Series on overland travelers. Who are they, where do they travel, how do they prepare…? Let them inspire you to start your own adventure on the road.
Let us introduce you to Klaas Herpels and his M.A.N. expedition truck. We met him over a year ago as a fellow overland traveler, who gave new meaning to testing materials for expedition vehicles (see below). We were seriously impressed by this. Eventually, we asked him for his professional help with our own heating and electrical system. But in today’s post he answers a few questions about his own journey of building an expedition vehicle.
Image credit: Klaas Herpels. All images are used with permission
Why did you start building your own expedition truck?
As many travelers, we started out with backpacking, then slowly moved on to a tent and then a caravan. When our children reached an age where they no longer joined us on vacation, the caravan became too big. I wanted something more compact. I looked forward to building my own overland vehicle; something where I could put my professional experience to good use. Building a well balanced, 4×4 expedition truck would be the right challenge for me: about 10 tons, all in the right proportions (length, width, height), and a 50/50 weight distribution between front and back.
With this idea in mind I started the construction of a 5.4m camper unit on a MAN TGM 13.290. And it turned out exactly what I wanted it to be: an expedition vehicle you can travel the world with. All sturdy, relatively economical, and of course ready for extreme temperatures, from -40 °C to +50 °C.
What was the biggest challenge during the build?
Perhaps THE challenge in such a project is persevering. Building your own camper is not a sprint but a marathon.
Can you tell us more about your stairs?
A disaster how much time designing and building the stairs took. Luckily I had a temporary solution and postponed the stairs till the end. First I watched numerous other stairs, then I drew my first sketch, then the second, … The difficult part was the stairs not touching the ground and keeping enough ground clearance for offroading when it’s stowed away. It was my first time building a scissor stair, I don’t think I’m particularly good at it, but the result can be seen.
As a professional, you also help other overland travelers with the installation of electricity, solar and heating. What drives you to do this?
You can not just work for money alone, there should be a fun part to it too. Motorhomes is that for me, as well as boats, always adding a little holiday feeling to the job. And it’s a healthy change, since normally we work mostly for large businesses.
Coming up with a solution for the different vehicles and people, also adds a challenge to it. Some days I use my “psychology” skills more than my technical skills. On other days, I have to diagnose as many problems as a doctor, or turn into a project engineer or a homologation officer. And of course, along the way friendships are build.
My real personal motivation is to gain new knowledge, lifelong learning and trying to follow the latest developments. Even my own camper I view as a study object.
What kind of advice would you give the aspiring overland traveler?
Usually, a lot of time is lost during the build by researching for too long all the different technical possibilities. As a result not enough time is left to assemble everything correctly and professionally.
Read installation manuals always twice when it’s your first time installing it.
Look also at your building project from end to start. What do you want to achieve and how should the vehicle look like when it is finished.
What is your total budget? How much time and energy do you want to invest in it?
And if I have to give a tip regarding traveling itself: keep in mind that your travel plans might change, that is at least what I often notice.
Where did you travel to already and where do you hope to travel to in the future?
Oh dear, we already traveled to great destinations: Morocco in the Sahara, via Helsinki and St Petersburg into Murmansk Russia, the mountains of Albania and Macedonia, … And next on the schedule is Iceland.
I also dream of a number of South and Central America destinations such as Mexico. And of course traverse Africa. It is still a mystery how I will achieve this. The vehicle is the smallest problem.
Overall, our best trip is always the one to come.
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