I hadn’t realised Scotland was such a beautiful and easy country to road trip in, until we spent a week touring there ourselves. My husband had recounted his memorable West Highland way walk from Glasgow to Ben Nevis to me, complete with his experience of clouds of midges following his every step and the not so sunny weather. Yes, I was happy to see green rolling hills and shimmering lakes, but a high of 17 degree in summer and red nasty little bites everywhere… Well let’s not rush the planning….
I was however curious, and a much needed visit to a relative was the catalyst of this visit. Before we left the U.K, we decided we should visit my husbands relative and his fathers birthplace in Edinburgh. However, once there, we couldn’t resist exploring further, even though we were completely unprepared…having packed for a 2 day city visit instead of 8!
Campervan hire is not cheap at around 100£ per day, a bit less or more depending on what you get. We happened to get a much better price because we were so last minute and we booked in person rather than via the internet. We got all the add ons (GPS, 2 x kids car seats, linen/towels for a very good 20£ extra). A good deal and a very cool VW camper – a new vintage, only a couple of years old, made in Brazil.
Any longer however, and we were seriously considering buying a caravan to tow for almost the same price of a rental! The replica VW camper fooled most people including a couple of German tourists excited to see it still on the road, in mint condition! Engine wise it had improved from the 60s, but camper design wise, it hadn’t changed much- but why should it…the old design fit out works quite well.
We spent 5 days touring the amazing countryside. Scotland is pretty, accessible, and soooo easy. It is wonderful with kids because every 20-30 kms there is something to stop and see and do….whether its a historic castle, a folk museum, a whiskey distillery ( for the older adults), a nature reserve, a farm reserve, a river, lake (loch) and a load of forest day or longer walks.
There’s a 90% chance of just pulling into any of the parking and picnic rest stops and finding a river, waterfall or lake to have fun at. There are signs posted everywhere and even if you don’t speak Gaelic..there is English too!
Scotland is cheap to travel in if you have a fuel efficient car ( the VW camper was incredibly fuel efficient). There are no road tolls to pay, it’s not a very big country so you don’t have to travel enormous kms to experience the countryside (we got to Garve, past Inverness and back). It is an affordable way to travel if you are self contained.
While we treated ourselves to a couple of pub meals including the national haggis dish, we mostly self catered. If we had the cash, staying in accommodation could be a real treat. We passed countless of amazing BnBs in beautiful and historic stone house buildings. Instead we slept in our camper van pretty much anywhere we wanted to. After two big camping road trips through Patagonia and Morocco, Scotland was the one place we should’ve been camping in our tent. Not only is Scotland made for tent camping with its ease of access to river and lake spots but it is what the locals do!!!!
Scotland has amazing access laws…there is virtually no such thing as “trespassing”. There is a Scottish Outdoor Acess code which basically gives you the right to be on most land and water ways. Not only does it give you access but it is enshrined in law (see Land Reform Act Scotland 2003). There are even access officers you can report to, just in case anyone tries to stop you!
Of course, with rights comes responsibilities but these aren’t too difficult to abide by. For instance, act safely and responsibly, take your rubbish with you, respect and care for the land, wildlife and keep your dog under control. Really what everyone should be doing regardless of where they are!!!
This legislation doesn’t just cover walking but also other activities such as canoeing, horse riding, wild camping and mountain hiking. It is the best country we have been in so far when it comes to enjoying and experiencing all the countryside has to offer, up close. Why wouldn’t you walk/camp/tour Scotland….!
Given all this access you would think the state of Scotland’s outdoors would be a mess, but its not….We saw one area with bottles left behind but this seemed to be the exception. We have seen much worse in other countries.
So just when we had decided to ditch our tent and go for a camper, we find that camping with a tent in Scotland is the way to go. We saw a number of people camping by various lakes, visible and obvious from the roadside. We felt very safe and secure in our camper…no matter where we were. We camped in parking picnic places without a problem. Once we saw a ‘no overnight camping’ sign, in another a height restriction barrier was in place which would prevent motorhomes but not us in a camper. We could access most of the lakes we stopped at, apart from the famous Loch Ness, the main access route had photo parking spots only. Must be one way to keep campers safe from any overnight monster attacks!
Coming from Melbourne, the four seasons in one day is something we are used to. Scotland’s weather is very much like that….a bit of rain, clouds and sun all in one summer’s day (think it would be more like snow, hail, darkness in winter!). We were fortunate that the midges weren’t in such a biting mood….our first night was the worst but the rest of the time they were of minimal annoyance.
The lakes in Scotland are some of the best I have seen. They are accessible and beautiful. Patagonia had amazing rivers but the surrounding greenery and forests in Scotland make the lakes extremely scenic.
The biggest regret was that we had to return to the city much earlier than we wanted, playing by the rivers and lakes was good fun for the kids…our only hiccup….getting kids to bed before midnight…it’s light til late!!
While it was a shame to head back to the city so quickly, Edinburgh is a lovely city to have a wander in. While there, look up your history and clan roots.. you might just walk away with a special funky dress, knit, gloves, picnic rug, tie, scarf and tights all in your or your husbands family’s tartan….for those special occasions or clan family reunions!
Do you really need a 4WD to road travel? Well, yes and no….. We have been to many countries where a 2WD capable vehicle, would do just fine. My 20 year old hatchback, could drive down almost all of the dirt or unpaved roads we have been on. In some countries, there are road works currently in progress to better the road conditions. In a few years, even the carrera terra austral in Patagonia will probably be all bitumen. However, until this happens, a top heavy vehicle with low clearance, won’t make it on the dirt roads. So, it really also depends on what sort of 2WD vehicle you have…. you may be able to drive a motor home slowly along a dirt road if you need too but you wouldn’t want to drive 500 kms of it! We tried initially..see blog: our 12 day motor home nightmare. You are risking damaging the vehicle, getting lots of flat tyres or worse, getting stuck. A 2WD van would be more durable.
