Top 10 Van Life and Overland Questions (FAQs)

Top Kombi Life FAQ’s

What does Hasta Alaska mean?

What is Kombi Life?

How can you afford to live like this?

What camera do you shoot with / How do you make the videos?

What will you do after Alaska?

How much money do you make?

Why have you had so many problems with your Bus?

Why are you filming and not blogging?

 

Top Van Life FAQ’S

Why do you live like this?

How much do you spend on average?

Where/what do you eat?

Where do you wash / go to the toilet

Where do you sleep?

How do you deal with condensation?

Is it hot/cold in the van?

How did you train Alaska so well?

How do you get / make electricity?

 

Top Overlanding FAQ’s

Why a VW Bus?

Have you been robbed?

Have you had any accidents?

How do you decide where to go?

How did you learn Spanish?

What about corruption/police/borders?

What advice would you give to someone wanting to do their own trip?

What is it like traveling with a dog?

Why do you do the repairs yourself when you are not a mechanic?

What advice do you have for crossing the Darien Gap?

Do I need insurance?

*Products linked on this page go to Amazon.com 

Click to find more advice and information about Van Life

Van Life
Check out our main Van Life page for loads of Van Dwelling tips and advice.

 

What does Hasta Alaska mean?

Hasta is Spanish for “until” – so it means “Until Alaska”  In Spanish the ‘H’ is silent so it is pronounced “Asta Alaska.”

What is Kombi Life and Hasta Alaska

Read about Kombi Life on our About Page, alternatively you can read about the Hasta Alaska Project

How can you afford to live like this?

We saved all the money for the trip before we set off, mainly by working every hour and every day possible – a small sacrifice we think.  It’s not as simple as that however.

mechanics peru
The first of many engine rebuild in Peru.

We now make a little gas money on the road from you guys!  When you buy online through Amazon via our links we get a small percentage referral and it costs you nothing, which we are big fans of.  Also we can travel for so long because we keep our costs to an absolute minimum!  We eat out once a day, usually where the locals eat.  We cook ourselves for the other 1 or 2 meals in the day.  Meat and cheese is a luxury of the past.  Most of our meals, though delicious, are concocted from the most economic locally sourced ingredients.  We will occasionally stay in a budget backpacker hostels, but usually only once or twice a year and only when we have no other choice.

Squatting
Showering in a ‘like-side’ abandoned squat in Guatemala

We almost never stay in campsites or pay to park.  We shower where the locals do in lakes, rivers, waterfalls and if all else fails, in the ocean and when we do we use environmentally friendly organic soaps.

We can afford this lifestyle because we share our travel and living costs with the people that we meet on the road.  However, we never charge other people to stay with us; our hammocks, tents and bed are for sharing.

We pick up hitch-hikers for free and will feed the hungry when we can, however we have to share the cost of gas and meals if you are with us long-term. We had a budget for 1 year, and that was in 2011!

We need to think of inventive ways to make money on the road, but that’s OK…Kombi Life is about embracing the challenge.

Back to Top…

How Much Money Do You Make?

Are you thinking about sharing your own passion on YouTUBE?  We hope so, because our generation needs as much inspiration as possible if we are going to put our happiness before conformity.  Check out our article on this subject for a detailed answer.

Back to Top…

Why do you live like this?

We know that this lifestyle isn’t for everyone, in fact, there are a few downsides to Van Life; but any sacrifices we have to make by living in a Kombi pale into insignificance by the rewards it offers. It enables us to travel cheaper than regular backpackers; usually we spend less per day than a single traveler does just on a dorm room in a budget hostel.

*This does not include repairs, which now sadly accounts for the large majority of our expenses.

It allows us to wake up in the most stunning places for free, where as we would not be able to afford hotels with a similar view.

guatemalan kids
Christmas day the Guatemalan children from this remote mountain village brought us breakfast

A sad truth is that the local people are usually less friendly in the most touristic locations.  We do hit many of the tourist ‘hot-spots’ on our travels but we often gain the most rewarding encounters with other cultures when we stop in towns and villages off the beaten track.  If we were travelling by public transport we would have missed out on many of our favorite moments.

Our beach garden in Belize
Our beach garden in Belize

Having the ability to stop when we want, go where we want and leave when we want gives us a freedom that most people never experience in a lifetime!

Back to Top…

How much do you spend on average?

This is a really popular question which either means you are just curious or that you are planning a trip yourself, we really hope that it’s the latter of the two.

Obviously spending varies depending on the country you are in.  North America, with the exception of Mexico (as you might expect) is less bang for your buck. The cheapest countries in Central America are Nicaragua and Guatemala, the most expensive are Belize and Costa Rica, with El Salvador somewhere in the middle.  A lot of South America is cheap enough, with Brazil, Argentina and Chile being the most expensive for us.

