Off Road Arches

After our off-road “training” with our Belgian friends in Idaho, we were more confident to take the car off road ourselves. And we had heard many stories from 4×4 enthusiasts that Moab, Utah is the best place for it.




So after following the tourist trails through Arches National Park, we turned onto a gravel road. The sign said “4×4 vehicles, high clearance recommended” and that it was best to take the road from north to south.


After a couple of minutes of driving on gravel road, we saw two cars coming down from the hills; a Dodge and a Toyota. The guy in the Toyota stopped, and told us “It’s pretty gnarly up there.” But then he looked at our car and said, “you have pretty high clearance – you should be fine.”



Michal’s reaction was, ‘hey if your car can do it, we’ll have no problem’ – after all, our car was built for this.

If only he knew what was coming up…

Half way through the eighteen-mile track, we saw that a storm was approaching from the west. We knew that if it started raining heavily, the road would become even more dangerous and impassable, and that we would likely get stuck for the night. But, thankfully, we were only hit by a light spot of rain and the heavy clouds moved north and east.


After hours, literally, of adrenaline producing hills, with the tyres clinging on for life to the steep rock and soft sand, we made it to a beautiful spot a mile away from the main road.


As the sun was setting, we decided to stop for a magic hour dinner, and as I was cooking Michal went hunting for the perfect last photo of the Moab’s arches.



Nashville Diaries

We were just supposed to be in Nashville for a day or two… we had one meeting planned and a couple of potential connections. The meeting turned into a perfect day of music, philosophy and, surprisingly, off-roading…

That evening, with very muddy tyres, we went up to Nashville not knowing where we were going and without plans. But it happened that Glen, an Aussie friend from Hong Kong, was in town at the same time. The person that he was going to meet invited him to an event that night – so we ended up at launch party for Weld; a creative collaborative space for designers, photographers and artists. Never have we seen so many hipsters in one room!


Catching up with friends at Weld

It was a night of connections – first we were shocked to see two guys we knew from Hong Kong – Nick “the Greek” Georgiou, who had cut his epic beard, and Brady Toops who was now a Reality TV star. And the surprises continued when Michal met not one, but two people from university who he hadn’t seen for over ten years!


Nick the Greek

Nick the Greek had promised us a tour of Fort Houston, where he works. “The Fort” as it is lovingly referred to, is an old hosiery factory that has been converted into workshop space for woodworkers, mechanics, metal smiths, artists and artisans. (For more on the Fort see our write up here).


Is Everything In Order?

Inspired by the serious motorbikes that surrounded us, Michal started tinkering with the Land Rover engine. Honestly, the engine had cut out a couple of times previously, so we knew we needed to check it.

The oil was REALLY low. And Michal tried to clean the fuel pump… but it turns out that Michal doesn’t know as much as he thinks he knows about engines, and it’s easier to unscrew something than put it back together.


Becoming a real man…

So as we were driving away, we realised that the engine didn’t sound right… it was coughing and lurching and was obvious that we weren’t going anywhere!

But thankfully, we had hardly got out of the parking lot, and the motorcycle boys either knew what to do or knew whom to call. And amazingly there was a Land Rover specialist around the corner, who said that he would come over after work to check it out.


Stuck in Nashville

When the mechanic showed up, he told us that we needed a new lift pump; and because it’s a unique car we needed to order it from a specialist dealer in New York. If we got the fastest shipping it would be here before the weekend…

So we were stuck in Nashville… but, hey… there are worse places to be stuck!

Over the next couple of days, we slowly fell in love with Nashville. The guys at Fort Houston took us under their collective wing, and we were semi-initiated into the Blackbirds Gentlemen’s Motorbike Assembly with the super spicy Hattie B’s chicken and the Fort Houston jersey.

The only problem was, we don’t have a motorbike… we only have a broken down Land Rover… but they didn’t seem to mind ☺


Nick and Tanner, the Blackbirds

After two days of getting to know the city and the arts community, Friday morning came. After a serious breakfast of biscuits and gravy, we retuned to the Fort hoping that the part would have arrived.

But when we saw that the mail had been delivered and there was nothing for us, and that I still hadn’t received the confirmation email or tracking number from the company, we started to worry… If we didn’t get it today, we would be stuck until after the weekend!

Just then, I got an email saying that there was an incorrect zipcode on the order, and that I needed to call UPS to find out where the parcel was!

