vehicle + preparation


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trip facts


This page gives a broad overview of the main points that prospective overlanders will have to consider before they will be ready for their trip.

Top Overlanders Tips
Naturally as we go, we are learning a lot. If you haven't already seen it, see my
"Trip Facts" page for a summary of usefull info, good campsites etc by country.

Below is my list of top tips for prospective overlanders:

  • PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE don't give out pens, sweets, money or anything to kids along the way. In fact giving anybody SOMETHING for NOTHING is only re-inforcing a strong belief that all westerners are Santa Claus.
  • More Money than you think, Less Stuff. An old one, but always true. Preparing your car will probably cost you double what you initially guess. You will probably only use 1/2 the stuff you want to take.
  • Security: Out of sight, out of mind. You've heard it before I'm sure, but probably 50-70% of incidents of theft occur because somebody spots an opportunity. Keep anything that looks remotely valuable out of sight!
  • I tried to get a good collection of nuts and bolts for any requirement. However whenever I needed one, it was always the wrong size!! TIP: Take lengths of M5 to M12 studding (threaded bar) and a number of nuts for each!! Then you will always have the right length of bolt, esp in an emergency!
  • Jaye had endless problems with her monthly contact lenses - lasting only a few days through the Middle East & dry countries. For this bit of the trip - bring daily disposable lenses, or use less porous contacts like Accuview "Oasis" that are specially designed for dry, dusty conditions.
  • One of the best items of cookware we took on the trip was a "Dutch Oven". This is a flat bottomed, heavy cast iron pot. We got ours from e-bay, 30cm diameter, 10cm high: Seems small, but is perfect for cooking roasts, cakes, puddings or stews in the fire. It has a lid with a rim onto which you put coals.
  • Never change money from any tout at a border. No matter WHAT they tell you, or how insistant they are that you will need it. If you really do need local currency, there will be a bank, but we never found a border that didn't accept dollars.... leading on to:
  • Anybody that seems too keen to do business with you (like every tout) is making too much money from you. Otherwise they would be doing business with locals. Disinterested salesmen are normally giving you local price (sadly rare).
  • If anything seems even slightly expensive to you, it definitely is!! Prices for services and goods from Middle East to Southern Africa are generally ridiculously cheap by western standards, eg: Street stalls, garages, local shops. Every time you pay 2, 5 or 20 times the local price without questioning, you make it harder on the next overlander, as people then expect this from tourists. EG: streetside potatoes normal price 20c/kg. Vendor asks US$4. Get to know local currency value quickly. Don't let crowds rush you into decision.
  • I didn't pay a single bribe on the trip. Remeber many officials are just testing the water, and if you are in the right, then your patience will normally win out. Don't ever panic - just relax & enjoy the African way.

Our Car
So above is our Landrover, Priscilla (as in "Queen of the Desert"). There are many reasons why we are making this trip in a Landrover. These are the main ones:

Prisclla has had only had 2 previous owners, and had been parked under a tree on a farm for 8 months when we met. As far as I am aware she is a stock-standard 1993 Defender 110 - 200Tdi (2.5litre turbo diesel).

This is how she looked when I bought her, and how she looks now:


I wanted to keep the preparation for the trip to a minimum. Having every spare in the world is all very well, but takes some of the adventure out of the trip. 4000 of spares might save you a few days waiting somewhere for a spare part, but my experience has shown me that most problems occur on easy to fix parts. Spares are often bulky and heavy, and space is something that you will struggle for. The following parts were fitted/modified:

Full service incl oil change in all gearboxes & diffs
Removed rear bench seats & centre seats (from 12 to 4!!). We made the unusual decision to keep 2 rear seats as we plan to have friends travel with us for short periods...
Replaced all 4 steel wheels that were badly rusted on welded joints
SUSPENSION: Fitted heavy duty rear springs (+1") + shocks (Scorpion racing). It seems that everybody installs a 2" lift kit of O.M.E. While the lift kit gives ground clearance, it also reduces stability (higher load). You also will have to change your radius arms and brake hoses.
** In retrospect I wish I had put 1" heavy duty springs all round, not only the back.
45litre auxiliary fuel tank in the wheel arch. Total capacity now 120litres (=1200km). I decided against carrying steel Jerry cans. Although it is nice to have the extra range, I knew I would not drive around permanently with full jerry cans on the roof (extra unneccesary weight on the roof). As a result we would be making a decision to carry extra diesel only when we thought it may be needed. From experience I know that plastic jerry's are available in almost every local market very cheaply (For DIESEL ONLY!!!!). These can be bought and used temporarily if required.

