Neither of us knows exactly how long we’ve been planning this trip...  I do know that Sarah gave me the Bradt guide to Africa Overlanding four years ago; and in August 2006 we attended our first Land Rover show to start looking at gear – but I suppose the full preparations only seriously got under way in early 2007.

Most advice suggests it takes at least a year to plan such a trip.  No doubt this can be shortened if you don’t have to worry about a job or house, or if you manage to pick up an overland-ready vehicle.  Most people want to do it their own way though, and don’t have the finances to pay others to do it for them. 

It's once you start looking at the project in detail that you start to see the enormity of it.  What vehicle will you use and how do you intend to prepare it?  What route do you want to follow, and how much time do you have? Will you sell your property or rent it out?  What about your job?  Then there are the health and visa requirements, storing your possessions, deciding what new kit you have to purchase… 

It can quickly become over-engineered if you aren't careful.  I somehow managed to turn Mike's orignal one page project plan into a monster 23-tab spreadsheet document! So we’ve tried to outline just the major considerations below:

How much does a trip like this cost and where do you find the money?  Two questions that all prospective overlanders ask themselves, yet it’s weirdly tricky to get clear answers.  We can help.  The first question we can answer with some authority, the second depends on your circumstances but we managed it, so the chances are you can too…

A good start is the Bradt guide, available in most decent sized bookstores and a great reference for all your planning.  But, whilst useful as a rough guide you need to recognise that with any printed material, it’s going to be a year or two out of date by the time you read it.  And prices in Africa don’t stay static for long.  There are however some costs that are relatively fixed and a few places that you can look to guess the rest. 

To cut a long story short, our final spend amounted to – £25,200.76...

Approximately!  This is based on fairly rigorous records of our expenditure, though we did have to take into account variable exchange rates so it did of course differ slightly from the actual amount that exited our previously healthy bank accounts.  Whichever way you look at it, it’s a lot of cash.  Before your sharp intake of breath threatens to dislodge your teeth bear in mind that much of this was capital outlay; camping gear, our vehicle, cool gadgets etc.  Before we left we were already poorer to the tune of £14,709.17 – more than half the end total!  We did have a laptop, great binoculars, quality camping chairs, a rooftop tent and awning, Engel fridge etc etc etc.  There were things we were prepared to scrimp on but we wanted the kit to use afterwards so good quality equipment was not one of them.  Nevertheless, with a bit of prioritising and shopping around you can save a lot of these costs.  For example:

1) We wanted a Land Rover Defender and that was that.  Unfortunately they hold their value.  You can get a good quality old Range Rover or LR Discovery – also great vehicles – at a good price.  Or, if you’re travelling from south to north then maybe a Toyota Landcruiser (they seemed expensive in the UK).
2) Rooftop tents are wonderful but hideously expensive.  Their advantages are that they’re quick to erect, spacious, level and give a greater sense of privacy and protection.  Ground tents are much cheaper, lighter, technically more advanced for the price and can be left in camp when you drive away.
3) Do you need everything to be new?  The UK the market is quite small so second hand things are not as readily available.  From SA there’s plenty.
4) Do you want to own the vehicle?  Foleys and other outfitters will supply an overland ready vehicle with all the kit you need.  It’s cheaper in the short term to rent but consider that you’ll get no return on your spend and you also don’t get to personalise your travel companion.

Of course, you could also spend a lot more.  There were things we wanted but just couldn’t have.  There are also things we would advise everyone to have.  Things such as good tools and good spares.  Even if you have no mechanical nous you need them – in Africa there’s always a mechanic but not always the right tool!  We also spent more on readying the vehicle mechanically than we spent on her in the first place.  We’d do it again too; Africa is not cheap if you need things repaired.

Once you’ve reconciled yourself to the cost of preparing the vehicle you can start to think about your day-to-day expenses.  Our running costs came to £10,500, about £58 a day for the two of us.  Our original budget was £50 but guide costs through Libya put paid to that.  It could easily have been even more but fret not, you can also do it for less.  It really depends on what you want to do.  Driving, camping and mixing with the locals is not too expensive.  Anything aimed at tourists is, and tends to be based on European prices – museums, activities, national parks etc.  Decide what you have to do, what you want to do and what you can do without, and be prepared to change your plans!

