We’re frequently quizzed regarding the pros and cons of our Maggiolina Airtop roof tent. Not having any other experience with other styles of roof tent, other than camping with fellow overlanders, it’s hard to comment.
Our tent was our most extravagant purchase, but also our best. Essentially it has paid for itself many times over: It offers a little luxury which means we hardly ever stay in hotels. On an extended trip like ours that luxury and convenience is paramount.
We’ve camped in locations with views that far surpass any 5 star hotel. This really can be a room with a view (or several)... 3 of the sides have doors which roll up completely and the front end has a semi-circular window. For those hot, tropical nights, each opening has a mosquito netting flap which can be zipped up to fend off blood-sucking invertebrates and is perfect for wildlife watching.
It is surprisingly easy to set up; two clips at the front and one at the back and it ascends into position on hydraulic arms. Inside it is surprisingly Tardis-like; we can sit fully upright and have around the same space as a double bed. The tent comes complete with a comfortable mattress and pillows and is roomy enough when closed to store a duvet and sleeping bags.
It is one of the most convenient rooftop tents on the market and this is blatantly apparent when we camp with other overlanders who use canvas ‘fold over’ style tents.
Our tent takes about 20 seconds to “pop” and set-up and about one minute 30 seconds to pack away. To demonstrate this we’ve made a little video of us packing up in Kyrgyzstan (complete with obligatory high-5).
Most adventurous overlanders are typically drawn to the lesser-travelled, edgy countries. Travelling by 4x4 allows you to access some of the most beautiful, remote and sometimes inhospitable areas that most tourists generally don’t get to see.
Travelling in a self-reliant way in a 4x4 does however mean you cannot travel light; typically your vehicle is your home and this includes carrying everything from tools and laptops to the kitchen sink.
In most foreign countries a big muddy 4x4 with strange number plates, fully loaded with every conceivable extra is going to draw quite a bit of attention. As a result you, your vehicle and its contents can become a desirable target for criminals.
After we’d purchased Bee-bee in 2010, one astute bicycle traveller sensibly told me “the less you take with you the less you have to lose”.
These wise words are more pertinent having fallen victim to one of overlandings worst nightmares… robbery!
Robbed In Tehran
Way back in 2015, we were robbed whilst in Iran. The thieves smashed the drivers side window and indiscriminately took 6 storage boxes containing clothing, car parts, tools, medical kit, camping equipment and personal items. Sadly, this included the box that contained Emma’s travel diaries, all our used maps and books plus every sentimental little souvenir and gift we’d acquired en-route.
The financial loss was devastating but the inconvenience and time wasted was really problematic.
What We Did Right
Thankfully cameras, laptops, phones, hard drives, credit cards, money and passports were all with us in the apartment where we were sleeping.
Both Emma and I carry a micro SD card on us at all times in a hidden pocket in our ‘Adventure belts’, this memory card contains digital copies of all our important documents including the vehicle registration, passports, carnet, visas, medical records and prescription details. We have also emailed ourselves and a reliable family member a copy of this digital folder that can then be viewed using any device connected to the internet. Had we lost the entire car we would have still had access to our vital documents, this would have certainly sped things up at the police station and embassy.
Photos are simply irreplaceable; the basic rule to follow here is - don’t keep all your eggs in one basket. We always make sure we have multiple copies of all laptop content, including photographs of diary pages (fortunately). One copy is hidden deep inside the car and certainly isn’t locatable in a ten minute break-in. This solution is still not great if someone takes the entire vehicle. To resolve this potential problem we also back up our files and photographs frequently to the ‘Cloud’, this is painfully slow in most countries due to internet speeds and is not really appropriate for larger files like film footage. Backing up to SD or Micro SD cards and posting home is also a fairly secure alternative, if somewhat costly, the drawbacks with this are that many postal systems are fairly unreliable in other parts of the world.