Then there are some countries where you just simply can’t go without a 4WD – e.g. Mongolia (most of the country has basically no roads – your following wheel tracks), Far east Russia, and some of the Stan’s in central Asia. So, first ask yourself where do you want to go – e.g. which country/continent, and then ask yourself, where do you really want to go once there e.g. countryside, national parks, off road etc.
The highlight of our Moroccan road trip was spending a week driving on an off road track through the desert and also trying some off road tracks in the high atlas mountains. We only passed about 4 or 5 other cars during our desert time (compared to 1000s along the bitumen inland and coastal roads) and got to wild camp (I mean really wild camp in the desert with no-one else around, rather than camp in a car park with 50 others). It felt like a real adventure. Whilst in Morocco, we spoke to other road trippers who kept telling us how bad the roads were when in our 4WD we hadn’t even noticed.
A 4WD gives you the capability to go off road and find somewhere discrete to camp, or even a really nice location to visit that’s off the main road. During our central Asia trip, we camped in all sorts of places off the main road, and we were able to get to places (e.g. across a river) to camp where other 2WD/locals couldn’t get to – sometimes for both peace of mind and safety.
4WD’s come in all shapes, sizes and capabilities. A 4WD is more than just having 4 wheels that drive. Factors such as clearance, size of tyres and weight carried, can all affect the vehicle’s performance and ability off road. Whatever you decide, consider both the potential and the limitations of any 4WD vehicles; whether it be a van, truck or overloading a 4WD car/pick up (Ute) with a top heavy camper.
Can you live without your creature comforts; fridge, shower, satellite t.v.?
I didn’t think I could live without a fridge (I’m a cheese freak, my husband a beer one!) Our Engel fridge in our car back home was in place and ready for any camping or weekend trip away. Do you know what? It was always full…. However I have discovered during our time overseas that I can live quite happily without a fridge. It hasn’t meant that we have stopped eating or buying cold storage products, instead, anything bought is eaten and cooked within a day or so. Most countries stock UHT milk rather than fresh milk so this is easy storage.
A shower however, well nothing quite beats a hot shower with a strong jet. This is not to say that I would get one in a travelling vehicle… filling up every inch of space in a camper is not ideal. A heavy and over loaded vehicle even if it is a 4WD does not necessarily equate to stable and/or practical. Most people we spoke to who did have a shower, rarely used it, and rather it became storage space. Even if you did fit out a shower, at best it would be a trickle…… There are camp-sites available almost everywhere, and these are often full of self contained vehicles! Many road travellers even those fully contained will usually stop at a structured campsite, even if its every 2/3 days – to access power, water or for the security, social aspect it provides. Most camp-sites will have a shower/toilet block to use although I cant guarantee it will be hot water or clean!
However, there are always other ways to wash that will do the trick if you don’t want to stand under a cold shower jet. Be creative – go for a swim, have a bucket/flannel wash, carry a solar shower pouch or do as the locals do – have a bath at the local bath house (private showers in Mongolia for $1), the baths in Turkey, hammans in Morocco, the saunas in Russia. Washing kids is easy – buckets/baby baths/standing in the sun with a water container…. Even at 2 and 4 yo, my kids could still fit sitting together in a baby bath we borrowed from a neighbouring family, they thought it was hilarious and fun.
Save yourself the money and space and go for the cultural as well as the cleaning experience.
In terms of everything else; ask yourself if it really is a must have. The bigger your vehicle, the more space to fill, and believe me, you will fill it!
Location and purpose
Where and how do you want to travel?
Some of our trip highlights have been going to places where others can’t go so easily. Fewer tourists and fewer people equals more remote, and in my opinion, a nicer experience. If you do meet a local, you might even have a genuine interaction.
In Patagonia, there were few motor homes. Partly because of the shipping costs and partly because you couldn’t drive the kms needed to, on the dirt roads. We chose a 4WD and camped, it was summer time and lovely. We enjoyed touring the national parks and being outdoors in some breathtakingly natural and scenic environments. See blog: overland vehicle choices when buying in South America.
However, in Morocco, camping in a tent was not so nice. This time, we bought our 4WD in England. Structured camp-sites are made for motor homes and are essentially glorified car parks. Free camping is not so easy and/or practical with a tent. In addition, it was winter: warm and sunny, but early cooler evenings. In this situation, we would have liked a contained lock up vehicle – to be able to either camp in structured sites or have the freedom to really park anywhere. It would’ve been useful to have the choice to drive even after dark and be able to stop for the night and get into bed without setting up a tent. You could even buy a reasonably cheap motor home/van in Europe, as there is the variety available – every brand and year you could think of. For a family of 3 or 4, a pop top or hard top van or 4WD is a reasonable option with enough bed and seat space.
If you are considering a road trip in Europe or North America, you have predominately bitumen/paved roads so that a 4WD would be unnecessary and plenty of infrastructure exists for motorhome travellers such as free camper overnight stops.
When considering a vehicle, imagine how you might be perceived in the local country. Do you really want to stand out? What do you think locals see when you drive by in your €150,000++ convertible travelling home…. Even for a westerner from an affluent country like me, it seems like an inconceivable amount of money to spend.
Imagine locals in some of the poorer countries of the world where there are many more people than cars. In Morocco, we gave 3 women a ride in our car (yes 3 women squeezed in the front seat next to my husband) when they flagged us down. They were already walking (in the middle of nowhere), when we saw them and had another 8 kms to travel carrying heavy packs on their heads. They had no car, not even a donkey to help them carry their heavy load. Suddenly we felt very wealthy in our £3000 Land rover. In Mongolia, we often had locals ask how many people slept in my sister in law’s rooftop tent, surely not just one?! We would often see old Russian jeeps pull up, and could not believe the number of adults who would emerge….5, 6, 7, 8! Incredible..it was like a bottomless car..
