When we originally left the UK in 2012 we had an old Nokia phone; absolutely nothing ‘smart’ about it… Unless you consider the fact we could use it to open beer bottles! To navigate we used a combination of paper maps and an old handheld Garmin 60cs.
In 2013 we inherited an old iPhone and delved head first into the world of apps! Since then we’ve also purchased a really basic Samsung smart phone. As a result our whole overlanding experience has improved greatly. Here are a few of the apps we use on a daily basis.
Galileo is a map resource (similar to Google maps), the beauty of it is that it works off-line using pre-downloaded vector based maps. With one click you can download an entire country, using the language you want. Because the maps are vector based they are generally small in size which means they are fast and responsive. You can record your trips and monitor your real-time speed, distance and time travelled, as well as altitude. Like most map apps you can track your trips, share your tracks with friends via Mail, Facebook and Twitter or export them in the most common formats: KML & GPX. Galileo has essentially taken over the role of our old Garmin hand-held GPS, which is good as it was stolen in Iran. Galileo is now also available for Android as well as iOS.
Maps.Me or Maps With Me, as it is official known is essentially the same deal as Galileo. There was a time when Galileo was only available for iPhone users and Maps.Me was only available for Android users. Now both are available for all platforms so take your pick. We prefer the Galileo interface and how it operates, but Maps.Me is pretty much the same deal. We use both as Emma has Galileo on her old iPhone and I use Maps.Me on our Samsung phone. Both have great search facilities if you are looking for garages, banks or restaurants.
There are stacks of MPG apps available, we’ve been using the same one since we got our first ‘Smart Phone’ and are more than happy with it. Road Trip is the fastest and easiest way to keep track of your car’s fuel economy, maintenance schedule and expenses. At a glance, Road Trip gives you all vital statistics on a single page: Minimum, maximum, and average fuel price per gallon/litre, Minimum, maximum, and average fuel economy (MPG, L/100km, etc.), Average cost per day, Average cost per mile or kilometre, Average distance per day, Total fuel cost, Total gallons or liters of fuel and Total distance travelled. Unfortunately it is only available for iOS (iPod Touch, iPad and iPhone).
Cam Scanner turns your mobile phone into a scanner and is a great resource for digitising paperwork and documents whilst on the road; especially handy during the shipping process, borders and applying for visas. Just take a photo and create PDF documents from it. Using a stack of settings you can produce multi-page documents, crop and customize. Incredibly convenient.
XE Currency Convertor
Again, there are hundreds of currency convertors available. We chose XE Currency Convertor as it had the best reviews. You can access live exchange rates, view historical charts, and calculate prices off line. It is available for all devices and with over a kabillion downloads worldwide, you know it’s going to be good. It’s also FREE.
World Map is a simple overview map of the world. No frills. Useful for planning and explaining to new found friends where you’ve been. The paid version has political maps and time zones.
Been is a fun little app that keeps track of the number of countries you’ve visited. Incredibly inspiring when you’re feeling a little low and incredibly annoying to your friends when you’re feeling smug. Available for iOS and Android.
iOverlander is more than just an app, you can also access it online on your laptop or desktop. Originally a mapping project started by overlanders it has grown into a useful resource. You can find campsites, garages, restaurants, watering holes and much, much more all entered by fellow overlanders. You can also add to the many overlanders who have dedicated their time, ideas and most importantly their GPS coordinates. Log campsites and share your secrets.
Commander Compass is an extremely well thought out car and walk GPS compass app for iOS (Apple devices). Crafted to military spec, it is designed to be used where traditional GPS apps fail — off the road. It features a milspec compass, gyrocompass, maps, GPS tracker, speedometer, gyro horizon and inclinometer. Tag, share, find and track your position, multiple locations and bearings, all in real time. It has way too many features to list here, but is worth checking out.
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.
As an overlander how your logo looks and the branding activities that accompany your dream trip may not be high priorities, after all, that Russian visa application is probably at the forefront of your mind! You should rethink this approach, and value the importance of your logo and branding.
The overlanding market is expanding at an exceptional rate. It is becoming increasingly important to stand out from the crowd. A strong brand is invaluable as the battle for audiences intensifies. It's imperative to spend time investing in researching, defining, and building your brand.
If you are planning your dream trip, setting up a new business or would like to overhaul your existing branding we can help. Being overlanders ourselves we understand the needs and wants of your customers, audience, fans and followers.
