Dan Grec :: The Road Chose Me
Dan is an adventurer, snowboarder and photographer based in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada. Growing up in Australia gave Dan a passion for travel and exploration, and years of family road trips around the continent re-enforced that passion. In 2011 Dan set out in his Jeep Wrangler and drove 40,000miles from Alaska to Argentina, passing through some 16 countries over 22 months. The Road Chose Me
Read his interview on Expedition Portal here: https://expeditionportal.com/adventure-interview-dan-grec/
The Road Chose Me
About Dan's Jeep Wrangler JK: https://expeditionportal.com/39488/
Scott is the publisher and co-founder of Expedition Portal and Overland Journal, and is often credited with popularizing overlanding in North America. His travels by 4WD and adventure motorcycle span all seven continents and include three circumnavigations of the globe. His polar travels include two vehicle crossings of Antarctica and the first long-axis crossing of Greenland. @globaloverland
Matthew is a leading expert in automotive adventure. He has extensively explored the world's most-remote places by 4WD, and is considered an industry authority on overland travel. Matt is the only American to ever become an editor of a major Australian 4WD publication, and has over 15 years of competitive auto racing experience. @mattexplore
Scott: Hello and welcome to the first ever Overland Journal Podcast. I am here at the Overland Expo. I am your host, Scott Brady and my co host, Matt Scott.
Matt: How’s it going guys?
Scott: And we have got a distinguished guest, in fact this is our first guest, and there is a reason why he is our first guest, is because he is one of the most accomplished overland travelers in North America. Welcome Dan Grec, thanks for being with us today.
Dan: Thanks very much guys, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Scott: And being at Overland Expo, this is obviously exciting to see all of the new equipment and all of the new vehicles that generate so much interest in this space, but obviously for Matt and I, and I know for you as well Dan, all of this really does come back to our passion for travel. And overlanding really is vehicle based travel. It’s nothing other than that. It isn’t four wheeling, it isn’t camping, it’s taking your vehicle and doing something like you’ve done, which is circumnavigate South America and then over the last couple years, nearly circumnavigating Africa. So we’ve got a couple of questions for you Dan, I think that it will be helpful for the audience to know who you are, a little bit of your background. Why don’t you give us the details.
Dan: Absolutely, yeah. So I grew up in Australia, relatively normal upbringing. My parents are both teachers, totally middle class. I went to university, studied to be an engineer, and then came across to North America chasing the snow and snowboarding, and kind of that whole, like, “After university, what am I going to do?”, type of thing. And that’s when I bought my first kind of adventure vehicle. It was an old rusty Jeep XJ Cherokee. I was going canoeing on the weekends, I was hiking. Then in the winter I was snowboarding. And I realized that this vehicle could just take me anywhere. It kind of was limitless. And that really, really got me excited. And I hadn’t, at that point, explored much of North America, so it was a great opportunity to get out into the backcountry. And then kind of, plans started growing, and growing, and then I ended up driving all the way from Alaska to Argentina over the span of two years in a little two door Wrangler.
Scott: I remember that too, I remember when I first saw the first images coming out, and thought, “This guy is amazing”.
Matt: And I thought he was crazy.
Dan: And it’s funny, because that was 2009. I actually didn’t know what overlanding was. I’d never heard the word before.
Matt: And you just did it. You were just like, I want to drive there, this is cool, we’re going to do it.
Dan: It wasn’t until I got to the border of Belize and Guatemala that I actually bumped into someone else doing the same thing, and he said to me like “Oh yeah man, we’re overlanders!”. And I was like, “Oh, I didn’t know that!”
Scott: It’s a thing, it’s got a name! And it’s interesting, the questions that we had. You have seen this market evolve. You’ve seen it become a market. You’ve seen it evolve from those of us that were passionate about travel to, now an industry. How does that sit with you? There are obviously some positive things that come along with that, but what do you think that the challenges are that we have as an industry as we go forward?
Dan: Well, I mean to start, I think the positives are that we are just encouraging more people to just get out there, and do what they love. Whether it's, you know, you want to go fishing on the weekends, so you need a vehicle to take you to that great fishing spot. And, you know, you want to eat well, so you need a fridge. And you want to sleep well, so, maybe you need some sort of roof top tent or similar. So I think that’s unbelievably positive that, and we’re including Subarus and we’re including, you know, nontraditional overland vehicles, let’s say.
Matt: Like a two door Jeep?
Dan: Like a two door Jeep. So I think it’s great that we’re, you know, encouraging more and more people to get out and do what they love.
Scott: Yeah, I agree. And I think that that’s the bottom line as an industry, what we have to come back to is, if we encourage the positive aspects of overlanding, which is experiencing new cultures, experiencing new places, then I think that we’ll continue to be healthy. I think once people put, once they wrap too many badges around it. Where, you’ve got to have a Tacoma, or you’ve got to have some highly specialized vehicle to travel, and all three of us know that that’s absolutely not true. I think a two door, soft top Wrangler is a great example of that. Or me crossing the Silk Road in a Suzuki Jimny. Or Matt, you know, traveling around Southeast Asia on motorcycles.