FYI: We twice carried extra fuel: once to enable us to use the remote Omo Valley crossing from Ethiopia to Kenya, and once to travel through Zim, where fuel supply can be difficult.

FYI: If you are thinking of saving money by carrying cheap diesel through expensive countries, I would estimate that you will save approx US$3-4 per litre of storage capacity (trip total!). ie: If you pay US$300 for 100litres extra capacity, you will break even. (but your consumption may increase, so give up!!)

Front + rear dif guard (front originally fitted with front bash guard). When crossing from Ethiopia to Kenya via Omo Valley, I spent about 2-3 hours constantly catching the rear diff guard. Otherwise no contact on the whole trip.
Installed security cubby between front seats, includes security for stereo
Full length roofrack. I built a large secure wooden storage box for our table & chairs. I looked for ages for an aluminium expedition rack. Eventually I decided on modifying a galvanised rack (Made sure it has 6 feet to distribute weight). The cost of an Alu rack vs galv is approx 700:140. The weights are not incomparable. The only thing is that the Alu racks look really good. However if we decided 2 months along to add something to the roofrack - we would be unable to get the expensive purpose made clamps most alu racks require. However every village along the way should have a dodgy welding shop where we could get a bracket made & welded in place.

Don't underestimate the convenience of having a convenient place where you can easily throw some firewood you collect on the roadside.

Safari-Equip rooftent - this is a lower cost version of the Hannibal-type rooftents. We are happy with the tent, despite some teething problems.
Awning: I made a full-length lightweight awning for the side of the car, fitted to the roofrack. To tell the truth, we only used it about twice.
42litre Engel fridge. This was the one thing that we fitted, connected and just worked without headache!! Highly reccomended. 42litre is pretty large, but we kept it full most of the time.
Inverter (220v power - 300W - for laptops, cameras, ipods etc...). In the past I have found they are very quick to blow up. I took a UK PowerRing unit that has been sucking dust & hot air for 5 months now and still works perfectly!!
2nd battery (Exide deep cycle) and extra bank of fuses for auxilliary equip. You can get expensive charging & monitoring systems for these batteries, but I simply connected my deep cycle battery as the main battery. Then connect your ordinary battery in parallel through a large isolator. This isolates the "spare" battery, until you accidently run down the deep cycle one (fridge is the main culprit). Give your spare battery a charge occasionally.

How much power does this battery give? - In cool conditions, our fridge can run at 5deg for 2-3 days before the battery is flat. In hot conditions, sometimes as little as 12hrs.

Extension cord (10-15m) + fridge socket. I thought I would rarely find a place to plug it in. However in the places where you spend more than a few days, there is normally power. Our battery lasts about 2days with the fridge, and 8days without. (Don't underestimate the power drawn by the stereo!). Alternatively you can put the whole car (battery) on charge when parked, but BEWARE: Engel & possibly other fridges don't like this!!
3x 12V sockets for lights, drill, compressor, speakers etc
2x 12V tube lights inside car + 2 tube lights on leads for cooking etc... B&Q in the UK sells some excellent lightweight 12V battery fluorescent lights that can be converted for use on your car. In addition they sell a smaller 6V LED version that we have used for 3 months with one set of batteries!!
Fixed aluminium chequer plate, both to make her look the part, protect surfaces from loose stones & allow us to stand on the bonnet wingtops to open/close roof tent.

I bought my car with 4 almost new Pirelli A/T Scorpions. For this reason I kept these tyres for the trip. I was really impressed with them, with only 2 punctures, despite us taking some truly awful rocky & rough roads.

It seems the #1 overland tyre is the BF Goodrich A/T tyre. The Pirelli Scorpion is high up the list.

If you do happen to blow out tyres, and need to replace them in emergency, you need a common size. From my experience, the easiest size to obtain in Africa is 7.50x15 or 7.50x16. Finding 16" tyres is harder as most local cars run 15". However many "light trucks" use the 7.50x16", and these are what you find when you are off the beaten track.

However do not underestimate the strength of modern tyres. The chances are that unless you are doing really hard off-road, you will experience few punctures.

My A/T Scorpions were wide 265x75's. This is a difficult size to get anywhere but in major capital cities. However they worked far better in deep sand & mud than narrow tyres. Their disadvantage is their weaker sidewall (beware rocks!) and softer compound. The new ATR Scorpion has an even stronger sidewall.

