For the first two years, we decided to go for the “hardcore” overland style of travelling. That means a 4×4 vehicle with 4wheel drive and low gears, 50/50 tires, a rooftop tent, some high qualified recovery gear, a 12V fridge etc. After Africa, we changed completely the way we travel and we went for the camper van option. So, we bought a cargo van that we personally converted to a house-on-wheels that accommodates us the last two and a half years in Europe and North, Central & South -America.
Modifications, gear and equipment vary from people to people and an online research always sheds some light when looking for information and details about setting up your future expedition vehicle.
Personally speaking, we have gone through extensive research in order to get sufficiently prepared for our travels as well as the territories and the seasons we will experience and so we have some good experience and advice (that we are always happy to share) on travel gear and vehicle modifications. The key, though, is to keep balanced the MUST-HAVE list along with the GOOD-TO-HAVE list and here is a critical difference between overlanding and traveliving.
The basic needs we have to cover while traveliving is our personal safety and our comfort which are summarized in a nice relaxing decent sized bed, a fridge with freezing cold beers and something decent to eat! Navigation, vehicle maintenance, paperwork, media kit and first-aid kit come next. Below you can find a list of all our equipment we have used in Africa, Europe & the Americas. Our moto and all our attempts focus on one thing: simplicity & minimalism.
Sleep, Food & Water
A roof top tent (AIRTOP Maggiolina by Autohome) hosted us in the national parks and deserts and allowed us to camp almost everywhere in the African continent while our Toyota camper van has been appropriately converted to fit a 1.90cmx1.25cm foam mattress. For cooking, we make use of a normal set of pots, pans and other funny stuff that we use while camping the last 20 years (a 3kg & a 10kg gas bottles, 2 burner stove etc). The portable refrigerator indelB TB42 (of 42 liters capacity) keeps always water & beers cool. The high tech carbon filter Katadyn Combi ensures that we have fresh and clean water to drink where circumstances do not allow us to buy purified bottled water.
Navigation & Orientation
In Africa, we made use of Mio Moov 560 & Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx and mainly used the Tracks4Africa maps. We did also use Michelin paper maps for Africa (741,745,746). To keep record of our route and location we briefly made use of the Spot Satellite GPS Messenger.
Since 2015, we own a Garmin nüvi 2595LMT along with CityNavigator & OSM maps and we are more than satisfied. You can also download here all the City Navigator Maps for Garmin devices for North, Central & South America as well as more dedicated maps for Canada, USA and Mexico (it’s free & safe). OSM (Open Street Maps) work as well and you can select & download the country or region you need here.
Media kit & electronics
An Olympus SP500UZ 6.0MP, two Minolta (SRT 101 & SRT 202), some telephotos & wide-angle lenses (50mm, 35mm-200mm, 28mm-80mm with macro) as well as a Canon Legria FS200E helped to capture all moments, scenes and unique pictures we encountered in Africa. However, quite early in our African endeavors, in Nouadhibou, Mauritania we have been robbed and so lost all our cameras except the Olympus.
When in South Africa in 2013, we found a great deal and so we purchased a light Canon EOS M mirror-less camera which came with a 18-55mm lens which we use to shoot everything we find interesting and so having a rich archive of photos and memories.
In terms of connectivity, we keep ourselves connected with an Iphone 5SE (we started with a Samsung Alpha, then an iPhone 4S), an iPad Mini and a Macbook Air (we started with an 11” Turbo-X, then with a 10” Toshiba NB510-F10A & then with a Lenovo Thinkpad T440)
First- aid kit & vaccinations
The first aid kit contains everything that is necessary in such a trip. Antibiotics, antihistamines, bands, painkillers and emergency cortisone shots are a MUST have but you can always improvise depending on your needs, potential allergies etc. Regarding the necessary vaccinations before departure, we carry lots of antibodies against: tetanus, polio, hepatitis A & B, cholera, typhus, yellow fever & meningitis. Malaria and other endemic viruses like Ebola and Zika can only be treated after with special drugs and medicine.
Power on the go
Our power supply is covered by a DIY solar system which consists of 3 photovoltaic panels of 1x 80 & 2×67 watts, an inverter of 12-220volt COTEK SK700-212 700watt, a deep cycle EXIDE GEL 85Ah battery, a PWM charge regulator of 30A & a MPPT charge regulator of 10A, that provide us with enough energy to recharge our batteries and operate smoothly all our electrical devices (laptop, refrigerator, LED lights, etc.).
20 lt water jerry can, 2×20 lt fuel jerry cans, shovel, saw, axe, rechargeable torches, set of rechargeable batteries, mosquito net, compass, 12V heavy duty air compressor, fire extinguishers, snatch block, tire repair kit, tow straps (10m & 5m), work gloves, bow shackles, chairs & camping table, binoculars, rope, funnel, folding sink, complete set of tools, spares & parts (engine oil, oil, fuel and air filter, AC & timing belt kit, wheel bearings, water pump, starter, brake pads and discs etc.).