Period of travel and budget
Think of the period you will be travelling for, are you doing a long extended trip or a short one? Is it worth spending a significant amount of money on a travel vehicle you will only use for a short time…what about the re-sale value? Will you need to sell the vehicle quickly?
Some people will travel for 3 months every year and want a vehicle that’s well set up and ready to go that they will use for the next 10 years…. In Australia, people love caravans because you don’t have the huge registration costs and expense of another vehicle to maintain.
If its an extended trip – how long for? Do you plan on road tripping the whole time or stopping somewhere for a few weeks/months? The money saved in not buying an expensive convertible home could buy you months/years of accommodation in some places – especially when negotiated for a longer period. While in Morocco, we got to stay in ryiads in some of the city medinas, and in Patagonia in cosy log cabins when we needed to (in times of bad weather, in cities, or simply for a treat).
If you want a stable familiar space for you and the kids – what size do you need? How much are you prepared to spend for the initial outlay? This is on top of your daily travel expenses.
We managed to 4WD and camp for a period of 3 months each in two different continents. This was fine, although any longer, e.g. 6 months to one year of continuous road travel and a mobile home is looking good!
At the end of the day, your budget will determine what vehicle you can afford. Whilst being self contained helps to reduce costs e.g. accommodation, eating out etc, there are still costs to consider. Yes we met road travellers who rarely paid for accommodation (camp-sites or other) but most people we saw still parked in structured camp-sites where we were staying with our tent.
There are lots of affordable motor homes and converted vans available in Europe (less so in South America). However, a brand new motor home or self converted 4WD truck camper can cost anywhere from $100,000 – 200,000.
We met a traveller in a custom made 4WD truck after doing a desert off road crossing In Morocco. We found out that he had driven one section of the off road track we had, but then he decided to re-route back to the bitumen road because it was too rocky (and it was). However, by doing so, he missed the best bit of the track – a second, more interesting and less rocky leg. He had invested so much in a vehicle he had purpose built for exactly this sort of off road driving, yet the potential costs of any tyre or body damage was far too great that it outweighed the experience and the reality. It didn’t matter so much to us, if our £3000 car, (with a couple of dents already) got another one. It didn’t even matter if we re-sold the car for £2,000 and lost £1,000 at the other end…it was a small scale risk. The more expensive the investment, the greater the liability and the greater the financial loss when things do go wrong.
So, what’s the size of your family? It can difficult to find a suitable vehicle that seats and sleeps 4 people without being oversized. However, if family size and comfort is your main consideration, then there are a multitude of options from vans, trucks, motor homes etc -the list and variety is endless. In some cases, e.g a smaller van and pop or hard top but be suitable. It might be difficult to find one wide enough to sleep across so that your tall members of your family can fit…for example, my husband stands at 187cm tall. It might just require a test sleep before you buy one!
What’s your style/personality?
Different countries will have different trends when it comes to road travel. In Australia, your lucky if you see a motor home – caravans, tents, campervans are all the rage. In Europe/north Africa, there are lots of different vehicles but motor homes are topping the list in popularity – its the new holiday home. It doesn’t mean you have to do the same. Find out what you like, what’s available and choose your style! After all, you and your family will be the ones travelling and living in it 24/7.
What would we choose?
We weren’t completely sold on spending our extended travel period, driving. We liked the idea in theory, but we weren’t sure the practicality of long term road travel was for us. Our youngest son was 1 when we started and not a big fan of extended periods in the car. We also were keen to explore other continents and other ways of travelling. We were interested in sailing and walking. However, if we were to go on a one or two year road travelling trip or even if we wanted regular road trips to be part of our home life, these are options we would consider and our must have list….
4WD e.g off road capable
can fit in a standard car park – gives us the flexibility to park anywhere – in a town, city, countryside, etc.
simple fit out (bed, sink, cooker, maybe fridge/portable toilet.
walk through cab
encourage greater outdoor living – cook inside or out and eat/play out
have a contained lock up space to sleep in
most likely pop top to fit beds for family of four, but be able to all sleep without pop top up- even if it means one mattress on the floor!
light!! Windows that open
can fit in a container for shipping purposes
think less rather than more – keeping our “stuff” to a minimum: no overloading the vehicle
Some vehicles we have considered – 4WD ambulance, 4WD pop top, small ex military 4 or 6WD vans
What did we buy?
After almost two years of travel, meeting lots of other single, couple, families road tripping across two continents, seeing other vehicles/conversions (talking to lots of German and dutch travellers who can be creative and innovative when it comes to vehicles) and simply working out what would be best for us given our preferences and experiences, we think we have found the perfect vehicle for future road trips…we are in the process of trying to work out how and if we can import it into Australia….if we can, we will let you know about it!!
So, what is the ideal road trip vehicle for a travelling family?
It is the ultimate question for any family about to embark on a road trip adventure and there isn’t a right or wrong answer.
We have asked it a million times and discussed it endlessly, sometimes with a different result depending on our mood on the day, which country we’re in, or what new overland vehicle we have just spotted on the road that day…The answer to this question will depend largely on who you ask at the time…everyone will tell you, theirs is the perfect travel vehicle (they had it custom built) and is the perfect solution to your family road travel woes. What vehicle you chose will depend on factors such as; your period of travel, budget, location, your family’s needs and size and well ultimately, your personality!
Some initial questions to consider include…..Do you want practical, big, small, convenient, creature comforts, homemade, custom made, affordable, trendy, fuel efficient, off road capable, fast, slow, head room, no room, old, new, etc.
So, say I wanted cool and homely, I would go for a converted old bus (we spotted two yellow ones) and it reminded me of the idealised old hippie travelling days. The inside of one was lovingly converted complete with a cosy woodfire heater, wooden table and bench seats and even a sewing machine for the creative inner you…Buses have personality and big windows with lots of light…but it is a bus… think noisy, slow, old and not particularly fuel efficient.
