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Longest Road in the World: Driving It

Road trip, anyone? We have the ultimate one for you. Why not drive the longest road in the world, spanning multiple countries and continents?

Well, buckle up because we’re doing it and sharing everything you need to know about this road trip on steroids.

Driving the longest road in the world, the Pan American Highway from Alaska to Argentina.
Pan American Highway, Alaska

What is the Longest Road in the World?

According to Guinness World Records, the Pan-American Highway is the longest road in the world. This road begins in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, at the top of North America and the Arctic Ocean and stretches down to Ushuaia, Argentina, at the bottom of South America.

The official length of the Pan-American is 19,000 miles or 30,000 kilometers. Virtually everyone who embarks on this trip, though, drives many more miles, experiencing incredible sites along the way.

The Panamerican highway is the longest road in the world stretching from prudhoe bay, Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina.
Longest Road in the World Map

Not only does this road trip cross two continents (North America and South America), but it also passes through 14 countries.

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Who Are We?

We are just a normal American family that lost sight of what mattered most and decided to push the reset button on our lives in 2019 by selling everything to live a life of full-time travel.

Driving the longest road in the world with kids.
Northern Leg of the Pan-American Highway

We’ve spent the last five years slow traveling in mostly Asia but also spent some time in Europe, North America and a bit in Africa.

My wife and I have four children (three boys and one girl), ages seven to fifteen. We homeschool our children, and both of us work online while we travel.

Why Drive the Longest Road in the World

Why not? I suggested the idea to my wife a couple of years ago, thinking inside that it was a total pipedream. I mean, we’re not free-spirited twenty-somethings without little people relying on us for survival or anything.

But, like the initial decision to leave behind our traditional life, the stars aligned for us to jump on this insanely wild road trip opportunity. We already had a camper van that, with some modifications, could serve as our home on wheels.

Pan American highway passes through the Arctic Circle in Alaska.

We’d been living in Bali for the past year, and our lease was due for renewal, so we had to make a decision quickly.

We laid out our options and took a family vote. It was unanimous: we were going to travel the longest road in the world, a la Pan-American Highway.

Best Vehicle for the Pan-American Highway

So far on our trip, we’ve seen everything from small sedans and SUVs to larger RVs and even Unimogs. It really just depends on your travel style and budget.

I suggest going with something that’s first and foremost reliable and not too large since the roads in Central and South America can be small and quite congested.

A popular choice is an SUV with a rooftop tent or a pickup truck with a pop-up top camper. This will allow more potential to access places that are more off the beaten path while staying small for more cost-effective options to ship across the Darien Gap.

Camper vans are also a great option since they are self-contained, and you can easily park them anywhere.

What Kind of Vehicle are We Driving

Our camper van is a 2021 Thor Motor Coach Sequence model 20L. Its base features include a two-burner cooktop top, microwave/convection oven, sink, refrigerator, TV, flushing toilet, shower, A/C, solar power system, and a heating unit.

Our van for the Panamerican highway road.
The Runaway Van

We made a few modifications in preparation for the trip. We added a rooftop tent, a three-inch lift, new all-terrain tires, an in-motion Starlink system, a secondary deadbolt locking system, a spare tire, a hard-wired dash cam, and custom window coverings.

Our ride, we’ve dubbed ‘The Runaway Van’ gets about 17 miles to the gallon and is able to sleep all six of us.

How Long Will the Drive Take?

The standing record from tip to tip is twenty-four days. However, most people plan to complete it in one to two years, taking time to enjoy the sights and the journey.

It is very rare for those who drive the Pan-American to stick to the most direct path from start to finish. There is so much to see and do that they end up zig-zagging all the way, not to mention that, at times, there can be road blockages that can cause delays or rerouting.

We’re not looking to set any land speed records and are aiming for 1.5 to 2 years. It could take us a little less time or a little more; we’ll see how it goes. We are used to traveling full-time; however, this van-life thing is all new to us, so it will be interesting to see how we do.

In Alaska to start the longest drive in the world.

Also, make sure to account for the time that it will take to get to the starting line. For us, it was driving to Alaska from Utah in the United States. That was a 60+ hour drive!

Is the Pan-American Highway Continuous?

Guinness considers the highway motorable, but this is debatable since there is a stretch of about sixty-six miles of swampland on the border of Columbia and Panama named the Darien Gap.

This stretch is known as one of the most dangerous areas in the world, and it is not recommended that tourists cross it by land. Many travelers opt to ship their vehicles by boat or plane from Panama City, Panama, to Cartagena, Colombia.