Being married to a compulsive list maker has its benefits; Emma had made a full inventory of every item in the car and in which box it was placed, neatly organised into a deftly formatted spread-sheet stored on our micro SD cards. This simple procedure made identifying what had been taken a fairly quick process. This list was then swiftly given to the police. In hindsight it would have been beneficial to have a photograph of every item we carry as the police requested information regarding some of the more unusual or easily recognisable items that were taken.
All the rear windows of our car are completely blacked out using thick self-adhesive black vinyl, this does two things, it keeps inquisitive eyes out and also makes the glass a little harder to smash. Most thieves are opportunistic, if items are out of sight this is a great first step to securing your vehicle.
All our external accessories like jerry-cans and the Hi-lift jack are all secured with heavy-duty cables and waterproof padlocks. Our vehicle is fitted with an immobiliser, I would also recommend installing another hidden battery isolator switch to completely kill all electrics to the vehicle- this would also be handy when working on the car.
As for personal protection, we carry very little. In the tent at night we opt for WD-40 (although it’s not mentioned as one of the 2000+ uses on it’s website), a screeching rape alarm and a fairly hefty Maglite. Being lovers not fighters, we took a few self-defence classes before we left on our trip. Some overlanders carry pepper spray, but this can be problematic crossing borders in some countries.
What We Have Learnt
There are many things you can do to protect yourself, your possessions and your vehicle. Avoiding putting yourself in a risky situation is always the first step, followed by security should you be robbed. Having simple rules, being aware of your environment and trusting your instinct hugely reduces your chances of being targeted. Prior to Iran, sticking to our self-imposed rules, we’d travelled through 45 countries without a hitch.
Simply being aware of threats in your local area is often enough to keep you safe. In Russia for example we were warned by truck drivers to be aware of scam pleas for help by distressed smartly dressed men at the side of the road. Local knowledge is extremely valuable but be aware that most people will exaggerate the dangers and untrustworthiness of people in neighbouring countries! Careful selection of wild camping spots is vital; we always make sure no one sees us leave the road and try to remain out of sight from roads and habitation.
It is important to maintain a level of security in your vehicle that does not become a hindrance on a daily basis but is secure enough to ease your mind when the vehicle is unattended. There are times when you have no choice but to be away from the vehicle and it is during these times that your security options need to be religiously enforced.
It’s nigh on impossible to make your vehicle completely burglar-proof, ultimately if someone wants to get into your car, they will. All a thief needs is time and an opportunity, the more you can do to increase the time needed to get into the vehicle the less the opportunity exists. Your vehicle should appear to be a hard target, this will deter most criminals who will look for an easier target.
Most people tend to prioritise securing items that are perceived as valuable; laptops, cameras, phones, GPS, etc. The logic here being that no one is going to want to steal used maps, personal diaries and prescription glasses. The truth of the matter is, thieves are generally indiscriminate. In our case they simply took all they could in the time they had. Storage boxes are practical but they certainly made it easy for the thieves to empty our car. In this regard maybe a fixed and lockable draw system is more secure.
In hindsight we should have treated items like diaries and prescription glasses in the same way we dealt with other ‘valuables’. If you need glasses to drive and someone takes them you have a big problem. Thankfully I always have a pair stuck to my face and keep my prescription details on my micro SD card.
There are many smaller products on the market that are useful for overlanders including Baked Bean tin safes, these can be hidden amongst your food stash and are great for hiding smaller items. Combination key safes can be bolted or welded to the underside of your car and can hold a full set of spare keys in case you manage to lose your keys.
External heavy-duty commercial van door hasps are somewhat unsightly but they are also a great security addition, especially in conjunction with a draw system that can’t be accessed whilst the doors are closed. If a thief smashes a window they won’t be able to open the doors which in turn means they can’t access the draw system. This set-up should prevent the thieves from taking anything at all.
