PLANNING FOR YOUR OVERLAND TRIP
Overlanding is not the same as Off Roading. It only took me 3 weeks to realize once we started to drive around the world that the 2 are very different. I have been a member of an Australian 4WD club in Australia for over 25 years. Our 4WD Club trips and 4WD Club holidays consisted of looking for hard off-roading and challenging terrain. Click here on some links to see what an off road trip entails testing all your after market gear. Click here to watch what I call Off Road Driving
Below pictures of our Off Road trips
Our Holidays and weekend trips consisted of deserts crossings some had over 900 sandhills in a 400km stretch, trips into the rainforest in the wet season. Trips exploring the Australian alps negotiating steep, muddy tracks and deep river crossings, the type of terrain where you require diff locks, winches, rock crawlers and where damage to your truck is possible, when negotiating the many obstacles, this is where you require a vehicle with all the aftermarket gear, highly modified suspension. etc.
As a new Overlander our objective was to see as many countries, cultures and tourism spots as possible. Getting on in life and looking for a little more luxury, we decided on a small truck, a Mitsubishi Fuso FG 84 4X4, fully fitted out will all the off-road gear (most we never used). After 3 years we upgraded to a larger truck, an Atego 1318 4X4. The main question we were asked before the purchase was: “why such a small engine in a big truck”? Based on our average speed over the previous 3 years of just 37 km per hour and lack off real off road driving we realized the power was not a real must have. Remember we are on an extended holiday, we are not racing down the German or US highway for a weekend trip or a 3-4 week holiday to Morocco or Mexico. The truck is completely self- sufficient, and we carry up to 1000 liter of water. (way too much but when camping on a remote beach a long way from a village or fresh water, it is great to have this capacity). For those who do not have the budget for a truck or a large 4×4 Landcruiser, you will be surprised how many places a sedan can go. 80% of overlanders we have seen on the road in the last 15 years are young, with minimal financial funds and drive very basic cars over 20 years old, some only 2-wheel drive, and besides a tent and some cooking facilities they see as much as someone in a $150.000.00 plus truck. Click here It is possible to drive in a cheap 2 wheel drive car across Africa no need to spend a lot of money on aftermarket gear. Forget all the negatives, forget all the technical after market companies, as they make money by telling you what can go wrong and what you require. Our first truck was a Mitsibishi Fuso FG 84 4X4 This truck had no sub-frame I had never heard of a sub-frame myself and the new owner (current owner) This truck covered sofar 400000 km and still going covering Africa, Middle East, Asia, Siberia, Russia, Tibet, China, South East Asia, Stan Countries, South America, Central America, USA, Canada and Alaska. All this in 11 years of hard going and 2400KG overweight. (GVM 4500KG vehicle weight when fully loaded 6900KG) Once you get to Africa/Central Asia/China/Tibet or South East Asia you will understand what I mean, as most trucks are overloaded and are driving across Africa for over 30 years doing over a million km. They even have skinny tyres. Do things break down reagrdless how many years you keep perfecting your vehicle things will go wrong and malfunction. Important to know is that all labour cost outside Europe and Australia is much lower. In Africa the saying is: “we repair everything with a hammer and a spanner!” But if you choose for a highly modified vehicle or a brand new Unimog as your overland vehicle, a Euro 6 or other high-tech vehicle, you could have issues because of all this new technology is not available in many countries. Being complete A Technical I have had not yet been in a situation where the mechanical problems could not be solved. I don’t even carry spares anymore except fan belts and some filters.
Tyres: if you travel on a budget, 4WD All-Terrain tyres will do the job. If you can afford it, take chains as they work perfect in the mud. One last very important point:
LET’S START PLANNING
The most important question to ask yourself is: Am I ready? Over the last 13 years I have heard many excuses and reasons for not going. Some people I classify as hobbyists (love mechanics and technology), others are either afraid to leave jobs, or chicken out as they feel insecure and are afraid they can’t handle the tricky situations or corruptions. If the answer is YES, I AM READY, do not procrastinate: GO before it is too late! Stop listening to all the doom and gloom stories, most of the stories are told by those who have not been further than Morocco, Turkey or Tunisia.
HOW MUCH PLANNING IS REQUIRED
Travelling around the world is easier than you think; you can make it as complicated as you like to the extreme that you will never go.
