Hasta Alaska's Ben Talks to Us About The Highs and Lows of Kombilife
So from what we know of you- we would describe you in the following way….
“Intrepid adventurer, explorer, dream seeker, inspirational life maker, courageous chance taker, slightly bonkers dog owner and all round bloody nice bloke!”
What do you think…are we nearly there, or way off?! How would you describe yourself…..?!
Ha, that’s funny. I’m a normal bloke, turned travel-obsessed adventurer. I ditched the 9-5 and swapped my IT career for a vagabond lifestyle.
So Kombi Life….explain the theory behind it…
Kombi Life is about sharing an adventure. The road has so much to teach us. I know that not everyone is in a position to travel full-time like myself, so I started the Kombi Life project as a platform to share the experience with people at home.
Travel seems to have been a large part of your life for a really long time. When and how did your love of travel, discovering new places, people and things take hold? Was there a lightbulb moment or did it happen over time.
I grew up in Jersey, a 9x5 mile island so I think it’s only natural that I would want to see the world. I started saving towards travel when I was 16, but it took 10 years before I was ready for the road. Now the more I travel, the more I fall in love with my mobile life, I guess you could say I’m a travel addict.
“Copito” the Kombi? We know why we love them, but, what made you chose one for your Hasta Alaska trip? What does the name “Copito” mean, and, why did you chose it?
To be honest the Kombi was the only vehicle that I could afford in Chile where I was initially looking for wheels. What made my mind up was the fact that parts were widely available across the Americas and I was told that they were easy to work on, which was handy as I knew nothing about engines. I named the Kombi “Copito” after a fearless street dog that kept me company when I was initially building the camper in Chile.
Hasta Alaska… Could you explain to those who haven’t come across the story, amazing Youtube videos or Instagram feed, the premise behind the trip and the form it took…
The Hasta Alaska Project is a cross planet overland expedition, specifically designed at sharing the experience with the world, the intention being to show people how incredibly enriching this form of travel can be. Other than documenting the whole rollercoaster of a ride via social media (particularly YouTUBE), the thing that makes this project different to other overland expeditions is that I specifically set out with the intention of inviting anyone and everyone to join me on the road, in the Kombi.
The Hasta Alaska Youtube videos are amazing. Why did you decide to take us all along for the ride; was it purely a way of funding your trip, a way to record memories for the future, a greater desire to share a deeper message with the wider world or a mixture of all three?
I started sharing the experience via social media for the people who, for whatever reason, can’t currently travel like I do. I wanted people to see the world through my eyes. So they too could see that experiences are worth more than material possession and, other important lessons such as, people are all essentially the same. Seeing other cultures and places helps us understand our place on the planet and appreciate other cultures, rather than fearing them. After a couple of years of doing this I decided to turn my love of producing videos into a career, and started generating a small income through work…mainly to fund the maintenance on the Kombi.
You’ve enjoyed some truly amazing moments on the road. Currently you are back in Jersey, (Channel Islands), on home soil. It must be hard to step back into “normal” life.
Could you share your most favourite moments of the Hasta Alaska trip so far….(I know it’s hard to pick but we don’t mind if you share a few!)
The past 4 years has been full of so many highs and lows that it is difficult to pick any one favourite moment. I think my endorphins are consistently peaking when I stumble across an incredible free camp spot, such as the salt flats of Bolivia, volcanic crater lakes of Ecuador, or any one of the countless surf-blessed beaches of Mexico. Waking up to a champagne view on a lemonade budget is something that I never tire of.
Consistently the most rewarding and inspirational moments for me are when we meet locals. People all over the Americas have been incredibly welcoming, and, I’m sure that is largely because we roll into town in a VW Bus.
And the hardest most testing times both on the road and subsequently off…?
I’m not going to lie, I’ve had a few challenges on the road with the Kombi. Having to remove the engine 10 times takes its toll on both your sanity and wallet. But then nobody is going to deny that we do ask a lot of poor Copito. Aside from the mechanical problems there have been logistical challenges with visas which brought us to a standstill quicker than a seized piston. On a personal level, I’ve shared my Kombi with over 100 people, many of whom I am still in touch with, but I do think that a transient lifestyle is not necessarily a heathy one for building and maintaining relationships and so life on the move has proven to be a challenge in that respect too.
