An Austrian couple left everything behind — including family, an apartment and jobs — to live their dream: seeing the world through their own eyes and not by the distorted lens of the media.
Traveling the world in a replica of Herbie the Love Bug, Dominikus Hocher, 27, and Zainab Staubmann, 24, have so far traveled to 28 nations. In the United States, they have visited all 48 continental states.
Recently, they stopped in Yuma, where “Herbie,” a 1963 Volkswagen Beetle — complete with the famous red, white and blue racing stripes and circular “53” decal and a matching camper trailer — has been catching the eyes of passers-by.
Everywhere they go, people snap photos of Herbie, which shares the same name with the movie character, and they’ve even been featured in several newspaper articles around the world, some in languages they don’t understand — and they speak several, including German, Spanish, French and English; Staubmann also speaks Arabic, thanks to her Egyptian descent.
The attention is all thanks to Herbie, who is recognized everywhere in the world. The original Love Bug developed a cult following after starring in a series of Walt Disney movies beginning with the 1968 film “The Love Bug.”
Hocher, a photojournalist, and Staubmann, a saleswoman, started their world tour in September 2009 in their hometown of Vienna.
“It was both our dream to travel the world and experience this, to get to know other cultures and nature, so we could have a picture of a country by seeing it and not judging it by the media,” Staubmann said in January.
They trekked through Eastern Europe and the Middle East, not afraid to visit troubled nations often featured in the news, such as Iran and Pakistan.
They explored the Southeast Asian countries of Thailand and Cambodia before shipping Herbie to Australia and later the United States.
Hocher and Staubmann just returned from a tour of Central America before taking a break in Yuma.
“The weather is great in Yuma, especially if you want to escape the cold Austrian winter,” Staubmann noted.
They love the palm trees and date farms, probably because they love dates, Hocher pointed out.
They’ve been in Yuma almost a week and don’t know when they’ll be leaving, as they’re traveling without time constraints.
Once they leave, they want to stay warm by spending the next two months seeing more of Arizona and California.
When pressed to name their favorite places, they are reluctant.
“Every country has its advantages and disadvantages. Of course, we have our preferences,” Staubmann said.
They appreciated the people and culture of Oman. In Malaysia, “the people are very nice, very humble,” and they enjoyed its tropical setting.
“It’s very different from Austria,” Hocher said, likening their home nation to Colorado, full of mountains and snow.
Mexico’s west coast was “surprisingly nice.” Again, they were drawn to its tropical nature, delighting in the abundance of exotic fruit trees. They also loved the pristine, isolated beaches and the people.
But their “very favorite” has been the United States’ Southwest, in particular Arizona and Utah, entranced by the “huge landscapes, the countryside, the red rocks.”
“You can drive miles and miles and there’s no one there, no city life, no people,” Staubmann said.
They’re so charmed by the Southwest that they want to move to the region. They’ll put their names in the lottery for a “green card,” Hocher said.
But first they need to return to Austria for new passports before resuming their world tour.
“There’s no more room in our passports,” Staubmann said. “And it’s time to see the family again.”
They will return to Vienna in mid-March and hope to continue traveling in the spring of 2012. They plan to visit Africa, South America and more of Europe.
This Herbie will remain in the U.S. with friends, as Hocher has another replica at home.
“We’ve really enjoyed traveling,” Staubmann said. “We encourage other people to live their dreams as soon as possible. Maybe our story is crazy enough to inspire others.”
In particular they invite Americans to visit neighboring Mexico.
“Before we went to Mexico, we were told, ‘Are you crazy? It’s the most violent country in the world.’ And we watched all kinds of shocking stories on the news,” Hocher said.
But they weren’t scared off and visited the interior as well as both coasts of the nation. They visited many border cities, even the notorious Ciudad Juarez.
“There were no problems at all. The people were very nice” and frequently stopped to admire “El Herbie Bochito.”
“You have to be careful, certain common sense is important,” Staubmann said. “But there’s a lot of prejudice and judging people based on the media. It’s important to give people a chance by talking to them, no matter what skin color. We all have our own place in the world.”
“We have been to Iran, Pakistan, with no problems at all. Travel and see the world, learn more about other cultures and open your mind,” Hocher said.
“A certain openness is important. It would make the world a better place,” Staubmann added.