Matt: Scooters, actually. They were 49cc’s, let’s be honest.
Scott: Right? And at the end of the day for me, the thing that I come away from is the memories that I have, it’s not what I drove. It was the people that I encountered and the experiences that I had. And it’s so important I think for all of us, especially someone in your position Dan, that is inspiring so many people...
Scott: Is reminding them that, and you do that, I hear you when you talk to people. You remind them to just go, don’t be afraid, just go.
Dan: Right, yeah, and I think it’s fascinating whenever you meet overlanders around the world, you know, early on when maybe you don’t know each other yet. There’s one or two questions about, “What kind of vehicle do you drive? What mileage does it get? What tires does it have?” But that’s about the end of it. After that, nobody really cares any more. Because you realize, it’s not about the vehicle, you know? It’s more about, “Did you guys get to this cool waterfall? How was the border crossing? What did you think of the food in Nigeria?” It’s the experiences that everyone actually cares about. And the vehicle takes us there, so the vehicle’s great.
Matt: I think that the vehicle is so much less relevant these days. I mean, most vehicles are pretty reliable. Most vehicles are very capable. I mean, look at what we have in North America right now. Like we have a slew of internationally available pickup trucks. Just grab one, and drive one.
Scott: And just go.
Matt: And the things that we would have had to do ten years ago, we don’t really have to do. I think it’s great.
Dan: Yeah, I agree 100% that vehicles today are so much more reliable, and comfortable.
Dan: Yeah, you can drive, I mean, to the end of the planet in pretty much a showroom vehicle and not expect to have any problems.
Scott: Yeah, there’s no question about that. And I think that even in the conversations that I’ve had at the show so far, reminding people that if you buy a stock Tacoma or a stock Four Runner, or a stock Jeep, any of the above, and you just leave, you’re going to be okay. There’s really only highly specialized environments, like the polar regions that you have to have something that’s so heavily modified. Now there’s obviously the recognition that we do want to get further afield. Especially as more people travel or as we become more experienced as travelers ourselves. When you prepared your Jeep, what did you think about, as far as getting further afield? Did you want to get remote? Was that part of the goal?
Dan: Absolutely yeah, the reason I chose Africa was because I wanted to get, you know, further off the map than I’d ever been in the past. And for me, that really revolved around kind of creature comforts. I wanted a better sleeping setup than just a ground tent and I wanted to eat better food than just, sort of, ramen noodles and tin beans. And I knew I'd need drinking water, you know, all of the things to help me survive and thrive in those environments. Rather than just, kind of, tolerate the trip and then be sick of it and want to give up after six months.
Scott: And that leads me to one of our questions, “What’s the one thing that you had with you, and it can be the vehicle or something on the vehicle, that really changed the dynamic of the trip? That it made such a leap forward from what you experienced in South America?
Dan: One piece of equipment you mean?
Dan: Well actually, something I have with me, I don't talk about it a lot, is I have a little photo album of photos of my family, and some photos of adventures I've had around the world. And I have about six or eight of them stuck on the roof of my Jeep, so I can see them when I'm upstairs asleep. But, about every three or six months, I rotate the photos out, between ones that are still in the album packed away in a box. And every time I do that, I end up sitting down for a couple of hours and flipping through the photo album and remembering all of those amazing times in my family, you know, back at home.
Scott: Do you feel like that’s a bit of a grounding exercise for you? Like it reminds you of home? It reminds you of some of those elements? It maybe takes you out of that space of being a nomad for a minute? Or how do you feel that changes you?
Dan: Exactly right. And it helps me sort of escape from maybe the harsh times, or when I'm lonely or when I’m tired, and it’s pouring rain and there’s mosquitoes everywhere. It helps me sort of zone out a little bit and remember back to times that I’ve had with family and any adventures that I’ve had.
Matt: I think it’s so important when you travel, you have to have those little luxuries with you, you know. And maybe luxuries is a weird word, but those nonessential things that when, kind of, you don’t have a great day, they just kind of keep you going.
Dan: Exactly right. And that ability to sort of go inside yourself and just have a good evening anyway, even if you just have a peanut butter sandwich for dinner, but then be able to sleep warm and dry, and then get up in the morning refreshed and ready to sort of, you know, face the world again.
Scott: Yeah, for me that’s coffee.
Scott: I think that that’s the one luxury I can’t really travel without.
Matt: Yeah, for me it’s Rose, but that’s a different story.
Dan: Yeah, I’m totally on the coffee train now. It’s like a mission in Africa to always find good ground coffee.
Matt: So on the opposite of that, we know what your favorite thing that you had. What was the thing that you’ve carried around with you, that you’ve never used. Like, everytime you see it, every time you hit your foot on it, every time you have to move it around, you're like, “Why do I have this thing with me?” What is it? What is it for you? Because I know I have something that I have no idea why I carry. I think everybody does. Whether they carry it out of superstition, or because somebody down the road said that they’d have to have it.
