So, as I take a break from working my way through the list of maintenance jobs that need doing to the Land Cruiser (not to mention cleaning nine months worth of red dirt out!). I thought I would do a bit of a wrap up, and what the future might hold.
A bit of background. We are just a normal couple in our early forties. We (did) have just normal full time jobs, we fit in the middle of the income demographic. No rich uncles leaving us a fortune.
We saved for three years to fund the trip, and also sold our old house that we had hung onto as an ‘investment’ property. We just deposited a set amount into a seperate account every pay cycle, after a few different techniques, we found this worked the best and you just get used to living on a bit less. Hard to say exactly, as a lot of our savings got used up in selling the old house (don’t ask), but I think we could have comfortably gone for 3-5 months on just our savings.
We don’t have kids, however we met several families with kids who were doing similar trips to us - so it is possible.
We didn’t rent out our home (which turned out well when N got sick), although it is theoretically financially advantageous to do so. However being a landlord isn’t always tea and biscuits.
Anyway that just paints a picture, that is if you want to do something like we did. It is quite possible, you just have to be disciplined.
We have been doing what is now called OVERLAND for about 13 years. N has been car camping with me for about twenty years, and I had been hiking, camping and playing in the woods my whole life.
Some people do a big trip early on. I think you’ll get more out of it, and enjoy it more if you’ve done a bunch of other shorter trips first. But horses for courses and all that.
Also there is a lot to be said for short trips, you get that build up and excitement of getting away on a restricted timescale. You really strive to get the most out of the time. I missed that on the longer trip. The big advantage of the longer trip is you can get to places (and explore them) that are too far away to realistically do with a normal couple of weeks holiday time. Plus the obvious break from the nine to five.
So we already had most of our set up sorted before we did this trip. However there was a lot of work preparing our 18 year old Toyota, to be as reliable as possible. Plus a few additions to the camping kit to make long term travel on the road more comfortable.
So how did all that go?
Toyota Land Cruiser, the legend. Maintained and prepped to the eyeballs. As reliable as a rock, right?
Well yes, and no. 25 years service life and all that, 18 year old truck is an 18 year old truck. To be fair to Toyota (and me!) the only proper Toyota failures were a broken wire to the temp sensor and the inhibitor/neutral switch on the side of the gearbox. We gained a few extra leaks, but nothing that couldn’t be managed on the road. So all of that is just age related really.
TYREDOG tyre pressure monitoring system - unfortunately we had nothing but problems with this. In the end they asked me to send it back to them, and they replaced three of the four sensors free of charge (they charged me for the other one after getting back from the Red Centre the first time round) they got me to nominate somewhere to send it to a week ahead, when we were on the WA coast. Which I duly did, but they forgot to put it in the post... Frankly I couldn’t be bothered with it after that, they sent it back to my home address.
Everything else that failed was aftermarket. We got through 5 rear dampers (shock absorbers) by the end (ARB, TJM and RIDEPRO). However, most of those are repairable as it was just the metal top cover breaking off (Australian roads are rough, yo). To give you an idea, the BFG KO2 tyres we fitted at the end of January were pretty much finished around four months and 30,000 km later. Normal people will get 60-70,000 km out those tyres. We didn’t get any punctures or tyre failures. I ended up changing two tyres, one when the rear shock tried to eat the sidewall and the other just to be on the safe side.
Pretty much anything I, for want of a better phrase, ‘cheaped out on’ broke (quelle surprise). Spotlight brackets destroyed. The non genuine radiator I fitted, still a reputable brand, broke one of its brackets. As the Toyota genuine item is $900 I felt this was a reasonable compromise. In the end a series of cable ties sufficed, but with hindsight I should have just got the genuine part.
Small things like the LED strip I had at the tailgate, I changed that about halfway, and then it failed again. I really missed that light!
However, nothing stopped us making progress (I said the same thing about our Range Rover, but I never had to drive the Land Cruiser on the bumpstops!). We took a range of spare parts, and plenty of tools. Being ex-Land Rover, I knew most things could be patched up enough to get going again, as long as you had some toys to play with. One big benefit of driving a Toyota in Australia, is almost every town has a dealer, and all except one were really helpful and in-tune with our situation.
