The Vehicle

Karen and I decided that the first part of our trip – see the How page – was to drive around South America for 6 – 8 months. The original plan was to bring our beloved 1995 VW Camper. We’ve spent many a camping trip in the camper, and although it had a few, honestly quite a few, miles on it, 120k, we originally felt that it could do the job. That was before reading some of the books and blogs from folks who have done this before. And before thinking about spending 8 months in the vehicle, as opposed to our typical 3 week camping trips. And before the wise counsel of friends – “You’re going in that POS?” – thanks Mark.

So, new plan.

Ah, the internet, and the amazing and overwhelming amount of information, and the subculture, associated with any undertaking, small or large. In our case, we were perhaps no longer driving around South America, we were going to be “Overlanding”. A great definition of what Overlanding and Overland Vehicle is, comes from Stephen Stewart http://www.xor.org.uk/, my overlanding hero. On his “Choosing an Overland Campervan”  (http://www.xor.org.uk/silkroute/equipment/choosevan.htm) page, he provides the following definition:

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What to call it?

I have heard vehicles designed or adapted for “overland” travel called lots of things – expedition campervans, expedition motorhomes even expedition RVs. I think expedition is a bit strong and both motorhome and RV a bit domestic, so I have settled for overland campervan.

Overland journey?

By “overland journey” I mean something considerably more demanding than a two-week trip to the South of France but less demanding than pioneering a new route across the Sahara. Most of what I call overland journeys would:

  • Be more than (say) ten weeks long.
  • Involve significant travel on poor, often dirt roads.
  • Be wholly or partly in sparsely populated areas of the world without official “campsites”.
  • Often involve travel at high altitude or in hot, cold or very wet conditions.

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More from Mr Stewart shortly. The definition above fit well with what Karen and I had in mind, although by no means do we intend to travel the routes that Mr Stewart and his friends do. I highly recommend spending a few hours perusing Mr Stewart’s website; these guys are serious travelers.

In addition to Mr Stewart, I, because I (Henrik) did most of the legwork on selecting a vehicle, also spent many, many hours on the Expedition Portal website (http://expeditionportal.com/) and the blogs of many other fellow travellers (see the Links page). Fascinating stuff.

Mr Stewart provides a brilliant, thorough, check list for how to select / build / purchase an Overland Campervan. Using his check list as our starting point, Karen and I came up with our list of what we think is required, what is preferred, and a selection philosophy

Required

  • 4×4
  • High ground clearance
  • Permanent, queen size, bed
  • Indoor shower and toilet
  • Cost of less than roughly $80k
  • Capable of camping, comfortably, for one week, self-contained

Preferred

  • Strong service and support network in South America, primarily, Africa, secondarily
  • Ships in a Container
  • Diesel fueled

Philosophy

  • KISS: Keep It Stock, Stupid
  • Minimize the “we’re rich Americans” image
  • As small as possible
  • Minimize / eliminate propane requirements

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With the above set of criteria, the list of available vehicles is surprisingly limited (or, we didn’t do enough research…). Our philosophy of Keep It Stock determined that we were not going to design and build our own vehicle. Others have certainly done this very successfully: the Greenes, http://questconnect.org/, and the Hackneys, http://www.hackneys.com/mitsu/index-alternatives.htm, but we had neither the inclination, the time, nor the money to do so. Instead, we were going to buy a vehicle, as stock as possible.

Given that we were going to buy a vehicle, our requirement for a 4×4 vehicle severely narrowed the list. There are 1,000’s of RVs available, but very, very few of them are 4×4. We realize and recognize that we will probably never truly need a 4×4 vehicle. However, we also felt strongly that having a true 4×4 would make us much more comfortable about traveling any road in South America, and opens up the possibility of traveling down some really, really, bad roads if we so choose. BTW, please check out the pictures at the end of Mr Stewart’s page on how to choose a vehicle, funny and scary.

The picture on the right shows me in 2009 inspecting a “bridge” in Argentina, one we didn’t cross in our rental.

And another picture below of a “bridge” we did cross.

To be noted is that the road where these bridges were located was not far from Cordoba, and led to a beautiful fly fishing spot, recommended by the fly fishing shop in town. The owner of the shop had made no particular mention of the rather wet crossings, and they are not uncommon in Argentina.

So, a 4×4, off-the-shelf campervan, with a price of less than $80k, is what we were looking for.

The first list of 4×4 campers we came up with consisted of:

Sportsmobile,   www.sportsmobile.com
Tiger Motor Homes, http://www.tigermotorhomes.com/home.htm
Earthroamer,  www.earthroamer.com
Global Expedition Vehicles,  http://globalxvehicles.com/
Standard pickup with a slide-in truck camper

More to follow…

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Reviewing the above list of 4×4 campers, a few comments:

Global Expedition Vehicles
Very cool and over the top. Not quite what we were looking for.

Earthroamer
Very cool. and built not too far from Boulder. I went and visited the facility and was lusting after one. But. And there are a few buts. Very large vehicle in real life, would be difficult, we believe, to maneuver and park anywhere in S America. Expensive; new they are $225k+, even used they are in the $160k range. That said, well thought out, beautifully built vehicles with yacht like cabinetry.

Sportsmobile
We spent a large amount of time evaluating a Sportsmobile. They meet many of the criteria, such as 4×4, not too large, within the price range (with a stretch). In the end though, we decided not to go this route mainly for two reasons: the 4×4 is not stock, but an add-on, and there is no configuration we could come up with that provided a permanent bed. Most of the configurations lead to a bed similar to the one we had in our VW camper; something you have to make convert from a couch every evening.

Tiger Motor Homes
This is another option we considered very seriously. It meets many of our requirements, but in the end, the price  – around $100k w options – and the East-West location of the bed, requiring one of us to climb over the other one, pushed us in another direction. Well worth a careful look though.

Pickup with slide-in Truck Camper
Or, going it red-neck style. A book can be written, and probably has been, on how to select a truck and a truck camper. A huge amount of information, and much passionate discussion, is available on the truck camper forum at rv.net, http://www.rv.net/forum/.

How we made our choices are on the separate page for “Truck and Camper”.

3 thoughts on “The Vehicle

  1. Pingback: US vs S America Vehicle Design Requirements « lifes2shortnot2

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