FIELDTESTED | Gabriella Hummel and Sandro Alvarez

Gabriella and Sandro are two parts of Vanabundos, they picked up a VW bus at the port of Seattle in July 2016 and have been slowly driving through the Americas since. Working freelance from the road, either writing articles for magazines and newspapers or creating content for all kinds of clients, they’re also trying to live sustainably as they continue on this adventure.

What were you doing before deciding to travel with your VW bus from North to South America? 

Since we’ve been together we wanted to travel together. Sandro was Head of Marketing and Content and I worked as a journalist for a Swiss newspaper. When we started to plan a trip we soon realized that we wanted to do it “properly”. We also weren’t very happy with our jobs anymore, so it was an easy decision to quit those and with it our apartment. We sold most of our stuff, bought a van and of course saved as much as we could. The idea of traveling in a van came to us in Bali, where we rented a van to drive around the island. We loved getting lost so much that we instantly knew this was our favorite way of traveling.

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How do you reconcile conscious living and consumption while being on this journey?

Well, I think we probably live and consume much more consciously now than before. On a practical level because we have only very limited space and also because there is not much distraction around like in our lives before. We almost don’t buy new things. All of our electrical power comes from the sun through our solar panel. We live plant-based since more than half a year, which is not as hard as it sounds. Even though all the countries we drove through (which are all between USA and Colombia) are heavy with eating meat, dairy and eggs, we always find a solution and often cook ourselves. Another big issue for us is waste: it is literally everywhere. No beach, no backroad, no hiking trail where we didn’t see any trash. In these countries, where most waste lands in landfill, we try really hard to not produce more of it. That involves saying “sin bolsa, por favor!” (“no bag, please”) several times a day and often not buying certain foods because of their package. Right now we’re in Medellin, where there’s a package free supermarket. In places like these we stock up on everything we can. Of course, nobody’s perfect, but we try our best.

Life lessons learned from being on the road?

Oh, so many. I think to say it in a nutshell: This journey gives us the time, space and possibility to explore new perspectives on every part of our lives. Learning how to truly trust in people and ourselves is one of them. Being on the road like this involves many unsure moments (personally, financially, professionally) and learning that no matter what, we’re always safe, is a big life lesson – and one that will hopefully stay in our hearts forever.

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Being on this journey must limit you to only a few essentials, what are some of the things you carry with you now?

There are indeed some items we love and use very often. Kitchen-wise it’s the electrical kettle and the hand blender. The first makes the mornings very easy and the second broadens our limited cooking possibilities extremely. Sandro can’t live without his two guitars (a small and a medium sized one), and I have my yoga mat with me always. I also always carry raw materials to make macramé, origami or stitching. A gadget we use very much is our tablet. We use it as radio station, TV, eBook reader – Sandro even records his songs on it.

Of all the places you visited so far, which has been the most memorable? Do you have a favourite travel story to share?

We really loved Mexico and Colombia and spent six months in both of them. Mexico because of the food, the culture that changes in every state, the easy camping possibilities and the pacific. Colombia because every two hours of driving you feel like you’re in a different country and because the people are the most open and friendly. But of course, every country had its amazing encounters and adventures.

There are many stories to tell of course. But a very recent one just happened a couple of weeks ago. We were in the South of Colombia, driving out of the Tatacoa Desert, where we had our first real breakdown in 20 months. Usually we were always able to drive on for a bit to find help, but this time the van just stopped and the engine just didn’t start anymore. We were in the middle of nowhere, only big trucks driving by and no reception (of course). We looked at the engine but had of course no clue what was going on. So we just waited, there was nothing else we could do. One couple stopped and called the breakdown service, but they couldn’t come because there had been an accident nearby. So we waited some more time and ate lunch. Then a big gasoline truck stops and the guy asks us if we ran out of gas. He looked at the engine and said it could be the ignition coil. He called a friend who brought a new one and built it in. After only two hours of waiting we were back on the road, it was unbelievable. Just with trust and help of a stranger.

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What does sustainability mean to you?

The word sustainability has unfortunately lost some of its power due to people and organizations who misuse it for things that are obviously not sustainable. We often discuss the fact that it’s actually very weird that we have to label stuff as sustainable or organic or fair. We think this should be normal and everything else should be labeled as not sustainable. And that’s what it means to us: trying to incorporate sustainable decisions into everyday life to make them as normal as possible. We all know about the impact of certain industries – now we only have to act on what we already know. It’s not that hard. In fact, it’s actually fun to make a good decision, without becoming dogmatic.

What is one thing you stand for and believe in, and why?

We believe that everyone has the possibility and right to live life as they imagine it, free from all the things they think are given. Often people tell us that they envy us for our life on the road and then immediately add several reasons why they can’t do it. We’re not prisoners, we can do whatever we want. We know it’s not easy, we worked and keep on working hard to make this happen, but it is possible. If you can imagine it you can do it.

Right now we’re in the middle of founding our own content agency for sustainable organizations and companies. Just some months ago we were sure that wouldn’t be possible: working for Swiss clients out of a van somewhere in South America. Then we once discussed it and tried to really imagine it. Why the hell shouldn’t it work? So we did it and yes, now we live off it.

#ChangeBeyondTextiles is…

Not only about fashion: it’s about the people who make the pants, about the raw materials, about how to address all of this. Every organization should try to not only see the final product and its profit, but the entire line of production. And consumers should consume as mindfully.

How would you like to be remembered?

As happy people who always tried to see the good.

We are inspired by Gabriella and Sandro’s intentions to move towards conscious living and are proud to have them as Fieldtesters, a group of inspiring individuals that test MATTER products in their everyday journeys of passion, to help us improve durability and design. Gabriella is wearing our Sideswept Dhoti + Trikora in Size 1 and Sandro is wearing our Lounge Lunghi + Falcon Footprint in Size 1.


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