Dan: You know, I do have a set of hiking poles in my Jeep, you know, that you would take to hike on a mountain. Because I bought them in the Yukon, years ago before I left, and they were really expensive, and I just couldn’t bring myself to like, give them away or get rid of them. And so I kept convincing myself that I’d need them, and so they’re in the Jeep to this day. And I used them once in Cameroon. So, I did use them.
Scott: Out of Principal? Or...?
Dan: Well, a bit of both. I did need them.
Matt: “One day, I’m going to need these, in Cameroon!”
Dan: Exactly! It’s just one of those things where I try to be a minimalist, but somehow that one slipped under the radar.
Scott: And what do you think brought about that idea of minimalism for you? Is that something that started well before you began traveling in this way? Or is that really evolved since then?
Dan: I think I started out as a backpacker. Originally, my brother took me out on, you know, multi day hiking trips. Where you have to carry everything on your back, including your stove, including all of your food. And from that, I loved that sense of, “Everything I need is on my back right now.” You know? I don’t need all of that stuff that’s in my house. And I really enjoy that idea of, “I only need a small amount of stuff to be happy and content.”
Scott: Well, and as you’ve seen in your travels, when you go to developing countries, people are so much happier because they have so much less stuff. They don’t have a mortgage to make, usually. They don’t have expensive things that are preoccupying all of their energies trying to maintain. So I do see that, certainly in other people, and I’m seeing it more and more in travelers.
Dan: Yeah, absolutely. In other countries it feels like they just figured out that happiness, you can go directly to it.
Dan: Where as, we’ve kind of been tricked into thinking you need money and stuff, and that’ll somehow lead to happiness, in some vague way. But I saw so many people in Africa who don't really have the choice of getting lots of money or stuff. So they just say, ‘Oh well, we’ll just go to happiness instead’.
Matt: I was going through, this is a little weird, but I was going through my Amazon order history and I realized when I’m traveling, I have zero orders. I’m not ordering anything, I’m not looking at Amazon, I’m not even considering buying anything. I’m just so content and happy, but when I’m at home, it’s like, you’re trying to get that little hit of serotonin, or whatever it is that you normally get when you’re traveling. And you turn to consumerism. I think it’s true.
Scott: That’s so true. And it’ll sneak up on all of us before you know it.
Scott: It absolutely has that effect. So beyond this idea of minimalism, which I do see you act out in your life. When you travel, one of the ways to travel is to obviously save a bunch of money and then go off and spend it over a series of years, it seems like you take a little different approach. How do you normally fund your adventures?
Dan: I definitely, I did what you just described for the first adventure. I just purley lived on my savings account. And then for the second adventure, I kind of ran out of money and made some mistakes along the way. And so I realized I was going to have to earn money as I was traveling. And I really wanted to become a travel writer and photographer. And so I put a lot of energy and focus into that, and I published a book and I write for a handful of magazines.
Scott: So that the audience knows how to see more of Dan’s work, he has a website www.RoadChoseMe.com, he has a book related to that first adventure in South America, and he is working currently on completing another book on his adventures through Africa. Tell us a little bit more about your other project WikiOverland.
Dan: So when I traveled from Alaska to Argentina, I realized that by traveling in that way you gain a lot of information about the border crossings, about insurance requirements per country, you know, gas prices in every country. And at first I thought this would be a great thing to put in a book, but then I realized it will go out of date in a month. And so I came out with this idea to have it as a community wiki, where anyone can edit it and update it at any time. And so that's the goal of WikiOverland, to have it be the community encyclopedia of overlanding.
Scott: I’ve used it.
Matt: I’ve used it.
Scott: Yeah, it’s a great resource. I remember coming up to the Peruvian border on a motorcycle and just being like, you know I’ve done no research, so I think I got more lucky than good at that border.
Matt: Yeah I think that whenever as a community we can come together and provide a resource, because that is the daunting thing about overlanding, about traveling is, people have anxiety about crossing borders. They have anxiety about, “Where am I going to get fuel? What’s available?” And to have a resource, I think that’s very commendable for you to not selfishly look at the profits that maybe you would have gotten out of a book and to provide that to the community. I think that’s really cool.
Dan: Thanks. It’s still relatively small, and it doesn’t get a lot of traffic, but I’m really happy whenever I see other people going in there and update it, you know, and gas prices get a tweak. It makes me smile that there are other people out there doing, crossing those borders that I crossed ten years ago.
Scott: And the reality is that the people that are doing big global travel, that’s a relatively small fraternity. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t numerous people doing that, but it’s not in the tens of thousands, it’s in the thousands most likely. Whereas there are people who want to go down and have their first Baja experience. And there are people who want to drive to Alaska. There are people who want to fly to Australia and rent a vehicle and drive around. And that is always so exciting to see, and them having their own version of an adventure is what will spurn those next ideas.
Dan: Exactly right. And all of those adventures you just mentioned, they're all unbelievably good, and valid, and fun, and everyone who wants to, we should encourage them to go out and do them.
Scott: Well, and that leads me to another question, “What was the most fun, or hilarious moment, that you had in your travels in Africa?”
