Q&A with Joe & Stef: London Designers Exploring South America
As part of our goal to make life easier for bus travelers, we contact travelers who’ve had firsthand experiences around the world.
Meet Joe Harrison and Stef Hacking, a couple taking a short break from their design careers in East London to explore South America. Over the course of 8 months this year, they are exploring eight countries, mainly by bus.
We caught up to them in Uruguay to ask a few questions about their trip.
1. You’re both originally from London, UK. What drew you to South America? Was it the culture, the language? The fact that it was on a different continent?
Stef: For us, it seemed to be the continent with the biggest contrast between countries. From stunning beaches to glaciers, mountain treks to jungles, small fishing villages to mega cities. The variety is staggering, and it’s what drew us to South America.
Joe: We wanted to travel somewhere that felt far removed from the UK from a cultural perspective. Learning new languages, eating native foods, meeting different people and seeing the traditions of others were all key instigators for our trip. London is an incredible city, but the world is far too big and exciting to just stay in one place.
2. As career designers, how do you think traveling impacts the way you see things? Do you feel like you approach traveling differently from other people? Do you take a closer look at how digital technology is displayed and used in foreign countries, or how spaces are used?
Joe: As designers, drawing visual inspiration from our surroundings comes as second nature to us, so changing those surroundings is the best way to generate new ideas and inspiration. The trip was not strictly for design purposes, but as designers it’s often difficult to separate the two. Visiting places that are less technologically advanced helps you to reconnect with face-to-face interaction. On the other hand, its revealed potential in places where digital design solutions could drastically improved the quality of life. I’ve no doubt when I come back there will be some digital project ideas, but I’m just taking it all in for now.
Stef: South America’s architecture and design would be facinating for anybody, let alone an interior designer – the colours, materials, textures, building techniques, and of course the incredible natural settings are a refreshing contrast from those back in the UK. From favelas in Rio, beach shacks in Uruguay to historic bars in Buenos Aires, travelling South America has generated a log of fresh inspiration that I’m excited to apply to future projects.
3. A few travelers in the Busbud community have embarked on epic, month-long journeys, but they are far and few between. How did you decide to take 8 months away from your “regular life”? And how did it feel to plan (or not plan) for such a trip, and were you apprehensive about taking so much time away from friends, family and work?
Joe: This kind of trip has taken us a long time to plan, around 4 years. Not just financially, but in terms of career timing for both of us. Luckily design is an incredibly flexible and dynamic career, and one that benefits from exploring different cultures and countries. For us to be able to go, we both had to make sure it was the right time. I went freelance so that when it was time for Stef to wrap up her last project in her job, we were both ready to go.
Stef: I think we’re very lucky to be able to do such a trip whilst keeping contacts back in London, but I think the past 4 years we’ve been setting ourselves up to make it possible through both patience and hard work. Our hiato.co.uk blog has definitely been beneficial for friends and family to keep up-to-date with our travels, and not feel too disconnected from our lives back in the UK.
Joe: In terms of planning our route, we opted for the ‘big loop’ of South America, with Rio Carnival as a perfect starting point. From there we knew we’d probably travel south towards Argentina, but the only thing we booked on the trip was our apartment in Rio and the inca Trek in May. Everything else we’ve researched and planned along the way as we wanted to keep things flexible and see how the places feel before moving on. With such huge distances to cover and so much to see, at first it was a little daunting, but now 6 weeks in we’ve found keeping flexible is still the best way to travel.
4. It was your first time visiting Rio and participating in Carnival. How was the experience, and what surprised you about this week long celebration?
Joe: Rio carnival was crazy. Just a party on a different scale. At first it was a little intimidating due to the sheer amount of people, the heat, and the city being new to us. Once we got into the swing of things and met some Cariocas (Rio locals) we got fully involved. We attended many Blocos (street parties), got dressed up and loved every moment. The people were super friendly and the atmosphere was amazing. It was the perfect way for us to start our 8 month adventure.
Stef: Visiting the Sambadrome was a really special for us; the colours, costumes and floats were incredible. Another highlight was being invited by our Airbnb host to a less well known Bloco on Paquetá Island in Guanabara bay. One thing that surprised us about carnival was how early the party gets started! Often 7am right through to the early hours. The celebrations are definitely not for the faint hearted!
5. On your blog, you shared a picture of what you packed for your South American trip. I was surprised at how much you could fit in a PacSafe VentureSafe! Which items do you consider essential in your backpack, and why?
Joe: We spent a lot of time refining and updating our pack list. We wanted to travel as light as possible. On a 8 month trip like ours, every item had to earn its place, and had to be as compact and light as possible. There’s also pretty much every climate to accommodate for, so naturally picking up a few things along the way is inevitable, but getting the essentials right (such as backpack, walking boots or raincoat) for us, was critical.
Stef: The PacSafe bags seemed to be perfect for us – great quality, excellent anti-theft features, side loading and really strong zips. Your pack is such an important item to get right and so far they are doing a great job. The most useful items we’ve found so far have been factor 60 sunscreen(!), our multi country travel adapters, a decent portable power charger, and for me my sarong and Joe his Havaianas. And of course our cameras! These are now sacred to us (we have an Olympus OM-D, a GoPro Hero+ and a Canon point and shoot).
6. You’ve brought along material to document your travels. What are you hoping to accomplish with this trip? Is there an artistic vision behind the moments that you capture?
Stef: There’s no real agenda for the content were collecting as we go, but often the best way to open up opportunities is through a personal project like our blog. When we’re back in London and people ask what we’ve done all year, hiato.co.uk is such an easy way to communicate our experiences. However, you never know who you’re going to meet and we always have an open mind for collaboration with others. So in other words, watch this space!
Joe: The decision to bring a laptop was a tough one as we wanted to try to disconnect from screens as much as possible, but it’s actually been really nice to document our trip in the way we have. Often things are happening so quickly that there’s no time to reflect, and the blog retains permanent record of our experiences, not just for ourselves but our friends and family too. We’re hoping to create a video at the end trip and summarise each country. Hopefully it we be useful for anyone doing a similar journey to ours, and inspiration for others who are thinking of exploring South America.
7. Finally, at Busbud, our mission is to make the world a more accessible place by giving travelers access to more information, which can in turn lead to better travel decisions. I’m guessing you believe a lot in the benefits of travel and seeing the world. Can you share the main reasons why you travel, and why you think people should travel more?
Joe: The cliche answer is that travel broadens the mind. This is of course true but I think there’s many other reasons to travel. Some people want a change from the everyday, some want to meet new people, others are looking for a fresh start from careers or relationships. It seems everyone has different motives, but one thing they have in common is that it’s never something they regret.
Stef: When traveling, every day is an adventure, and you have no idea what experiences the next one will bring. It breaks you out of routine and helps you to understand different ways of living. When working full-time and balancing commitments it can be difficult to live in the now, and travel does just this. It helps you to appreciate what a precious commodity time really is, as well as appreciating what you have back home. Lastly, for us, we think its a great test of trust and patience, and definitely helps to create stronger relationships with the people you travel with.
Joe: This trip has been the best decision we’ve ever made. We’re learning from new experiences every day and are developing not just as designers, but as people too. We urge anyone thinking of doing a similar thing to jump on a bus or plane and make it happen – we know they won’t regret it.
Thank you Stef and Joe!
You can follow their adventures on their blog hiato.co.uk