We can design you logos, brand your vehicle, print you stickers and even build you a website. We can also supply complete graphics packages for every social media platform making sure you have consistent branding at every point of contact.
Why Is Branding Important?
You may have a good operation running but if you are lacking in the visual department you could be hindering yourself. Humans are incredibly visually orientated. A logo is your face to the world and it is a key visual representation of what you stand for. A good logo helps people remember you and differentiates you from others. A professional appearance will gain you returning customers, an audience, fans and followers. Fan numbers and website hits can leverage sponsorship and sales. A decent logo helps…. and looks cool plastered all over your vehicle!
If you’d like some help with your branding please email us at email@example.com
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!
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 ;-)
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!
We leave in 80 days and are pleased to launch our new website and new plan. Bigger, bolder, brighter (yet naturally still in Bee-bee) the new 800 days promises to valiantly continue our overland adventure.
Setting off from England on July 21st, we’ll weave our way down through South-Eastern Europe; Belgium, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania, Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey and Cyprus (phew!). By early 2015 we should be venturing into the lesser-travelled Caucasus region through Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Crossing the Caspian Sea by ship we’ll arrive in Kazakhstan and pick up our original route through the ‘Stans and Iran before voyaging into Asia.
Let the 80 to 800 days countdown begin…
As far as overland expo’s and festivals go, it’s not very often we find ourselves in the right place at the right time. So imagine our delight when we discovered that the Adventure Travel Film Festival (ATFF) was only one day away and then to discover it was located just 30minutes down the road! I nearly wet myself with excitement. Unfortunately due to the late notice (and lack of funds) we could only attend on Friday evening. Our ‘for one night only’ attendance didn’t dispel our enthusiasm for the event and excitedly we hit the road.
On arrival we were welcomed by the naturally charismatic, overalled and recently named ‘Overlander of the Year’ by Expedition Portal, Austin Vince. Austin’s warm welcome set the tone for the evening.
Austin however is only one half of the organising duo. Lois Pryce in her own right is a truly inspirational woman. Between them they have accomplished some great achievements. Austin was one of the first Europeans to traverse the Zilov Gap by motorcycle and reach Magadan after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This amazing feat predates Ewan and Charlie’s ‘Long Way Round’ trip by nearly 10 years. Lois is an accomplished writer, banjo picker and in 2003 rode a little Yamaha XT225 from the northernmost tip of Alaska to the southernmost tip of South America, solo!
Clearly both Lois and Austin have a penchant for the vintage; this is reflected in Austin’s love of 70’s overalls and Lois’ love of historic expeditions and vintage British motorcycles. Something Emma can relate to as her late Grandfather (also a well travelled inspirational man) had three exceptionally clean Vincent’s; a Black Prince, a Comet and a little 45cc Firefly.
This was the 3rd annual ATFF and it’s clear that Austin and Lois, along with an army of volunteers, know how to throw a party. The camping ground, full of adventure bikers, cyclists and a few overlanding 4x4’s was home to the 700+ crowd for the weekend; obviously, the audience sharing the same authentic passion for adventure as the organisers.
Lois and Austin’s love of retro is also reflected in the appearance of the vintage cinema bus. The bus is a slice of cinema and automotive history, a truly unique vehicle.
The festival is complimented with a schedule of workshops, seminars, displays, trade-stands and cooking competitions and demos. We attended Louise Wilson’s ‘Blogging from the Road’ presentation. The seminar was aimed at blogging virgins, albeit we managed to get a few new ideas to improve our own blog and website. We had the chance to have a little chat with both Louise and her partner David, you can download the interview here.
Of the 15+ films that were screened over the weekend we only managed to catch Gaurav Jani’s very Indian ‘One Crazy Ride’. A tale of overloaded motorcycling camaraderie through the uncharted ‘roads’ of the Himalayan state of Arunachal Pradesh, in north-eastern India. The film is a touching story of brotherhood (and sisterhood) in the face of unforgiving terrain.
On our return home we decided to purchase and download a few of the featured films.
Tom Allen’s incredibly life affirming and at times raw and introspective ‘Janapar’ is an emotive story that gives the viewer a real insight into the struggles faced by solo long distance bicyclists. Beautifully shot, edited and with a well-crafted soundtrack this tale is more than just a travel film, it is a good old-fashioned love story that never fails to move!
