Q&A: Eva zu Beck on Solo Travel, How to Plan for Big Adventures & More
The famous YouTuber shares what not to leave in the comments, overlanding highs and lows, and what she really thinks about Yellowstone National Park
Images courtesy Eva zu Beck
Eva zu Beck lives a life that many people fantasize about. With a knack for making even the scariest, most uncomfortable, and unconventional situations seem inviting, zu Beck has made wanderlust a career by documenting nearly every detail of her life on the road for her 747,000+ Instagram followers and the 1.6 million subscribers to her YouTube channel. A major part of the Polish traveler's appeal is that she manages to make living in the remotest parts of Pakistan or exploring the streets of Afghanistan appealing, even as a solo female traveler.
After years of popping in and out of destinations in the Middle East, Asia, and elsewhere, it was zu Beck's desire to travel at a slower pace and to get to know countries in a different way that led her to buying a Land Rover Defender 110, which she calls Odyssey, and converting it into a tiny home on wheels. Taking her travel routine to four wheels was something she never dreamed she could do—especially considering she didn't have a driver’s license until a few years ago.
Nevertheless, with license authorized and keys in hand, zu Beck set her sights on what she expects to be her biggest adventure yet (and that's saying something)—driving her Land Rover the length of the Americas from the top of Alaska to the southernmost tip of Patagonia.
Having just completed the US leg of the trip, which she’s calling Expedition Wild, Eva’s new life on the road as an overlander has been quite the adventure so far. From getting detained and handcuffed at the US-Mexico border to traveling the length of the Devil’s Highway, a 150-mile stretch of dangerously remote road that runs along the US-Mexico border, zu Beck’s adventure has been full of ups and downs, including forgetting crucial documents and gut-wrenching breakdowns. But zu Beck assures us that the journey's many soul-filling rewards make those small trails worth it (they also make it all a very captivating watch).
Recently, we caught up with zu Beck to ask her about her trip, the overlanding life, traveling solo as a woman, ultra running, and a whole lot more. Read on for the best of our conversation.
You’ve traveled solo through some pretty hardcore places—Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia. What drew you to driving from the top of North America to the bottom of South America?
There’s a huge difference between country-hopping and embarking on a single, continuous journey. After a few years jumping on planes and trains, and sleeping in a different hotel every night, I was ready to try something different. Driving the length of the Americas in my truck feels like a more sustainable journey—I have my tiny home on wheels with me at all times, I can travel with a dog, and I can do so without a set itinerary or fixed schedule. To me, this freedom is what adventure travel is truly all about.
What’s been the most challenging part of the trip so far?
Other people’s unsolicited advice. With a journey like this, a lot of people try to convince you it’s too big, too risky… impossible. I’ve had to learn to block out the noise and simply follow the voice of my heart. Overlanding is often thought of as something only guys can do. It’s “not safe” for women to do alone. What do you have to say about that?
Despite what much of the overlanding world would have you believe, you don’t have to be a mechanic or a professional rally driver to embark on a life changing road trip. As you go, you will continuously learn about your car, about navigating in foreign lands, and about yourself. Of course, as a woman, you’ll want to be extra careful about your safety—always keep your wits about you, don’t do anything you wouldn’t do back home, and listen to your gut. But don’t get discouraged by the voices of naysayers: most of them have never even attempted these kinds of adventures. If you really want to find out what it’s like, the only way is to go out there and try it.
You must have learned a lot of lessons living in your Land Rover, Odyssey.
Living in a small truck, I’ve had to cut back on most physical items, because there’s only so much space. Five years ago, I would have told you I couldn’t survive a week without my hairdryer. But, when you hit the road, a lot of these creature comforts suddenly become luxuries. You quickly learn that you don’t need many possessions to live comfortably, and every time you do get to experience a little luxury, you appreciate it so much more. Blow drying my hair feels positively decadent these days!
Alright, the one thing in Odyssey you can’t live without?
I really do appreciate the luxury of having a mini blender to make breakfast smoothies, as well as my LifeSaver water filter, which can make any water perfectly safe to drink.
You pretty much live your life on camera. What’s the one thing you wish people would stop asking you?
