The Realities of Overlanding
To preface this blog post I must make sure that those who read this (our parents) understand that we absolutely loved this trip. Any negatives that we experienced along that way out were by far outweighed by the positives. Even crashing into a Bull. However, this being said it isn’t all rainbows and butterflies like we romanticised when getting started on our journey. Many people have commented to us how they loved our pictures and stories from our journey, what an amazing time we are having, how they would love to do the same and give a playful scoff when we occasionally complain about the realities that come with overlanding. We understand that this is an opportunity not many people take, or that not many people have the chance to take, that it is an adventure of a lifetime, an experience we might never have again. Therefore we shouldn’t complain. And for the most part, we do not. But this is not just a 2 week holiday, or even a 2 month trip, this has become our life day in and day out. We are just living differently according to society but we have our own little struggles and things we don’t like or didn’t expect.
So for those who are thinking about doing this trip (strongly advise it), or those who want to understand the cons to living life on the road that we have experienced first hand, keep on reading! We will start out with the bad and end on a good note and our personal data sheets from our months travelling (if you are only interested in those scroll to the bottom)……
The Bad Realities of Living On The Road/Traveling
As an important note, our setup was a Toyota Landcruiser without rooftop tent. We bought the car and made it into our home in parking lots of Walmart and Home Depot in a couple days. Our car was 30 years old, and Frederik loves doing all repairs himself, which enabled us to save money on mechanics. Because of a low budget, and because we like it this way, we stayed out of cities and made wild camping our ‘thing’ and tried to keep the setup of the car as simple as possible. This meant that we had to be creative, but it all worked out very well. We installed house batteries, and divided our storage space up like this:
15% personal storage space for Taylor and 15% for Frederik
35% tools and spare parts
35% food and cooking equipment
We did all of the planning for this trip in less than a month. By this I mean, that day 0 we got the idea, and on day 30 we were sitting in our car crossing the border into Mexico.
These are our experiences. Others may have been way better at it or just luckier. Good for them! 🙂
- Overlander Competiton. I am going to start out with our biggest pet peeve, the worst part of travelling in general, and you might be surprised to read that it is the other travellers. Not the ones you make friends with, the connections you have for life, but it is the culture of competitiveness that most try to escape from home yet bring along with them. It goes like this: “So you’re driving the Americas? how long are you taking? or really wow that is so fast we are doing it in # years, or really you didn’t get this item ect. or did you not go to this amazing wonder? oh do you know this overlander couple who we know?” blah blah blah. Some people go faster than us, many go slower, but either way we, as a community, should celebrate the opportunity, no matter the length, that people get to do this adventure. No one will ever win the price for “who’s overlanding the most”. That is the thing that has bothered us the most through this trip. Now I’ll go on to the little living details and stop venting……
- Cost of the Trip itself is expensive. We both spent $10,000USD each which doesn’t include the car and some parts and replacements we needed for it or our plane tickets. We are attaching at the bottom our budget, gas data sheet and other spreadsheets we have made so others have a good idea of what it requires or for those who are just interested.
- Lack of showers (our own fault). It is hard to keep up good hygiene when in the north it was blazing hot. We were showering more often than we do now down in the south but ended up sticky and miserable still when trying to fall asleep. In the south we wild camped for a week at a time, taking a quick ‘throw water on me’ bath in streams, not making use of gas station showers like we should have. We have just habituated to the smell I suppose.
- The Lack of a Bathroom So as you may have guessed, or really did not care to think about, going to the bathroom like normal people is difficult as we do not drive around with one. Frederik can just go wherever and whenever he wants. I, on the other hand, had to wait till dark to hide in a corner if we are in public. And in the morning I have to hold it until we are driving and go by a gas station. But what about number 2?! Use a shovel out in the woods. If you are street camping you have to coordinate to be near a café, hotel or gas station and go before they close and hope you don’t have to again. What happens if you have to go to the bathroom again? Well in the south it is cold, really cold at night and it pains you to get out of the bed, which is more difficult than we would like, and freeze a little. But squatting in the rain sucks even more. We will never be more grateful to have a roof over our heads for this.
- What To Do When Night Falls?! So at the beginning of our trip, the sunset every day at 6pm. Well, we do not go to bed at 6pm so what do you do then!? Watch a whole lot of movies. Too many movies. One of the many things I regret not bringing was a kindle. We each have two books we have not read because we lost interest in them. If we had brought as many books as movies, it would have been a better balance.
