A contentious subject. Everyone has their individual opinions and ideas but most overlanders really hate admitting to weakness’s in their choice away from the campfire chats. Listing vehicle weakness’s is like telling a parent their baby is ugly or that their child is tone deaf. It is a sure way to upset folk.
We have been travelling now for 6 years with various modes of transport, from rental vehicles and our Land Rover to our truck. We’ve met countless overlanders and sat listening to their tales of woe regarding their vehicles, so it’s fair to say we have some experience when we say -
If you are searching for the perfect vehicle for a multi country long term expedition then you are wasting your time - it doesn’t exist! No matter which vehicle you chose it is inevitable that at some point, somewhere in the world the chances are you will have a problem that cannot easily be resolved locally.
Now, we know this is not what you want to hear, but it is an accurate statement - especially for us long term travellers. A Land Rover in China can prove to be very tricky for parts, a Toyota in (believe it or not) Asia ended a trip for one unfortunate family. The list goes on and on with no vehicle escaping scrutiny.........
So let us just say this -
The fact is - you will see some ‘perfect’ looking vehicles as you search for your temporary ‘home’ but you have to understand - you should be trying to reduce your chances of getting very seriously stuck with mechanical or parts problems that could cost you major import fees or, at worst, end your trip. Let’s face it - it is not possible to carry spare parts for every eventuality.
A loss of power with a engine management light coming on in the middle of nowhere is not a happy experience for any overlander. We met a couple in a lovely Mitsubishi pickup with a de-mountable cabin who were extremely stressed by this very problem - luckily it was only water in their fuel and was easily resolved - but it made them think long and hard about driving a car with a engine management system in countries that are not so developed.
Another major problem is high altitude driving. Almost every vehicle we have met in South America has asked us how we get on driving at altitude. Initially we didn’t understand why they were asking, until we realised that they all have problems with their engine management systems at high altitude!
You could try to reduce the chances of electrical problems by buying a electrically ‘simple’ vehicle such as a 300tdi engine Land Rover, the Toyota 1HZ or similar, if you fancy something bigger - an old Mercedes truck or van. But the problem with buying something like this is that they are usually older vehicles with a history and mileage that may not be to your liking, where-as buying a new car guarantees you know what you are getting.
There really is no easy answer - you could tie yourself in knots trying to make the ‘right’ choice and there will always be some-one out there who will disagree with your decision.
Ultimately the best thing to do is to contact other overlanders, read their web pages and search the forums to find information on common vehicle problems. Then make your choice based on what your individual needs are and where you are planning on travelling. At the end of it all, you will pick a vehicle that suits you and then live with any problems it throws at you along the way.
Just remember - there will always be a ‘I wish’ moment on your trip, small vehicle owners wish they had a live-in vehicle when it’s bloody freezing and raining like hell and truck owners wish they had a smaller vehicle when it’s time to ship somewhere. That’s life!
How do you want to sleep?
Once again we have experienced life on the road from 2 sides - roof tent and big double permanent bed.
There is a lot to be said for choosing a vehicle that allows you to sleep inside. Bad weather, city visits, risky regions and general security issues make a roof tent a questionable choice. But, on the positive side, you can’t beat waking up on a tropical beach with your elevated and very breezy outlook, or miss the opportunity of being eyeball to eyeball with a camel whilst lying on your bed! We loved our roof tent but there were times that we regretted not having the foresight of an ‘emergency’ sleeping deck in the back of our Land Rover.
Having a smaller ‘container sized’ vehicle is a great idea and a good choice. If you decide to go down this avenue then consider trying to adapt the back for those bad weather occasions.
But we have to admit that truck life is grand - a wonderful permanent double bed, kitchen and bathroom for our long term travelling is, for us, the better choice. On the down side - we don’t fit in a container, but on the upside - we use less diesel per kilometre than a fully loaded expedition Toyota cruiser. Unbelievable but true!
Do I need 4x4?
The simple answer is - No. Good ground clearance and a short overhang are the main things.
