Meet Brad, Sheena and Nacho

Driving through China is a pricey proposition. The couple will need to pony up a staggering $19,514 just to cover the fees.

Brad and Sheena Van Orden are in the midst of a life-defining campaign to travel around the world, and they're doing it in a 1984 Volkswagen Vanagon custom built for the occasion. The past 15 months have seen the couple quit their jobs with Gore-Tex and drive from Arizona to the very southern tip of Argentina after spending a full two years saving and preparing for the trek. Now they're in southern Asia gearing up for the next leg of their journey.

Currently, Brad and Sheena face two options when it comes to making their way west toward Greece. Right now, the couple plans to point their faithful van, Nacho, toward Cambodia and drive through Laos before entering China. No one said the Van Ordens were taking the direct route.

The only problem is that driving through China is a pricey proposition. The couple will need to pony up a staggering $19,514 just to cover the fees associated with obtaining a Chinese driver's license, registering Nacho in the People's Republic and paying for an official, government-required guide's food and lodging during their time in the country. Considering Brad and Sheena have budgeted $2,000 a month for their entire adventure, the price tag is a bit out of reach. Or at least it is without our help.

We caught up with the Van Ordens while they were stopped at a campground in Thailand for a quick chat.

Brad and Sheena met in high school during a mountain bike race and went on to build a traditional life for themselves with all the success and comfort that your mid-twenties can afford. But the couple couldn't help but feel something was out of place.

They've been kind enough to share their savings plan; you can find it on their website.

"We looked back at the last five years of our life and didn't have much to show for it," Brad said. "We said, 'We need to do something interesting before the rest of our life flashes before our eyes.'"

After a friend passed along a National Geographic Explorer article about a couple who had quit their day jobs to travel down through South America and up through Africa in a Volkswagen bus, Brad asked Sheena if she wanted to give it a shot. She said yes.

Sheena quickly turned her skills as an accountant toward finding every way possible to squeeze money out of their budget, from giving up their large rental home for a smaller place located closer to work, to riding their bicycles more often and skipping frivolous spending altogether. By the end of their two years of saving, the couple was spending less than $200 a month on non-essential items. They've been kind enough to share their savings plan, and you can find it here on their website.

"I didn't even know how a car worked until we decided to go on this trip," Brad says.

While on a business trip, Brad found the ideal vehicle: a 1984 two-wheel-drive Vanagon that had 200,000 miles on the odometer when he drove it home from Hollywood.

"You'd think I would have done more mechanic work before we started," Brad said, "but I just fixed the things that were broken on [the van] and just left it. We focused mostly on making it a comfortable place to live for three years."

While he didn't know much about mechanic work, he did know a thing or two about making the van more livable. He immediately rendered the entire interior in CAD and had all of the cabinet work machine cut. From there, he custom built a heat exchanger to provide hot water and a separate water purification system, complete with filters and a UV light, for the basics of civilization on the road. You can read all about Nacho's transformation and Brad's incredible ingenuity here.

"I didn't even know how a car worked until we decided to go on this trip," Brad says.

He bought some tools and a shop manual, and when things went awry, he started reading. If he couldn't figure it out on his lonesome, he turned to a few forums for a little help, but that doesn't mean the first few months were all smooth sailing. After a few rough run ins with shady mechanics, Nacho was breaking down every 100 miles or so. The final straw came in Colombia when Nacho decided it needed a new transmission. Unfortunately, Colombia had just passed a law barring the importation of used auto parts, which meant the Van Ordens would have to find a "new" gearbox to bring into the country.

They were forced to leave the van at a farm, fly home, find a suitable transmission, stuff it in a suitcase and haul it all the way back with a bit of legal vagary.

After three weeks of hunting, they were forced to leave the van at a farm, fly home, find a suitable transmission, stuff it in a suitcase and haul it all the way back with a bit of legal vagary. Brad also brought along a slew of other parts to replace everything that had been worked on during the trek south, and now Nacho is running as happily as can be.

After hitting southern Argentina, they loaded the van into a cargo container headed for Malaysia after a brief exchange with a money launder and flew to meet the machine. By then, Nacho had 299,999 miles on the clock.

But China presents a big financial challenge, and if they can't come up with the cash for the border crossings, they'll need to follow another route, one that will take them through both Pakistan and Iran. While the couple isn't necessarily worried about Iran, Pakistan has seen a number of foreigners kidnapped in recent months, and that's enough to create worry.

