a motivation. Let's go traveling. So we did a six month trip up to Kilimanjaro and yeah, it was great. We loved it. We had to return because I was still running the business at the time and I had staff, and they needed me around. So we went back to South Africa, and we were living in a small seaside town. The ocean was across the house from us. We were really having a great time, and then we're like something was missing. So we're like, okay, let's go and move to Plettenberg bay, which is on the Guidon route. Gorgeous. Let's go move there. Got a big house, [00:09:00] got all the house with things and we were like, okay, something still missing. We were working hard and then we went up to Malawi for just three months. We could obviously take the kids out of school and because we were self-employed, we could do that. We drove up to Malawi. It was three, four months, and then we're like, this is what's missing. We were singing ba-ba-baran, you know, by the Beatles and we were having such a great time and we realized that the void that's missing is this, is travel. So we returned home and then that was it, the deal was sealed. You know, we sold everything and the story is like, we knew we could do it without even realizing we were able to do long-term travel. When Graeme, when we drove up to Mozambique and Graeme got exceptionally, like he got really sick. He lost 15 cages in 10 days, which is what? 20 odd, 30 pounds in 10 days. He was very sick, and I would throw the tablets at him, like come on man, get better. I'm like the [00:10:00] motherly type, but when men get sick. So you assume he wasn't that sick, but he was pretty bad. When he was, you know, semi-conscious or he could control himself he... I threw him in the car, and we drove up to Doris Salaam and that was it and we didn't even think of it like... a lot of people would probably say, let's go back home. It's time to return home. We can't do this. It's too difficult, and we just soldiered on. So I think that was a point for us, we realized without realizing it, we can do this. And the trip was only supposed to be a year and a half. And that's why the A2A expedition, Argentina to Alaska and then obviously it didn't turn out that way.
Ashley Giordano: So, did you have any travel experience prior to that?
Luisa Bell: Yes. So Graham and I both traveled well. So when I was younger, I went to 13 schools, so I lived in a caravan with my parents. My dad was a traveling salesman at one point. So we traveled a lot, and then when I was younger, I was in school and I said, well this is nonsense. [00:11:00] I'm not doing pretty well. This is like not for me, and I went to technical college and did business and then left school pretty early and put a backpack on and went to travel to Israel and took a bird cinema shav, and then went to Egypt and traveled there and then went to the UK and France and Cyprus. So I did a bit of backpacking before I met Graeme. Graeme also did a bit of travel, so when we met each other, we knew that we were going to do this. It was just at what point.
Ashley Giordano: Right? Nice and do you remember how you decided to go to those places at that time? to backpack?
Luisa Bell: When I was that age, I think Israel was easiest because South Africans didn't need visas back then for Israel and it was a very important thing to do. The kibbutz was the easiest way for a person to be able to travel without putting themselves out there too quickly. So it was like you had a base and you could earn money while doing it. That was just a step in it, but you could do something, meet new travelers in that kind of [00:12:00] thing. Egypt was right by Israel and Egypt has always been amazing, just in terms of the touristic attractions, it was always great. Then the UK, well I mean when you're in the area you might as well fly to the UK. It wasn't like that's where I should go, it was just on a bit of a whim, I suppose that's what our travels are now as well. We just decided on a whim on where we should go.
Ashley Giordano: That trip you did before you met Graeme, how did you guys meet and when did that happen?
Luisa Bell: We had mutual friends. All right? And we went to his friend's farewell party and we kind of met. Graeme always says I met him, hit him over the head with my battle axe, and then dragged him off to Page. Once we met that was it, and we haven't really been apart since then, so yeah.
Ashley Giordano: What in those initial conversations drew you together. Do you remember at all?
Luisa Bell: He said it was my laugh, because I have a distinct cackle when [00:13:00] I laugh, so the laugh is what attracted him and then we started speaking and then I traveled, and he had just come back from Israel and we just had something in common. And in South Africa, at that time, people were traveling, but not as often as Americans or Europeans would travel. It wasn't a thing. I think that was exactly what brought us closer together because we were attracted to each other, obviously and then that was just an added bonus.
Ashley Giordano: Nice. That's so awesome. So when you guys decided to leave, how old were your kids?
Luisa Bell: Jessica just turned eight and Keelan was twelve. So they were still young enough to be able to do it. We had always camped, you know, we had always traveled, so it was great. They were comfortable with camping or traveling, so it wasn't difficult for them, and like I always say, kids adapt so easily. We're the ones that, oh, we shouldn't do it because of this. You know, kids are like, take me out of school and go traveling. What are you talking about? This is [00:14:00] exactly what I want to do. And Keelan... he was a bit of a little chubby kid and was bullied at school. So he was like, I'm right there. Let's do this. Jessica was still young. She had a few friends at school. She loved school. But you know, she was eight years old, so she had a bit of a say in whether we could go, but it wasn't that much obviously, but so yeah, they were young to travel with, I think. That's why I say, when people say my kids are too young, I'm like that's the best time to take them.
