Well, its the end and what have we learned? Hopefully some things about the world, hopefully some things about ourselves but definitely some things about how to do an overland trip. If you’re reading this site it’s likely you’re thinking about undertaking a similar trip, maybe to Africa or South America instead. We can’t really comment on those routes but I’d be very surprised if conditions there made any significant difference to the do’s and don’ts below. It should be noted though that these snippets of advice reflect our own experiences and personalities. Other people will tell you different things. Sorting through all the advice is one of the many time consuming tasks that awaits you. My advice? - just to follow the list below. Ignore everyone else.
1. DO use a diesel engine.
Why? They are more reliable, more efficient and more resilient to water ingress and more tolerant of fuel quality. Also, diesel is available everywhere and is almost always cheaper than petrol.
2. DO use a rugged dashboard compass.
Why? This device is all you need to get to where you want to go. even if there are no road names or signs you can head in the general direction and be fairly sure you’ll get there eventually. Without one you’ll head in one of the many wrong directions. It needs to be rugged though because ours eventually disintegrated. The compass and even the most basic map (we only used guide book maps) will see you right. A GPS is not necessary and is a target for theft.
3. DO use a mosquito net and repellant.
Why? Without one you will almost certainly die of one of the following maladies: a) malaria - unpleasant, b) dengue fever - more unpleasant, c) incessant scratching and rage induced by being covered in hundreds of itchy bites - its hard to describe the capacity for misery induced by these little feckers. The prevalance and seriousness of these diseases should not be underestimated. Prevention is far more desirable than treatment.
4. DO sleep inside your vehicle if possible.
Why? You can park practically anywhere including towns and cities and sleep with a reasonable chance of not being disturbed. A roof tent attracts curious passersby who will decide that their desire for a chat is of the utmost importance regardless of the time of day or night. A roof tent will mean you will have to look for secluded areas to park every night. This is not easy in heavily populated countries. Not sleeping in your car means you have to look for accommodation and secure parking every night which is arduous at best, impossible at worst.
5. DO get a fridge and a very large second battery to run it.
Why? The vast majority of countries in the world are very hot and sometimes humid places. For people like us from colder climes, the temperature is nearly unbearable for large portions of the day. A cold drink goes a long way to making life more enjoyable. You’ll need a very large battery though because fridges require alot of power and have to work hard in these temperatures. A 32 litre Engel fridge will drain a standard car battery in less than 24 hours (despite what the manufacturer data may tell you).
6. DO have darkened windows/sun tints.
Why? Heat as in 6 above and they prevent people peering in to see if you have anything worth nicking.
7. DO get a Carnet de Passage free from a European country (don’t pay the RAC).
Why? You need a Carnet de Passage for your vehicle to cross borders or else pay large amounts of import tax. You can get a Carnet for free from some European countries (e.g. Holland). You don’t have to be resident in these countries. The RAC is the only organisation in the Uk which does carnets and will charge you a large amount for one and only return half the amount when you bring the car back.
8. DO use a vehicle with good ground clearance.
4 wheel drive is desirable but not essential. What is essential is ground clearance. Many 4×4s don’t have adequate ground clearance. Use one that does and you shouldn’t have any trouble. The roads of the world are not as bad as people make out.
9. DO extensively test drive your vehicle (at least 20,000 miles) before leaving the country.
Why? It will break somewhere else otherwise and it’s much harder to find a decent mechanic to fix it (it’s hard enough in the Uk).
10. DO have at least 3 cash/credit cards and accounts you can access through the internet.
Why? In case of loss and to cover you in places where certain types are not as widely accepted. So don’t have them all Visa cards. Have internet access accounts so you can transfer money from higher interest savings accounts to current accounts when you need it.
11. DO have a bank account that doesn’t charge you for foreign ATM withdrawal.
Why? You will make many, many ATM withdrawals and any charge will quickly add up causing you to withdraw larger amounts to avoid the charge which means you’ll have to carry more cash around than is advisable to do.
12. DO choose your travelling companion wisely.
Why? You’ll have to spend an inordinate amount of time with this person and trust in their driving and organisational skills. Are they likely to flake out when the going gets tough? Are they reliable financially? Have you travelled with them before? Will their insistance on continually repeating lines from 10 year old comedy sketch shows make you want to strangle them? Alternatively, are you the sort of person that needs space and privacy? Maybe you’d prefer to travel alone? These are just questions off the top of my head. This issue really is the most important one though. The others pale into insignificance in comparison.
1. DO NOT bring sandtracks, a winch or other heavy/expensive recovery gear.
Why? They are heavy and expensive and you don’t need it unless you are really going to be going properly off road. Good ground clearance will get you through most situations.
2. DO NOT bring a water tank bigger than 40L.
Why? It will add alot of weight and restict space in your vehicle. And you won’t use it.
3. DO NOT use a rooftent if you can avoid it.
Why? See do’s number 4.
4. DO NOT bring more than 2 jerrycans for fuel.
Why? Same as for 2 above.
5. DO NOT bring a vehicle into China until the regulations change.
Why? It’s very expensive and a great deal of hassle and in my view not worth it unless it is an essential part of your route. If the regulations change then yes, driving in China is quite easy.
6. DO NOT waste your time with Travellers cheques.
Why? They are a pain to change in most places in the world. Nearly everywhere has ATMs now which you can withdraw from. Countries that don’t are unlikely to accept traveller’s cheques. Just change a bunch of cash at the border.
7. DO NOT underestimate the cost of your trip.
Unless you are very lucky you are unlikely to be getting much income during your trip. The lost earnings for the year are the biggest cost but unforeseen events can add considerable bills - e.g. a catastrophic mechanical breakdown or crisis at home requiring your return. Make sure you have adequate finances available before setting off.
Finances are only one issue though. From another prospective - you are going to spend a considerable amount away from family, friends and familiar surroundings, often in places with language and cultural barriers to surmount. You will have the freedom to see new things but not the freedom to continue with past activities you may have been interested in (e.g. sport, music, cinema, theatre) If you are the sort of person who needs bacon, eggs and toast every morning to be happy then you are not going to make it. Be honest about what sort of traveller you are. Do you prefer to stay in nice hotels? Are you a beach resort or adventure sport type? This sort of trip is probably not what you want to do. If you are interested in learning about different cultures, social, financial and political methodologies, ethnicity and language and are prepared to forsake almost all home comforts and spend long hours driving through hot and uncomfortable terrain to attain this knowledge then this is undoubtedly the best thing you will ever do.