I finally got the tracking number, called UPS, and they told me that the shipment had been rerouted and that, even with the new, correct zip code, it wouldn’t be delivered until Monday…

But, Nick the Greek, a.k.a our saviour, got the address, jumped on his Harley and drove for over two hours to pick it up for us… and he even managed to grab us pizza in the process!


To the rescue!

The mechanic was busy the whole day, and didn’t show up until 7.30pm on Friday night. He is obsessed with Land Rovers, and although he knew them well, he had never actually seen the 300TDi before. He was like a kid in a candy shop! And was very entertaining… we learned a lot that evening, and not just about Land Rovers… Patrick, one of the motorcycle guys stayed with us until 1am to help us finish, before being woken up early by his 2 year old daughter… I don’t think he got much sleep!

With the car fixed, there was a weight off our shoulders, and we should have been on our way. But we were having too much fun, and there was so much creative stuff going on that we had to at least stay for the weekend.


Louise playing at Nashville’s Art Crawl, Fort Houston

Too many wonderful people and experiences to post about – artists, entrepreneurs, Land Rover lovers, lakes, barbecues, musicians… our souls were enriched and our senses were saturated!

We knew that we had to get back on the road, but put off saying goodbye for as long as we could. We had really found a home in Nashville – people who we admired, were inspired by, saw eye to eye with, laughed and ate and fixed things with.


Bennett’s Airstream; Born in the N.A.S.H, at Porter Flea

We had been blown away by their hospitality, their generosity, their willingness to help us out and go the extra mile, or 100 miles, for. It’s an amazing feeling to be welcomed in to a community like the one we found at Fort Houston. What they have is truly special. We know we will be back.

After checking the oil one final time, (we had changed it once, and then again by accident!) we finally set off as the sun was setting and the rain stopped pouring.

And as we drove away, we were already trying to figure out how and when we could come back to Nashville. Michal realised the next day that he left his camera charger… I guess we’ll just have to go and get it!


On the Road Again

Shipping your car to America

On Tuesday, we were overjoyed to finally pick up the Defender from Newark Port! It had been a long wait, so we were relieved when we finally saw it in the flesh and it was all in one piece!


2015 is the last year that Land Rover will be producing Defenders, and so this trip is a tribute to the car that has probably done the most exploring of any motor vehicle. This post may not interest a lot of our readers, but for anyone who is thinking about importing a Land Rover (or any other car) into the USA, we wanted to document the process.

Although it is not an extremely complicated process to get the car into the USA, it did take us a great deal of research and a lot of waiting for answers. So, for anyone who is interested, here are the steps we went through and what we learned along the way…

1) Import Category: There are several categories of import for cars the USA. The one we used, which would be suitable for most travellers like us, is temporary import as a non-resident. This is “Code O” on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) import form. This allows you import a car for up to one year, as a non resident if the car is for personal use. You are not allowed to leave the country until the car is re-exported. (see note 1 below)

2) EPA Exemption: Since our car is non-conforming to USA safety standards (steering wheel is on the wrong side!) we had to also apply for exemption from the EPA’s standards. I believe that all cars have to apply for this even if you think the car would fulfil all requirements. To do this, you send a request letter with car and driver details and trip plans to the EPA, and they hopefully approve and send you a letter confirming! You have to send them the proof of re-export when the vehicle leaves the country, otherwise you are issued a huge fine!

3) Import Bond: This was a BIG question that was on our mind for a long time and we didn’t get a clear answer to until very late in our planning! in some cases, US Customs will charge an import bond (deposit) when the car arrives, as a guarantee that you will not sell/leave the vehicle in the USA. This is normal charged at 1.5x the value of the car! So in our case if would have been much more than we could afford… In doing all of our research, both on USA government websites and hearing from people who had done similar trips, we could not get a definitive answer from anyone about whether we would have to post a bond or not… and obviously this was a huge consideration as to whether we would be able to go ahead with the import or not. Finally, through our shipping company, we were put in touch with an import broker, who, after asking us the year, make and value of the vehicle, told us that we would not have to pay a bond. I really have no idea whether other cars would have to post a bond. The official guide on “temporary imports as a non residents” says that no bond is required, but it is down to the discretion of the customs officer… so it best to get a definitive answer from an import specialist.