Ashley Giordano: I think a lot of people are intimidated or afraid to bring kids with them on their travels. Which, I mean, in some ways I can totally, totally understand their hesitations. But yeah, you guys took off with your kids and what have you seen in them that's changed over the years since you left?
Luisa Bell: Keelan... You know, this weekend at the expo, he was selling books and he could... he's fantastic. He can talk to anyone, and he will stand there and chat to [00:15:00] them for like half an hour and the person will be just like, what the heck is 22 years old, most 22-year-olds. You know, they don't want to talk to anybody, or they've got some issues or they're shy. He is fantastic. He is completely transformed into this amazing man, who's highly intelligent, is so friendly, is a big giant... is just, he just wants to hug everybody that kind of... I love him to bits, obviously. Then Jessica, she has got this personality on her and this humor, oh man. She gets me every time, she is so quick, and she's smart, you know, and I think the thing is like a lot of people are so worried about the kids not getting the education sitting in the classroom. They'll be fine. Actually turned out better than I think they ever would have been if we had still stayed at home. I think they are 10 times more people than they would have been. Yeah.
Ashley Giordano: Did you do homeschooling on the road?
Luisa Bell: Yes. Yeah, we did. So in the beginning we were like, let's make this, you know, do it [00:16:00] properly. You know, education. Kids gotta get an education. So schoolbooks this high, a pile of school books that high, and I was just like, every time we stopped somewhere, we'd have to dedicate that time to do the schooling. We'd be on the beach in Brazil and the kids would have to do schooling, and eventually I realized it was like two years in and I realized this isn't working and we're unhappy. The kids are unhappy, you know, that was such a strain on our trip. And there was so much already going on that the last thing you wanted to do is add more difficulties to that stress already, because it is stressful to travel. You know, it's a vacation, but it's not that kind of vacation. And I said let's just do English and maths, cause that's the foundation for anything and everything. Right? So language and maths and everything else they learned. They're not stupid kids, you know, they know what they're talking about. They learn about culture and society. Science and Biology is a different story. I mean, that's a bit difficult to learn on the road, but everything else that [00:17:00] needs to be kids growing up in this world, they've got it down. So, yeah, English and maths and then Keelan did his American GEDs in South Africa when we returned home and Jessica's about to do hers in the next two, three months. So, and then they'll be educated in terms of what we call a certification and Keelan will go over to the UK and then do IT-based studies and Jessica will do a vet's assistant course with an Australian university online, so...
Ashley Giordano: Oh, great, that's so exciting. What drew them to those areas to study?
Luisa Bell: So it was progressively that, or he can either be a salesman because he can sell ice to an Eskimo.
Ashley Giordano: Confirm. Yeah. We had a great chat around the campfire the other night and yeah, he's a salesman and it's pretty wonderful to watch.
Luisa Bell: Yeah. I was so surprised, cause I mean he's always been very talkative, but the fact that he can be so... I don't know, he's just great, so he's a nerd and he loves computers. So he wanted to do something in terms of [00:18:00] that. But he's also really good mechanically, so he's quite... so his idea is to do the IT thing and then maybe do a plumber's course or an electrician's course. So he has multiple trades behind his back. So when he does travel, which he wants to do in the next five years. Build his own rig and then go. He can work anywhere because he's got that behind his back. Jessica, she's awesome with animals. She can find an animal that dog or cat or whatever will just roll over backwards. She's fantastic with animals. So, like, it made sense to do that. Whether she chooses that path. It's entirely up to her, but I want her to actually have something behind her back before she goes and leaves us, which will probably either be in the next two years, which is fine. She'll join Keelan and they'll do it together.
Ashley Giordano: So you're spending a lot of time together as a family. Are there any instances where you guys have to go your separate ways and have some quiet time?
Luisa Bell: Yes, if not, it would be weird. [00:19:00] No, yeah, we do. So when it gets to that point, we book an Airbnb or a hostel or something where we can have our own separate rooms and then that's it. We just affirm each other. Jessica locks herself in the room and then that's it. We haven't seen her for days. And you know, Keelan will still want to talk to you the whole time, and I'm like dude, just give me that bit of space. And he's like, nah, he's got to talk about an idea of something. But yeah, we do have those moments, but we actually pretty well knit together and it's really weird. When we are not together, it 's always like... it feels like there's a limb missing, you know? It doesn't feel complete, and I know when Keelan leaves us in the new year, I'm going to be sobbing like crazy. I'm going to be phoning him every day of every hour just to make sure he's fine and it's going to be so odd cause we've lived together for so many years in such a small space. [00:20:00] We're like the same person with so many different personalities, like multiple personality disorder in one individual, because we're such a good family unit, we really gel well, obviously, otherwise we still wouldn't be doing this.