Converted old 2WD trucks are popular amongst some of the French surfers/hippies travelling along the coast of Morocco – basic, homemade, and obviously not too expensive to buy. I love the idea of having a truck fitted out with anything you could find from your house/freecycle/donations whatever. A truck is made to carry weight… so think claw bath and big futon bed with floor to ceiling bookshelves.. you could make it however you wanted – bolt anything to the floor of it, and off you go…. But you wouldn’t want to get stuck anywhere (you’d be waiting for days to find a bigger/stronger vehicle to tow you out), drive too far (high fuel costs), it would be a pain to manoevere and would add an extra couple of hours to your travel time especially if driving in hilly countryside.
We have seen ex german/russian converted military trucks as well as all sorts of other 4WD truck conversions.
The former can come in 4/6/8 WD. This would be the way to go if you wanted the space, head room and better off road capability (e.g. something that can hold the weight of your “house” even on dirt unpaved roads). But they can look huge and very conspicous. They seem somewhat out of place amongst the local cars, can use up to 5 x the amount of fuel of a normal 4WD, and depending on what you want done, it wouldn’t be cheap to either buy a truck as is, or for the conversion. Some 4WD trucks because of their size can still be impractical off road especially on smaller roads.
It seems as if every French older person (and a handful of Germans, Italians and Dutch) has a motorhome and travels each year to North Africa to escape the European winter – something in the vicinity of 40,000 when we were there. We saw motor homes of every shape, size, brand and year on the road, from the cheap and affordable to the decadent and fancy. They are custom built, compact, well organised, fuel efficient (newer ones) with a practical space, albeit a bit sterile and same same looking. They can come with all the creature comforts you desire – shower, tv, satellite, aircon, heating, trailers with bikes, motorbikes, dune buggy’s, even a town car on the back. It doesn’t mean they can carry all of this quite so easily… Question is….do you need to take your whole life with you on your travels and where do you really want to go when there? Motorhomes have a practical and comfortable space, but they are not made for driving on unpaved roads with the weight they are carrying – think flat tyres and maybe broken motorhome..
If you want to blend in with the local vehicles, I can guarentee that almost anywhere in the world a white non descript van (ex passenger/delivery type ones) would be the way to go. Only the foreign number plates would give it away, and maybe the curtains, the silver foil windscreen shield and the world map design on the side. Apart from that, the more battered looking the better. Many travellers have chosen a van as the way to road trip – its compact, and a simple and yet do-able living space – you can fit a bed in the back, a simple cooker, sink, and some storage. You can park it anywhere and no-one would guess your sleeping in it.
A van as an all in one vehicle even as a 2WD would handle dirt roads better than a motorhome. There are various sizes, brands and even 4WD options. Although, it’s important to remember that a 4WD is not just about having 4 wheels that drive! So a 4WD doesn’t always equal 4WD capable on all roads. Consider weight, tyre size, clearance and other factors to determine and assess the 4WD suitability for your desires. To fit a family, a soft pop top or a hard one, can give you the extra bed space, and/or head room. If you don’t like white, paint it, sticker it, stripe it, whatever you like it.
A 4WD gives you the ability to go almost anywhere. It doesn’t matter whether its a paved road, a muddy road or a corregated one, a road with pot holes, one thats been washed away or even a bush or dirt track. It doesn’t matter if it’s a small road, a windy road or a steep one. You can just drive it – easily…. If you want to go off road to wild camp, or tuck in somewhere a little more discrete, chances are you can probably get there in a 4WD. They are practical, useful, less likely to get stuck, and depending on the model you buy – spare parts can be found anywhere in the world.
The question than is – how and where do you sleep? Possibilities include: rooftop tent, pitch tent, camper, bed in the back, accomodation… As a couple, a 4WD is an ideal way to travel. In 2007, we travelled for 6 months pre kids. We drove our landrover defender canvas roof with a bed in the back from far east Russia to Turkey via Central Asia. We paid for accomodation in cities (although you don’t have to – we met a dutch couple travelling for 8 years who always slept in their landcruiser no matter where). The cost of accomodation and our overall travel/vehicle expenditure was much cheaper than paying for an expensive conversion or a motorhome.
Accomodating a family in a 4WD car is more difficult and has given us much to think about. With our first son, we did a couple of desert camping trips in Australia with the three of us.. again the bed in the back was still okay (just) for us all to sleep comfortably. Our son loved sitting in the front seat, between the two of us during the driving time. It was practical and easy, with very little set up required (we had a fridge, cooker attached and storage space) and we could park anywhere and go to bed.
And then we became four…!! Our 4WD with a bed option was no longer possible….so what now??!! See blog: Things to consider when choosing your family’s overland vehicle, for a discussion on the important factors to weigh up when deciding on THE “ultimate” vehicle or just the most affordable way to road travel as a family.
Imagine this scenario…. your wild camping, off track, next to a beautiful fresh water river in a lovely bush environment. Your only upkeep is a tent (which at most requires a brush out with a dustpan & brush) and your kitchen is outdoors which requires little cleaning. It doesn’t even matter if the kids (or you) happen to spill liquids/drop food bits while cooking and eating your meal. There is no mopping, no vaccuming, no ironing and no dusting required….There’s no garden to maintain (your going for the ‘wild and natural look’) and your kids play room is well…. the bush…. they have endless entertainment without the need for toys… rocks for building, a river to splash in, sticks for imaginative play and they can run around, make noise, scream and no-ones going to come and tell you or them to be quiet. Without the usual housekeeping chores to keep you busy, you have a couple of hours of free time up your sleeves.
Imagine this other scenario: your living in a hotel/apartment room. Its only 9am and the kids have already been up for a couple of hours and have watched an hour of kids morning tv already. The toys are out, kids are bored and it won’t be long before they start bouncing off the walls with excess energy to burn….You quickly finish breakie dishes and get the kids dressed and out of the apartment to the nearest playground before the neighbours come knocking. For some unexplained reason, all noise seems magnified ten fold and more intense when inside a small confined space compared with the outdoors. Even when the kids are happy they are noisy. I often feel like I spend my time shushing, containing, restricting or telling off.
