Lessons Learned - Vehicles


Proof of Concept Sailboat Charter

  1. Having your galley, head & berth with you has more impacts and benefits than we anticipated.
  2. Not having to carry your bags in and out of hotels every night is a very good idea.
  3. Self-contained, self-sufficient and energy-independent are good places to be.
  4. A sailboat is the optimum independent world exploration platform, but you still need a way to explore the land masses.
  5. Steph can't handle the open ocean.


Proof of Concept Camper Rental

  1. Short is good. Around 24 ft. / 7.3 m is the maximum length that we'd want to drive around the developing world.
  2. No trailer is very good. The thought of having to back a trailer out of a tight spot or narrow village street is not a good scenario.
  3. A fixed bed that we don't have to make up every night and take down every morning is a good idea and a requirement for us.
  4. A "dry head," meaning a separate shower stall and toilet, is another good idea and a requirement for us.
  5. While there is more storage area than you'd expect in something 24 ft / 7.3 m long, we've got waaaay too many containers in the storage space labeled "go rig," meaning the contents is meant for our expedition vehicle.
  6. We are much more interested in dry/wild/remote camping than any type of organized facility.
  7. An additional vehicle is incredibly important for our desired goals. Aside from the ability to make a quick run to the village for bread, etc. we want to have the capability to scout and explore areas that the rig should not or will not go.
  8. North American built RVs are, by and large, junk. Cheap design, materials and construction methods add up to shoddy products. The upside is that the very few brands that build quality products can easily differentiate themselves. The downside is that most RV buyers are only concerned with price, and will travel hundreds of miles to "save" a few hundred dollars (go figure - with fuel prices at record levels...).


Vehicle Research

  1. This segment is a niche of a niche of a niche. There are very few offerings and 99% of them are European and very oriented to the typical European Africa tour.
  2. If you are staying in North America, your range of offerings is comparatively broad.
  3. There are very few suitable global chassis available and fewer than a handful available in North America.
  4. It is very possible to explore the world using a two wheel drive platform, as proven by countless people, but for what we tend to do and where we tend to go, 4x4 is a requirement.
  5. Just as every boat is a compromise, every chassis and vehicle is a compromise.


Vehicle Design

  1. Weight is the main limiting design parameter. A chassis small enough to fit into the small villages and narrow streets we tend to seek out will not carry all that much weight.
  2. Our requirements for a fixed berth, dry head and the ability to carry a dirt bike puts us into a weight class that is at the high end of any smaller truck chassis.
  3. With a custom house box it would be very easy to design a 4x4 vehicle that could ship in a 40 ft. / 12.2 m. standard or hi-cube shipping container using simple camper jacks or an automated system such as TruckTransformer.
  4. Between marine and heavy truck systems there is nothing you cannot accomplish, from global high speed internet to hyper-efficient power generation. The challenge remains the weight limits of the chassis.
  5. If you add everything you want in the way of systems you will likely end up being pushed into a much larger class of truck. If you are staying on roads, this will not be much of a problem. If you tend to explore and get off the tourist trail, you must think about how you would ever extract that vehicle should it become stuck or disabled. For a large truck chassis your only option may be the local army.
  6. It is impossible to design and build a vehicle that is ideal for the entire world. Every vehicle will be a compromise and will be better suited to one area or another. It is a waste of time, energy and money to attempt to design and build the "ideal" vehicle for the entire world.
  7. We chose comfort and convenience over ultimate vehicle capability nearly every time and had no regrets on these decisions during our two years of utilization.
  8. Stay within the limits of your chassis. We put too much weight on too small of a truck and paid the price. If you are going to be heavy then build on a chassis designed and built for that load.