- Shelter From The Weather. This is the same challenge on extremely cold, wet or sun blazingly hot days. Until recently, we had nowhere to go but inside to hide away from the rain, stay warm or bake in the car oven. We did make an awning, but if it is too windy, then that is of no use as well. With our setup, it can make you feel a little trapped, that unlike in a home we are not controlled by nature. A good awning, maybe even with walls, would have been a worthwhile investment.
- Cooking in the Weather. We cannot cook inside the car. So during these unpleasant conditions, we still have to cook outside and good quality really gets sacrificed. I have never eaten so much Ramen in my life. Then you have to clean the dishes. In the north, where it was warm we were good about doing it right after dinner in a little bucket trying to spare our dishwashing water. As it has gotten colder, and we have gotten lazy, it is left until the next morning so our hands do not go numb. Something to offset this we learned from a friend is dishwashing gloves of course!
- Lack of Refrigeration in our case. Others got real compressor driven fridges. This made it difficult in our case for keeping food, in case we wanted to get off the grid for an extended period of time. Our spare batteries do not have enough amp hours to keep the fridge running all night without draining it all the way.
- Eating Healthy is a struggle. That yes, every day is the weekend, but we cannot eat and drink like it is. It is hard to discipline yourself without a schedule or have access to good food at all times. It is ridiculous how much carbs people eat down here. Vegetables are hard to come by when eating out.
- Physical Activity is another way to keep us healthy, something we thought we would be doing a lot of when we were romanticizing this trip. But most of the time we are driving. It has made us lazy and reluctant to run and work out because we have gotten so out of shape.
- Dirty Clothes pile up fast. It does not phase us anymore to wear the same outfit 3 days in a row, sleeping in it too. We really have to make conscious decisions to change. But the laundry still pile up fast, becoming the size of a body bag frequently. I am not against hand washing, we do it occasionally, but often it does not dry in time and I just do not believe it does a good enough job to get our clothes clean. So we wait until we find a laundry mat, sometimes for a month, and drop it off all at once. Always missing one article every time when we pick it back up.
- Cell Phone Plans and WIFI. For the two countries, we had a cell phone plan and it was really nice. We could keep in contact, look up things and navigate with better ease. The rest of the 7 months were a bit annoying because as we drove, or looked for places to go, it was based on the availability of wifi a lot. It was something that took over more on our trip than we would have liked. We should have just bought the new google cell phone roaming plan in the states before we left. This way ‘finding wifi’ would not have been as much in focus.
- Planning. We are not on the timeline of 2 years like some are fortunate to have. Originally we had only planned 6 months. So with this time frame planning is needed. We decided to have goals every so often so we knew how much we had to drive in one day in order to have days off and still reach our goals. You have to plan a lot of food and water if you really want to head out into the wilderness for days on end like you would for any camping trip with the extra thought of gas.
- Gas has become the main focus of our budget. It started out cheap and has now reached $5 per gallon. It has affected where we are going because money is tight on a trip this long with no income.
- Car Break Down and Visiting Every Freaking Home Depot. Breakdowns are something Frederik tries to avoid, always checking everything I swear almost every day. But when you are driving 20,000km it is inevitable. It sets you back in time, in costs, and where you can go. For example our transfer case mounts broke in the last week of our trip, so the last leg of our trip we could no longer go off the highways onto gravel roads and see everything we want to see. It was 7 days of boring driving and that is all.
- Big Decisions. Making the responsible decision is hard to discipline yourself to do when the world is your playground and you have the means to go wherever you want. We have had to say no to some pretty amazing things, but we have seen so many anyway, but it just gives us another reason to go back.
- Alone Time is something that does not exist, or for that matter personal space when you share only a car with one other person where you are moving daily. We do occasionally take hikes to ourselves but that’s about all. It hasn’t affected us as much as we thought, but it is something that is hard to come by when overlanding with another person.
- Keeping Organized in such a tiny home with lots of stuff in it. Parts constantly moving is more difficult than we had thought. We really had to discipline ourselves to put things away immediately in the same spot and altered our set up constantly throughout the trip. Bungee cords are our saviour.
