A lot of the things you'll need to know to make a trip like this
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This needs a lot of updating
From what I see now, planning should be started at least two months in advance, depending on the time you want to spend traveling of course. One month should go solely to compiling a list of things to do and to get that you want to tag along. After that you should start acquiring those things on the list. Amending the list will continue until you eventually leave so don't ever think the list is perfect. You can download a Excel spreadsheet on this page which you can change, or create your own. Here's a list of things to plan for.
* Which countries am I going to?
* Research everything about each country
- Vehicle Requirements (Stickers, emergency triangle, fire extinguisher etc.)
- Visa Requirements
- Embassy Contact Details
- Vaccination Requirements and Recommendations
- Carnet de Passage (ask someone that has been to the country recently whether its needed)
* Things you'll need
- Letters from the financial institution (if vehicle is financed), and from the insurance.
* Learn to pack (this might seem trivial but believe me when I say this is just as important as the stuff you take along)
LOTS MORE TO FOLLOW.....
BEFORE YOU GO
Most countries do not use their own currency at border posts or for bribes. US Dollars is the safest to have with you. I'm not sure if you'll get your currency exchanged in your country without a valid flight ticket or visa.
International drivers license
That can easily be obtained at any AA branch. Be sure that your current drivers license is valid for the duration of your trip. The IDL is only valid for the duration of your current license.
Local cultural customs
This is only valid if the customs involve serious religious connotations. Other than that if you get something wrong they don’t really mind. All customs are basically different than what you will be used to. If you’re a guest you get the best treatment, better than the elders. Woman are also treated more lenient than normal. for example, standing up when greeting someone is seen as offensive but they don't act upon it.
CLOTHING: Think light, durable, breathable & layers - cotton, wool, silk & polypropylene.
Walking Shoes and sandals
Walking shoes should actually be thick leather with a proper hard non-slip sole. Its not the lightest you can go but I've experienced issues with snakes, thorns as big as your hand, and terrain that a 4x4 wont go. Sandals go whenever you don’t hike or around the camp. Also ensure that they have a hard sole, the rubber kind will let a thorn slip through it like butter (happened to me).
You might have doubts but you'll use this much more than anticipated. Don’t take a flimsy little twig cutter, bring something that will chop a tree and still as light as you can go.
If you have roaming enabled and don’t care about a $10000 data bill then you probably don’t need a GPS. I took one because of inconsistency with mobile network coverage, and glad I did.
The headlamp will become another limb thus it need to be something serious. Don’t go pay $100 for it but make sure its sturdy, it can adjust up and down while on your head, and that it has elastic bands around your head and on top.
Water bottle or bladder
I brought a bladder like they use on cycling and it was one of the better decisions. It holds more water than a bottle, keeps the water cooler, and easy to carry.
The reason its in yellow is because you will get bitten no matter what you do. The best tip will be to take quinine, malaria tablets, and serious headache tablets. I took citronella candles which actually attracts bugs, some citronella cream which I cant say does much although it smells nice, mosquito bands which has a very cool glow in the dark feature but for keeping mosquitoes at bay not so much. You will probably get malaria in Africa but don't be alarmed, its not that bad. You contract a serious flu-like symptoms and bad headaches. The symptoms lingers for a few days or week. A lamp with citronella oil works quite good, just take enough oil, 2 liters aren't enough.
This is very important. It needs to be comfortable, light, and without funny gadgets like zip bags and cup holders. Don’t bring those little seat thingies without a back rest, it must have a back rest.
This is quite the controversial or debated topic. I brought 7 cans and yes it might look excessive but I was very glad. The amount of cans will depend on the countries you visit. Plan the trip well and check the fuel prices of each country. Take the distances traveled in each. For instance you don't want to fill up in Zimbabwe or Malawi but Mozambique isn't that bad. This obviously also depend on your funds. If you have a massive budget for fuel then its better to go light with more space and bring at least one for emergencies.
It makes life much easier. Get all your stuff together and then decide what size and shape crates you need. You'll need a crate for every category of things you take along.
Multi-Tool and Hunting Knife
Very important! Do not take a Shoprite tool, bring something like Gerber or Leatherman. I promise that you will use it constantly. That said, the multi tool knife wont be enough, also take a hunting knife. The one I took is about 25cm long with a blade of 14cm. Besides oxygen and water its been the biggest necessity I have.
