The Great Departure
Article updated on 05.29.22

The Great Departure: USA -> Panama

First stop, Seattle

Tuesday, May 3, 2022 - A trip that doesn't go quite as planned

5:30 am, the alarm clock rings, we pack our last luggage in the car and we leave from Vevey station. Audrey’s parents and her sister accompany us to the train departure. Tears of sadness and excitement are present. This is it, the D-day is finally here!

Arrived at the airport of Geneva, we go to the check-in desk to register our luggage. The lady tells us that she is not sure that our second flight will accept the skates attached to our hand luggage… fortunately Benji still had room in his suitcase to store them inside.

10:30 am, we fly to Paris with AirFrance. We knew that we had only 1h30 of stopover to make the change in Paris. It seemed perfect. Except that we didn’t expect to be a few minutes late and the airport to be so crowded. When we got out of the plane, we saw a huge line to go through customs. A sign indicates 30 minutes of waiting. Well… that should be good since we heard that the gate was right next to the customs. Time is passing and we still haven’t passed the customs. The boarding of our plane opens at 12:15 and takes off at 13:10. It’s 12:40 and we finally get through to the other side, except that at this time, the Gate number is no longer noted on the boards as the boarding is over… panic! We ask several employees on our way and they tell us that we have to take a train… panic! We run to catch the train and in two seconds we are there, but we still have to pass the security… paniiiiic! Audrey had kept some water in her water bottle so she had her bag searched but the employee took pity on her and made the control very quickly. We take our things, run, take an escalator, run, sweat… After a marathon through the airport, we finally arrived at our Gate. There is no one left, except two hostesses. They congratulate us for having succeeded in catching our flight. We made it! We fly to Seattle, yay!

Our flight goes very well, the hosts and hostesses are very nice. During the flight, we even have the right to a glass of champagne, wine and a liqueur. Perfect after all these adventures.

At the airport in Seattle, we take a train to the city center to go to the Green Tortoise Hostel, where we booked our first two nights.

Geneva Airport


Champagne = happy kids

View from the room of our hostel in Seattle

Searching for our future home and visiting Seattle

The next day, the jet lag is at its appointment. After the breakfast, we do some research on the internet for our future vehicle. Before leaving, we had already seen a tuck-camper 3 hours away from Seattle and luckily, it is still available. We contact the person who sells it and fix an appointment on Thursday.

After this research, we went to discover the city of Seattle. First stop, buy a good coffee at Cherry Street Coffee House. Then, a little walk to discover this beautiful city and its changing architecture between each alley.

A good coffee at Cherry Street Coffee House

Stroll through the streets of Seattle

Seattle Great Wheel

At noon, we go to the Public Market, a covered market with food stalls, flowers and small artisans. We sit down with a chicken Terriaki on a table with a nice sunshine to accompany us. Then, we go back to walk along the water.

Space Needle

The streets of Seattle

Public Market Center

Seattle Public Library

Downtown Seattle

If we buy the vehicle, we must have cash. The person who sells it is an old lady and doesn’t know PayPal or bank transfers… old school… The problem is that in the USA, it is not possible to withdraw more than 500$ or 1000$ per withdrawal at the ATM… We had already taken some dollars from Switzerland, but we didn’t want to carry too much cash with us. During the afternoon, we went to 3-4 banks to see if it was possible to withdraw more money than at the bancomat. One of the banks offered us to do a “cash advanced”, that is to say to withdraw a certain amount directly at the counter. We were so happy to have found a solution, but when it came time to pay, our card was refused. Bad luck, we can only try once a day. We will try again the next day, after having contacted our bank to increase the withdrawal limit.


We have a very good first impression of this city.  We find it very beautiful. There are lots of small streets, all of different style.

Two things impressed us though:

1) The cost of living: The prices are the same as in Switzerland and you still have to add a 10% tax on each purchase when you pay.

2) The number of homeless people and drug addicts in the streets. Nothing too bad, but unusual for us. Maybe we are living in a little bubble in Switzerland.

Smith Tower

Waterfall Garden

Departure to Yakima

It’s time for us to leave the city and go see our future house on wheels. We get up early because we have a long way to go and a lot of things to do before that.

First of all, we go back to the same bank as yesterday in order to make a “cash advance” withdrawal.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. So we have to go on our plan B: to withdraw money in the ATMs. We started to hunt at the ATMs to withdraw 500, 800 and 1000 dollars in order to have the money to pay the car if we are interested in it.

We rented a small Kia, went to the hostel to get our luggage and left in the direction of Yakima which is 2h30 away, without traffic jams… After 5 hours of driving, we arrived at our destination at the end of the afternoon. We are in the real small American village in the countryside. The person who sells the vehicle is accompanied by his neighbors and a friend.

We visit the vehicle. We like it, but we have some mechanical problems. We ask if we can take it to a garage to have it inspected. The person who sells it agrees, if we take care of the inspection costs. We will take it to the garage together the next day. In the meantime, we decide to find a motel to spend a good night, to think and to take a decision for the purchase or not of this vehicle.

Chevrolet Garage

We do some research and find a Chevrolet garage that agrees to do a complete check of the car. After an hour of inspection, the verdict is in: the car is fine but a complete service has to be done, the brakes have to be changed and a leak has to be plugged. All this for a total of 2000$.