It doesn’t really matter where the location is, whether its the bush, desert, by a lake, river or a mountain. When indoors, I find that we never seem to have enough toys to occupy the kids and it can be easy to resort to the ipad/tv/computer or whatever digital device you have with you to keep your kids quiet/happy and entertained. Otherwise there’s the need (for my/our kids sanity) to go out and about on various excursions/outings/structured activities to fill up the day.
Even getting the family out for the day can seem like a task in itself… getting kids and ourselves dressed, organised and motivated can take eons… yet when we are camping…well we zip open the tent (not before sun’s up) and there we are; outdoors and a playground all in one with little effort. It doesn’t even have to be an enormous tent with 5 rooms, kitchen and patio. We have camped in our 4 person hiking tent – its cosy but not uncomfortable and gives us the room we need to sleep (which is all we really need it for most of the time), read a book or play wrestle (just!).
I remember when my first son was a baby, and the wonderful remedy of taking my son outdoors during periods of crying when nothing else seemed to work. Stuck indoors with your crying child can be stressful for both mum and baby, but open a door (to a front garden, backyard, go for a walk, to the park) and its often an instant fix for both mum and baby.
I didn’t come from a background of camping…in fact the only camping experience I ever had as a kid was a two week stint in a caravan park by the beach with a friend’s family when I was 13 years old.. It was lots of fun but certainly not adventurous…. But I am adaptable and I like simple living, the outdoors and I was willing to learn! Prior to this, I thought camping was all about eating canned food at best (maybe some damper in the fire), and cold, uncomfortable nights, hours of set up (think tent flapping about as the instructions your holding fly out of your hands) and hard work…
I am fortunate that my husband not only did regular wild camps with his family during their summer holidays but he’s an ex scout… I used to laugh about it (I didn’t quite get the daggy uniform, the pledges and why anyone would want to make a 3 course meal out bush) until I found out how useful and practical my husband could be when in the middle of nowhere.
So I soon discovered the true essence of camping and the beauty of it. Not long into our relationship and we were wild camping through Russia, Mongolia and the Stans on a 6 month road trip where we slept under a mosquito net in a canvas roof Landrover, enjoyed slow cooking on campfires, eating al fresco and found ourselves camped in a myriad of different, interesting, odd and beautiful places……I was converted.
Camping provides a relaxed, mostly enjoyable lifestyle and a possible way to travel and tour a country/continent– mainly because it brings you to the countryside and to nature and out of the cities. It’s even easier (and better) when you can stop for more than a night and when you’ve found an awesome location. It’s a great lifestyle for the kids too – there are no rooms (kids are there while we cook/clean/set up) and so they can also be a part of it and help out, in whatever capacity. They are less fussy than we are about where we camp and even a tent and a Land rover can become home.
We often enjoy camping for the natural rhythm it provides to daily life…routine is structured around things like mealtimes, getting up and going to bed with the sun, basic day to day care (a wash can take half a day!), time for yourself, your partner, with the kids, 2 coffee mornings, afternoon teas, sitting in the sunshine and going to bed at a reasonable time without the distraction of hours of internet, emails, facebook, television etc beforehand. You wake up feeling like you’ve had 11 hours sleep because you have actually slept 11 hours!! When we stay in accomodation we often find that we are up til midnight and beyond distracted by IT gadgets. Yes we like to have our technology time (or at least I do) but we don’t need it everyday and having a good/early night sleep works wonders for both your mental and physical well being.
We chose camping/4WD as our mode of travel through Patagonia (Chile/Argentina) and Morocco during our two road trips.
For more information on the daily reality of camping and useful tips, see blog: Camping know how.
For more specific information on our camping road trips see blog: camping as a way to travel.
During our 5 months in South America, we bought and sold two vehicles (privately) in Chile for our travels. The first was a motor home (see blog: our 12 day motor home nightmare: but don’t let that put you off), the second a Nissan pathfinder. You could travel in a capable 2WD vehicle ensuring you go real slow on the dirt roads to avoid punctures ( we did meet travellers who had hired a 2WD drive doing the same roads as us). A 4WD however, gives you the freedom to go more places especially hard to reach camping spots, off track. It provides more opportunities for wild camping rather than structured campsites/carparks. There are a wide range of cars to choose from in Santiago, and these are quite affordable, compared with say, Argentina or even home (Australia).
It is possible to buy and sell a car privately if you wish. It is a fairly straightforward, simple and easy process. You don’t necessarily have to go through a dealership. In fact, we found that when it comes to doing the paperwork – its a one day job. I have provided a simple step by step process further on.
The actual buying/selling process takes a bit longer as there can be a bit of back and forth tennis communication going on, and locals can be quite hard to pin down – even when your the one trying to buy something from them. You may have to call/ text several times, just to lock in a time and then feel guilty when after the 10th call, the person tells you, can they call you back in 5 minutes, they are just coming out of church…….
We discovered that locals tend to prefer phone contact rather than email or text (even though we requested email contact to help us with the communication process – google translate works wonders). But no, locals generally want to call and talk about it and you will get less interest if you only limit yourself to email communication.
Expect late night calls – yes even at 11pm, lots of questions, before someone even considers coming to look at the car. However, the one person who does come and look at the car, is likely to buy it – unless there is something drastically wrong – like its missing an engine or something. Both times we sold our vehicles, we also had what seemed to be serious offers to buy the car without seeing it. Cars seem to move quite quickly in the Santiago market place.
The biggest issue you’ll face is trying to organise appointment times for viewing. You’ll usually get the “ call me later, tomorrow, that afternoon, etc and see how we go..” either people are really busy, waiting for better offers or they are on the same merry go round as everyone else ( who are also being non committal) to make a time with you. No one really seems to know what they are doing tomorrow, until tomorrow comes.