Ashley Giordano: When you think about Overland travel, you're thinking about the places you're going to, or FA camp spots with nobody else around, and experiencing different cultures, but there is the day-to-day function of the family unit and the relationships between all of you, and then your marriage as well. So how do you spend that much time together and make it work, but also how has the relationship changed between you and Graeme over time?
Luisa Bell: So when I started the business it was in 2015? No, I'm lying because it's 2021 now... impossible right?
Ashley Giordano: What is time loop Luisa?
Luisa Bell: What year are we [00:21:00] in? 2005, sorry. Was when we started the business, and when I started the business, in 2006 Graeme joined me and since that time we've been together 24 hours a day. So I think it was good for us to transition from being together with a business into that kind of life, because it was easier. I know a lot of people that have traveled and then returned home, and they got divorced or they separated and then needed some time apart. Because it's a very strenuous thing in a relationship, because you get to know people so well. Those little things, those little tidbits that you like, ah... can you live with someone? Now it's compounded because you're constantly with them. You can't get away from them. It's like, oh my God, this is actually annoying and you're annoying. But you know, you work through that. I think everyone has a job, and everyone does a chore, and you need to do this so we can all gel together. [00:22:00] So Jessica does the dishes. Breakfast and lunch dishes, and Keelan does dinner dishes. I do the planning, navigating, and everything else. And Graeme does the driving, and he keeps like his peacemaker kind of thing. So he makes everyone just do what he does. Well, Jessica is a peacemaker. Graeme’s like the captain. El Capitan, but yeah, that's exactly it. We live in such a small space. No one can have an attitude, no one can be obnoxious, pretentious, and that is exactly what it is. Yeah, I think that's why it does work for us. We have arguments. We have fights. We don't fight... fight is a terrible word. I don't like that. And the older Keelan gets the more he becomes like Graeme. So then I got two Graemes that I have to deal with, which is difficult. So he and I bash heads, but we love each other. I think Graham and Jessica are great together and Keelan and I are great together so, you know, the mother and son, and daughter and father kind of relationship that not normal families have, but we also get along with each other [00:23:00] perfectly fine and I'll tell you a quick story. We were at a campsite in Columbia, and it was dry and dusty and we're waiting for tires to be delivered and it was just this saga that was just never ending. Keelan turned to me, and he said, he says you're like the devil, he said you are the devil because I was just, it was hot and I was like, just do this scooting, get this done, do this, and then just let's move on with our lives, you know? He said that and I just turned around and I looked at him, and he ran but he fell over a log, and he did a somersault and he ran to the wall and he was just sitting there bleeding and since then... I didn't need to say it. Like everyone knows how to, you know, be better. I think... just be better. Yeah. Yeah.
Ashley Giordano: Yeah. I think too, being on the road and being around each other all the time is another aspect of adapting, and we've talked about that before, how adapting is [00:24:00] probably one of the most important skill sets or abilities that you can have on the road.
Luisa Bell: Yeah, absolutely. I think this is it. I mean, cause things change, your travel plans change. If you look and you go, oh, well, I'm going to do this country, I'm going to do that and you run out of money like we did... we were broke five times, you know, like we had literally no money. You can't foresee what's going to happen. So I said take it easy and just relax and things will work out eventually, you know, it's either a road karma or it's road gods, whichever one you want to be into, it'll sort itself out. Yeah.
Ashley Giordano: So what did you guys do in those situations where you needed to adapt?
Luisa Bell: Yeah, well, you know, one time was in Ecuador and the tax man had sent my mother a letter. It was in terms of a business that I still had, and it [00:25:00] was silly. But anyway, the tax man said you have so many days to fix the problem. She never told me, and the tax man took all of our money, so emptied our bank account. And then we were like... oh, this is awesome. Well obviously, I didn't react like that. I had a bit of a fit, and we then borrowed money and obviously that was paid back a year later by the tax man, but we had to borrow some money and what Graeme did then, and I think that moment was the moment for us to travel further or the steppingstone. He decided, well, I'm going to write a book because he's always been very... he was always poetic, and he always loved to write poems and stuff and that's where the book writing started. He was like, no worries. I'm going to sort this out. I'm going to write a book which he did, and I believe it was pretty successful. I think people love it. So that was that instance, then another instance was when we were in Alaska and we were, it was just crazy expensive. And, you know, we had this deal with a mobile network that was supposed to go through and never did. But there was like, one guy [00:26:00] said, oh, I'll meet you. You have some books. We had some books in stock. He bought three books and he didn't, he, I don't know if he still knows to this day, those three books got us enough fuel money to get to Canada to get money that was from book sales that his mother had sent to Canada instead of Alaska. I'm not too sure, anyway that guy saved us, you know, from sitting stranded in the middle of Homer, Alaska. So little things just happen and it's the hospitality of people without them realizing you really helping me out right. Now Yeah. That's how it happens, so yeah. The other instances, yeah same thing. People are just helping out. It's been fantastic.