To save those precious sheckles you can try these ideas:
- Start by keeping a spreadsheet of everything you spend – everything – and what it’s spent on.  It’s a useful reference for deciding where you can afford to cut costs.  We’re pretty tight anyway but found that even we could cut down on some small things.  Here’s a good example – take your lunch to work instead of buying it every day.  Saving only £2 a day per person, that’s £4 a day for a couple, or £20 per week, and £80 per month.  Close to £4000 over the four years you’ll be saving for the trip!
- Use cash.  Cards make spending invisible and way too easy.
- Set savings targets and stick to them.  Spend some time setting up a high interest savings account and regularly move your money into it.  We transferred money in when our salaries came in, then tried to live on an allocated monthly budget - by the time we left we were earning £100 a month in interest.
- Get rid of old things – Ebay, Gumtree etc are a way of making a bit extra to help you along.  Your storage costs will be lower too.
- If you have a bunch of equipment to buy think about going to a Land Rover show where you can pick up second hand kit, and new stuff might be at reduced prces.  Try to negotiate deals.
-  Sponsorship is something many people try.  We decided against it because we didn’t want to be beholden to anything.  If you can get some go for it.
-  Print ID photos on a home printer before you go.  They’re fine for visas en route and will save you as you go.
- Take bigger denomination bills in foreign currency, they usually exchange at a better rate.  On that note, make sure any US dollars you have are newer than 2003.  Old notes are not accepted in some countries.
- Don’t spend too much time in Europe testing your vehicle. It’s tempting, but pricey and in a foreign language anyway.  If something does go wrong you won’t be much worse off being in Africa already instead.
- Drive slowly; it’s safer as well.  By maintaining a maximum speed of 50mph rather than 60mph we improved our fuel consumption by 10miles per gallon.
- Go for longer.  Preparation costs remain the same.  Fuel costs remain the same (assuming you’re doing the same distance just slower).  Visa costs remain the same, so all in all it’s relatively cheaper.
- Camp wild, particularly in North Africa.  It’s one of the experiences you shouldn’t miss anyway.
- If you’re visiting Libya you’ll need to pay for a guide.  If you can share the cost with others it’s a bonus.
- Don’t rush to the south.  North Africa is rich in experiences and the further south you go the more expensive things become.
- Shop in local markets and try to find out in advance what constitutes a fair price.  This is especially important in Arabic countries (although not Sudan) where bargaining is part of the culture – and they’re exceptionally good at it.
- Plan as thoroughly as possible.  Backtracking wastes time and fuel – use your GPS correctly and it’ll probably pay for itself by the end of the first month.
- Entrance costs to parks are expensive – maybe choose one or two and spend quality time there rather than trying to see them all.
- Remember that you’re travelling for a long time and can’t expect to do all the activities that the short stay tourists around you will be doing.  Be realistic about your expectations.

But don’t get too hung up on cost – remember, this is a trip of a lifetime and it’s probably better to spend the money than regret not seeing or doing things.

There’s another thing you’ll need to be aware of, especially if you’re from the UK.  Most banks will stop your account when they notice unusual activity.  This is highly inconvenient so make sure you advise them that you’ll be travelling.  They’ll probably still stop it anyway so make sure you have a reverse charges or international tel number for their Fraud department.  Take a couple of cards (maybe both Visa and Mastercard) and keep some cash at all times.  US dollars are best in North and East Africa.  In some countries, Rwanda, Libya and Sudan in particular, ATMs don't exist, so make sure you have enough forex in cash for the duration of your stay.

And finally here’s a bonus for you.  We’re happy to share our costs – all of them – if you want to know exactly where the money went just drop us an email (address on contact page) and we’ll forward our spreadsheet.  We could have used something like this during our planning stages and we’re sure you could too.  Happy saving!

This is how a conversation normally goes; "So...", you ask, " what have you actually done to the vehicle?".  "Um...well... quite a lot really". "A bit of touching up here and there… There’s a new roofrack and side lockers, and we put a snorkel on and stuff”.