Dan: It was always really funny, in a lot of countries, you know, the locals kind of treat me differently because of the color of my skin versus their skin. And I think, you know, a lot of white people are sort of on a bit of a pedestal, or they’re sort of a little bit superior. And so some of the funnest moments I have was like, I’d come across a vehicle that’s stuck in the mud and I would just jump out of my jeep, not wearing any shoes, and immediately sink up to my knees in the mud. And just watching the way the locals reacted to me. At first, they were kind of horrified, they almost wanted to like, pick me up and carry me out of the mud. Then when I kind of waived them off, suddenly they’d be like, “Oh, this guy’s just like us! Oh, this guy’s really cool! We should hang out with this guy!” So then a bunch of handshakes and invites, and it just became like a really hilarious way to kind of break down this supposed separation. I always kind of enjoyed doing it. It was fun.
Scott: Of course, and that’s when the smiles come out, and that’s when the invitations come. And the next thing you know, you’re having food with their family and we are so similar, in Africa being really the birthplace of humanity. So it's cool to be there.
Dan: Absolutely, yeah. And to really kind of sink in and get like, under the skin of the way the culture works. And that communal eating is such a thing, and that family is such a thing. It’s really cool to spend enough time to really get to know that.
Matt: So that’s your best moment? I want to know the nitty gritty. I want to know what you hated the most. What was your worst day? I’m talking, food poisoning, I’m talking... You said earlier, “I lost a bunch of weight, because I had Malaria twice when I was there.” How do you get through that stuff? What was it for you?
Dan: Malaria the second time around was really bad.
Matt: That has to be really annoying, like, are you kidding me? This is happening again?
Dan: I mean, when you’re sick, you don’t really have a choice. You just have to soldier through it. I mean, it was horrible and I don’t recommend anyone get it. But actually, that wasn’t the worst day for me. The worst day, through a series of screwups on my behalf, the Jeep rolled without me in it. It hit a rock wall and then actually pitched over onto its side. It landed on the passenger side, in the middle of nowhere in Uganda, and I was standing, kind of, twenty feet away watching it, as this happened. And so, before the trip I had a lot of people telling me I was an idiot and that I was going to die and all of that. And so to stand there in that moment and see the Jeep smashed down on its side...
Matt: “I’m an idiot, and i’m going to die.”
Dan: Yeah! All of that, and suddenly the naysayers were right. And it was a huge big emotional kind of wave that came over me, of like, I failed. They told me I was going to fail, and I failed.
Matt: But, your Jeep is behind me, and I’m looking at it, so everything was okay. I mean, did you break glass? Did you have to replace anything? I mean, that’s amazing to me that…
Dan: Amazingly, no broken glass.
Matt: I see some, for everybody listening, there’s some duct tape on his passenger side fender, and otherwise, you wouldn’t have known it had rolled.
Dan: Right? And I put that duct tape on in Uganda, like, ten minutes after it happened. A bunch of locals pushed on the side, and I winched off a tree, and it came back up on the wheels, just like that. And I mean, I was lucky, there’s no doubt about it. Suddenly what I thought was the end of the world, it turned out to be fine. Actually, it wasn’t a big deal at all. And I drove it, and I’ve been driving it ever since!
Scott: Yeah, so often our fears of what might happen, are nothing like what actually the end result ends up being. The borders are almost always easier than we think, the bureaucracies are almost more fluid than we imagine, but we do think about that. I remember the first time I came to the Russian border. Like, it’s Russia!
Dan: It’s Russia! It’s heavy! It’s like, “oh my god, am I actually doing this?”
Scott: They liked our trucks, just like anybody else. But, you don’t know that. In your mind you think, “I’m going into Russia, I’m going to get interrogated, I’m going into the dark room…”
Dan: Right? All the bad things.
Scott: Of course, none of that happened, but you can let your imagination run free for a little bit.
Matt: People are good, governments are bad.
Scott: Yeah, for sure. Yeah, for sure. Awesome, well, tell us a little more about the vehicle. Tell us what were the modifications that you did to the Jeep that you thought were the most effective for your travel.
Dan: So I really, I spent a long time thinking about it and planning it. And so, to be honest there must be a thousand design hours into that thing of different systems and different approaches. And so for me, I have a drinking water tank mounted underneath with a filtration and UV treatment system, and that I use five times every single day. And that is easily the most used system on the Jeep, and I’d say the most critical for Africa. I do have a fridge, dual batteries, and solar setup, and you know, having cold water here in Africa is a wonderful thing. I actually don’t want to imagine a trip in Africa without a fridge, I don’t think that would be very enjoyable. And then also I do have a popup roof, so I can sleep up on top of the Jeep essentially. And just to be able to sleep so well, and be warm and dry, and out of the mosquitoes. Again, it’s all of these living modifications that really helped me be, like, happy every day. And be thriving in that environment, even when, you know, it was torrential downpour, or whatever else was going on.
Scott: So, having a place to retreat and relax, and maybe even do a little bit of work.
Dan: Exactly, yeah, read a book, watch a movie on my laptop. And, the more you travel, the more you meet Overlanders who talk about this mythical interior living space thing, it’s like how do I get more interior living space. And I love camping! Love being outside, cooking and reading a book. And that’s great when the weather cooperates, but there’s that one or two days a month when it’s just horrible to be outside.
