George van Deventer of Trans Africa Self Drive Adventures and Tours believes that the journey is almost more important than the destination. With over a decade of experience, he ensures that his tours exceed even the wildest expectations of his guests. He shares some tips to make your trip stress-free and easy too.
Overlanding involves adventures to remote places where the main form of accommodation is camping. It often extends over longer periods (weeks to months and even years) and across many international borders.
Know your gear
Solar panels, battery chargers, satellite phones, GPS units, power converters. These are just some of the typical items of equipment you will need. Make sure you know how everything works and that they are still in working order. Focus specifically on the all-important power system – not only does it supply power to your fridge and other electrical equipment, but it can cause significant problems if not done correctly. The last thing you want is a burnt-out vehicle due to poor wiring. Also, double-check that you know where all your light bulb fuses are and pack a few spares.
When it comes to your dual-battery system, it is essential to have enough capacity for what you intend to use it for. Let’s say your refrigerator uses 4 amps per hour, you need to make sure your solar panels can restore (put back) triple that amount. In other words, you should have at least a 160 Watt panel. That will give you only 8 amps, so two panels will be even better because you have to put back what you used through the night, while still drawing the same power while it charges. Then we have not taken cloudy days into account. In short, you can never have too much solar energy, and it is a good idea to have a plan to fall back on should something go wrong with your main charging system.
Overlanding rookies tend to pack too much or carry unnecessary equipment. Arrange your equipment so that what you use the most is easily accessible. If equipment is too much effort or packed away too deep, you are most likely not going to use it. It’s important to keep your vehicle light – weight is your biggest enemy when it comes to serious 4×4 driving.
Top tip: If you have not used an item for two trips, leave it at home!
Fire extinguishers and emergency triangles are mandatory in most countries outside our borders, and it is important to familiarise yourself with the rules and regulations around them. In Zambia, for example, the emergency triangles must be on a metal plate. Some countries also require that you have a reflective jacket and wear it when you stand on the side of the road. Pack the items so that they are easily accessible in an emergency or if the officials ask for it.
Make sure your vehicle is in good working order and serviced regularly. Pay particular attention to the condition of your tyres and all fluid levels such as oil, water and brake fluid. Make sure your jack works. When it comes to tools, don’t take along too many, but be sure to keep them accessible.
Certain items will ruin your holiday if they break so, if possible, take spares along. These include:
• Oil and other car fluids
• Tyre repair equipment, tyre pressure gauge and compressor
• Pulley tensioner
• Wheel bearings
Fortunately, most of these items are small enough to take along. Of course, it is also important to know how to replace them should it be necessary.
Paperwork and documentation
Vehicle documents: The requirements vary from country to country and sometimes even border post to border post. You will need the original registration certificate or certified copy of your vehicle and trailer or caravan. Some countries like Zambia also need police clearance. In addition, if the vehicle or trailer is being financed, you must have permission from the bank or financing institution, and from your insurance company, confirming they are aware that you are going to take the vehicle across the border.
If the vehicle is not registered in your name, you will need a letter of permission from the owner to take it across the border. The letter must contain the passport numbers and details of both you and the owner, vehicle details, VIN (Vehicle Identification Number), engine number, countries to be visited, and periods you intend to stay. Both parties must sign the letter, and you must also carry a certified copy of the owner’s identity document and passport.
Top tip: Take your own black pen – there is always a shortage of pens, and you must complete a myriad of documents at the border.
A good idea is to keep all your documents in one file or envelope. Use the front cover to write all your important information in large block letters – this includes things like your passport number and expiration date, vehicle registration, VIN and engine numbers. This is information that you must fill out on forms at all border posts all the time, and it makes things easier and faster when you have everything like that together. Make one hundred percent sure that all numbers on the registration certificate match those on your vehicle.
Passports: It is very important to ensure that you have at least two blank pages in your passport. Furthermore, the passport must be valid for at least three months before expiration from the last day of crossing the border. Children travelling with their parents must have unabridged birth certificates. Should he/she travel with one parent only or with friends, you will need a letter of consent and a copy of the identity document from the other parent or both parents. If the parent has died, you must have the death certificate or certified copy thereof on hand.
Top tip: Replace your passport six months before the expiration date – this way, any possible delays will not hinder your trip.
Visas: It is advisable to apply for a few days longer than you plan to stay in a country – for example, if your trip is scheduled for 14 days, apply for 21 days. It is highly illegal to stay in a country longer than your visa allows, and when you try to leave the country, you may even be arrested and prevented from going home. In addition, the chances are good that that country will never allow you within their borders again. Make sure your passport is stamped and that it indicates the correct number of days you requested.