Most car thieves are small-time opportunistic criminals but in some extreme cases your vehicle may be targeted by a more professional outfit who actually want to take the entire vehicle. The simplest way to prevent this is not to leave your vehicle in the same place for more than one day. Think carefully about promoting your overland website and blog on your vehicle. Most overlanding websites like to feature photos of the vehicle build, storage systems and the equipment carried, this information can easily be used by would-be criminals who spot your vehicle.
If you can afford it, a hidden GPS tracker on your vehicle might save you one very expensive loss. We also recommend downloading one of the many remotely operated tracking and recovery apps that are available for most smart phones and laptops.
It is important to address security issues when prepping your vehicle; window grills, secure cages, safes and locking draw systems are easily available for vehicles like Defenders but are not commonplace in the UK for Toyotas like ours. You don’t need to spend a small fortune to be protected; simply having a few simple self-imposed rules is the greatest way of keeping you and your vehicle safe. Unfortunately we broke our rules and paid the price for doing so. Thankfully the people of Iran and our friends back home proved how amazing they are and came to our rescue helping us source and replace many of the items that were taken.
Fortunately the robbery didn’t dampen our adventurous spirit. It’s important to remember that most overlanders don’t ever fall victim to crime and the majority of people round the world are wonderfully friendly and honest.
Thailand has a love affair with the pick-up truck, literally everyone in Thailand drives a 4x4 pick-up. Sales of the Mitsubishi Triton, which is made in Thailand, practically saved the Japanese company from going out of business after a partnership deal with Germany's Daimler fell through. In 2007 they’d exported over a million Mitsubishi trucks to other Asian countries.
Mitsubishi’s are not the only popular model, all the Japanese manufacturers are represented, which is great for us being a Toyota owner as spare parts are easy to find.
What is noticeably different about Thailand in comparison to the rest of South-East Asia is that they like to modify their vehicles. Some are jacked up to ridiculous heights whilst others are slammed to the floor. One thing that Thai garages do well is suspension!
We spotted some incredibly well prepped off-road vehicles as well as some serious street racers. Like the Paykan pick-up in Iran most customised vehicles are still practical. In fact many of the suspension mods on the slammed vehicles are designed to handle extra weight, the upgraded suspension in combination with steel rear wheels and uprated tyres dictate the style of many vehicles.
Most towns and cities operate a private minibus system utilising the flatbed of the pick-up trucks as a seating area. This informal taxi system is the lifeblood of most cities.
Most of the minitrucks (the slammed ones) have custom soundsystems too that you’ll hear bumping from miles away.
Customization isn’t just limited to 4 wheels though; anyone who doesn’t own a 4x4 owns a scooter.
There are three models of scooter that are abundant throughout South-East Asia. The 125cc Honda Sonic, manufactured in Thailand and the similar Yamaha Mio and the Yamaha Nouvo. All three bikes are cheap, mechanically simple, relatively pokey and most motorcycle shops sell a whole host of accessories allowing for complete customization.
Scooters are frequently fitted with race handlebars, painted up in neon colours and covered in race inspired stickers. The mods are not just cosmetic, typically thinner wheels and tyres are fitted along with a big boar exhaust system, upgraded fuel delivery systems and brake upgrades.
Unlike any other country we have visited, and for reasons we don’t understand, Thailand is absolutely obsessed with modifying vehicles, which is great for any motor head!
The Jesada Technik Museum is the quirkiest car museum we have attended, essentially a motor museum, it does however house a few planes and boats too.
What makes the museum so unique is that the collection focuses on micro cars. The extent and growth of the collection is nothing short of miraculous, Mr Jesada Dejsakulrit purchased his first vehicle in 1997: a German Messerschmitt KR200 microcar. This early purchase set the tone for his collection and within 10 years he’d purchased over 500 vehicles. In 2007 Mr Jesada opened the museum to the public.
The collection is predominately micro cars although there are other vehicles on display. What is nice about the museum is the juxtaposition of typically classic cars you’d expect to find in a motor museum like a Ford Mustang next to an excellent example of a late 70’s “everyday” popular car like a Honda Civic.