Matt: Yeah, I mean I know on our latest Jeep build, that was our big thing. We just wanted, you know we’re in Arizona, that’s where we do most of our stuff these days, and Baja. And beaches get cold at night, and to be able to just retreat when you’re in Baja for a month and you’re covered in salt water and you’re sweaty, and you know, you want to kill everyone else around you. To be able to read a book and retreat? I think that that’s kind of a universal thing that a lot of travelers are really moving towards.
Matt: You know, I think it was the roof tents, and now it’s the vehicle conversions. You know, if you can afford it, I think it’s a really sweet setup.
Dan: Yep, I have to agree. I traveled with a couple from Germany and they had a big Sportsmobile kitted out. And as we were traveling together on the same roads in the Congo, they had four wheels on the ground, they got similar mileage to me, you know similar maintenance requirements in terms of oil changes, but their interior living space was maybe four times bigger than mine. All three of us could sit in there and cook dinner and be many feet apart, and to me, that just blew my mind, of like, my Jeep is small compared to a vehicle that has all of that interior space.
Matt: I mean here we are at Overland Expo recording this in a Sprinter van converted into a camper, and we’re all relatively comfortable.
Matt: I could see why people do this.
Dan: Absolutely. I mean there could be two or three more full size guys in here, and we still wouldn’t be shoulder to shoulder.
Scott: So for your next adventure, where do you think you want to go? And what vehicle do you want to bring for that one?
Dan: I made a couple of promises to myself at some point in Africa. Criteria number one is that there has to be no Malaria wherever I’m going. And criteria number two, hopefully, is no humidity. So that kind of limits me a little bit, and I certainly, I’m dreaming of central Asia. I’m dreaming of the Silk Road. You know, Mongolia, Nepal, Northern India, I’ve never been, and I’m a mountain guy. And so if I could get into that part of the world for a couple of years, I think I’d be extremely happy.
Scott: Yeah, that would be an incredible trip. Going from London to Singapore, or something along that, or even just getting into India, via central Asia. I remember the Silk Road, and I really enjoyed all of those places. I mean the mountains are incredible and the culture is so different. It’s hard to find places in the world where cultures are relatively intact.
Scott: And central Asia remains one of those places that has bucked some of the western trending that we see and you can actually have a very original experience with those cultures.
Dan: Right? I’m so happy to hear that because I feel like I got a bit spoiled in West Africa, when I was in the Congo, when I was in Gabon, it’s like going off the edge of the planet. You know, people that have never seen tourists before. And then when I got into more touristy places like Kenya, I was kind of disappointed, and I kind of thought, ‘Ah, this is crap, there’s too many tourists here.” So yeah, it is a goal of mine to try and go places where there are no tourists.
Scott: Well that would be another great book. I look forward to reading about that.
Matt: And I think China too is relatively open now. I’ve heard some rumors going around that you can actually self-drive without a guide now.
Matt: You still need a permit from a travel agency, but the travel agencies that have the authorization to do this, won’t. I think that that opens, you know, that finishing the Silk Road. You used to have to do that in a caravan, and that’s incredibly expensive. In Vietnam now, thirty days, you can go in and enter that.
Dan: And it’s no problem to join a caravan to get across Myanmar as well. So you can link up.
Matt: You can go into Myanmar on your own now.
Dan: Oh really?
Matt: Yeah, Ray Hyland drove a Series I Land Rover from London to Singapore with his family. Three large boys and his wife in a 1958 Series I with a wheelbase of, I don’t know, like twelve inches or something. I don’t know how they did that, but he did it all on his own.
Scott: Yeah, it’s amazing. In fact, I was just on a panel with a woman that rode from India, her name is Candida, and she waited for a group, because it was $7,000 to cross Myanmar. And she waited for a group to spread that money out over a larger group of people. But it’s pretty amazing how travelers are solving this problem.
Dan: That’s right. Feels like everywhere in the world, that sort of has a block, or is a problem that people are working on solving it, and making it more doable.
Matt: The world is changing rapidly.
Dan: Right, when I got to Angola, it was still hard to get the visa. Now Angola has a visa on arrival. So it’s become completely open to tourism.
Scott: That’s amazing. And Southern Africa is just such a special place in the world. So to be able to get up into Angola freely from Namibia, especially from the Caprivi Strip, what a neat area to get into.
Dan: Absolutely yeah. And you feel that you’ve gone back in time fifty years when you do that.
Dan: Yeah, it’s amazing.
Scott: Well, you mentioned traveling with another couple that had a Sportsmobile, but that meant that a lot of other parts of the trip, you’re traveling alone. How did you enjoy that?