- Lots of information is available on the internet and while travelling, locals can give you the nicest places to go to, many are not even in the tourist books. Ioverlander, The Hubb and Overlander sphere are great sources of information. http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/ http://ioverlander.com/ be aware many sites are becoming commercial, or seem to become sites to sell vehicles. if listening to advise in regards to specific areas listen to those currently travelling in the area.
- Most time required is to make sure your vehicle in good condition. My suggestion is to do a 100000km service on the vehicle and start with new tyres. Next is the type of accommodation. Tent (one pole tents are the best as they are easy to set up), Roof Top tent or In Car accommodation. Do a 2-week test drive to ensure all works perfect and all is as you planned it.
- Your Budget: do you have the money for an extended trip if something goes wrong?
- Advise the credit card company which countries you are visiting (just for the following 3 months)
- Get an International Drivers Licence, organise Visa’s if required, Insurance, shipping and a Carnet (if required)
- Search the varies forums first as many questions appears to be asked over and over again.
THE BIGGEST MISTAKES THAT I MADE
- I bought a new truck. In my case the warranty was void as soon as I left Australia. (this was despite the South African Fuso dealer advising me it was a factory fault. (Fuso and Mercedes do not have international service) This was my experience with Fuso in 2010 in South Africa and Mercedes Trucks in 2014 in India.
- We initialy planned our trip week by week. It just does not work. Meeting so many people and locals who tell you about unknown places you must visit, you would miss out on a lot if you ignore their advice.
- Allow plenty of time when things go wrong, and things will go wrong at some stage.
- Repair and maintain your vehicle and never leave if the vehicle has issues, it will only get worse.
- Do not wear flashy, expensive jewellery
- Copy all your travel documents, insurance, licenses etc and at road blocks never hand over the originals. Keep also copies at home.
- Stay calm at difficult borders and corrupt road blocks, allow plenty of time. If need be pull out the chairs and have a coffee. Never let them know you are in a hurry.
- Do not listen to all those aftermarket sales people as their business relies on you buying as much equipment as possible as all make money by telling you what can go wrong and what you require. Trust me, most of it you will never use. (Unless you are the poor bastard getting stuck in Bad Kissingen (2013) during a overlander show when his 16000kg six-wheel drive sank into the soft, muddy paddock and stayed there for the rest of the show bogged to his axels) Remember the larger (and heavier) you go, the less off-road ability.
- In some Muslim countries you will be asked for a marriage certificate when booking a hotel room, but you can be asked anywhere. Ensure you have a copy
- List all important telephone numbers
BORDER CROSSINGS AND POLICE CHECKPOINTS
Some borders will take hours, others are a breeze. Our worst border crossing was from Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan. This took 24 hours. The main reason: they wanted money. In the end it became clear that the EU changed the rules for Uzbekistan drivers charging them 400 Euro to enter Europe, hence we were told we also had to pay, but no receipt. We came to an agreement the following day with the help of Russian truck drivers. Always take enough time to cross borders. If a border is about to close, things seem to move faster. However, it means you may have to drive in the dark, or you may be allowed to park once you have cleared customs and stay in their carpark. Be aware of fixers, as a lot of times they work together with the custom/emigration officials. You may be asked for additional insurance, road tax, etc. Ask for receipts and if you already have insurance stand your ground (it does not work all the time). Police checks: some are genuine, some are fake. The best advice I can give you is play it by ear. It is up to you how you handle this. I have only paid twice in 8 years of travel, both times I was at fault and received a receipt. Also take in consideration that not all police men/women are bad, some are just bored or have never seen a house on wheels and are generally interested. A word of warning: never let them get inside your car without you being present.
The best advice I can give you: use a well-respected carrier and a local shipping agent. To ship in a container or go RoRo is subject to the size of your vehicle. There is plenty of information on the web and on forums. Break- ins hardly ever happen on board a ship, but they occur on the wharf when your vehicle is going on or off the ship. If you are shipping from Australia use a Australian shipping agent, if you are shipping from Colombia use a Colombian Shipping Agent, If you shipping from Belgium use a Belgium shipping agent. Etc Etc.