We've done a whole lot more than that but than that but it makes for a boring monologue.  If you’re not obsessive about Land Rovers or overlanding please feel free to stop reading about here!

Our vehicle of choice is a 1992 200Tdi Land Rover Defender 110 hardtop.  Land Rover because it’s a Land Rover (and also because there are relatively few appropriate vehicles for this sort of undertaking).  You can get parts for these vehicles almost anywhere in Africa, though we'll carry sufficient spares to hopefully get us out of trouble.  We looked at both 200Tdi and 300Tdi models, which have a reputation for being more reliable than the earlier 110s.  We didn’t look at newer vehicles because a) they’re more expensive and b) up to the 300Tdi the engines were still relatively simple and could be worked on fairly easily by home/bush mechanics.  The 300Tdi is supposedly a bit feistier but the 200Tdi is apparently the more reliable and economical.  We went for a 110 hardtop – we don’t need back seats anyway and this format gives us extra capacity in the loadbay.

* Cleaned the vehicle from top to bottom and polished with T-cut, to remove old algae and stubborn grime (Note: clearing out the gutter below the windscreen seems to have cut down on the leak into the footwells)
*Replaced the cracked front license/number plate
*Replaced the damaged radiator grille (£5 second hand from Driffield Land Rover show)
*Fixed a faulty indicator and cleaned out all light lenses
*Replaced the headlights with newer ones which were thrown in with the vehicle when we bought her
*Sealed between windscreen and roof with black silicone.  In heavy rain water still drips through from the top of the door but supposedly it’s not a real Land Rover if it doesn’t leak!
*Fitted Rebel 4x4 front diff guard – a neat looking and robust piece of kit, but stupidly I bought one for the back as well; of course our vehicle has a Salisbury diff at the rear so it doesn’t fit.  Anyone interested in a bargain purchase?
*Fitted a basic steering guard which also came with the vehicle when we bought her
*Replaced radiator.  This was supplied by Foley’s Specialist Vehicles but to save costs we fitted it ourselves – straightforward in principle, slightly more time consuming in practice.  Foley’s have been great; really knowledgeable and honest.  They also allowed me to hang around in their workshop while they worked on Mapenzi
*Replaced 6 bolt steering box with a more robust (I'm told) 4 bolt one.  Foley’s sourced a good second hand one as ours was starting to leak slightly.  Again, we fitted it ourselves with the heroic help of Dave and Grant.  An epic struggle which would make for a half decent 3 hour blockbuster starring Mel Gibson
*Had the vehicle professionally serviced – replaced belts, filters and fluids and re-greased where appropriate
*The mechanic also fitted new radiator hoses that were included in the vehicle purchase; and replaced the water pump (we’ve kept the old one as a spare)
*Neatened up the wing tops with chequer plate protectors – we went for the slightly pricier 3mm anodised aluminium as it can withstand being stood on and is less reflective.  Rebel 4x4 supplies it with fixing kit, though we still had to drill lots of holes and accessing the nuts around the existing air intake required removal of the windscreen washer tank and loosening of the intake vent (I lost a spanner and my composure somewhere in the engine bay)
*Replaced the clutch; this was done by Foley’s who also examined the gearbox for a minor leak while they had it all apart.  All seems ok.  We had a new clutch master cyclinder so got them to replace this and also fit a second hand clutch pedal from a 300Tdi – the spring assistance will make city driving more pleasant
*Replaced the basic roofrack with a Brownchurch expedition rack.  There are lighter and lower profile aluminium ones on the market, but they’re more expensive and steel can be beaten and welded back together by just about anyone (already proven it's strength in an altercation with an airport chevron)
*Purchased a Myway ‘Serengeti’ rooftop tent and had it fitted by Paul (I can highly recommend Myway for customer service).  They do suggest the slightly lighter ‘Evolution’ (with its modern materials it's better as an overland tent) though we preferred the canvas look of the ‘Serengeti’ (canvas keeps the interior darker and cooler).  The tent opens over the rear to provide some shade over the back door.  Some experienced overlanders say that the roofrack becomes less accessible with this setup but we wanted the cover.  We’ll have to climb up from the bonnet.  Sarah claims her legs are a bit too short so we may invest in some mast steps to make her life a lot easier
*We also purchased and fitted a 2.5m Myway awning
