An Inspirational Overland Family



Name: Jen Sparks

Age: 50

Nationality: USA


Name: Witt Sparks

Age: 47

Nationality: USA

Name: Quinn Sparks

Age: 9

Nationality: USA



Quinn (6), Jen & Witt enjoying natural hot springs in Northern Patagonia, Chile - November 2015


Countries Travelled :

US (all 50 states), Canada, New Zealand, Peru, Bolivia, England, Wales, France, Andorra, Spain, Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Gabon, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Cabinda, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Netherlands, Switzerland, Japan, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Chile, Argentina, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay, Scotland, Germany.

What inspired you to travel the way you do?

Our friends invited us to join them on their overland trip through Africa.  We were bitten by the bug and have enjoyed overland travel and slow travel ever since.

How did/do you plan your journey(s)?

We pretty much follow the steps that I’ve outlined in my book, Slow Travel : Escape the Grind and Explore the World





Current Overland Vehicle / Mode of Travel :

2001 Ford E-350 Van with 4x4 and pop-top camper conversion - see details of it here!



Witt, Jen, and Quinn (6) bush camping in their 2001 Ford E-350 Van Southern Peru,  May 2015.

Previous Overland Vehicle(s) / Mode of Travel :

LandRover Defender 110 with Technitop rooftop tent.

EXP52_JenniferSparks-Northern Angola May


The Sparks' Family old Landrover Defender 110 (Left Image : Western Sahara, January 2004) (Right Image : Northern Angola, May 2004)

Why did you pick your current overland vehicle to travel in?

We wanted to be able to live indoors if we wanted or needed to.  We knew that we would be traveling in colder climates and we wanted flexibility.  We needed a set-up that would allow 3 people to sit comfortably while on the road, to prepare meals and sit-down to eat them inside, and to sleep inside.  We also have gear to cook and eat outside.

What’s the best thing about your vehicle set up?

It expands (height-wise) when we’re parked and shrinks when it’s time to drive.


What’s the worst thing about your vehicle set up?

No toilet, though we don’t really miss it.

What would you change / add on to your vehicle if you could?

We have a diesel stove which we do not like.  We’re planning to swap it out for a propane stove in the near future.


Have you broken down on your trip or had an accident? If so, how did you resolve the situation?

We’ve broken down several times on both trips.  A combination of patience, flexibility, and creativity works every time.

How do you navigate? GPS / Sat Nav / Phone Apps Other?

We had a GPS Rhino on our Africa trip and it led us astray more times than we could count.  Now we use the PocketEarth App on our iPad (which has a GPS antenna in it).  While it doesn’t provide turn-by-turn instructions, it is great at letting you see the big picture so you can choose which way you want to go.




Witt replacing our wheel bearings in Chobe NP, Botswana, July 2004



What is your sleeping set up and why have you chosen this system? :

We have 3 beds in our van.  Upstairs we have a queen-sized bed and a child-size single bed.  Downstairs, our seating area converts to a full-size bed.  We use (double or single) lightweight sleeping bags with sleeping bag liners to fit the bags.  For cold climates, we use our 3-season bags inside our lightweight bags for extra warmth.


Can you offer any advice to help travellers ensure they get a great nights sleep?

A comfortable bed with good ventilation is key for camping in warm/hot climates.  Bring earplugs for city camping (if you must do it).  Seek out quieter spots when possible.  We love bush camping most of all.




What is your current / previous career?


Do you work on the road? If so, what do you do and how does it affect your travel? Do you have any advice for anyone looking to do the same?


How do you fund and budget for your travels?

We saved for our first overland trip and lived off of our savings.  We saved for our second overland trip, too, but my husband, Witt, was offered a job part-way through so we lived off of those earnings instead of our savings for the latter part of that trip.




Witt replacing our wheel bearings in Chobe NP, Botswana, July 2004



What are the most useful items whilst travelling?

iPad, camera, camp chairs, patience and a positive attitude.

What has been the most pointless item(s) you have taken with you travelling?

Our diesel stove, our bicycles (we didn’t have a great way to store them)

On our first trip we brought a carton of cigarettes to use as bribes.  We never used them and we no longer believe in bribery at all.

Do you have any luxury / unusual items you take with you travelling? 

In some places we’ve visited, just about everything that we have with us (including the vehicle) is a luxury item.  We try to keep our stuff down to just what we need.





Describe a moment you felt most happiest when travelling :

Too many to count.  We are almost always very happy when travelling.  I always love waking up in our van to the sounds of the birds chirping.

Describe a time you felt nervous / uncomfortable / scared when travelling?

When we were awoken at 3am by a group of armed men dressed in black.  They were just checking that we were ok and wanted to know why we were there but it got our blood pumping all the same.

How do you cope with situations which are difficult or could involve conflict when on the road?