Now, I know the ‘expedition/adventure animal’ in you does not want to hear that and we cannot criticise 4x4 as on both occasions we have bought a 4x4 vehicle for that very reason. But a 4x4 is not essential for your average overlander, it’s nice to have and great fun, but not essential.
Think about it. The chances are you will be following a reasonably well established overland route with the occasional detour off the popular sight seeing areas. If like us you hate having to plan around bad weather when your dirt track will turn into a mud bath or, you enjoy driving down a gap in the trees to see where it goes or if beach/dune or rough savanna driving is on your agenda - then a 4x4 is clearly necessary.
But we know plenty of travellers that have driven 95 percent of the routes we have done and they are in standard vans. After-all - do you really think that all the locals drive only 4x4 vehicles? The amount of times we have driven to a place thinking that we could only have done it with a 4x4, to find a local family having a picnic in the very same spot, having driven there in the family saloon - a bit embarrassing to admit!
Weight issues -
Sorry, but I can’t resist adding this. Weight is going to be your biggest challenge. We packed our Land Rover full of ‘essentials’ - really silly things like our favourite cereal, tea bags, toothpaste etc etc. Looking back it was hilarious - WHO drives a expedition Land Rover carrying 2,000 tea bags?! Mad mad. Fortunately most of our ‘psychological comfort items’ were light weight, but it still highlights a common human flaw. Too much weight is going to cause you problems - punctures, suspension issues, higher fuel consumption, strain on your brakes etc. Basically, you should try to bring your vehicle in UNDER the maximum load capacity recommended by the manufactures - NOT over.
Our Land Rover was touching 2,800kg’s at her heaviest and it was too much. (If I remember correctly - the maximum recommended load capacity is 3,050kg’s).Our truck is rated for 9,000kgs - we drive her at 7,400kgs.
A very entertaining webpage that you should read is www.overlandwithkids.com This unfortunate family have had more than their fair share of woes but if ever a web page can show you what true overlander spirit can achieve then this is it!
You need to think very carefully about the tyres your vehicle needs. Not the brand or the tread but the size. We have lost count of the overlanders we have met who have had to import tyres from Europe during their trip. This is a crazy expensive way to do things - REALLY expensive! ‘Exotic’ (unusual) tyre sizes are definitely a very bad idea. Unimogs, certain vans and mobile homes seem to be more prone to these problems. The ideal answer would be to have a vehicle that Land Rover size tyres fit on - they can be found everywhere.
It’s best to do a Michelin search on the internet to get a idea of what’s for sale out there or to ask on the overland forums. (Sizes 10, 11 and 12 R 20’s are still commonly found but the R20 rims and rapidly being replaced with R22.5.)
Here are some of the ways other long term travellers we have met cover their travel costs -
One guy we met sold seats on his converted bus to adventurous backpackers - it paid for his fuel costs.
Another guy we met loaded his vehicle with movies and held impromptu movie nights using a projector and the side of his vehicle as a screen in the villages of India. Locals paid a few rupees to watch a movie, sitting on the grass - it didn’t matter that the films were all in a foreign language with no subtitles!
An enterprising man educated himself on silver and travelled the world buying good quality, cheap silver that he then sold in Europe. The profits paid for his trips.
Another guy bought wooden handcrafts in bulk and shipped them back to Europe to be sold on the Christmas market stalls. The profits allowed him to spend 9 months a year travelling.
And then there are the standard ways -
Rent your house out and travel on the funds.
Sell your big house then buy one or two smaller properties for cash and rent them.
Teach English or some other skill as you travel - there are still some projects that will pay you to do this.
Work like a madman for several years, take a crazy turn, sell EVERYTHING and hit the road - like us!
What do people really spend?
Ask most overlanders what their daily budget is and the standard answer is usually £30 a day.
We find this odd as we’ve asked everyone from £450,000 truck owners to extremely old Land Rover owners. Surely they can’t all travel on the same budget? It would seem that most are just not comfortable talking about it, which is fair enough, people are entitled to their privacy.
