When we heard about Sasha and Francisco’s leave-it-all-behind overland expedition, we thought: That sounds cool. Then, when we saw how they made it happen, we gasped and said: “Now that’s ingenuity!”
So, we asked them to tell us how they converted a basic crossover vehicle into an adventurer’s dream, which took them on the expedition of a lifetime. Not to mention, how did they do it with such a small budget?!
Once you take that in, then you’ll want to read more about the journey that they took in their custom overland automobile, which let them explore the “dazzling, diverse landscape of tortillas across Central America”.
Take it from here Sasha:
Like many other people with quick silver wanderlust coursing through their veins, Francisco and I had always dreamed of the“perfect”adventure vehicle: some miraculously gas-efficient,plush 4×4 that was big enough to play twister in and have our friends join us for weeks of exploring, and also small enough to navigate tiny cobblestone alleyways in ancient cities.However, as we started to seriously consider leaving our comfortable lives and jobs in Silicon Valley for overlanding adventures unknown, we realized that
1) our dream vehicle totally doesn’t exist (yet), and
2) affordable, habitable, reliable, road-worthy vehicles in general are incredibly difficult to find.
We considered the Volkswagen Vanagon Synchro, a go-everywhere, do-anything, sleep- anywhere kind of van which is quite compact, giving it an almost holy status among enthusiasts. However, they stopped importing them to the United States decades ago, and so the only ones you can find are very expensive and very prone to break down. We also toyed with the idea of investing in a Sports mobile, but those are big and unwieldy in urban settings and can run close to$100k.
So Francisco decided to adapt our trustworthy Subaru Forester. It seemed totally nuts to me at first,but then it became a personal challenge for us; was it possible to create an overland-ready vehicle with a run-of-the-mill Subaru and very little money?
Turns out it is.
Our recipe for building a simple but reliable adventure vehicle started with our decision to not invest all of our savings into our dream set-up. We wanted to prioritize the freedom that came with owning a vehicle that we could trust but that we were not overly attached to. We also wanted the flexibility of being able to change our minds; what if we didn’t want to travel by car at some point? What if it was stolen or abducted by custom officials? What if we wanted to sell it? For our first iteration of an overlanding automobile,we wanted to start small and grow from there.
Here’s how we did it:
1) We started with a solid foundation. Our 2004 Subaru Forester has one of the best AWD powertrains out there and world-renowned reliability. That’s critical when you frequently find yourself miles and miles from the nearest human being, not to mention mechanic.
2) Since our plan was to use the interior for cargo and passengers, we couldn’t use it to sleep in. Solution: a roof-top tent from Autohome, which was the only company that offered a solution that, when collapsed, occupied only half our roof, leaving the other half for a cargo box.
3) Our cargo box is the Yakima Skybox 18 in which we were surprisingly able to fit, amongst other things, 2 surfboards, 1 tent, 2 waterbricks, 1 backpack of climbing gear, 1 foldable camping table, 2 sets of snorkeling gear, 2 sleeping bags, 2 wetsuits, 2 helmets, a shower, our daypacks, and a bag of hiking gear.
4) For our dry food and kitchen utensils storage, we ended up using 4 drawers made by Like-It that we found at the Container Store and that Francisco modified by cutting notches in the handles to make a closure system with bungee cords.
5) To power our Dometic mini-fridge and our plethora of accessories and gadgets, as well as our hanging lamp, we used a solar generator from Goalzero. We decided to use their Yeti 400 model paired with their portable Nomad 20 solar panel due to their compact size. The generator charges with both solar panels and the car’s 12V outlet.
This meant that if we decided to buy perishables that needed refrigeration, or needed to charge cameras and other devices out in the middle of nowhere, we were covered. The fridge and battery both lived next to the storage drawers in the trunk; we hacked a metal shoe rack in order to make a base for the fridge to make it possible to pull out for easy access.
6) We filled the other gap between our drawers and the car wall with our camping stove, yoga mats, and folding chairs. This kept the drawers from sliding while driving.
7) In the back seats we kept our backpacks of clothing and shoes along with our foldable bikes. We could move these strategically to allow for two passengers.
8) Instead of a side awning, we tried using a model made by Kelty which we secured to our hatchback door for added sun protection. It proved useful for avoiding sun exposure but failed to pass the insect swarm attack test.
These are the approximate costs we incurred in our set-up:
1) Used AWD station wagon: $6500
2) Roof cargo box: $540
3) Roof-top tent: $1800
4) Storage drawers: $80
5) Mini-fridge: $360
6) Solar generator, panel, and light: $700
7) Stove, table, and chairs: $200
8) Awning: $120
Total cost: $10,300
Our overlanding car hack wasn’t perfect, but it worked pretty darn well, and for only a fraction of the cost of a standard adventure vehicle. Which is all to say, really, that there’s nothing stopping you from having the adventure of your dreams! We give more tips and detailed guides in our book, A Road Within, which you can support on Kickstarter HERE.
To all the journeys your life holds,
Sasha and Francisco
In the fall of 2014, after working in Silicon Valley for the better part of a decade – job-hopping, ego-building, “change the world”-ing, and inflating bubbles – Francisco Franco and Sasha Rosse voluntarily left their cushy, perk-laden tech jobs to live out of their car in the wilds of Central America. They had both attended Stanford and had followed the expected trajectory of success as dictated by the culture of the Bay Area, harnessing themselves to the corporate world of Silicon Valley and ending up at one of the most influential companies in the world: Facebook. Sasha managed several projects with external partners and Francisco was part of the design team. Yet as start-up fever ran rampant and new “unicorns” were minted with dizzying regularity in the feverish, moneyed temples of San Francisco, they found themselves being drawn towards a totally different path. This is their story.