IS IT SAFE
This is Impossible to advise on as each person has different needs. Some survive with the bare minimum, others like luxury and shop at the major shopping centres in major cities. You will find the 2 major expenses when travelling are Visa’s and Fuel (Visas are subject to your nationality). Spending time in Serengeti or the Ngoro crater in Kenya will make a huge dent in your budget. In Central and South America campgrounds (sometimes just carparks are expensive to very expensive. Bushcamping will save you $$. Once you have a rough idea of your itinerary (trust me it will change) you know the kilometres you are going to travel, you will have an idea on the litres of fuel you will require. Internet is a great source to find out fuel prices worldwide. If the budget allows, this is where you may consider larger fuel tanks giving you the ability to fill up when fuels is cheap. Other major cost are airfares, shipping, insurance cost. At the home front if you own property, include rates, power, phone etc. We have learned it always costs more than you expected, and prices have increased dramatically since we started travelling around the world in 2004. My advice: look at your financial situation, do you have the money, or can you raise the money? Where do you like to travel? South East Asia is up to 50% cheaper than Africa and India-Nepal are 20% cheaper again than South East Asia. China is expensive due to the very expensive guide service (can be reduced by joining a group). Selling your property to support your travel would not be my preference as you never know if you like the travel or when you become sick. Property value increases while you are away, etc. I hear people say I do not care or I do not need a house, but you need something for when you come home unless you are happy to live of society. Lately most overlanders went home due to Corona imagine you have no house to go to? Rely on friends or rent?!? Other ways to reduce your cost could be couch surfing, house sitting, working in exchange for food and accommodation. Be aware: In our case we bush camp wherever possible, however we will always visit overland camps, Unfortunately for those travelling in South America, Central America and Mexico are operated by expats and charge well above prices we are used to in Australia while many offer no more than a carpark.
HOW TO SET A BUDGET
- The Kilometres you plan to travel will give you the estimated fuel cost, you are able to find the fuel cost per country on the web. The longer you travel the lower the daily cost is.
- Countries you will visit and if Visa’s are required (cost of visas are quite high for some nationalities.)
- Shipping Cost. Many people travel for 6 Months, London to Cape Town and then ship back, same for South America or London to Australia.
- All Risk or Third Party insurance. Purchase insurance at each border or buy insurance in Europe, or for parts of Africa, or South America?
- Bush Camping or camp grounds, or a mix. Hostels and Hotels?
- National Parks are getting very expensive especially in Tanzania and Kenya. My suggestion is to get your wild life fix in South Africa and Namibia.
- Food and Beverage. Live simple or as a king? Look at your current spend at home. If you live in Australia, Europe or the USA and would like to maintain the same life style while on the road, you find the cost is lower in Africa and Asia and cheap when buying at the local markets. (supermarkets in expensive shopping centres or those catering for the expats are expensive anywhere).
- Repairs and Maintenance. Do a 100.000km service before you leave, fit new tyres, new shock absorbers, check other suspension. New tyres, All -Terrain tyres are the type I prefer. If your vehicle is in good order cost should be no more than doing the same KM in your home country. BUT never say never, so have a budget for repairs and maintenance.
Central Asia, Russia, Mongolia, Stan Countries, South East Asia, India and Nepal are the cheapest overland Countries.
Africa is getting more expensive. (National Parks in both Kenya and Tanzania are now beyond affordable. Prices have more than doubled since 2010) South Africa and Namibia are still very affordable
South America & Central America/Mexico are the most expensive for us sofar.
China and Tibet are expensive due to the inability of travelling on your own, you need a guide that costs approx. 500 USD a day
I prefer diesel. Except for in Uzbekistan (no Diesel in 2013 only on the black market), plenty of fuel is availability around the world (countries we visited to date APRIL 2021)
Again, like with the budget, it is hard to say. Some people travel from Cape Town to London in 6 months. Or From Canada or the USA to Ushuaia in 6 Months. Obviously, they see little and have some big days of driving. Others take 2 or 3 years. We spent 4 years in Africa, averaged 68km per day and still did not see everything. In South America this year (2016-2020) we travelled 112km per day on average, however this included days of 550km in Brazil (huge country) as we only had a 90-day visa we spend 45 days on the East coast and 45 days in the North East and central part of Brazil. after 44 days East Coast we entered French Guiana, crossed into Suriname and Guyana before re-entering in the far North East of Brazil 4 months later
TRAVEL ALONE OR IN A GROUP
Personally, I would never travel in a group. This does not mean we do not like to socialize, we love to meet other overlanders at night with a roaring campfire. A few days on the beach or an overlander campsite is great to meet people with similar interests and to share information. But I do know of some overlanders who would never travel alone due to security concerns etc. However, we have seen many long-standing friendships come to an end………
THE BENEFITS OF TRAVELING ALONE
- Stop where you like
- Stay for a while if you like a location
- Sure, travelling alone can feel stressful at times, but it is all part of overlanding.