- Garbage piles up fast and it noticeable more when it is in the front taking up your foot room. We tried as best as we could to minimize our garbage. However, it is not easy in countries with other worries than tons of garbage thrown on the side of the roads. Do not even get me started on recycling… because there were no such things until Chile and Argentina. However, even when there is, our only place we have the ability to throw away garbage is at gas stations, which rarely have the option of recycling. It has been something that bothered me greatly.
- Being Environmentally Responsible, being green and eco-friendly, sustainability,. All of these were key goals I wanted to achieve on this trip, that we did not succeed to the level I had set for us. Everything is wrapped in plastic. When our biodegradable soap exploded due to constant altitude changes it was impossible to find a replacement. There were two issues with composting. 1) It would not have been feasible in the car, 2) for the sake of the environment, we should not be spreading seeds across countries as that can be damaging. Our car has horrible gas mileage so our carbon footprint was much higher than normal. Other consumptions went down, however, I did not achieve the balance I wanted. It will take more planning and preparation for the next trip to better achieve being more environmentally responsible.
- Leaving The Car anywhere, especially if we want to do a multi-day adventure, is one of the biggest roadblocks for any overlander. This is our home, and when we are travelling through countries, and places that are notorious for burglary, it makes you unsettled about leaving your car anywhere for even a couple hours. We only did it once, and fear of our home being ransacked like our many friends kept us from doing the multi-day hikes we had planned from the start.
- Slow and Corrupt. Dealing with corruption and the slow systems (applicable for all types of travellers) just gets pure annoying. It really tests your patience more than needed.
- Cruise Control for the amount of long straight highways we have done, it is a must. Our legs and but cheeks cramped several times because we did not have it.
- Leg Room (for Frederik). Most people see the car before they buy it, which we did not. So we did not know how little legroom in the front there would be for Frederik while we drove. Very uncomfortable for thousands of miles.
- Watch out for Internet Trolls. There are many overlanding pages on Facebook, but be careful what you post, you may get some nasty responses from others who are just sitting there waiting for you or anyone to say something they can write about.
The Good Realities We Experienced While Living On The Road
- You See More when travelling in a car because you can get off main bus routes and stop wherever you’d like
- Flexibility to create your own schedule of departures, stops, where you take a turn and how long to stay there for
- Most Independent Way to Travel for obvious reasons. You control your own adventure, not the bus driver!
- Most Comfortable Way to Get Around but ensure that make sure you have better seats before you leave than we did!
- Create a Home on Wheels, travel and home is the best of both worlds
- Easier to Access Remote Tourist Locations
- The Lack of Map Planning Needed for getting somewhere, just point south and go
- Get Off the Beaten Path. Go where the tourists do not because there is no transportation there except yours and the locals’s cars! It is great to even be out in isolation, in the middle of the desert where only the cowboy ride by.
- See the Country Better, its landscapes, nature and how people outside the city really live.
- Can choose when to be social. If you are like us you like your alone time and when we stayed in hotels, we may have been considered anti-social on many occasions. You have the ability to go to hostels and campgrounds to meet others, or wild camp to see no one for days.
- Convoys are awesome. Period.
- Making your trip a thing (surfing, mountains, history etc.) and it will give you direction as it is overwhelming to decide what you want to go do and see with the endless options.
- Control over your own food, we can cook dinner ourselves most of the time because the rice and beans in Central America killed our appetite for eating out every country after that. Also for most countries, it is the cheaper option and can give you some familiarities of your past home life.
- Save lots of money on hostels when wild camping
- Save a lot of Money on excursions because you can go yourself
- Room For Everything you need and probably too much more. The biggest bonus of this is that you do not have to carry a large backpack everywhere and unpack every day. It will be hard to ever go back to backpacking now that we have been spoiled by overlanding
- Room for Souvenirs
- Have the ability to be inside when it is raining or windy and not be in a tent. Not having to worry about all your belongings getting wet and how you will dry your tent when the forecast says rain for a week.
- Cost of living is lower than at come because you don’t eat as much or cannot buy all the luxury items!
- Having a versatile vehicle for all different types of roads is the all-star factor in our car. But the real winner are those who have 4×4 vans. They can cook in their car and sleep inside while being on a city street, those are things we cannot do. They are more discrete and surprisingly you really do not need to off road a whole lot to get most of the places you’d want to go.
