Frugality vs Cachet: The Overland Travelers Dilemma

By Paul Strubell of Dirt Orcas – 9/1/17

I find myself at odds with the community I love. What is it about the overland community that seems so “kept”? For every genuine superstar, the ones who loads into a car bound for Baja or Patagonia, there are one thousand others who’s goal is to dump $15K worth of upgrades into their vehicle just to take a lap through the mountains once a year.

I understand that modifications, upgrades, and gear are cool, but it also seems so hollow. Spending $2000 on a low profile bumper with a heavy duty winch that you never use seems like a sickness. You could choose not to upgrade your bumper and drive into the heart of the Yukon or to the Mayan Ruins of Mexico for the same price. We have enough research at this point to know you’re supposed to be buying experiences and not things, to enrich your life. Obviously some people are adding things to enrich their experience, but that isn’t most people.

Is this about time? If we can’t get the time away to travel to for two weeks, but we have the $2000 and we upgrade our vehicles does it somehow stand in to some of the happiness that would come from actually taking that trip?  Buying the feeling that you are getting ready for adventure is at least something and there is research to support that what truly makes us happy is to have something to look forward to.

There was an article in The Atlantic that suggested that 47% of the time, your mind is wandering. This article encouraged the reader that greater happiness would be found in buying experiences instead of things.

As I dive deep into my own overland preparations and learn about the abundance of products and gear marketed to prospective travelers like us, you can’t help but flip through Instagram accounts and forums, to learn about the roof racks, bumpers, jerry-cans, and rooftop tent options. You identify the companies and the set ups you admire. You start to research the price and make calculations about what it will take to build your perfect vehicle. The process is exciting. Overland vehicles are super cool and you are the project manager of your own build.

I spent a week in Colorado last summer and had the joy of personally seeing hundreds of well put together vehicles ready for the challenges of overland travel and difficult traversing. SUV’s and trucks with lifted and beefed-up suspension. ARB bumpers, bull bars, winches, and more roof racks than you could count. Colorado is like a live action Instagram feed for well put together overland vehicles. It was amazing.

While riding the Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route from from Wyoming to 4 corners, what surprised me was that in 665 miles of off road travel, I saw only a handful of people on the trails. The ones we did see were tourists from Texas and the Midwest, in Ford trucks and old 4Runners, happily climbing their way to the top of mountain passes, while their camping gear smashed around in the bed of their trucks. Their vehicles were not modified at at all, but they were the ones out there doing it.

The vehicles with beautiful set ups were all speeding down the highways with empty roof racks and freshly washed veneers.

This story brings me to my point. About ten years ago I made the decision to by a new to me 2005 Toyota Tacoma. It was my dream vehicle. All the utility I needed and all the cool factor dialed up to eleven. As a kid I remember seeing Marty McFly in Back to the Future wax poetic about taking Jennifer up to the lake, in his black Toyota Tacoma. “Wouldn’t it be great? Take that truck up to the lake… throw a couple sleeping bags in the back.” That was just about the definition of cool.

While the purchase gave me the look I was going for, it didn’t help me live the life I was hoping to live with it. The life I was hoping to achieve and thought I had just bought my way into. The marketing had worked on me. From Marty to the current Toyota ads, I was sold. Get the black Tacoma 4×4 and life would get really fun. I got the Tacoma to take those trips up to the lake, to sleep under the stars, but  I never did. I didn’t have the money. I was spending it all on the truck. It looked great but I wasn’t any closer to the lake or sleeping out under the stars.

I wont get into the math about the lost opportunity cost of spending money on roof racks and bumpers, because most of you have thought about this already. To keep it simple, you spend money on an item that improves your vehicles ascetics, but in turn it also reduces your MPG’s substantially. Think about the adventures you could have had with that money! It really adds up.

Of course if you can afford to do it all then this point is moot. Still, most people can not afford to do it all and I just hope that to shed some light on spending wisely to enrich your ability to actually get out and adventure travel.

Here are some examples of some various levels of overland travel set ups. Keep in mind in these examples, the cheaper the set up, the greater the distance traveled.

Desk to Glory  Richard and Ashley are travelling from BC to Patagonia in their 1990 Tacoma. They have added camping essentials and fixed what breaks along the way. Click here for our interview with them.

@ontheroadhome  has built an amazing 4 Wheel Camper set up on his flat bed Tacoma. A newer more abundant home and modernized version of the basic Desk to Glory roof top tent set up, isn’t what I would call overkill, but it certainly isn’t roughing it either. It’s a well thought out rig, but you can also see areas of vehicle gluttony. Click here for our interview with Devon and Kassandra.

Earth Roamer Not everybody is in a position to spend a quarter of a million dollars on an adventure home, but if you have jet money, why not? Here is our interview with @nomadyogafamily

Whatever your style or financial situation may be, The purpose of this writing is to remind you that there is no substitute for adventure and actual experience. Use you additional resources to seek out the wild and not to dump more money into a product you wont ever utilize. Get out and explore more. Enrich your life with experience and not things.

1 reply
  1. Jim
    Jim says:

    I couldn’t agree more. My experience is,( and don’t get me wrong, there are much more accomplished and experienced travelers than me) don’t wait for the right bike, rig, traveling companion or the perfect time. If you have the inclination and the chance to go, please just Go Do It. You’ll learn along the way, and that’s a key part of the experience. The people, animals and places along the way are certainly worth it.


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