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A2A Expedition: To Drag or Drop a Trailer, that is the Question.

I was once almost in love with an Afrikaans girl. She lived in a posh house on top of a hill and bore a German surname. Her father, Loot, hated the thought of me but begrudgingly liked me and one day asked for my help to build an overland trailer which he planned to use for a family safari to Botswana and Namibia from Johannesburg where we all lived. My role was to hold metal bits while he welded or lift heavy objects or turn a spanner. I was a blunt tool which he preferred to keep far away from his beautiful daughters and I was hoping to ingratiate myself to him on the off chance that I might be invited to join the safari. This was back in the early 90’s and he planned to tow the trailer with a Defender 110 Tdi. He built the large, open box trailer on a frame attached to two Land Rover Series axles, the nose was weighed down by a box containing cooking gas and a tool box. There were no drawers or slide out kitchens, no LED lighting, no fridge, no roof top tent with gazebo and lounge area. It did have wooden walls and floors and a tarp roof.

Loot knew that he would not get much sleep with a fox in the chicken coop and it came as no surprise when they packed the trailer and set off for an adventure without me. There were more than a few great stories to be shared when they returned a month later. The girls had been chased, panties around ankles, by a lion who had interrupted their pee stop in the middle of nowhere. They had run out of fuel in the desert but found a fuel dump after walking five kilometers, they met free San and were painted in Himba mud.

Top of the Pops was the story of the trailer. Fully loaded it was too heavy and the Landy struggled to tow it at highway speeds (they initially return home after a short drive to dump a bunch of gear before heading west again). Regardless of the gear dump, the weight and the wind resistance of the trailer reduced the fuel economy of the diesel Defender significantly and they had numerous punctures. On the rough corrugated roads of Northern Namibia the trailer began to bounce and sway at any speed over 30 KPH. Loot was convinced that the trailer was too light and sought to solve the problem by lying on top of the gear in the trailer while his wife drove the Landy as rapidly as possible. For 200km he ate dust while the trailer bounced and swayed, the Namibian earth covering his body with a thick, red film before they eventually invested in two 100 pound bags of cement. I liked that story particularly because I would undoubtedly have been the ballast had I been along for the journey from Rundu to Luderitz and I seriously doubt that he would have substituted my weight with cement. Loot had a dilemma: should he try and modify the trailer, buy a new one or pack less? Packing less was not an option so he solved the problem by buying a Unimog. Knowing what I know now my advice to Loot would simply be – pack less!

A trailer is loved by some and loathed by others and, though I have been tempted to invest in a Sankey trailer to haul an inventory of our books, a kayak, two surfboards, a motorbike and large quantities of beer, I have accepted that the added weight and cost is unjustifiable. This does not necessarily mean that I will not one day be able to justify the cost. Essentially, we travel with the rule that if it does not fit in the Landy or if we do not use an article regularly, we do not need It.

Those who love or manufacture trailers will no doubt disagree with me and will insist that a trailer is an essential piece of gear which allows greater mobility and increases pay load for all those essentials. The truth, however, is that very few long term overlanders use trailers. An Australian lady with eight children recently contacted me through our A2A Facebook page and asked for my advice as they were planning a multi-year overlanding journey. Not many people overland long term with even one child, let alone eight, so I suggested a trailer with a roof top tent but her response surprised me… “We camped for 3 months around half of Aus with 7 kids in a 10 seater troopie and an off-road trailer but came home when I was 35 weeks pregnant with our 8th child. Hated having the trailer and with 2 cars we will have roughly the same amount of storage plus we can separate the kids!’

Incredibly, they chose to invest in two vehicles rather than travel with a trailer.

Another friend in Australia, Gareth Griffiths, loves the trailer he and his better half towed from the UK across Europe, Asia and Russia. He would not leave home without it. A South African family we know took a rather standard trailer and drove from South Africa up the east coast of Africa to Europe, around Europe, then down the notorious west coast of Africa before returning to their home in Pretoria. They loved their trailer and report having very few problems despite driving a Toyota and having two very young children.

Dragging a trailer is, essentially, a matter of need. However, you may find that you need less than you think you do while off overlanding the planet. My advice? Figure out what you really need and leave the rest at home. With the trailer.

Do you agree?


Graeme Bell was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. Together with his wife and two children he has spent much of his adult life chasing momentous experiences and campfire smoke across five continents. He has traveled overland to Kilimanjaro from Cape Town, circumnavigated South America, explored from Argentina to Alaska, Europe to Asia, and across the entirety of coastal Western Africa, all in a trusty Land Rover. Graeme and the family are now encouraging their self-built Defender live-in camper (and permanent home since 2012) to find a way from Cape Town to Vladivostok. Graeme is a member of The Explorers Club, the author of five excellent books, and an Overland Journal contributor since 2015.