Dan: I have a love/hate relationship with traveling solo. Some days I really revel in it because locals will invite me for food, and because, you know, it’s on me to learn the language. And I kind of enjoy being the master of my own everything. I have to do all of the driving, the navigating, the cooking, it’s on me, you know, “Can I handle this? Am I tough enough?” But then definitely on the other side of the coin, I absolutely get lonely, and I absolutely start to question, “What am I doing? Why am I even here? If I don’t have anyone to share it with, you know, is what I’m doing even valid? Does it have a point?” And I think that’s part of what has inspired me to start writing and start documenting my travels, you know, in a better way, because then I can share it. Even if the people aren’t immediately with me, I can share it with people who can then come back and give me feedback, and kind of help remind me that it was real.
Matt: I think it is important to recognize those emotions while you are traveling. Like, you know, with Instagram, and media these days, we only talk about the good things, you know. And there are a lot of, not so good things that are involved with travel, but it’s all a part of the experience. It’s nice to hear you recognize that. I mean, I remember when we drove around Australia, on like the fourteenth day of fly meltdown, I wanted to give up. And you know everybody, I think, goes through that, but no one really talks about it. And frankly Scott, as a publisher, would you ever publish somebody’s rants about what they hated about their experience? That’s not what you want to portray, but it does, you know, I think it’s valid.
Scott: It is valid and we have published some really difficult experiences that people have had. I remember one couple actually killed a young man in Africa with their vehicle in an accident. She went into a lot of detail about her own grief and about working through that greif with the family. They had several opportunities to pay off officials and get out of the situation, and they decided as a couple that they had an accident, a young boy died, and that they were going to honor his life by taking responsibility for what happened. And it’s pretty rare that we’ll publish something like that, but it’s an important reminder, not only that we need to be responsible as travelers, but also that things don’t always go as well as may be portrayed in some of the blogs, or Instagram feeds that we’ll see in social media. But it is a reality, challenges do occur.
Dan: Yeah, absolutely. And I always describe traveling as a bit of a roller coaster. Where some days you’re on the top of the world, and you have a ten out of ten day, but then the very next day you could have a zero out of ten day. You know, and everything in between, and you never really know what you’re going to get. So yeah, you definitely have those days where you’re really low on the curve, and you’re not necessarily enjoying it. And you start to question, you know, is this a good idea? Do I need to change something, or do something else for a while?
Scott: You talk a lot about, from a very positive perspective, about your travels and you get people very much inspired in person, when you get a chance to do that. Talking with a large audience like this, what are some of the things that you feel are important from a responsibility standpoint. When like, as a traveler, what are some of the things that you think about when you go into a new country? How do you behave, how do you interact with locals? What do you see as the ethics of overland travel from Dan Grec’s perspective?
Dan: I definitely feel a responsibility to be an ambassador, you know, I’m from Australia originally, but I kind of associate with Canada, and so I feel a responsibility to represent those countries well. And for some of the people I’m meeting I may well be the first from those countries that they’ve ever had time to sit down and talk with. And so, I think it’s really important to treat people well, and to take the time to ask how they’re doing, you know, even if they are just stamping your passport. Like, they’re a person too. And so I think it’s really important to treat everyone we meet as we go along like people. Even when there is no gas, and you get a bit frantic, and you get sort of stressed about, “How am I going to get out of this?” It’s like when a guy spends his own money to show up in a taxi and he has a container of gas, it’s like, you should be nice to him! He’s really helping you here. And yeah it’s stressful and it’s hard to remember, but I think it’s really critical that we leave a good legacy, of like, yeah we roam, and we’re sort of passing though, but we’re leaving, sort of, happiness, or we’re doing it positively, rather than just sort of being grumpy so-and-so’s the whole time.
Scott: Yeah, and have you noticed that you’ll have an experience at a border that goes perfectly smooth, everybody’s having a good time, you’re laughing and you’re having great memories with these border officials, and you’ll talk to some other traveler that’s grumpy, they went through the same border and had a totally different experience?
Matt: The world is what you make it.
Dan: Absolutely right. And pretty quickly you see from their attitude, you’re like “Ohhh”, if you’ve been treating people that way, I understand why they treated you that way in return. And so I found all along that the greatest skill that I have in my travels is that I take off my sunglasses, and I hold up my hand and I say, ya know, “Hi. How are you?”
Scott: Make a connection, make a connection, absolutely. Matt, what’s new with you? What’s new with, you got some Gladiator thing out here?