- Instagram has been a great tool for us. It gives us ideas of where to go from others ahead of us who have posted pictures. But the main reason I had come to like it, when people kept their profiles up to date, was you could see who was around you, who you were catching up to, and many times organize a meetup! It worked like tinder for Overlanders. Also, it enabled our families at home to follow our progress.
- You learn how to live with someone else in a small space, 24/7 and it really heightens your communications skills. It is something I will be forever grateful to have taken away from this trip.
- You really get to know the person you are travelling with, more than maybe you’d like to. Even if you were married before this trip, how often in a relationship do you spend a full 24/7 together, the do that for months or years on end. There are some quirks that come out of the woodwork and there is no way around it, you have to get comfortable with everything and anything… especially farting.
- The comradery that you make with other overlanders who you meet along the way, who’s personalities click with you, who are having the same car problems, or none at all but are right there in the thick of it helping you out! Even on those facebook groups, after finishing this trip you have a particular set of knowledge you don’t get a chance to use again so there are hundreds of people writing back to you giving you their best advice and hoping you’ll do great. We really do love the community on the road and have made some everlasting friendships.
- ALL GOOD THINGS OUTWEIGH ALL THE BAD THINGS, there is just a lot that you have to be prepared for that we were not fully prepared for, but if we had the chance we would do it all over again, even the same way!
Finally, Advice from Us That We Got Along the Way!
Most of the realities, both good and bad, are little pieces of advice, however, we have a few to add to the list that did not fit into either category. These things just really helped the trip go smoother, or it is what we saw friends doing that we wish we had done the whole time.
- Do not customize your license plate, no other country odwn here does it and you will constantly get pulled over and questioned at the border. Just an extra hassle our friends had to deal with.
- Pressure Cooker. Bring one. It will save you tons of propane and the time between the refills are longer. Credits to Donde.Van for this advice!
- Dishwashing Gloves
- Clips for open bags
- Outdoor waterproof LED bars. This is something we wish we did not go cheap on because it can really make a difference in your nighttime experience.
- Dash camera in case of an accident because no one will be one your side. We have experience in this area. Should have listened to friends advice back in Mexico!
- Parasite pills. Locals take them every 6 months as a precautionary ….. so I followed suit after getting very sick for 5 days.
- Window reflectors for the front and also 2 more cut to specifically fit the passenger windows as well. For when it is hot and also privacy while sleeping in the car.
- Tongs for grilling so you don’t burn your hand in the fire trying to fit your meat
- Jetboil to have quick coffee and tea every morning is easier than have an electric kettle (make sure to stock up on tink propane bottles they can be hard to find)
- Do not rely on little Coleman green bottles for you propane. Start with a big bottle from the states, or wherever you are from and buy an adaptor so you can refill it along the way.
- Have emergency money ready (trouble money) and on hand, you never know when you will have to pay a cop off or a taxi driver you just hit…..
- Fake Ignorance. when the cops tell you to pull over and try to charge you for something you didn’t do, just pretend like you don’t understand and deny it. They’ll eventually go away. Especially if the cop is corrupt and trying to get a bribe.
- Toll roads are there for a reason. Taking the free roads through Mexico sounds like a good idea because of fo the expensive tolls. Did it twice, trust me it was not worth it.
- Electric drill, we could have used one multiple times. However, if you have built your setup in your garage, it should not be necessary.
- If you sleep in your car we found mosquito mesh covers that slip over the side windows when rolled down that were great. As well, we took binder clips, bought a lot of tulle, and clipped every night a sheet onto the back hatch, in order to leave it open for better airflow to our heads.
- Buy an ice pack. 1) it is good to keep the food cold in the whole first half of the boiling hot trip. 2) sleep with it between our legs so you can fall asleep and not die of heat in Central America.
- Bring a surfboard. We almost bought on in Mexico and we regret not doing it the whole time. This trip is set up to have awesome surf getaways on public and remote beaches.
- Bring all camping gear you will need such as a tent because you will be hardpressed to find anything unless you are starting in the south. There is north of the sort after you enter Mexico for many countries. We searched endlessly for a tent and camping propane.
- Use iOverlander even if you are just doing a road trip through the states and want to wild camp for free. It is amazing. Life changing for overlanders. It removes the worry of trying to figure out where to sleep every night.
- Finally, you don’t need as much as you think you do. Take a little out!
Our Data Sheets
GAS DATA SHEET