What kind of vehicle do you need to drive around the world anyway?

3 Jan

Perky MogApparently not much of one.  I’ve read blogs and seen videos of everything from a well equipped motorcycle, several VW minibuses, Toyota Landcruisers with roof top tents, to Ford Superduty Earthroamers and beyond to GXV Unimogs and MAN 4×4’s.  The choice of vehicle is really dependent on just a couple of factors:

  1. Your desired comfort level. Do you want to be windswept for 8-10 hours per day driving a motorcycle and then have to sleep on the ground in a tent?  Do you want to drive your Land Rover equipped with a slide out fridge in the back and a roof top tent for sleeping?  Do you want all of the comforts of home on the road including lots of fresh water, your own toilet, bedroom, full kitchen and living room, essentially a small city studio apartment on wheels?
  2. Where do you want to go?  Will you stick to major roads and full hookup campsites?  Will you want to try to find your way through developing third and fourth countries on their rough “road” networks?  Will you attempt to find offroad tracks and trails to boondock at some more out of the way places for extended periods even in developed countries?
  3. What’s your budget?  These camping rigs tend to run the gamut from several hundred dollars for an old functional choice, to the sky is the limit million dollar mobile palaces.

Jayco Seneca 37FS

So what’s wrong with piling into a Monster sized American Class A or Super C RV and hitting the open road!  This Jayco Seneca 37FS even has bunk beds in the middle and an over cab sleeping bed in addition to the main room in the back for my wife and I.  If our intentions were planning to stick to US and Canadian roadways and full service campsites, we would be in business!  However, our aspirations are a bit further out there than that.

In the US and Canada there’s a fully developed roadway system to get you as far as you could want to go within the system on nicely paved roads.  Beyond this region and Western Europe, it’s a bit more sketchy.  Main highways do exist most anywhere, but the true adventure to me would be in getting to more remotely accessible places on rough road surfaces.  One of those Jayco campers would not hold up very long on rough corrugated road surfaces as you would find in most all of Central and South America, rural Asia, and certainly not most places in Africa.

US motorhomes are built to a cost target for general consumers.  The typical US customer for these rigs would use it only on highways and also not very man miles as it’s just for the weekend warrior.  As a result the manufacturers are very cost conscious to that competitve market and use the bare minimum construction standards to last through their typical customers experiences.  That includes using particle board for most furniture construction and only wood screws to hold furniture together, and lower quality wooden frame structures not meant for the rigors of these rough road conditions.  Something needs to be built more stout to not be a continuous maintenance headache in my mind.  As you move upmarket, better construction techniques are available from the manufacturers, but then their market demographic changes.  They’re no longer geared toward weekend warrior family trips, but more in line with elderly retirement couples with only one bedroom and other amenities in line with driving someplace and then staying rooted there for a long period of time.

The next concern then is overall size.  In an American Interstate highway system it’s not uncommon to see 45’+ RV’s towing matching trailers that are also up to 30′ in length.  These size rigs would be unheard of anywhere else in the world.  Mostly for maneuverability in small towns and villages around the world, I think it would like to try and keep the total overall rig length in the 32′ range which is just under 10m.  That seems to be a typical cutoff for distinguishing between commercial vehicles and other vehicles around the world, helping for lower tolls, ferry charges, vehicle shipping costs and better international border crossings.


Global Expedition Vehicle, International Durastar based Pangea

With the increased maneuverability of a shorter length vehicle, you can also have much better approach and departure angles for those rougher roads around the world.  With the picture of the Jayco Seneca above, you can see the departure angle (between the rear wheels contact point and the bottom of the bumper is really shallow.  Larger rigs like that have trouble even getting in and out of certain US gas stations due to the sewer runoff drains and bottoming out the back of the rig on the road.  In a global vehicle, I think this would be unacceptable.  The shorter length would help here, but I think it also needs to be addresses in the vehicle design as shown to an extreme in this picture of a GXV based camper.

White Rim Trail

White Rim Trail

That leads right to the next point of increased ground clearance for those rough roads around the world.  Not just the departure angle, but also out the front and everything in between the axles as well.  Then, increased ground clearance leads to the next question of all wheel drive or not.  Certainly staying on a maintained road network all around the world it would not be needed at all, as witnessed by the motorcycles and VW busses mentioned earlier as well.  My goals though are a bit more out there.  I would like to be able to go not just on paved roads, rough roads, and bad roads out there, but also across no roads and tracks to explore better and see what’s there.

perky offroad2

Perky Mog offroad in SW Utah

Even here in the US I want to be able to drive on some off the beaten  track off road terrain to get to those perfect boondock campsites.  I want to be able to ride the White Rim Trail  at Canyonlands National Park in Utah in my camper.  Not necessarily the Rubicon trail or rock crawling in Moab, but just offroad enough to get out and experience what there is out there. in the US, and the world beyond.

The next limitation with commercially manufactured RV’s is capacity.  In a country like the United States, gas, diesel, propane are available on almost every major street corner.  Then campsites with full hookups are available just about anywhere you could possibly want to go meaning nearly unlimited supplies of water and power as much as you could want, including coin op laundromats and other modern conveniences that we take for granted like sewage dumps!  Once you leave the US, Canada, and most of Western Europe, these facilities become increasingly rare and the vehicle needs to be increasingly self sufficient.  That means the ability to carry 100+ gallons of diesel fuel, 100+ gallons of water, thousands of kW of solar energy generation, massive batteries to store it all in.  Lots of expeditions vehicles also go for no propane solutions as well, so that everything onboard is powered by the batteries, or diesel including cabin heating and hotwater, and even stove top cooking.  It turns out that each country or region has there own standard for Propane supply and delivery with different fittings and adapters required for each system.  With diesel powered everything there is no need to worry about finding the right propane supply company or fittings wherever you are.

All of these things come together to show me that a traditional mass market manufactured RV is not the solution to my needs.  In addition to those requirements , personally, I am looking for something that I can comfortably live in with three someday teenagers (currently only 7, 5, and 2, but they grow so quickly) with everybody getting their own personal space and enough room to keep everyone happy with their own beds rather than having to make up a dinette into a bed or a sofa fold out from the living room each night.  So we can each try to live our own lives independently while being in very tight quarters.  A tall bill to be sure, literally as with only 10m of length to put it all in, it drives the need to have a second story inside!

gxv pangea

GXV Pangea on a Crew Cab Freightliner


Perky interior

Perky Mog Interior Loft