Truck Camping Travel In South America
- December 02, 2014
- - By Gary and Elizabeth Gray
We were inspired to visit South America by the overland adventures of three couples; one English, one Australian, and one American. We met the English couple when they were in Australia five years ago. We met the American couple last November in Texas after they returned from a few months in Italy. And we serendipitously ran into the Aussies on an isolated beach in the Bay of Conception in Baja, Mexico last January.
On several occasions, Gary asked them each questions via their blogs and received timely and relevant answers. But, to actually meet each of them was a real buzz for us. Knowing there were others out there exploring gave us the feeling that we were never alone.
While crossing the Canadian prairies last summer, we discussed the desire and the need for a real adventure in our lives. South America had been a topic of intense discussion with each of our overlanding friends. It made sense, while we were here to use the United States as a jumping off point, to journey to South America.
For us, the hardest part of doing most worthwhile things in life is actually making the decision. Once we made the decision to go to South America, our excitement ran high. When people learned of our plans, many of them feared for us. Those who were excited were folks like us; curious, adventurous, and making every day count in their lives.
Above: Gary and Elizabeth Gray at the glacier Perito Moreno
We didn’t know how long exploring South America would take us. Six months seemed very short, but twelve months seemed like a long time. We packed for twelve months and left the rest to fall into place. We have the philosophy that things have a habit of sorting themselves out. Usually, they do.
Pre-Trip Planning and Preparation
Above: Boodocking north of San Julien, Argentina
Being prepared for a trip to South America can be complex, but there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. We conducted a significant part of our research by reading the online blogs and journals of travelers who had already explored South America.
Here are our favorite South America travel blogs and journals:
While surfing the web we came across this website Whiteacorn which was packed with information about their trip to South America. They are two Aussies now living in the USA. They are currently in Europe after driving right across the Russian continent from Vladivostok.
We found this site through another Aussie overlanding in Africa at the time. Travelin Tortuga has incredible information about every country including wild camp spots, shopping, internet, and more.
Stephen Stewart's Website
Stephen Stewart was a guy we met while he was touring Tasmania (Australia) and we have followed his travels ever since. His information is a bit limited, but his wit is very strong!
From Alaska to Brazil
One other site well worth a visit if contemplating South America is from Alaska to Brazil. This couple we have not met, but their travel and camping information is excellent.
Auto, Liability, and Medical Insurance
Above: Just north of Lima, Peru
No insurance company would insure our truck and camper while we were in South America, so we decided to self-insure. It was a financial risk that meant we had to be extra cautious at all times, and drive defensively.
It is compulsory in all South American countries to have liability insurance for any injury caused to the locals. We were able to obtain this at every border crossing fairly easily. This insurance did not cover any damage to other property or our rig. The cost of this insurance ranged from $5 to $45 USD for ninety days, depending on the country.
As Australians, we had comprehensive medical and travel insurance from an Australian company called World Nomads. They provided superb service when needed, and fortunately that was only once.
Using a Roll-On/Roll-Off Shipping Line
Above: The Heroic Ace Ship, Roll-On/Roll-Off (RORO) shipping service out of Jacksonville, Florida
There is no way to drive from Panama to Columbia. Therefore we had no alternative other than shipping the rig to South America. Our truck and camper was too big to fit into a container, so we enlisted a Roll-On/Roll-Off (RORO) shipping service out of Jacksonville, Florida.
Roll-On/Roll-Off ships are designed with ramps that allow cars, trucks, and tractor trailers to drive on, and drive off the ship. Unless your rig can fit into an ocean container (7’8” wide by 7’10” tall) a Roll-On/Roll-Off shipper is your only option.
We shipped our rig from Jacksonville to Buenos Aires, Argentina. The shipping company we used was Sefco Export Management Company Inc. The cost to ship the rig to Buenos Aires was $5,500 USD.
It’s not possible to accompany a truck and camper during shipping, so we made sure to secure our rig carefully before putting it on the Roll-On/Roll-Off ship. To make our truck and camper as secure as possible, was indeed difficult.
We only used the camper supplied locks and had no problems at all. RORO shipping is becoming more secure than ever. However we did take valuables such as cameras, a laptop, and an iPad with us. The shipping took thirty-one days and the rig arrived without a scratch. We flew from Miami to Buenos Aires to meet our rig when it arrived.
When we returned to the United States, we shipped the camper from Cartagena, Columbia to Port Everglades, near Miami, Florida. During the shipping time from Cartagena to Port Everglades, we stayed on in Cartagena and flew to Miami. We waited for the truck to be cleared from the port, which actually took longer than the shipping. Again, the rig arrived without incident. The cost to ship the rig back to the United States was $3,000 USD.
Using a GPS, and Maps
We used a Garmin GPS because we were able to load third-party South American maps into it. Specifically, we used maps provided by OpenStreetMap (OSM). OSM is a collaborative project to create a free editable map of the world. We downloaded Garmin Basecamp for the Mac, and then selected the country maps we required.
For the adventure traveller, OSM not only provides the best quality digital navigation maps for much of the non-developed world, but the maps are also free. The OSM map database is easy to convert into a format for Garmin satellite navigation and Garmin Basecamp, Mapsource, and other road trip software. Thanks to Horizons Unlimited for the clue about these maps. Our route shown is in purple.
Border crossings were far easier than we anticipated. When exiting a country, we parked in a designated parking area. We then walked into the customs building and got our passport entry stamp cancelled by the border officials. Then, at the customs counter, we got our TIP (Temporary Import Permit) cancelled.
Above: Peruvian border crossing
After that was completed, we drove to the next countries’ border and did the same thing. Each country allowed us to visit for ninety days. Once we were legally allowed into the country, we progressed to the customs official who issued us with a vehicle temporary import permit. All we needed was an original vehicle title certificate and our passports.
Lastly, we visited the local insurance office and bought our liability insurance. The average cost was about $5 to $45 USD for ninety days. The fastest we went through a border was twenty minutes and the slowest was about two hours, since we arrived at the same time as a local tourist coach.
Corrupt Police in Peru
During our trip throughout South America, we had dozens of police and army inspections. All of these interactions were courteous and friendly, except for one. There’s on particular point in Peru where the police extorted $100 USD. We would have needed excellent Spanish language skills to talk our way out of that situation. We paid the fee, and moved on.
Finding Fresh Water
We were always able to find fresh water for our truck camper, but we preferred to buy five liter drinking water bottles from supermarkets for our daily drinking water.
Although we did not drink local water, we did fill our camper fresh tank with local water. More often than not, the water supply was located a good distance from our campsite. To fill the tank, we used an old drinking water container and made an average of six trips to the water faucet.
Before we began our South American trip, one concern we had was using high sulphur diesel fuel instead of the ultra-low sulphur diesel (15ppm ULSD) that is universally available in the United States. South American countries provide diesel with sulphur content from 60ppm to 150ppm.
Well, we had no reason to worry. Everything went well. The exhaust filter cleaning process went through its normal cycle, and our diesel engine had no issues.
Finding Campgrounds and Boondocking Opportunities
Above: Campgrounds in Ancud, Chile, San Antonio East, Argentina and Madela, Ecuador. Click to enlarge.
Before the trip, we downloaded campground listings from fellow travelers’ journals and blogs. These notes helped tremendously including details of campgrounds and hostels that allowed overnight camping, recommended boondocking spots, and fuel stops that offered overnight parking in their lots.
Above: Boondocking at Rio de Mayo, Argentina, Lake Azul Volcano, Argentina, and San Pedro de Atacama, Chili. Click to enlarge.
We actually never had a problem finding a seemingly safe spot to overnight in. Many spots we simply stumbled upon when we felt we had had enough driving for the day.
Above: Dry camping at Rio Gallegos Riverside, Argentina
Campsites in South America are very basic and are mostly set up for simple tenting, not RVing. Our rig was a tight fit into some campgrounds, especially with low handing tree limbs and tight turns.
There is no such thing as marked campsites. You just park where you can and get as close to an electrical point as possible. Our fifty foot electrical cord was quite useful in these situations.
Above: Campgrounds in Salento, Colombia, Ushuaia, Argentina, and Zorritos, Peru. Click to enlarge.
Sometimes we had to drive around trying different outlets to find one that actually worked. Even then the plug and socket would need to be carefully rigged to stop the cord from falling out of the socket.
Finding Electrical Power
Argentina, Chile, and Peru have 240V/50Hz power, so we needed a transformer for electrical hook-ups. We bought a LiteFuze LT-2000 step-up and step-down transformer on amazon.com.
Above: The LiteFuze LT-2000 step-up and step-down transformer
It worked very well. All we needed to do is plug into a 240V/50Hz supply and press the 110V/60Hz output button on the transformer.
Most of the campgrounds we stayed in had electrical power available, but at a very low amperage. We joked that had we tried to use our air conditioner in South America we might have short circuited the continent.
When hooking up to local power, we needed local power plug adaptors. Ecuador and Columbia are the only countries that use United States plugs and 110V/60Hz power.
We had many problems accessing cash from ATMs until we cottoned to concept that we should only attempt to get cash in major tourist areas. Once we made this adjustment, we had no problems getting the cash we needed. We also used both a Visa credit card and a pre-paid Master Card for the trip. Both worked well.
After being refused money yet again at an ATM in northern Patagonia, a young woman standing behind Elizabeth said in halting English, “I can take you to my bank. I am sure you will be able to get money from them”. We were successful. And because the local camping place was no longer operating she also asked if we would like to stay the night at her farm (FOC). So we did and her family were just the loveliest people.
Countries We Visited
We traveled through Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, and Columbia. Any country that required a Visa for us as Australians we opted to ignore. This immediately excluded Brazil, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, and Paraguay. We came close to driving into Uruguay, but decided to head south to Ushuaia while it was relatively warm there.
Bolivia proved to be the only problem for us because of pickets and protests at the border with Chile. Furthermore, we received information that it was very difficult to get diesel with a foreign number plate. Even if you could get diesel, you had to negotiate the price. In this type of situation, it is more often than not double the price for foreigners.
