When Nicolas Chazee and Mathilde Vougny were brought together by a mutual friend during a house party in 2015, the conversation quickly turned to their shared love of travel.
The pair, who were both studying for their master’s degrees in Brussels, Belgium got on so well that they began planning their first date there and then – a road trip around the country.
“It all started with a road trip in Belgium,” says 29-year-old Chazee, who was born in Thailand. “Ever since, we’ve always been doing road trips and weekends (away) together.”
After a few years of taking short trips around Europe, the couple decided they wanted their next journey to last much longer, and began looking into the prospect of taking a year-long road trip around the world.
“The idea was, ‘How can we continue this trip forever?’” says Vougny, also 29, from France. “And I guess we both had this dream in us, but we were thinking it was unachievable.”
Once they’d done some extensive research into the idea, they realized that their shared dream was indeed achievable, provided they tightened their belts and made some lifestyle changes.
“It kicked in that it was actually possible,” says Vougny, explaining that they realized they’d need to be away for at least three years to cover all of their desired destinations. “And we didn’t want to (get to the end of our lives) without having done something like that.”
The determined couple gave themselves three years to save up enough money to travel across seven continents and 88 countries, covering around 300,000 kilometers, by car.
They cut down their spending considerably and arranged for a large percentage of their monthly salary to be transferred to a separate account every month.
“We were actually very strict,” says Chazee, explaining that they used various apps to track their spending, cut down their restaurant and bar outings, and sold most of their belongings. “We stopped buying anything. We changed the way we live a bit.”
In August 2020, they bought a 2012 Land Rover Defender, which they named Albatross, and converted it into a “tiny house on wheels,” complete with a pull-out bed, a sofa and a pop-up roof.
By the time they reached their three-year deadline, the couple were slightly short of their target (they’d calculated that they’d need roughly 30,000 euros per year) but decided to go ahead with the trip anyway.
“There was so much to plan,” says Chazee. “We were busy until the last minute.”
In 2021, they launched a YouTube channel, NextMeridian.Expedition, focused on their adventures on the road, and posted a video of one of their test trips.
They set off from France on April 18, 2022, and “did a loop” through Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Norway and Finland.
While sharing their progress on their YouTube and social media accounts, Chazee and Vougny found that they were inundated with invitations from followers offering them a place to stay, and decided to take one up on it while they were in Denmark.
“We were chatting around dinner, and we learned more about the country in one night than (we had) in two weeks of travelling,” Vougny says of that first stay.
“This one man just gave us so much information about the place.”
From that point, they decided that they would say “yes” to as many invitations as they could, a choice that has opened up many doors along the way.
“Each country we go to, we have a lot of people inviting us to their place or giving us places to go visit,” says Chazee.
“So we have a long list of names with the people who’ve invited us.”
At the end of their Europe journey, they shipped Albatross to Halifax, Canada and briefly returned to France.
In July 2022, they flew to Canada to collect their vehicle, and drove all the way over to Alaska, before heading across Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Arizona.
From there, they traveled to California, before driving to Mexico, and then on to Central America.
The couple then drove through Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, where they shipped Albatross to Colombia.
After heading to Colombia to pick up Albatross, they continued on to Ecuador, and were on their way to Peru at the time of writing.
Since beginning their trip, Chazee and Vougny have spent at least one night in almost every country they’ve traveled through, aside from El Salvador.
“Our objective for each country is to go to somebody’s house, spend a night or two, learn as much as we can from the country,” says Chazee. “Meet the locals, taste the food, and learn about the cultural tradition.
“Because we’ve noticed that it bonds the memory even stronger than seeing a waterfall or a mountain.”
The couple say they’ve been offered a bed for the night by at least 30 people in Australia and around 50 in Chile.
“A lot of people invite us, and it’s hard to pick,” adds Chazee. “But we always try to at least do one. For each country we go to, we always try to find a local person that sticks the country flag on Albatross.”
While they’ve been having the time of their lives, the couple has suffered a few setbacks during the journey.
They were forced to stay in Mexico for several weeks longer than planned after Chazee suffered a knee injury and had to undergo surgery.
They’ve also had some mechanical issues with Albatross and had parts flown in from Europe to the US at one stage.
“People joke that if you have a Land Rover, you’re also going to end up being a mechanic,” says Chazee.
“And that is quite true. I’ve learned so many things I didn’t know. I wasn’t a mechanic before, I could just do the basics, like tire changes and checking filters.
“But now I actually know how to change spare parts and I’m not scared to put my hands in and just unbolt everything and try to build it back up.”
Aside from the car problems, the couple says that the extreme weather conditions they’ve experienced have been among their biggest challenges so far.
“You’re so much more vulnerable to climate and weather (in the vehicle),” explains Vougny.
“In Central America it was skyrocketing humidity rates during the day, for five months. You get a bit drained by that. And in the USA, it was the reverse.”
Chazee, who recalls “sweating almost every night and every day” during their time in Central America, says he’s very happy to currently be up in the mountains of Ecuador.
Once they’ve reached Peru, they’ll begin making their way to Argentina, before heading over to Antarctica.
The next leg of their trip will take them through Australia and then on to Asia.
If things go to plan, the final stage of their trip will see them drive across Africa, before finishing up back in Europe.
Chazee says he’s particularly looking forward to exploring Africa in-depth, describing it as his “favourite continent.” While they’re well over a year into their journey, the pair say they’ll likely have to extend their trip for up to a year due to the delays they’ve incurred.
Although their savings probably wouldn’t have been enough to cover this, the couple explain that they’ve been able to pay for some sections of the trip through donations to their Patreon account.
They’ve also been working with a number of partners, including a ship expedition company.
Vougny and Chazee say they often find themselves mulling over what may lie in store for them once they’ve completed their mammoth trip around the world and are incredibly excited about the future.
“You don’t have so much time when you’re at work,” explains Chazee. “But we have so much time to think.
“We have tons of entrepreneurial ideas, life goals, life objectives or ideas that really could be interesting.”
For now, they’re focusing on enjoying every moment of their incredible adventure and taking each day as it comes.
“We keep all these ideas in the back of our heads,” adds Chazee. “And then in three, or four years, we’ll see what happens.
“We can’t predict anything yet, because there’s so much ahead of us.”