The museum also has a DeLorean DMC-12, the iconic vehicle made famous from the Back to the Future film trilogy. The main attractions though are the smaller cars: Mini Mokes, a VW Type 181, Citroën 2CV’s, Bond Bugs, BMW Isetta bubble cars and numerous other micro cars.
The museum is free to enter with the purpose of public interest, preservation of history and heritage of these unique vehicles.
The overlanding market has grown at an exceptional rate over the last 5 years and this is reflected in the increase of events being held globally. The Adventure Overland Show is the UK’s only dedicated show to cover all aspects of overlanding. It was however mostly attended by 4x4 owners and rather lacking in attendance from cyclists and motorcyclists.
Photo by Tony Borrill
We had the pleasure of giving two presentations and sitting on one discussion panel which was expertly hosted by Overland Sphere whose website and Facebook pages are fast becoming the ‘go to’ resource for overlanders.
The show featured many trade stalls and showcased numerous clubs and associations from around the UK. Mooching about the car park and admiring the extensive variety of vehicles led to meeting some interesting folk. Seemingly, the show was predominantly attended by people who’d made the first step of purchasing and prepping an overland vehicle. Most people I spoke with were in the process of planning their first trip outside of Europe, this again reflecting the recent growth within the community.
The real highlight for me though was finally meeting many of the people who have followed our adventure from its inception. We made many new friends and even found the time to interview a few of them for our Overlanding Podcast.
A great weekend, hopefully we’ll be within driving distance of it next year!
The Paykan, which means "arrow" in Farsi, might not be a car model most people in the UK would have heard of, but in Iran where two million of the five million cars on the road are Paykans it is truly deep-seated into popular culture.
When we first arrived in Iran I kept on spotting the classic design that had a startling familiarity, but for the life of me couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. The rear end looked like a MK II Ford Cortina whilst the front end had a hint of Triumph Toledo to it. When I dug a little deeper it all fell into place…
The Paykan is essentially a 1967 Hillman Hunter. A classic British built car from an era of vinyl seats, mock wooden dashboards and steel sports wheels.
One year after production began in the UK the Iran National Motor Group which later became Iran Khodro started producing their own version of the Hunter. What is remarkable about this is that the 40-year old design was in production until 2005.
Originally in 1967 two models were available, the Deluxe and the Standard. Later, six models of Paykan were being manufactured: Deluxe, Pickup, Standard, GT, Taxi, and Automatic. In the mid 1980’s the Hillman engines were replaced with Peugeot units.
The Pickup also known as the “Bardo” is still in production although it does not achieve the required safety standards like having ABS and an Airbag.
Due to its prevalence, price, parts availability and simple mechanics it has been adopted by Iranian customised car enthusiasts as the ‘go to’ car for modifying, the Pickup model being equally as desirable to aficionados as the saloon model.
The classic styling lends itself to the American ‘Lowrider’ look, with the suspension slammed to the floor, whitewall tyres and chrome spoked wheels. On a daily basis we spot at least 3 or 4 modified examples of the classic “Arrow”. The Pickup model offers not only street cred but is still a useful functional vehicle for taking your sheep to the market.
After an astoundingly long production run the manufacturing rights for the Paykan have now been acquired by the government of Sudan, production of the Paykan is expected to restart in the next year. We can’t wait to visit Sudan in a few years and see how they modify this British classic!
After a short hibernation period were about to head back out on the road. Bee-bee’s cracked cylinder head has been replaced and she is raring to go (we hope).
Here’s a quick outline of the work she’s had done...
New Cylinder Head
Cam Belt, Glow Plugs and Fuel Injectors
Having racked up over 150 test kilometres I’m pretty convinced she’s running sweeter that she ever has. She starts on the button, no more black smoke and the temperature barely rises above 88°C. We took her (unloaded admittedly) on several long motorway climbs and up a steep 290 metre off-road climb without any problems at all. Fingers crossed.