Here are some highlights:
Buenos Aires: What can you say about a fascinating city? You should have this city on your bucket list! It’s a city of faded glory, illustrious history, Tango, Portenos and their café society. And let's not forget beef! The best steak in the world is here, bar none.
Above: Buenos Aires, the historic Spanish and European neighborhoods are in the top row, and the the modern high tech, well designed areas with great looking architecture and landscaping are the bottom row. Click to enlarge.
Above: Elizabeth in Ushuaia
Ushuaia: Visiting Ushuaia gave us a real buzz. At almost sixty degrees south, it added specialness to our almost sixty degrees north visit to Iceland. We took a voyage up the Beagle Channel including getting up close and personal with penguins, sea lions, and cormorants in their natural habitats. Visiting the first ranch in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, the Haberton Estancia, put the cherry on top of the Argentinian cake for us.
Above: The Beagle Channel voyage where they got up close and personal with penguins, sea lions, and cormorants in their natural habitats. Click to enlarge.
Seeing the Glacier Perito Moreno up-close was just amazing, awesome, and unbelievable. All those superlatives rolled into one fantastic experience.
Above: Glacier Perito Moreno
We felt privileged to be a witness to such grandeur of the Andes along with her National Parks and volcanoes. We also enjoyed the beauty of the Lake District in the northwest. Our train ride on the Patagonian Express was superb. Paul Theroux, eat your heart out!
Above: Marveling at some amazing volcanos in the Andes
Above: Riding the now famous Patagonian Express. Click to enlarge.
Above: The Atacama Desert in Chile
Chile: The Atacama Desert in Chile blew our minds. The sheer enormity of it. The geographical relationship between the mountains and cities along the coast. How people exist in it and the extent to which it is being plundered, I mean mined.
Above: The Mining town ruins along the highway in Chile
Above: Grande Isle de Chile and the town of Castro. Click to enlarge.
We visited the Grande Isle de Chile and the town of Castro which is famous for its fishing cottages built in the bay, but the tide was out for us. The yellow timber Cathedral was interesting.
Above: Mano el Desierto spoiled by graffiti
We detoured to visit the famous, Mano el Desierto, a concrete hand sticking up out of the desert sands. It is now very much spoiled by graffiti.
Above: Gary and Elizabeth at Lake Titicaca
Peru: Lake Titicaca and its Reed Island Dwellers were very interesting. People are living on floating islands!
Above: Spanish colonial city of Cusco. Click to enlarge.
Above: The Saksaywaman Ruins
We also enjoyed spending time in the beautiful Spanish colonial city of Cusco, the jumping off point to see the Machu Picchu ruins. We camped quite close to the Saksaywaman ruins. We had never seen such precise masonry work!
We liked the spectacle of the Machu Picchu ruins (shown above), and the mountainous region in which they reside. Click to enlarge.
Above: The Caral ruins, which are possibly the oldest pueblo village in the Americas
Ecuador: The beautiful city of Cuenco is not to be missed as well as the Otavia volcano and surrounding picturesque region. We stayed at a hostel in the mountains nearby.
Above: The city of Cuenco, Ecuador. Click to enlarge.
Above: Sanctuario de Las Lajas Cathedral in Columbia
Columbia: We visited the Sanctuario de Las Lajas Cathedral in Columbia, which is built in a ravine. We also spent time in the Colombian highland towns of Salento and Villa de Leyva.
Above: The colonial city of Cartagena
The old colonial city of Cartagena was a highlight for us, being the only walled city in Columbia.
The urging by Elizabeth for me to dance with a Tango beauty in the streets of Buenos Aires resulted in an international airing on our son’s Facebook wall. And need I say many remarks like “onya grandpa” resulted!
The second day out of Buenos Aires a casual remark to a young campground supervisor about finding some propane resulted in him procuring two tanks full for us at $12 US each.
The daughter-in-law of a campground owner in northern Chile baked bread and pancakes for us and her two young daughters helped Elizabeth with the washing.
Above: A Peruvian hairless dog
In northern Peru we stayed at a beach lodge where we encountered our first nudist bathers in South America. It was also the first time we saw two Peruvian hairless dogs. Ugly!
We met a fun couple from Oregon who were traveling on their motorbikes through South America. Their dog, Bentley, was traveling with them in a specially built cage on the back of one of the bikes. We walked a few miles together in the mountains to visit a coffee plantation and to have lunch.
Tree Scrapes, Tire Problems, and a Dislocated Shoulder
We experienced a number of side scrapes from trees and a couple scrapes from street signs that were situated very close to the curb. We also hit a nasty speed bump quite hard in a strange town in Argentina. That jolt caused damage to a tie-down point on the truck camper. The damage has since been successfully repaired.
The only other rig damage we sustained was to our Hankook all-terrain tires, which let us down big time in Peru. Prior to leaving the United States, we invested in a brand new set of Hankook all-terrain tires. Well, three Hankook tires delaminated within three days in Peru, and had to be replaced. The Hankook tires were an expensive option we would not repeat.
While not exactly a major issue, we did experience some turbo problems when we were at 13,000 feet of altitude (4,300 meters). We were able to have the issues resolved via computer, but it did slow us down a bit.
Prior to leaving, we had been concerned that truck parts, including spare air, fuel, and oil filters, may be hard to come by in South America. We took truck filters and other routine maintenance parts with us and we were pleased that we did.
The only other damage we sustained during the trip was when Elizabeth fell and dislocated her shoulder in Cartegena, Colombia. We rushed to a local hospital emergency room and, a few hours alter, all was well. We have nothing but praise for the hospital staff and care we received in Columbia. Incidentally, the hospital emergency room cost was not prohibitive.
Other than Liz’s dislocated shoulder, we had no health issues during our trip. Prior to heading south, it was recommended to use to get Yellow fever, Rabies, Hepatitis A and B, Typhoid, and Tetanus vaccinations. Many people don’t bother, and neither did we. We survived!
Things We Would Have Done Differently
In hindsight, there are a few things we would change about our trip. For example, we should have visited Uruguay. Due to the heat being incredibly intense in Buenos Aires and Cartagena, it may also have been better to start our South American journey in October or November, rather than January.
Our trip would have been further enriched is we had a better grasp of Spanish. While we got to know quite a lot of commonly used words and phrases, our lack of Spanish speaking skills hampered our interaction with people. Liz carried a Spanish/English dictionary in her handbag, and we used an Apple app to translate anything important.
Finally, we would have fared better with a smaller and lighter truck camper. Many of the access roads were just too narrow for the size of our camper. For towns with the more complicated road systems and/or detours, we hired a local taxi driver to take us to our camping location. As long as we agreed to a price first, that approach worked out well.
We had problems navigating in a lot of towns and villages and a smaller rig may have been helpful in those situations. Driving in larger towns and cities can only be described as exciting and hair raising at the same time. There was a lack of what we would call common road courtesy and an abundance of testosterone-filled Latin American drivers, all of which made for an exhausting driving experience.
Important tip: If there are two lanes through a town in South America, always use the left one. This will keep you out of the way of motorcycles, taxis, and mini buses.
Thank You, South America
Above: Gary and Elizabeth in Ushuaia, Argentina
We would like to conclude our remarks by saying that at no time in the six months in South America did we feel unsafe or threatened. We used common sense and, where we could, asked permission to park, and were security conscious at all times.
For further details of our trip, please visit our travel journal www.capepacific.com.
The people of South America made our experience special. Their kindness and generosity knew no bounds. They were also ways ready to assist or advice us during our adventure. Other than the drivers, they were also incredibly patient. Thank you, South America.
Carpe Viam: Seize the Road
- November 14, 2014
- - By Chloé Conroy
When you check your bank account, or retirement savings, or just look at everything you have accumulated of value, do you ever think to yourself, “What if I never actually get to enjoy what I worked so hard to save?” In other words, what if your health runs out before you’re able to stop working and do what you want to do?
This is not an idle question. This year in particular, Angela and I have had some extremely hard wake up calls that have brought this question, and everything it implies, into very sharp focus.
This is not to say that we should all quit our jobs or burn through our retirement savings in some hair-brained quest to live life to the absolute fullest while we still can. Then again, maybe that is the right answer. The most troubling part of all this is we never know. I could hit the floor tomorrow from some condition I don’t know I have. Or I could live to be 105, torturing future generations with my admittedly ridiculous sense of humor until I’m taken out by a swarm of irate nano particles in 2077.
Less than two years ago, Chloé and Toby Conroy made a big decision. They were at a cross roads with their careers and concerned that their work-life balance had become completely out of whack. In a move that will seem brave and courageous to some, and careless and foolhardy to others, the Conroys decided to sell everything, buy a truck camper rig, and explore Central and South America until their life savings ran out. Put another way, Chloé and Toby Conroy decided to live their lives to the absolute fullest, while they still can.
Via email, we recently caught up with the Conroys mid-adventure to get their story and find out where they’ve been, where they’re going, and how they’re doing.
Above: Toby, Chloé, and their dog, Tia, in Guanajuato, Mexico
TCM: Tell us the story of how your life on the road began.
Chloé: We have been together for sixteen years, and have often talked about travel but, with school and/or work taking priority throughout the years, we mainly put it on hold.
We found ourselves in a stressful time in our lives where we felt we were only focused on work and not really living or enjoying life. We knew we needed a change in our quality of life and how we lived our lives. We began with a plan to move to Hawaii where, when we visited, we found the lifestyle to be more easy-going. An enjoyment of life is more a way of life there, something we really needed and wanted to embrace.
So, in March of 2013, with Toby’s work already being over, and my contract with work ending in May, we began to plan for a move to Hawaii. After finally freeing ourselves from work, and realizing we would be uprooting ourselves anyway, we began to discuss travel again. That’s when we got excited about a road trip, something we have always enjoyed.
We had driven across the United States before and wanted to visit new countries. Discovering that others had driven to the south end of the Americas, we decided such a trip would be a great way to see many new places.