Equipment and Spares

In addition to a full tool kit I took a number of things to help on-the road repairs:
  • A 12V cordless drill converted to run on car battery power. I cut the old battery off and soldered an extension cable to run from the car batteries.
  • Numerous nuts & bolts, pieces of steel plate/bar, various jubilee clamps, loads of cable ties.
  • A number of old bicycle tubes - can be used as bungies or patches on leaking pipes etc... Cut slices for strong elastic bands!!

For the record: Problems en-route
During the trip, we had the following problems occur. This may be helpfull to other overlanders.



Most important is arranging the "Carnet du Passage" - the passport for your car!! See next point. First though:

Aaaaaahhhhh yes!!! Well - everybody has a different budget. I will explain our rough budget:

We were on a tight budget: We did not keep exact records, but know how much we started with and how much we ended with.

You CAN do it cheaper, but I would say figure on more. Here's a breakdown (roughly):

8-month Africa Trip
Expense Cost
Car (purchase)4,000
Equipment (purchase only - I installed all myself) 4,000
Carnet (Fees: 700 + Insurance 2,400, 50%refundable) 3,100
Trip expenses (incl visas, ferries etc) 14,000
Diesel (40,000km = 4,000litres @ US$1/litre) 2,000
TOTAL: 27,000

We skipped some countries and expensive experiences. For another 2,000 we could have done a lot more, and it really makes sense to do that. You will only be there once!!!

My opinion is that most people overprepare for the trip. While it is fantastic to have every gadget, built in drawers, shelves etc, they are really not needed, and are expensive. Africa can be done in your standard 4x4 - it's really about what level of comfort you want. It is not the Moon!!!

The Carnet is a "passport" for your car. It is a document required by the Customs department when entering a country. Simply put, it is a way to guarantee the country that you will not sell your vehicle and leave the country.

Without it, you would have to "import" your vehicle into each country, paying the appropriate import tax of that country. The carnet is an international document, that acts as a guarantee to cover import tax or costs of disposing of a vehicle should you fail to leave the country within a set period or abandon the vehicle (say after a crash or fire).

Typically, the organisation that issues the carnet (The RAC in UK) will ask you for a bond to cover this guarantee. So assuming that a country sets its bond at 100% of the value of the vehicle, you will have to provide a refundable bond of 100% the vehicle value.

So I have reduced the value of my Landy to its lowest acceptable book value (3,000), and should therefore pay this amount to the RAC to obtain a carnet. But it gets more difficult. Many African countries set their value at 100%-200%. But Egypt sets its bond at a staggering 800%. So do I have 24,000 knocking about? Of course not.

So the alternative is to take out insurance to cover this bond. The insurance is 5% + 5% refundable deposit. This means that the difference between visiting Egypt or not, is 1,200. Which explains my reluctance to visit this country...

Well now that I am going to, it had better be WORTH IT!!!

Road Tax
After leaving the EU, UK road tax seems to be worthless. However in South Africa (and probably Namibia & Botswana) you are required to have road tax on your vehicle. Importing your vehicle into SA can take several weeks, during which time you should have a valid tax disc.

Importing car into South Africa
If you are planning to finish your trip and import your car into South Africa, then TAKE CAREFULL NOTE:

It is a long and arduous journey & can be expensive!

If you are a geniune returning RSA resident (& can prove it), have owned the car for 1 year, and will keep the car for 2 years, then it is possible to import the car without paying import duty. If you are not an SA citizen, forget it!

If you have not owned the car for a MINIMUM of 1 year before LEAVING, or have no evidence of permanently emmigrating from SA, then you will have to pay import duty & fees. This came to 54% of the stated value of the car! You are then STILL OBLIGED to keep the car for a further 2 YEARS after importation & registration paperwork is complete (a process that takes 4 months!).

To summarise: If there is any way to return the car to its origin & sell, it will be cheaper & quicker!

To summarise the entire process:

During this whole process the car should have valid foreign tax disc/licence (or you may not drive it). GOOD LUCK!!!

Insurance: CAR
Insuring the car is a bit of a tricky job. The distinction between comprehensive and 3rd party insurance should be made:
Comrehensive This really up to the car owner to decide if he wants it. However there seems to be only one UK company that provides this cover within Africa: Campbell Irvine.