Matt: Yeah, yeah, we decided to build a Gladiator. I was driving one at the press launch a few months ago, and loved it so much I bought one on the spot. And I wasn’t even back to the hotel that Jeep was putting us up at. And I just have to say man, that vehicle is so impressive. You know, I think it’s great that you have your JK Unlimited and it’s cool to see more people driving Jeeps. Because I think, you know, there are a lot of car companies out there, there’s a lot of options, there’s a lot of really good options, I think Overlanders kind of pigeonhole themselves into Land Cruisers, or Defenders, or whatnot, but Jeep as a company is so fantastic. They actually listen to the customers, you know. The JL, or the JT, or whatever you want to call it, is a perfect example of that. You know, it has the switches built in for my auxiliary stuff. I can control them through the touch screen if I want it to be momentary, or if I want them to be on all the time, you can wire a fridge into it, the lockers. They’re fantastic vehicles, and I’m glad to see they’re getting more traction and space. You know, we opted to put an AT Overland Summit Camper on the back. It’s only about 350lbs, but it’s fully insulated and going back to having that space that is your own to retire to at the end of the day. I think for people that are in this for the long haul, they aren’t just going out for the weekend, this is a lifestyle for them, they’ve been doing it. And I’ve been doing it for almost a decade now, which isn’t as long as you guys have, but it's a fair bit. I want to be doing this when I’m sixty or seventy and giving yourself every advantage to be the positive person at the border crossing, or wherever you are, you know, I think that those are luxuries that are really valid, you know. At the end of the day, sure you could have a tent or something, but for me it’s needs versus wants. If somebody that’s building a vehicle says that they need to have 37’s, or that they need Dynatrac axles, yeah those are great, very functional things, but you know, you don’t need them. I’ll tell you a million reasons why you don’t need stuff. But when it comes to wanting stuff, I think, I don’t think anybody can say anything, and I want this Gladiator. It is fantastic. We just put like 3,000 miles on it coming out from Arizona to Overland Expo East, and all around D.C. for a wedding, and it drives great. Like, it’s so cool where we are in vehicles today. How many options, legitimate options overlanders have. Like, we are at the golden age for the four wheel drive.
Scott: I would say so. Absolutely.
Matt: You know, people will reminisce about Defenders or FJ 40’s or whatever, but empirically those vehicles actually sucked. I mean the Defender could never keep out dust. Like, let’s just go with that. You know, the FJ 40, you’d end up an inch shorter by the time you got out of it from spinal compression. Where now, any vehicle in North America, I mean we have the Ranger now, that’s a global platform. We have the Colorado, that’s a global platform. Then we have the Gladiator, that’s going to be a global platform. I mean, Fiat Chrysler is, I want to say they’re the largest automobile manufacturer then were Volkswagen.
Scott: One of the largest, for sure.
Matt: I think it’s so cool.
Scott: Lot’s of options.
Dan: I agree so much, and it’s great. I love watching, you know, what other people are doing, and how. There’s always the thing too, there’s no such thing as perfect in a vehicle or a build. There’s pros and cons to everything, but it’s really fun to start a new vehicle, a new build and really enjoy the pros, learn from the cons. And then at some point, you might move on again to something else that’s going to have a whole new set of pros and cons. Maybe, you know, you’ll go from all luxury in your last vehicle, but then you’ll miss the four wheel drive capabilities, so then your next vehicle after that becomes back to more, kind of, four wheel drive. I feel like it’s just an ongoing process we all go through.
Matt: Do you think you could see yourself in a Gladiator? I know that you’ve made some comments towards me.
Dan: Absolutely, I mean, the things that interest me the most is that it has a bigger payload than a Wrangler and simply because it has a longer frame, that gives me more room for water tanks and gas or diesel tanks. And those actually are the things that I am thinking the most about.
Matt: Yeah, and they are coming out with a diesel.
Dan: Yeah, how do I get further from the beaten path. Like on my Wrangler right now, I could carry more gas, but it’s already over its payload, it's getting, now I'm just bolting stuff on the outside. It would not be ideal to put another twenty or fifty gallons on it.
Scott: Yeah, that’s an interesting challenge we’re in now too, because the new diesel motors do not tolerate most African diesel very well.
Matt: Or even Mexico.
Matt: Mexico is on low sulfur diesel outside of their major cities.
Scott: So that’s another thing that we have to recognize as travelers, most of the vehicles that we buy in the United States need to be gas, at least for a period of time. Any one of the vehicles with particulate filters or catalytic converters on diesel.
Matt: Trying to find that diesel exhaust fluid in parts unknown.
Scott: Yeah, I imagine.
Dan: A good German friend of mine, you know, he’s had all kinds of diesel Land Cruisers and Land Rovers and he has the Sportsmobile now and he actually is quite adamant that the best overlanding vehicles right now are gas, they’re not diesel.
Matt: They’re simpler
Dan: Because of the trouble with new diesel engines, like we’re saying, and he knows of too many people who have driven off into Mongolia and the engine blows up because of the bad diesel. But he's like, if you drive a gas, it just works.
Scott: Well, and not only that, people think that diesel is what’s ubiquitous, it’s what you’re going to find everywhere in the world. No, you’re going to find gasoline, because that’s what motorcycles run on. And the first vehicle for anybody in the developing world is going to be a motorcycle, it’s not going to be a car. So motorcycles are everywhere. So you can find gasoline, even if it's on the black market. I remember I was in northern Uzbekistan and the country had no fuel in the northern part, and I went to the black market, and sure enough you could find gasoline, because that’s what the motorcycles ran on.
Matt: Yeah, and I think the big thing is too is the simplicity, you don’t have the DPF, you don’t have where they recycle the exhaust gas recirculation. They’re simple. I don’t know, I mean my other vehicle is like the epitome of the diesel overland vehicle you want. It's a Land Cruiser, it's diesel, it's completely mechanically injected, it does not need a computer to run.
Scott: Those are rare, you can’t find those any more. You just got to buy a used vehicle.