Vehicle stickers: If you take a vehicle across the border, the vehicle must have a sticker on the back of the car that indicates in which country the vehicle is registered. For example, if you plan to drive to Namibia in a vehicle registered in South Africa, the vehicle will need a ZA sticker. In addition, each country has certain requirements for other stickers on your vehicle. Zambia, for example, requires you to have two small white rectangular strips on the right and left side of the front bumper, as well as two small red square strips on the right and left side of the rear bumpe. If you are towing, you must also place white and red T-sign stickers – white should be displayed on the front of the trailer/caravan and red on the back. Make sure you understand the type and amount of vehicle stickers that the country you are visiting requires as the authorities are usually very strict about this.
Top tip: Stickers can be purchased at most outdoor stores, and you can familiarise yourself with the requirements at the Automobile Association’s website: www.aa.co.za
Covid-19 protocol: The protocols are constantly changing, depending on the infection rates. It is essential to stay informed about the requirements before you leave. The standard at present is a PCR test which must be valid for 72 hours, but it may also change from time to time. It is important to have the original full-colour document with you as the apps do not always work without WiFi or data. It is best to get the necessary information from the embassy of the country you intend to visit. Also, make sure of other regulations, like curfew times and necessary inter-zone travel permits. Also, familiarise yourself with what will happen should you test positive in another country and consider that there are sometimes false positive tests. Make sure you have enough funds to do an additional test should it be necessary (the average cost is R850 per test).
Mosquitos and malaria: Malaria, derived from Mala Aria (Italian for “bad air”), is a parasitic disease that affects approximately 350-500 million people each year and results in nearly 1.3 million deaths. Do not become part of the statistics and consult with your doctor before leaving for a malaria red area. The medication used to prevent malaria is often the same as the one used to treat it. Talk to your doctor about the best medicine for your needs and use it exactly as prescribed. This may even mean that you use it for a few weeks after returning from a malaria area.
Even if you are taking medication, it is important to follow preventive measures to reduce exposure to mosquitoes when travelling in malaria areas. These include the use of insect repellents, mosquito nets and burning citronella candles to keep the insects away. Pay special attention to the following symptoms after visiting a malaria area:
• Fever and sweating
• Cold fever and tremors (episodes of fever followed by cold fever will often occur in cycles as waves of parasites are released into the bloodstream)
• Nausea and vomiting
Cerebral malaria is one of the most severe complications of malaria infection, and in these cases, neurological symptoms such as headaches, convulsions, unconsciousness and coma may occur.
Top tip: Wear long sleeves and trousers and closed shoes after sunset and spray yourself generously with Peaceful Sleep or Tabard. Remember your neck and ears (and men should spray the bald spot too!).
Border post do’s and don’ts
Border crossings can be a nightmare experience if you do not follow the rules. We all get frustrated from time to time but it is vital to ALWAYS be friendly and courteous. Start by taking off your hat and sunglasses and putting on your brightest smile. Try to greet the officer helping you in his/her native language – it immediately puts a smile on their faces. Keep all the necessary documents neatly together and ready. Follow the required health protocols and be patient.
Under no circumstances should you take photos or videos of border guards or the officials who work there – it is illegal. If you really want a picture, ask an official to take one for you as they are usually quite happy to do it.
Customs regulations: Tax-free items for personal use such as liquor, wine, perfume, cigarettes, etc., all have a limit on numbers, quantities and/or value. All items that exceed this limit, including food, are subject to strict tariff regulations and taxes. Check what the regulations are and stick to them. Also, make sure about what you can take across the border in terms of meat, vegetables and fruit.
Make a list in advance of all your electronic equipment such as cameras, laptops and refrigerators, as well as the value and serial numbers. Keep the list ready and have it stamped at each country’s customs office. This will prevent you from paying import/export taxes on a product that is yours.
Bribery: Under no circumstances should you ever pay any bribes to anyone. Sometimes it seems like an easy way to speed up the process at the border, but you are contributing to a much bigger problem for yourself and others. Instead, make sure all your documents are ready and familiarise yourself with all the processes before arriving at the border. The best way to avoid the infamous runners at a border post is to ignore them. The moment you start arguing with them, you have already lost – they have no intention of helping you and are just after your money.
Money exchange: If you can prevent it, do not exchange money at the border. If you have no other choice, exchange just enough to pay marginal costs. There are many stories about people being given fake money or old and torn notes that no one will want to take. Count your money twice before moving away from your chosen money exchanger but stay friendly.Top tip: You get the best exchange rate if you withdraw money at an ATM or arrange with your bank in advance.