We first thought we would go to Hawaii for a year to plan the trip to South America, but then realized it didn’t make logistical or financial sense to ship all of our stuff to Hawaii, spend a year somewhat up in the air, and then ship everything back for the trip.
When we finally set a date, we only had about three months before setting out. We quickly began to sell our stuff, and prepare for our new life on the road.
TCM: How did you plan for your adventure during that time?
Chloé: We did a lot of reading. We found a common thread that seemingly all previous Pan American travelers could agree on, which was don’t plan too much. Most speak of almost instantly realizing that they over-prepared and, as a result, over packed. By planning, they either were off schedule almost immediately, or missed opportunities as they came up. We took this to heart and decided to do as little planning as possible.
We also packed as lightly as we could and then figured we would purchase what we needed when we needed it along the way, taking each day as it came.
Although initially stressful, this approach gave way to a sense of peace that everything will simply unfold. As it turns out, you don’t need all that much, and almost everything you might need is available along the way.
Above: Chloé, Toby, and their dog, Tia leaving home to start their adventures
TCM: That was a very brave approach. And many truck campers who explore the United States and Canada say much the same thing about preparing and packing. How did you decide what truck and camper to get?
Chloé: Choosing and assembling our rig was the most important and agonizing part of our preparation. Initially, we had planned on taking a Toyota Four Runner with a Maggiolina roof top tent. We wanted to stay as small and maneuverable as possible. But, on the day we went to test out and possibly purchase the tent, it happened to be raining. During our attempt to climb into the tent, we realized that this would be our bed for the next year or so and, in turn, our constant battle to keep the elements out of it.
In the meantime, Toby had read a few blogs, specifically Pan Am Notes and Adventure Americas. These blogs featured young couples taking truck campers on the Pan Am journey. Inspired, he looked into what it would take to assemble a truck camper rig for us.
We had set a modest budget for our Toyota build. Much to his surprise, Toby found, with a little luck, we could put together a decent expedition truck camper for the same price.
In order to navigate the small villages and mountain roads, we wanted to skirt that line of the biggest of the small or the smallest of the big. For a truck, we went with a Ford F150 because it had the largest payload of the small trucks and has at least one dealership in every one of the countries we would be visiting. That criteria ruled out Ram, Chevy, and GMC. Toby knew he wanted a V8 and four-wheel drive given the roads (or lack there of) we would be taking, and the weight we would be carrying.
Above: Chloé and Toby's 2004 Ford F150 and 2012 Northstar TC650
We got lucky and found a used 2004 Ford F150 within our budget. It already had an added spring leaf, 130W alternator, tow package, and new set of Cooper Discoverer ATP “E” rated tires.
As for the camper, a pop-up was a must, since we really wanted to stay as small and maneuverable as possible. Although our search was budget driven, we were unable to find a second-hand light weight truck camper in our price range.
Then Toby stumbled onto Northstar Campers and was very impressed by the value for the money they offered. Living in California, where it is widely known that wooden houses standup to earthquakes better than most, he simply applied that logic to off-roading in a camper. Wood fames have a lot more flex and can therefore withstand what the road has to offer.
We bought a 2012 Northstar TC650, and were very happy with what we built for the money. Having a small and maneuverable truck camper gives us the best of all worlds. We can go to tight and remote places and have a comfortable bed to sleep. Our camper features propane heat, air conditioning, and a shower. We can sit inside playing cards and cook during a rainstorm.
Our truck and camper rig has thoroughly impressed us by withstanding wind, rain, snow, river crossings, mud, sand, and insanely bumpy roads. We have been quite comfortable throughout our trip. We love that we have an easy to set up and close down small mobile home that takes us to so many incredible places. It really feels like our home, with a constantly changing view outside.
Above: Driving to Coban, Guatemala
TCM: We certainly know what it’s like to think of your truck camper rig as home. Did you have anything modified on your truck and/or camper for Central America?
Chloé: The biggest and most rewarding modification was the addition of a 175AH AGM Battery, 150W Zamp solar panel, and a 300W pure cine wave inverter. Those modifications have completely changed our ability to dry camp. Power is no longer a concern.
We added SuperSprings to support the load, which work amazingly well. We had originally thought of going with airbags but, given the rough roads we would be driving, and the inability access spare parts in remote areas, we figured the metal SuperSprings were the way to go. The worst case scenario with a metal SuperSpring is that it would need bending back into shape.
We removed our camper jacks to save several pounds and add maneuverability. In doing so, the jack brackets provided great mounting points for our five gallon jerry can. This added eighty miles to our range, thanks to DC Metal Work of San Francisco. We also added a one gallon propane tank mounted to the front adding a week, thanks to Overlander Oasis, Oaxaca, Mexico.
I fabricated an air deflector for the space above the cab. The deflector functions surprisingly well increasing our gas mileage to sixteen miles per gallon and smoothing the ride (especially around trucks/busses).
We added a CVT 99” awning which, when we use it, has been greatly appreciated. We also made a few other small storage modifications to make the most of the space we have (shelving, cargo net).
In hindsight, we wish we had installed a water filtration system to avoid the expense and hassle of finding clean water.
Above: Camping in Utah on BLM lands
TCM: For others taking the trip what gear would you recommend?
Chloé: The most valuable piece of equipment we brought is our Viair air compressor. The Viair allows us to air up and air down as needed, taking the sting out of the awfully rutted roads. It also lets us air-down and glide over sand, and air-up to corner like a sedan on the freeway.
We would recommend a good set of easily accessible and durable camping chairs and a table. As we camp all the time, usually breaking camp daily, our outdoor furniture needs to be durable, comfortable (basically our only chairs for a year), and easy to access and stow. Our chairs and table take longer than we would like.
The conversation around spare parts is a tricky one. Almost everything is available almost everywhere. It is just a matter of time and money to get it there. Many travelers will swear by Toyota as the only option for this type of trip as Toyotas are everywhere down here. The assumption is that the parts will be here too, and that local mechanics know how to work on them.
In our experience, this thinking limits your capabilities and is simply not the case. Generally speaking, traveling in Central America in almost any truck, you will be able to find parts. The parts might take a few days to get to you, but this has been true for many of our Toyota driving friends as well.
If you have the space, it’s generally worth it to carry a few extra filters (oil, fuel, and air) and maybe a change of brakes. If your truck runs on synthetics (motor, transmission, and differential) it is rare in Central America and will likely require a special trip to a dealership in a larger city. If there is no dealership for your brand, there are always Ford and/or Toyota dealerships which will likely carry comparable synthetics. Your best option may be to bring synthetic oil, if you need it.
Above: The Northstar TC650 at the Volcano Novada de Toluca, Mexico
TCM: Looking at your rig specifications, it doesn’t look like you have an interior bathroom. Has that been a challenge?
Chloé: For the most part, bathrooms are easy to find at campgrounds, gas stations, and restaurants. They may not always have toilet paper or toilet seats, but we’ve grown used to not expecting much.
When we are boondocking or dry camping, we are often remote enough to go in the bushes and dig holes as needed. We got a good tip from some other overlanders to have an emergency wide-mouth water bottle (red to hide the color) for urination in places where you can’t go outside and can’t find a toilet. It’s only been used a handful of times, and then gets a little rinse with water and bleach for storage again.
Above: Traveling through Montana
TCM: I can see some of our readers wincing at that idea, but it would work. How did your trip start out?
Chloé: We started our trip with a two-month shake down trip around the United States. We had some very good friends who were getting married across the country, which gave us the perfect excuse to go see them.
Above: Just outside of Zion National Park, Utah - click to enlarge
We had driven cross-country several times in the past and there were a few spots we had wanted to see again like Glacier National Park, Chicago, North Carolina, and Utah. That gave us a loose framework to work with.
All of that changed once we crossed the border south into Mexico. We had vaguely stated that we wanted to be in Ushuaia (where the road ends in Patagonia) for New Years Eve, 2015. That was really just a date grabbed out of thin air that felt far enough in the future to be a possibility and would have us there for summer.
As for routing south of the border, it plays out day by day. You hear of things from other travelers, or read in travel books about places that sound interesting, and you go there. If you like it, you stay; if you don’t, you move on.
We had initially thought we would spend about a month and a half in Mexico and ended up spending four. We are drawn to the mountains, beaches, colonial towns, and free camping. As long as we are generally heading south, we are happy. Every so often, pressured by budget and/or weather, we are motivated to pick up the pace.
Above: Return road from Semuc Champey, Guatemala
TCM: You’re relatively young. How have you afforded to stay on the road and travel?
Chloé: By selling everything and coming to terms with spending all of our savings, we assembled what we hope will be enough to complete the trip. We both had been working and saving for many years and the timing simply worked out.
I was coming to the end of my contract and Toby had just come off a fairly lucrative project. We make many sacrifices along the way including not visiting higher priced tourist locations. These can include museums, national parks, and pricier restaurants or other extras.
Finances can be a bit stressful at times, especially when unexpected costs pop up like truck repairs, vet/doctor visits, and a GoPro. We thought we could go without a GoPro, but who were we kidding on a trip like this? If only we had gotten one earlier. We do have a budget that is rapidly depleting. If possible, would love to find a way to make money on the road to keep us out here.
Above: Playa Matilda, Nicaragua
TCM: How has communication with others been on the road? Do you speak Spanish?
Chloé: Neither of us spoke Spanish prior to the trip, other then some high school Spanish over a decade ago. Basic communication has been fairly easy to pick up, getting what we want and working out what others wanted from us, for the most part.
The biggest regret we have about the trip is not being able to communicate as much as we would like to. We do, on occasion, feel a little isolated. We can’t have broader conversations and get to know people more. Often we meet friendly and interesting people that we would love to talk to, but leave unsatisfied as our limited Spanish restrained the conversation.
We have found that there is a huge traveling community. Baja for example is basically Canadian in winter, and so English is quite frequently used.
TCM: What countries have you been to so far?
Chloé: On this trip, we have traveled through the United States, a teeny bit of Canada, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, briefly Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, and now we’re in South America.