First Aid Kit
Aspirin, Malaria Pills, and Quinine is explained under Mosquito Repellent. The first aid kit needs to have disinfectant, plasters, bandages, and any type of salve you can get your hands on. I brought a proper kit with lots in it and it worked well so far.
VEHICLE - Besides water this is your most important travel equipment, take good care of it.
Become familiar with your vehicle.
Know where your oil sump is and check the protection plate. If it can dent when hit really hard with a hammer, then reinforce it.
Going for some off-road lessons wont hurt anyone.
Don’t pimp your ride like the city boys do, its just more stuff that can break. Off road is very, very bumpy and something will definitely give in.
Check what fuses your car uses and get lots of them, especially if you have a dual battery system or LED lights.
Do not rely on the standard jack that came with the vehicle. Get one of those # ton jacks that goes on wheels.
Toolbox with Tools
General type of tools used to open or unscrew things. This means that you have to take what actually works on your vehicle. Don’t bring a general toolbox, it will probably not have what your car uses.
List of things required
2 x Emergency triangles
Fire extinguisher if carrying fuel
Reflective jacket for each passenger
- Two white stickers on either side in front
- Two red stickers on either side in rear
- A sticker on the rear that denotes your country of origin (GB for Great Britain, ZA for South Africa etc.)
- One long red reflective sticker on the rear if driving any vehicle that may be construed as a commercial vehicle, like double or single cab pick-ups.
Carnet de Passage
I haven't needed this so far. Crossing the border I've only needed the vehicle registration documents, temporary importation document (from border control), and 3rd party insurance. These 3 are a must even if they do not offer it and let you through the border!
300W inverters will suffice. Those that act as a battery charger is better. Bring 2 of them, they're inexpensive but can get you in a serious pickle.
LED Light Bar
I fitted a demon bar to my car and still smile for doing so. But if you only plan to do tar roads and not drive at night then you wont need it. For off road and night driving it is essential.
Dual Battery System
If you're pondering stop, just get it. I acquired all the parts and fitted myself, its not that big of a deal. For my system I am using a 100 amp gel battery. If you need any info then please email me. Just remember to put fuses between every connection, you'll thank me later. Also take at least 2 extra of each fuse. Your system will need a solenoid, bring a spare.
Your battery system becomes a heavy doorstop if you go without a solar panel. While driving the battery charges full and it takes to recharges of my notebook to deplete it. That’s where the panel comes in. You will obviously not be driving 24/7. A 150W panel will do the trick.
The inverter will act as the converter. I took a separate on that plugs into the lighter socket, it works wonders.
By this I don’t mean lights that attached to your solar panel. Take a few lights that work solely on solar, ate least four.
Electrical Converters & Adapters
This is key to utilizing your battery, without it your battery will have a blissful life by not being ever used. Don’t worry about researching what countries use, just get a kit or two with multiple connectors.
Comes in handy if you don’t constantly want to leave your phone in the car to charge. I brought one that has a totally useless solar charging function.
This will be very useful with currency converters, games, books, Google and Google maps, music etc.
FOOD, COOKING, AND KITCHEN
You wont have enough time to cook and clean when on the road, stock up on bars and different ones. It also makes for a great bribing tool, just don’t let them see you have a box of it.
Even if you don’t like these foods you will be glad that its on the list. Its cooked easy and quick.
Peanut butter makes for great protein and much needed other stuff (I eat it out of the container)
You might be tempted to get a huge water tank to fit into your sparky 4x4, don’t. It uses a lot of space, its too heavy and either puts weight on the wrong places. Go to a store like Makro and buy a bunch of 5l water bottles. The great thing is that its a quarter of the price and it already comes with water. You can just fill the empties or use it for something else. Don't joke around with water, if you use water in Africa (bloody hot) like I do then you'll need at least 3l per day.
These are great additions. They clean easily, pack even easier, lightweight, and the handles take some beating before it gets hot.
Don’t frown. It will become evident once you try to simply wash your hands.
Kettle - Electric with car lighter plug
Wish I brought one!!
Unfortunately it's better to drive at night. The ups is that you won't find so many road blocks and those that is there aren't as interested in bribes as the other during the day. Border crossings may still be very busy. Try to avoid traveling over weekends or holidays from any country visited. You will find full buses of people that need the same documents as you.
