Are you planning a road trip?
If so, congratulations! For my money, there is little more fun than setting off on a road trip with the vague hope of making it to an unknown destination. Having enjoyed crossing deserts, 700 mile days, mountains and 8 mile days, here is my list of top tips I wish someone had told me before I left Chicago in 1996, heading to Tierra del Fuego via Alaska.
1. Just Go!
Accept it. No matter how much gear you buy, how many books you read and all those “just in case” scenarios, you will never be fully ready.
If you wait until you are ready, you will never leave.
There are of course some things it would be unwise to leave behind (think passport, visas, vehicle documents, licences, specific medicines if needed etc) but do not underestimate how much can be acquired along the way, if necessary.
When heading into the unknown, the chances are you will tell yourself you won’t drive at night. You are wrong. Even if it is not your intention, for a variety of reasons you will end up driving along tracks or roads that barely exist, with animals or small children running out into your path and quite possibly with other vehicles appearing out of the dark.
If you are organised, you may have tested your vehicle before leaving the UK. And if you have done so, the brightly lit M4 may have convinced you everything is fine. But when you are driving down the Western Sahara at 3 in the morning with visibility of 5 metres due to the dust cloud from the truck in front, you will wish you had some good lights.
3. Walkie Talkies.
It may well be the last time you used a walkie talkie was aged 7 when you camped in your parents’ garden at home. If you are travelling in a single car, you can safely ignore this tip but if you are travelling in a group of 2 or more vehicles, these devices will pay their way many times over by saving you from spurious fines and waiting for others who have dropped out of visual contact.
In a group and in any potentially troublesome situations or locations, a lead vehicle can use their walkie talkie to communicate issues to vehicles a kilometre behind. Or just use them to warn your mates about a well hidden speed trap.
I strongly recommend buying some half decent ones that run off a cigarette lighter as well as batteries.
4. Bribery – Have A Policy.
It is not my intention to wade into the moral quagmire that is bribery. What I will say is that if you head anywhere remotely “off the beaten track,” you can expect to be asked to bribe. This may be dressed up as a gift, a donation or as a means of expediting entry. Whether you are prepared to pay or not is a personal decision and the point I make is to think about it first and to agree a consistent policy.
If you are dying for a beer and the only way of making it out of a dry very religious state in time for New Year’s Eve (hello Mauritania into Senegal), you may decide to pay 50 dollars but if in a group, this should be discussed prior to arrival at the border.
If you are alone with all the time in the world, you may choose to camp at a border for 48 hours to avoid paying a 150 dollar bribe (hello Bolivia).
5. Brake Now!
Because you are sensible and organised, you have driven your vehicle for a couple of hundred miles in the UK before setting off. You may have even bought some octane booster in case the local fuel isn’t up to your high standards. What I suspect you have not done is taken your vehicle up to 5,000 feet and driven down a 15 mile series of hairpin bends to sea level. Six times in a row.
Descending from the Andes with one working brake disc is fun the first time your jeep spins to the right but not so much for the next two hours.
My tip is to worry more about how quickly and consistently you can stop than how fast you can go.
Coming soon! In another post I will cover 5 more tips learnt the hard way.