With a very limited budget, as well as frequently being presented with a wide range of items of varying price and quality, we spent a lot of time deciding where best to splash our cash when purchasing our adventure equipment.
These are the purchases we “ummmmed and aaaaahed” over buying at the beginning as, to us, they were expensive. In hindsight, the following we consider to be our top buys, our ‘best investments’.
NB- these are all honest, independent reviews with no brand attachment or endorsement obligation. However, if you are reading this and represent the companies mentioned, free stuff is always warmly received ;-)
The Toyota Hilux is renowned for its tank-like qualities, despite this, a trip like ours really takes its toll on the vehicle. Our time back home has gave us the opportunity to do some essential work on poor Bee-bee and get her prepped for the next phase of our trip.
The 40,000+ miles we’ve racked up already had really started to show; wandering steering, pulling brakes, rattles and shakes. Regular maintenance is essential whilst travelling, but some jobs are just too large to undertake on the road, especially by a novice like myself.
The high mileage meant that Bee-bee’s second cam-belt change was due imminently and rather than trying to do it on the road it made sense to do it prior to our departure.
Any moving parts on the running gear really get worked hard off road. The rubber bushes on the anti-roll bars, track rod ends, steering idler and spring cups all required replacing as did the rear springs which had really started to sag due to being overloaded and overworked.
The brake system had a full overhaul with new discs and pads/shoes all round. Whilst we had the wheels off it made sense to replace all the wheel studs as 70% of them had been over tightened and cross threaded by an over zealous tyre fitter with an air-gun. We changed all the wheel bearings at the same time.
The ECU Doctor came up trumps and has repaired the faulty ECU (Electronic Control Unit). My diagnosis, with a little help from the Hilux Surf Forum, was correct and the ECU is back in Bee-bee and she’s running fine.
The ECU problem coupled with a few family legal matters that required signatures had delayed our departure for an extra few weeks.
A quick service – all the filters, belts and fluids changed and Bee-bee is fit for the road.
Regular readers will be pleased to hear we’re currently on the French/Swiss border and heading southeast to eventually pick up our original route in Kazakhstan early next year.
If you are new to our adventure you can get regular updates on our Facebook page. (Don’t forget to click ‘Like’) You can also check out our YouTube channel (don’t forget to subscribe) for short films of our exploits.
It’s wonderful to be wandering again and we are looking forward to making new friends on the road.
Bee-bee certainly picks her moments… The first time she broke down was in Russia when the alternator died and the battery ran flat leaving us stranded across a railway line!
Last weekend she again threw her toys from the pram at the most opportune moment!
On Saturday prior to leaving for a family camping trip she refused to start. The car was packed, the fridge was loaded, the batteries were charged, she turned over, but just refused to start. On closer inspection I noticed the glow-plug warm-up light wasn’t coming on either. After a few checks with the meter and a quick visit to the Hilux Surf Forum I diagnosed the problem as the Electronic Control Unit (ECU). Hopefully. It seems that it’s a common problem with at least two other people on the forum suffering the same fault this year. As it’s Bee-bee’s 20th birthday this year I’m wondering if Toyota have programmed a self-destruct sequence into the ECU!
So with a little white hire car in place we headed off camping with my nieces while Bee-bee missed out on all the fun, sat inactive and sulking on the driveway. The trip was planned to not only spend time with family but to also road-test all our kit prior to setting off again.
The ECU has now been sent to the highly recommended ECU-Doctor. With a car our age these kinds of parts are not available new anymore. Buying one from a broker is risky, so the best course of action is to get the ECU repaired and remapped. The ECU-Doctor can diagnose and confirm the suspected fault, repair it and offer a 12-month guarantee in the process. Let’s hope I’ve diagnosed it correctly and that he can work his magic on Bee-bee’s brain!