TIP (Temporary Import Permit), Insurance, Stamped Passport
These are the 3 most important documents you absolutely must have. Do not listen to anyone telling you that you don't. I made the mistake of entering Mozambique after an official told me that my South African insurance documentation is sufficient. I ended up sitting at a road block for 6 hours since I didn't have the adequate funds to bribe them.
Up to Malawi a Carnet is a waste of money but I will report later on other countries. You have to have their 3rd party insurance and letters from your financial institution if the vehicle is leased.
Do not bargain on information on websites like AA concerning this. It seems that the required signage changes in each country on a daily basis. After traveling through Africa your vehicle will look like a Christmas tree.
The correct information can be obtained from the runners* which is very eager to let you know since they will apply it to your vehicle for a price. You will be safe taking both a roll of white and red reflective tape. The last time I drove through I had to have two white reflective markers at the corners in front and red in the rear. Since I came with a single cab pick-up, I also needed a long piece of red reflective tape on the back. Any commercial vehicle needs it and if you drive anything that might be remotely described as one, then stick it on. They will find the smallest thing to obtain bribes.
At the Blocks
Always remember that TICA (This Is Corrupt Africa) and it's not your Africa, it's theirs. Treat it like you're a stupid but knowledgeable little tourist and you'll be fine. When stopped, friendly greet and say you're fantastic when asked. Don't hesitate to wait for them asking a certain document. Keep your documents in a separate bag/folder and give them your Passport, TIP, and insurance when they get to the window. I've found that this almost set them back as if you know the drill and cant be manipulated.
About the vehicle you should use
It seems that Toyota is predominant here with Nissan and Mitsubishi creeping out now and then. This is the 4x4's. Other than that it's only Chinese cars and lots of them. Every government department have Land Cruisers and looks like the UN drives Patrol's. I'm not sure about parts, repairs and services. Frankly any 4x4 will do as long as you drive slow. Although it's probably better to drive the major brands since parts may be more accessible. Mzuzu is a trading city other than Lilongwe and Blantyre that's financial
The vehicle I'm using
I felt that I should dedicate a piece to the vehicle. By now we've established that the Rensan is doing very well for a half tonner in this rugged terrain. I obviously don't have anything else to compare it with but I guess others won't do this good. I came with a Rensan (Renault Nissan) NP200. It wasn't the best choice but the only possibility. If its just traveling you want to do in a certain span of time then you'll have the capacity for a proper 4x4.
There's a few things that can be improved on though. Let's hope someone from Nissan or even Renault see the post and can do something about it.
The purpose of the NP200 is probably city driving with light loads and isn't built for this, so I'll keep the comments toward semi-normal circumstances.
Fuel economy: Overall very good except for dirt road driving. It normally gets around 10km/l and here gets 7.27km/l.
The door opening and locking mechanisms are rubbish. Even back in SA it gave problems since functions are left to two metal rods that's too close together. It rattles a lot and these days give a lot of problems to simply open the doors. I had a central locking system installed but from my observation it doesn't effect the standard system.
The car is very light in the front which is surprising since it's front wheel drive. The boot lid on the other hand is very heavy. There's probably a reason for that but making that lighter might improve traction on the front wheels. A lock on the boot lid will also be a nice addition since I've learned in Cape Town that it's possible to relieve me of some possessions. Even with a canopy the lid can still be opened.
The connections on the front bumper and grill is mostly plastic and comes loose or break easily.
Dust got into the rear light panels which I suppose shouldn't.
A dual battery system with an LED light bar was installed. It works perfectly even with the small battery in the Rensan. Only issue is that now and then the airbag light comes on. A few fuses also got evaporated but I account that from the dual battery.
There's lots of torque for a little 1600. In most places it climbs hills in second gear. That is when its not loaded.
I know you're probably laughing for just mentioning ground clearance on a Rensan. In this scenario I wish it was an inch or so higher. If it was I wouldn't have cracked the sump. The sump cover is good for stones on tar roads but off-road it has zero function.
Fixing the sump was a nightmare to get it out
The space behind the seats gets a double thumbs up.
The visors doesn't have mirrors. Thanks for that! Some people always put the visor down to envy themselves and doesn't return it to its normal position which makes visibility troublesome.
The rings boot for fastening stuff is brilliant and I use it permanently. So is the handle-like stuff on the sides of the boot although its a bit flimsy and could break off easily.
The Rensan haven't given me one stitch of problems yet. Anything that happened so far was because I use it for purposes it wasn't built for. That said it handles the rough stuff very well and I'm really impressed by it.