People always seem very curious about my toilet and shower situation on the road. It doesn’t take too much imagination to figure out how an overlander might be able to relieve herself while traveling!
"If you really want to find out what it’s like, the only way is to go out there and try it."
What do you hope people take away from watching your videos and following you on this journey?
With this expedition, I wanted to prove that anyone can go on an adventure. In fact, I believe everyone should get out there and experience adventures of their own, whether that means driving the length of a continent, or going camping in a nearby forest for the first time. Adventures help us reconnect to our own dormant strength and experience the kinds of challenges we rarely ever encounter in our very comfortable lives anymore. I hope that people will be able to look at me and say, “Well, if this girl who’s only had a driver’s license for five years can drive the Pan-American Highway alone in a notoriously unreliable car, then surely I can take on whatever challenge I aspire to.”
Controversial opinion here—you mentioned Yellowstone National Park was one of the most disappointing stops on your journey so far...
I had fallen for the classic trap of over-expectation with Yellowstone National Park. I expected to find the same place that I had seen on social media—of course forgetting that most Instagram photos are staged, heavily edited, and show only the top highlights while photoshopping out the crowds.
What I found was quite simply the reality, a national park so popular that it had basically become a giant parking lot. Granted, if you go off the beaten path, I’m sure you’ll find gems out there. But at the end of the day, national parks are nature, Disney-fied. They’re accessible to everyone, which does mean that a certain degree of infrastructure will infringe on your communion with nature out there. I prefer to seek out the spots that give me a sense of peace and connection, rather than the top charts of American nature.
"Adventures help us reconnect to our own dormant strength and experience the kinds of challenges we rarely ever encounter in our very comfortable lives anymore."
Fair enough. What destination totally surpassed your expectations then?
Nevada was one of those places I didn’t expect much of. Besides Las Vegas, it’s not renowned for much else. So, when I traveled on Highway 50 in Nevada—dubbed the Loneliest Highway in America—I hadn’t foreseen myself falling in love with the state. The desert landscapes made me feel like I was on another planet. The silence every single night was deafening, unlike anything else I’d ever experienced, and I had most spots completely to myself. The desert really does draw you in, and for me, Nevada had that perfect combination of empty, vast spaces, mountain landscapes, and good ol’ desolation.
What’s next on your itinerary?
Having driven all the way to my northernmost destination on the Arctic Coast of Alaska, I turned back around and started driving south. I’m currently preparing to spend an extended period in Mexico, learning Spanish and decompressing, before I head further into South America. At the outset of this trip, I felt a pressure to complete it within a set timeframe. But having done a bit of soul-searching recently, I’ve realized that this is the journey of a lifetime for me, and not something to be rushed. So, in 2023, I will be slowing down, embracing each micro-destination fully, and diving into Mexico with more intention.
How do you even begin planning a journey of this size? Especially solo.
Planning a journey of this scale is all about familiarizing yourself with the general rules of traveling across the Americas—just so you know what you’re getting yourself into—and then forgetting about the big picture. It can feel overwhelming to imagine yourself driving across 10+ countries across two continents over two years. The way I deal with this is I break up the trip into small, manageable chunks. I plan one 1,000 mile segment, go and drive it, and then move on to the next one. Little by little, each leg of the journey adds up, and eventually, you reach your destination.
Technically though, you are no longer a solo traveler. You have Vilk, your nine-month-old German Shepherd as your trusty companion. What’s that been like?
As a first-time dog owner, living on the road with a very energetic German Shepherd hit me like a ton of bricks. I think my greatest challenge was transitioning away from a very carefree lifestyle where I barely ever planned anything and into a lifestyle where you’re prioritizing another being over yourself. My priorities shifted very quickly, and I think the key for me was learning to adapt to this new set of (furry) circumstances. I wouldn’t change it for the world!
Quick—what are three things Vilk has taught you?
Better planning. Intentionality. Spontaneous joy.
One last question for the road, what are you reading right now?
I’m currently reading The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert, which tells the story of Eustace Conway, a man who left behind a very comfortable life in the suburbs to live self-sustainably in the woods and teach the world about Mother Nature.