Hitting the road on a motorcycle can be a major adrenaline rush, and for Alex Chacón, viewing the world from the seat of his motorcycle is the only way to travel. This adventure videographer and photographer lives to ride on the open road and is committed to documenting his adventures while raising awareness and money for charitable organizations. In fact, his most famous charitable expedition was a 500-day solo trip from Alaska to Argentina to raise money for the Children of Uganda in Africa.
In addition to his charitable efforts, Alex also owns Your Expedition South, a motorcycle travel consulting business that offers advice and occasionally leads motorcycle tours in Latin America. We wanted to catch up with this unique adventurer for Our Type of Traveler and understand why Alex is at his happiest when traveling on a motorcycle, even after clocking hundreds of miles. Buckle up and enjoy this ride.
What sparked your interest in traveling around the world on a motorcycle?
The ability to reach far, unique, challenging and remote places not accessible to most travelers was my initial interest in traveling the world by motorcycle, and the cost-effectiveness, too. It also exposes you to the elements in a powerful way, where you feel like one with nature, as well as connecting you with the local people and culture in a more deeply rooted way than through other forms of transportation. It‘s like you‘re on ground zero with everyone else wherever you go. They treat you differently because they see you surviving on a daily basis, just like them.
What’s the Modern Motorcycle Diaries about?
The Modern Motorcycle Diaries is my way of sharing my travels and experiences with different people and cultures around the world. Throughout my travels, I also like to capture helping people along the way through charitable projects and actions. I try to stay connected by updating my followers on my travels, via social media, with unique pictures from my most recent location. I also keep them posted on what I‘m doing and what local charity I’m helping out. People can also follow my adventures on my YouTube channel, which features documentary-style video that captures my experiences throughout a trip. Traveling on a motorcycle is different than any form of transportation at times, because you‘re giving some people a raw, unpolished view of a very unique experience.
So when and why did you decide to start your own travel consulting/tour business, Your Expedition South?
I’ve always believed that there are some people who want to travel, but they are sometimes faced with challenges, fears, logistical issues and/or language barriers. Because I went that extra step in making my travel dreams a reality, I have a vast amount of experience and contacts to share with people who need help planning a trip in Latin America. For those who want to travel the Pan-American Highway by motorcycle, or just general travel through Latin America, I can advise travelers how to travel like I did or help them plan a safe, cost-efficient motorcycle trip in Latin America, another region or country.
What was the moment you knew travel had hooked you?
My parents told me that when I started walking — at 1 year old — that I would wander off exploring the backyard of our house. My dad put me on a motorcycle when I was 2 years old, and by age 3, I was driving my electric jeep around the neighborhood, picking up other kids and taking them on a ride through the streets. I suppose it was always in my blood to explore.
What inspired you to start traveling for charity? Which one was your most rewarding experience?
Lots of people travel, but I figure, how many people travel and work directly with the people for charity? I was able to travel to the actual places and help out firsthand, planting trees in Belize, working with mentally disabled children in Guatemala, helping to bring clean water to villages in the Andes in Peru, working with the physically challenged in Colombia and teaching English to any little kid willing to learn along the way. I hoped that through my videos and blog, people back home in the US would feel inspired to do the same, like helping out at a local homeless shelter, or feel inspired to travel and help someone out halfway around the world, like India. Every interaction I had with someone who needed and appreciated my help was incredibly rewarding each and every time.
How many countries, cities and continents have you visited?
So far, I’ve traveled to more than 40 countries on 5 continents, and I have driven more than 128,000 miles on motorcycles in a span of 3 years.
“Thank you.” I believe this is the most powerful word in any language. It can save your life. I can vouch for that. My experience was in the Middle East, when I was detained by officials for no reason, no probable cause and no due process. I was profiled as a threat because they saw I was a foreigner riding a motorcycle in an area of recent political tension. Through the entire situation, I smiled and repeated “thank you” in Arabic, which I believe helped keep me from being detained indefinitely.
Where is your favorite place to get away from it all?
To me, it’s not a particular place; it’s the idea of leaving the comforts of your home and adventuring out into the world at any given moment you want. Whether it’s halfway across the world or across the street to the grocery store — every outing is an adventure.
What are your tips for people who enjoy traveling and exploring new places from the seat of a motorcycle?
Understand that there are inherent risks involved, but there are wonderful benefits and treasures gained from this type of travel experience. The typical traveler doesn’t get to visit a place for an extended period of time, spend a night with a local family or witness local children running up to you when they hear you arrive on the motorcycle. Of course, they really want a ride around the block and get excited about wearing a helmet or touching the bike. Surviving nature and the elements, obstructed roadways, political conflicts and interacting with gas station attendants, customs officials or just a local mechanic are all things you deal with on this journey, and they all help you grow as a person to help you become a better traveler.
What‘s your favorite place you‘ve traveled to, and why?
I would do so much injustice to the entire world if I had one favorite place. There are so many incredible places I’ve been to and have yet to explore. But one experience that really stuck with me as indescribable was arriving at the Arctic Circle in Alaska on my birthday and witnessing the aurora borealis after hunting it down and traveling through 24 days of subfreezing temperatures on the motorcycle in winter, where I ran out of food, gas and water and was the most miserable in my life, until I had the amazing light show all to myself for a few hours, with no human presence in a 200-mile radius. It changed my life.
Do you have a must-have item that you never travel without?
The purpose of my travels for myself is the ability to let go and have quite literally nothing while I travel, have no attachments to anything and live freely. I could live without anything I travel with and don’t put my energy into making a certain material possession important. I go for the adventure and experience. If my camera gets stolen, I have my memories; if my lucky T-shirt rips, I’ll get another. You can get soap, toothbrushes, cameras and anything else along the way if you really wanted to, but you’ll always be able to survive without anything if you’re ready for an unexpected adventure.
How do you stay fit on the road?
Most people don’t think about working out when you travel, as most go on vacations to relax. However, I go exploring and adventuring for prolonged periods of time. So you’ll see me doing push-ups at gas stations in the middle of the day, stretching on the bike as I cruise down the road, and doing pull-ups and abdominal workouts on anything I can get my hands on at hostels or random locations. I usually get confused or weird looks from people, because sometimes I’m fully clothed in motorcycle gear. Driving a motorcycle is physically demanding, and it is very hard to find time to stay fit after a long day.
What’s the best thing you’ve eaten while traveling, and where was it?
There was something special about the exotic acai fruit yogurt in Brazil, but the bird‘s-nest soup in Taiwan was fascinating as well. It is a swallow‘s nest harvested from a cave, disinfected and cooked. It tasted like the most delicious porridge I‘d ever had.
What’s the best hotel/resort/hostel you’ve stayed in?
The best accommodations I’ve ever had were camping in Alaska under the night sky and being able to see the aurora borealis on my birthday. I was in subfreezing temperatures, cold and hungry the entire night, but the location and light show were priceless and definitely better than staying at a hotel or resort.
Home is wherever you make it. I don’t have one fixed place. Home is where you‘re happiest, and I’m happiest when I’m always moving around. But I’m originally from El Paso, TX, where my family resides. It‘s a pretty interesting place as well.
What would you recommend to travelers visiting your hometown?
In El Paso, TX, I have witnessed the most sensational sunsets I have ever seen anywhere in the world. And because the city is near the US-Mexico border, l would recommend that visitors enjoy the Mexican culture or fusion that‘s evident in the delicious food, dancing, culture and language.
What’s No. 1 on your bucket list?
I want to travel around Asia and Africa. And Antarctica seems like an exciting location for a motorcycle trip.