The Overland Expo: A Place Where You’re Not Weird

“We’re not weird here,” says Sandy Borden of the the Adventure Trio at the Overland Expo. The expo is four years old now and it’s my home away from the road. The event embraces the wanderlust weirdos full of curiosity, incessantly exploring. For one weekend out of the year, we can all let our true color shine and be ourselves.

Me and Ben Slavin of

Fellow weirdo Ben Slavin of beaming with his defensive smile.

During a panel on borders, bribes and checkpoints Ben Slavin discussed the art of “playing stupid” to get out of sticky situations with law enforcement officials. Ben would tell them, “no fumar Espanol” which translates to “I don’t smoke Spanish.” You’ll get some quizzical looks, perhaps some head shaking, but if you are persistent with your act they usually get fed up with you and just leave.

People are generally incredibly helpful, but in the rare case of someone with a chip on their shoulder Ben gives some advice I think everyone can use:

“If I feel like someone has some negative motives, or is acting suspiciously I use a big and bright smile as my first line of defense. I make a friend out of someone before they have a chance to make me an enemy.”

Tiffany Coates on the "Borders, Bribes and Checkpoints" round panel

Tiffany Coates on the discussion panel titled, Paranoid or Practical: Real Life Tips for Security on the Road (



I kept hearing the name, “Tiffany Coates.” She was listed on a round table panel I was participating in the next day, so naturally I was curious about her. We eventually met at an overcrowded dinner table and I got to hear her story. Check out the video from BMW’s “unscripted” series.



The last line gets me every time. “My name is Tiffany Coates, and I’m from nowhere.” Brilliant! This “BMW unscripted” series is pretty neat. Camera men spent three days with her going about her business, and they put this video together from it. It was a pleasure to meet Tiffany and hear about her perspective on the road. She has never paid a bribe in all these years. I hope I can live up to her example the next time I am on the road.


Lorraine Chittock []

Lorraine Chittock (

Lorraine Chittock has been hopping around the world for 20 years. After returning from eight months on the road last year I saw Lorraine at the expo. She took one look at me, stopped in her tracks and with a dead serious look in her eyes said, “You’ve changed…” She was right, and who knows how she knew, but she saw something in me most of my closest friends couldn’t see. I make a point of listening close whenever she speaks, and here’s some thoughts she shared on leaving your home before venturing out into the world:

I am absolutely terrified every time I leave. Walking out the front door is the hardest thing, even after all these years of travel. All I need to do is get five miles away from my house and then I’m fine.

Doug and Stephanie Hackney have traveled the world on two and four wheels, from South America to Africa. Every yea Doug and Stehpanie deliver their expert advice to people wary of venturing into areas perceived as dangerous. Doug admits they he often starts making plans to a destination once any industrialized nation starts telling people not to go there. The topic of Mexico came up and people are visible stirred and start murmuring among each other after the news of decapitations is brought up. Doug commandeered the mic and repeated over and over:

The world is a warm place.
The world is a warm place.
The world is a warm place.

I have the luxury of knowing what it is like sitting the audience and being scared as shit about venturing into areas I was told to be warzones. I looked at people like Doug, Stephaine, Ben and Lorraine before I left for Latin America and thought, “They’ve actually been there, and everyone else who hasn’t is the most vitriolic about not going.”

Who am I going to believe?

I looked up at the experts like they were gods of travel and now I sit at the head table with the other travel titans knowing full well we’re not special. There’s no difference between the “experts” and the “amateurs” other than going or not going. Everyone figures it out in their own way.

Listen to the weirdos. They know what they’re talking about. Get five miles away from home and remember that the world is a warm place.

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  • Tavis Bogue

    Cool stuff. I’ll make it there one of these days…

  • Buck

    Beside’s from the great points about getting over your fears and just walking through the threshold, this is a fantastic who’s who of motorcycle adventure bloggers! 

    Wish I could’ve made it to Arizona to hear the speakers. Anyone in attendance with experience riding in China?

  • AtlasRider

    Carla King attends every year and she has done a trip through China on a sidecar. Tiffany Coates has spent a lot of time all over Asia, so I imagine she’s been through China. There are few countries where someone at the expo hasn’t been. If you are at the event, just start asking around and you’ll end up chatting with someone who can answer questions about a region you are curious about.

  • Nicole Stavro Espinosa

    Bill, thank you for making my Overland Expo experience such a deep one this year. Having all my adventure riding peeps there, as well as my kids this year, to share food, deep campfire talk, and a yearning for the road made for such a good time. Let’s do it again next year.

  • CBarton1

    That looks like a really cool event. Everyone seems friendly and I’ll bet the whole experience was a lot of fun. I wish I could have attended! Here’s a cool place to check out more upcoming events:

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Ted Simon at Overland Expo 2012