In fact, we allocated times of 1-2 hours apart for 3 people to come and view our car one afternoon, and somehow all three managed to turn up within 5 minutes of each other.. It was a bit embarrassing but hey, the car got sold that day with very little negotiation. A private sale can maximise the price you can get for the vehicle, and if you have a couple of weeks up your sleeve before leaving the country, than it can be worth the extra little effort.
While there may be some fluffing around which happens during the pre sale, once you’ve bought or sold a car, the locals spring into action. Somehow, taking a day off work the very next day to complete the paperwork is no issue, neither is the inconvenience of suddenly not having a car. We went to view our 1998 Nissan pathfinder, agreed to buy it for $7,000US and the very next day it was ours with the authorisation papers. We left Santiago a day later. When we returned in 4 months we were able to sell it easily (in one week) at a loss of only $400US. Not bad when you consider the outrageous hire price for the same period.
While travelling through Patagonia, we saw many backpackers travelling by bus/ hitch hiking (it can get quite competitive and we sometimes passed 10 couples/individuals trying to hitch a ride). We also met other travellers who had bought or hired a car (depending on length and period of travel) and were camping/sleeping in the back of the car. If you want to get to the National Parks and see the countryside (which is stunning by the way) rather than the towns..than having your own wheels is a good way to do it. We did see some motor homes, mainly European imports, but nothing like the number of motor homes/campers you would see travelling through Europe/North Africa. I gather the cost of shipping wouldn’t be so cheap…
Here is some practical information about buying a car in Santiago (Chile) to begin your road trip through South America.
What you need to purchase a vehicle as a foreigner
Obtain a RUT (Rol Unico Tributario) number
A RUT number is like an ID number. You need it to buy/sell a car, even to purchase a mobile phone or a BAM (internet access stick for laptop). Its useful, free and easy to apply for.
Apply at the office of: Servicio de Impuestos Internos (SII office). The office you visit will depend on where you are based whilst in Santiago. We went to the office at: Padre Alonso de Ovalle 680, which is the regional office for Santiago Centro (barrios of Centro, Independencia and Recoleta). For other office locations check out: www.sii.cl/sobre_el_sii/resumen.htm. Scroll to S for Santiago.
Office hours are usually 8.30am – 14.00. Go early, bring your passport. Walk in, fill in the paperwork and you will leave with a piece of paper which is your temporary RUT number. Carry it with you and guard it with your life until you get your permanent ID card. This can can be mailed to you or picked up from the original office 3 months later.
NB: You can buy or sell a car with the temporary RUT paperwork.
There are traveller websites such as lonely planet thorntree forums where those finishing their south american road trip can post vehicles for sale.
Note: When going out to view private car sales you may need to bring your own GPS as taxi’s can get lost when heading out of Santiago centre..!
Dealers generally sell cars on consignment, and you’ll find lots to look at. It may mean the paperwork takes about 3-5days but everything is generally taken care of.
There are various dealers and you can peruse popular areas such as Avienda Las Condes or Irarrazaval Av.
We also went to visit a Nissan car dealer, who spoke good English and was helpful.carlos verdugo email@example.com
Purchasing a vehicle
So you’ve chosen a vehicle, checked it out, negotiated the price (may not be much negotiating…) – what next?
ATM’s in Santiago will only dispense 200.000 Chilean pesos at a time ($400US). Plan for this when organising your payment/pick up time!
Most people will not want you to come with wads of cash that they carry back to their home or office, so organise a “vale vista” (bank cheque/money order) at the bank.
Complete the transfer of sale
To transfer the car in your name or vice versa as a foreigner, you will need to visit a notorio to complete the paperwork. If you were a local you could do the paperwork at the main registry office for $40US!
There are notorios everywhere and both times we went to one located near the vehicle. The local person you are buying/selling from can even help with finding one. The average cost is about $200 – 300US, but they lodge all the paperwork and take the necessary paperwork required from you – no hassles. Both parties need to go to the notorio together preferably first thing in the morning, because it can get hectic. Usually the person buying the car pays the notorio fees but we paid for the notorio fees when selling our car also because a local doesn’t have to go to a notorio, however we do. Locals can chose to do so because they want to ensure all is done well from a legal perspective but they could just as easily pay $40 and go to the main registro office…Your call/negotiation.
The car paperwork will take approximately 15 working days to transfer into your name. You will need the official paperwork before you cross borders but you can travel within Chile with the temporary one. You can get the paperwork posted to a forwarding address or do as we did – we visited the local registro civil office in the town we were in, pre crossing the border and got a print out from there.
Ownership/other paperwork to do with the car
You will soon discover that the servicio de registro civil is where it all happens: birth, death, marriage certificates, passports, car paperwork etc… Its a one stop government shop. So your official paperwork will be issued by this office. The main one in Santiago centro is: Servicio de registro civil: Huerfanos 1570, Santiago. Go to www.registrocivil.cl for other region locations.
Permiso de circulacion
This is the yearly registration (tax) cost for the vehicle, paid end of March. We sold our car start of March before we had to worry about any additional costs. Why not do the same?
The car’s safety inspection certificate. Again, check when this was completed last, and when its due again.
You can request a “ certificado de anotaciones para vehiculos motorizado” which shows any violations, parking fines etc outstanding on the vehicle.
Car insurance is not compulsory in Chile. It is compulsory in Argentina and other South American countries, and can be easily organised before you cross the border through MAPFRE – we did this online before crossing the border (you will need a print out of your insurance – don’t just flash the document on your computer around!). We also noticed as we neared the border of Chile/Argentina (especially on the main/popular border crossings) signs advertising : segurios obligatarios – insurance available to buy at various shop locations. You can either check country by country or organise insurance to cover you for your entire south America period through: MAPFRE http://www.mapfre.com/mapfreasistencia/en/home.shtml (it does most of South America, but double check) or falabella (local Chilean department store) http://falabella.cl.
