Though many African border posts remain closed for the pandemic, travelling internationally by car could be on the priority lists of many when travel restrictions are relaxed, so advice from two of the most skilled explorers on Earth will certainly come in handy once borders reopen and travel within the African continent is possible.
Kingsley and Ross are among the world’s most accomplished travellers, having covered millions of kilometres delivering aid in Africa and beyond for the Kingsley Holgate Foundation’s various humanitarian expeditions. Their combined experience travelling by road, and often lack thereof, is unrivalled in the modern age.
Expedition Team Leader Ross Holgate shares some helpful tips for simple road trips and overland adventures below.
A: If you drive a newer vehicle with a valid motor or service plan, make sure that the time or distance to the next scheduled dealer visit is outside of any travel plans. You can also alert your dealer to planned long-distance journeys and request a thorough vehicle check in preparation.
For those with vehicles outside of factory care plans it’s important to perform full services ahead of departures. Change all oils and filters, check brake discs and replace pads. Check wheel bearings, prop shaft nuts and suspension components – especially shocks and bushes. Our expeditions are often tens of thousands of kilometres long and we also install fresh batteries before leaving.
Make sure all your tyres are inflated properly and in good condition, and I suggest packing a second spare as a backup if you’re heading into remote areas. Some modern 4x4s come with special tyre sizes which can be hard to find in some places.
Don’t be scared to deflate your tyres if roads get heavily corrugated. This can save your vehicle from a lot of damage as the deflated tyres act as shock absorbers. On our vehicles we go as low as 1.2 bar at the front and 1.5 at the rear. Remember re-inflate to recommended pressures once the road smooths out. If your vehicle is fitted with a winch pull the cable out completely and rewind it neatly on the barrel. Make sure the winch and its remote work properly before departure.
A: International travel requires more paperwork than local travel, but when you’re carrying multiple documents it’s important to keep these things safe and easy to find.
Keep all your vehicle related papers together in a plastic sleeve. When driving a foreign registered vehicle In Africa and abroad, police will often ask for your proof of insurance, vehicle licence, temporary importation documents or Carnet de Passage papers. We keep copies of our passports and driving licences together with these documents, and the actual books and cards elsewhere. We generally keep our plastic file slipped down between the seat and the centre console.
Your passport, ID and some emergency cash is always safer to have on your person in a zipped up pocket. These things are really all you need to get by in emergency situations. We find it’s always better to travel with more than one passport and advise travellers to do the same where possible. This helps for obtaining multiple visas and also makes your life easier if one is accidentally lost.
A: It’s essential to not keep all valuables together in one place because if that one pouch or folder gets stolen or goes missing your dream trip could become a nightmare. Divide your money up in ziplock bags. Good hiding places are in the battery compartment, on the inside of your seat covers and under the rubber mat or carpet in the very back. Tool compartments where jacks and wheel spanners are kept is also a good place.
Today it’s easier and safer to travel with debit or credit cards than carrying a lump of cash. Draw your local currencies directly from ATMs and in some countries in Africa you can even draw US Dollars or Euros.
Q: Any special packing tips?
A: Our first priority is to keep weight as low as possible. Then we try to pack in order of necessity. You don’t want to unpack your entire vehicle to find something positioned deep inside. For example, tents and sleeping bags are packed last so when we set up camp, the first thing we do is put up our tent, throw in mattresses and bags, take out the table and chairs and then it’s food boxes last.
With our new Land Rover Defenders, and the Discoverys we used previously, we’ve always folded the rear seats flat to create one long, level packing surface. We keep four food boxes behind the front seats - one for breakfast, one for lunch, one for dinner and a pot box. It’s much better to have everything contained than lying loose all over the vehicle. It’s also interesting to note that in some countries plastic bags or packets are banned so try to avoid these. Plastic bags are also one of Africa’s worst pollution contributors so we choose not to carry them.
Q: What gear won’t you leave home without?
A: We have a long list of essential gear, but some important items include one water and two fuel containers, a spade, mud/sand ladders, waterproof boxes and a second spare wheel. Always remember to take loads of cable ties and duct tape. Seriously, I think they’ve held my life together sometimes!
A quality air compressor, puncture repair kit and bottle jack are vital. Heavy-duty ratchet straps are also handy and can hold a vehicle together in desperate circumstances. On a recent journey we secured a fellow adventurer’s axle in place with straps after both his shocks broke and a suspension arm cracked.
Q: Any essential medical supplies?
A: We pack medical kits in a similar fashion to packing our vehicles, working in down the body. Cures for ailments of the head, eyes, ears, nose and throat, chest, stomach, bladder, skin, burns, bites, muscles, and cuts. Anti-inflammatories, antihistamines and tubes of ointments are always included. And, don’t forget Imodium for when goat is on the menu!
Malaria prophylaxis are only taken in extremely high-risk areas, but what has become essential are malaria cures – Artesunate and Coartem. We keep some in the medical kit, in the vehicle cubbyhole and with every expedition member’s personal kit. No expedition member is allowed to travel without them. We also have a small trauma medical bag for worst case scenarios as we are sometimes days away from any healthcare facilities.
Q: Do you have any other interesting travel tips to share?
A: Don’t forget to pack your sense of humour as this will be needed when travelling in Africa. Try to keep a spare seat open for visitors because local knowledge can add a completely different angle to your adventure and you can learn lots of valuable information.
If travelling internationally, buy a local sim card or two from different networks. Communication is key, and smartphones allow you to keep your WhatsApp contact details the same. This will save you a fortune in data costs.
Finally, always remember to travel at the pace of Africa. While the Swiss may have fine-tuned the clock it’s truly Africa that owns the time - Safari Njema!
Founded by one of Africa’s most colourful modern day explorers, the key concept of the Kingsley Holgate Foundation is ‘Using adventure to save lives’. Kingsley is a humanitarian adventurer, author, TV personality, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, speaker at the New York Explorers Club and a legend that is known as the most travelled man in Africa. His son Ross has followed in his footsteps to become a world-renowned explorer in his own right, and is now the expedition team leader for all Kingsley Holgate Foundation expeditions.
On every expedition – many of them world firsts – the Kingsley Holgate Foundation team distributes life-saving items such as food parcels, mosquito nets, water purification LifeStraws and Rite to Sight spectacles to remote villages throughout Africa and abroad. It also supports wildlife conservation through community conservation education. Having explored all 54 countries on the African continent, no other team of modern-day explorers have achieved so much in using the energy of adventure to make such a positive difference to the lives of so many.
The Foundation’s expedition team is the only one in the world to have discovered the geographic centre-point of Africa and reached all seven ‘extreme’ geographic points on the African continent.
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