  1. While it is very challenging to find anyone working at retail in the US with a clue what customer service means or the ability to perform basic arithmetic the world of industrial and professional component supply still has capable, competent, intelligent and articulate people.
  2. In the 80s a project like this was limited to the universe of your library of industrial catalogs. Whatever was in those catalogs was your entire range of possibilities for your project. The internet enables an entirely new, almost unlimited universe of possibilities for a project. A paper catalog remains easier to browse.
  3. Beware imposed timelines. I was under tremendous pressure to procure everything for the project. As a consequence I made very rushed decisions on several components and did not take the time to fully research the possibilities. We ended up with just about everything sitting for months waiting to be installed.
  4. Just do it. If you wait until you know everything about everything you will never get started, much less done. There will be procurement errors. You will buy things that don't make the final assembly. You will buy things that don't fit or won't work. There will be unused items and returns. But, you will have a finished project in your lifetime.
  5. Keep accurate records. Keep a running journal or log of your orders, the vendor, the manufacturer, the part & model numbers, the quantities, the order date, the ship date, the shipper, the tracking number, etc.
  6. Be meticulous about receiving. Check each item against the packing slip and the order. Be careful about checking the part number of what you received versus what you ordered. Clearly label  the outside of the box on two sides and keep everything received in a specific area.
  7. Test. Test items as they arrive. Don't wait until assembly, which may be weeks or months later, to test. Test all functionality under all pressures, voltages, etc. It is a real bummer to discover that every water valve has a pinhole in the valve body. Especially after you've designed and built the entire water system around those valves. And installed the components. Don't ask me how I know this.



  1. Custom work takes forever. If you look at it and think "this will take an hour, maybe two," it will take a day, maybe two. Everything takes a lot of time and you often do things two and three times to get it right. Plan appropriately.
  2. Quality takes time. If you are going to do this right it will take you and your subcontractors time to deliver that quality. You'll probably only build this once, so make it a worthwhile effort.
  3. Standardize on connectors. One of the biggest mistakes made on this project was wholesale abandonment of the design requirement to use only metric connectors. As it is, I have to carry two complete sets of heavy tools, plus a good supply of US hardware, also very heavy.
  4. Testing is good. One of the best things we did on the project was repeated testing and weigh-ins throughout the build process. Every test and weigh-in produced design and materials changes. Test systems and the vehicle early and often.
  5. If you have a good work space, use it. You'll probably never have as nice a place to work on the rig as you do in that clean, dry, warm, well lighted shop fully equipped with tools and equipment. Don't let your lust to get on the road get the better of you. It will never be easier to do something than it will be in that shop.
  6. Use quality materials. Use them properly, as they were designed to be used. Use adequate amounts. Scrimping during construction will lead to many challenges later.
  7. Pace yourself. This is a marathon, not a sprint. As you get to the point where you think "if I just push hard for a week or two, it will be done," you are probably still a month or two from completion. Burning yourself out will not help the project or get you to the finish line.
  8. Take lots of pictures. You will need them later when you are trying to remember how you did something.
  9. Document everything, especially wiring. You will not remember how you did things after a few weeks, much less months or years.



  1. Security is over-rated. I think all the security measures we designed and implemented were largely unnecessary. The thing that is almost impossible to know or realize inside the U.S./Canada/Europe fishbowl is that the world is a very warm and welcoming place. Aside from a very few rare exceptions, you are much safer overseas than you are in the United States. And I’m including in that assessment traveling via motorcycle in the Middle East just after the war started. Your biggest challenge outside the post-development countries (U.S., Canada, Europe, and Japan) is fending off the generosity and welcome of the locals.
  2. 4x4 and ultimate off-road capability are highly over-rated. The reality of overlanding (unsupported travel by vehicle) is that you spend most of your time on market town roads - the roads that connect market towns together or with cities. Those roads are used by the medium and heavy-duty trucks that carry the goods to and from the market towns. You use the market town roads to go from one interesting place to another. While some of those market town roads would certainly not be considered roads by a typical American, Canadian or European, they are no problem for most vehicles. The fact is you can see at least 95% of the world’s interesting places in a two wheel-drive Volkswagen van. Almost all the capabilities you build into a vehicle to handle the extremes go unused for almost all of your travels. For the rest, it makes more sense to rent something local (burro, Toyota HiLux, etc.) than to attempt to build all that capability into your vehicle or suffer the effects of a very capable vehicle (noise, vibration, ride, handling) for the 98% of your journey where you don’t need it.
  3. Shipping sucks. It is very expensive, time and resource-intensive, arcane and customer-unfriendly to the extreme.