We aim for an average spend of $125 US each per week if we are ‘traveling’.  That includes gas, food and entertainment.  When we are more people we spend less on food but more on Rum/Tequila, when we travel further we spend more.  As money is getting tighter we often spend less than $100 p/w for 2 people and a dog, but we are well skilled at hunting out the best local deals!  We guess you could say that we have a $10 per day rule, that is our rough guide but we don’t stress it.

street food lima
Awesome food everywhere in Peru, especially the cheap eats from the the street.

We rarely pay for tours, trying to make our own source of entertainment.  If you want to be hurling yourself down every zip line you come across and be guided around every national park that you pass, you can easily spend 3 to 4 times what we spend.

A few average costs (all in USD)

  • A Kombi before love $1000 – $7500
  • A kombi after love, over $10,000
  • A tank of gas $40-$60 (~375kms)(~250 miles)
  • 5 gallons of drinking water $0.75c – $2.50
  • Budget restaurant meal – $3 – $8
  • A shower $1 – $2
  • Budget accommodation $4 – $25 (night in a dorm)
  • Small beer $1 – $3.50
  • Soda $60c
  • Loaf of bread $2
  • Liter of milk $1 – $2
  • Ice cream double scoop, waffle cone, chocolate dipped 😉 $1.50 (and worth every cent)

(These prices are averaged and are from the Latin America part of our trip, not including Cuba which was ridiculously cheap)

Back to Top…

What camera do you shoot with / How do you make the videos?

*Watch our Behind The Scenes Videos to hear us talk about our latest filming equipment

Initial filming was done with an Olympus point-and-shoot, you know one of those ones that is drop proof, waterproof and otherwise travel proof.  Then we just used whatever cameras the Kombi Crew had with them, we didn’t even have a laptop to edit with for the first 4 episodes.

Nowadays we film with this GoPro, which our Patreons helped us purchase.  Our main camera is this compact Mirror-less DSLR by Sony which we use with this shotgun mic to cut down ambient noise.  Our favorite lens is a 1.4f 35mm and we use the Adobe Creative Cloud for all of our content – it’s worth paying for!.  Our Main editing laptop is a power hungry beast.  Our camera equipment is constantly breaking so this is the equipment that we have right now, but earlier episodes were filmed on lower quality equipmentBen with JAG35 Rig at the YouTUBE Studios LA

From time to time you might see us using a rig to stabilize our shots.  This is a pretty cool piece of kit available from JAG35.com who make a whole bunch of camera kit for inspiring film makers at pretty good value. We also have a Stabilizer – watch the video on that here

We just bought a Drone for shooting our adventures from Alaska onward. Again this was only possible because of the support from our Patreons, so we all owe them a huge thanks for enabling us to share our adventures in the best possible way.

We use a pretty special fluid head Travel Tripod for almost all the videos we produce now and even specialist LED lighting sometimes.

We use this Mic mixer to record narration, podcasts and interviews along with 4 of these Lav Mics. It’s really good, we used to use a Zoom H1 previously, which we also recommed for simple productions

Some like the VW side of things, some like the travel side of things, some like the mechanical side of things…we take thousands of video clips per country to try and capture the feel of the trip so that you can join us in the adventure.  The hard part, which is now a full time job for 2 people, is cutting that down into less than 20 minutes episodes that appeal to everyone.  If you have any suggestions that will improve our videos we would love to hear from you.

Back to Top…

What will you do after Alaska?

*UPDATE: New exciting plans are being formulated for an even bigger adventure – We’ll have a public update when the details are ironed out.  If you would like to be involved in the planning process as it happens details are of course being shared with the Kombi Crew via Patreon – Join us to be part of something special

This one tops the pole as the most frequently asked question and we’ve been scheming for a long time.  We have some awesome ideas for future adventure series and we are excited to be taking you around the world with us, so be sure to sign up to our news letter (link on the right) so that you can be the first to know.

As you’ve probably noticed 🙂 our intention is to give away our VW Bus to one of our YouTUBE subscribers when we get to Alaska, which is all nice in theory and we are stoked that we’ll get to raise some money for charity in the process….but the reality of the situation is that the Kombi is our only home, Alaska and I will be broke and we will be all the way at the top of the world at the start of winter!  That said we are sticking to our moto of Living for the Moment, we’re nervous, but excited about what the road will bring and whether it’s good or bad we’re certain that it will be another grand adventure!*

Maybe we’ll do a few laps of the world on a motorbike (with Alaska on the handle bars), maybe we’ll take a Tuk Tuk across India, maybe we’ll cross Africa on a camel, heck we might even end up with another VW.

*Our appetite for adventure is limitless, our funds not so… That means that our future is quite literally in YOUR hands. The more you get behind us by sharing, commenting and liking our content the more of an audience (and reason) we have to continue sharing adventures.  So the next time you see a post or video from us, share the love, add a comment and give it the thumbs up.

 

Back to Top…

Where/what do we eat?

van life cooking
Catching dinner and cooking foraged mushrooms

We generally eat eggs for breakfast, although I don’t really appreciate them so I try and get my greasy little mitts on a box of cereal when I can.