Paperwork & documentation
Passports with lots of empty pages and a travel insurance are MUST have. For our African leg, we decided to trust the English company RoundTheWorldInsurance which covered us for a year in all the countries we visited but they did not refund our loss of personal effects in South Africa because they were “unattended” inside our locked car. Since 2013, we travel without travel insurance and we prefer to pay out of the pocket when needed.
Regarding the car, the issuing of Carnet de Passages en Douane (CPD) plus International Driving Licenses (or IDP) are mandatory for Africa (as well as Oceania, Asia and Middle East but not for North, Central and South America). As for the 3rd party liability road insurance, the norm is to shop either online (like we did for US and Mexico) or just before entering to a country at the borders (like we did in Africa, Central and South America).
Internet is full of free resources like travel blogs, other travellers’ websites, forums, eBooks etc. to study while getting prepared for such a trip. We will only mention a few but you have to make sure that you do a very detailed research from every aspect.
http://www.africa-overland.net (Expeditions network)
http://advrider.com (Motorbike travellers forum)
http://horizonsunlimited.com (Motorbike travellers forum)
http://www.fridge-and-solar.net (Guide about 12V/24V connections)
http://www.niparts.com (Spares & parts catalogs)
http://expeditionportal.com/forum/ (Travellers forum)
http://expeditionmotorhome.com (Blog about any type of motorhome)
http://www.carbibles.com (Technical guide about cars)
http://www.spritmonitor.de (Gas mileage statistics from users)
http://www.gasbuddy.com (Gas & diesel price updates in Canada & US)
http://www.dangerousroads.org (Good for route planning)
http://www.epc-data.com/ (Spare parts catalogs for Asian cars only)
http://ww.drwisetravel.com (Articles & advice about health issues for travellers)
http://www.amegas.com.mx/index.php/es (Gas price in Mexico)
http://www.drivetheamericas.com (Information about the Americas)
http://ioverlander.com (Listings of overlanders accommodation, fuel stations, mechanics etc.)
http://wikioverland.org (The Wikipedia for overlanders)
http://xe.com (Currency tool)
http://www.liferemotely.com (Digital nomads)
http://www.goannatracks.com (Information and guides about camper van preparations)
http://panamericanainfo.com (Information about the Americas)
http://www.travelindependent.info (Budget independent travel advice & tips)
http://www.silkroute.org.uk (Information and guides about campervan preparations)
http://www.hackneys.com/travel/docs/propane4xvehicles.pdf (The propane bible)
http://www.globalpetrolprices.com (Global updates on gasoline & diesel prices)
http://www.worldstandards.eu/electricity/plugs-and-sockets (Plug & socket global guide)
https://www.adac.de/reise_freizeit/ratgeber_reisen/fahrzeug_reisen/carnet_de_passage/carnet_de_passages_en.aspx (Info about the issuing the Carnet de Passage en Douane)
http://catalogs.autocod.com.ua (Catalogs with diagrams and part numbers for Asian & European cars)
http://vandogtraveller.com/campervan-electrics-wiring (12V electrics and wiring guide)
Smartphone & tablet apps for iOS & Android
Viber (Messages, voice and video calls)
WhatsApp Messenger (Messages, voice and video calls)
Skype (Messages, voice and video calls)
Maps.me (Offline maps & navigation
iOverlander (Database of places for travellers)
XE Currency (Currency converter)
SpanishDict (English-Spanish dictionary)
Sprintmonitor (Database of fuel and car maintenance listings and statistics)
Scanner Pro (Virtual scanner) (only for iOS but similar apps exist also in Google Play)
1Password (Password manager)
Skyscanner (Flights search)
Kindle (eBooks reader)
USB Disk (Folder & files manager) (only for iOS but similar apps exist also in Google Play)
VLC (Media player and movies manager)
Pocket Earth PRO (Offline maps & travel guides) (only for iOS)
Windfinder (Weather forecast)
City Maps2GO Pro (Offline maps & travel guides)
Duolingo (Learn a foreign languages and practice)
Dropbox (Cloud service)
Microsoft OneDrive (Cloud service)
Commander Compass PRO (GPS toolkit) (only for iOS but similar apps exist also in Google Play)
Weather+ (Weather forecast) (only for iOS but similar apps exist also in Google Play)
Booking (Book for accommodation)
Hostelworld (Book for accommodation)
Airbnb (Book for accommodation)
Any travel guide app
Any UM converter
Any application to connect and manage your bank account
Finally, Ithaka of Costa P. Cavafy was a great source of inspiration before but also after our departure and helped us in several critical moments.
“It is better to travel one mile than to read a thousand books.” Confucius