To enter or exit Santiago, you will need to purchase a day pass (toll fee) which can be done prior or within a 24 hour period at a servipag office in Santiago: www.servipag.com or you can find automated booths at major COPEC fuel stations. Just make sure you know your car registration details!
Any other toll fees are paid at toll booths in cash.
Pre pay service fuel. Attendants fill up for you!
The paperwork that matters is your RUT number, official transfer sale document and insurance if required (and of course your personal document/passport). Make sure that the car information is typed correctly when crossing borders by the immigration official. The Argentine official at the border had made a typo error when entering our number plate. So, instead of owning a Nissan pathfinder, it came up as a completely different model car altogether. The police at a random checkpoint picked it up, questioned us about it (sensitive to illegal importation of cars given the ridiculous price difference) but accepted it as a one number typo error…
Selling a car
RUT: You can sell your car with either a temporary or permanent RUT. So if you finish your trip before you receive your permanent ID card (in 3 months), that is okay. Make sure you still have your temporary RUT paperwork. Most importantly is the official document of car ownership in your name (15 working days to obtain at any servicio registro civil).
We advertised in both Chile autos (free) and Mercardolibre websites (paid). We also posted on a couple of traveller forum websites and made up some flyers to place in various city hostels, especially as we were giving away some of our camping gear with the car. The best response was from the local private websites. We got lots of interest even after the vehicle was sold. You will get a good response if advertised for the right price…check out the competition online before you advertise.
When you are looking at buying a car from a dealer they may offer a “buy back” from you at a reduced cost (a % loss). This sounds very attractive to a short/medium term traveller and may influence your purchase of the vehicle…e.g. The car has only been bought and its already sold! Just keep in mind, it may or it may not happen. If it does, than it’s another great option to consider when selling.
We had our dodgy backyard dealer (when we bought our motor home) tell us he would happily buy the motor home back from us, which was a complete croc. He didn’t want anything to do with it and we came to understand why…. So, when buying a car, would you still buy it if not for the attractive offer of a buy back? E.g. is it a good reliable car, or if you don’t care for it to be, then is it worth what you are paying for it?
Visit the servicio registro civil for the “certficado de anotaciones vigentes” (document with all the particulars of the vehicle – current/past owners etc) prior to the visit to the notorio – usually the morning of the sale.
Visit the notorio, but this time as a seller, not the buyer.
Get the cash, and congratulate yourself for a smart cost effective way to travel and don’t spend it all at once…..!!!
I wish that Australians showed more manners sometimes…. I thought that the Chilean ‘politeness’ was simply a cultural thing, as we often had anyone from a teenager to an adult offer us seats when we were out as a family..it .didn’t matter where it was, whether it was the local pool, on the metro etc. Then we got to London and I soon discovered that even in a city with a population of over 8 million, here were another bunch of really courteous people… whenever we were on the tube someone always offered a seat to either myself or the kids and everyone knows that spare seats in the tube are rare.
Sure we might be a bit miffed and joke about the overly organised societal rules that can exist –the almost iconic ‘mind the gap’ (although its no longer continuously broadcast over the PA), ‘keep to the left’, the specific doors you have to enter or exit when catching a double decker bus. The refusal (either wittingly or unwittingly) to comply with any of the above can at best be met with a rude glare or an abrupt excuse me, and at worst, well find out at your peril!! These matters can be taken into one’s own hands and might even be the cause of a riot…….In one instance, I witnessed a bus driver refusing to drive until one passenger (an older lady) got off and re-entered the bus again through the entry not the exit doors.. Well, all manners went out the window, and it caused everyone much grief. For ten minutes there was lots of grumbling, swearing, insults, sides taken, and I could foresee a fight to break out…and all for what? I even joined in with a “come on mate, it doesn’t really matter, does it?” (as I felt it my duty to remind him of his duty; to drive the bus!) Oh yes, for someone with staunch principles…everything matters, either that, or the bus driver was having an exceptionally bad day…..
Aside from these rare moments, when it comes to driving etiquette, a similar politeness and courteousness takes place on the roads too. On the motorway in the UK, people keep to the left, overtake in the right lane and generally, are mostly good natured even though the traffic can be hideous and the conditions not so great especially in winter time with fog, black ice, early darkness.
Australians have generally had a great record when it comes to road safety especially with the introduction of child safety seat laws, mandatory seat belts (as early as the 1970s) and compulsory helmets for bike riders (who could forget the stack hats of the 80s). Currently, the governments latest target as the biggest killer on the roads is speeding, and anything above 5kms over the speed limit gets you a hefty fine, yes even on the free way/motorway.
So what does this lead to??? A bunch of angry, frustrated, impatient and arrogant drivers..and 3 lanes of traffic on a free way ALL driving at the same pace, give or take a couple of kms depending on the accuracy of your car’s speedo.
There are the drivers who refuse to move out of the right (overtaking lane) because they are doing the speed limit, so why should they, would come the reply.
There are the drivers going slow (still in the right lane), who can’t quite make the transition to the middle/left lanes, partly because there’s few gaps in the traffic (cars are all going just under 100 kms) and they seem to miss every opportunity and partly because in 186 kms or so they will be taking a right turn exit off the free way so why move now only to move later.