*Fitted a bulbar – there’s some debate about whether or not this is still legal in Europe but from the information and mixed messages we’ve been able to piece together I think we’re ok.  We’re not keen to travel around Africa without some protection for the front of our vehicle.  And it provides somewhere to mount the spotlights
*Attached and wired driving lights onto the bulbar – Wipac 8” seemed reasonably priced and we don’t anticipate doing much night driving anyway
*New set of BF Goodrich All Terrain tyres.  They have a good reputation and we’ve kept two of the old ones as our spares.  One is mounted on the back door with a Mantec swing away wheel carrier (which we stripped and repainted).  The other is fixed on the roofrack – again, thanks to Foley’s.  They can also mount it on the bonnet which keeps your centre of gravity lower, but this makes the bonnet very heavy and can damage parts underneath (if you find yourself traversing Ethiopia's notoriously African potholed 'roads' for e.g.).  We’ve stuck with the old steel rims as these can be beaten back into shape if they’re damaged
*Removed the rusted side steps for better side clearance and a straighter look.  A bit exciting for Sarah getting in and out now, but at least she can haul herself up via the roofrack struts
* Removed adjustable tow hitch and fixed recovery point instead - for better clearance at rear
*Removed old reflective tape as there were puddles corroding the bodywork underneath.  We’ll fit the requisite tape when required
*Removed door panels to see the extent of rust.  It was fairly bad, though not structural, so Foley’s re-welded for us.  They also fitted their own, better window channels while the panels were off.  Before replacing the panels we cut new plastic linings to replace the tatty sheets underneath
*Fixed eyes on all doors to allow them to be padlocked when vehicle is unattended
*Removed and replaced lower door seals on both sides (beware, the manufacturers rivet holes on the vehicle and those on the replacement seals do not always line up correctly #@!!#
*Fitted jerry can lockers on both sides.  These were supplied by Foley’s but to save costs we decided to fit them ourselves.  My brother Dave the Brave helped with this scary procedure – it involves cutting out big chunks of bodywork and drilling holes in the chassis.  Each locker holds 2x 20l jerry cans
*Removed trim and re-sprayed inside of cab.  We also removed the floor plates and replaced the rusted fixings; this involved taping plastic sheeting to areas not earmarked for painting, and graffiti spraying the rest of the surfaces
*Removed dashboard to check bulkhead rust.  There was very little so we went over the wiring and then put it all back together again
*Replaced damaged dashboard trim rail with a cheapo second hand one from a 4x4 show.  Also picked up a replacement switch panel – just cosmetic touches to make the cab look nice
*Replaced radio with one that receives MP3.  This should have been easy but the previous radio had been installed with a live wire that connected direct to the battery rather than through the fuse box, so had to locate another ‘live’ and tidy it all up.  Cue more swearing
*Removed and cleaned cab headlining before reattaching with new fixings
*Scraped off rust and spraypainted in the underseat boxes
*Removed grotty centre cubby box and replaced it with a locking steel one 
*Added tinting film to rear windows to keep loadbay cooler and hopefully prevent prying eyes
*Scraped rear crossmember, had the rust repaired by Foley’s and then repainted it with Hammerite
*Fitted rear step
*Fixed up the poorly repaired gouge in the canopy with body putty and painted over (sort of)
*Cleaned and oiled lock on back door
*Removed old back door trim panel and replaced it with chequer plate.  We’ve hinge-mounted a twin burner gas stove on the inside of the door
*Removed existing wooden boxes from between wheel arches.  Instead we’ve created our own system of cabinets which allows us to sit and/or sleep in the back as well as offering plentiful storage
*Had a split charge battery system installed by Foleys.  There are specialist deep-cycle batteries on the market, designed to power accessories such as fridges, however we were advised to keep it simple and use two batteries of the same type so that we have a backup if need be.  We don’t have a battery monitoring system but the main battery is protected from being run flat
*Again to save costs, we fitted and wired three 12V plug points ourselves.  Using the correct wire is where it gets tricky and we don’t yet know if we got it right!
*Fitted and wired a 12V fridge – we went with Engel (though also liked some of National Luna’s products)
*Fitted an inverter, which we can use to charge things like cameras and laptop
*Removed and replaced fluorescent light in rear
*AND Fitted a snorkel... and stuff