Ashley Giordano: Yeah. I think it requires a little bit of bravery sometimes.
Luisa Bell: Yeah, or a little bit of stupidity. One of the two.
Ashley Giordano: Totally. Totally. So with all the travels that you've done, how have they changed you?
Luisa Bell: I think. Okay. So I was very anxious when we were in South Africa. I [00:27:00] had a serious motor vehicle accident when I was younger, so I had a lot of panic attacks. So now I don't get panic attacks anymore. I'm still stressed as one is, you know, being on the road is stressful. But it's a different kind of stress. I think it's made me more, bad ass, you know. I'm open to change, you know, I'm not militant. It's got to be this way. I think I'm more supportive, probably more kind, more understanding.
Ashley Giordano: So you said it's made you more bad ass how, how so?
Luisa Bell: I think I'm not afraid of as much as what I used to be. You know, I still have my biggest phobia and it's not even a fear. It's a phobia of heights. I'll be a little bit more challenged to do something, that phobia I'm really terrified of. I think that as a parent, you always put yourself in such a situation where you're like, well I can't do this because you know, it's not right. Or it's like people... because society dictates how you should act as a [00:28:00] woman and as a mother and if you don't fall into those two brackets, oh, you know, that's wrong. Like someone will listen and go, oh you were broke five times with kids? How irresponsible of you, and you're like, well no, because it worked out right? If it didn't work out... there's always something that helps you out. So for me, it was the fact that I can do things without thinking about it too much. Like just do it, you know, have a bottle of wine and go, oh, well, I'm going to French Guiana and Suriname and British Ghana and cross the Amazon without thinking about it. It's just like, I'm going to do that and yeah. I think that's the difference between me and the real... theme from back in those years. Well, I wouldn't have done it that way. I would've been like, okay, this plan it.
Ashley Giordano: Yeah. There's an interesting balance, I think, when you're on the road, it gives you an increased sense of confidence, but at the same time, you're more worried about simple things. Like where am I going to find food? Where am I going to camp? Where are we going to find water? Where are we going next? [00:29:00] Those are very basic survival skills, I guess. Whereas at home, you're worried more about all of these other things, so you have the confidence to move forward, but also different stressors, I guess.
Luisa Bell: Exactly that. When we came back to South Africa and visited friends and they're like, they want to know your story, but they don't want to know your story. You know what it's like, you know? And then you're like, and then a moan about the things that really shouldn't be important, but really are, and you kind of go damn. Yeah. You know, dropping my kids off at school, a queue of people or the mothers and stuff like that and you kind of go, that was me? Yeah, and I'm out of it.
Ashley Giordano: I remember Richard my husband, when we went home he was working for a geothermal heating company and he [00:30:00] had a call from a client and they were like upset that their towel warmer wasn't heating up quickly enough and this was after we came home and we were... coming home is really, really hard. It's like a reverse culture shock and you've seen so much. Right? And he was just like, I can't do this job anymore, and I don't want to criticize somebody about a towel warmer, you know what I mean? But I think it's just having that perspective of what do you really want?
Luisa Bell: Yeah, but it's for different folks, you know, some people will do like two, three months trips. To me as long as you're traveling and experiencing different cultures and putting yourself out there, that's enough. Yeah. Yeah.
Ashley Giordano: If that's what you want to do, or if you want to ride horses do that, or if you want to go hiking, do that, you know, this is just one facet of living your dream, so to speak.
Luisa Bell: Yeah. Being out there that's, that's the most important thing. Actually being out there appreciating nature and life.
Ashley Giordano: Totally. So you were talking about a [00:31:00] society's prescribed roles for women. What do you think the benefits are of being a woman on the road?