"There has to be an end sometime, and hopefully we can use the trip a springboard into a new frame of mind."

So, like any enterprising soul with an internet connection, they've fired up a Kickstarter to pay their way through China. Pledge some cash and you'll receive any number of excellent thank-yous, including a book all about Nacho's adventures along the old Silk Road through China, Tibet and into India. We can't think of a better way to spend a few dollars. Head over to Kickstarter to help out and be sure to check out the Van Orden's site. It's some compelling reading.

"Every day the landscape changes and we get to have these amazing experiences," Brad said. "Yesterday we were riding on a boat through limestone islands. Tomorrow will be something different. I don't know how we'll go back... There has to be an end sometime, and hopefully we can use the trip a springboard into a new frame of mind."

Here's hoping we can tag along for the ride, at least in spirit.

You can listen to the full interview with Brad and Sheena below. Please excuse the breaks in audio. Thai campground internet can be spotty.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 2 Years Ago
      • 2 Years Ago
      I’ve been staying out of it because I am generally annoyed with both sides. I encourage Brad and Sheena to follow their dreams. I understand taking the trip; I did a similar journey on a motorcycle starting 5 years ago and finishing not quite 2 years ago. Even though I sympathize in some way with them I do think there is something to many of the negative comments. If you put yourself out there that is something you have to deal with. That’s one reason I didn’t go the public route with my trip. I did my trip in spurts. Alaska to Argentina then time off to work and save. Then London to Prague in a circuitous route; then time off to work and save; then on to Asia. Trips like these are vanity projects and selfish. Mine was, yours is. You have to realize outside of your friends and family or people with the same dreams, the idea comes across as irresponsible and moronic……..because, well it is. Also let’s be honest many of our friends and family also feels that way behind our backs but they don’t voice it. It’s like the couple with the ugly baby; everyone says “how cute” to your face and then gets into their cars and remarks in private “what an ugly child”. It’s a selfish undertaking but one that was fantastic and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I am still debating and saving and planning to cycle Africa which I have not done yet. I will never regret my trip, but it didn’t change anyone’s life but mine. Making the trip into this world changing spiritual journey is disingenuous or hiding the truth from yourself. Your audience on the rest of the web is the complete opposite of those on your blog. The people are following your blog because they are friends with you or are fellow hipsters. The rest of the people in the world see a “hipster” couple shirking responsibility to take a trip more responsible people would not take. To top matter off you are currently on an automotive enthusiast site and you chose a hipster vehicle, not a practical one, which infuriates anyone who is familiar with cars. You are also asking for money to write a book that will then (hopefully) make you more money. My advice. Follow your dreams but don’t lie to yourself. Take this trip, enjoy, and make memories. You are not changing the world or writing great literature. It’s not the responsible choice, it’s not altruistic. It’s a selfish good time. Revel in that. Good luck.
      Rob Latino
      • 2 Years Ago
      really? autoblog is now advertising kickstarters? and an especially dumb one at that. i'll pass. thanks!
      Dane Grant
      • 2 Years Ago
      All though I love what they are doing.... I want to take my 1987 Volkswagen Golf GTI Cabriolet to Saint Tropez. I will need approximately 100,000euros to take the journey. Please send me money....
      • 2 Years Ago
      \"We can\'t think of a better way to spend a few dollars.\" Sounds like \"we\" needs to get a grip on reality and current events.
      • 2 Years Ago
      So, um.... Good luck in Pakistan, I guess.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Brad, You ask why people are so mean here, well welcome to the Internet! Don't be defensive, stop reading and just move along on your journey.
      • 2 Years Ago
      You have to be a ******* idiot to give money to someone so they can take a vacation. You also have no shame if you take it.
      Big Squid
      • 2 Years Ago
      They're getting ****-all from me.
      • 2 Years Ago
      I wish them well, but I don't have cash to spare for their adventure. Seeing how it's a Vanagon, I hope they have a big fire extinguisher. :-)
      • 2 Years Ago
      I call BULLSHIT. I LIVED IN CHINA for over a year for less cash, including rent, food, booze at nice clubs, taxis to and from said clubs all the way across a major city, several round trip tickets to the states, and a guide for several days to some nice chinese tourist attractions. BULLSHIT.
      • 2 Years Ago
      I think its high time they Splurge on a New Van ... Come on folks, treat yourselves ... it is 2013 !!!
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