2 dollar dinner
$2 dinner

If we are not eating street food we are cooking, however street food can almost be as cheap as cooking (not true if you are more than 2 people.)

If you don’t have fridge in your campervan meal times can get quite creative and having fresh vegetables and dairy products can be a challenge. But you can make it work as we have done.

I can count on one hand how many times we’ve eaten “out out” in the past year – the most expensive being $20 for 2 people, it was ribs and we can still taste them now 🙂

Fine dining is available if you are vacationing in these locations, however we can’t tell you much about that – but then you already knew that, and that’s why you are following us. 😉

Back to Top…

Where do we wash / go to the toilet

Brad in a Volcanic Crater Lake
Brad in a Volcanic Crater Lake

We keep clean on the road by freshening up in rivers, waterfalls, lakes and wherever we see a local washing hole.  If there is a tap at a garage we will use it and a lock on a public toilet = shower time.

Luckily, to make life easier we have a Solar Shower installed on our roof which heats up during the day, and allows us to pressurize the 6GL tank which is great for bathing and washing and de-salting after a surf. Of course there are plenty of other shower options that will suit your  rig and needs.

VW Bus shower
Tyler taking a ‘warm-ish’ shower from Co’Pito’s 50L of water we have on the roof.

Toilets (or lack thereof) are the biggest pain.  Most people will take 25-75c off you for the privilege of negotiating the release of some chocolate hostages and this can add up quickly when you are pinching the pennies.

Of course if we are outside of civilization we have the most beautiful toilets in the world 😉

Back to Top…

Where do you sleep?

Colombia bus
3 Hasta Alaska girls on the Caribbean coast, Colombia

Well, when Co’Pito isn’t deciding that, we always prefer somewhere with a million dollar view – and most of the time we get it!  We try to avoid spending too much time in the bigger cities, they just aren’t campervan friendly.

Paying for parking isn’t something we ever opt for, which means sometimes we have to stealth camp or look for other free camping spots. In most countries throughout Latin America pulling up outside 24 hour businesses like garages, stores or pharmacies is always one of the more secure (free) choices.  Also the police will happily let you park up at the station if you are really worried about the locals.

Most people advise against parking in isolated spots due to crime, but they often give us the most beautiful and memorable mornings and we love waking up to a champagne view on a lemonade budget!

Check here for more Van Life Tips and Advice

Volcano Boarding
Waking up and going volcano boarding, Nicargua

Back to Top…

Why a VW Bus?

bikini models
Definitions of a good day: 2 adventure seekers, 2 Colombian bikini models, and a Bus in the desert

We ask ourselves that every day! The main reason I bought a VW Bus was not because of nostalgic memories of touring Europe with my family in a German Kombi during my youth, but rather because it was the cheapest ‘van’ available in Chile when I set out!

We can’t deny that if we had of opted for the Japanese ambulance (option #2 after Co’Pito) that we would probably have arrived in Alaska in half the time and with half of the problems.  That said – for better or for worse – we now love our little home. Maybe it is because we don’t know another vehicle on the planet that is capable of bringing as many smiles to the faces of strangers or maybe it’s because if it was any other ‘van’ we wouldn’t have half as many internet passengers.

Either way, we made a commitment to Co’Pito when we left that we would all arrive in Alaska – together – so that is what is going to happen…somehow!

mexican mechanics
After 5 months living in a Mexican mechanics

Check out this article where we weigh up the pros and cons of the various vehicles that are adopted for living…(including the kombi)

what is the best vehicle to live in

Back to Top…

Have you been robbed?

Obviously we are a target and security is always our top priority every time we leave our vulnerable home.  So far we’ve never had the windows smashed (by other people) or locks busted open. That’s the good news!  However the reality is, we’ve had people try our door handles and stick their hands in the windows at night; we’ve had the jerry can stolen from the roof; a camera swiped from the front seat; various items of clothing snatched when we weren’t looking and a surfboard smuggled out of the shadows, just 15ft from Co’Pito.  Probably the worst incident was having a bag stolen in Bolivia which contained money a new camera and passport.

tuk-tuk peru
Scene of the crime – one of the tuk-tuk drivers on the right distracted us whilst his friend swiped the camera off the front seat.

Commonsense is your best friend here.  Keep everything out of sight when you are away from home, keep everything in-sight when you are at home.  Keep your eyes on the prize and don’t step away without locking up.  We have a Fire Resistant Steel Security Box for money and passports, secret stash places for larger valuables and a home-made engine cut-off switch for the absolute worst case scenario.

Hear more about how we dealt with Bandits and Thieves in this episode of our Adventure Experts Series.

bandtis mexico

 

Back to Top…

Have you had any accidents?

crash bolivia
A truck crash in Bolivia

Latino highways seem to dance to their own beat so understandably we’ve had a few close shaves.

