Journal: This Family Has Been On An Unbelievable 16-Year Road Trip

This Family Has Been On An Unbelievable 16-Year Road Trip

Máté Boér By Máté Boér
May 31, 2016

Photography by Máté Boér

It started as a long-awaited, six months backpack tour from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Alaska, but it suddenly turned out to be a road trip. It’s now been more than 16 years from behind the wheel of  this antique 1928 Graham-Paige.

Petrolicious has said (many times) that cars were made to be driven, and it always promotes road trips and the lifestyle that comes with it—but the story of the Argentinian couple, Herman and Candelaria Zapp made me to stand in silence, listen and wonder. I had the godsend to meet them during the Goldtimer Day near Budapest. And after reading their story, you may quit your job and start a new life!

The Zapp’s advice for would-be dreamers: “Begin!” The story of the always smiling, and very open Argentinean couple started immediately with an incredible twist. The black and blue 1928 Graham-Paige Model 612 is their first car, they were not really into cars and only chose to travel by car, because of its practical aspects—as if you could find any practical aspects in travelling by a partly-restored, rare antique car…

Herman bought the car only a couple of months before the January 25, 2000, the departure date. The Graham had a short test ride around Buenos Aires on the 24th after a friend helped to repair the most important things…and they were off the next day. Thirty-five miles later, they had to stop due to the strange noise of the rear left wheel. A locksmith helped, and taught Herman how to repair and take care about the wooden spokes.

Their whole trip is fulfilled by surprises and “accidents” like that, all the while with miles and countries slowly ticking by.

The Zapp family grew and grew along the way, they are six, together with the car, and each child was born in another country during the trip—this is why three of them have different nationalities. When I ask Herman about the kids’ education, he just smiles and asked me: “Which school will bring you to dive at the Great Barrier Reef, then to see the Pyramids in Egypt, and go across the whole of Europe? Just look at our backyard today—” —and he gestured to the the vintage aeroplanes, oldtimer cars, and many people sitting on the grass of the Budaörs airfield in Budapest. “The more you see, the more you want to see, and you’ll realize that there are so many interesting things in the world and so little time to see and enjoy them.”

“W  gave up our jobs, but didn’t give up our life! Before this lifestyle, I couldn’t write five pages about my last 20 years, now I could write a chapter every week. We started as tourists with a few grand in our pockets, then we ran out of money a couple of months later and became travellers. During the trip, we stayed for one or two nights at more than 1,800 families, we made thousands of friends, received a lot of help. We believe that our children learn a lot about life.”

And what about the Graham? It keeps on going like an faithful mule. The Zapps travel on back roads to see more, to inhale each country. They are not in a hurry, their pace is around 50 km/h (30 mph),  and covered already a bit more than 300,000 kilometers (~186,000 miles). The chassis has been repainted three times (in Mexico, Kenya and in the Philippines), there were unlimited amounts of small reparations and a couple of longer workshop visits, like the last one this year in Romania.

As Herman says: “I think and feel that you shouldn’t worry about parts for the car, you need to worry about life…this doesn’t have any replacement”. The wooden wheels are original, except the rear left, which had to be changed in New Zealand. The Graham-Paige even cooks for the family while on the road, an exhaust manifold–installed DIY cooker heats up the water for boiled eggs or sausages. “Twenty-five kilometers is enough for soft boiled eggs, 55 kilometers for the hard boiled ones,” says Herman. The car is also their house, if the Zapps decide to sleep on the road. The parents have a comfy place by reclining the front seats, the four kids can sleep in a tent on the roof. The rear seat is their kindergarten, playground, and bookshelf. “No question, the car is part of my family and will always be,” adds Cande.  

The Zapp’s plan to stop in 2017, because their first son, Pampa, turns 14 soon and will go to school— maybe—in Buenos Aires. Until then, Europe is their last continent to conquer. If you see them along the way, do not hesitate to say, “Hello”—I’m very glad I did.

A special thanks to the Zapp family. You can follow them on Facebook and online; in the coming months they are on the road up to Norway. They’ve written a book called “Spark Your Dream” about the first four years of traveling.

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Zold FuluManuel FigueiredoMáté BoérHitTheApexDavid Walker Recent comment authors
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Zold Fulu

Whoah, I think I met them in Brussels last year, they were among the honoroued guests of Interclassics Brussels (in addition to 5 national museums who did their best to represent 🙂 ).

I took this video when they left the main hall at the end of the day..

Manuel Figueiredo
Manuel Figueiredo

Amazing! With 4 kids!? All growing up in the back of the car!? Amazing! I love road trips and read about but this is just amazing! Keep on moving family!

D Walker
D Walker

You didn’t touch on how they pay for things. I presume they stop every so often and find temporary work?


I finished reading the article with the exact same thought.


I remember when they were in Kenya and even participated in the Concours d’Elegance

Horacio Romeo
Horacio Romeo

I know about the Zapps since the Graham wasn’t still extended, or the family! Keep on travelling, guys!

Douglas Anderson
Douglas Anderson

GS , you are so far off base with your latest load of crap I just gotta call you out. Believe me if we were sitting next to each other in a bar I’d knock you on your ass if you spouted off this none sense !
Who the hell are you to run your mouth about somebody’s adventure and life style . Just when did Petrolicious hire you to be the editor in chief of what they write !
I read this site everyday , but rarely comment. With this one you are just plain wrong !

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

Well yippee freaking DoDa deal I say ! Families have been going down this route in boats [ specifically wooden sailboats ] since the beginning of time which is a hell of a lot more dangerous , as well as folks going solo via M/C at about then times the risk .. but this is the first I’ve heard of such an adventure [ if one can call it that ] with a family in a classic car . Honestly …. so what ! From the very inception of the automobile families , individuals and couples have been traveling across… Read more »

Dan Picasso
Dan Picasso

Good grief…please find a different site to spit up on. You’re an embarrassment to yourself.

Michael Banovsky
Michael Banovsky

I liked the collective “barely worthy of our attention”. And don’t assume the ‘press’ hasn’t already considered its story options: This Family Has Been On An Unbelievable 16 Year Road Trip vs This Man Slings Vitriol And Guitars But Is Definitely Not On An Unbelievable 16 Year Road Trip Kidding aside, I think it’s easy to make the leap that just because something has been done before in the past or is possible doesn’t mean it’s common, or not worthy of a closer look. When we’re talking about years (16!) of a family’s life, I’m not sure that ratcheting up… Read more »