So you want to do an expedition. Excellent. You won't regret it.
Well actually, you may - but you certainly won't forget it. There
seems to be a mountain of things you have to do to prepare, but
you can break it down to a few categories.
Destination - Where do you want to drive?
Crew - How do you manage your team?
Vehicle - What vehicle do you want to drive? What documentation
do you need?
Clothing/Equipment - What gear do you need to take?
Finances - How much will the trip cost? How do you get
The best trips are the ones that sieze your imagination. A story
from childhood, or a long ago read book that kindled the desire
to someday see a part of the world. I read voraciously as a kid.
Growing up in the Congo with no TV and broken dirt roads that hemmed
us in, books were a portal to the rest of the world. Alistair MacLean
made me want to visit China. Tintin was an inspiration to see South
America. Ironically, despite growing up in Africa, for a long time
afterward I figured the rest of the world was too risky, too dangerous.
Turns out I was living in one of the riskiest places on earth. Even
when the rebels attacked our town and the government foces fought
back with mortars and machine guns - it still felt quite normal
and safe. I expect that's the case for anyone going someplace unfamiliar.
I needed to step out into the unknown - and I haven't regretted
So my advice is this - go to the place that fires your imagination.
Having traveled around the world, and met others who've done even
more, I can assure you there is always a way to do the trip. My
first sources of information have typically been the Lonely Planet
to see the recommended highlights and map of the country. Another
great information source is the National Geographic Map Machine
I've listed a few of my favorite drives from the various continents,
with an emphasis on great Land Rover destinations in Africa
and the Rest of the world.
If there is one piece of advice I can give it is this - have a contract.
There is a great dividing line for expedition crews, money and time.
If you have the means and energy to plan, organize, and pay for
the full expedition, then you have the freedom to ask anyone to
join you, secure in the knowledge that they can be just as easily
asked to leave. But for most folks, the crew is crucial to share
the work and often to share the cost. And you all depend on each
Family and friends are the first choices for an expedition. Oddly,
the success rate is mixed. You will find that the people you are
closest to at home, more often than not will take to travel much
differently than you. The only crew that you can be reasonably certain
will be dependable will veteran travelers. People who have lived
hard on the road, done the backpacker circuit, slept in hostels,
worked on field expeditions, or crewed on overland trucks. Theyv'e
been out there, and they know what to expect. That still doesn't
mean that they won't drive you crazy. In fact, veteran travelers
are typically a little mad (they have to be - noramal folks are
working at jobs and paying mortgages and deciding whether to get
a Toyota or a Nissan).
So the common theme is unless you are perfectly happy to do all
the work and pay all the money, you really need to have a contract.
Contracts can be simple or very complicated. The basic ingredients
- description of mission (exploration, research, tv/print, charity)
- itinerary/route (key destinations and timing)
- leadership and decision making
- planning responsibility (who is responsible for what, when, how)
- expedition cost/budget (up-front cost, estimated cost on the road)
- deposit amount (held by leader till end of trip)
- description of key risks (best knowledge, blanket statement to
cover risks not specifically mentioned)
- indemnity (participants travel at their own risk, leader does
not have liability)
- termination and non-performance (what causes crew to be dismissed,
what happens to their deposit)
The goal of the contract is to provide a mechanism that anticipates
issues on the road and gets agreement up front about how to resolve
them. It's much easier to get consensus in advance of the trip.
When you are on the road and in the middle of a disaster, it is
virtually impossible to make everyone happy. Each element of the
contract is designed for a reason. When people are tired, the mission
statement keeps them going. If an exciting side trip opportunity
comes up that divides the crew, the itinerary is a way to settle
the argument. Decision making should be explicitly mentioned (e.g.
"decisions will be made by majority, except in situations where
the safety or mission of the expedition will be compromised in which
case the leader will have sole decision making authority").
A deposit is critical if you are depending on your crew to offset
cost. If it is easy for them to bail out after a few weeks, you
will find yourself on shaky financial ground. A deposit ensures
you can pay the bills even if they leave. The budget holds you accountable
to the crew - if costs are rising you need to find a way to save
money. Finally, the non-performance section is crucial to handle
major disagreements or dismissals. For example, if a crew member
is dishonest or acts in a way that jeapordizes the rest of the team,
you must have the ability to kick them off the team - but still
keep their deposit so the team is not in financial danger.
Have a look at the team contract
for my Around-the-World expedition as an example - it should be
a helpful guide. For extra resources on planning your trip, try
the travel resources section.