Vehicle Advice to Those Who Aspire to This Dream

  1. Buy a Mercedes/Dodge Sprinter based two-wheel-drive RV and go now.
  2. Go earlier with less versus later with more.
  3. Every single penny you spend on your vehicle is almost certainly better spent on your travel.
  4. Fly 'n Buy. Fly into your destination and buy a local vehicle (local parts, locally serviced, local resale market, etc.) and start exploring.
  5. Four-wheel-drive is highly overrated. Über capable vehicles such as a Unimog are usually reflections of the owner’s ego or incorrect perception of the vehicle capability requirements of world travel, not of the realities of overlanding.
  6. And most importantly - it’s not about the vehicle, it’s about the experiences.


Overland Expedition Vehicle Top Project Mistakes

  1. Paying for expedited shipping. We paid thousands of dollars for rush shipping throughout this project. Almost all of it was unnecessary. During the entire run of the project we operated under the delusions we would be done "soon," "very soon," "in a few weeks," "in a couple of weeks," and "in a few more days."

  2. Believing the project could be accomplished in a couple of months. My thought going in was, "We're putting a camper on a truck. How tough can this be?" The project took about one year from concept finalization to completion and included 8.5 months of construction and assembly.

  3. Not being more aggressive managing weight. We knew very, very early that weight would be a challenge. It was.

  4. Not ensuring that every single piece of hardware added to the rig was metric. Now I have to carry two sets of tools and a bunch of heavy spare US dimension hardware.

  5. Working myself too hard. I worked long, long days, seven days a week for months on end. I ran myself up against my physical and psychological rev limiter and spent months bouncing off of the red line. This was very tough on me and took a toll. It took months to recuperate and rebuild my reserves while we were underway.

  6. Not creating a contract for key subcontractors. I did all the subcontracting on this job with handshake deals. As can sometimes happen, that led to some challenges, especially related to defined deliverables and due dates. It meant the project moved from buying a mostly turnkey vehicle to buying a build it yourself vehicle. I did not apply the business and project management practices I spent a lifetime learning while I was in business.

  7.  Being forced into false deadlines for procurement. Because I operated under a false sense of impending completion and crushing "get it here" pressure during the procurement phase, as soon as I found a solution, I procured it. There may have been a much superior solution one click or phone call away but I never got there.

  8. Using rubber backed washers as a key component. Most of them rotted away before the rig even rolled out of the shop.

  9. Not hiring a suspension engineer early in the project. I would rather have had a professional vehicle engineer review our design early on than be doing it retroactively.

  10. Not updating component locations to reflect ongoing design changes. Key components, such as the electrical systems compartment, were located based on early design parameters. Their locations were not changed or updated when the fundamental design of the vehicle changed during the early stages of development.

  11. Putting too much weight on too small of a chassis. Keep your payload within the design parameters of the chassis.


Overland Expedition Vehicle Top Things Done Right

Some things we think we did right on the project:

  1. One month proof-of-concept camper rental

  2. Using proven components where possible, especially the Mitsubishi Fuso FG 140 and the Bigfoot camper

  3. “No compromises” operating philosophy

  4. Re-doing things as many times as it took to do it right

  5. Repeated testing / weigh-ins / etc. during development

  6. Component level / system level tests

  7. Stud mounting everything to facilitate field service (this has already paid big dividends)

  8. Using all stainless steel and grade 8 (where required) hardware on exterior components

  9. Designing and building with accessibility and serviceability in mind

  10. Creating design and “as built” drawings & documentation

  11. Labeling everything, including components and cable runs, especially the “I’ll never forget what this is” items

  12. Using the right tools for the job

  13. Using the best electrical components and connectors we could find

  14. Using as many marine grade components and systems as possible

  15. Creating as much redundancy in the design and systems as possible

  16. Creating / purchasing a very comfortable, quiet, well insulated, well appointed and secure feeling living space

  17. Designing and building to a specific utilization model, i.e. “bad road capable, developing country destinations, independent travel, etc."

 And something that is totally subjective but we have yet to regret:






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