Luisa Bell: I think it's Jack of all trades. I mean, I was always that way. I was business orientated, made the money, cause I grew up relatively poor can I say? In American standards anyway and so for me it was all about making the money, like, you know, American Dream, and now it's like I do the electrics on the vehicle, and you know, I do all of that. I am the mechanic's assistant. I do navigate, I do editing of the books. I do graphic design of the books and all the things that don't make me money, obviously, but you just become different. You change in that sense that you are willing to explore different avenues that I would never have done before. I would never have seen myself in this role where I can do so much more than I was before I left. You know? So yeah. I can change wheel bearings [00:32:00] or I can, you know, change the GPS on my vehicle. I'll tell you a quick story. There was like... we were in the Congo, and we had issues with the vehicle. It was stuttering and it was late on a Sunday night, and the guys were drinking, smacking the vehicle and blocking the road. So we were like, oh my gosh, this is like the worst place to get stuck, and night was coming. Found this little place where we could park and got in there and soldered the CPS together and fixed that, and obviously Graeme assisted and then Keelan was making a fire with a piece of wood that we had kept from Cameroon and all of that, you know, like the change and what you can do... You don't realize how bad you are until you actually get into the situation and go, well I did that. Kudos to me kind of thing, you know? So yes, woman, that whole situation where you have to be the cook or you have to be this, it changes completely when you're on the road. So yeah, I love it.
Ashley Giordano: Were there certain circumstances where you and Jessica got an insight into? I don't know, [00:33:00] the insider looks at another world because you're women? Like where you were invited anywhere?
Luisa Bell: Yeah, I suppose, you know, I think traditionally women are the cooks and the cleaners and that kind of thing. In Africa, it's a bit different because the women do also work the fields, but we were in Turkey too. I love Turkey. Have you guys been to Turkey?
Ashley Giordano: We went backpacking there, but we haven't been there by vehicle yet, but I hope.
Luisa Bell: Yeah, it's awesome. You know, just the people are hospitable and, you know, because culture, you look at culture or religion or whatever, and you already have that preconceived idea of how women are treated within the culture, and we were parked... one of the times that we were broke again was we were parked alongside the Hilton in this very small seaside town in Turkey and we were waiting for one of our articles to be paid and it was holidays. So we were stuck. [00:34:00] Okay. What are we going to do? We can't go anywhere. All right, so let's stay here alongside the Hilton. Graeme was washing dishes, and this old lady came out with a head garb and everything and she brought this cake and steaming hot cakes and a two-liter bottle of Coke. And she was like, here you go, you know, and it was just amazing the way that she just came out. Because you know, women aren't... and we weren't there, Jessica and I weren't there. She just brought it out to Graeme and Keelan and you know, their culture is she shouldn't be talking to just random guys in the street kind of thing and then we went into a house and sat and chatted for three hours via Google translate, but she wouldn't speak a word of English and I didn't speak a word of Turkish. Women are strong individuals. And across the world we've got a saying as strong as a Bolivian woman, because wow. You know, those Bolivian women, probably 60 years old but they look like they're a hundred because they're dragging the pieces of wood or the rocks or whatever on their backs and it's [00:35:00] cool. There's no woman that's not empowered in some way without, you know, you need to look deep inside. I think within different cultures, women are respected more than a lot of people realize.
Ashley Giordano: For sure. What was the conversation on Google translate like?
Luisa Bell: It was just weird. We spoke about so many things. Like why do we travel? What do we travel? And then we spoke about family and her daughter was actually a TV dietician. So she was on TV talking about diets and stuff. She phoned her and she was like, hey, I got these people here, and she was like, hey, if you're there for the next weekend, I'll fly in, I'll show you around, and we're like, oh shit. Now we have money to be entertained first then once we get our cash, we're out of here, you know, it wasn't like... but yeah, so it was random stuff and she just wanted to give us stuff the whole time. So she made more food while we were sitting there waiting and the grandma's like, what the heck is going on? I'm like, well, we're just chatting and like you say, what are you chatting about for three hours, but you'll be surprised. It was just an [00:36:00] insight into how she lives, and before we left, she opened her kitchen cupboards and wanted to give me pots and spaghetti, and I'm like so random, but it was awesome.
Ashley Giordano: I love it. Those experiences... yeah. They're why we do what we do. Which countries would you go back to if you could?
Luisa Bell: Definitely Turkey, Morocco, Argentina, Brazil, we're back in the US so that's that? Yeah, I think those countries. Europe's great, so I think the whole of Europe. Morocco, Turkey, Argentina, and Brazil. Brazil was amazing because it's so diverse between the north and the south and it's gorgeous. Easy to travel in. Argentina... Argentina is just Argentina. Great meat. Great wine. We're on the South African side. It's the first thing we go for. And Turkey, the people are fantastic and it's so easy to travel in, and Morocco is just gorgeous. Yeah, there's no beating those four countries for me personally, [00:37:00] and obviously the U S cause there's ease of travel and you guys have got such amazing parks and trails and it's just... it's fantastic. Yeah. People should travel more in the back garden a little bit more. Cause it's definitely worth the while.
