If you’re planning or thinking about an extensive overland expedition, especially across the ocean, you will probably ask yourself this question. There are pros and cons to both approaches to this – so you have to decide what is more important for you.
Regardless of those options – have a look on our Useful links article, where I list many online resources about buying a car, and buy&sell groups and pages.
I’d say it really mostly depends on three things: destination, required level of comfort and money.
First of all, if you’re living for example in Europe and you’re not going somewhere where it’ll require shipping on the sea (driving to Vladivostok…), it’s probably easier to just buy locally. Same applies if cars are a lot more expensive in the place you’re going to travel.
The main dealbreaker might be finances. For example, shipping a car to South America from Europe was around 2000 eur all in, one way. That’s about 4000 eur both ways, lost for good – which was 2/3 of the cost of our car we’ve bought in Chile(6000). As you can see, it was a no-brainer.
The third thing is the “level of comfort” needed. If you’re fine with just basic bed, supplies and some easy work (fridge,solar), you can do all that quite easily almost anywhere. But if you want to build a properly insulated, heated custom campervan – it can take months and requires a lot of tools – so it can be challenging & expensive if you’re not home. You can get around this one by buying used campervan from other traveller though – or buying a cheap, already equipped camper locally (especially in the US, Europe & Australia)
It is up to you then – if you have a higher budget and enjoy building and “pimping” the car exactly to your needs, you might prefer to buy it at home. We didn’t care that much about the car and comforts, but more for the places it would take us, so we went the other way. Since there are hundreds of DIY camper van conversions out there on the internet, I will only talk about the fly & buy option here.
Now that you’ve thought about whether you’re going to buy a car locally or fly & buy, you should think about what kind of vehicle this is going to be. Again, there are countless of ways to travel and everyone has a different budget. If you have the resources, there’s nothing wrong with buying a big overland truck, but you can also travel in a small Tuk-Tuk. Most of the people(with “normal” budgets) will eventually settle for either a van/minivan, or some sort of 4×4 SUV (or the two of these combined).
This one is entirely up to you, and how much comfort do you need or want. What I’ve found is, that most of the people start smaller and gradually get larger and larger cars as they travel more. With that, the question a lot of people ask is:
Okay, that is a bit of a generalisation. But ask most world travellers and they will tell you, that they did not use the 4×4 95% of the time. The question is, do you want to explore those 5%?
Many people will also tell you, that having 4×4 means you will still get stuck – just further down the trail than the 4×2, because you will push it 🙂 There are some places, obviously, that really require having 4×4 – if you plan on going deep into the muddy holes and soft sand, it will be useful.
But from our experience, at least in the Americas, good ground clearance and proper tires will get you far, and it’s even more important. Many people (including me) overestimated the bad roads a bit – only to stare at beaten up old sedans, stuffed with locals, going past you twice your speed – just when you feel like you’re the true adventurer.
So I’d say – if you enjoy, but really enjoy going out into the middle of nowhere, then yes, get the 4×4. If not – you might still enjoy having it, but don’t limit yourself by searching only with cars equipped with one.
One upside these cars (and vans with solid chassis) have is they are usually built to withstand a lot of abuse and bad roads – which will come handy. Apart from general maintenance, we’ve never really been broken down at the side of the road in our 85000+ km we’ve made – thanks to our lovely Japenese built 4×4 SUVs.
In this regard, if you stick to the car that is available in most of the countries you’re going through like us, we’ve found that less is more. It is always good to have some crucial supplies(belts/hoses/clamps/cable ties) and basic tools, but carrying half of your engine or suspension is usually overkill – and we’ve met many travellers, who initially started with having many spare parts with them and later (or in other trips) took only some necessary stuff. Unless you’re really going to spend months in the absolute wilderness, there are always places where you can get spare parts.
That said, if you’re travelling in an “exotic car” – in this case exotic meaning not sold or supported in the countries you’re going to travel, than you should take a lot more. Even a broken windshield in a reasonably large country like Mexico can take you a few months to replace, if you’re travelling in less standard car. Or US made VW Eurovan transmission taking 11 months to fix in Ecuador.
This will largely depend on your sentiment to the car, the plan for the next years, and whether you’ve spent a lot of time and money building your car to fit your needs – or if you feel like selling the vehicle after the journey would be like eating the horse after you’ve ridden on it (©Dominika na cestě).
If you are on the other side of the world though, you’ve bought the car there and it would be too expensive to ship & import it to your home country, just sell it to another traveller. You can find resources & websites to do so in our Useful links article.