An El Salvadorian van overtook us without enough room, cut in too close at 50mph and ripped off their bumper in the process (no damage to us).  A bus pulled out and scratching the whole side of Co’Pito in Lima, Peru.  In the city any accident involving a foreign driver is automatically the foreigners fault so we had no choice but to leave the scene.  In the central Guatemalan mountains the motorbikes have bullhorns on their handlebars.  A careless motorcyclist who was looking at the ground rode into the front of our Bus denting Co’Pitos face; he didn’t stick around long enough to talk to us for me to catch him.

The worst part is that we had just spent 5 months restoring the Bus in Mexico, had only been out of the mechanics for 6 days and hadn’t even taken a picture of the Bus all finished before it happened!   That said we are very grateful that thus far there have been no major incidents!

Back to Top…

How did you train Alaska so well?

Patiently waiting for a chicken foot.
Patiently waiting for a chicken foot.

You might be surprised to hear that Alaska is a bit of a rarity in Latin America, not just because she lives in a Kombi, but because she is free like a street dog whilst still doing almost anything we tell her to.  How?  It all starts with food.

When we gave Alaska food we tell her to SIT, eventually she will sit (probably out of boredom), then she gets her food.  Soon enough she knows what SIT means, the same goes for WAIT, LIE DOWN or whatever else you want your pup to do.

The most important thing is, by controlling the food, she now knows that we are the boss….the rest is easy!  We trained Alaska in Spanish because she is from Peru and YES, it does feel stupid speaking Spanish to her in English speaking countries.

There are lots of great sites out there on how to train your dog (Google is your friend), just remember you will get a lot further with your K9 by training with love rather than punishments!

Back to Top…

How do you deal with condensation?

This is a tough one that still has us stumped.  There is no 100% fix for condensation.  You can reduced the problem with good ventilation, circulation of air and insulation. We keep the windows cracked for ventilation, don’t cook inside when it’s a chilly night and just deal with the unavoidable drips in the morning.  When the sun comes up, we air everything out and wipe down all of the surfaces to remove as much moisture as possible.  If you have any suggestions, please feel free to comment at the bottom of this page.

Back to Top…

How do you decide where to go?

Usually through word of mouth or speaking to locals and other tourists.  We’ve had this type of Guide Book previously, or picked up a free tourist map at the border (not always available).  In the absence of a map we just use a compass or the sun.  Signposts are often either non-existent or unreliable in the Latino world. When we are hunting for surf we use Wannasurf for the free surf spot guides, googlemaps to find secret spots and Magic Seaweed for the swell report.

Back to Top…

How did you learn Spanish?

On a trip like this you WILL need some Spanish skills!  I didn’t speak a word of it when I arrived in South America and I wasn’t really learning much in the hostel tourist scene as there was always someone who spoke more Spanish than me.

bus in Chile
Me and the girls of the family that put me up for 3 months whilst I built the Kombi

I decided to help a Chilean family out in a help exchange program, helping them build houses, in return I got to live, eat and sleep with the non-English speaking family.  I can’t recommend the experience more highly – it’s not easy, but you sure do learn quickly.

Spanish dictionary like this , and Lonely Planet Latin American Spanish Phrasebook are a big help, these two are popular.  I also spent over 9 months living in Mechanics in various places – that helped a bit too, especially for some of the more ‘colorful phrases’ 😉

In the early days I found a few of the free smartphone apps for learning Spanish useful. If you want to study Spanish, Guatemala (San Pedro La Laguna) is a great place – roughly $70US for 4hrs per day, 5 day course, one-on-one tuition.  They speak very easy to understand Spanish in Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

Back to Top…

Is it hot/cold in the van?

Don't get too close to the cool air!
Don’t get too close to the cool air!

Check out our Van Life Page for recommendations on Gear to make Van Life more comfortable.

Our Bus doesn’t have any heating, so when we crossed the Andes we pulled over and put on every item of clothing we had.  At night time we have enough blankets to keep us warm and on the nights when the ice forms on the inside of the windows, we just make a spoon-train. 🙂 Those are our favorite nights!

We were very kindly given one of these Mr. Heater for the journey north by Doug in Canmore, just as well because it’s cold up there! There are plenty of other heating options for your rig so you don’t need to freeze.

We don’t have a pop-top roof or any really good ventilation in the bed area so we thought that the tropics would be unbearable, but it hasn’t been all that bad. Sometimes we will keep the back door ajar a little on the worst days and we do have a mini 12v fan hooked up to our aux battery but this is only for short burst of glorious refreshment.  We also have a USB powered fan which is much more economical to use and works great if placed close to you.

The best trick is the simplest…we get out the compass, look east and make sure that we’ll be parked in the shade in the morning.  We usually get up with the sun when the day is cool and at it’s most beautiful.

Back to Top…

What about corruption/police/borders/bandits?