But we can honestly say, with our hands on our hearts, that we really do spend EXACTLY what we say on our information pages. We try to stay under the £35/day budget and we flex our living standards to achieve this. In more expensive countries we eat out less and we have a vehicle full of clothes, so we spend no money on that plus we are not big social drinkers or smokers.
It depends on how you like to travel - short term overlanders tend to treat the trip as a extended holiday and can average up to £75 a day with plenty of hotel nights, restaurant meals and treats. Whereas we treat life on the road like living at home - we cook our own meals most nights only going out for the occasional meal. We enjoy a beer or wine every night either sitting in the truck or in the company of friends or other travellers but never in a pub.
If we feel we are spending too much, but don’t want to reduce our living standards, then we find a place where we can sit for a few weeks. If you find a nice and really cheap campsite or a bush camping area close to good services, then just by sitting still you can save your usual daily fuel costs - it soon adds up and every little bit helps! We have genuinely never felt that we are missing out nor have we ever not done something we wanted to do because of budget concerns.
WHERE CAN I FIND.......?
It’s nice to know where the best places in South America are for sourcing vehicle equipment etc. We have only driven in 11 countries so far, so some of this information is based on other overlanders advice.
This list will lengthen as we discover more places.
TAX FREE ZONES -
CHILE - Punta Arenas in the south and Iquique in the north. Tyres, electrical goods, cameras etc.
PARAGUAY - Pedro Juan Caballero. A popular place to buy truck tyres and electrical goods.
MOBILEHOME BUILDERS and PARTS SUPPLIERS -
Juan J. Melo lives in Buenos Aires, District- Ituzaingo, Street name - Soler Miguel E, Number 1502.
Juan works from home and speaks NO English but is very friendly, can order parts and is generally helpful.
Gibert Car, Av. Circunvalacion Km 27, Cordoba. Is a very professional mobile home and coach builder. www.gibertcar.com Tel 0351 4117994 GPS - S31.48833 W064.25087
Novo Hamburgo - We’ve heard about this good RV repair shop that also holds some stock. BR 116, km 234 GPS - S29.65512 W051.14470
Ambato is THE city to get bodywork done on your vehicle. All the countries coaches get built here and the town is FULL of parts shops and builders. See our Ecuador info page for details. In our opinion Ecuador is the best country to get work done - every town seems to be full of parts, mechanics, seat repair shops and even windscreen makers. We know lots of foreigners who have had truck bodies built here in Ecuador.
SPECIALIST ELECTRICAL GOODS -
Casa Royal stores in Santiago city centre sell inverters, solar controllers and other electronic equipment. Shops called EASY are large DIY centres where you can find small inverters and various other chargers etc.
Radio Shack stores can be found in most of the big cities - a USA company - not much choice of equipment.
Peter May is in Quito and sells all things solar. Very helpful guy who knows the city well. www.codesolar.com
Kywi stores are the DIY stores of all cities in Ecuador - well stocked - inverters and much more. Also read our Ecuador info page for details on individual shops.
Engel fridges and Garmin GPS are sold in Paramaribo for the same price as Europe! Visit Tomahawk store on Wagenwegstraat GPS - N5.82966 W55.15921
FRENCH GUIANA -
Seagull water filters can be found in
Something that is hotly sought. For the lucky few who manage to obtain sponsors, it can help enormously with the costs of your adventure but there can be a negative side to it.
We don’t have the sales pitch gift to talk ourselves into getting sponsorship, but when we encountered suspension problems in Malaysia we were lucky to be offered a free replacement set if we agreed to put large stickers on our vehicle advertising the product. It suited our needs at the time so we did it. It was later that we realised we were advertising a product as being ‘the best in the world’ when, in actual fact, our product was totally inappropriate for our vehicle and the trip we were doing. That’s not just our opinion, that was also the opinion of the products technical team!! You’ve got to laugh about it.
Another overlander couple we know wrote a superb and very accurate journalistic piece about a situation they had encountered whilst travelling. Unfortunately, their sponsors (a famous international book publishing company) told them that if they did not remove the story from their web site then their sponsorship would be cancelled!