I'm terribly biased. In my book, there is no substitute for a Land
Rover Defender. It's loud and dusty, but it is rugged, can be fixed
anywhere in the world by a shade tree mechanic because it's dead
simple, and because of it's aluminum body can haul an unequaled
amount of cargo. I had mine custom built for the trip - see vehicle
Specialist Vehicles are my outfitter of choice. They are
the premier Land Rover shop in the UK and understand the needs of
an overland expedition. In fact they offer a special package of
vehicle, carnet de passage, and vehicle shipping to your expedition
start point. Also, when I broke down on the road in the middle of
nowhere, Paul and Stuart cheerfully diagnosed the problem via satellite
phone and got me back on my way. They are a terrific bunch of guys
and I highly recommend them!
When you go on the road you'll have to take special travel documents
for the vehicle. Check out vehicle
Less is more. If I've learned anything it is take less. Unless you
are truly going into the wilderness, there are going to be opportunities
to pick up extra clothes or gear. There are only a few key items
that I would recommend.
Iridium phone - Rent a cellular phone at the airport if you are
staying near major cities. But if you need coverage around the world
your best bet is to rent a satellite phone. For mechanical or health
emergencies it can be a lifesaver.
Palm Pilot - For recording trip expenses, writing journals (with
a folding keyboard), and maintaining a list of critical information,
its a lifesaver.
First Aid - Cuts, burns, and sprains. Unless you have medical training
you'll want to stick with the basics. The Royal Geographic Society
has an excellent book on expedition medicine if you think you'll
need extra help.
Medicine - Advil, Pepto Bismol, Tylenol Cold/Flu and Deet bug spray,
these are a few of my favorite things.
For more information check out the clothing/equipment
Your first challenge will be to find the money for your trip. Obviously
if you can fund the journey from your own pocket, you will save
a world of hassle. And even if you are bankrolling the trip alone,
there are ways for you to reduce the trip budget. Buy/drive/sell
can be an inexpensive option. South and East Africa is a good region
for this. A used Land Rover is easy to buy, and you can register
it to a local post box or garage. Buy insurance. Drive. And then
budget a couple weeks at the end of the trip to sell the vehicle
again (best spot to buy/sell is in South Africa). You can also share
your costs on the road with your passengers, typically fuel/food/hotel
are easy to share. Finally, if you have friends coming on the trip,
you can ask them for a small contribution to offset your fixed costs.
It's important to agree on the fixed fee in advance, and equally
important for you to get the fee upfront or before the trip starts.
Experiences on the road are often not what you expect (though the
challenges make the best stories) and you'll be stressed if you
are trying to please your passengers all the time. You're in it
If you don't have the funds to fund the trip personally, the next
best option is to put together an expedition crew to share the costs.
Create a trip budget with up-front costs and on-the-road costs.
Each crew member contributes a share to upfront costs before the
trip starts, and on the road you track expenses and reconcile every
week (or month). The Palm Pilot expense function was invaluable
on my expeditions to track expenses and make sure everyone was paying
their share. Having a crew puts more pressure on you as a leader,
and having a comprehensive expedition contract will make your life
easier. Also, be sure to get a deposit up-front. That way if there
are any problems on the road or an unexpected departure, you won't
be left in the lurch.
Almost anyone planning a major trip tries to get money from sponsors.
But it's a challenging exercise. Sponsors want publicity and press
and unless you are setting a world record or traveling with someone
famous, it will be hard for them to believe that you will deliver.
There are two ways out of this bind, get sponsored by someone you
know, or adopt a charity. Charity is a great angle, it allows you
to contact local press and pitch the story (because you aren't doing
a narcissistic trip - you are doing it for a "cause").
I've never gone this route and have not been particularly good at
getting sponsorship so I don't have any inside information to share.
I do know some friends who have done well at this and they warn
that it will add double the amount of preparation and on-trip hassle.
Of course, if your cause is something you are really passionate
about, this will not be a problem.
A final option is to earn money through working on the road. I've
met folks who traveled and wrote articles for newspapers and magazines
as "stringers". You'll find it difficult to sell your
stories if you don't have a pre-existing contract or relationship
before you go on the road. Other folks have taken a break from the
trip to work at local companies to stock up their cash. You can
find work as a bartender or desk clerk at a hostel, and occasionally
there are opportunities at non-profits. Some skills like mechanic,
electrician, builder, etc. are in demand and you can likely pick
up work at a job site. But it's pretty hard to make anything close
to a working wage - really the best you can do is earn some spending
For an idea of actual expedition cost, check out my budget and
actual expenses from the Around-the-World
expedition and the Panamerican