Then there are the arrogant drivers who are in the right lane also, who refuse to budge, because after all, they pay taxes and the right lane is just as much theirs as anyone else’s. So is anyone driving in the left lane you ask? Well, that’s what I’d like to know…
So what does this create? Road rage, reckless driving, undertaking, tailgating, lots of raised fingers, hand shaking out the window, high stress levels, high blood pressure, headlights flashing, horns beeping, low morale, low cash flow (camera’s are everywhere) and basically some very dangerous driving conditions. Even when I’m driving at home on a free way, I’m torn between yelling at the driver in front, to get the hell out of the right lane and back to the left and to the driver behind me to back off unless he wants to pay my fine and cop my demerit points…
100 or 105 kms, is it really a speeding hazard or a revenue raising venture?? Sure, in residential areas it’s important to keep driving to a minimum safe speed especially where there are schools, parks nearby, families out walking, kids out playing etc. But on a free way?? Surely the danger is in a driver who is distracted, not concentrating, driving dangerously or driving at ridiculous speeds…
We have witnessed in awe at the driving that can take place in other countries…. even amongst the more arrogant EU countries that we won’t name. The speed limit is usually anywhere from 110 to 130 kms (in Germany we found no speed limit freeway!). Drivers generally as a norm seem to go at an average 110/115kms regardless. Of course there are always the drivers that push the limits and go much faster regardless of the speed restrictions (this happens every where in the world). We found that drivers generally keep left (or right depending on which country your in), keep the fast lane for overtaking and will move very quickly out of the way when another car is in sight…And you know what? It works….. in 2010, the road death toll was 3 per 100,000 in Great Britain, compared with 6 per 100,000 in Australia. Don’t get me wrong, Australia’s record is quite good in comparison to some countries, but it’s also quite average compared to others despite its strict speed regulations.
The other day while driving back into London after a weekend away in the countryside, my husband pointed in disbelief to the strange scene ahead of us….. “did you see that… the car in the left lane slowed right down to let the merging car in”… and you know what, there was no honking, screeching, yelling, anger… just polite road manners….I’d like to see more of that. Sure as Australians we have big roads, big country, big cars but do we need the big egos?!
South America, was our first destination continent…even though I had travelled to South America before, I wanted to share this love of the continent with my family and to explore even more of it.
We gave ourselves an initial 6 months with a flight outbound to London. Most countries will not let you enter or leave without an exit ticket. Our ticket was valid for one year and could be changed based on flight availability. I wasn’t particularly excited about road travel with our youngest son, but we were open and flexible to see how it would all go and we could follow the warmer weather once autumn/winter hit.
The view of Santiago
So where to start on this continent?? Given that my previous experience of Chile was all of about 5 days, it seemed strange to chose this as our first port of call… However, it was an easy and direct flight to the capital of Santiago from Melbourne Australia(17 hours was long enough!), and we discovered that not only were cars reasonably cheap to buy in Chile but as a foreigner the paperwork was easy enough and we could cross borders with a Chilean registered vehicle.
It seemed like a good place to start our journey. We weren’t sure how far our travels would take us or how long we would remain in South America – time would tell… … I remember backpacking in my 20’s through South America. In 6 months I had been through a number of countries, catching overnight buses and flying between destinations easily (as a single person) – I got to see many of the cities and famous landmarks…I tangoed, salsaed, sambaed and fo hoed my way around the continent.
Ruta 40, Argentina
This time we have travelled the distance as a family and this time around we have seen more countryside than cities. While we have not seemingly progressed very far in terms of map distance we have still during four months covered about 12,000kms…every kilometre we have driven ourselves… we thought it to be slow going, but at times we were travelling at the same pace as other single/couple road travellers who were on the same route as us…. We saw the boring bits as well as the exciting ones, we didn’t just plonk ourselves in the middle of somewhere – we got to it..
Amazing volcano country
.In my 20’s if I had landed in Chile I would’ve flown straight to Torres del Paine, or Puerto Natales or even further to Ushaia and that would’ve been my Chile Patagonia experience. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…. but after driving and reaching Torres del Paine, and as beautiful as it was…. we found Chile had other national parks that were less visited and less famous and that were just as stunning, or even more so and much more family friendly……
After four months on the road and coming to the end of summer, we contemplated how much further we wanted to go – we had only travelled through two countries in South America (through Chile and Argentina), yet there was still Bolivia, Peru and Brazil….not to mention the north of South America…… We were very mindful of health issues, particularly for our little ones……. we wanted to avoid high risk areas of yellow or dengue fever, malaria and possibly other rainforest borne diseases. It’s always a hard one as a parent….assessing the risks and the advantages…..
We discussed flying to some of these countries, as we were tiring of the car travel, particularly with our youngest son who wasn’t so fond of being in the car…..(we had good days and bad days), but even flying was costly as a family to even our nearest neighbour Peru or Brazil….
So just as we were starting to feel a bit like our tent – worn out, we decided to ditch the car travel. We were over dusty roads, boring bitumen ones, strapping kids in when they just wanted to play, noisy traffic, rude drivers, and the enormous kms we would need to cover……to cross countries not just the continent… sure we could do night drives and early morning starts to cover the kilometres but did we really want to? My one and a half year old, was never so great with car travel, even as a younger bub, he slept less in the car than when in a bed – my older son could go two hours napping in the car at the same age. At that time, we had done road/camping trips in Australia, but for a kid sitting in the front seat of a land rover between his parents was a lot more fun than in the back seat. Being squashed in the middle of the back seat wasn’t always so much fun for me either – try breastfeeding too.
We didn’t quite find the “perfect” way to road travel.. Camping was great fun and a wonderful experience for the kids and us… However, it wasn’t a long term solution, even when intermingled with other accommodation, which then gets expensive. We had tried and decided that a motor home was not for us, which left little other options for car travel for a family of four… Surely, there could be other ways to travel as a family….. we tossed around the options of walking and by boat…. maybe one of these could be for us….but how and where could we start this new trip??? Two weeks after selling our car in Santiago, the place where this all began, we boarded another flight. This one was going to London, UK via Toronto…. where a new adventure awaited us….
Possible South America vaccinations/ health risks to be considered
Hep A and B, Typhoid (off the beaten path) – not available for kids under two years old in Australia. Tetanus, Pertussis, Diphtheria, MMR, Chicken pox Influenza, Malaria, Dengue Fever, Yellow fever, Rabies, Chlorea (Peru) Altitude sickness (Peru/Bolivia)
Living life on the move – by road, foot, sea and air