January 20, 2006

All it took: Two Vagabonds and a Van

By Katia Lopez-Hodoyan

They left it all in search for the intangible. They sold their belongings, quit their jobs and said farewell to their family members. Traveling the world was their goal, yet uncertainty lingered. They had no tour guides, hotel reservations or bus schedules but somehow it all felt right.

In retrospect, it was right. On September 2000 Amanda and Richard Ligato left San Diego. Three years later the couple had traveled through 60,000 miles and seen 24 countries in four continents. Inevitably their lives changed, yet the high paying jobs they left behind seemed a far cry from the life they now wanted.

Along their journey they had seen Mexico’s landscapes, South Africa’s culture, Argentina’s piercing music and Brazil’s somber beaches. The corporate ladder was loosing its appeal and it was by no means as attractive as it was before. So the question arose: “What would we be doing if money was no object?” ...Traveling was their prompt response.

Once that was established, they decided to save for future trips by living off of Richard’s income and saving Amanda’s salary. A goal that took six years to accomplish.

Amanda Ligato in Mexico City.

“We were both pretty persistent,” says Richard. “Since we were both working toward something, we would motivate one another whenever one of us felt a lack of desire.”

A 1978 Volkswagen Campervan also plays a pivotal role in their journey because it went wherever the Ligato’s went. The car has been a witness to their traveling endeavors while also serving as a kitchen, bedroom and recreation unit. Whenever having a car conflicts with their next destination, they simply ship the van to their next travel destination. A process that roughly cost the Ligato’s from $600 to $1,500 per shipment.

Nonetheless, this amount seems like pennies on the dollar. Throughout their three-year traveling journey, they spent an average of $46 a day. This includes food, gas, recreation and all other expenses. So how did they do it?

“If we bought anything, it would have to replace something in the van,” says Amanda. “We don’t have any clutter and before buying anything we would ask ourselves, do we need this or want this.”

Similar trains of thought for two people who came from different worlds. Amanda was raised in Tijuana and grew up crossing the international border. She was ambitious in the workforce and was always looking for the next corporate step. Richard was from Philadelphia and his adventurous spirit brought him to San Diego during a road trip. They both have college degrees and they met while working for the city of Coronado. Shortly thereafter, they got married and took a 14- month honeymoon through Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Once they came back to San Diego there was no way of escaping the workforce, so they both got new jobs. Amanda was the Vice President of Human Resources at the University and State Employees Credit Union. Richard was working as an office manger at KOA camping grounds. Throughout this time, six years total, they were following their master plan for future travels. They continued to live off Richard’s while saving Amanda’s.

But what’s to say about marriage in tight quarters? It’s not easy being married led alone inside a car.

“It’s definitely not easy. You get to know the person. The good and the bad,” says Amanda “When we have an issue it comes right out. There is no, I’m going to the mall. It made us better communicators because if we stay quiet, it will destroy the trip.”

On Top of the Andes in Ecuador

In being better communicators they also decided to write a book about their experience. For the next few months, they plan to promote Wide Eyed Wanderers and live off the revenues from book sales and presentations. Come September, another journey awaits.

“We are going to travel along India on our bicycles,” says Richard. We have a one way ticket so anything is possible.”

In the meanwhile, the Ligato’s enjoy the comforts of life in a small cottage they rent in Chula Vista. They recently named it the “recycle cottage” because anything that goes into the home must be used. New items are prohibited, so while living in a throw away society they try to maintain an ambiance of simplicity.

“ At times, too many choices can be a burden,” says Richard. “At times having only one option for material things makes life easier.”

Amanda agrees. They don’t have a television set or an Internet connection. They go to a local library to check their e-mail and although their 1978 van is still alive and kicking their primary mode of transportation are bikes.

“Here in America there is so much of everything,” says Amanda. “And at times it’s just overwhelming. In South Africa everything is recycled. Even envelopes are turned inside out to be reused. There is much to be learned from that.”

Yet aside from the enrichment that comes from traveling there is also a negative side that brings frustration, stress and even sickness. People love weekend getaways or even a one-week trip, but three straight years?

“It’s not for everybody,” says Amanda. “But I would encourage people to travel and to not be afraid of the unknown, of borders and of different customs.” And what about the tug of war that comes with selling one’s possessions.

Richard breaks it down in logical terms.

“It’s a choice one makes and it’s not as hard when you’re getting something better in return.”

On Friday January 20, the Ligato’s will have a book signing starting at 7:30pm at the Otto Center, just outside the San Diego Zoo. Their book “Wide Eyed Wanderers” is $24.27. For more information visit www.vwvagabonds.com

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