We often get questions about the gear we use, the upgrades done to our truck and our on-the-road experiences. The answers are based on our personal experience. We hope you find this FAQ helpful. Keep the questions coming!
Where did you get the idea for this trip and how long did it take to plan it?
[Ernesto] I think the seed got planted in my head about 8 years ago when a cousin mentioned he wanted to travel around South America by bicycle. I thought, it would be amazing to join him but it wasn't something I could do at the time. I had just graduated from college, had student loans to pay and had just gotten a job. Nevertheless, the idea was planted in my head and I often thought about it.
In 2008, one day while talking to my co-worker friend Leti, from Chile, I loosely mentioned that I'd like to tour the Americas but that I didn't really have a plan for it yet. Her reply was the trigger that got me to seriously start planning our trip. Leti and her family (mom, dad and two siblings) had travelled the PanAm Highway from Seattle to Chile in the 80's in Volkswagen beetle when she was a kid – WHAT?!!! I had a hard time believing it at first but as she was telling me about her memories of the trip, I realized that that was exactly what I wanted to do.
It took me over two years of talking my friend's and family’s ears off about this dream road trip. It also took some time to convince Taisa to get on board. It took another 3 years of actual saving and outfitting our truck. During that time, we were very lucky to meet new friends and overlanders who gave us tons of helpful advice and fueled our excitement while we were planning our trip.
[Taisa] It was Ernesto's dream for a long time. The looong road trip part wasn't initially my thing, but after some time, I realized that it would allow us a lot more flexibility and freedom to explore the more remote spots. I was also excited about improving my Spanish and immersing myself in the warm Latino cultures again. As Ernesto mentioned, we talked about the trip for a long time (ask our patient family and friends). It took about three years to pay off debt, to buy the truck, our gear and to save.
How did you save? How are you paying for this trip?
We tried to eat out less, we had roommates to share the cost of rent, Ernesto maintains a few free lance design projects and we also dug into to some of our retirement funds.
What is your budget?
Our average daily budget over the last year and a half has been $70 for the both of us. That budget includes expenses such as gas, car maintenance, camping, food, ferries, park entrances, activities, etc. Our lowest daily average was $33 in Guatemala and our highest daily average of $121 was in Panama due to container shipping costs. You can find a more detailed breakdown of our expenses per country in the Journey section of our website. We have found that it’s really achievable to stay within budget and even below budget when in remote areas. Cities are always more expensive. We try to buy at local street markets when possible and if we eat out, we mostly eat at small restaurants and street food stalls. We just look for the busy ones.
What modifications did you make to your vehicle?
We (as in Ernesto) had a lot of fun and worked hard at outfitting our truck for our overland trip. A lot of research and testing was involved in the process. To see the list of modifications and accessories added to our 2012 Toyota 4Runner TE Click here. We hope this information helps those looking to build their overland vehicles. If you think you'd like to get any of the products listed there we have an affiliate program with Amazon.com. So, if you end up buying a product by clicking on the Amazon link from our website, Amazon will give us a small percentage without any added costs to you.
Which modifications are a must for an overlanding vehicle?
We have met people traveling overland in all kinds of vehicles, so these are not "must" modifications, but the upgrades listed below, in our experience, impact the way we travel and where we can travel to.
• An upgraded suspension system to handle the extra load of your truck and to take on rough roads.
• All terrain tires that can be found throughout the countries you'll be traveling to. Getting two spares is a good move. Your tire set will last 50% longer if you do a 6 tire rotation.
• A dual battery system if you are planning to run a fridge, winch, aux lights, power inverters, etc. This is a slippery slope. You need to make sure you get the right system for your vehicle. The alternator may get damaged if it can't handle the load.
• Front and rear bumpers and rock sliders may not be a needed modification but they are extra insurance. We’ve had people hit us from behind and we were left without a scratch on our truck.
• If you lift your truck chances are that you may need a hi-lift jack and rock sliders to provide good lift points on uneven terrain.
How did you secure your vehicle?
• Tinted all of our windows
• Installed Tuft tactical locking drawers for our valuables
• Installed an additional alarm system
• Daily use of a windshield sun/shade screen
Have you had any security issues?
Not really. We made a rookie mistake and left our Trasharoo bag strapped to the back of our spare tire near Cabo San Lucas and unfortunately it was stolen. Sadly it was stuffed with some of our awning extension gear. Thankfully, there was no damage done to our vehicle.
How do you find camping spots?
In the US, we mostly searched online for campgrounds at state parks and national parks, or we would simply drive to free national forests and bureau of land management (BLM) lands. Once we crossed into Mexico and Central America, we used a great app called iOverlander in combination with lonely planet books. We also get recommendations from locals and fellow travelers. Sometimes, camping spots are established campgrounds, RV parks, farms, city parking lots, restaurant parking lots, hostel parking lots, trail head parking lots, friends’ backyards or gas stations.
How often do you wild camp?
In the US and Canada we wild camped most of the time except when in National Parks. We really like to entrench ourselves in remote areas and natural reserves when possible; especially if we are traveling with other overlanders since we know that we have a support vehicle and friends looking out for each other. As we have mentioned, we rely heavily on iOverlander when scoping out our camping options but we also have entered several new places in the database especially in remote spots.
