Wondering why we are talking about 4WD Adventures? Well, the last years of our world travel saw us trucking our backpacks via buses, trains, horses, motorbikes, and feet. While we loved our encounters on public buses or making friends with our riding buddies, we felt many times subject to local transportation, which can be far in-between in many remote destinations. As independent travelers looking for new adventures off-the-beaten-path, we were eager to become self-reliant in our transportation. The decision to invest in a 4×4 off-road car was clear, and the search for the perfect vehicle to accompany us on our overland trip to Africa underway!

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Why 4WD Adventures?

Back in California, we loved our 4WD Subaru, our companion for most of our outdoor activities. From trekking trips packed with our backpacks and camping gear, road trips along the Pacific coast, winter trips in the Sierra Nevada, or kiteboarding sessions in the San Francisco Bay Area, our Subaru was the partner in all seasons, all terrains – mud, snow, sand, rocks, and more! And for those of you Subaru fans, you might know that love. After all, “Love. It’s what makes Subaru, a Subaru.”

Exciting 4WD Adventures // Our beloved Subaru

Our beloved Subaru

In recent years, we have been traveling without our own set of wheels. By foot in Indonesia, jeep in Pakistan, buses in Iran and Turkey, trains in China, Iran, and Turkmenistan, horses in Mongolia, commercial trucks in Kyrgyzstan, canoe in Papua New Guinea, by camel and motorbike in India. Awesome encounters. Scenic landscapes. Bumpy roads in small, stuffy, and tiny coaches. Hours of delays waiting for buses to leave or reach destinations due to lack of schedule. Limited explorations in some places due to limited infrastructure. Hundreds of stories shared with fellow travelers. Dozens of cups of tea and meals were offered as welcoming gestures. But traveling in Tajikistan in a rented 4WD car showed us once again the flexibility and independence we could gain by having our own set of wheels. Exploring the Pamir Highway couldn’t have been possible the same way without a personal car.

Exciting 4WD Adventures // Pamir Highway 4WD Adventure - Tajikistan Afghanistan Border

Pamir Highway 4WD Adventure – Tajikistan Afghanistan Border

The next leg of our world trip should take us, when travel resumes, from Cairo to Cape Town, a 13,000-mile (20,000-km) journey through East Africa. From natural reserves, wildlife parks to ancient ruins, our trip will surely take us off-road, leaving the pavement behind. As water enthusiasts and kiteboarder fanatics, we plan to include a serious amount of time along the coast to take advantage of the proximity of the Indian Ocean. That all means independent travel was for sure to be done with our own car. From the weight and volume of the sports equipment to the remoteness of many outdoor activities, we needed a solid 4-wheel drive car that could take us everywhere: dirt roads and sandy tracks, the mud of the rainy seasons, rocks, and more.

It was time for the Frogs to get some new legs.

How to Find the Best 4WD Car?

So once we decided to find a 4WD, the question was – which 4-wheel drive car for our 4×4 adventure plans?

And that’s the million-dollar question, with no one easy or simple answer. Well, there is a short one: there is no perfect car. There are probably as many different four-wheel drive cars as there are 4WD drivers. Our travel destinations had a crucial impact on the choice of the vehicle. Questions to be taken into account:

  • Where are we traveling? What destinations will be driving through? Probably the most crucial questions as these countries determine the type of infrastructure (paved roads? dirt roads? no roads?), weather (rainy seasons? Sand storms?), landscape (sand, rocks, mountains, rivers), as well as the type of amenities and services (spare parts in case of break down? Patch up a tire?)
  • How much gear are we bringing? In addition to the whole 4WD equipment, we knew we wanted to take our kiteboarding equipment. Maybe bikes. Maybe an inflatable kayak.
  • What level of comfort do we need? Are we looking for a motorhome or RV comfort like our past RV here in California when we were kiteboarding in the San Francisco Delta? Do we want a shower and an equipped kitchen?
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Our RV Home: Hurlevent

As we mentioned, there is no perfect car. But lots of options and a certain level of compromise. How could we combine the 4WD capabilities of our Subaru with the comfort of our Mallard Sprinter RV, all within a minimal budget? And given the type of travels planned, we had the following requirements for our 4WD trip:

  • Though a motorhome or a 4WD camper would offer more comfort, we decided on an off-road 4WD that could take us through narrow roads and extreme conditions, more appropriate for off-road adventures.
  • An older vehicle with fewer electronics would be less prone to electronic failure.
  • But an older vehicle usually features a higher mileage, tends to be rustier or in less than stellar shape.
  • Preferably already equipped with major 4WD accessories (extra fuel tank, water tank, snorkel, etc.)
  • And of course, all for a limited budget!
  • For spare 4WD parts and fixability, Toyota Land Cruisers or a Land Rover 4WD car were two brands that came at the top of our selections of the possible 4×4 vehicles for our trip.

Initially, we opted to purchase a Toyota Land Cruiser but finally decided on a Land Rover Defender TD5. The choice was hard, with so many pros and cons for both cars (another blog post on that topic shall come shortly), reflecting comparisons between Land Cruiser 80 Series or HDJ 80 in Europe vs. Defender 300 TDi and TD5). Still, the slightly bigger shape of the Defender should allow for more livable space when the weather is bad and forces us to stay inside.

Exciting 4WD Adventures // Packing the kiteboarding gear

Packing the kiteboarding gear

Our New Wheels: Land Rover Defender TD5

We have yet to find its name, but we are now proud owners of a 2006 TD5 Defender!

Traveling by car, let alone one of these bulky 4WD cars, will be different. Planning for ferries, watching height restrictions, longer hours on the road, border crossing nightmares, mechanical breakdown.  But being able to drive offroad will definitely make it worth it by a million times.

Granted, the impact of 4WD vehicles is not lost on us. The carbon footprint is not light, given their fuel consumption, and the fact we went for an older model means fewer electronics and, therefore, less combustion optimization. And it’s interesting that even a few years ago, we were against 4WD, but as we continue our travels, we had to revisit our thinking. For sure, we could decide to stop traveling, which in itself is another discussion – should we travel? why travel? But to stay on topic, we are still scheduling our all 4×4 adventure plans.

This means Bruno has been busy fixing the inside and out of the car, from insolation, electricity, sleeping arrangements, storage, kitchen area, new 4WD wheels, a 4WD roof tent, and overall 4WD camping setup. Due to the current pandemic, we haven’t been able to take it out often. Travel being as restricted as it is currently, we are, however, working on our next 4WD adventure plans. Including getting our hands and feet dirty in 4×4 training as we have yet to discover the capacities of our new wheels in rough terrain.

Exciting 4WD Adventures // Camping Set Up in Progress

Camping Set Up in Progress

As we work on our Defender, some of the future posts will cover:

  • Toyota Land Cruiser 80 Series (HDJ 80 in Europe) vs. Land Rover Defender (300 TDi and TD5)
  • The full customization project, item by item – kitchen, electricity, etc. You can now see some of the work in progress, which 4WD accessories we are using, and how far Bruno has been in getting the vehicle fit for our project.

And, of course, as we resume our travels, our new wheels will be featured front and center in our new adventures.

Do you own a 4WD car for off-road adventures? Are you Team Toyota or Team Land Rover? Please share with us your adventures!

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