After hearing a few stories like this and because of our experience we have come to look upon sponsorship as a potential gagging order (at least until the end of your trip). I know that sounds extreme but if you cannot tell the truth about something then what else can you call it? We would love sponsorship but we would much rather have the freedom to tell other travellers about product performance and whether the item was good value for money or not.
HONESTLY - IT WAS THIS BIG!
Everyone knows the joke about the fisherman who exaggerates the true size of the fish he caught - well overlanding tales can be very similar.
We’ve heard some incredible stories over the years, like the overlander who drove through Pakistan at the same time as us and then told a group we were in that it was so dangerous you needed a bulletproof vehicle and a flak jacket. Or the overlander who put a fake photograph of current road conditions onto their webpage. Initially we were bemused by stories like these but after hearing so many we began to wonder why people would tell these ‘fishermen’ tales and every time we assessed the story there was always the same reason behind it. Money. A book to publish, a webpage to promote, a video to sell.
All we are trying to say is that you should beware of fishing tales - they can cause irreparable damage to a naive overlanders dream. We almost cancelled a country because of one of these tales............
YOU CAN’T GO ANYWHERE IN THAT!!
We have to confess to becoming rather tired of hearing this. And it’s always people in small vehicles that say this - they either don’t know or choose to forget that we have also travelled in a Land Rover. I met one overlander who told me - ‘You can’t go anywhere in THAT!’ I was so angry at such a narrow minded opinion that I asked him to tell me where exactly could I not go and reminded him that we had been in South America for almost 3 years. ‘Well... You cannot possibly fit under any ga...... Oooomph!’ His sentence was interrupted by his wife kicking his leg, I suspect it was to stop him saying - under gates for posada’s/guesthouses.
The thing is - we know how small vehicle people think - we were once them - but we now know what it is like to travel in a small and a larger vehicle - they usually don’t. When we were in the Land Rover, we would look at trucks and say that there is no need to travel in a vehicle that big, and it’s true - you do not need to but it’s very nice to!
‘Ah, but shipping is so expensive,’ the small car man says. So I ask him - ‘ Which would you rather - 5 years in a small car with no toilet, shower or shelter/safety from bad weather or city parking - just so that you can save a little money on shipping twice in 5 years - or all of our comfort for 5 years?’ He is silent once again.
People should focus more on what their personal preferences are and not judge others for theirs. Do you want a bigger vehicle where you can be more independent or a smaller vehicle where you may need to be more reliant on other forms of accommodation? Either option has it’s own merits.
But the most crazy statement we heard was from a overlander with many years experience - ‘You’d never get that up the Karakorum Highway.’ Unbelievable. Such a blinkered opinion where some-one is just too busy judging rather than thinking. We do understand that our driver cab sits very high and that this creates the illusion of us being taller than we are - but, in fact, we were only 20cm higher than this persons ‘small’ vehicle.
Our answer was - ‘All the Pakistan trucks ferry goods from China to Karachi on this route - our truck is smaller than them.’ Just a little detail that this overlander should know - they had driven the Karakorum Highway....
SAFETY, SECURITY and CRIME PREVENTION
We have been extremely lucky that, so far, we have had nothing stolen from us but many travellers are not so fortunate.The more people we meet, the more stories of theft we are told, and they start to form a common pattern - people let their guard down. They forget to take their GPS off the dashboard before entering a supermarket, they leave their camera sitting on the front passenger seat, they walk away from their vehicle for ‘just a moment’ and leave the doors unlocked or wide open. It’s a long list of commonly used reasons that we hear.
The fact is, we cannot afford to lose what we have so we are particularly cautious. Not paranoid, nor fearful - just cautious.
You will find that you develop what we call a ‘radar’ over time - a sixth sense or nagging feeling that tells you something is not right. Sometimes it makes no sense to you but you soon learn to pay attention to it.
This is how we try to prevent problems -
If we are in an area that has a bad reputation or that we feel uncomfortable in, then one of us stays with the vehicle whilst the other person does the shopping.