Here’s a run down of the highlights, by location:
Above: San Roque with adventures in Skyhorse
Mexico: Baja, Mexico is a dream location for overlanders. It is fairly undeveloped, has beautiful places, is cheap with lots of inexpensive or free camping spots, and is relatively safe and easy. The food all over Mexico is both incredibly delicious and often really cheap. In addition to loving Baja, we loved the beaches on the west coast of mainland Mexico as well as the beach of Puerto Escondido/La Barra in the state of Oaxaca and Tulum in the Yucatan.
Above Left to Right: Volcano Novada de Toluca, El Chiflon, and Guanajuato, Mexico - click to enlarge
We also loved the colorful colonial cities of Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, and San Cristobal de las Casas. We really loved the state of Chiapas with their gorgeous waterfalls, turquoise rivers, and vibrant green mountains. We also visited several ruins, which were beautiful and really interesting.
There is so much to see and do in Mexico. Even with spending four months there (two and a half more months than we originally thought we would), it was still not enough time. There are a lot of campgrounds throughout Mexico and the “Traveler’s Guide to Mexican Camping” by Mike and Terri Church was a great resource for finding places.
Above: River crossing near Barton Creek, Belize
Belize: We stayed in Belize for about two weeks and enjoyed seeing howler monkeys up close at the Baboon Sanctuary in Burrell Boom (where we stayed for free as well).
Above: On the beach in Hopkins, Belize
We spent time boondocking on the beach in Hopkins, and in the Pine Ridge Nature Reserve. It was also nice to be able to get to know the locals more since mostly everyone spoke English.
Above: Panajachel, Guatemala
Guatemala: We spent about a month in Guatemala. Some highlights for us were the ruins at Tikal, the hot water waterfalls that emptied into cool water pools at Finca el Paraiso, the Candelaria Caves, the mountain town of Acul, the towns around Lake Atitlan, especially San Pedro where we took Spanish classes, and the city of Antigua where you can camp for free at the tourist police station in the center of town and where we met up with several other overlanders also there at the time.
Above: Rio Sapo campsite, El Salvador
El Salvador: We began to pick up our pace a bit as we were concerned about the rainy season in Costa Rica, so we only spent nine days in El Salvador.
Above: Cerro Verde Volcano National Park, El Salvador
Cerro Verde Volcano National Park was one highlight spot for us with misty forest walks and a beautiful volcano and valley views after the clouds and fog cleared.
We were also able to camp within the park and, once the park closed, it was just us in the forest with the park rangers nearby in their dorm. The other highlight for us was Rio Sapo, where we also camped in a beautiful area right by the river all by ourselves at a cheap campsite with pit toilets and a very cool outdoor communal kitchen. We then had a nice hike to some great waterfalls nearby.
Honduras: We drove through Honduras in a few hours because we were starting to feel pressed for time to get to Costa Rica. The approaching rainy season could cause the roads we wanted to take to become impassable.
Above: Camp spot at Somoto Canyon, Nicaragua
Nicaragua: We visited Nicaragua for about two weeks. Just over the border from Honduras, we enjoyed free camping near Somoto Canyon and then a half-day of hiking/swimming through the canyon the following day.
Above: The beach at Playa Amarillo, Nicaragua
We also enjoyed the experience of volcano boarding near Leon, getting to drive up to the crater of the active Mataya volcano, relaxing and swimming at Lake Apoyo, and visiting the city of Granada. We spent time boondocking on the beautiful and essentially deserted beach at Playa Amarillo with lots of howler monkeys in the trees, horses and cows passing by, some rare and interesting birds, and even a sea turtle briefly coming ashore.
Above: Playa San Miguel, Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
Costa Rica: We spent just over a month in Costa Rica, and what a time we had! It has beautiful nature of all kinds in abundance; lush green jungle, waterfalls, beautiful beaches perfect for boondocking (Nicoya Peninsula), lovely green mountains (Monteverde, Arenal), and a lot of great wildlife to enjoy. Plus, the Pura Vida lifestyle everywhere was infectious!
Above: Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica
We were able to get drinkable water for free from taps again and, the whole time we were there, we only paid for one night of camping (which we didn’t need to do, but I really wanted to see sloths and we were able to at that campsite). We had a great time becoming more adventurous with our rig, taking roads less traveled, doing some serious river crossings, and strengthening our eye for boondocking spots.
Above: Lake Arenal, Costa Rica
Although there were times the biting bugs drove us a bit nutty, we enjoyed almost every other moment of our time in Costa Rica. We were able to really put our truck and our camper to the test by having it withstand it all so well and take us to so many cool places. We were super stoked with our rig which we affectionately call Moby since we thought, after getting rid of the Four Runner, was like a big white whale. It doesn’t seem so big to us anymore!
Panama: We spent just over two weeks in Panama. We had a set date for shipping our truck, which was the first official date we’d had the whole trip. We had little time to explore the country, spending most of it dealing with preparation for shipping and preparation for flying our dog over to Colombia. We did enjoy the day trip we had to Isla Colon in the Bocas del Toro islands, enjoyed the cooler temperatures and green mountains of Boquete, and enjoyed walking around old town in Panama City.
Above: Camping at Somoto Canyon, Nicaragua
TCM: What have the border crossings been like?
Chloé: The vast majority of boarder crossings in Central America have been fairly straight forward comprising of three basic parts; get a visa for us, get a temporary permit for the truck, and get an import permit for the dog.
It usually takes about an hour or two, and you really only need your passport, driver’s license, and truck title, plus multiple copies of each. Some countries require proof of insurance and, to be expected, there is someone right there to sell it to you.
Above: The ferry from La Paz to Mazatlan, Mexico
The camper is usually opened and looked into but, in our case, rarely entered. Only once did our camper require paperwork. The only place we needed paperwork was in Baja, Mexico. You can enter Baja from California without needing to formally import your vehicle but, when you ship to the mainland (in our case La Paz to Mazatlan), you have to obtain a temporary import permit. In addition to my truck title, they wanted a camper title, or bill of sale.
Although fairly straight forward as far as the process needed, Central American border crossings are often convoluted, disorienting, and frenetic. On many occasions we would be accosted by mobs of helpers who offer their services to guide you through the process. They can be relentless and in your face, following you around and pointing out where to go even if you tell them you don’t need their help, or the offices are clearly marked. Then they ask you to tip them for their help, which you can obviously choose to, or not.
When the border is particularly convoluted like Costa Rica into Panama on the Caribbean coast, where the offices are all spread out and the order of operations seems a little backwards, a helper can be a very useful guide.
Several other overlanders have done a great job of documenting the step-by-step process for completing border crossings and those were often incredibly valuable resources for us. We thank them greatly for taking the time and energy to provide that information on their blogs. As long as you focus on what needs to get done, give yourself ample time, and keep your patience, border crossings are no problem and quite the cultural experience.
TCM: That does sound like quite the cultural experience. Other than the language barrier, what challenges have you faced on the road?
Chloé: At first, it was a challenge to adjust to living in such a small space for such an extended period of time, but we found we adjusted faster than we expected. There is also always adjustment to slightly new items like food and products, and to even new words within the Spanish language as we move from country to country. We have come to expect that and are now used to it.
We roll with the changes as best as we can. We do find it challenging to work out the balance between when to stay places and when to move on. These decisions are based on the funds we have and the weather issues in places ahead of us. For example, the rainy season in Costa Rica and winter in Patagonia. There is so much to see and do and yet we feel there is always so much more to see and do ahead of us.
As you stated, having such limited Spanish does pose a bit of a challenge, especially for more technical issues like car repairs. For the most part, people are kind and patient and we work it out. Part of this trip is learning to face, overcome, and accept the challenges we come across. It will be interesting to see how much better we apply our new tolerance for challenges when we return to the United States.
Above: Campsite in El Tunco, El Salvador
TCM: When our reader talk about traveling in South and Central America, their number one concern is personal safety. Have you experienced any personal safety issues during your travels south of the border?
Chloé: Except for the potential of petty theft, we haven’t felt in danger or greatly concerned for our personal security. Coming from the States where there is a lot of talk about “dangers in Mexico,” we were a bit nervous at first. With time and experience with the locals, we were able to relax as we came to find people were very inviting and friendly.
We often speak with locals and follow their guidance on places to avoid, which have only been a few localized places here and there. We boondocked almost every night for the two months we were in the United States but, because of the fear instilled in us from all the talk in the United States, we primarily stayed in campsites throughout Mexico and much of Central America until we hit Costa Rica.
If we went back, we may feel more comfortable trying to boondock more in Mexico and Central America now that we are more comfortable with boondocking in foreign places. We are comfortable just asking around since many people are happy to offer places they know to camp or even volunteer their own property.
We may first see faces of concern, confusion, or intimidation with our big truck rolling into a tiny village, but we have found that a smile goes a long way and that quickly people warm right up. We have come across some of the infamous roadblocks. For the most part, these are just super poor communities trying to squeeze a dollar out of the only resource they have; tolling the road. We pay the two to five dollars they ask for and are thankful that we are not on the New Jersey Turnpike.
Above: Meeting up with friends, Playa Hermosa Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
TCM: That’s funny. And so true. You mentioned in an email that you saw the articles in Truck Camper Magazine about Logan and Brianna Pribbeno and Meg and Jed Wolfrom. While exploring Central and South America, did you often meet others who were also overland traveling from the United States, Canada, Europe, and other parts of the world?
Chloé: There is so much to say about the overlander community. We don’t know where we would be or how we would do this without them. It has really become an extended family of like-minded people that are often there to help when in need and, as one overlander said perfectly, “probably understand us more than anyone else in our lives right now”.
We stumbled upon the community when Toby found a blog of a young couple driving the Pan American Highway called, “Home on the Highway”. From there he discovered the term overlanding, the concept of people traveling/living in their vehicles for extended periods of time, and that there is a vast world of overlanders out there. The more he looked, the more he found.
