Back to Basics.

This web page is about what to take with you on the China 2003/4/5/6 (or whenever) expedition. It's not about everything you might pack into your motorcaravan. Rather it concentrates on the basics, and of course it's a personal view: what I think are basics may not correspond with your own perception. What is not personal is that many of the things we take for granted in western Europe are not easily obtainable beyond Turkey.


We started from the assumption that we might well starve en route. This was a mistake which led to us taking much, much larger stocks of food than was necessary. More or less everywhere we went, food was plentiful, in most places good, and in some places (China in particular) superb.

Emergency rations for a few days are worth packing, but the most important thing is to address the difficulty in obtaining specific, shortage items:

Road side meat seller in China.Meat/protein: for most of us, meat is the protein of choice and in some places, the way it is killed and handled is far from appealing. So it is worth taking longlife meat or fish (tins, dried meat etc.) and/or other sources of protein (pulses, soya mince etc.).

Don't worry about fruit, vegetables or carbohydrate as you will easily get these en route: Do take protein with you.

Bread: bread is a staple food for us - we enjoy it too. In China in particular, it can be difficult to obtain. You can't easily solve this by packing bread mixes. En route, you could switch to noodles as your carbohydrate of choice but a better solution is to:

  • Avoid the baguette mindset (or indeed any other mental constraints about what is "Real Bread") and look for the "bread" that the locals consume. For example, in many places in China fried breads, sometimes stuffed or flavoured, are made - and they are usually delicious.
  • Avoid the bread shop mindset too. Those fried breads are usually made and sold at stalls in markets, often at the entrances. In India, bread shops are difficult to spot, but many restaurants make their own and will supply it with no problem.
  • Stock up with bread when you find it.

Breakfast Cereals: they may not be your choice of breakfast but they are ours, and they are difficult to obtain and expensive. So stock up with your favorite cereals before you leave and/or make your own en route. We found that with some effort we could get all the ingredients for a good muesli. Add to your marketstall-purchased base of wheat and/or oats and/or rice some or all of the following - dried apricots, currant/raisins/sultanas, dried banana, nuts - and then chop into it each morning a readily-available apple or pear.

Milk: fresh milk is virtually unobtainable across large tracts of central and south Asia and China (and when you can find it needs to be drunk quickly). UHT milk is however really easy to get in larger centres and tastes much better than it used to. So take powdered milk as a stand-by and stock up with UHT when you can.

Water. (See also here.)

A modified garden hose reel used to fill Mog's 450 litre fresh water tank.No great worries. Water is easily obtained "on tap" just about everywhere, and is rarely of unacceptable quality. However, take the following precautions:

  • Top up your tank when you can and well before it's empty.
  • Install a water filter and a water purifier in your van.
  • Use Sanogene or a similar additive to ensure the water is wholesome.
  • Carry with you a range of tap fittings to make sure you can use the water source that is available. Water may be "on tap" but it may be difficult to connect to the "tap".
  • Carry an emergency (electric) pump/pipe combo so you can pull water out of a stream if necessary.
  • A simple watering can be invaluable.

It is probably worth having at least one vehicle in your group equipped with 30+ metres of hose and the means to supply water to the other vehicles.

Variable sized tap fittings are a must. Ones with a flexible rubber collar able to to fit taps/pipe-ends from 12-16mm (1/2 to 5/8 inch) and another to fit up to 30mm (11/4 inches) are invaluable.

Replacement water filters should be taken. Calculate the amount of water expected per day, then work out the total volume and the recommended number of filters. Take a spare.

The right temperature grade of diesel is a bigger problem, in particular in very cold areas where low temperature diesel is required.

Fuel. (i.e. diesel, don't even think of petrol or LPG.)

Diesel is easily obtained just about everywhere and quality is not a significant problem. The China 2002 campervans all had tanks designed to carry sufficient fuel for about 800kms and/or carried additional containers (metal Jerry cans) to achieve the same result (note that your fuel consumption per kilometer in Tibet may be up to 50% more than normal).

Top up whenever you can to avoid embarrassment and delays. The absence of diesel can take you by surprise. For example, in the summer of 2002, it was impossible to get legal diesel in the Ferghana Valley (eastern Uzbekhistan) as it had been commandeered for farm vehicles.

If low temperature diesel is not available (or your tank is already nearly full of summer diesel) then up to 20% of petrol (gasoline) can be added to regular diesel in an emergency. For this reason it is worth carrying 20 litres of petrol.

As an alternative to adding petrol (gasoline) I have been recommended a diesel conditioner "Howes Diesel Conditioner and Anti-gel".

Gas (LPG).

Obtaining gas is not a major problem if you take some or all of the following advice:

  • Fit a large gas tank and fill it before you leave Europe or Turkey.
  • Fit a diesel-powered space and water heater, and an all-electric fridge, to minimise on your use of gas.
  • If you decide to take gas bottles - before you go find out from those who know (members of the club who have been to China) what kind of bottles can be re-filled and the locations where safe re-filling is possible, and follow their advice.