Surprisingly the Police have been much better than we were expecting but there are times when we know we are being set up to pay some fictitious fine.  We’ve tried a whole bunch of tactics but the easiest and quickest way is…”mi no hablo Espaňol bueno.”  Just make sure you don’t speak a word of it and they soon tire and send you on your way.

police bribe
Ben trying to talk his way out of not having the correct insurance documents

Also it’s inadvisable to hand over any documents that can be held as ransom, better to give them copies. Be polite and patient, more often than not they are just bored and curious.

It’s worth noting that the Mexican police are known to take your license plates, it’s a good idea to replace the screws with rivets. We have other tips on traveling in Mexico you should read but in all honesty you’ll find that it’s more safe to travel than you think.

As for borders, they can take between 1 and 3 hours on average. They are quietest early in the morning.  Don’t pay anything without proof of the “tax/charge/fee” always get a receipt! They WILL try and get money out of you occasionally.  It’s not a good idea to overstay your visa, it is a TERRIBLE idea to overstay your car temporary import permit.

Contrary to popular belief the money change touts on both side of the border are often the best (and sometimes the only) place to change local currencies.  You should be able to change major currencies at some banks.

There are often guides at the borders who will hold your hand for a small ‘tip’.  Take it from us that you don’t need help.   Watch my crossing borders with pets video to get an idea of the steps involved and it is more or less the same process at each border.

As for bandits. No matter where you are in the world people are always affriad of the “unknown” and “over there.” People throughout the trip have always warned us about the next country or town as being dangerous.

We’ve hitch-hiked through the murder capital of the world and mountain biked the most dangerous road in the world and they have been some of our best memories. It can be dangerous out there and it pays to keep an ear to the ground for political unrest, but as long as you are sensible and try to avoid driving at night (more for road conditions than bandits) you shouldn’t take a locals word for granted about the ‘dangers’ in the next land!

That said, use you wit and don’t stick around if people look like they are reaching for their pistol 😉

Hear about how we dealt with Borders, Corruption, and Bribes in this episode of our Adventure Experts Series

Police Bribes

Back to Top…

What advice would you give to someone wanting to do their own trip?

It’s exciting to hear from so many of you who are planning your own trip of a life time! Let us tell you that you will NEVER regret it, that we can absolutely guarantee!\

The best advice we could give you is to stop procrastinating and start doing!  Planning really is over rated, it isn’t rocket science and you don’t need to know what is behind every rock before you set off.  This is a controversial statement we know, but we strongly believe it isn’t an adventure until things start going wrong and that you will be throwing away any plan you previously made as soon as you surrender to the will of the wind.

Stuck in the river on our shortcut to the capital
Stuck in the river on a shorcut, Bolivia

If you would like specific information about living in a vehicle we have combined everything we know into this one eBook which will make the whole process easier for you.  It is available for download

vanlife

You will want to make sure that your vehicle is in good condition before you set off, change out any questionable parts and make sure you have spares for anything that breaks often.  Advice on how to do a trip like this isn’t in short supply so get googling guys. 

What we will tell you is about is doing a trip like this in a VW Bus like ours… If you are thinking of using your Bus, you should know that parts for late model kombis are easy to find in Mexico and Guatemala.  They get increasingly difficult to find until you get as far south as Peru, although in all capital cities you should be able to find the parts you need.  Type 4 parts are hard to come by; early model parts are also tricky.

You would greatly benefit from a gauge for oil pressure, oil temp and head temp, that way you can tell when you are asking too much of your vehicle. 

If you are thinking about flying in and buying a Kombi when you get there, they are cheapest in Mexico and Brazil.  In Mexico the large majority of VW Buses on road are water-cooled, probably better suited to the extremes of the Latino journey that you will undertake but supplies might be hard to find outside of when you are far from Mexico or Brazil.

Child mechanic, Ecuador
Child mechanic, Ecuador

As a foreigner you can’t take a car out of Argentina during the first year of owning it, which is why I went to Chile to buy Co’Pito.  Double check the regulations on your destination before you get there.  Make sure you have ALL of the paperwork in order before you set off.  Power of Attorney  papers are OK, title of ownership documents are better.

You will need to learn some basic mechanics and you will definitely need a couple of good manuals. You don’t want to trust any old mechanic to do a good job and VW specialist mechanics aren’t available everywhere.

If your Bus starts behaving badly stop and fix it and always do your scheduled maintenance, especially the 3000 mile tune-up.  Try to do this yourself so you know it is done properly.

And make sure you make friends with The Samba Boys, they love a good adventure are a cracking support crew and would be happy to help you arrive in your destination.

2 Books you will want

 

Back to Top…

What is it like traveling with a dog?

Waiting 5 days for a ride...on anything going north.
Waiting 5 days for a ride…on anything going north.

Errr, Brilliant!  We love Alaska and it is now hard to imagine life without her.  She is the perfect travel companion, sleeps when we are chilling, makes friends even quicker than we do, and gives us an excuse to walk around the towns rather than drive.

