Everyone travels differently, and has a variety of values while on the road. Some things that may be important to you, might not be a necessity for others. Not to mention, different travelers have a variety of different budgets to manage. A big part of travel, camping, and adventure is the wide variety of gear one can purchase before or during a journey, and sometimes its difficult not to go overboard in this category, especially considering all the amazing gear and new technology out there. Some like it fancy, and some like it simple. During our travels we have bumped elbows with a wide range of people. We mingle with everyone from wealthy retirees who drive luxury big budget ex-military vehicles, all the way to lost hooligans peddling their way across countries by unicycle. Me personally, the more time i spend on the road, Its important to keep it simple and cheap, while not sacrificing gear reliability and personal enjoyment. Fancy new technology is always fun to play with, but how much of this do you really want to bring to unfamiliar locations in the third world. Dont get me wrong, I do have and iPhone, lap top, sweet camera, and more than a few nice surfboards. But when push comes to shove, and this stuff gets broken or stolen, I can only hope I don’t get too bent out of shape over it. Which leads me to believe, less is more, keep it simple. I’ve met plenty of travelers who have very little, and having less makes you more free in a certain sense.
With this being said I’ve come up with my personal review of gear that has been more than helpful on a daily basis, and in my opinion, no overlander should venture without. In no particular order…..
1. Bucket ($0.00 – $6) Like a lot of great things in life, the bucket is multi-use. I left home with no bucket, and quickly realized how badly I needed one. The best buckets are usually old 5 gallon spackle buckets which can be found for free at almost any construction site. Besides the obvious of washing clothes and dishes, My bucket is my chair, table, I bring it fishing, fetch water from several underground wells, weapon, collecting firewood, and the list goes on. If you can’t buck-it, fuck-it.
2. Insulated coffee mug ($1 – $10) Us americans like our coffee, and if coffee is not your cup of tea, you can drink a cup of tea. Being from the east coast I like my coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts. Its tasty, you get it quick, and the price is reasonable, unlike the racket Starbucks is running. Most if not all Dunkin’ Donuts sells insulated coffee mugs ranging from $3 plastic ones to $10 stainless steel ones. We left NJ with 3 of these. One got lost, the other one blew out, only one remains. I purchased a replacement mug at a supermarket in Nicaragua for $1 and its just as good. I use this everyday, several times a day, for hot and cold drinks.
3. String / rope ($0.00 – $5) Another multi-use item. We live in a truck, mostly on the hot beach. We are sweaty disgusting people who share a bed with a dog. We are constantly washing clothing and bedding out of our bucket. At our campsites we always have a clothes line set up. sometimes we have several lines set up drying clothes, dish rags, wet suits and the list goes on. I also use my string collection to tie down tarps, the awning, lowering my bucket into mysterious wells, and stringing up the hammock to any and everything, blah blah blah. String can be found amongst the rest of the trash that washes upon the beach or you can buy it almost anywhere.
4. Smart phone ($50 and up) This item goes without saying. A smartphone is basically a small computer. Besides stating the obvious that one can email, Skype, and stay connected to family and well-wishers, there are many other great uses. The calculator comes in handy when contemplating exchange rates, maps, entertainment, we know the rest. Ive also used my camera several times to take quick photos of my license and passport, email to myself, then print it our for border crossings. The notes app is good for writing down important info and wifi passwords. Functioning without this would be very difficult.
5. Skobbler app for phone ($0.99) This offline world road map application is probably not considered gear, but its been pretty amazing. For those who don’t know, listen carefully. We downloaded this app in Panama (brought to our attention by southtonowhere.com.) We do not have a cell phone plan, and you do not have to be online, but the map knows your location (via satellite) and you can plan a route, and download maps specific to the country. Being from the states we are extremely spoiled when it comes to road signage and city infrastructure. Its a different story down here, and not to mention several people south of the boarder (mostly in South America) drive with absolutely no regard to safety or the well being of human life. This is highly recommended and has given me the ability to avoid countless anxiety attacks when lost in these confusing cities, as well as saving gas by not getting too lost.
6. Hammock ($10 – 80) The hammock could possibly be one of the greatest inventions ever. They are easy to set up. I have an anchor point on my truck so all I need to do is park near a tree or something to tie off the other end. After a long days drive, or some hours surfing, the hammock is a comfortable way to unwind and relax. Not to mention during those hot nights in Central America, its nice to get out of the tent and spend the night swinging in the wind. After Lupe the dog destroyed my compact camping hammock after having it for several years, I purchased a large cloth 2 person hammock in Cost Rica which is nothing short of amazing. During the drive South of the border there are dozens of opportunities to purchase several different styles of hammocks ranging from different prices. Hammock life means a comfortable relaxing life!
7. Safe ($0.00 – $100) The safe is important for obvious reasons, and it should be large enough to hold all of your really important things. I built my safe out of scrap wood and metal from the shop I worked in at the time of my truck build. It can hold my laptop, folder, camera, phones, and more. Its also important to bolt down your safe to your vehicle somehow. Although we have not had any break ins, its also a good peace of mind knowing your important things are locked up securely. If someone was to break into my truck specifically, they would need a good amount of time and tools to get into my safe. Considering most breakins are a smash, grab and run situation I feel pretty good about my things being safe.
8. Lupe the dog ($125) By no means do I consider our lovable pet a piece of gear, but I put her on the list anyway. We paid $125 at our local high kill rate shelter and saved Lupe’s Life. Im not looking for thanks but it was in fact our best purchase. Besides being part of the family Lupe acts as a great security guard. When a shifty individual approaches she makes her presence known, sending people in the opposite direction very quickly. When a friendly person approaches she is friendly and lovable. Several nights we have camped in questionable spots and when people get close I signal her to bark on command. Most people south of the border use dogs as security, so locals can only assume she is dangerous. Although she farts in the tent, gets fleas, frequents visits to the vet, and requires an expensive high protein diet due to food allergies, we love this dog like our own child and I’m confident she would seriously injure any person that tried to do us any harm. Not to mention Lupe is also a great mediator when Sara and I get into it.
9. Filet knife ($1 – $20) Bringing a knife camping is a no-brainer. But I do recommend a large, sharp, durable knife. I bought one of those big white handle knives that professional fishermen use. It has no case and hangs out in the back of the truck. It cuts through live fish and dead meat, and veggies better watch out, cause Its sharp as hell, and has held up through over a dozen countries. these can be purchased in tackle shops, garage sales, or maybe you can find one in your garage that needs sharpening.
10. Roof top tent ($800 – $5000) The RTT (roof top tent) does not apply to everybody of course. Some sleep inside their rigs on sleeping platforms, campers, or regular camping tents. We were lucky enough to find our Auto Home on NJ Craigslist for $900. This model tent from the factory might run closer to $4000. We put a clean mattress in, rigged up some swimming noodles so the surfboards fit nicely on top, and we’re ready to roll. The tent is extremely comfortable and is about the size of a queen size bed. Camping on the beach provides great views from above, plus scorpions and snakes have a hard time finding us on top of the truck. We decided that spending money on this item would be worth it, we got a good deal on it, also considering we will be spending the next year plus on the road.