It is compulsory to travel with 3rd party insurance in most countries you visit. From the border of Turkey, countries requires that you purchase 3rd party insurance on the border. There is no single insurance available to cover all countries, this is done on the move. However, when you reach Ethiopia, you can buy a Comesa Yellow Card that will be accepted as far as Zambia. This should cost around US$70-100 for 3 months.
Insurance: MEDICAL
Getting personal medical insurance is obviously strongly reccomended. There are numerous companies that will provide this cover. Make sure you read the small print as some stipulate that you return to the country on a regular basis etc...

Medical Kit
Jaye was in charge of the medical kit. She did an excellent job of collecting all the things we might need along the way, and creating a good kit. It was suggested that we get a letter from a doctor reccomending that we carry these medicines, in order to avoid trouble at borders or checkpoints. As neither of us have a doctor in the UK, we simply printed our own letter.
- NOTE we were never asked for this letter

The list of medicines includes a number of prescription antibiotics. Your doctor may prescribe them for you, otherwise we simply bought them all in Turkey, where these medicines are 1/5th of the price, and available over the counter!!

Driving Licences
In addition to your national licence, you will need an international driving licence. This is only a case of paying 5 at a post office and getting this document. I suggest going twice and getting a 2nd or even 3rd one. Sometimes leaving a licence behind with a stubborn official trying to extort a bribe, is the easiest way.
In addition make a few laminated copies of your national licence for the same reason. In 8 months, only 1 official ever noticed that it was not my real licence. I told him he was very sharp-eyed and obviously knew his job well. We were away within minutes :)

We found that Turkey & Syria visas were quickly issued in the UK. The rest of your visas can be applied for along the way. Most often visas are far easier to obtain along the way than in London where you need every conceivable document. At local embassies, a photo and the fee (IN U.S. DOLLARS!) is all you need.

A special section for this difficult visa. We have only heard of ONE case of anybody getting this visa anywhere except for Cairo!! (in Amman). Apparently you need 4-8weeks in most countries, but often you may still be refused. The answer when heading south is to apply in Cairo. Here you need 2 photos, an embassy introduction letter, US$100pp, and are issued the visa within an hour. But you MUST have the embassy intro letter. I have heard of people downloading them from the net, but do yourself a favour and get a proper letter! If you are heading North, you will be kept waiting in Addis Ababa for months. Instead apply for a TRANSIT visa, which are issued within a week or two. Nairobi is often easier.

It is a good idea to make a large number of passport photos before you leave. Get them in both black&white and colour. Perhaps the best & cheapest way is to make an image with 2x4 images and print them as jumbo (4"x6") photos. They will then size themselves correctly. See our sample. By doing them yourself, you get to re-take your pic as many times as you like, and don't end up looking like a passport pic!!
NB: We took about 20 pics each before we were happy!!!

Additional paperwork
One piece of paperwork will make your life easier if you are visiting any Arabic countries. It is an Arabic translation of your details. I am very glad to announce that simply by clicking below - this document CAN BE YOURS!! The document is a trip summary and includes details of your vehicle and passports. We had it translated into Arabic - you just fill in the rest and hey presto!!

     Trip Summary in Arabic   -    You can thank me later :)

Even before or after Arabic countries - this document can make borders a LOT easier. They are used by all overlanding companies and usually save time and AGGRO.

There are several suggested bits of paper that we considered. Some of them are to ease border crossings. Often they are not needed, but are just one less thing for officials to use as an excuse to fish for bribes.

Our route on the east side of Africa is traditionally less trouble than the western side.

Letter of introduction: from your embassy. This is said to smooth some visa applications. The South African embassy in London takes 4 months to issue passports, and so I didn't even bother trying for this letter in London. The only place we needed it was Cairo for the Sudan visa, and they like a letter from your embassy in Cairo.

Carte Grise: (Grey Card) another type of document that summarises your car's details. May ease your passage in former French countries. We didn't have one, and nobody asked.

Camping Carnet: discounted camping in Europe, seems it is only available only to members of motoring organisations. Also carries some sort of 3rd party insurance for campsites in Europe... Don't waste your time.

Usefull Links
The following websites were great pointers to kick off our preparations:
You probably found my site through Africa Overland. If not, they have probably the best list of other trip websites from where to get up to date info for your trip.
Camelworld is the website of an expedition from 2002-2004. They have loads of really usefull checklists and reference info for planning your trip or knowing what to expect along the way. Probably the best site to start
Brownchurch is a Landrover overland preparation specialist in North London. They have an excellent archive of usefull info on their website. They are also experienced in advising & preparing overlanders.


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