Alaska is without doubt one of the best things that has come out of this trip. There are places that don’t like dogs, fancy tourist beaches and the occasional restaurant (fair enough), some national parks and most shopping centers.  We could leave her outside but anything that doesn’t look like a street dog has a value in the Latino world and unfortunately people have tried to make off with her.  If you are traveling with a dog and it is good looking (by street-dog standards) then I wouldn’t recommend leaving it anywhere unaccompanied.  We had people try to take Alaska from right by our side on several occasions.

As you can probably imagine there are street dogs everywhere, but what you may not realize is that they are often not the feral beasts that you are led to believe.  Most have owners, many just want to make friends, and fights are rare.  Males are the dominant sex so a female dog is the least hassle to travel with – unless she is on heat…and then good luck!

f your dog is aggressive / territorial then you will need to keep him by your side to stop him being cornered by local dogs (in certain locations).  None of the above would stop me traveling with a dog, you just need to be aware that other dogs aren’t trained and if your dog isn’t very well trained then you will have a harder time.  Any street dog will go running away the second you touch your ankle (they thing you are throwing a rock).  They become braver and more of a problem at night and especially at night when in packs (rare).

The documents that you require for crossing borders are subject to change so check the latest information for the countries that you are planning to visit.  The minimum that you are supposed to have is a current rabies vaccination and a recent health certificate signed and stamped by a local vet.  In practice we just made sure our dog had all the vaccinations and relevant jabs for the area (why wouldn’t you?) and just crossed without drawing any attention to her.  The worst that could happen is they send you back to the nearest town in search of a vet.  In the end we saved ourselves a lot of time and money by just acting like she was a local dog who was supposed to be there. If we didn’t bring it up, they didn’t ask.

Ben and guide dog Alaska
Ben and guide dog Alaska

Public transport with pets is usually permitted, some places insist that pets are in some sort of container in the cargo area – we’d recommend you’d want something like this.  It’s worth noting that, some places, like parts of Colombia and Costa Rica for example flatly refuse to take pets aboard (even if you are pretending to be blind see episode 5

All in all any small inconveniences are massively outweighed by the great company; so if you are planning a trip like this, don’t let the pooch miss out on the action!

*DON’T MISS THE SPECIAL VIDEO WE MADE ABOUT TRAVELING WITH ALASKA – YOU WILL LOVE IT!

 

Back to Top…

Why do you do the repairs yourself when you are not a mechanic?

The fateful decision to take matters into my own hands came to me in Panama.  It was rebuild number 5 and I was fed up with throwing money at the village Witch Doctors to do their black magic only to see it all go wrong just a couple of hundred miles later. You see that is the problem with travelling on a one-way road trip, it is always more economical to pay a grease monkey in the next town to fix the problem again, rather than pay the gas to return to the last mechanic who was clearly incompetent anyway – besides, if I’ve learnt one thing about Volkswagens on this trip it is that when they are sick, it is not a good idea to force them back over mountain ranges.

Panama rebuild
Rebuilding the engine for the first time under a treet in Panama

Of course I made mistakes and that first engine rebuild only last a few stressful days and about 300 miles before it completely melted down – I never discovered the reason but I would bet my bottom peso that it was my own stupid fault.

It’s been a steep learning curve and one of the biggest challenges on this trip, but we’ve been blessed by the mechanics that we have met since Panama and they have never charged us for the use of their space whilst we work, usually for months at a time.  We have excellent help from the VW Gurus on the internet who also incredibly gathered together to send 2 boxes of parts and manuals to us whilst we were stranded in Costa Rica

problems in mexico
Problems in Mexico, the 9th time the engine was out.

Now that we have those invaluable manuals I have been able to confront mechanics and machine shops when work is done ‘out of specification’.  Do you know what answer we hear back?  “Your 5 manuals are wrong, that’s not how it should be done, even all the manuals agree with each other, this is how we do things around here!”

By no means am I arrogantly claiming to be better than the ‘professional’ mechanics that we have thus far uncounted, but I do care more!

I take satisfaction in knowing that things are done properly, pride in being able to get my own wheels rolling again and a huge comfort in knowing that if it breaks it is my fault and not the fault of someone I will never see again.

Why have you had so many problems with your Bus?

Back to Top…

A all to familiar sight
An all too familiar sight

An on going debate with the Bus enthusiasts. It is a combination of factors but basically it all comes down to overheating.

Between Chile and Mexico we had the same tired Brazilian crankcase and oil pressure was never very good – tops 20psi, even after it had been reworked a couple of times.  Our VW engine might be air-cooled but it is the oil that does a lot of the work of keeping things moving freely so this was a major factor. A head temperature sensor would have been very useful here, but try as we might, we haven’t been able to find one in Latin America.

A sad day, our new engine lasted just a few miles before it blew up.
A sad day, our new engine lasted just a few miles before it blew up.

We also have to put our hands up and admit that we have asked too much from Co’Pito – although he chugged on gloriously over the Andes several times – he probably would have appreciated it if there hadn’t been 2 large boxes on the roof or 7 people and their luggage inside.

