The world of 4x4s in general, and overland travel in particular, is becoming particularly kit-focussed. What roof tent have you got? What boots do you wear? What drawer system do you use? What, you haven’t got one?! And so on. This, of course, quickly followed by the Harry Enfield quote “ooooh you don’t want one of them!” Folk often forget that many 4x4s and especially Land Rovers – all Land Rovers – are by nature “expedition ready” straight out of the box. You don’t need to buy expensive “expedition” camping gear. You don’t need bespoke overland accessories like roof tents, “overland” roof racks, jerry can holders, winches, vole toasters and so on. A tent from Millets and a Trangia stove will sort you out for camping kit, and the Land Rover will do all you need to, as long as it’s properly cared for and serviced. Sure, you might want a particular shiny something, or it might make life easier, but your actual trip will be perfectly well served with the bare minimum of fancy gear and a decent, well-looked after vehicle – that latter is where most of your investment should go.
More than twenty five years ago, I made my first “proper” independent unsupported overland trip. I’d scrimped and saved, and bought an ex-Royal Marines Commando Defender, a 2.5 n/a diesel (so technically a 110, not a Defender) got her sprayed white to avoid upsetting North African sensibilities, and went “expedition kit shopping.” To York Racecourse Car Boot Sale. I bought – a Leyland Sherpa roof rack – £10 (unmeasured, but it fitted). A socket set, set of ring spanners, assorted screwdrivers and bits and bobs – £30. Two ex-army steel sand ladders – £40. An ex-army poncho to sleep under – £15. An army surplus spade – £5. Three army surplus jerry cans – £15. Army tow rope – £15. Off I went.
The destination was Morocco, and the Sahara. I bought a road map and a couple of guidebooks. Booked the ferry by phone (limited internet then). I took two acquaintances along to spread the cost – each chipped in for the diesel and ferry tickets. We chugged down through France and Spain at about 55mph – quite happy. The Spanish Toyota Works Desert Rally Team roared past us in southern Spain – honking horns at this slow old Landy and waving derisively. We endured the idiocy and pulled in at Estepona beach to camp before the early ferry tomorrow – oh look – there’s a Toyota Landcruiser stuck in soft beach sand. Look closer. It’s familiar. Ah. Yes. It’s one of the Toyota Rally Team. Driving with ostentatious slowness in the soft sand (tyres at 15psi) I pulled round the floundering Land Cruiser in a lazy circle and, straight faced, in my best Commander Whitehead British accent said “Good morning! Would you like a tow?” Spanish expletives followed as they waved us away, and gunned the engine. Sand sprayed everywhere. Of course, the Tojo dug itself in. Eventually, grudgingly, they waved me over from my camp nearby. Making great play of setting down my restful G&T (Tesco icebox – £10, Ice from what was then Safeway on Gibraltar, £3). I drove into the patch of soft sand that ensnared the Japanese skip, hitched up the towrope and dragged it out. Land Rover 1: Toyota 0.
Stopped at Gibraltar for beer and cheap diesel (we slept under the Land Rover, or in it – no camping in Gib), and sorted visas and insurance for Morocco on the ferry. Thanks to adventurous parents who decided I should see a bit of the world, I knew North Africa already to a certain extent, and so the Moroccan way of doing things didn’t faze me – carry a smile with you, and a willingness to laugh at yourself, and you’re everyone’s best mate – and we hopped off the ferry and into Tangiers.
A Moroccan Customs officer thrust his head through the window. “Welcome to Morocco. You have hashish, or automatic weapons?!” Er, no. Polite British smile. Broad Moroccan grin in response “Ah! Would you like some?!” This set the tone for the trip. To cut a long story short, it was a resounding success. We spent three days dragging a British-driven Nissan Navara out of the southern desert – it couldn’t handle the terrain – but since then I’ve not looked back. I’ve still got the Landy – back then she had 40,000 miles on her. Now she has well over 400,000 and she has been stretched to a 130, because a rebuild was needed and I wanted extra space, but she will outlive me. The point is that you don’t need to break the budget on a pricey 4×4 or posh accessories. George and Joy Adamson of “Born Free” fame spent their honeymoon crossing the Sahara in a standard Series One ragtop 80”. If you want to travel, if you want to overland, just buy a vehicle that’s been properly looked after. Then chase the horizon. Save your cash for national parks in Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania. Sure, there is a lot of kit out there that’s very helpful and well designed – but it’s very rare to find some that you can’t do without. Only buy the extra kit that you really need.