- You will meet a lot more locals, the best thing of travelling around the world. (integration)
- No group discussions. Imagine asking 6 people where they want to go…..
- Lots of wasted time by arguing, toilet stops, etc.
- Flexibility, change plans, stay longer, leave when you want etc.
- You don’t have to wait for anyone. EVER.
in most places cash is still king. ATM machines are readily available in most countries, however in Sudan and Iran we had issues. The best deals are available on the black market but be aware, some money changers are con artists, and away from the borders deals are always better.
Initially we were fully insured with Alessi in Holland (Australian Registered vehicle), however the cost was so high that after 3 years we decided to start buying insurance at borders. Please note the insurance is invalid if you travel in countries where there is a negative travel advise.
For private health cover: Find out what you are covered for or if you are covered when travelling overseas. We are using Nomads insurance for many years and they seem to be okay.
Obviously take your own medicines and ensure you have them labelled and carry the paperwork that goes with it signed by your GP in the event questions are asked at the borders. Because we traveled for extended periods in Malaria effected areas we decided not to take any medication. However, we did carry a self-test kit. Main reason for not using medication was that without medication doctors can find the type of Malaria immediately, we were told. In our case Clary had Malaria in 2016 and this was treated and after 5 days it was all cured. (Malaria in Africa is like the flu in Europe, Australia or the USA) Yes, many children die but this is due to lack of medical help. A first aid course including CPR is highly recommended.
CHOOSING YOUR ROUTE
This depends on you, your time frame and the area you like to explore. The longer the trip, the harder it would be to travel in the best seasons. Consider the type of roads you are going to travel. It is now possible to drive on the bitumen from Europe to Cape Town, from Cape Town to Singapore and from Ushuaia to Fairbanks in Alaska all on the bitumen. But all/most can also be done away from the bitumen but off course at a much slower pace.
MAPS AND NAVIGATION
In the truck I carry road maps, which I use to plan the route and sightseeing points. I carry a Garmin on the wind screen and a Panasonic Toughbook on the dash. Sofar Garmin has been able to guide me all around Africa, Europe, Asia and South America. In Africa I also used Tracks for Africa in 2010-2011-2015 and 2016, but with the iOverlander App I am not sure which is better. In South America I have used iOverlander a lot and it has provided us with some great camp spots. One problem is that some input is over 4 or 5 years old and no longer correct. My suggestion: ignore the old entries. When exploring real off road, I suggest you use Topographic maps showing terrain steepness. Our Toughbook has both maps (we used the digital maps from http://www.bsmap.de).
PLANNING AN AROUND THE WORLD TRIP IN STAGES
Planning a complete around the world trip without a break is not what I would recommend (however some do). For us 9 months is long enough and after we have spent 3 months at home we really look forward to being back on the road again. Initially we started in 2004 with 3 months travel and 1 month home; over time this increased to 6 months travel and 2 months home. Once we left the Australian shores it increased to 9 months travel and 3 months at home. We feel 9 months is enough, after this you need a break either on a nice tropical beach or go home for a few months.
Pfffff, we originally left on a 5 year around the world trip, after we spent 4 years driving around Australia. This was extended to 10 years and now our plan is to travel for 20 years. This is possible if you are retired or semi-retired.