These days we don’t take passengers if we are in mountainous terrain and try to keep the weight down to a minimum at all times.

One thing with the engine is that it requires a lot of maintenance and a good ear for diagnostics.  If a cable comes loose, or something goes wrong (which it does often) then we need to fix it ASAP – continuing to drive long distances with an engine that is only running on 3 cylinders is bad for any car, it is much worse for a small VW engine that doesn’t have the displacement to power through the issue…the result an overworked, overheating engine and an expensive rebuild.

Many people think that all our mechanical problems are all engine related – they are not.  Bearings, window winders, brakes, torsion bars, CV joints, shock absorbers, electrical issues, door and locks, you name it we’ve fixed it.  Co’Pito continues to provide problems on an almost daily basis.  If it’s not one thing it’s another.  Part of the issue here is because the parts are old, partly it is because we just can’t find quality spares to install and partly it’s because we live in our Bus 24/7, 365 days a year, it gets a lot of use.

Back to Top…

How do you get / make electricity?

We spend a heck of a lot of time creating the videos to share with you guys and we love doing it, but that requires power and a connection to the interweb right?

In the Bus we have 3 batteries, one for starting the car and a 2 Deep Cycle 12v Batteries that is just for the house and laptops.  All of the lights, stereo and fan are wired up to these auxiliary battery which is isolated via a constant use solenoid.  This means that we can run down the power on the battery and still start the car wherever we are; the solenoid connects the 2 batteries together when we are driving so that they can both charge from our 55amp alternator.  There are many purpose made devices that will give you a dual battery solutions, but trying to find one in Chile was impossible.  This is a cheaper, easier alternative adopted by many.

UPDATE – We highly recommend a Smart Voltage Regulator if you are planning to charge AUX batteries.  The standard Automotive alternator regulator will not sufficiently charge your batteries and they will not last, believe us!

We also have an 300W Dual Inverter connected up to the Aux battery which allows us to recharge our laptop and camera.  We can use this for about 1 hour with the engine off.  We’ve blown 3 inverters on this trip due to condensation…be careful, they don’t grow on trees!

Video editing takes up to 40 hours a week so obviously we need other sources of electricity.  We’ve recently installed a 100W Solar Panel on our roof to allow us to produce videos more easily whilst we are off-the-grid.  We connected that up to 150 recycled laptop batteries that we joined together to make one super battery that now gives us almost unlimited power….provided it is sunny that is. We also hooked in a DC Step up module to that home-made battery as that allows us to power our laptop directly from the 12V system in DC power without using the inverter…which is way more efficient and easy to set up.  So if you are working a lot off the grid, this is the option to go for!

UPDATE – OUR BATTERY BLEW UP AND BURNT DOWN OUR HOUSE – CAREFUL GUYS – Watch what happened here

Back to Top…

Why are you filming and not blogging?

Blogging would certainly be easier, and it’s possible to make money through written content so that would be great too.  However, we believe that you guys will feel more like you are adventuring with us if we capture everything in HD video, so that is what we are sticking too.

Obviously huge chunks of the adventure happen when the cameras are not rolling and that is why we are sharing the written story too, so you can share everything.

Those of you who are following us across Instagram and Facebook will have noticed that our current location is different from where we appear to be on YouTUBE.  That is because it just takes too long to make the episodes like we do to be able to keep up with releasing them in real-time.  We are now several months behind on YouTUBE, we do work full time on sharing this adventure but it is more important to us that we film (and live) everything rather than sit down and work editing.  You wouldn’t want the last half of the journey to be just footage of us editing in the Bus now would you?  All the content will come to you, we promise you that you will see everything from this adventure on YouTUBE

Back to Top…

What advice do you have for crossing the Darien Gap

Co'Pito Shipping
Co’Pito stuck in Cartagena, Colombian for over 2 weeks

There are 3 options for getting your vehicle from Panama to Colombia or vice versa:

Getting your wheels across

  • OPTION 1: Shipping container (most secure, most expensive.)  Your best bet is 40ft container.  Fill it with 2 vehicles, you can find people looking for container shares on http://www.drivetheamericas.com/forums.  Then find 2 motorcycles to fill the extra space to bring the overall cost down.  You can find bikers on http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/
  • OPTION 2: Roll On Roll Off (RORO) (least secure, least expensive.)  This is where you hand you keys over to someone wearing a hi-vis jacket, cross your fingers and haul ass to the other side for collection. We went with this option it cost us $660 USD for Co’Pito when we had the 2 big boxes on the roof.  This price included all fees at both ends.  We went with this company W&W but their bad logistics caused me to have to pay for port storage for 2 weeks and things were stolen from our Bus so we can’t recommend them.

! IMPORTANT ! There is no regulation of the dock workers and they will steal anything that is not tied down.  If you are able to seal off your “house compartment” from the driving compartment you should; consider boarding it up temporarily.

  • OPTION 3: Drive it!