After discussion with the person selling the car, we come to an agreement so that we don’t have to pay more than the price that was on the ad. So we go ahead and buy the vehicle.

Since they didn’t have available space right away, the garage gave us a 5-day deadline to do the work. A delay that satisfies us since we have to do all the administrative work to get the plates and insurance. We decide to leave the car at the garage all weekend and come back to pick it up once the repairs are done.

In order to finalize the purchase, we have to go to the bank with the person selling the car. We get rid of our numerous bundles of money that we had hidden in our bag, under our t-shirts. Here we are with a few kilos less 😉

And here we are, we bought our house on wheels! Now we just have to manage the administrative side of things…

Our new home on wheels

The same day, we go back to Seattle to return the rental car (which cost us an arm and a leg) and stay there the following days to continue to visit the city and finalize the administration of the car.

Registration and insurance

We still have to insure and register the vehicle. It may seem simple, but nevertheless… we lost some hair.

First thing, to insure a vehicle, it is necessary to have a postal address in the USA. Thanks to an acquaintance of Audrey, Laura, we had the chance to have the contact of her brother, Chris. He lives in the Seattle area and agreed to “lend” us his address. We are very grateful to Laura and Chris for their invaluable help.

After some online research, we chose an insurance company that accepts foreign drivers’ licenses. On their website, we filled out an online form, but it didn’t work, so we had to do it by phone. Luckily, we have a Swiss phone subscription that allows us to call the USA for free. We spent 1 hour on the phone with an employee and when we were about to finalize the file we encountered a first problem. The person asked us for our phone number, but it was impossible to register with a foreign number. We had to go to the city to get a local number.

Once said, once done. After some research and a little walk in different phone stores, we finally have a phone number and can call the insurance company to finalize our file.

Back on the phone with the insurance company, we spend another hour talking with a representative (impossible to get the same one as the first call) until he hangs up without warning… We call back and explain our situation. Again we spend some time on the phone before the person hangs up again before finalizing… Incomprehensible… Third try! We call back and explain our situation again. The person apologizes and we finalize our file. After more than 3 hours on the phone, it’s good we have our insurance for the pickup and the camper. Youhouuuu

In parallel, we also had to register the vehicle.

In the state of Washington, when registering a vehicle, a tax of 10% of its value must be paid. In addition, the person registering the vehicle must have a Washington State driver’s license.

Through several hours of internet research, we found a company ( based in the state of Montana that offers to do all the registration paperwork remotely. The advantages: no taxes, no need for a local driver’s license and no need to go spend several hours in the registration offices.

So we contacted Matt from by email. He explained the process and gave us a 5 days deadline to receive the plates at the FedEx destination of our choice. To do so, we have to send him all the vehicle’s papers and sign several documents online via a software. Within this time frame, Matt creates an LLC in our name (OnVagabonde LLC 😉 ).

An LLC is a flexible form of business that allows us to legally own the vehicle without having to pay taxes in the country. It will also allow us to do everything electronically and not have to travel all the way to Montana to do these administrative steps.

Basically, we don’t have to pay any taxes, we don’t have to wait in any registration offices, and we will receive the plates the same day the car leaves the garage. What could be better?

Next Tuesday, we leave for Yakima by bus (much cheaper than renting a car). Our pickup is supposed to be ready and the plates are waiting for us in a FedEx office.

Once there, our plates are indeed there and the car is ready. Except that at the time of the payment, we notice that the price is lower than expected… surprising for a garage. We look more in detail and notice that they did not do everything that was planned. So we have to wait until the end of the day for them to finalize all the work.

Our Montana plates

Getting to know the vehicle

That’s it, we have our house on wheels ! We leave to find our first spot to sleep in direction of Seattle, with the purpose of going to IKEA the following day and to arrange our Camper partly.

After our stop at Ikea, we stay two days in a camping. This allows us to have access to water and electricity in order to clean our new house and check that everything works.

First step, drain the water. The pipes have not been used for several months. We fill the water tank and add bleach to disinfect the pipes. When we turn on the water, we get a big surprise. There is water everywhere under the sink… A joint between two pipes broke. We mop up the water damage and go to a motorhome store to buy the broken part. The next day, we install this new part which seems to work. But when we turn on the water again, the second bad surprise. The faucet is leaking too. So we go back to a store to find a replacement. At the time to replace the tap, we redo a test. At this moment everything works, but it is the turn of the water pump to make a strange noise. And… it also leaks.  We have no choice but to find a replacement. Unfortunately, there is none in the store where we went before and so we decide to wait for the end of the weekend to drive to the next big city.

After some online research, we find a pump in the Portland area and hit the road to pick it up. Arriving at the store an hour later, we buy the pump and do the work directly on the parking lot. After a few tutorials on Youtube, we go ahead and change the pump (fortunately, we had bought a toolbox in one of the many stores we visited). This time everything works, we have running water in our Camper!!!

Discovery of the piping and electrical cables

The famous defective water pump

We are ready to visit the country, we have toilets, cold water (the water heater does not work), a heater, a fridge, cooking plates and even an oven.

“All we have to do is” install solar panels to be self-sufficient in electricity. But that’s for the next episode ;).