We found this one of the most subjective elements of planning.  Some people get every vaccination available before they leave, carry a suitcase of pills, bandages and creams, with IV drips, plasma and full scalpel sets, use their own cutlery to eat in restaurants and purify water for everything. Others seem to get by with some aspirin and bug spray. Finding a sensible in-between version may be difficult, but we uncovered some pretty common sense advice, which made it simpler.

The biggest health risk is from road accidents, especially with the lack of facilities if something awful does happen. African roads are notoriously bad, driving is notoriously reckless, cars are notoriously un-roadworthy and potholes are notoriously crater-like.  Apart from wandering pedestrians, stray animals, manic scooters and donkey carts, there is rampant blind-rise overtaking and scores of overloaded lorries speed along the pistes. We decided on three rules before we left:

1.  Never to drive at night (even dusk is dangerous as it’s not always compulsory to use headlights – in fact if you’re travelling less than 20km an hour you don’t have to bother in some countries – imagine driving up behind someone going that slowly, who is invisible in the darkness).
2. Avoid driving on weekend nights – most of the drivers around you might have been spending their week’s wage in the local bar/shebeen and are too sozzled to steer straight.
3. Always keep a healthy following distance so you have time to react should the car in front you lose an exhaust or burst a tyre. You’re also out of the line of fire if stones are kicked up or a truck suddenly spits out noxious fumes (if you have air-con fine, but when you’re relying on your air vents, beware!).  It can also help you work out what to avoid when the car in front disappears into a rut, or renegade livestock decide to cross (goats are pretty sharp but sheep are clueless).  Another thing we quickly discovered is that it also gives you time to slow or even stop to get your bearings if there’s a signpost or junction that was hidden behind a high truck, and to prepare if there are people up ahead. You can wind up your window without being obvious if they don’t look overly friendly (take off your sunglasses, smile broadly and wave – seems to slowly turn the hardest hearts and most often they wave back) and you have time to hastily hide your GPS/wallet/camera out of sight from nosy parkers!

Of course we broke most of these self-imposed rules before we even left Europe, but we did try!

As overlanders, the advice we were given again and again was to consider the quirks of our own vehicle. It’s one thing worrying about other drivers but you really must take the time to familiarise yourself with how your tyres react to changing road conditions, what speeds your vehicle can cruise at, and how to cope with reduced visibility. We quickly learnt that as we are slightly top-heavy, we have to give corners a lot of respect, and we don’t ever, ever swerve. Better to touch the brakes and bump through a rut than jerk the wheel to avoid it and topple over.  Also, as we tinted the back windows to keep the loadbay cool, and sometimes use the curtains to keep out the dust or hide the laptop, it’s hard to see out the rear-view window, so we rely on our wing mirrors more than usual.   And when driving on the right side of the road, the passenger is just as involved as the driver when it comes to trying to overtake and paying at toll booths!

Mandatory health stuff:

1. Try and take enough prescription medication with you. I read that it’s useful to keep a record of the generic names of any drugs you may need to top up on as brand names change from country to country.  Also, keep a copy of your prescription with the box, or get your doctor to write a letter confirming that you’re entitled to carry the medicine.  Someone on the SA overland forum had bits of their first aid kit confiscated at a border post by a grumpy official – now they carry blister packs rather than bottles of loose pills as it’s easier to prove that they are what they say they are.  Also, the tablets don’t rattle themselves to powder over bumpy roads!

2. Obviously there are some compulsory jabs you must have before you can legally enter some countries (e.g. yellow fever vaccination – you must carry the certificate with you too) and there are loads of dedicated websites available listing specific country requirements.


