From the instant you begin to imagine an overland trip you must inevitably picture your overland vehicle. An overland journey revolves completely around the vehicle. It’s your chariot, your refuge, your home, your lifestyle. Yes of course, it’s not the ONE defining thing about a trip like this, but it is obviously extremely important. Especially to a gear-head like me!
It might not be completely obvious at first, but I believe your choice of vehicle has the ability to drastically change your travel experience. For instance, a 4-wheel drive truck or SUV can allow access to the most remote and adventurous locations, but may be cramped and require living in a tent. A large camper or purpose-built overland machine can allow for all the comforts of home (think shower and flush toilet) but will be too bulky to venture into the narrow cobble stone streets of that beautiful colonial town. A small nimble car will definitely guzzle less “los gasoline” allowing you to stretch your budget for those spontaneous scuba trips and fancy dinners, but you can probably forget about that 12V refrigerator. So where did we start with the idea of our overland vehicle? I’m not sure I remember exactly. However, I do know we went through many different iterations and possibilities.
One of the first ideas to cross our minds, perhaps because we had already owned several towable-RVs, was an off-road style trailer. I’m pretty sure at one one point I was addicted to watching YouTube videos of insane Australian off-road caravans like these Patriot and Bruder units. We liked the idea of a nimble yet tough trailer that would allow a familiar and comfortable camping experience and also allow us to leave the trailer behind while we explored the immediate area in a 4×4 SUV. I will admit we never really came to grips with the obvious concerns of leaving behind an expensive trailer full of all of our worldly possessions while we traipsed around the countryside for the day.
Of course, one of the best parts of towing a trailer was the wide-open selection of dream tow vehicles! The natural choice is a classic LR4 Land Rover, but after some more sober research that idea morphed into a much less obvious (yet supremely clever) choice of a Lexus GX470. Don’t scoff, this suburban grocery-getter is actually a highly capable Toyota Land Cruiser Prado in an expensive leather suit. We followed the trailer path for several months and decided to lay down a deposit to get onto the lengthy waiting list at VMI Offroad for a chance at a super cool Canyon. I also (literally) kicked the tires on an Outpost trailer by Boarderland at a local trade show, and we also discussed possible 4-person layouts with a local trailer manufacturer Off Grid.
While we (im)patiently waited on the VMI backorder, we also cruised the idea of a slide-in truck-bed camper. These are a very common sight in Western Canada, but the specific type we thought would be ideal for an overland journey was an all-aluminum pop-up like the amazing units from 4 Wheel Campers. Some friends of ours have one and are more than pleased with it. We also really liked the flat-bed style produced by another local shop Overland Explorer.
Our friends @adventureontap had impressed up with their custom-built camper van (Rambo), which they personally converted from a retired ambulance in the months before their trip. Of course, once you are on the “van” train of thought, any self-respecting gear-head will end up trying to stretch the budget for a real Sportsmobile. Not to mention spending a few hours fantasizing about cruising the planet in an unstoppable house-on-wheels known as an EarthRoamer. However, one thing you’ll notice about 99% of the camper vans in existence; they are made for 2-people. It seems extremely rare to find a family version with 4 seat belts and 2 beds. If you’d like 4 wheel drive AND 4 seat… you’d better be rich, or lucky, or both.
I believe our “eureka moment” came to us while we were on one of our annual summer road-trips in the Rocky Mountains. I think we might have been in Whistler BC when we stumbled across a really cool looking full-size van with a pop-top like a Westfallia. It said Safari Condo on the side. A Canadian company? We were intrigued. A few nights later in Vancouver, we see yet another Safari Condo. This time we get a closer look and notice it has seating for 4 people! I believe that very shortly after returning home I cancelled our deposit with VMI and began searching the net for used Safari Condo’s. Unfortunately for us, there are none to be found west of the province of Quebec (over 4000km away). But once an Eagleson’s mind is set…
A few more weeks/months later I came across a used Safari Condo LSX for sale on a french classified website. For sale at the Safari Condo dealership no less! Thankfully, I speak enough French to get my phone call past the receptionist and to an English-speaking salesman. Next thing ya know… we are mailing a bank draft across the county for our very own silver 2012 Safari Condo LSX! It hardly even bothers us that it’s on the other side of the continent. I would deal with that later. We suddenly feel like the trip is very real! We have chosen our rolling-home. Our chariot of the Pan American highway!