 

1972 British Team crossing the Darien
It’s been done before and it will be done again….1972 British Team crossing the Darien

.

    There might be no roads but the Darien jungle is a HUGE opportunity to supersize your adventure – why not make the most of it!

  • OPTION 4: Ferry.  Remember how I said there were 3 options, well there are. Option 4 is a phantom.  There are continuously rumors of a ferry boat about to start the service…they have even accepted some bookings.  Last we checked this new boat was still in dry dock in Greece!  Needless to say the unlucky few who booked their tickets did not get a refund.  Hopefully for everyone’s sake the service will appear at some point, but be sure to double check that when it does, that it really is here: http://www.vesselfinder.com/

EDIT: We just heard that this ferry service is now operational, which should make things quicker and easier for you guys, rumors of $650ish per car but we can’t confirm.  Proceed with caution.

If you aren’t opting for option 3 (really, you’re not?) you will need to meet your wheels on the other side; again there are 3 options:

San Blas islands
San Blas islands

Getting yourself across the Gap  

  • OPTION 1: Sail. This is the most common option for travellers in need of a little luxury.  There are various outfits sailing between Panama and Colombia, it will set you back something in the region of $450 – $1000+ for the 5 day trip.  The good news is that everything is included, they take pretty good care of you and you get to stop at some absolutely stunning deserted islands in the San Blas.  The bad news is that the sea can get pretty rough and you are stuck on the water for at least 3 days normally.
    One of many magical islands
    One of many magical islands

    Thedariengapster is a speedboat alternative which is slightly cheaper / quicker but still visits the San Blas islands. At the time of writing the cost was around $350, but demand is driving this up fast.

  • OPTION 2: Fly. Flights between Panama City and Cartagena or Barranqilla on the Colombia side are around $150 – $450.  If you are a larger group or family, perhaps this is your only affordable option.  Remember that you have to pay storage fees for each day that you don’t remove you vehicle once it arrives, so flying is also a good option if you are in a hurry.  It would be a real shame to miss out on experiencing the San Blas region so once you have your car / bike / reindeer, consider taking a boat to an island communities from the Panama side, it’s MUCH cheaper that way.
  • OPTION 3: Embrace the Darien! Yes it is THE major route for cocaine smuggling on the planet, yes the jungle is full of guerillas with guns bigger than Rambo, and no, it’s not a heavily traveled route.  However you will see other people passing this way, you won’t get stuck in the middle of nowhere with no accommodation or food and you will have an amazing adventure, so naturally this is the route we recommend, it cost us $190, Cartagena to Colon, me and the dog and we will never forget it!
Embrace the Darien
Embrace the Darien

Your main travel route is. Cartagena, Colombia (where the car shipping port is) – Turbo(start/end of the road), Capurganá (Colombia Stamp In/Out here), Puerto Obaldia, Panama (Stamp In/Out here), Carti (start/end of the road), Panama City, then Colon – if you are unlucky enough to have to start/end your shipping process here, be careful – it’s a dodgy little ghetto town. If you want specific details on how to complete this journey overland by hiking and hoping around on speedboats, then check out this link: http://wikitravel.org/en/Capurgan%C3%A1

*Keep in mind it is not a good idea to pay for the travel before you arrive because you may well be left on a random island and be told to pay again from there.  Also if you intend to use Puerto Obaldia airport for whatever reason you need to book ahead of time.  This is a very popular back-door route for Cubans heading to the USA and flights are often booked up at this tiny jungle airstrip.

Darien people
Darien lady and son waiting for a boat, just like you!

For more of the story from our Darien adventure, click here.

Back to Top…

Do you need insurance?

Oh so you really are planning you own trip?!  That’s awesome!

Travel insurance is always a good idea to cover your valuable items and your heath in case of disaster.  Usually insurance companies require proof of your outbound ticket (flight) when you make a claim so that can be difficult in the case of overlanding.  Check with your insurer before you sign a policy.  If you’ve already left on your travels and want to pick up a policy your options are significantly less.  You have to shop around, but I know that World Nomads can cover you if you are already traveling.  Their policy isn’t the cheapest option though.

Any traveler worth their salt has already considered that though, you are probably more interested in vehicle insurance.

We’ve heard of policies from you home country that will cover trips like this, but that can be really difficult to find a company to cover all of your locations…and what if you change your route?  Getting a policy at home is a pricey option but it might give of peace of mind if that is important to you.

We opted for getting insurance in the countries where it was compulsory and not when it wasn’t.  Any country where is is required usually has an insurance office at the border which just adds one step to your crossing procedure.  Typically we paid between $8-$30 USD for 1 month insurance.  When there isn’t an office available there will be one in the first town that you come to when you cross over.  It is acceptable to pick up insurance at the first town, don’t let any sneaky policemen bribe you for not having insurance!  Stick to your guns!

The only countries that we passed through where insurance was required but not checked at the border was the USA and Canada.

Back to Top…

3 Years in One Awesome Highlights Video

 1000-days

Back to Top…