Overland trip planning is challenging. Did you leave the iron on? It’s not that you don’t know what to bring, it’s that you might not bring it anyway. There is so much to remember, you need a list.
Michael is more likely to grab a pair of sandals, jump in the truck and start driving, but he is also more likely to be 300 miles off course, back-tracking, and setting up camp at night. Ask him, he won’t deny it.
It’s a puzzle. An equation that needs to be reverse engineered. A chance for me to micromanage inanimate objects, and when you finally put the peddle down on the road to adventure, your mind is on what’s to come, not what you forgot!
To put it shortly, it gives me joy.
Each trip completed presents a new opportunity to improve for the next trip. It’s an ongoing and evolving challenge, and after years of adventuring out and about, I have come up with a fairly straightforward method to help us prepare for the trail.
Let’s start at the top.
Overland Trip Planning
Where are you going?
Start thinking about your route, and where the road will be taking you. Get a map. Download GPS files. Check google maps. We also find that Forest Service Stations are one of the best resources to get local maps of the area often FOR FREE. You paid for it, so use this resource if you can. In addition, start calculating how many tanks of gas will get you where you want to go, and if you’re going offroad, how much additional fuel you need to carry to be safe.
Must Sees Dos & Stops
Do your research and start conversations. Find overlanders who have traveled down the same route you’re planning and see what their advice is. If you are an Overland Bound Member, go to our Member Map and see what other OB Members are in the area so you know who to call for backup! We also have a “Check In/Out” thread in the forums where you can tell people when you are leaving, where you are going, and when you will be back!
As you do more and more research over multiple trips, start to cultivate the websites and communities/forums you trust to give the best insight and advice. Not only does this help prevent ‘analysis paralysis’ and endless google search rabbit holes, but it also helps to create friendships online and in the real world.
We use a combination of the Overland Bound Forums, Overland Bound Member Map, Google Earth, and trails.com.
What’s the weather?
I check the weather on a regular basis leading up to the trip, and then research the historical highs/lows/precipitation/snow for the region we’re traveling. This is crucial to start calibrating what type of clothing and gear we’ll be needing, especially if we’re headed into snow or low temperature climates. (We’re from the SF Bay Area. Cold weather prep and gear isn’t our normal.)
I use the weather app on my iPhone and add locations into its tracking log. Not only does this give me on-demand weather reports, it leaves behind a lovely trail of destinations gone by.
How many people?
This shapes the conversation around water, provisions and where people will rest their heads at night.
The recommended amount is 2 gallons per person per day. This may seem like a lot, but consider this is the water you will be cooking with, and more importantly, water is a non-negotiable resource when you’re headed off-road. This rule of thumb has been tested by us in Baja, which is hot and arid. Moreover, there’s no harm carrying more than you think you need.
Back in Fall 2012, we went off-road camping with our new neighbors. We clicked instantly and when we said we were going off-road for the weekend, they jumped at the chance to come along. They said they would buy all the food for the trip, and I didn’t think to brief them about it.
In the back of my head I said, “What’s the worst that will happen? It’s not like they’ll go to Trader Joe’s and drop $400.”
Guess what happened? (I’m sure you can.)
They did just that. An entire trunk full of food.
I always have a meal plan for each day and an estimated budget, and I am always thinking of storage efficiency.
Michael and I have our sleep set up dialed in when it’s just us on the trail.
Add more bodies to the mix and it changes our game. Accommodations for additional sleeping bags (aka space) is needed, which pushes the conversation back to efficiency with dry goods and gear.
We are always configuring and reconfiguring our rig to fine tune our preparation game. It’s constantly evolving.
Keep your rig on a structured maintenance schedule. Don’t miss oil changes, tire rotations, alignment checks and brake inspections. Don’t wait until the last minute for that overdue oil change only to find out your brake pads are within a centimeter of their life.
Develop a relationship with a local mechanic you trust. When we go on extended trips, I get an appointment with our guys at Topshop in Lafayette, CA. They know our rig, and I know that I all I have to say is we’re going off-road for an extended amount of time, and Ryan is always, “Gotcha. We’ll give her the treatment.”
In the weeks leading up to your departure date, start to pay attention to any rattles, vibrations and hums that catch your attention. We drive a 96 FZJ80 with about 200K miles on it, so we’re a bit more cautious than we would be for a newer rig. We addressed the pesky heater hose; however, we know we’re not far away from a head gasket or busted hose conversation. On that note, lift up the hood and give your hoses a twist. Are they brittle?
Know your pre-trip checklist and spare part checklist, and run them in the days leading up to going out like a drill!
The Double Check-Check
Create and maintain a checklist to be used at the very last stage of packing. Know exactly which kits you are relying on (first aid, tools, fuel/fire, kitchen, dry goods, etc.) and check them off as they are filled up and finalized just prior to departure.
This is your final chance to find the missing holes in your preparation. Michael and I lovingly refer to this as our ‘Stupid Check’. (Michael’s kids lovingly remind us that we aren’t supposed to use the word ‘stupid’, but when you’re 10 miles down the trail and you realize the propane canisters for the skottle are sitting on the kitchen table at home, you indeed feel stupid.)
I keep a high level overview on budget. It’s a ballpark figure, not a hard line. I want to make sure we’re staying within a reasonable spending zone. I’ll factor in gas, food, parking/entry/tolls (or fees needed to be paid in cash so we have it ready), additional equipment needs and upgrade/maintenance.
It’s easy to rack up the costs. Provided that you have a clear picture of the trip and its needs, you’ll keep your spending in alignment for the scope of the adventure.
The best trips Michael and I have taken always involve us thinking we know exactly where we want to go, and then having our community and friends point us in a better direction. Adventure is not knowing what is around the corner, and a very important part of overlanding.
Learn As You Go
I’ll keep saying this because it is one of the most satisfying aspects of overlanding… Each new trip is the opportunity to innovate and build on the experiences of the last one.
A few years back I started to design my own checklist based on our travels down the road. Over time I have expanded it into 3 sections: Pre-Adventure, Adventure and Post Adventure.
It is now a 4 page system that takes us through our process, and as we stack the pages together, we’ve created a seamless planner that moves from one adventure into the next without breaking our train of thought. This planning checklist works in conjunction with the Ultimate Overland Checklist.
We’re offering this planner as a PDF file for free! You can open up the file and download to your computer below. You must be registered on this site to see the link.
Overland Bound Trip Planner PDF for Registered Users*:
You must me logged on to see the download button above! I hope this article is helpful for those who are new to overlanding, and a good refresher for our experienced members.
Hope to see you on the trail!
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