While leading caravans through Mexico, Europe, and Africa, Wally Byam dreamed of leading the ultimate caravan – one that would circumnavigate the globe. Unfortunately, he was unable to fulfill this dream before he lost his battle with cancer in 1962. However, Airstream Chairman Andy Charles had promised to lead this caravan for Wally, and set out to fulfill that promise in 1963. Helen Byam Schwamborn, Wally Byam’s cousin and the organizer of the Wally Byam Airstream Caravans, went through years of preparation to make her cousin’s dream a reality. She met with foreign officials to assure safe passage for the caravanners and sent out countless bulletins detailing the vaccinations, spare parts, legal documents, and other preparations that would be required for the voyage.
In the end, a caravan of 105 people ranging in age from 1 to 72 set out to travel from Singapore to Cabo Da Roca, Portugal. Staff members included a mechanic, two advance scouts to survey road conditions and locations for food, fuel, and parking, and photographer Fran Hall. They traveled over 30,000 miles in 403 days, crossing through 30+ countries. This once in a lifetime caravan would take them through southern Asia, behind the Iron Curtain, and across Europe. The caravanners entertained locals in their Airstreams and met with the King of Nepal and a Maharaja. They toured the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat and swam in the Dead Sea. They rode elephants and camels and visited the Taj Mahal. Taking advantage of an incredibly rare opportunity, they parked their travel trailers in front of the Kremlin and St. Basil’s Cathedral.
Many of the lessons learned during the Cape Town to Cairo Caravan were incorporated into the planning for the Around the World Caravan. For example, the Cape Town to Cairo Caravan proved to be quite the learning experience for 25 families that had never been on a caravan before. In response, all participants on the Around the World Caravan were required to have participated in at least one prior caravan.
Rough roads, several traffic accidents, and even a few medical emergencies did not stop the caravanners: a total of 23 families made the entire journey, arriving in Cabo Da Roca, Portugal on October 31, 1964. As part of the closing ceremony, caravanners were given sand from both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The story of this iconic caravan was documented in the book Thank You Marco Polo: The Story of the First Around the World Trailer Caravan by McGregor Smith, Jr.