An unexpected late addition to the program was a talk given by an unpaid Ben Fogle entitled ‘The Accidental Adventurer’. Like many people attending I was unaware of the extent of his achievements. This quote from the synopsis of the book with the same name highlights some of his greatest.
“He has rowed across the Atlantic, walked to the South Pole, run the Sahara and skated across Sweden. He has encountered remote tribes-people in deepest Papua New Guinea, caused a Boeing 747 to dump £100k of fuel before making an emergency landing in Sao Paolo, and been mistaken for Prince William on numerous occasions.”
Despite his Royal doppelgänger I think he missed the irony in denying he was posh as during his talk he “poo-pooed an idea” and “had blisters on his bottom”. Despite my internal sniggers, Ben Fogle has an endearing character and is a great public speaker. After hearing him talk I had a newfound respect for him. We also missed a great photo opportunity with him as I was in the queue for the burger stand!
On its own admission and to its credit the ATFF is by no means a big Hollywood affair, I’ve certainly never heard of long-drop compost toilets in Cannes! And that is what makes this event so great. The 5-point manifesto states one of the aims of the ATFF is to bring together the adventure travel community. This criteria is certainly met.
The festival has undoubtedly inspired us to think more about increasing and improving the quality of our own films. Our time back in the UK will give me a chance to catalogue and edit the hundreds of hours of footage we’ve shot so far. Maybe we’ll see our names in LED camp lights at next year’s event!
Incidentally if you missed this festival you don’t have to wait a year before the next one just hop on a plane, jump on your bike, paddle your canoe or fire up your 4x4 and head to the Australian or U.S. leg, the latter being part of Overland Expo. If not, see you next year in Dorset!
Our second monthly update in Gallery Magazine can now be viewed online, this months theme for issue #7 is Miniature. You can view it here and also catch-up on issue #6 if you missed that one too.
... or face-to-face with an entanglement of red tape for not just one, but three central Asian countries.
We decided to apply for our Russian, Mongolian and Kazakhstan visas from the UK before we left to allow a few clear months of bureaucracy-free motoring. Good plan; more time in the wilds of Siberia. Bad plan; a month behind schedule while our passports go back and forth between central Asian consulates and agents.
A visa is essentially an authorization by the government of a country granting you eligibility and permission to travel there, mainly in the form of a stamp in your passport. Visa types vary massively; tourist, business, transit, student, employment, diplomatic (marriage?) they can be single, double or multiple-entry, vary in validity and duration and cost anywhere from nothing to over £200. A Russia visa is the highest-priced in the world, costing 3 times more than the next expensive country. Then there are the ‘support documents’, the additional paperwork that a government requests along with your application form. The best advice is “know before you go”; check out any restrictions on countries you plan to visit here.
The first step in obtaining a Russian business visa is the ‘Letter of Invitation’; impossible to get independently as it comes from Moscow and is written in Russian, so you need to pay an agent whose speed in obtaining this depends on how much you pay them. The Russian authorities want to see 3 months bank statements (verified and stamped by your bank) with a minimum balance of £3,000. We had to state that we do not have dangerous mental afflictions (!) and we have no skills in firearms, nuclear explosives or biological substances or have a military background. For Kazakhstan we needed to provide a hotel booking confirmation, despite the fact that we don’t need to stay there or even visit that particular town. Kazakh officials want to see a cover letter explaining why you want to visit and outlining your itinerary. Only Mongolia wanted to check we were insured!
Rest assured this is by no means a moan; as British citizens we are fortunate enough to possess a passport which allows us huge freedom to travel to most countries worldwide, globally we rank 5th in facing the least restrictions. Check out the Henley Visa Restrictions Index to see how your country ranks in ‘travel freedom’; the Danes and Swedes are onto a winner but spare a thought for Nepali, Pakistani and Afghan citizens who rank bottom when it comes to visiting other countries. We Brits are incredibly lucky in this regard, something we generally take way too much for granted.
After a month’s wait we are relieved to know that all 3 of our visa's have been granted and we are now only 24 hours away from our passport being released from the last consulate. I may be tempting fate saying this, but next day delivery of our passports should see them back in our eager hands Tuesday morning to be quickly packed in the car and heading East before the sun sets. We’re finally off and are sure to encounter much more visa ‘fun’ along the way.
For more detailed information about Visas for Russia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan visit our 'Logistics' page.