4) Shipping: We got several quotes from shipping companies to ship from Southampton to New York. We decided to go with Kingstown Shipping, since they gave us the most information with contacts for insurance and import brokers. They were also the most reasonably priced with great service! The other companies just told us “not to worry”, one gave us wrong information, and just seemed interested in getting our business no matter what. We used “Roll on Roll off”, since it is also cheaper. But you can also book a whole container if you have other items to ship. (With RoRo you are not allowed to pack the car with any personal items) We had to arrange a haulier to pick up the car from the UK since we were still in Hong Kong, and Kingstown Shipping were happy to arrange that for us. We scheduled a shipping for the 11th April, and the car was delivered to the port on Friday 10th with no hassle. The shipping company issued a Bill of Lading once the car was on the ship and the vessel had sailed. Their fees covered the haulier, the port fees/terminal handling and the shipping.

5) Import Broker: US Customs requires two forms to be filled out and submitted upon arrival. Thankfully we were put in touch with Flora and Fauna import brokers who made the process extremely simple for us!  “There is no legal requirement for you to hire a Customs broker to clear your goods. However, many importers opt to do so for the convenience.”  [Procedures for Importing Vehicles and Engines into the US, EPA 2010] I don’t know how you would go about submitting this by yourself, so would definitely recommend using a broker house! We had to submit a power of attorney that allowed Flora and Fauna to act on our behalf. The two forms they submitted for us were the CBP and the EPA 3520-1. Each of these forms needed information from the shipping company, from us, and from the broker. You need to elect an address where the car will be “Shipped” to. Although we had no permanent address in the USA, we were able to use a friend’s home as the car address, and this also served as the address for the insurance (see below). The Import Broker contacted us once the car had arrived, and once it had cleared customs. Their fees covered the Customs charges (Department of Transportation and EPA), filing fees, terminal handling and their own legal fees. They would have also assisted in bond posting if we had needed it.

6) Marine insurance: We got insurance for the period that the car was on the ship with Towergate Insurance. This was very straightforward; they just require the value of the vehicle and the cost of the shipping, and can process very quickly.

7) Delays: The car was supposed to arrive into New York on the 21st April. So we planned to arrive on the 18th, so that we would have a couple of days to get over jet lag and sort out insurance etc. But we got an email on the 20th that the vehicle wasn’t going to arrive until the 26th, and that it could take some time to clear customs! Thankfully, it only took two days to clear customs, but it still put us a week behind schedule. It could have been much longer, and so be prepared to have to wait.

8) Insurance: From the research I had done, it didn’t sound like getting insurance was going to be either difficult or overly expensive. But it turned out it was both! The difficulty is that the car is never registered in any state, and most insurance companies need the car to be registered in the state that they insure you from. But since the car retains its international (in our case UK) registration, a lot of companies had no idea what to do with us! And we both have international drivers licenses, so companies in the US cannot see driving history, which puts premiums up. Finally, we spoke to an agent at AAA who found us insurance through Progressive. I had already spoken to a Progressive agent who said they couldn’t insure us, but the AAA agent found something for us! You can get either just liability (which is the legal minimum) or full coverage. We opted for full coverage, otherwise you’re not covered for any damage to your car. This ended up costing quite a bit more than we had budgeted, but we have peace of mind which is worth so much!

9) Pickup: Picking up the car was a relatively straightforward procedure. The import broker forwarded the Delivery Order once the car had cleared customs, and gave us the address of the port. Thankfully a friend drove us to the port, otherwise it would have been a long walk from the closest bus stop! The port is huge, so we had to find the right office and dock. Once inside, we handed the Delivery Order to the officer, who took a copy along with a copy of my passport, and sent us to the next office to process the release. This took about an hour, but was just a case of waiting for them to finalise paperwork. Then off we drove!

10) Carnet De Passage: This is a document that is honoured in many countries in place of an import bond. It is used especially in Africa, South America and parts of Asia. The USA does not honour the Carnet de Passage system. We looked into this for going into Canada, but we would have still had to make a large deposit to the Carnet Office in the UK (the RAC) and so we decided against it. So there is no point in obtaining a Carnet de Passage for driving the USA.

11) Diesel: America loves petrol! There are not that many diesel cars here; of course trucks use diesel here, but not all gas stations have diesel available. So we are gonna have to make sure we don’t get caught in the middle of nowhere with no diesel. It’s legal to carry extra fuel tanks here, but make sure you get the right colour – Red is petrol, Yellow is diesel.

