Category Archives: Wild camping

Overland vehicle options for a travelling family

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our mode of travel for 3 months in Morocco, car and tent

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.

converted 4WD trucks
converted 4WD trucks

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.

Motorhomes

Europe and Morocco: motorhome paradise
Europe and Morocco: motorhome paradise

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..

Vans

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.

4WD ute camper conversion
4WD camper

4WD car

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.

Travelling through Morocco in a landrover.  Great for off road
Travelling through Morocco in a landrover. Great for off road

 

 

Why camping is fun for your kids and good for you too

getting out of the cities and into the countryside
getting out of the cities and into the countryside: Patagonia
when the bush is your playground
when the bush is your playground

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.

Camping Argentina
Camping Argentina

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!).

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Wild camping by the river baker, Chile

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.

Where it all began, our first road trip as a couple
Where it all began, our first road trip as a couple

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.

time to hang out, camping in Argentina, lakes region
time to hang out, camping in Argentina, lakes region

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.

Camping in the middle of ruta 40, Argentina
Camping in the middle of ruta 40, Argentina