In many ways the world is getting smaller and arguably easier to deal with relating to criss-crossing it on trains, boats, airplanes and motor vehicles.
As a result, more armchair adventurers are packing up and hitting the road to fulfil their dreams of taking part in a real-life driving adventure. Every now and then I get a message from one of them asking what to pack before heading off on a road trip into the bowels of Africa or along Siberia’s infamous Road of Bones.
I suggest that, although things are easier than they used to be, there is still much to consider.
What to drive and how to source a vehicle is first. If the drive in question involves a far-off destination, it’s probably better to fly there and rent an appropriate vehicle. Gone will be the headache of shipping across oceans and vehicle importation papers that may involve securing a Carnet de Passage to insure local governments that new Honda Passport shipped into their country will be exported and not sold.
If the plan is to do an extended drive and time is not the enemy, preparing a vehicle at home may be the way to go.
Obviously, the quickest way to ship a vehicle overseas is to air freight it. I once used FedEx courier to air-ship an SUV from Australia to New Zealand and another time checked a car as excess baggage on a British Airways Boeing 747 from Perth, Australia to India. But these were expensive options compared to ocean transport.
Containerizing a vehicle for each ocean leg is probably the safest way to surface ship but is more costly and could be slower than a Ro-Ro service, where the vehicle is driven onto and off a ship. This is not like a ferry boat, so you need to be prepared to let your vehicle, with whatever is in it, be handled by a number of strangers during the process.
A few decades ago, affordable global positioning systems and satellite communications didn’t exist. Today’s on-board and portable navigation units not only direct drivers to their destinations but provide information on where to find accommodations, fuel, food and those must-see roadside attractions along the way. But take paper maps too, old-school, I know, but there is nothing like a map to provide an overview of where you are and where you’re going.
Over the years, the biggest problem I’ve had with vehicles in remote areas is tires and rims. Upgrade to 10-ply tires if available and although heavier, steel rims can take more punishment and are easier to repair than alloy wheels.
Regarding other spare parts, it’s a gamble. If you take too many, the weight is beating the suspension up. U-joints, an alternator, fuses, belts and a small tool box are good. Check to see if your vehicle is marketed in the countries where you are going so spare parts are quicker to secure if needed.
Over the years most of our adventure vehicles were diesel-powered. But those naturally aspirated engines were not nearly as fuel fussy as today’s turbo diesels so if you go diesel, take plenty of fuel conditioner and fuel filters. In 1984 we burned a tank of kerosene crossing Ethiopia in our 6.2-litre diesel GMC Suburban. Although the truck was sluggish and trailing a black smoke screen, it got us down the road.
Of course, once the adventure starts the last thing anyone wants is for their ride to get stolen. A switch hidden inside to cut power to the fuel pump whenever it’s parked is worth consideration. No help in the case of a car-jacking, but, unless a thief knows about it, there is no way they can start the engine.
A document binder is a good idea too. Include the Carnet de Passage, insurance papers, letters of introduction and consider including a few family pictures that show you have a life somewhere.
Borders are something I like to look at in the rear-view mirror. Approaching one, have that document binder ready and remember the folks at those remote outposts are just people.
Fish out a pack of Marlboros and lay them on the dashboard in plain view. Make sure the person who the vehicle is registered to is driving. Tidy up the interior and make sure an attractive souvenir pen is hanging out of your pocket.
Remove sunglasses. Be friendly, but not overly. Attempt a word or two in the local language. Once cleared, move away slowly, nod a lot and smile. Bid farewell and make sure everyone understands you are moving on.
I’ve never been good at knowing when a bribe might be in order but once, after a lengthy delay at the Romanian border, I clued in after an officer told me, three times, about the expensive testicle operation one of his children needed.
Bribes are tricky and could get you into a lot of trouble, so you need to be 100 per cent sure that is what a stall with authorities is about.
Obviously, there are many other things to consider when bringing an armchair motoring adventure to life. A good first aid bag, cameras, some freeze dried food, water purification tablets and perhaps a snake bite kit.
Research is the key and has always been paramount in the success of the dozens of driving adventures in which I’ve seen the world. But it’s also a matter of people skills, determination and a healthy dose of good luck.
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