So all in all Bertha did great. Over 3 metric ton fully loaded. Properly capable off road. Swallowed ALL our gear INSIDE, so no roof rack and everything stays clean and dry. Tough and simple enough that I could fix the problems that we did have.
I can’t emphasise the importance of being comfortable. Not always easy when you are packing for temps ranging from freezing to over 40 degrees centigrade (over 100 F). Luckily, as I said we were already pretty well prepped in this department. I did pay extra attention to our bed set up and after years of sleeping bags I was keen that we had something more like a normal bed. So ExPed Mega Mat, Black Wolf outdoor duvet, and a mixture of IKEA latex and NEMO inflatable pillows. Plus just some more normal bedding, a fitted sheet for the mattress and cheap blanket to protect the duvet, plus another blanket for an extra layer for colder nights. I mention this in detail as it worked really well and sleeping well, of course, is important.
We also took a small portable evaporative air conditioner. This may sound a glamping step too far, but in the heat of the Australian summer it gave just enough respite to make the difference - unfortunately this unit packed up after I dropped it out of the truck for about the fifth time, luckily by then we were heading south and we definitely didn’t need AC!
Folding step. We got this as N is too short to see into the fridge inside the Cruiser and asked if we could get a slide or something. As slides are both heavy and expensive, we got these collapsible step to see if that would suffice. Not only did it fit the original bill, but ended up being one of those things that you’re like ‘how did we do without this before?’ From and washing up rack to changing the spark plugs, we used that step every day.
iPad. Not being a ‘tech’ guy by any stretch of the imagination, it has to be said this thing is a fundamental part of our kit. Hema mapping with proper GPS tracking is the most obvious use. Why you would buy a dedicated Hema GPS unit? When you can get the same mapping on an iPad, with everything else that device can do... I have no idea. Writing his blog. Watching movies. Photos (although I don’t really use it for that). Internet, etc. For modern style travel it is a genuinely useful piece of kit.
That’s just a few of thing things that I found important, outside of the more obvious stuff.
However... As I said our camping set up was long established, this means that a lot of it had 5-10 years of use already on it, some of it more than that. So, after living out of it day in and day out for all that time (probably equivalent to another 10 years of ‘normal’ use) a lot of our kit is now at, or approaching the end of its serviceable life. Most significantly our OzTent, probably the central piece that a lot of the rest of our set up is based around.
I think we bought that tent in 2006, and whilst still serviceable (obviously) it has many patches, repairs and botches. The canvas itself is starting to get a bit thin. So it’s definitely time to think about replacement.
Also the very nature of exploring overland in Australia has changed in the time we’ve been at it. Back at the start it was very much about being self sufficient, be prepared for no one to come along for days, or weeks. I’m sure it is still possible to get yourself somewhere where this can happen, but the reality these days is, the chances of someone else coming along is pretty good. Coupled with modern communication technology. The old belt and braces approach (that I still take) isn’t really required.
So I’ve got a pile of broken camping gear, and old truck that drinks too much fuel and needs a heap of stuff fixing, plus a load of recovery gear I don’t need anymore (this is maybe a slight dramatisation, but you get the point).
Is it time for a rethink? A clean slate?
As with most people, how we travel has evolved over the years, dependent on where we were going, what we already had, how much money we wanted to spend and what we had learned last time. Nothing wrong with that, all part of the process.
However, what if you took all that stuff you had learned, your previous experiences, and knew what sort of trips you wanted to do in the foreseeable future. Then build a clean sheet set up. Lots of our gear is still serviceable, but I think this is a good opportunity to have a hard look about what we want to do in the next 5-10 years and how we go about that.
So do we stick with a ground tent, wagon based camping? Do we go to a pop top Troopy? Or something else? Pick up? Trailer? RTT? So many options these days. For now it will just be the swag in the back of an old BMW, whilst I fix stuff on the Cruiser. But plenty to think about, half the fun, hey?