Lonely Planet Writer

This is how you give it all up to embark on an epic travel adventure across the Americas

What do you do when you’ve got it all… the college education, the well-paid corporate job, the dog? Settle down and buy a house? Or embark on an epic travel adventure through the Americas?

Hiking in Torres del Paine #torresdelpaine #camptogether

A photo posted by Nikki Jakob Leika (@sprintervandiaries) on Apr 24, 2015 at 10:44am PDT

Nikki Levi and Jakob Celnik chose the latter.

Both had successful careers – Nikki worked at Citibank before moving to Apple, and Jakob worked at Soros Fund Management – and a comfortable life in New York City, but they felt that something was missing. Deciding it time to shake things up a bit, the University of Pennsylvania graduates quit their jobs, bought a van and drove from Canada to Argentina on a 16-month trip through 15 countries. They documented the trip on their blog and Instagram account. “We wanted to regain the fascination we once had with the world: the new, the different, the scary, the beautiful. We wanted to feel alive, to break the daily routine. At some point we started asking: why not now?”

Mi casa es su casa. Colombia style.

A photo posted by Nikki Jakob Leika (@sprintervandiaries) on Jan 16, 2015 at 3:40pm PST

They transformed – after a lot of research and a little trial and error – a Sprinter van into a home-on-wheels that would take them over 40,000 miles to Ushuaia, Argentina. Their trip began in May 2014 and finished in September 2015. Nikki and Jakob spent seven weeks prior to departure re-designing their van for the trip. “The biggest challenge when designing the van was anticipating our needs on the road – how much storage, seating and food we’d need… where we should put the lights? But, in the end, we were really happy with our build.”

Crazy light. #vanlife #sprintervan #slowroad

A photo posted by Nikki Jakob Leika (@sprintervandiaries) on Nov 1, 2015 at 12:35pm PST

Featuring a fully functioning kitchen with stove top, fridge and sink.

Plus a queen size length bed. By taking a flexible approach to travel planning – plotting their route only a few days in advance – they were free to take detours off the beaten track.

Salar de Uyuni #trailrunning #bolivia #ouroverlandadventure #campingwithdogs

A photo posted by Nikki Jakob Leika (@sprintervandiaries) on Mar 22, 2015 at 12:27pm PDT

Running the world’s largest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia.

“The highlight of the trip was meeting amazing people, with whom we still stay in touch with today. We’ll never forget them.” Nikki and Jakob admit the trip wasn’t always easy, but they relished the challenge. “Each place is different, so simple things – like finding a laundromat, grocery store, camping spot, safe place to park your car while hiking – all take more effort than normal. But, that’s what we wanted – to use our brains to navigate everyday life and not always be on autopilot.”

For the couple, the trip underlined the importance of a healthy work–life balance. They now live in Seattle, where they’re building their own business. They still use the van for weekends out the city. “The trip didn’t lead us to be non-functioning or only want to travel. It gave us confidence to pursue the things we love and the work that makes us happy.”

A few more panels and she’ll be done! Hitting the road next Wednesday. #sprintervan #adventuremobile #vanlife #homeiswhereyouparkit

A photo posted by Nikki Jakob Leika (@sprintervandiaries) on May 2, 2014 at 12:36pm PDT

If you’re dreaming of your own travel adventure but unsure whether to make the leap, Nikki and Jakob have some advice: “Just do it! Of course, you’ll face challenges and setbacks, but you’ll make things work. It might not be as you ‘planned’ but that’s often what makes things so special, rewarding and fun!”