HOW LONG DO YOU TRAVEL THE WORLD
Some do it in 12 months, others take 30 years. Our plan was a 5 year around the world trip. Including Australia, we are now (2020) in our 16th year. For Africa and the Middle East we planned 1 year, it extended to 4 years and we still have not covered all of Africa. The same applies to Central Asia, South East Asia, Australia and the America’s. My suggestion: Africa minimum 2 years, Central Asia minimum 1 year, Russia, Mongolia, China minimum 1 year, South East Asia minimum 1 year, India, Pakistan, Iran minimum 1 year, South America 2 years, Central America 1 year, USA minimum 2 years, Canada and Alaska minimum 2 years, Europe minimum 2 years. All up this is 15 years!! In fairness this is only possible for a few of us or those that are retired. We have however met many who travel in stages and leave their vehicle behind to return the following year to do a next stage. An important factor is the shorter the trip, the more expensive (mainly due to the many km, service and transport cost).
If you are time restricted, my suggestion is: anything less than 6 months, why not travel for 4-6-10-13 weeks, park the vehicle and fly home. Plan the same the following year.
This is subject to your required level of luxury and mobility.
A Tent offers lightweight accommodation. For us important is ample fly screens, sewn in heavy duty floor. Investment in a heavy duty one pole tent is my recommendation (they last, just look at the safari companies).
A Roof top tent. Not a great idea when you camp at camps/caravan parks and an absolute pain if you need to get to the toilet at night (my view). Not very good in strong winds and inclement weather.
A Camper trailer. The favourite form of camping in South Africa and Australia but it would not be my form of overlanding.
A Caravan. Perfect when travelling around on paved and gravel roads but hard to pull through soft sand, mud, on the beach or bull dust. Would not be my preferred form of overland travel and it would very much limit travel in the villages of South Asia and Central Africa.
A Camper. My preferred form of overlanding due to the extra comfort, no need to have a 4X4 or a huge truck. Based on the route you choose it can be done by any motor home.
Preferred form of cooking is on a campfire in the bush. Next is the gas or diesel cooker.
Subject to space you can never have enough of this (my view). I would recommend an Engle Fridge, if this is above your budget, look for a great sturdy esky (Please Note: Ice is not always available). In a motorhome fit the biggest possible fridge and freezer you can afford/fit. When using an Engle type fridge invest in a dual battery system.
I use an inverter, I hate generators, however we did use one in the early days (Honda)
What should you take?
Simply as little as possible. I prefer khaki. I wear this since 1982 as it does not show all the dirt and I have 5 pair of shirts and shorts. In hot climates use loose, baggy cotton clothes, while close-knit woollens are ideal for cold areas. We use thermal underwear in the arctic. Hats are a must for hot and cold areas. Wind and water proof clothing for those miserable days and in the arctic and at least one pair of sturdy shoes.
PHOTOS AND MOVIES
We are not professional travellers, our pictures and movies are designed for ourselves, family and friends. We carry 3 cameras and use our Samsung phone and the cameras also for movies. We keep a website and have a face book site.
We used “Tracks for Africa” in Africa. In Asia, the Middle East, India and Nepal we stayed outside villages or towns, but also used Truck stops or Fuels stations if we were unable to find a nice bush camp near a creek, a quarry, remote beach, or any other idyllic spot. Never drive too late as this way you may finish up at a truck stop or Fuel station. Currently in South America we always look up iOverlander where possible.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT IN YOUR VEHICLE
- A Fire Extinguisher, if you drive a camper have an extra one for the cabin
- Cargo Barrier in your 4X4 Landcruiser or Nissan. This will prevent injury in the event of an accident or emergency braking if objects come loose in the rear.
- Build in Storage systems
- Comfortable seats and sheep skin covers (Not White)
TOOLS AND SPARES
I have stopped carrying everything listed in the various magazines as it appeared over the years most spare parts we hardly ever used ($$$$$$$$)
At present we carry the following:
A complete tool kit, Hunting knife, Wire brush, Axe, Hammer, Grease gun, Standard Jack, Air jack, (we have air on the truck), Pipe to undo wheel nuts, 3 spare tyres (one on the rim), Puncture repair kit, set of various belts, Fuel-, oil- and air filters, fuses, heavy duty battery jumper leads, Radiator and other hoses, Engine oil and others, hose clamps, Ducting tape, electrical insulation tape.
For 95 % off the type of driving the majority of overlanders do, All Terrain tyres are more than sufficient. Unless you are going to drive on only one type of surface (bitumen), any tyre fitted will be a compromise.
