It's not a slow car, it's a fast house.
I’d have to say about 90% of the planning for this trip was all based around the car. As it would be our home for the 2+ year adventure it was a pretty important thing to get right. Initially I tried my best in figuring out how to take the vehicle I had at the time. A 200 Series Land Cruiser but it didn’t take long before I realised it wouldn’t work or just not the way we wanted it to work. As it would be our home for a few years, we wanted plenty of space. In the end the 79 series Land Cruiser was the only way we wanted to go. They are the best 4WD which I’ve ever driven and they are incredibly reliable. Given our mechanical abilities are limited and we’d prefer to spend more time driving it than fixing it, it seemed like a perfect fit. Also once you take the tray off the back, there is a huge empty space in which to design and build our home.
By November I’d had enough of planning and decided it was now or never. I’d found a Land Cruiser at the right price which already had quite a few extras fitted (see home for details) so I bit the bullet and bought it. Solène was rather surprised when I came home with it. I think she had thought it was just another one of my ideas and that I’d forget about it when the next idea came along. She became a lot more involved from that point on.
For the canopy/camper I looked at every off-the-shelf product in Australia (that has a website) and found nothing that I really liked so I decided to design one myself and have it built. We started by setting a few criteria of how we wanted to live. Firstly after seeing a few other setups we knew we didn’t want something that we’d be cooking and living inside of, as we’d get claustrophobic quite quickly. Secondly we wanted something that could be set up and packed up quickly and thirdly we wanted to be completely self-sufficient (assuming we were close to a water source and had enough beer). Which meant a decent solar energy and battery system and plenty of water. If we could meet the final 2 criteria then our only fixed costs for the trip outside of shipping and visas would be groceries and fuel. Some other things we thought we needed was a water filter so we didn’t have to buy bottled water and a plan around the weather. As we didn’t want to be living in a van we needed some protection from the sun / rain / wind / snow etc.
We started designing the canopy by breaking it down into the different rooms of our house. The kitchen, living room, bedroom, bathroom and the shed. We then wrote a wish list of everything we wanted from each room and then I went to work trying to fit it all.
I was pretty happy with my first design however it was designed without any real fabrication knowledge of what was possible. In early December I asked an engineer friend of mine how to go about it and was told to go and speak to Ryan at Sealed Fabrication. After sitting down with him for a half an hour It was clear that he was our man and also that I had to completely redesign the whole thing from scratch. He was able to show me a few things we could do that would utilize the space much more effectively, so I went back to the drawing board (google sketchup) and designed my dream camper.
We love our food so the majority of the design for the canopy was all based around the kitchen. Just because we are travelling for a few years didn’t mean we have to give up the things we love. On the contrary we wanted to do more of what we love. In the end we were able to fit in all the essentials on the wish list and a lot more. (see the home section for details). It’s a very workable kitchen with good prep space which means there’s really not much we can’t cook during our trip and to set up or pack up the whole kitchen takes less than two minutes.
The bedroom was the other essential thing to get right. We wanted something we could leave all our bedding in and again something we could set up and pack up quickly. We were lucky enough to stumble upon the Backtrax Roof top tents stand at the Perth Camping show. Their tent was made for our trip. To open we just undo 4 clips and press the remote and just do the opposite to close it. It takes 30 seconds to open and a minute to close AND it is incredibly comfortable.
The bathroom was pretty easy, we installed a gas hot water system so we can shower regularly and don’t need to pay for accommodation or camping. When it’s needed we have a pop up shower screen. We also installed a 130L water tank and a portable pump so we can fill it up from anywhere.
Finally the shed was included to fit in all of our shit, everything we’d normally put in our shed at home like a shovel, recovery gear, fishing rods etc as well as our bicycles (so we can leave the car set up and ride into town or to the pub). The rest of the canopy is made up of small compartments for clothes, tools, camera gear etc.
Hidden away under the shed is the most important part, the electrical system that makes all of this run. We installed a REDARC 30amp Battery management system which has been great in managing our batteries. It tells us how much power we are using, which some days is a lot. All of the appliances and equipment that we have fitted and brought requires quite a lot of electricity. We need it to open and close the tent, to charge our computers, cameras, to run our air compressor and of course to make our morning coffees so we don’t kill each other. We’ll even be relying on it to help keep us warm and run our electric blanket when it gets to -40 in Siberia. As much of this requires 240V we also added a 2000 watt sinewave inverter which converts the cars electricity so we can use our household appliances. When we are not driving (which charges our batteries from the engine) we charge our batteries with a fixed 150W Solar panel which is sufficient for up to 4 days. If we are staying any longer we only have to fold out a 150W solar blanket and we can stay until we run out of food…..or beer.
With only a couple of weeks to go before our test run across Australia we still didn’t have a practical solution for bad weather. We attached a ARB awning (shade) above the kitchen which we can pull out as cover from the sun but nothing if it rained. Comeith Justin and Jen! Justin and Jen spent 2 years driving their car across Europe, Asia and North America. I found their blog online and realised they too were from Fremantle so I contacted them and invited them out for dinner. As luck would have it they gave us loads of greats tips that came in very handy and the best part was they previously built campers, and more specifically they did canvas work. After telling them my idea and that I couldn’t find anyone to make it they offered their serviced. They did an amazing job of creating and building a custom room we can quickly zip onto the awning. If it’s a little windy we can just put up 1 wall or if the weather is terrible we can zip on an entire room, even with floor if necessary. (I’m currently writing this post from the room they built, it’s pissing with rain and I and my laptop are dry so they did an amazing job)
With the camper on board and finished we needed to finish the car. The extra weight of the camper fully loaded meant the suspension was in need of major upgrade. As we already had a lot of ARB equipment on the car we decided to stick with a good thing. We replaced the suspension with an Old Man Emu heavy duty setup. It made driving a whole lot more comfortable and much less illegal which was nice. We also installed an ARB twin compressor in case of a flat tyre and ARB driving lights to go with it.
Finally we replaced the old worn tyres with a new set of 6 Cooper S/T Maxx’s. We are hoping to make it to Europe before needing to replace them.
In the end we were able to build an amazing camper which was even better than I could have imagined when i first started. It has everything we need and quite a lot we probably don’t. The amount of things we’ve bene able to fit in and use easily is going to make the next few years not only much more comfortable but a whole lot more fun.