Then, while we were planning our trip, a Facebook page for people traveling the Pan American Highway was created called, “Pan American Travelers: Past, Present and Future”. It linked past, present, and future travelers all together in one easy to use social forum that quickly grew to more than 500 members, all sharing information and helping each other out. Through that page and other forums (Expedition Portal, Drive the Americas, and Wander the West), many of our questions where answered, fears checked, and new friends acquired.
We created an informal class of 2013 that linked several of us who were all scheduled to be traveling at the same time. This has acted as a wonderful support group and social catalyst. We got to meet up with overlanders who had previously traveled while we were in the United States (Adv-o-dna, Life Remotely, Ruined Adventures) and throughout our trip have met up with several other couples.
We traveled for five straight weeks with Adventures in Skyhorse and have met up with them several times throughout Mexico and Central America. We have spent two separate weeks traveling with Song of the Road and also met up with them at various times throughout the trip. We have met Desk to Glory, Neli’s Big Adventure, The Next Adventure, Straight Six Straight South, North South East Westy, and several other non-specifically named overlanders.
Above: Beach driving with Song of the Road in Nicoya, Costa Rica
We have yet to meet, but have been in touch with and have gotten such great help from Paws on Tour, Lost World Expedition, The Long Way South, and Pan Am Notes. The list goes on and on.
There are several traveling in truck campers, but also various other rigs like vans, roof-top tents, bikes, self-made rigs, etc. We have had many discussions about what the perfect overlander vehicle is. We of course defend our truck camper in those situations. But, as one overlander said, each rig is perfect for the person who chose it, for all the components that went into making the decision to chose that rig size, cost, maneuverability, availability, and personal style.
We love our overlander community. They have inspired us to take on this journey and continue to inspire and help us in our journey.
TCM: It’s also interesting that everyone seems to have a name - PanAm Notes and Adventures America. Yours is Carpe Viam. Where did that come from? How did you decide upon that name?
Chloé: Choosing a name was not all that easy. We went through lots and lots of ideas, but nothing really ever felt right. We played with ideas for quite some time, but felt the names were too cliché, or too obvious, or just didn’t last all that long as something we liked.
We talked about wanting a name that captured the spirit we took the trip with. With the term “carpe diem” (meaning “seize the day”) often coming out as part of that discussion. Toby at one point searched for “seize the road” on the Internet, and there it was, “carpe viam”. As soon as he said it out loud, we both knew that it was the one. We found a few alternative translations for carpe viam, “seize the way” and “seize the travel,” all of which seemed to work for us and we’ve had that name ever since.
Above: Mono Lake, California
TCM: How long have you been out on the road, and how much longer do you plan on being on the road?
Chloé: We hit the road for the United States trip on July 27, 2013 and spent just over two months touring the United States. During that time, we briefly went into Canada above Glacier National Park. We then returned to my parent’s house to unload some items we found we didn’t need, pack new items we felt we would need for the trip south, and did some final prepping of our rig.
After finishing up some final responsibilities and then having a delay in our departure due to a family emergency, we finally hit the road for the Mexican border on November 21, 2013. We have been on the road ever since.
We have a rough idea of finishing up the trip around March of 2015, but nothing about this trip is set in stone.
Above: Toby, Chloé, and Tia, in Waterton National Park
TCM: What would you tell yourself if you could go back in time to the very beginning of your trip?
Chloé: We likely would go back and tell ourselves to trust that most people are truly genuinely good, kind people. We are all more alike, as human beings, than we may realize. If you are nice to others, they are typically nice in return. So let the fears go and just trust your instincts.
While we had a great experience spending time in Mexico and Central America, we are really now realizing how much bigger South America is than what we have covered thus far. We should have likely budgeted our time and money better by spending less time up there so we had more time to spend in South America. It is more work and, at times, more exhausting to constantly be on the road than we expected.
We have loved/are loving this experience and feel so grateful for it. In the end, it is all about just relaxing and enjoying the ride.
Truck: 2004 Ford F150, 5.4L V8, 4x4, gas
Camper: 2012 Northstar TC650
Jacks: Happijac (removed for the trip)
Suspension: SuperSprings, Cooper Discoverer ATP “E” rated tires, Bilstein 5100 shocks
Gear: Viair 300P Compressor, 175AH AMG and a 150W Zamp solar panel, EBC pads & rotors, Hosspad Jack and Leveling Pads, set of tools, machete and duct tape.
The Fuso Four Wheel Camper
- September 30, 2014
- - By Angela White
Imagine that you’re walking down the street when a nut-throwing squirrel drops an usually large acorn right on your head. In an instant, you have a vision; the ultimate off-road, off-the-grid, go-anywhere, world-ready truck and camper rig.
The Mistubishi Fuso four-wheel drive truck is available all over the world, with parts and service available on every continent. The diesel tanks hold 900 miles worth of fuel. The all-terrain wheels are able to dominate all terrains.
The custom Four Wheel Camper is fully-self contained, able to safely plug into almost any power source, and features on-board water filtration, ample solar power, and efficient LED light. All of its appliances operate on 12-volt electric and/or diesel fuel.
Most importantly, the assembled rig fits into a standard shipping container, ready to be shipped all over the world. All you need is diesel fuel, water, food, and a direction to explore.
Then you wake up to the unmistakable laughter of a tree full of squirrels. Was it just a dream? Would it be possible to actually build the ultimate overland truck camper rig?
There were probably no nut-throwing squirrels involved, but some might say what Sunil Hegde did, with the help of Four Wheel Campers, was a little nuts. Nuts or not, the results are nothing less than spectacular; truly an ultimate overland vision realized. Introducing the one-of-a-kind Fuso Four Wheel Camper.
Above: Sunil with his 2006 Mitsubishi Fuso FG and 2013 Four Wheel Camper in Joshua Tree National Park, California
TCM: How did you end up custom building a Mitsubishi Fuso rig?
Sunil: I originally wanted to travel on a motorcycle. As I got older, and since part of my job is to care for people who are in serious motorcycle accidents, I decided to change course and custom build a camper.
I wanted to build a go anywhere camper to travel the world. I wanted a kitchen, shower, and room for my stuff. After considerable research, I decided on a Mitsubishi Fuso and a custom Four Wheel Camper.
Above: The 2006 Mitsubishi Fuso FG before the camper was mounted - click to enlarge
TCM: Why did you want a Fuso?
Sunil: I wanted to maximize usage of space with a cab-forward design. I also wanted four-wheel drive. The only cab-forward truck with four-wheel drive sold in the United States is the Fuso.
In Australia, the overland community has been successfully using the Mitsubishi Fuso for many years. That made me comfortable with getting the Fuso for an overland rig.
Above: Sunil's 2006 Mitsubishi Fuso FG and 2013 Four Wheel Camper
I wanted a 2006 Fuso because that was the last year that the EPA package was not used. This means the systems are more simple than the newer Fusos, and easier to fix in case of breakdowns. Fusos are sold in over 120 countries and as long as you don’t modify engine and transmission, a Fuso can be worked on anywhere in the world. That was another important consideration.
Above: The Mitsubishi Fuso and Four Wheel Camper can fit in a normal parking spot - click to enlarge
TCM: Where did you find your 2006 Mitsubishi Fuso?
Sunil: I found it online. It was at a dealer in Connecticut with 15,000 miles. It was practically brand new. For some reason it was shipped from Oregon to Connecticut to be sold, so I had to have it shipped back to the West Coast. It is the exact truck I wanted. As far as I know my Fuso was used as a farming vehicle before I got it.
The suspension and the shocks are custom made and it gives the rig a ride similar to a SUV. I am able to replace the custom shocks with stock shocks if I have to. The engine and transmission are completely stock with no modifications. The cabin in the Fuso has been insulated with Dynamat and is so quiet that I sometimes forget to shift the gears.
TCM: Tell us about your fuel tanks.
Sunil: My Fuso has two diesel tanks totaling seventy-five gallons with a driving range of 900 miles. I replaced the original diesel tank with a larger fifty-gallon tank in the same space. Another twenty-five gallon tank is located between the two frames of the back end of the chassis.
Above: The main diesel tank on the Fuso
The Fuso diesel engine runs on low sulfur, and high sulfur diesel fuel. When I go to South America, there will be some places where I will not be able to get low sulfur diesel. This truck can run on diesel with any sulfur content.
TCM: If 75 gallons gets you 900 miles, you’re averaging 12 miles per gallon.
Sunil: That’s right.
Above: The dually was changed to a single rear wheel
TCM: How did you change your dually to a single rear wheel?
Sunil: The consensus on Expedition Portal is that changing a Fuso from dual rear wheels to single rear wheels improves the handling and makes the rig easier to drive.
To get the wheels I contacted Kym Bolton at GoannaTracks in Australia and had them ship five 17x9 wheels to the United States. The hassle of getting the wheels through US customs was a new experience. I didn’t know the process.
When the overseas manufacturer initiates the shipping, they have to fax or email the shipping manifest documents right away. You have to register with US Customs as an importer and file the documents with US Customs before the shipment leaves the last overseas transshipment port. This will allow the US Customs to inspect the package overseas for security purposes. You then have to hire a customs broker and pay the taxes and fees to get the consignment released and delivered to you.
Above: Aluminess front bumper with a Warn winch, brush guard, and additional headlight slots
TCM: Tell us about your Aluminess bumpers.
Sunil: I changed the bumpers to Aluminess aluminum bumpers to get more functionality and decrease the overall weight.
Aluminess bumpers are much bigger and better than stock bumpers for absorbing an impact. They feature built-in slots for Warn winches both in the front and back. There’s also a brush guard and additional headlight slots in the front bumper.
Above: Aluminess rear bumper includes room for a spare tire, bicycles, and storage boxes - click to enlarge
In the rear, Aluminess designed a rack to hold the spare wheel, bicycles, and/or storage boxes.
The Aluminess bumpers mount straight to the chassis.
Above: Driving down an unmaintained road in Joshua Tree National Park, California
TCM: Why do you have three independent navigation systems?