Ashley Giordano: A lot of people ask about security and the feeling of safety. Did you ever have an experience or experiences where you felt like you were unsafe?
Luisa Bell: Yes, unfortunately. Two occasions. Well, not... two countries, different countries. The first one was Nigeria, and you know, you're not... cause most people... yes, Nigeria. It was a beautiful country and the people in the beginning, I think perhaps that's the thing, it's a different region of Nigeria that we experienced different hospitality or feelings. The first part of Nigeria was amazing, and everyone was like, oh, you're welcome. It was that kind of just amazing hospitality and then we hit a certain region, and I think that's where it just went to hell. We saw a dead body [00:38:00] lying on the side of the road, and then there was a shooting outside a compound. A woman was shot outside the compound where we were parked. Then the guy that we were convoyed with, he caused some issues and had the chap cock the AK-47 at him, and so that I think just made a worse, but then you got into the Highlands, and it was gorgeous, and it was four-wheel drive for four days and then it was just like Scottish Highlands. It was amazing. It was gorgeous. Like Nigeria felt unsafe, but I think it was also the circumstances we were putting ourselves in. So if we hadn't gone convoyed with that chap, we probably would've felt a lot safer. So it's like how you travel, and we don't use your Conway because we don't like being at the hands of, at the mercy of someone else. And then South Africa is obviously a little bit more difficult. We were robbed three times and that made us feel unsafe. I mean, we were in a municipal campground and the guy got a ladder and was standing staring at me with a window [00:39:00] open while we were sleeping in the camper, at like three in the morning. So it was just random stuff like that. I would suggest just traveling to South Africa. I'm saying it's not as dangerous as maybe just choosing your spots. It was a silly thing for us to have camp there that night. So yeah. Do travel to South Africa, because it is gorgeous. Sorry.
Ashley Giordano: Yeah, no. I think that's the thing is that you can have experiences like those anywhere in the world, you know, like Vancouver in Canada, things can happen like that there too. So, yeah, it's just about taking... listening to your intuition and that's not the majority of the time traveling are experiences like those, I guess that's what I'm trying to say.
Luisa Bell: I agree with you. It's like we, like I say, if we didn't convoy with him, we probably wouldn't have felt that unsafe and the shooting outside the hotel would have been not okay, at no point was that okay. But we would have felt safer because we were also convoying [00:40:00] with the same guy and he was standing there talking loudly and we were like, if the locals start running and hushing up, that's what you should be doing. So I think it's just being more aware of your surroundings and then you won't have that situation.
Ashley Giordano: It’s important to realize both sides of it, and I think be prepared, but also have an open mind. Are there instances where you feel afraid when you're on the road or does that not happen very often?
Luisa Bell: I think maybe like when you stay at a place like we'll rent an Airbnb or something for a week or so, and then you always have a little bit of a nervousness when you get back on the road. I don't know why it's just like, ah, you know, you want to get back, but you're like, what's going to be around the corner. Cause you had that little piece of heaven where everything was fine, and it wasn't your place you needed to worry about. You didn't need to go to work, but you were working, but you didn't have to physically go and, you know, put yourself there into the community kind of thing. And then you're like, oh, I'm leaving. I've got to go back on the road. What's around the corner. [00:41:00] But that's about the only, yeah, besides that... there's nothing really else to fear then fear itself.
Ashley Giordano: That's true. That's good advice. Sometimes I think going through border crossings can be like that. It's not fear necessarily as anticipation because you have understood how that the previous country works to a certain extent and you know, what to anticipate or expect, and then you get to the border and you're like excited, but you're also like, oh my gosh, everything might be about to change and how are we going to adapt and fit in?
Luisa Bell: I do all the border crossings and Graham does it on purpose. Cause I'm kinda like eh, I kind of say I'm quite... not aggressive, but I'm like, get out of my way. I know what I'm doing. Just like move out of your way. I'm like, I'm going to get this done and then I'm finished, you know? So you'll be at the Mauritania border crossing. They don't allow women to be in the same queue as men, and I'll be standing there and I'm going to go, well Graeme, you know, he's got to look off to the [00:42:00] vehicle. I actually enjoy it. I don't mind it.
Ashley Giordano: So you probably have had to put quite a bit of time into researching for Carnes and visas and all that stuff. Do you have any tips or tricks?