When you camp at a campground are there showers and cooking areas?
Showers are sometimes available but they are hit or miss. We couldn't go 3 days without a shower when we started our trip and now we can go around a week and a half just with wet wipes. LOL yeah I know, disgusting! Hahaha. Cooking areas are even less common. We'd highly recommend getting a stove, collapsable table and chairs. If you plan to go off the beaten path your experience will be much more pleasant if you have these things. You'll also save quite of bit of money by making your own meals.
How do you trip plan?
For inspiration, we look up images of the upcoming country on Instagram and Pinterest. These options are great because the images and info are up to date. We are also in touch with fellow travelers and locals about their favorite spots and activities. We read up about the country (history, sights and activities) in our lonely planet books. We get a rough sense of camping spots by looking at iOverlander, as we have mentioned. Sometimes we start reading and planning a week before entering a new country and other times we do this “planning” on the day that we cross the border.
What do you use for navigation?
We primarily use Google Maps since we are lucky to have free data as part of our international phone plan. We simultaneously plug in the coordinates of our destination into our Garmin GPS just to be able to compare suggested routes. 95% of the time Google Maps is more accurate/reliable. We have also used MapsMe on occasion. We have paper maps for each country which we have mostly used for big picture trip planning.
Do you often cross paths with other overlanders and camp/travel together?
Yes. So far we've met over 75 overlanding teams since we started our trip; most of them in Mexico and Guatemala. When arriving at campgrounds and spots found in iOverlander you’ll likely meet other travelers. We've traveled with 9 different overlanding couples so far. It's so much fun!
How is the internet access in general?
Wifi is widely available in populous areas. Speeds are definitely slower. Roaming is also available although expensive. You can get a sim card in every country for better rates.
Is the “support us/donate” feature on your website valuable? Are people donating?
Yes. We think it’s absolutely valuable. Friends and family were the first ones to donate. I think our Instagram account has also driven some of the other donations. We don't get donations often, but when we do it's such an awesome and appreciated surprise. Sometimes it’s been the equivalent to getting comped a meal and other times it’s even paid for a tank of gas!
What was the longest distance you've encountered between gas stations?
We don't have a hard number for you, but so far we haven't had issues with our 23-gallon tank (it actually fits 25 gallons). We have a range of 280 to 350 miles per tank (depending on the road and altitude). In South America there are stretches where I'm sure we'll need to tap into our jerry cans.
What is the best place you have driven to?
There isn't just one best place. There are dozens of spectacular places we’ve had the opportunity to experience. But, one our our favorites that comes to mind was driving Sooty 4,260 m /13,976 ft to the base camp of Pico de Orizaba in Mexico, the third tallest mountain in North America at 5,636 m / 18,490 ft.
What are some of your favorite roads?
There’re so many of them. Ria Lagartos to El Cuyo in the Yucatan Peninsula and Coyote Flats in the Sierra Nevada, CA. But in terms of technical difficulty, probably Cerro de Las Minas in Guatemala. A thick jungle drive!
What is the toughest situation you've found yourself in on the road so far?
[Ernesto] The toughest situation for me has definitely been parting with friends on the road. Many of the friends that we meet while traveling, we become very close with. I feel that I hurt really good friends by not communicating with them in a better way. I really regret it.
[Taisa] For me, it is really tough not being nearby for close friends and family during their times of need and joy. I make it a priority to keep in touch, but sometimes I just want to be able to hug and hold them.
What advice would you give to someone planning a similar trip?
[Ernesto] There are a million ways to travel overland. Some people do it on bicycles, others in motorcycles, vans of all sizes, 4x4s, sedans, Unimogs, school buses, etc. There's no such thing as the perfect overlanding vehicle. Make sure you envision the trip the way you want to do it, doing the things that you like to do. This will help you make the right decisions while outfitting your rig and purchasing your gear.
If possible do not constrain yourself with itineraries. We've learned that planning as we go is the best way to travel, for us at least. There are lots of amazing places that are not mentioned in travel books and that ended up being hidden gems for us.
You're about to embark on a life changing experience. As our friends of Life Remotely taught us – make sure you ease into it. Test your gear, go out on weekend trips as often as you can. Start traveling slow so you can adjust to this new lifestyle so you don't get burnt out.
[Taisa] Pack a lot of underwear and keep granola bars up front to stave away hangriness. Haha, I learned these key tips from our wise friends from Desk To Glory.
Find the beauty, learn about the history and culture, step out of your comfort zone and mingle with the locals. Those are the moments that have deepened our experience and understanding.
Are the solar panels really useful?
Yes they are. We use them maybe 25% of the time but that's because we have a dual battery system and a GoalZero battery pack. The solar panel can be a life saver since we run our fridge 24-7. You can keep your batteries charged and healthy by trickle charging them with a solar panel. At minimum, we recommend getting a 90W panel.
Have you used your winch so far?
Yes. We have used it mostly to help other people out and about four times to get us out of snow and mud.