12) Budget: It may have been cheaper for us to buy a vehicle once we arrived in the States. But we were not sure if we would find something safe, reliable and that allowed us to camp at the back. Plus, we had already invested in upgrading our Defender for the journey. Looking at the below costs, it is definitely cheaper to import rather than to rent a car, when you are doing a trip longer than a couple of months. Here is a rough estimate of our costs:

Shipping (one way, without haulier) – $1200

UK Port Fees – $220

Marine Insurance – $230

Car Insurance – $1100 for six months

Import/Customs Fees – $700

Total: US$3500 approx, plus return shipping.

To return the car to the UK, we will have to pay shipping, port fees and marine insurance, which should be similar prices, but always budget for the unexpected!

Note 1:

2.2.5 Temporary Vehicle Imports for Nonresidents
Motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment for personal use may be imported for up to
one year. The vehicle must be imported in connection with your arrival, and it must be owned
by you or on order before you depart from abroad. Only individual nonresidents may import a
vehicle through a nonresident exemption. There is no Customs bond required, however, EPA
requires that written approval must be obtained prior to importation.
● Importer must file with U. S. Customs, upon entry, an EPA Form 3520-1 declaring code
“O;” and attach the EPA letter of exemption.
● Importer should keep a copy of the EPA approval letter for future proof of EPA
● Importer must be a nonresident;
● Vehicle may not be sold or otherwise transferred to another party in the U.S.;
● Vehicle must be used primarily for personal use by the importer while in the U.S.;
● Use of this exemption is prohibited if the vehicle is to be used primarily to conduct
business, or for principle use by persons other than the importer (or spouse of the
importer); and
● Vehicle must be exported after one year, or upon the nonresident departing the U.S.,
whichever comes first

 [Procedures for Importing Vehicles and Engines into the US, EPA 2010] 

Shipping the Defender

Did you know… In the fifties, you could buy a Land Rover with tank treads, and the steering was in the middle of the dashboard…

When we first bought our Land Rover Defender in 2013, we didn’t know that it was going to be a little bit like joining a secret club. But we are now proud members of the eclectic and brilliant group of people who rely on the Defender to get them to their destinations, whatever the terrain. From the Queen of England to humble sheep farmers, from Bond Girls to World Famous Explorers; Defenders are the car that will get you to where you want to go.

We are shipping our Defender to the USA in April, and will be calling it “home” for the next six months.

One of the most common questions that we have answered when talking about our trip is “Why are you shipping your car all the way to the US? Why don’t you just buy/rent/borrow/steal (ok maybe we haven’t been asked that!) one when you get there?”

And the answer is… well firstly, we’re nostalgic. We bought our Land Rover Defender in December 2013 so that we could drive it around the world. We have done a few trips in Europe in it, but we think that it’s time to really test it out on a long, diverse and challenging trip.

But the second answer is that, when you buy or borrow a car, you really don’t know what you’re getting. Even if the owner tells you that it’s a reliable,  unfailing engine in amazing condition, you never really know. And the Defender is pretty much as reliable as it gets!

Thirdly, it’s actually pretty much the same price – when you rent for so long, it gets expensive!

And lastly, we will be making it into a home on wheels. We’ll be sleeping in the back, when we’re not staying with friends, and have put quite a lot of effort into making sure it will be comfortable and safe for us!

IMG_6834So once we decided that we were going to ship the car, the second question that we had to answer a lot is “Can you actually do that? Isn’t the wheel on the wrong side of the car?”.

Yes, it is on the wrong side. But yes, as a non-resident you can do a temporary import, as long you have the correct approval from the EPA and you don’t leave the country while the car is there and you only keep it for up to 12 months and you only have it for personal use and you don’t sell it or rent it while you’re there and

There are a few hoops you have to jump through. The USA doesn’t have the same customs procedures as the rest of the world (surprise surprise!) and so it took us a great deal of research and phone calls to finally figure out if we were actually going to be able to bring the car in without having to pay an enormous bond. But we eventually heard that we got the green light and we have now arranged for the car to be picked up and put on a boat in Southampton. Hopefully we’ll see it again in New York City without any extra surprises!

Thank you to Kingstown Shipping and Flora and Fauna Brokers for your invaluable service. And to Nene Overland for getting the Defender ready for the trip!