Luisa Bell: Find out if the country really needs a Carne, because it's an expense. So we got a Carne before we left and you have to put a security deposit down, so it can be a lot, or it could be a little. So if it's a lot, then find out if the country really needs the carne, cause otherwise you're going to be stuck... Like we've had it for 10 years and that money has been lying there. So, you know, that kind of thing, forums, WhatsApp groups, chattering people that are coming from the other direction or going the same direction, do it together. Sometimes it's easier. Don't be arrogant. Yes, sir. No, sir. Yes. Ma'am that kind of thing. I hate to do it, but they love it. They love the power and the fact that they have the power to deny you entry... you just gotta put up with it, you know? And paperwork keeps all their paperwork. Cause somewhere... we were crossing [00:43:00] to Peru and you know, you do the crossing Argentina or Chile, Alaska... oh my God. Wrong consonants. Chile and Argentina back and forth, and we got to Peru, and they were like, ah yeah, you'd been here before. They were like, that was like a few years ago and they were like, well, we want to see the exit stamp on their passport that you have and by then we had already been through like three passports and so we had to drag out those passports. I was a livid bats. I kept those passports. I hadn't sent it home and I didn't check them, you know? So keep that paperwork because some way down the line, they're going to nab you on it and then, you know, there's going to be a fine of some kind, because it's just another way to try and rob you, right?
Ashley Giordano: Yeah. Yeah. Were there any circumstances where you couldn't get through a border, or they turned you around for some reason?
Luisa Bell: No. Cause I'm quite persistent.
Ashley Giordano: Sometimes you have to be.
Luisa Bell: Yeah, exactly. I'm not turning around. There was one instance recently, actually, during the COVID times and we were... we were traveling from [00:44:00] Mozambique up the Red Corridor. We had been back and forth, and the roads were terrible up there, for some reason it was raining. But anyway, we were supposed to get a letter of permission to cross into... Yeah, it was Zambia from the minister of health to confirm that our COVID tests were alright, and I'm like, dude, no one says this. This doesn't even show this on your thing. Yea. And he was carrying on. He was like, now you got to go back and our visas for Mozambique actually had expired. So we had to pay a fine to leave Mozambique. So we knew we couldn't get a new one going in any way. I was so livid and when I got cross and I got really angry, I started tearing up and I just... because I get so frustrated, I want to do something physical. So my reaction is just to cry. Just cry. Cause that's the best way and just go into like, agh... and the guy, he thought this was hysterical. He made me cry. And Graeme was like, oh, I'm going to kick your ass. So eventually we got through it, and that was the only time that the guy [00:45:00] wanted to turn me back. Because I was refusing to pay the bribe. Eventually we paid the bribe and we got in, but the point is that you shouldn't pay a bribe to get into a country that you are legally permitted to be in. So yeah.
Ashley Giordano: Yeah. So sometimes the rules, you just throw them out the window and sometimes you need to adhere. It seems like.
Luisa Bell: Yeah. So we crossed into the Peruvian border eventually, and the cops pulled us over. I don't know why we had so much trouble in Peru. They wanted to find us for everything. Multa, I think bribed the whole time. Yeah, and he pulled us over and our windows were tinted and he was like Multa. And I'm like, for what? And he's like, your windows are tinted. And I'm like, okay and we carried on back and forth bantering and eventually got out and he said, come, come, I'll show you the book, which shows you have to pay this amount of money. It was ludicrous. Shows me in the book and I'm like, okay, and then his car windows were tinted so I'm like Multa... and it was like, okay, you got a point. All right. [00:46:00] So if it works for me, you should be getting fined as well, you know.
Ashley Giordano: Humor is good. Yeah. Do you guys travel with music?
Luisa Bell: We also travel with TV shows. So you got kids. They want to watch a bit of TV. So a great story, we go to this one video and there’s still a YouTube channel I think still of us driving through the Amazon, the vehicles... You can't even see through the windows on the sides, cause it's just mud everywhere and there’s us listening to either Cheers or Seinfeld, because it's the easiest one to recognize all the characters, they're not leaving the space that they're in. So they're not exploring or doing anything. It's always the pub, for Cheers, and there's always the apartment for Seinfeld, you know? All the characters, so you can drive, and you can listen to it on, you know, on the laptop. So yeah, we listened to music. We did Seinfeld and Cheers, and then we listened to [00:47:00] to like NPRs Car Talk. You know? Man, I love those guys. It's a tradition. Every time I make flapjacks on a Sunday, we try and do the tradition that we listen to NPR Car Talk. Or Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! So we'll be anywhere in the world, listening to Car Talk or Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!
Ashley Giordano: Oh my gosh. Do you guys have an album on repeat right now at all music wise?
Luisa Bell: No. Jessica is the major, the DJ. She's got all the poppy stuff and then when Keelan gets in the front, then it's like, the Pixies. And it's all like the heavy stuff which she can do for a bit. And then it gets like a little, you know, too much. So Jessica’s the music, DJ. Yeah. She loves it.