Sunil: I have navigation via cellular network, via GPS, and via Delorme Iridium inReach satellite messenger.
Above: Drop down iPad from the roof for navigation with Garmin Navigon
Above: The Garmin Heads-Up navigation, the Heads-Up display projects the navigation instructions to the windshield so you don't have to take your eyes off the road.
Navigation using cellular networks and Google maps works where there is access to cellular networks. When I’m outside the reach of cellular networks, I use the Garmin Navigon system on an iPad with a GPS chip and preloaded maps.
Above: The Delorme InReach Explorer
The Delorme InReach Explorer that I installed is primarily for sending SOS messages. The Iridium satellite network has global coverage. It also allows you to send an email directly via satellite, bypassing the local cellular networks, to communicate with the monitoring station.
Delorme also sells a separate insurance policy that will provide emergency medical care and evacuation, if needed. The Delorme InReach Explorer pairs with the iPad and works in a similar way to a GPS system. With preloaded maps, it allows you to navigate anywhere. Delorme InReach Explorer is my back up system.
Above: Cameras that give Sunil a 360 degree view from inside the Four Wheel Camper
Above: Cameras are over each wheel which will show the position of the wheels
I also have cameras that give a 360 degree outside view from the Fuso cabin, as well as from inside the camper. In addition I have a camera over each wheel which will show me the position of the wheels. If I’m on a ledge, I can see where my wheels are located.
Above: Build process of the Four Wheel Camper - click to enlarge
TCM: That’s neat, and potentially a life saver. Your camper certainly doesn’t look like a typical Four Wheel Camper. How did you go about designing it?
Sunil: I designed it with the Four Wheel Camper team. I told them what I wanted including the layout, specifications, and diesel appliances. I wanted the camper to sleep three people, have a full kitchen, a toilet, and water heater. The biggest challenge was the pass-through. That took a lot of work, and design.
Prior to buying the Fuso, I had met with Tom Hanagan, President of Four Wheel Campers, and floated the idea to him. I was very lucky to catch Four Wheel Campers when they were moving to their new factory location. They had the time to do it, and agreed to do a one-off camper for me. Tom is a nice guy, and I know that it was a challenge.
Above: The kitchen in Sunil's Four Wheel Camper
TCM: Why did you choose diesel appliances?
Sunil: I wanted one fuel source for all tasks, and that was diesel. The cooktops, the space heater, and the water heater are all diesel powered.
Above: Panels for the electrical controls, fuses, shore power, some internal lights
TCM: What power sources does the camper have?
Sunil: I have no propane and no generator. I do have house batteries recharged by solar and trickle charged by the Fuso engine. The house batteries are completely independent of the truck batteries.
The battery and inverter system runs the LED lights, fans, air-conditioner, microwave, convection oven, and the 12-volt refrigerator. The inverter will run the air conditioner for three to four hours. I have provisions for both 110 volt and 220 volt shore power hook-up.
Above: The pass-through in the Four Wheel Camper and Fuso
TCM: You said the pass-through was the biggest challenge.
Sunil: To make the pass-through, Four Wheel Campers mounted the camper and lined it up with the Fuso. Then we cut the Fuso cab. The Fuso is a cab forward truck. To get access to the engine compartment, the cab has to be tilted forward.
The challenge was getting a connecter that could be easily released and, at the same time, it needed to adequately seal the pass-through to prevent leakage. We used a pillow-connector that is bolted and glued down on one end, and is attached to a frame that slides into a slot on the other end.
Above: The pass-through is sealed to prevent leakage - photo from the exterior of the truck and camper
Above: The pass-through is sealed to prevent leakage - photo from the inside of the truck and camper
I wanted a large pass-through, mainly for security. If I am parked in a foreign country and there’s a problem, I can get from the cabin to the driver’s seat without going outside. I can also use it to access the camper during bad weather. It’s a bit of a chore to crawl through, but it can be done.
Above: In Joshua Tree National Park on an unmaintained trail
TCM: What are the holding tank capacities of the camper?
Sunil: The rig has 100 gallons of fresh water, 40 gallons of grey water, and a cassette toilet. The rig also has water pumps and water filtration system that allow water to be pumped from a nearby river or stream to fill the fresh water tank. I do not need to use a hook-up anywhere if I don’t want to.
The fresh water tank is attached to the chassis and the grey tanks are on the side. I have twenty gallons of grey on each side. The black water is a five gallon Thetford cassette that I can take it out and dump into a regular toilet.
Setting up all the tanks took planning. Four Wheel Campers had the truck with them during the design phase so they were able to position the equipment. Having the truck on site enabled them to understand and work through issues.
I wanted the truck and camper to be relatively light weight. That was one reason why I choose Four Wheel Campers. Their aluminum framed construction kept the weight of the camper under 2,000 pounds dry.
Above: The 80"x48" bed in the back of the camper
TCM: That’s impressive. This camper does not feature a traditional cabover bed. Where is the bed located, and what size is it?
Sunil: The rig actually features two beds, a 80” x 48” bed in the back of the camper, and the dinette converts into another 80” x 48” bed.
Above: The shower and changing area tracks on the ceiling
TCM: What are the tracks on the ceiling of the camper?
Sunil: There’s one curtain that goes around the shower area. The shower walls are shoulder height and the rest of the area above it is curtained off. There other track is in front of the shower to create a private changing area. There is drainage on the floor of the shower area that goes to one of the grey water tanks.
Above: Sunil's 2006 Mitsubishi Fuso FG and 2013 Four Wheel Camper in Randsburg, California
TCM: Other than the pass-through were there any other challenges to this build?
Sunil: The diesel systems were a challenge. We didn’t fully understand the intricacies, like how fat the diesel line needed to be. If it’s too fat, or too small, the system won’t work. It took some time and effort to figure it out.
Four Wheel Campers built the camper, mounted it on the truck, and then installed the connectors. The whole thing took about nine months for the rig to be built and assembled. A lot of the time was designing. I was in no rush and didn’t have a hard deadline. I wanted to make sure it was done right. That’s another reason why I chose Four Wheel Campers.
TCM: In your email to TCM, you said you wanted a cost effective and sensible rig. Did the Fuso and Four Wheel Camper combination hit the mark?
Sunil: Yes, it did. The rig cost me quite a bit, but it was cheaper than an Earthroamer and it was custom made for my needs. I particularly like the spaciousness inside the camper.
Above: Driving off-road in Randsburg, California
TCM: Do you have any future trips planned?
Sunil: This year I’ve been doing short trips. I went to Overland Expo, Joshua Tree National Park, and Avila beach. I’m just learning about the truck and camper. Jonathan Hanson of Overland Expo is arranging a three day session to help me break it in and learn the ropes.
I will be going to Baja, Mexico later this year, and South America sometime next year. Mostly I will be traveling overseas. I grew up in India and I know how bad the roads can be. So I am rigged for any terrain.
This rig fits in a high cube shipping container, so shipping is less expensive and much easier than using roll-on roll-off shipping. The rig dimensions are 270” long, by 8’7” tall with the roof closed, and 7’8” wide. I plan on traveling for few weeks at a time, then renting a container, and storing the camper on location. I will fly back home and then return a few months later and carry on with the journey. That way I don’t have to travel in one stretch.
The big plan is to drive around the world. The camper was built by Four Wheel Campers specifically to satisfy this goal. It is extremely self sufficient. For all practical purposes, all I need is a diesel refill every two weeks or so, and access to food and water. The camper has everything one has in a house, parks in a regular parking spot, and fits into a shipping container.
TCM: It’s quite the extraordinary rig. We can’t wait to follow your adventures.
Sunil: The rig was designed for off-roading. It’s rugged. It’s got all-terrain Falcon Peak tires. It’s got a compressor to inflate the tires. The hydraulic jack works off the compressor to lift the truck up. It’s a beautiful rig,. The real beauty of it is its functionality and its simplicity.
Truck: 2006 Mitsubishi Fuso FG, regular cab, single rear wheel, short bed, four wheel drive, diesel
Camper: 2013 Four Wheel Camper Custom Model
Tie-downs/Turnbuckles: Permanently mounted, but can be taken off, just not easily. Engine and transmission is stock, leaf spring suspension is custom, Icon shocks custom and designed to fit original supports
Gear: Front bumper and rear bumper by Aluminess, they custom designed it, the rack to carry bike, brush guard in front, winch in bumper, 10,000 pounds in the front, 15,000 pounds in the back, also a third winch to lift spare wheel into the rack
Overland Expo East 2014
- October 17, 2014
- - By Gordon White
It was the kind of rain that gets folks thinking about collecting animals and building a large wooden boat. Just a few hours into the first day of the first annual Overland Expo East, the skies released a deluge of water that sent everyone running for the closest awning or canopy. The rain came down so hard and so fast that it was truly comical.
Above: At the height of the storm, we were under a canopy at the Four Wheel Camper display
Following the rain storm, Angela and I returned to our camper, which was at the top of a hill overlooking the Expo.
Above: Four-wheel drive vehicles attack the mud hill. Click to enlarge.
What had been a dry dirt road was now a full-on mud bog, sending four-wheel drive vehicles of every description wheel-spinning and fishtailing in spectacular mud-flinging fashion.
The real show started when someone decided that their truck and travel trailer could take on what had thwarted a few dozen jacked-up Jeeps, legendary Land Rovers, and tricked-out Tacomas just moments earlier. As the travel trailer rig rounded the corner at the foot of the hill, the cheers went up. Without speaking a word, everyone was thinking the same thing, “This guy is nuts!”
Above: Proof that travel trailers cannot go anywhere. Note the flying mud in the center picture. Click to enlarge.
Undaunted, he hit the accelerator, rushing straight into the thick mud soup. The gathered crowd roared with raised camera phones as the rear wheels instantly painted the trailer a deep brown. At first, the Ford F-250 made the seemingly impossible climb, impressively passing the spots where many others had failed.
Then, despite what can only be called a terrific effort, the truck and trailer ground to a halt, sinking into terra non-firma. The only thing moving were wheels and mud.
