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Two veterinarians driving around the world in an ambulance with their dog in tow might sound like the premise of a movie.
But it’s very much the reality for UK couple Lawrence Dodi and Rachel Nixon, who are currently about a year into a global trip across more than 50 countries in a bid to set the Guinness World Record for the longest journey in an ambulance.
The pair, who set off in October 2021, have been attracting quite a bit of attention as they move from country to country in the former private ambulance, a white Land Rover Defender with green and fluorescent yellow stripes, which was previously used at equine events.
“We’ve never had anyone approach us for medical assistance,” says Dodi, pointing out that the ambulance doesn’t really look like the emergency vehicles used in any of the places they’ve been driving through.
“But we get a lot of stares. In traffic, everyone’s looking at you.”
Dodi and Nixon, who are both veterinarians, were looking for a vehicle to convert into a camper van and travel the world in, when Nixon happened to stumble across the ambulance on eBay back in 2018.
“The initial plan wasn’t to buy an ambulance or try to set a world record or anything like that,” explains Dodi.
“We were looking for a functional vehicle to go traveling in and we fell in love with the ambulance and the aesthetics.”
After they purchased the vehicle, which still had all of the fittings and fixtures of an ambulance inside along with a stretcher, Nixon came across an article about a group who were trying to set a record for the longest distance driven in a fire truck.
When she discovered that no one seemed to have formally attempted this in an ambulance, the couple contacted Guinness World Record to ask if they could give it a try.
Nixon and Dodi were told that they’d need to meet a list of specifications, such as ensuring that the vehicle retained the capability to function as an ambulance (even though it wouldn’t be used as an emergency vehicle,) and that it still resembled an ambulance externally.
They say they took this on board while designing the interior layout, and were able to keep to the guidelines, while still having room for a cooker and a fridge “and all the other things you would associate with a camper van.”
In the many months since they left the UK, the pair have driven around 24,000 kilometers (nearly 15,000 miles), and traveled to 24 countries, including Armenia and Bosnia, with Nixon acting as “chief driver.”
Although they’ve already completed the minimum distance of 20,000 kilometers initially set by Guinness World Record, they’re “going to keep going and try to set the highest figure possible.”
Taking along their springer spaniel Peggy Sue, who has an EU pet passport, as well as the necessary rabies vaccination and blood test required for animals to travel within Europe, was always part of the plan, and the pair say she’s been “living her best life” during their time on the road.
“She might be 10, but she thinks she’s two,” says Dodi. “She can hike all day, and if she needs to sit in the van all day, she can do that. So in terms of us doing our outdoor pursuits, it’s not been a major problem.”
While they’ve had to skip a few activities where dogs weren’t permitted, and some countries have been less dog friendly than others, Dodi and Nixon have absolutely no regrets about taking Peggy with them.
“I think it’s probably brought us more opportunities,” says Dodi, noting that Peggy has been something of a people magnet.
Dodi and Nixon, who’ve been sharing their travels on their online blog, had originally planned for the trip “to be a true global circumnavigation,” that would see them travel through Central Asia to Russia before shipping the ambulance to North America.
However, due to various factors, such as the war in Ukraine, a conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the nationwide protests occurring in Iran, and the fact that some borders in Central Asia are still closed due to Covid-19 restrictions, they’ve been forced to change their route.
The couple are now planning to travel back to the UK early next year, before shipping the ambulance to Halifax in Canada, and driving the PanAmerican Highway, the longest drivable road in the world, to the bottom of Argentina. Their final destination will be Liverpool FC – a football team in Montevideo, Uruguay with the same name as their hometown team in the UK.
At present, they’re unsure whether they’ll be bringing Peggy to South America with them, and are considering leaving her in the UK with family when they briefly return early next year.
“I think if we don’t take her we’re going to miss her a lot,” says Dodi, before explaining that Peggy has struggled with the heat at some points of the trip and they’re concerned about how she’ll manage in South America.
“But equally, we don’t want to put her through anything she’s not gonna be happy with.”
Although Dodi and Nixon had originally planned to spend two years completing the challenge, they’ve since extended this by another six to 12 months.
The couple has been raising funds for two charities: Anthony Nolan, a UK charity that connects people with blood cancer with volunteer donors, and independent charity Vet Life, which provides emotional, financial and mental health support to the veterinary community.
According to a 2020 study by Merck Animal Health in partnership with the American Veterinary Medical Association, veterinarians are 2.7 times more likely to die by suicide than members of the general public.
Dodi and Nixon say they’ve both lost colleagues and friends in the industry to suicide and are keen to raise awareness on this issue.
Although they’ve explored some incredible sites, including the highest peaks in Kosovo, Montenegro and Armenia, they say it’s the people they’ve met along the way and the experiences they’ve had that have stood out the most.
Dodi recalls a night when they were driving around Georgia looking for a place to stay overnight and ended up being invited to the home of a local, who happened to be having a birthday party.
“We were treated like honored guests,” he says. “They put us up in a bedroom the following day and served us breakfast.”
The couple say that a number of locals have extended dinner invitations to them while they’ve been driving around Turkey and they’ve attended various barbecues.
“The world is full of very lovely people,” says Dodi. “It’s really warmed our hearts to see that it’s not some scary, horrible place.”
While their lives are somewhat on hold as they continue their journey, they’ve been looking to the future, and say they plan to return to the UK and settle down once they’ve completed this challenge.
“The money will eventually run out,” says Nixon, explaining that they’ve set themselves a £30 (around $26) a day budget and plan to pick up temporary work when they’re in the UK, where the ambulance is booked for its MOT, a mandatory test to ensure that the vehicle is roadworthy, in February.
“We need to think about going back and having a family at some point,” adds Dodi.
For the time being, they’re very happily enjoying the freedom of being able to travel the world together and making connections with other travelers along the way.
“We’ve met so many people doing such fantastic trips,” says Dodi. “There’s always someone doing it for longer, going to more places and doing it in some weirder way, that always makes you envious. And you think ‘If only I could do it like that.’”
How to get help: In the United States, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide also can provide contact information for crisis centers around the world.