We always remove valuable items from the cab of our vehicle and either take them with us or, more often, lock them away securely in the back of our vehicle being discrete as we do it. (Walking from the front cab and into the back of a truck with a big expensive camera, then re-appearing a few minutes later with empty hands was how one couple ended up with a smashed window and a break-in. They had been watched.)
Sitting in the sun with a very expensive laptop on your table is a sure way to draw the wrong kind of attention. We always do our laptop work inside the truck or, with the Landy, in the back cab.
Dress down. Not hard for us! I never wears good jewellery - the simple thin gold wedding band I wear was found when digging our garden, the good stuff is safely stored in Scotland, and Dave does not use a watch.
Listen out for ‘hot areas’ where crimes are regularly committed ie Bariloche and Trelew in Argentina and take extra cautions when in those areas.
We have 2 locks on our rear cabin doors - one operates from the inside only.
We also have security shutters and grilles that can be easily fixed onto our windows for places that have a higher than normal crime rate.
If anyone looks through our windows, there is nothing expensive or electrical to see. When we are city centre parking we empty our glove box and leave it open to show that there is nothing in there to steal.
Armed carjacking and gassing can be problems in some countries of the world - Spain, Brazil and South Africa being a few. We try to blend. We don’t want a vehicle that looks too expensive or desirable. One South American person told us they thought we were a garbage collection truck on first glance - we were delighted with this as it is exactly the first impression we want!
We know some travellers who carry a gun. For us this was not something we were comfortable with. Our belief was that we shouldn’t put ourselves into a situation where we needed one and where it could then be used against us.
When we were in the Land Rover, we used to smooth out the sand or ground around the vehicle before stepping onto our ladder - in the morning you could clearly see if anyone had been ‘checking out’ your vehicle overnight.
Parking near a loud river hides the noise of people approaching - think about this if you are in a tent.
A dirty/dusty vehicle is handy for seeing if some-one has been trying to open your windows or doors - their hands leave very obvious marks on the dirty surface.
Parking in the middle of a field full of dry leaves is a great idea - absolutely NOTHING can sneak up on you there. In Laos we sat listening to something approach - I was nominated to get the torch and investigate - it was a giant scorpion!
South America for us has been a safer option than Asia but we have to question how much of that is down to us having a live in vehicle now rather than a roof tent.
If you are in a small vehicle then maybe reading our Land Rover prep and vehicle web pages will be useful to you but we have not listed what all our security measures were. Think about it - it wouldn’t be difficult for an enterprising thief to go onto your web site, read about your built in security measures and then know how to get around them! If you are a overlander, send us a personal email, we will discuss options with you in more detail.
Ultimately, with some common sense and good luck you should never have to face a situation like this. But sometimes, no matter how careful you are, bad luck just happens - by being cautious and using some preventative measures you can hopefully reduce your losses.
This is a list of places where you can store your vehicle - it will increase as we find more places.
L’hirondelle camping, Tigre. This small campsite north of Buenos Aires by approximately 40 km’s will allow you to leave your vehicle for 234ps (£36) a month. You can take a boat, train or bus to Buenos Aires from here. GPS S34.39548 W58.61065
Camping Villa Albertina, Homero. Is only 25 km’s south of Buenos Aires. You can store your vehicle in a barn and the site is well guarded. Costs unknown. GPS S34.73733 W58.45997
Bahia de Lobos camping, Lobos. A large campsite west of Buenos Aires by approximately 70 km’s. You can store your vehicle in a large locked building for 450ps a month (£70) and the owner can arrange a private taxi to B.A airport for 250ps (£38) per trip. GPS S35.28987 W59.13687
La Florida, Villa Belgrano. A German owned campsite where you can park your vehicle for one Euro a day. No undercover storage available. S31.97317 W064.54450
Maldonado - Punta Ballena camping. A big campsite that will allow you to leave your vehicle for 1,152 UR$ (£36) a month. GPS S34.88569 W55.02208
Montevideo - A good security parking warehouse beside the airport. Costs 2,500 UR$ a month (£78) to leave your vehicle. There is a height restriction of 2.7 metres on the entrance door. GPS S34.84664 W56.02636