“He’s done,” said the guy standing next to me.
“Time for a winch out,” said his friend.
Well, if there was one place on planet Earth to get stuck in the mud and need a winch rescue, this was certainly the place.
Like kids running down stairs on Christmas morning, the crew from RawHyde Adventures rushed into action with their Warn winch-equipped Ford F-250. I don’t think they could have been more excited if they just won the lottery, twice, on their birthdays. An actual winch-out situation, with an audience, at the Overland Expo? There isn’t a bow big enough for this gift.
Above: RawHyde adventures winches out the travel trailer. Click to enlarge.
The better-equipped RawHyde truck made to the top of the hill with ease, turned around, and dug in about fifty feet from the stuck Super Duty. The RawHyde team then walked the winch lead down to the tow hooks.
Above: As the action unfolded, the play-by-play was called out on camera with a level of TV-ready reality drama only Mark Burnett could dream of.
The Warn made quick work of pulling the truck and trailer out of its entrenched position, and up the hill. Once the truck and trailer rig reached the top, it was able to continue on its own power. RawHyde to the rescue. Nice work guys.
Now what was it were were reporting on? Oh yeah! The Overland Expo East.
Following what has to be the wettest and wildest beginning in Overland Expo history, things got back on track. The storm had passed, the Overland Expo team closed-off the mud-run, and the sun returned to begin the drying-out.
Emerging from our camper with dry clothing and a renewed spirit, Angela and I made our way down to Brian Towell’s seminar on “How to Choose the Right Truck and Camper Combination”. Can you imagine hosting a seminar on this subject - of all subjects - and having us show up in the audience? Brian might as well hosted a “Pretty Puff Pastry” presentation and had the Pillsbury Dough Boy and the Pepperidge Farm Team walk in. Of course Brian did an excellent job, mirroring our own safety-first sentiments on this important subject.
A young twenty-something couple was in attendance at Brian's seminar looking to assemble a truck and camper for a South America surfing adventure. Brian steered them right for their south of the border expedition, explaining the concepts of assembling a rig that’s within payload from the get go. In turn, we urged them to reach out to those who had already blazed a trail south of the border, and referred them to our popular Off-Road and Expedition section.
Immediately following Brian’s seminar, Angela and I did something we had never done before; co-hosted a round table. The subject was wide-open; anything and everything on truck campers. Tom Hanagan, President of Four Wheel Campers, led the round table and the three of us took on questions ranging from “Are dual rear wheels really necessary?” to, “Which is better; pop-up or hard side?”.
The three of us gave the best advice we have. Honesty, I was a bit nervous to be on stage like that, but it was probably my most gratifying experience from the Expo.
Above: William Hill (right) from Lance Camper brought a 2015 Lance 1052 double-side and camped next to Brian Towell (left) and his flatbed Lance 1191 Kodiak monster mobile
Above: The two Lances camped together were truly “Beauty and the Beast”. We’ll let you decide which camper is which.
Above: Dave Hoskins, President of Aluminess Products, camped at the Expo in his red Sportsmobile tricked out with Aluminess aluminum bumpers, racks, and boxes
Above: Click to englarge. We saw literally dozens of Aluminess front and rear aluminum bumpers on display at Overland Expo East. When we talked to folks about their Aluminess front bumpers, they explained that the Aluminess bumper systems added the function of a bull bar, winch mount, and light mount to their rig - without adding too much weight like steel bumper systems can do.
It was the kind cold wind that gets folks thinking about finding the nearest cave and curling up with Smokey for a quick five-month nap. We’re talking about a fiercely competitive “Rock-Paper-Scissors” game under the covers to see which of us had to get out of bed and turn the propane heater on cold. We’re talking serious long underpants and a real winter jacket cold.
Not ones to shrink from our responsibilities, Angela and I decided to sit in our warm truck camper, with our hot coffee and plaid flannel Costco comfy pants, and watch everyone else freeze their proverbial butts off outside. We’re rough and tumble like that.
By about 10:30am, the sun had burned off the worst of the cold and we emerged, layered head to toe, to brave the elements. Before venturing into the Expo, we explored the campground area and introduced ourselves to the dozen or two truck campers nearby. Then we headed to another seminar by Brian Towell, “Matching a Camper to a Flatbed or Utlity Body”.
Above: Brian’s flatbed seminar featuring his personal Lance Camper flatbed rig
The rest of the day was spent photographing interesting things at the Expo, meeting readers, and trying to stay warm. Eventually the damp cold air blowing off the pond got the best of us and we scurried back to our heated camper. Angela took the opportunity to fire up our camper oven and bake an apple cake. It was a warm and sweet end to an otherwise bitter cold day.
Above: The Four Wheel Campers team is always ready to party. Pictured left to right; Terry Bud, Service Manager, Chris Janeway, Denver Dealer, Stan Kennedy, Marketing Manager, Scott Morgan, and Tom Hanagan, President
Above: Four Wheel Campers brought a wide range of models and camped with several of their customers allowing folks to see both new campers and ready-to-go Four Wheel Camper rigs.
Above: Tom Hanagan’s Four Wheel Camper seminar was very well attended.
Above: Cari and Robby Rowe, Owners of Phoenix Custom Campers, showed up ready to support their favorite football team. I think they like the Broncos.
Above: Phoenix Custom Campers invited their customer, Jeff, to bring his pop-up sofa slide. Jeff's camper was featured in the ariticle, "Phoenix Flatbed Pops-Up and Slides-Out". This was our first time seeing this incredibly unique rig and we wasted no time photographing it nose cone to back bumper.
Pre-dawn on Sunday morning we made a classic truck camping rookie mistake; we ran out of propane. The evidence was unmistakable. We woke up in the middle of the night to a nearly frozen truck camper. In this case, the temperatures were in the low 40s inside, and low 30s outside.
Our propane regulator on our new-to-us has been acting up - something we will soon address - and will not properly switch to one side. Until we replace the regulator, we actually need to switch the propane tanks and reattach the hoses accordingly. Welcome to life with a not-brand-new truck camper, right? We’re living in the real world now.
Anyway, there I am, again in my plaid flannel Costco comfy pants, switching propane in thirty degree weather. I must have been quite the site as the nearby tent campers kept looking at me, and then quickly averting their eyes. If Angela hadn’t brought my blue snow-dork hat and gloves, I may have frozen my journalistic credentials off somewhere on that sloping North Carolina field.
A few minutes later I returned to the camper where Angela cracked open a vent and window, ignited the propane stove to air out the propane lines, re-started the refrigerator, and cranked the heat. Naturally, I was her hero, and reinstated to my usual, “Husband of the Year” status.
Above: Angela and I really enjoyed seeing all the truck campers in the camping area, meeting their owners, and learning about their truck camping lifestyles
Thankfully, Sunday’s weather was glorious. We’re talking the kind of late Summer, early Fall day that makes you want to stand outside all day talking to friends. And that’s pretty much what we did all day Sunday. We talked to the truck camper manufacturers, met lots of readers, and made new truck camper friends from one end of the Expo to the other. It doesn’t get any better.
The official Overland Expo East festivities concluded with a fantastic barbecue dinner. We sat at a table with both industry and reader friends, and loved every minute of it. Not unlike the Sunday farewell breakfasts at the rallies, it’s one more opportunity to be with friends you don’t see but maybe once a year. If this year has taught us anything, it’s that we need to savor these moments. They don’t always come around again.
Despite the biblical rain storm, bone chilling cold, we really enjoyed the Overland Expo East. Although turn-out was not as strong as Overland Expo West, it was more than enough to prove the East Coast wants the Expo. Given time, I have no doubt Overland Expo East will be every bit as popular as its Western counter-part.
We also want to thank Roseann and Jonathan Hanson for what must be recognized as an incredible job well done. We would also extend our gratitude to the Overland Expo volunteers, instructors, and presenters. Weather events aside, Overland Expo East was a big hit and it couldn’t happen with out the focus, efforts, and sheer tenacity of the Hansons and their team.
And lastly, a big personal thanks to Roy and Terry Garland who not only scoped out the campground for us ahead of time, but made sure we got a good spot. You guys rock!
Above: We explored the many varieties of vehicles on display. If you want to see more, many of these overland machines have been included in previous Overland Expo show reports. See here: Overland Expo 2012, Overland Expo 2013, Overland Expo West 2014
Leaving Behind the Daily Grind
- September 15, 2014
- - By Angela White
Ladies and gentlemen, please be careful with this story.
Reading about Jorn Vangoidtsenhoven and his wife, Haichong, may have you thinking seriously about telling your boss where to go, and how to get there. You may be tempted to email a real estate agent with the simple message, “Sell it, buster”. The next day you’ll be giving friends and family furniture, knick knacks, and your extensive “Freeze Dried Cheeses of the World” collection as you pare down to the essentials; eight cases of peanut butter, six pairs of underwear, a tooth brush, and a ready-to-roll truck camper rig.
Yes, this is the moment you’ve been waiting for your whole life. Freedom at last! No more work. No more cleaning the house. No more organizing that increasingly stinky cheese collection. You’re free, and ready for adventure from coast-to-coast, sea to shining sea, and beyond. Oh happy day! Let’s go truck camping!
As you can see, this story had little to no effect on us. Honest.
Perhaps the most incredible part of this story is that it’s true. Jorn Vangoidtsenhoven and his wife really did quit their jobs, sell their house, purge their stuff, buy a truck and camper, and go full-time. Then they had the courage to explore Central America this past winter, and Alaska this summer. That’s right, while you’ve been doing who knows what, these two have been exploring the beaches of Mexico and spotting bears in the Alaskan wilderness.
Like we said, be careful with this story. It’s inspiration overload.
Above: Jorn and Haichong in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
TCM: How did you get into truck camping?
Jorn: Our first RV was a twenty-two foot Airstream travel trailer. On many occasions with the Airstream, our rig length was a problem. For instance, when we spotted wildlife close to the road and wanted to stop for a picture, it was often difficult to quickly find a spot, and pull-over. Having the travel trailer meant we couldn’t simply stop anywhere. After that experience, we wanted a more flexible camping solution.