Ashley Giordano: Nice. Yeah. Music is awesome on the road. We love it.
Luisa Bell: If you can hear it.
Ashley Giordano: Right. Oh my gosh. Yes. You kind of have that thing too where it's so loud. Well, I am assuming the Land Rovers are Loud.
Luisa Bell: Shout at each other like [00:48:00] hey. Like, we have the same problem, and this Ranger is great, but has got this purr the purr means nothing because it goes so damn slow. But yeah, you can't hear the music most of the time, so yeah.
Ashley Giordano: I ask every podcast guest that I interview, if you could travel to a country right now, what would it be and why? You can list more than one.
Luisa Bell: So I'd like to travel to any country in Scandinavia, right now. Okay, if I had the money, I'd love to do that because wow. You know, the scenery is just insane. Yeah, any country in Scandinavia would be amazing and we've got so many friends up there. So, yeah, maybe one day, yes one day it will actually happen. Besides that I think, yeah that's the top of my list right now and then obviously Russia, which we'll get to on the border is open again.
Ashley Giordano: What drives you to Russia?
Luisa Bell: Well you gotta do it, right? We've done that, and that, and that in. So we got to do that. So yeah. [00:49:00] Yeah, bloody wasta, you know, and you can say... you know, we've done a lot already, so we've got all the little badges, but bloody wasta is like the final frontier kind of thing, final trip, and once you've done that, then we'll have to figure out what... Then we'll go to Scandinavia, and then there's so many other countries or lands unexplored, I suppose. New Zealand. Whew. Yeah. Actually I wouldn't mind going to New Zealand now.
Ashley Giordano: So there's one question that Scott Brady asks in every single podcast episode and I'm going to piggyback on to it because I love books and reading as well, but what's your favorite book?
Luisa Bell: So when I have time to read, which is not often, but the one book that really stood out to me and resonates throughout the whole what we do is The Tribe by Sebastian Junger. It explains exactly... It's a short book. It's not very big, [00:50:00] but it carries the message of what we do. It's about the tribe overlanding, or a tribe of people that share the same common goal or knowledge or aspire to do the same thing. So yeah. It's really good and he's got a few more that's come out, but yeah, The Tribe was his best one.
Ashley Giordano: Were there some specific things in there that resonated with you?
Luisa Bell: Well no, just everything. You read it and you go, oh, that’s me. It's fantastic.
Ashley Giordano: That's a great recommendation. Thank you. So where can people find you online if they want to learn more about you and the Bell family?
Luisa Bell: Well, we have got a website which is A2Aexpedition.com. And it's A, and the number two, A expedition dot com. A quick story, we went through South America and we're trying to tell everyone, like Argentina to Alaska, but you try and tell a Spanish person, A dos A. Like what the hell is A dos A so, yes, it works only in English. [00:51:00] Unfortunately, but A2Aexpedition.com. And then we've got a Patreon account, a YouTube account, a Facebook account, and they're all basically A2Aexpedition.com. Graeme runs all the social media. So the Instagram is in his name is Graeme, which is Graeme.r.bell and you can find our books there
Ashley Giordano: How many books are there and what are the titles?
Luisa Bell: Okay, so we have five. The first one was We Will Be Free, which is the most popular because it's us extracting our souls out of normal life and living and hitting south America for two and half well, three years. And then there's La Lucha, which is the fight. You know, getting up and having the money to North America and then rebuilding the vehicle from the double cab into the camper. And there's Europe Overland, which is then traveling from the UK to Turkey and across, down to Portugal and then there's Mud, Malaria, Guns, and [00:52:00] Miracles, which is the west coast trip down the west coast of Africa, down to South Africa. Then the second book was actually traveling to the planet Overland, which is a How To guide us to do what we do. So it tells you how to choose an overland rig, how to motivate your significant other, how to educate your kids, online resources, recipes, how to tow, mechanical work, and then we're actually rebooting that one or rewriting it into a bigger version. Cause that was after what's three and a half... four years of experience. Now it's 10 years of experience. So it's going to be a massive hardcover color book and that is going onto Kickstarter in the next week or so.
Ashley Giordano: Awesome. Awesome. That's such a wealth of knowledge and yeah. Where can people find those books
Luisa Bell: Also on a A2Aexpedition.com. It's better to buy from us than to buy from Amazon because we get the cash. Jeff, doesn't get it...
Ashley Giordano: Well, I want to say thank you so much [00:53:00] Louisa for coming on the podcast. It's been an absolute pleasure to interview you and it's wonderful to hear your side of the story too.
Luisa Bell: Thank you very much for having me. I really enjoyed it.