If you follow the advice to fit a diesel-powered space and water heater (e.g. an Eberspächer), and an all-electric fridge, and a 12/24volt microwave oven then the supply of gas is not a problem. We used less than 1Kg of propane per month, thus avoiding the need to fill or replace our gas cylinders.

N.B. The manufacturers of diesel powered space and water heaters often specify a maximum operational altitude of under 2000m (without factory modification)! Of the four UK vans that crossed Tibet three had unmodified Eberspächer heaters, of these one failed due to a burnt out glow pin, the other two worked fairly well even at 5000m. The fourth van used a marine heater that failed to work reliably at high altitude.

Another way to avoid the problems of getting gas is not to use it at all. In addition to using diesel for space and water heating you can also use it to fuel your hob and oven. The same caveats about altitude will apply.

Bigfoot used about 14Kg (i.e. 75% of two 20 pound bottles) of propane between Bremerhaven and Hong Kong (i.e. about 2Kg per month). That covered all cooking (no microwave), showers every other night and space heating when required.


Daisy-chain plug (Reimo 82020)Although proper camp sites with electricity are unknown beyond Turkey there are many occasions when it is possible to "plug in" if you have the means. To do this you need to be able to supply multiple campervans via one long (100+ meter) cable. It is useful if each van can daisy-chain electricity to the next van. In addition the means for one van to charge the batteries of another van overnight was used many times in 2002.

Although solar panels are attractive (and many of the China 2002 campervans had them) they have the major drawback that when you are stationary for several days, if you want to get maximum power from them, you can not park in the shade. In really hot conditions this can be a high price to pay!

Solar panels are not so bad regarding shade. During driving days they augment the power from the alternator when in the sun. Whilst stationary they provide about 30% of their rated power even if not in direct sunlight.

Loo Rolls.

Very easy to obtain almost everywhere. Take a supply to last (say) two months and then use locally-bought products where you can get it (i.e. in most places).

Kitchen Rolls.

We think these are basic to happy motorcaravanning, and they are not easily obtained everywhere. Take a good supply and top up whenever possible.


Credit cards are only of limited use beyond Turkey.

Cash is not difficult to obtain from some ATMs in China, Nepal and India, but across most of central Asia, it is. (There are ATMs in Baku that give US dollars, unfortunately some of them are forgeries.) Take US dollars to exchange, but the extensive presence of ATMs on much of the route should make it possible to avoid taking your entire expected expenditure in cash dollars.

Because some of the "Stans" have regulations prohibiting the import of more than (say) $500 USA in cash, but nevertheless may require you to show that you have sufficient funds, there is a delicate balancing act to perform at each border. In general you should have available (some in your wallet, most in your safe) and declare just under the limit of cash dollars imposed by each country.

Your additional cash dollars (you may well be carrying $5000+ USA in mixed value new clean notes) should be concealed very well. There are two recommended strategies for this. The first is to add a secret section to your "safe" for excess dollars. This has the advantage of being difficult to steal and should not be visible if you are forced to show the contents of your safe at a border inspection (or under duress). The second alternative is to divide your excess cash into tranches of (say) $1000 USA and hide each tranche within the structure or furniture of the van in such a way that it can not be accessed without breaking apart the "container".

Travellers cheques, whilst attracting slightly better exchange rates than cash in China, are not generally worth the trouble.

In 2002 none of the Anglophone vans were ever properly searched at any border. Indeed the presence of a safe in our van was not even noticed at any point. But of course in 2004...

Spares and Repairs.

It is very difficult to get the right spares - even tyres of the correct type - when you get beyond Turkey. This is also true of many repair materials that are commonly available in Europe, e.g. cable ties, gaffer tape. Make sure you have an excellent cache of the right spares and repair materials with you unless you are really keen on lengthy delays and/or huge courier costs.

If you are traveling with another vehicle of the same make then consider buying spare parts together.

On several occasions in 2002 it was found that spare parts being carried did not fit when they were needed. It is therefore worth considering fitting some spare parts before you leave (e.g. alternator, starter motor, radiator hoses etc.) and taking the removed parts as spares.

Before you leave make sure that somebody in the UK (who understands vehicles) has a copy of all the identification numbers of your vehicle (i.e. VIN number, chassis number, engine number, make, model year etc. etc.) so that you can contact them to arrange for a part to be courier to Kathmandu with at least a chance it will fit (but don't bank on it).

If you do have parts couriered out make sure that the courier company used has offices in the destination town. In 2002 some parts intended for Lhasa ended up in Beijing because the courier company used only had offices there.

Purchase the workshop manual for your van. Read it carefully to make sure that the appropriate tools and spare parts are taken. On the road, the workshop manual can assist in diagnosing problems, help you accesses difficult to reach locations and help with the repair of damaged components.


Les Brook.

Carl Hunter..

Stephen Stewart.

Home - This page last changed on 2003-03-12.