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.