Learned - Vehicles
Proof of Concept Sailboat Charter
- Having your galley, head & berth with you has more impacts and benefits
than we anticipated.
- Not having to carry your bags in and out of hotels every night is a very
- Self-contained, self-sufficient and energy-independent are good places to
- A sailboat is the optimum independent world exploration platform, but
you still need a way to explore the land masses.
- Steph can't handle the open ocean.
Proof of Concept Camper Rental
- Short is good. Around 24 ft. / 7.3 m is the maximum length that we'd
want to drive around the developing world.
- 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.
- 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.
- A "dry head," meaning a separate shower stall and toilet, is another
good idea and a requirement for us.
- 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.
- We are much more interested in dry/wild/remote camping than any type of
- 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.
- 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...).
- 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.
- If you are staying in North America, your range of offerings is
- There are very few suitable global chassis available and fewer than a
handful available in North America.
- 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.
- Just as every boat is a compromise, every chassis and vehicle is a
- 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.
- 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
- 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
jacks or an automated system such as
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Use quality materials. Use them properly, as they were designed to be
used. Use adequate amounts. Scrimping during construction will lead to many
- 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.
- Take lots of pictures. You will need them later when you are trying to
remember how you did something.
- Document everything, especially wiring. You will not remember how you
did things after a few weeks, much less months or years.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Buy a Mercedes/Dodge Sprinter based
two-wheel-drive RV and go now.
- Go earlier with less versus later with
- Every single penny you spend on your
vehicle is almost certainly better spent on your travel.
- Fly 'n Buy. Fly into your destination and
buy a local vehicle (local parts, locally serviced, local resale market,
etc.) and start exploring.
- 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.
- And most importantly - it’s not about
the vehicle, it’s about the experiences.
Overland Expedition Vehicle Top Project Mistakes
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."
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
Not being more aggressive managing weight. We knew very,
very early that weight would be a challenge. It was.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Using rubber backed washers as a key component. Most of them
rotted away before the rig even rolled out of the shop.
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.
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.
Putting too much weight on
too small of a chassis. Keep your payload within the design parameters of
Overland Expedition Vehicle Top Things Done Right
Some things we think we did right
on the project:
One month proof-of-concept
Using proven components where
possible, especially the Mitsubishi Fuso FG 140 and the Bigfoot camper
compromises” operating philosophy
things as many times as it took to do it right
testing / weigh-ins / etc. during development
level / system level tests
mounting everything to facilitate field service (this has already paid
stainless steel and grade 8 (where required) hardware on exterior
and building with accessibility and serviceability in mind
design and “as built” drawings & documentation
everything, including components and cable runs, especially the “I’ll
never forget what this is” items
right tools for the job
best electrical components and connectors we could find
many marine grade components and systems as possible
as much redundancy in the design and systems as possible
purchasing a very comfortable, quiet, well insulated, well appointed and
secure feeling living space
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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