Would you introduce “Alaska”, probably one of the most photogenic Instagram account holders we’ve seen, who also happens to be your adopted road tripping dog! Where and how did your paths cross, and, how did she become one of your travelling companions.
Alaska (@K9AdventureTime) was born in Peru and adopted by the Hasta Alaska crew, she’s lived in a VW her whole life, has been raised by a hundred nomads, has travelled more than most humans I know. She was named after our destination. She is an absolute legend of a travelling companion. Never runs off (because she knows we’re always on the move), is very intelligent and extremely obedient by nature rather than nurture. We love her to bits.
Everyone who has watched the Hasta Alaska videos, will probably have fallen in love with one of your travelling companions in particular, and no we are not thinking of Alaska when we say that! The old romantics amongst us are obviously drawn to ask if that happened to you too?!
For the past few years I haven’t had many people in my life for a long period of time, Sharne was different. She travelled with me for over a year in total on 3 different occasions. What’s not to like about a beautiful, funny Australia girl who can change a wheel bearing, remove an engine and paint a car! She really wanted to study at Uni in Australia so she went home and didn’t come back. Shame it didn’t work out, but what is life without a little bit of heartbreak?!
Co’pito the Kombi made it to Alaska, despite numerous engine problems along the way, but the journey is not yet finished. Tell us why after so many miles of travel and adventure you still have yet to reach your intended destination?
The route was never planned on this journey – the only fixed location was the destination, Alaska. Any traveller worth their salt will tell you that it is never the destination but the journey that really matters. And so it was more important for me to learn what I could from all of the places that we visited over the 4 years. That said, I’ve had people writing to me from Alaska and recommending all sorts of things to see and do, so naturally I have become eager to see the Last Frontier in person.
Arriving at the Alaskan border was a huge achievement for me, given all of the challenges that I’ve overcome to get there. But I really wanted to see this place that I’ve become fixated on. To have my gear box fail and leave me stranded at the Alaskan border was devastating, but not nearly as devastating as being told by US Immigration that I am not allowed to re-enter the USA to complete the filming of Hasta Alaska, (and recover the Kombi), that’s just rubbing salt in the wounds.
We can only imagine how devastating such a blow must have been. We know that you have been trying to find a way to finish the journey. Have you had any success- is there any light at the end of this tunnel? We know there have even been marriage proposals!
Yes there have been marriage proposals which does make you chuckle doesn’t it. I think we all know that they only want me for my VW! I’ve been dealing with various Congressmen and State Senators, who are all on my side, and they have contacted the embassy on my behalf but as yet I am still not allowed back into the USA. They say I must take out a work contract and rental agreement / mortgage to prove that I have commitments outside of the US. That’s not really possible in my situation. Apparently some border posts in the mountains are unmanned during winter. Does Just Kampers stock snow chains?!
It seems that people on both sides of the pond are invested in your story and want to see you make that finish line. Despite the frustration it must be heartwarming to have that level of International support?
It is and to be honest it is my greatest source of strength. It is a heck of a lot of work to run a project like Hasta Alaska and to document the entire journey single handedly, but hearing that so many people have been inspired by my story gives me the motivation to pile into the next challenge.
What does the future hold?
I’m going to keep travelling, I am working hard at improving the quality of my video content. So I am excited to do another overland adventure and share it with everyone at home. Since there isn’t much more road going north. I think I will go East for a while.
If we were to ask for some advice for the future, a gem of wisdom or a universal truth that you could share off the back of your amazing adventures, what would you tell us?
Living the Kombi Life has not come without it’s sacrifices, a career, security, and relative comfort to name but a few, but really, who’d ever look back on their life and says they wish they’d worked harder, made less memories, and risked less?
Kombi Life is about seizing today, it’s about adventure because after all, life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all!
Thank you Ben! We are all feeling very "Seize The Day" now and have been incredibly inspired to chase down dreams whatever they may be.
If you have been equally inspired and wish to follow Ben, Alaska and the Kombilife adventurers on their continuing journey you can do so through the links on the Kombilife website...
We're pleased to report that since this blog was written Ben and Alaska have been re-united in Canada, and, have also secured a U.S Visa through the U.S Embassy there. The person at the Embassy dealing with his case knew all about Ben and his journey! All the sharing and positive vibes have certainly helped him on his way!
We're excited to watch as his story unfolds and the journey continues!
Happy Trails Ben!
Ben sent us this exclusive picture of him and Alaska back together again! Thank you Ben.