UAA alumni takes the road less traveled - Vought and Ely pose at a Peruvian roadside market. Photo credit: Courtesy of The Bus and Us Full view

UAA alumni takes the road less traveled

Born and bred Alaskans Dillon Vought and Tessa Ely started driving their restored VW bus in February of 2015. It took the Anchorage couple a year to to buy and restore the rusty, broken down VW bus. They learned to weld, paint and become mechanics in preparation for any problem the road will bring them.

Vought was born in Glennallen and spent his early childhood dog mushing with his family. Ely was born and raised in Anchorage. Both Vought and Ely attended the University of Alaska Anchorage. Vought went for his sophomore year then later switched to the University of Nevada Reno. Ely attended UAA for six years and received her masters degree in special education.

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Tessa Ely and Dillon Vought spent a year fixing up their 1975 Westfalia VW bus, which they purchased for $500. Photo credit: Courtesy of The Bus and Us

Along their journey, they’ve been reminded of Alaska in the landscape of South America.

“We are reminded of Alaska whenever we find ourselves in real mountains. We quickly learned to differentiate between what some people consider mountains and what we are fortunate enough as Alaskans to consider mountains. While many areas we traveled had gorgeous peaks, very few had mountains and the ocean in the same spot. That being said, we ended up spending almost five months camping and hiking in Patagonia because it reminded us so much of home,” Ely said.

While on the road, Ely and Vought have embraced the kindness of the locals while traveling through other countries.

“What seems to be the most important thing we have learned while traveling is how incredibly warm and welcoming people are. The human condition that ties us all together, regardless of where in the world you live or the hand you were dealt, is a powerful thing. We were blown away by the hospitality and genuine kindness we encountered with complete strangers. While driving across the world makes you realize how huge it is, it simultaneously makes it feel small and allowed us to learn that most humans, regardless of language, wealth, or location, are all connected and all desire the same things,” Ely said.

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Vought and Ely pose at a Peruvian roadside market. Photo credit: Courtesy of The Bus and Us

Living with your partner in an 80 square foot space for an extended period of time without air conditioning can seem daunting. However, Ely and Vought have made it work for their travels. It has even brought them closer together as a couple.

“We are closer than we could have imagined after this journey. There aren’t many other situations I can think of where you rely so heavily and solely on your partner. While it was tricky to give up some of the independence we were used to before the trip, it also feels amazing to be so connected to another human and to know you can count on each other 100 percent…” Ely said. “Whether it be me struggling with my Spanish to get our needs across while in remote Colombia or Dillon using his amazing mechanic skills to work on the broken down bus in the middle of nowhere Patagonia.”

Traveling across continents doesn’t come without it’s obstacles however. Between bribing foreign cops and the language barriers they encountered. Ely and Vought tackled each obstacle along the way together.

“There are definitely many literal and figurative obstacles we encountered on the road, and that’s what differentiates vacationing from traveling in my mind. The primary differences we encountered, that we don’t have to worry about while traveling in the US, would be crooked cops, the language barrier, sanitation issues, and safety,” Ely said.

Ely and Vought were bed-ridden for a week after eating fried pig intestines in Quito, Ecuador and Ely was hospitalized in El Salvador, Bolivia after getting a parasite resulting from the areas poor sanitation. The couple always sought after secured parking and as a result haven’t been robbed while traveling.

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Vought and Ely pose in front of their bus in Bolivia, one of the stops on their South American adventure. Photo credit: Courtesy of The Bus and Us

In the last year and a half, the couple traveled from their home in Anchorage to the Southern tip of Patagonia, Argentina. The couple then shipped their bus from Buenos Aires to Florida where they picked up to travel across the lower 48; slowly making their way North to Alaska by next summer. Once they are back, they hope to drive their bus to the Northern most point in Alaska, Prudhoe Bay.

Ely and Vought discourage others from doing what they did, if they aren’t mechanically inclined.

“The only way we were able to complete the trip smoothly in the bus is because Dillon and I completely tore the bus apart and put it back together ourselves, so he was able to fix any issue that we had on the road by himself,” Ely said.

Currently on the road, Ely and Vought are making their way across the lower 48. Touring National Parks and visiting local sights, the couple will be back in Anchorage next summer.

You can follow their journey on their wildly popular website, or be one of nearly 70,000 followers on their Instagram page, @thebusandus.

Written by Victoria Petersen

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