Below is my view
- Chunky and Aggressive tyres are useful in mud and snow (until they clog)
- Most effective mud tyres in the mud are those with the lugs on the side
- A lug free thread pattern (highway pattern) is the best for sand surfaces.
Wide tyres float better on sand and soft surfaces, but if they are very aggressive they will dig in more quickly. On wet roads and when they are more than 50% worn they will have a lot less grip.
Summary, this is a great topic around the campfire, 10 people will have 10 different views. In my view All Terrain tyres is what you need. Remember 80 to 90 % of your driving is on Bitumen. Many roads are potholed. You will be facing a wide variety of terrain so buy new before you leave. One spare is enough if you have a size/type/model readily available in all countries you travel in. If not, purchase an extra one without the rim. To me the 2 most important issues with tyres are tyre pressure. Most drivers are too lazy to deflate and inflate. Secondly the load rating: If you drive an overloaded Toyota Landcruiser as most of us do (say 4500kg) it is important that the tyres can carry the load (IE axel front 2000kg and the rear 2500kg). I would purchase tyres with a load rating of at least 124 (1600kg per tyre), this will give you more strength, possible a little harder ride but who cares. Pot holes are much more of an issue than dirt roads will ever be. Our truck has a rear axle weight of 6800kg. I carry tyres with a 5000kg load rating each. Do not drive on odd size tyres as most probably they are not available once outside Europe, USA or Australia and freight is expensive.
Ensure you understand the local traffic rules even if no-one seems to be concerned about these traffic rules……
PEOPLE YOU MEET
They will become your major source of information and many have also become friends for life and are stopover points while exploring the world. They can also change the way you perceive the world. You vision adjusts regarding the news as it is presented in your home country, foreign aid and/or if it is making life better for those who need it most.
The word “Overlanding” originated in Australia and the term was used by stockmen who drove live stock to the markets in the late 1800’s. Some would spend years to move cattle for over 4000km.
In Australia the well known overland route is the Canning Stock Route, opened by Alfred Canning between 1906 and 1910. In the 1940s and 1950s Len Beadell opened many roads in the Australian Outback and many if not all are still used today by Australian overlanders. Gunbarrel Highway, Anne Beadell Highway, Connie Sue Highway are just to name a few.
Since the Camel trophy in the 1980’s overlanding is getting ever more popular. In Europe Overlander meetings are held more than once a month, Overland forums and Facebook sites make it very easy to find any information you are looking for. Just be aware that commerce also has come to Face book and forums. Australia has significant industries concentrating on after-market off road equipment. In Europe the building of overland vehicles is a growing industry. South Africa and Australia are the fore runners of vehicle fit outs when it comes down to Land cruisers and other larger 4WD brands.
The Canning Stock route, Australia
The Silk Road, connecting the Mediterranean with Iran (Persia) and China, however today it could be 2 different routes: North through Russia and Kazakhstan or South through Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and North India to Urumqi and Xian in China.
Cape Town to Cairo, Africa 10000km
Cape Town to Nairobi, also called the Coca Cola trail due to the large amount of commercial overland trucks using this route.
we have a business passport (60 pages) and a second passport so we can obtain visa’s by sending away the second passport if need be. Most countries require you to have at least 6 months left on the validity of your passport
We have been obtaining Visa’s at the borders with exception of the following countries:
Note: We travel on a Dutch, EU passport
- Ethiopia (in 2010 we were required to send our passport to Brussels), but obtained the second one in 2016 in Nairobi.
- Saudi Arabia (2010) at the embassy in Khartoum
- China Chinese embassy in The Hague (2011), Chinese Embassy in Bishkek (2013 in Kyrgyzstan)
- Angola Windhoek (Namibia 2015) refused, but asked to come back 2 weeks later.
- Russia The Hague (Netherlands 2011 & 2013)
- Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan– Netherlands (2013)
- Uzbekistan, Brussels (2013)
- Pakistan, New Delhi (2014)
- Iran, Pakistan, Lahore (2014)
Subject to where you travel there could be many you need. Visit your local travel clinic and ask your doctor. Do not just look at those required to obtain entry but also look for those that are recommended for your own health and safety. Take the vaccinations at least 3 months in advance as some needles require a booster or a second shot.