Patience, a positive attitude, and an open mind

What has been the best experience you have had with locals when travelling?

A well-dressed businessman spent a whole day helping us find a spare tire when we were in Casablanca, Morocco.  He voluntarily cancelled/rescheduled all of his meetings for the day just to help some strangers at a gas station (us).

Which country / area would you love to revisit and why?

We would go back to Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, Botswana, Zambia, and New Zealand in a heartbeat.  We had great experiences in those places and would love to visit again.



Quinn (5) and Jen roasting marshmallows in Ecuador, December 2014.

What’s it like to travel ; with your partner / family / solo?

Traveling as a couple taught us that we balance each other out well.  We discovered how resilient we are and how to balance each other’s quirks and low moments. 

Traveling with our son was much harder than we’d expected.  We had another opinion to factor in to every decision that we made.  We all adjusted and were able to travel for 2.5 years together.  That’s a long time to go without having a babysitter!  (Our son has severe food allergies, so we couldn’t just leave him with anyone).

Can you give any advice to those looking to travel with others?

Take breaks from each other if you need it.  Make time to recharge.



After putting our van on a boat in Colón, Panama (to go to Cartegena, Colombia), we took the Panama Canal Railway back to Panama City.  September, 2014.

Name a couple of things you’ve learned on the road which you wouldn’t have ordinarily learned when at home?

How to deal with frequent police stops and border officials.  Maintain a friendly smile, an open mind, and have a lot of patience.  Don’t ever bribe as it’s insulting to honest police officers, it encourages dishonest police officers, and it means future travellers will likely have more difficulty because of it.

What skills would you like to learn to help you on your travels?

I am continually learning languages.  I’m not a natural by any means, but I like learning and I practice when I can.

Any recommended websites or resources which has helped you with your trip?

Horizons Unlimited was really helpful during our Africa trip.  For our PanAm trip, the PanAm Travellers FB group was our most helpful resource.

Do you record your journey? If so, what advice can you offer others who are looking to do the same?

We document our travels on WhenSparksFly.org mainly for ourselves, our friends and our family.  It’s totally worth the effort to have it as a reminder of our adventures. I wrote my book, SLOW TRAVEL (link), to provide easy-to-follow steps for those who want to travel. 

What’s it like to return from such an epic adventure to the “normal” world? Any advice for readers?

It helps if you are truly ready to return.  Culture shock is real even in your hometown so be patient with yourself and others through the transition.  If possible, plan your trip to give yourself as much flexibility as possible upon your return.  Travel will change you if you let it and you might not have the same priorities when you return.  Be willing to change and adjust your life accordingly.

What is your favourite road tripping song?

“Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley, “Send Me on My Way” by Rusted Root, “Band on the Run” by Wings.

What do you miss about a regular not-on-the-road lifestyle?

Our friends and our family.




Quinn (6) on Brazilian beach (Santa Catarina Island), September 2015.


What advice would you give to other travellers to help them stay mentally and physically healthy on the road:

Take breaks and slow down as much as you need to.  Your enjoyment of your travels will increase and you’ll last longer on the road.



Quinn (6), Witt & Jen sea kayaking in Patagonia.  October 2015.


What is your go to snack when travelling :

We don’t really have a go-to snack or meal.  We eat whatever is fresh and locally available. One-pot meals are worth mastering

What has been the best and worst food you have had whilst travelling?

Best :  Mole dishes in Oaxaca (actually just about all the food in Mexico)

Worst :  Mopane worms in Africa




Do you feel travelling has changed you? If so in what way?

Oh yes.  I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore.  I’ve learned that things have a way of working out. 

Best piece of advice you have been given for your travels?

Talk with locals and other travellers who have recently been where you are going to get sound advice on where to go and what to do.  Also, always trust your gut.


Worst piece of advice you have been given about your travels?

Negative advice of any kind by people who haven’t travelled where I’m going.

What is your next step travel wise?

We are currently spending the summer in the UK.  Our next stop is Germany before we return home to Colorado for a while so our son can go to school with his friends and spend time with his grandparents while they are still active and healthy.  I’m not sure when our next overland trip will be, but we do have several trip ideas that we’re considering.


One piece of advice you would offer to wannabe travellers :

Travel with an open heart – it will make all the difference.




Jen, Quinn (6), and Witt in Northern Peru.  February 2015.

A big thank you goes out to the Sparks family from the whole team at EXP52 for participating in this interview! We hope you enjoyed reading through their travel tales and worldly advice - don't forget to follow them to keep track of their latest adventures!


Websites: WhenSparksFly.org 



Facebook: WhenSparksFly3 & SlowTravelAdventurers

Instagram: @SlowTravel_4u

Books / Publications: Slow Travel : Escape the Grind and Explore the World