Route planning: trying to stay out of trouble

The first step in planning a round-the-world trip is to study which country you can cross or not. Somehow, driving west to east may be more difficult now than in the sixties, even if cars are stronger and roads better. Latin America is actually easier now, but the Middle-East is more of a challenge.
It is difficult now to cross Iraq and Afghanistan, and Myanmar (Burma) closed all its land borders to foreigner. China is more economically open now, but they make an overland trip an expensive affair by forcing you to take a government-approved guide in exchange of a considerable amount of money. The road to South-East Asia is sealed.

In Africa, it is very difficult to obtain visas for Chad and Sudan, making the west-to-east road impossible, as crossing the Algeria deserts and even isolated areas in Egypt is a good solution if one wants to experience kidnapping – or worst.

It takes a bit of time for the traveler to settle on an itinerary, which will never be perfect anyway. Situations keep changing, and need to be monitored frequently.

On my current route, there are still few places that could be problematic:

few spots on the road are still hazardous
Few spots on the route are still hazardous

The Darien Gap
A 100 miles long area of swamps and rain forest separating Panama and Colombia. There is no existing road connection, which make it the missing link in the Pan-American Highway. The inhabitants of this mountainous jungle with no marked trails are Indian tribes, guerillas and drug traffickers. There are no police or military in the area, and National Geographic calls it the most dangerous place in the Western Hemisphere.

Solution: Find a boat in Panama to ship the car to Colombia. While the car is on its way, take a small plane over the jungle, and pray to not have to do an emergency landing.

The problem with Angola is to get the visa. Hopefully I can get it in South Africa, the only place where it is available. Not getting it would force me to ship the car again, or to cross through a larger part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is better avoided these days.

Solution: Don’t leave South Africa without visa.

Violent crimes, religious tensions, armed muggings, assaults, burglary, kidnappings, extortions, carjacking, roadblock robberies, and armed break-ins are few of the features the country.

Solution: Go as fast as possible, and try to cross the country in few days.

Once inside the country, no problem. great country, nice people, few incidents are reported by travelers. I am more worry about arguments between countries that would lead to border closures, and no visa handed to foreigners.

Solution: Hope the situation stay under control and that my government will not get too excited. Get the visa in Paris at the same time I’ll get India and Pakistan visa.

Just imagine how much fun it will be to cross the country with NY license plates. A recent wave of suicide attacks dissuaded the last tourists to visit the country. Swat in the North West Frontier Province, which used be a great attraction for tourists, is in the grip of violence with militants demanding implementation of Islamic laws through the country.

Solution: Go as fast as possible, and try to cross the country in few days. Right now, foreigners driving overland benefit of military escort, which make the travel even more fun as soldiers drive like New York taxi drivers.

Myanmar (Burma)
The government doesn’t allow you to cross the country overland. Officially you can apply for a transit visa, but in reality, it is always denied. Tourists can only stay in few cities and areas.

Solution: Ship the car from Bangladesh to Thailand or Singapore. It is too difficult and costly to go via China.

Moving target: In few weeks, my route changed considerably

The old route
The old route

The new route
The new route

Getting my ride ready

The Land Cruiser I'm planning to take around the world, parked at home, in Brooklyn
Building drawers

I spent more time this weekend to get the car ready. I can’t count the hours I spent on it anymore. But things are getting closer to completion now. I am almost finished with a drawer system in the back, and planning to be done with the electrical system by the end of next week.
Anyhow, I chose to do this trip with a Toyota Land Cruiser. There’s not many choices when it comes to choose a car for such journeys. Only two vehicles in the world can make it. The Land Cruiser, and the Land Rover Defender. The Land Rover is easy to fix, and the Land Cruiser doesn’t brake down. Both vehicles are tough, and you can find spare parts on all continents. Lot of other vehicles, including american makes are very good quality, but you simply can’t find parts in all areas. The Toyota LC is the car used by the U.N. and other NGOs around the world. The Defender is very hard to find in the U.S., and really expensive, while you can find a LC for less than ten grands.
At the end of July, I was able to get a very clean 1996 Land Cruiser with 92,000 miles for less than $7,000. I upgraded the suspensions so the truck would be able to carry all the equipment, including tools, extra battery, spare parts, cooking equipment, roof tent, water and gas cans, books and luggage, etc…

Installing extra power outlets
Installing extra power outlets