We are planning to do the same. We will ship our van to Columbia and then continue the drive in South America. We’ll document the experience and share our tips for crossing the Darien Gap.

Living in the Van Full-Time

Most travelers in campervans, camper tops, or RVs will stay in campgrounds or designated secure parking locations throughout their trip.

However, for us, this is already quite an ambitious adventure, and having all six of us living out of the van full-time for up to two years puts it too over the top. My wife made me promise that we would not be living in the van.

We plan to stay a majority of the nights in Airbnb’s and hotels, but we can sleep everybody in or on the van when necessary or when we choose to.

Is it Safe?

So far, so good. We’re currently on our way south, in Texas, getting ready to drop into Mexico. We’ve heard scary and tragic stories about foreigners traveling through Mexico and other Central and South American countries.

But if there is one thing that we have learned during our travels, it is that the best and most reliable way to get a feel for a place is to experience it firsthand. So many times, we went into a country with preconceived notions through the media or others’ influences and saw something completely different.

We are aware of the risks, have learned from others who have or are currently traveling the Pan-Am and have taken measures to help ensure our safety.

Pan American Resources

Like you, we had and still have many questions about driving the Pan American Highway, the longest road in the world. We will do our best to share updated information that is helpful and accurate to aid in your research.

We also find so much good information on Facebook groups like PanAmerican Travelers Association and On the Road in Mexico. Both are great resources for experienced advice and real-time information that has proved invaluable for us.

Cost to Drive the Longest Road in the World

The cost of driving the Pan-American Highway can vary widely depending on the vehicle, spending, and duration of the trip. We have heard that it is possible to do it for under $20k USD.

But, most couples end up spending between $30k and $90k USD for the entire trip.

Yukon river is a stop along the pan american highway.

We’re anticipating somewhere in the middle of that since we are not luxury or budget travelers. There are some major costs that need to be budgeted in, like crossing the Darien Gap. Depending on the size of the vehicle and time of crossing, you could be anywhere from $1.5k to $6k USD.

Our Van is larger, so we are planning on being on the higher end of that price range.

What We Are Bringing

We are minimalist packers, but we had to cut some more fat for this one. Each of us has enough clothing items to last five to six days. We replaced many of our pieces with merino wool to maximize efficacy and space, which helped us get one packing cube each. The fabric has qualities that work well in all climates and can be worn multiple days without smelling.

What to bring on pan american highway.
Clothing for Pan American

The van is also well equipped with enough bedding, dishware, kitchen utensils, and other miscellaneous supplies. We added additional items for this trip, including a tool kit, air compressor, first aid kit, tow strap, hammocks, and a few spare parts.

We also did our research and created a file with all of the necessary documents required for each country’s border crossings.

What to Know About the Longest Road in the World

  • The Pan-American Highway is about 30,000 km (19,000 miles) long and stretches from Alaska to Argentina.
  • It passes through 14 countries: Canada, United States, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina.
  • The road is not fully continuous, and some sections are unpaved or require a ferry crossing.
  • The best time to travel the Pan-American Highway is during the dry season or summer months.
  • It’s important to research and plan ahead for border crossings and any necessary visas or permits for each country.
  • Pack road maps or download them on your device in case you don’t have service in remote locations.
  • Make sure your vehicle is well-equipped and properly maintained before embarking on this journey.
  • Check with active Facebook groups like PanAmerican Travelers Association prior to travel days to help avoid any road closures or civil disturbances.

How to Prepare for the Longest Road in the World

Driving the Pan-American Highway takes careful preparation, especially considering some of the challenging road conditions along the way.

First and foremost, make sure your vehicle is up to date on all maintenance checks and that you have a spare tire. Some also bring spare parts that may be difficult to source on the trip, like belts, filters, etc.

It’s also essential to have a good navigation system, whether that be a GPS or maps.

Remember to research entry requirements for all the countries you will pass through to ensure that you have all of the necessary documentation.

Carefully plan your budget and have some cash reserves for emergencies. Road conditions can be unpredictable, and there may be unexpected fees or tolls along the way.

Wrapping Up

And there you have it—our family’s blueprint to conquering the legendary Pan-American Highway. It’s a colossal playground of diverse cultures, breathtaking landscapes, and unscripted experiences that wait for no one. Make sure your wanderlust is well-fueled, and your sense of humor is packed alongside your passports because, let’s face it, the unexpected is part of the itinerary on this road. We’ll share every flat tire, serendipitous sunset, and quirky roadside eatery with you all, so stay tuned. The journey up to this point has been an adventure, and we can hardly wait to see where this highway leads.

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