Matt: Yeah, but they’re not the sunshine and rainbows that everybody thinks that the diesels are.
It’s really slow. You know, I’m thirty-five mile an hour up hills. And I’ve spent a fair chunk of change on turbos and intercoolers and all of the stuff that the Austrialians do to those to get it to reliably get power out of them and the small diesels that they put in pickup trucks like, I feel Americans tend to, you know, since they’ve never really experienced these vehicles, they…
Scott: They romanticize it.
Matt: Yeah they’re very romantic, but drive a Hilux diesel, you’re probably going to be dissapointed. I mean, remember the J8 we had a while ago, you know, that was the rest of the world’s spec vehicle and it was great, but it wasn’t, it wasn’t what people thought it was. You know the gas engine was faster. And this one was even tuned, I believe, by Mopar, so…
Scott: It’s an interesting time that we're in when it comes to vehicles, and it’s an exciting time too when you just walk around the isles of Expo. Any iteration imaginable comes to mind. But I think as we kind of bring the podcast to some sort of close. From your perspective, now having traveled extensively around two continentes, plus your time that you spent in North America as well, so three continents of travel. What are some of the things that you want to share with people? Like, how do you distill all of this down to these bite sized nuggets that people can then take their own action toward travel with?
Dan: It’s such a hard thing to do Scott. You know, it was three years in Africa, and I feel like I owe Africa a responsibility to do a good job of explaining how happy the people are and how wonderful of a continent it is. And so I feel like for me, I always just try to encourage people to get out, however they can and you know, start going out on weekends and enjoy those trips and then next time you’ve got a long weekend go a little further afield, and maybe work on your boss for a couple of years and get the time to go up to Alaska for a summer and just keep sort of exploring and learning and growing as you want to. You know this whole idea of, “I’m going Overlanding”, you know, each person needs to sort of, I think, discover that on their own.
Scott: What that is, for them.
Scott: Sure, absolutely. Well what’s next? What’s next after Overland Expo? Are you going to take a few weeks off? Or what are you doing?
Dan: Well I’ve got a couple more shows lined up on the east coast, and then...
Scott: Which ones are you going to?
Dan: The Virginia Rooftop Tent Rally is next weekend, and then actually I’m speaking at Jeep Homeland, which is a new dealer in Savannah, Georgia. They’ve built a huge big off-road course that’s really impressive .
Matt: That’s right, cool.
Dan: Yeah, and then I’m over to SEMA, which will be the last show of the summer. And it will be my first SEMA, so I’m really excited.
Scott: Are you going to have the vehicle on display?
Dan: Oh definitely.
Scott: Oh, that’s great. Well, you’ll enjoy it.
Dan: Yeah, yeah, I mean I’ve heard that it’s automotive madness, which is my kind of madness.
Scott: Yeah, it is.
Dan: Which is great.
Scott: And it’s always an interesting confluence of people, right? SEMA’s worth doing. I think that about after fifteen years of doing it, I think I’m waning a bit, but I always do find it interesting. It never has a shortage of being interesting.
Matt: Any excuse that I can find to get out of SEMA at this point. It’s good, for a day, for me. You know, the thirtieth F250 you see on twenty-four inch rims and a fourteen inch lift, it gets a little bit challenging. But, I think the cool thing is to have your vehicle there. I mean, there are a lot of “overland”, and I’m using air quotes here, “builds” at that show, but to have your truck that is so legitimate. I mean, where can people find it at SEMA? Are you in a booth, or...?
Dan: It’s going to be outside, I think it’s right at the entrance of the South Hall.
Dan: Yeah, and I hope people do appreciate that it really has been used, and yeah it’s got rust, and it’s got dents and scratches from the rollover. But it’s what it really looks like if you go and use it as it was designed and built to be used.
Scott: Dan, how else can people follow you, what’s your Instagram, how do they follow you in your travels?
Dan: On instagram I am ‘theroadchoseme’, and then I’ve got youtube videos as well from all across Africa and that is also ‘The Road Chose Me’.
Scott: Awesome, and we also of course have Matt Scott here, and Matt imports the Maxtrax product. He’s been a part of the Overland community since its inception in the United States. Matt, how do people follow your adventures?
Matt: So you can follow my sporadic ramblings on Instagram; ‘mattexplore’, is my handle, and that’s probably the best way to find me. Background, I’m an automotive journalist, so I kind of got my start working with Overland Journal, and I still write for them. I also do automotive reviews for Outside Magazine, so if you happen to read that, and read something about a car that you disagree with, you can complain to me on Instagram.
Scott: Yeah, in fact Outside has a really great website, it is www.outsideonline.com and they do have some really comprehensive, thoughtful vehicle reviews. As the overlanding segment becomes more and more engaged with the outdoor world.
Matt: Yeah, no, it’s really great. They’re kind of an old school publication, they really put the reader first, and I think that’s something to be said for that these days.
Scott: Absolutely. Well, thank you all for listening, again this is our very first podcast brought to you at the Overland Expo East and we will talk to you again, next time.
Matt: See you guys!
Dan: Thanks guys!
Scott: Thank you.