When we decided to take a long road trip into Central America, we didn’t want to tow a travel trailer. First, the old colonial towns have narrow roads. Second, we wanted to explore remote areas and beaches. Our travel trailer wouldn’t work for this kind of trip.
A truck camper was the perfect solution. It’s big enough to have all the comforts that you find in a travel trailer, and small enough to stick on the back of the truck. With the truck being four-wheel drive, we could explore everywhere we wanted to go.
TCM: That certainly makes sense, but how did you get the idea to go full-time?
Jorn: My wife and I lived in Austin, Texas for eleven years with full-time jobs and schedules. Life is too short to spend on work alone, so we decided it was time for a break. We would use this break to see more of the big world we live in.
We thought about it for a few years before actually taking the plunge. Then, in the Spring of 2013, we quit our jobs, sold our home, and moved into our truck camper.
Above: 2008 Ram 3500 truck and 2014 CampLite 8.6 at Hierve el Agua, Chiapas, Mexico
TCM: That was quite the risk.
Jorn: Yes, it was. That’s why we thought long and hard about it before we decided to go for it. The fear of not being able to find jobs again once we stop traveling is what kept us in Austin until 2013.
Ultimately, our love for traveling beat our fear of an uncertain future. The sale of our home provided us with enough funds to take the leap into traveling. To make our travel time last as long as possible, we try to stick to a monthly schedule.
We sold our travel trailer and tow vehicle and purchased a used 2008 Dodge Ram truck and a new 2014 CampLite 8.6 truck camper. We opted to go for a new camper since we wanted to minimize the risk of appliances breaking in the camper while being somewhere in Central America, far away from the nearest RV service center or parts store.
Above: Camping at Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua
TCM: What led you to choose a CampLite for full-time RVing?
Jorn: The wood-free 100% aluminum and composite construction. There will be no rust on this truck camper over time and, more importantly, no wood rot. All campers leak eventually so we wanted to buy a camper built without wood to avoid potential rot issues.
The camper we bought, a CampLite 8.6 is the smallest long bed model they sell. It comes with a wet bathroom, which was a must-have for my wife. We also didn’t want to have any overhang in the back to avoid issues while off-roading. The 8.6 model is actually a truck camper for a half-ton truck so our one-ton dually hardly even notices it’s there.
Above: Boondocking in Colorado National Forest, Colorado
TCM: We often tell readers to over-truck and under-camper, if they can. You definitely over-trucked that CampLite with the dually. Tell us about your five-month winter trip to Central America.
Jorn: Central America is a wonderful place to go camping. As opposed to everything you hear, it’s a safe place. The climate is wonderful in winter during their dry season. The different cultures are interesting to visit. The local people are very friendly towards travelers. And it’s very cheap compared to traveling in the United States and Canada.
Above: San Miguel de Allende, a colonial town in Mexico that Jorn and Haichong visited
During our five month road trip, we visited every Central American country. The diversity of things to see and do in Central America is amazing; volcanoes, colonial towns, white sand beaches, jungle, and rain forests filled with wildlife.
We loved it so much down there that we’re thinking about heading back into Mexico this winter to explore Baja, California and hopefully to see the whales that migrate from Alaska down into the Sea of Cortez during the winter. We’re also writing a book about our Central American adventure which should be released this fall. It will be a mix of our travel experiences and travel photography.
Above: Hand Cranked ferry to Sarteneja, Belize
TCM: Please let us know when your book publishes. In an email to TCM you stated, “There are so many wonderful places; especially in Mexico and Guatemala; where you really need a truck camper”. Why is a truck camper needed in these areas?
Jorn: The roads in Central America are not the same quality as the roads in the United States. Even the Pan-American Highway, which goes all the way down to Argentina, is usually nothing more than a two-lane road, filled with pot holes. We’ve seen several RV caravans in Mexico with Class A motorhomes and fifth wheels, but they stick to the expensive toll roads. Once you head south of Mexico, anything bigger than a truck camper would be very inconvenient.
Above: The hot springs in Fuentes Georginas, Guatemala. If you camp there overnight, you're allowed to use the hot pools after everyone leaves in the evening.
That being said, some of the best camping places in Guatemala and even in Mexico are off the beaten path. Take the beautiful hot springs of Fuentes Georginas in the highlands of Guatemala. The springs are located high in the mountains and the only road up there is a one-lane farm road. Even in our truck camper we had a difficult time getting up there, especially with farmer’s trucks coming down the mountain. Our dually being as wide as it is, it took a lot of effort to get up there. But once you get there, that’s all forgotten!
Above: The waterfalls of El Aguacero, southern Mexico
Another example is the waterfalls of El Aguacero down in southern Mexico. These are the most beautiful waterfalls we visited on the entire trip, which is saying a lot since Costa Rica and Panama have some beautiful waterfalls. But, to reach El Aguacero, you must drive a one-lane dirt road into the mountains. Again, nothing we would dream of doing in any other RV type.
And, of course, there are the many beaches. Having a truck camper on top of a four-wheel drive truck gives you easy beach access. Truck campers are the way to go.
Above: Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
TCM: What have you been doing since you returned from Central America?
Jorn: We crossed back into the United States this past June and traveled up to Alaska through the Rockies. We have spent the month of August and part of September up in Hyder, Alaska to photograph the bears and wolves that come to feast on the chum and pink salmon runs.
Above: In August and early September, Jorn photographed bears in Hyder, Alaska
We’ll be heading back down to the lower 48 via the Canadian Rockies and plan on spending fall in the Yellowstone and Grand Teton area to witness and photograph the fall colors and the mating season of the elk, buffalo and moose.
Above: Moose in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
After that, we’ll either settle down and start looking for a job, or extend our road trip with a few months and head down into Mexico’s Baja peninsula, which we skipped on our five month road trip last winter.
Above: Haichong with Sophie, their dog, in Merida, Mexico
TCM: Are you seriously thinking of ending your adventure, setting down, and getting jobs again?
Jorn: Well, once you start traveling, it’s hard to stop. As you meet other full-timers who are traveling around the world in their campers, you realize there’s so much more to see and so little time to do it.
We definitely want to stop traveling before we run out of money, but we also don’t want to stop if we can afford to travel more. So, our plans change on a regular basis. In fact, we don’t even make many plans.
The idea of spending the coming winter in the Baja came from my wife. Just a week ago, she thought out loud, “Do we have to settle down now? What if we try hard not to spend too much and go into the Baja?” Who am I to argue with that?
Above: Haichong at Cerro Verde in El Salvador
TCM: I think a lot of husbands reading this article are thinking you’re a very lucky guy. If we get a vote, go to Baja. Other than visiting Central America, Alaska, and the lower 48, what’s your truck camping lifestyle like?
Jorn: First, we read guide books, online travel websites, and forums. That research has provided us with a list of must-see things which we use to map out our approximate driving route.
We usually do a minimum amount of research ahead of time. We basically plan not to plan. We both love the freedom to spend as much or as little time in an area as we like. We do take side trips based on travel advice from other travelers we meet on the trip.
Above: Dry camping at Las Layas Beach, Panama
TCM: We call that road magic. Many a wonderful place has been discovered by someone saying, “You need to go over there, and see that”. How do you control your expenses?
Jorn: We try to dry camp whenever we can in the United States and Canada. For instance, we’ve been staying in Hyder, Alaska in the national forest for more than one month. It’s free, very scenic (next to glacial fed river) and our dog can run around freely, which wouldn’t be possible if we would stay in an RV park.
Down in Central America, we usually stick to campgrounds whenever possible, mainly for safety reasons. Down in Costa Rica and Panama however, we did lots of dry camping with no issues whatsoever.
Above: Camping in Chetumal, Mexico
Once you head south of Mexico with your RV, there are hardly any campgrounds available. We asked local hotels and restaurants if we could park our RV at their establishment for the night. In the highlands of Nicaragua we slept a few nights at a Red Cross outpost and a police station.
Many times, they charge a few dollars per night which usually includes plugging in your electrical cord. The power in Central America is household 110V, which is nice for running the air conditioner. There’s no 30 amp or 50 amp service there.
To illustrate how cheap it is to camp in Central America, we camped for a few nights next to a hostel on the beach. The four dollar camping fee included showers, fresh water, and Wi-Fi. It was only four dollars for waterfront camping on the beach with almost all regular RV amenities!
Above: The convent in the center of Izamal, Mexico
TCM: That sounds truly ideal. What’s next for your truck camping travels?
Jorn: This winter, we are debating heading down into Mexico’s Baja peninsula before settling down somewhere up in the United States and finding jobs again.
In the future, we would love to ship our camper down to South America to travel there for a year. And, further into the future, we’d love to ship our camper to Europe, visit Europe and head east through Russia all the way into Asia, and ship our camper to Australia and so on. There’s really no shortage of RVing destinations. As usual, money is the limiting factor, so hopefully we’ll be able to do these trips one day.
The freedom of full-timing is great. If you don’t like your neighbor or the area you’re in, you can move. There are so many places to discover in the world, places that are really not possible to see if all you have available each year is two or three weeks of vacation time.
We will full-time travel as long as we can. It will take a period of adjusting once we settle down again.
Above: The freedom of the open road, Death Valley National Park, California
TCM: We had a similar experience after only six-months on the road. It is a challenge to return, settle-down, and get back to work.
Jorn: We moved from a 2,300 square foot house into a travel trailer and then went even smaller into a truck camper. Sure, a big house is great to store all of your stuff; or even a fifth wheel with an island kitchen, but ultimately we thought about what we need. In the end, we don’t need much, especially if we get to travel around the world.
The people you meet, the cultures you experience, the animals you see, and the landscapes you encounter are priceless! It’s really amazing that it’s out there, available to all, yet experienced by so few.
Truck: 2008 Dodge Ram 3500
Camper: 2014 CampLite 8.6