Dossier: Decisions

On dropping out, roaming, and finding a new country to call home.

Daniel Rödel, 42, made what many people only dream about a reality: he quit his job and headed for South America with his wife and three kids. They’re still there.

Text: Katharina Rilling; Photos: Daniel Rödel

"My life in Switzerland was all about working for other people. As an art and creative director in the advertising industry, 13-hour days and more were simply par for the course. That ended in burnout. I knew I had to make a decision and make some changes, find meaning in doing. When my employer refused me a sabbatical, I decided to quit on the spot. A short time later all five of us - me, my wife and children - were in Uruguay converting a camper called Bob for family vanlife and with no firm plans about what to do next. But after the initial euphoria came the reality shock, and I fell into a depression. Had we made the right decision? Was that all we still possessed: this old camper? It had all gone so quick.

Der Camper Bob ist das Familienheim auf Zeit und ein rollendes ...
... Zuhause in atemberaubenden Landschaften – wie hier in Argentinien.

I’m actually a rational person. I study the statistics, gather facts and do plenty of reading before making a decision - until I realise that it doesn’t all apply one to one to me. Then I try and take a step back from all my research and listen deep inside myself. That’s a difficult process full of doubts. But uncertainty is simply part of it. No one knows what path will bring good fortune or bad luck. What helps me is the experience that even apparently bad decisions can turn out positively and end up being an important part of life’s path. An example is the way after the initial shock I learned to be free again, observe and listen. The kids were happy to be in nature living a simple life, very different from nursery school back home. But after two years of pure freedom on the roads of Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Chile, Bolivia and Peru, I was offered my dream job in Bern. I struggled. We decided that I’d first go back on my own. Once I was back I quickly realised that Switzerland was no longer an option for me. But something new came out of it: My wife and I decided we wanted to go a step further and found our own fashion label, something we were 100% behind.

That kind of thing happened a lot. We’re masters of changing our mind. Plans to spend a year travelling turned into two; plans to return to Switzerland turned into a new adventure: We decided to make our new home in the Andes of Peru and the holy valley of the Incas. We now live with seven horses, two dogs, three cats and some chickens in a traditional clay-built farmhouse. We’ve created Pacabamba, a fair fashion label that supports the local population. During the pandemic we rescued abused tourist horses and introduced riding therapy for neglected children. To allow our kids to decide for themselves, we’re now looking for an internationally recognised online offering for their school education.

Family and friends back in Switzerland often start out ridiculing our decisions. But they get used to it. I’m glad we took the chance and consciously chose to spend this time with our children working on projects with a purpose."

Daniel Rödel (42) emigrated with his wife and three children (now aged 5, 7 and 9) in 2017. Besides his projects in Peru, he now also works again as a freelance graphic designer and art director for customers in Switzerland.