1. Do a basic first aid course. Some companies offer them as part of their training quotas if you’re prepared to volunteer as the office first aider.  We picked up a great book on Amazon: “Where there is no doctor” that covers everything from delivering a baby to treating burns, but it’s a bit bulky if you’re short of space, and really aimed at people with existing knowledge.

2. Carry a comprehensive suture set, a range of syringes, the corresponding needles, sterile gloves, scissors and scalpel blades.  (Nomad have really good medical kits ranging from £35-70.) These kits aren't designed for self-medication, but for handing over to the professionals at the nearest clinic.

3. The pharmacies we came across in most places were pretty well stocked. But expiry dates might be written in Arabic, and you never know how long the stuff has been sitting in the sun. We carried a selection of pills, tabs and creams as we bush camped a lot, and for peace of mind it was nice to know we had medication available on demand.

4. Enquire at your GP surgery for vaccinations supplied by the NHS. Some like diphtheria, polio, tetanus and Hepatitis A are free and others like Hep B and meningitis are cheaper than at the MASTA or Nomad travel clinics.

5. There are loads of informative websites that compare anti-malarial medication. We chose to go on Larium – we’d been on it before in South America with minimal side-effects and it seems to be the travellers choice for longer-term use.

6. We filtered our drinking water or bought bottled water, but used the local tap water to brush our teeth.  Our rationale was that it’s probably not a bad idea to expose your gut to a few of the bugs to "acclimatise, but not to overdo it!  Again, there is a wealth of info on the internet and many different filters or chemical solutions to purify your water.

Carnet de Passages

To take a vehicle across borders in Africa it’s necessary to carry a Carnet de Passage, essentially a vehicle passport.  This harmless sounding slice of hell is a way of ensuring that you don’t import the vehicle illegally.  Each country imposes a ‘tax’ if you fail to exit the other side with your car (essentially a hefty import duty).  The cost varies but in most countries is around twice the value of the vehicle.  In Egypt it’s 8x, which is why many overlanders try to avoid the country altogether. 
How it works:  Your Carnet has a number of pages and is stamped in and out at each border.  It’s valid for a year from the date of issue and must be returned to the issuing body within that time.  If you’re leaving from the UK this will be the RAC.  Should you fail to return the document to the RAC the country into which you last entered will charge the amount stipulated (i.e. 200%, 800% etc).  Clearly the RAC has no desire to pay this and insist that you mitigate against all risk.  They require that either:
1) you are insured to the full value of the tax in the most expensive country you’ll pass through – in our case Egypt; OR
2) you acquire a bank guarantee for the same amount
As far as we could make out there’s only one company that offers the insurance, R.L. Davison.  They levy a premium of 10% the value of the Carnet  plus insurance premium tax of 5% plus a refundable deposit to the RAC of £350.  The cost, based on a vehicle valued at £2500 was quoted as £3020, of which we’d get £1350 back upon its return.  We decided to try for a bank guarantee which we were advised would cost about 1.5% the value of the Carnet per annum.  A whole lot cheaper but you do need to deal with banks!  This takes longer than anyone will admit.  We contacted the RAC seven months before departure and were advised not to start proceedings until 6-8 weeks before.  Admittedly, Paul at the RAC was really good and gave us the contacts we needed at Barclays.  That’s where it turned a bit tricky and, to cut a long story short, ours wasn’t ready by the time we left the country and we had to organise for Paul to courier it to Europe for collection (apparently not unusual with bank guarantee applicants).
Bear in mind that any costs incurred are related to the value of your vehicle, so it pays to go with older or cheaper choices and also to ask the RAC to value it at the lowest book value.  Paul will probably offer to do this anyway.
Most information can be found on the RAC website (on links page)
NOTE: we heard that applying through ADAC in Germany was cheaper, with more relaxed requirements than the RAC.  As of 2008 they only deal with vehicles registered in Germany.

More paperwork info coming soon!

vehicle Land Rover   suspension (shocks)   tyres   wheel rims   sound proofing   steering wheel cover   seat covers   snorkel/raised air intake   oil cooler   Delphi fuel sedimentor   headlight converters