I'm quitting my job and heading out on one of the last true adventures left on Earth: driving around the world. Beginning this month, I'll...
I’m quitting my job and heading out on one of the last true adventures left on Earth: driving around the world.
Beginning this month, I’ll spend about a year on the road, starting and finishing in New York. When I can’t drive, I’ll ship the car by boat, then fly to the next stop to pick it up.
The route is sinuous. Cross Central America, then head down South America to Buenos Aires. From there, I’ll ship the car to South Africa, then drive north through Africa to Europe. I’m a native of France, so I’ll stop in Paris to get some paperwork done, then go east through Eastern Europe, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and India. I’ll ship the car to Thailand, drive to Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia, and put the car on a final sailing home to the U.S.
My blog about the trip — called “Trans World Expedition: The year of living dangerously” — is at www.transworldexpedition.com; I’ll post updates from the road, and I hope it will be a good tool for people who want to do a similar trip.
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It is scary to leave a girlfriend, career, apartment. Many people think I’m insane to quit my job when the economy is so bad. But I’m 33 and I’ve worked since age 18. I came to New York as an artist and ended up as an art director. It’s early enough in my life that I can take a year off, then come back, hopefully pick up my career and start a family.
When you’re young and a student, you don’t have money to travel, but when you’re working and can afford it, you don’t have time. I always thought I would buy a place in New York, but when you think about it, is there a better investment than traveling around the world?
The route: My path will change depending on places I discover, tips, climate, where I can catch a boat, driving conditions and visas. Staying out of trouble will also determine my route and how long I stay in one place.
Driving around the world may be more difficult now than it was in the 1960s, even though cars are more reliable and roads are better. Wars and civil unrest have eased in Latin America, but crossing the Middle East is now a challenge. Here are some problems I’ll face:
• Darien Gap: This 100-mile-long area of swamps and mountainous jungle separates Panama and Colombia. There is no road, no police or military. The inhabitants are tribes, guerrillas and drug traffickers. Solution: Ship the car from Panama to Colombia and go myself in a small plane over the jungle. Pray that no emergency landings are required.
• Africa: Visas for Chad and Sudan are difficult to obtain, making west-to-east travel impossible. I’ll need to get through Angola, and again, visas are hard to get. In Nigeria, I’ll have to worry about kidnapping, carjacking, roadblock robberies and other violent crimes. Solution: Get a visa for Angola in South Africa, my first stop on the continent, and get across trouble spots like Nigeria as quickly as possible.
• Iran: Once inside the country, no problem. Great place, nice people, few incidents reported by travelers. But I worry about arguments between countries that could lead to border closings. Solution: Get my visa in order and hope my government doesn’t get too excited about political events before I get there.
• Pakistan: Suicide bombings. Taliban insurgents. Imagine how much fun it will be to cross this country with New York license plates. Solution: Go as fast as possible, perhaps with the military escort some foreigners use when driving overland. I’m told the soldiers drive like New York cabbies.
• Asia: China makes overland travel expensive by requiring you to hire a government-approved “guide” to take with you. Myanmar’s borders are closed to overland travel. Solution: Ship the car from India or Bangladesh to Thailand or Singapore.
Accommodations: To afford a year on the road, there’s little choice but camping for a chunk of the time. I wish I could say I have no problem with scorpions in my shoes and that whenever I catch a snake, I’m happy to have it for breakfast, but I can’t. After some research, I discovered most overland travelers in Africa use a rooftop tent. The cheapest are expensive at $850, but they let you sleep anywhere, out of the mud, and they pop up in minutes.
The car: There are not many choices when it comes to a car for such journeys. In my opinion, only two vehicles can make it, Toyota Land Cruisers and British-made Land Rover Defenders. Both are tough, and you can find spare parts on all continents. Others, including American makes, are of good quality, but you can’t find parts everywhere. Land Cruisers are used by the United Nations and other nongovernmental organizations around the world. Thanks to the economic crisis and the abundance of used cars available, I got a clean 1996 Land Cruiser with 92,000 miles for less than $7,000.
I can no longer count how many hours I spent getting the Land Cruiser ready. I upgraded the suspensions so the truck could handle difficult terrain and carry all the equipment, including tools, extra battery, spare parts, cooking equipment, roof tent, water and gas cans, books and luggage. Added costs for equipment and modifications: $3,000. (I did nearly all the work myself.) I budgeted $4,000 for repairs on the road, though I hope to use only a fraction of it.
Shipping a car is expensive. I’ll have to do it at least five times, sometimes for 100 miles, sometimes between two continents. Shipping costs: around $7,000, plus $2,000 for my air travel while the car is at sea. Gas will range from 38 cents a gallon in Iran to $7.40 a gallon in Portugal. Add $5,000 for gas.
Health care: This trip requires many vaccinations, some covered by insurance, many not. Getting them all in the U.S. would cost more than $500. So I’ll get some of them in Mexico, my first stop, where it’s cheaper.
I bought insurance in case a super-bad event requires medical evacuation. I found a policy from InsuranceToGo.com that should run around $600 for the year, with a $500 deductible.
Budget: My estimated total for the trip is $46,000, including car and tent, shipping the car five times while flying myself, gas, insurance, campgrounds and some hotels. I plan to spend less but prefer to take unforeseen events into account.
Heading out: I’ve read about other people driving around the world, and their blogs and reports helped me prepare, especially with paperwork and vehicle modifications. Some of them got sponsors for their trips. But I didn’t want to have to find a reason to be on the road, like fighting a disease, when in the end I am just curious about the world I live in.