Ilario Vespanda’s name gives away his passion and love for the vehicle. His journey with his beloved Vespa scooter started when he was just a sixteen-year-old boy with a dream of travelling all over the world on his bike. Since then, this globetrotter has tasted the local cuisines of Mexico, New York, and Argentina, spent a bewildering night with lions in the middle of the jungle and has been welcomed by many Arabs to their abode. For Ilario, his 55-year-old Vespa is one of his most beloved possessions. He makes sure to spend time with its engine almost every day and has become a great mechanic in the process. His adventures may have just started but his stories are never-ending. Team ELLE spoke to Ilario and gained insights on his travels on his Vespa.
ELLE: How long have you been travelling with your Vespa? Share your experience with us.
Ilario Vespanda (IV): I’ve been travelling all around the world. It’s been six years since I started in September 2017 before COVID and since then I never stopped. This is the longest journey I’ve ever spent on a scooter and one of the longest by motorbike. I’ve covered about 2 lakh km in different countries and I do not know when it will be finished. My first long journey was 13 years ago in America. I started from New York, I went to Alaska all the way down to Argentina and then up to New York. I spent around two years travelling in 21 countries on the American continent. I came back and decided to travel again after work.
ELLE: Tell us one of your favourite travel stories.
IV: I have millions of stories because, for me, it’s an adventure. I’ve crossed countries, met Saudi Arabian princes and crossed deserts. I went up to 6000 m high, I’ve crossed 50 degrees travelling. But one of the most interesting stories is about when I was in the southern part of Africa. I always slept in my tent because it’s my house, my privacy and it’s cheaper. So the first village was 20 km away from me and it was sunset. I decided to stop and sleep next to the road in my tent. Nobody passes in the nighttime because travel is very dangerous in Africa.
At night, I heard some noises outside the tent and once you sleep in a tent, you get used to listening to a lot of noises during the night. There can be leaves, snakes, and rats, so I continued to sleep. I heard a very strange and weird noise. I was amazed as I had never heard this sound before. What animal could this be? I opened the zip of the tent a bit and saw three lions surrounding my tent. They were playing with the back of my tent. The people told me that if I ever met lions, I shouldn’t do anything and just lie still. Because usually if they are not angry, they don’t attack what they cannot see. So I lay down for 20 minutes until the lions decided to leave. They were the longest twenty minutes of my life. I could have been dead the next minute. 20 minutes with lions in the middle of Africa, completely alone. It was a little bit scary.
ELLE: What gave you the inspiration to travel around the world on a Vespa alone, and how many countries have you been to so far?
IV: I’m powered by the fear of having regrets. We just have one life and it is short, so I’ve decided to do what I can and want in my life. I have loved travelling a lot since I was a child and I love Vespa. I love the philosophy behind this scooter– can enjoy the landscape, the culture and the people when you sit on a Vespa. I can fix it myself and find spare parts everywhere. People always smile when they see my Vespa. People are not afraid of my Vespa, I’m not driving a big motorbike. People invite me over to just chat. I just don’t want to have any regrets and suggest everybody to feed your passion and love as much as you can. So I’m very happy to live this life. I’ve been to more than 140 countries in my life and I hope it’s not finished yet. I don’t want to complete the entire world, I’m not of this desire. I just want to enjoy and have fun. I’m 41 now and I’ve been riding a Vespa since I was 16.
ELLE: What are some of the advantages that travelling solo offers you?
IV: I travel solo because it is much easier. Everybody asks me, “Why don’t you travel with somebody?” You can travel with someone just for a few weeks or a month, but more than that, it is extremely difficult because you have to compromise everything. When you travel such long journeys, you want to be free. You can do whatever you want, stop wherever you want, eat whatever you want, and sleep whenever you want. This would be extremely difficult when you’re with a partner.
When you travel, you have to face stressful situations that you don’t even know how to react to. Imagine you have to handle somebody in a new situation. People get very stressed when you travel because you have to face difficult situations every day. Every single second, you have to make choices, and making choices when you’re alone is easier. When you travel alone, it is much easier to meet people and different cultures.
ELLE: You work on your Vespa’s mechanics on your own; did you learn them while you started your journey or from somewhere else?
IV:When you travel, you will have a scooter or car. You must know your car or scooter just as you know yourself, your body, and your reactions to the temperature because it is your travel buddy. My Vespa is 55 years old, so it is not electronic, it is mechanic. It has a really easy engine and it is very strong. You can find its spare parts everywhere in the world. In the middle of a jungle, the people know about the Vespa because it was the first scooter in Africa. Problems can happen everywhere and you can find spare parts too.
In case you’re not able to fix your Vespa, there is always some mechanic who can fix it because it is extremely easy to fix a Vespa. Every day I put my hands in the engine and learn something. I can say now, that I am a good mechanic. The people who travel on big motorbikes don’t find their spare parts in the middle of Africa. They don’t even find somebody who can put these spare parts. Vespa is easy, you can fix it by yourself. So for me, a Vespa is the best scooter.