Burned in my memory is the first time I read a post on a popular overlanding forum by a fellow who wanted to go on a particular trip, except, as he put it, “The handbrake won’t go if there aren’t bathrooms.”
I was confused for a fraction of a second, until I realized the guy was referring to a human being—specifically his wife.
Shocked, I looked at subsequent posts to enjoy him get flamed for such a demeaning reference. Not only did he not; he had plenty of company. Since then I’ve run across the term dozens of times.
I’m sure the guys who use the term would act like it was I who were offending them, and laugh it off as “just a joke” if confronted, just as my stepfather used to laugh it off as “just a joke” when he referred to people as Pollacks and Nips, and worse. Spare me. No one uses such a reference as “just a joke.” It is a dehumanizing put-down and points out its user as someone lacking even a vestige of class.
Now that I have that off my chest, I would like to address the very real issue of differing expectations and needs while on journeys, because there is no doubt that many couples have them—especially when dealing with divergent attitudes toward “roughing it.” And let’s be honest: While in some cases it is the other way around (I know of several personally), usually it is the female half of the couple who resists the inconveniences associated with “roughing it.” So what to do?
Easy: Just make it not rough.
One of the benefits of the explosion in interest in overlanding over the last decade is the commensurate explosion in equipment of all kinds. It has never been easier to bring along most of the comforts of home. Here’s a look by category.
Bathroom. This is the big point of resistance for most women. It’s easy for men to forget that for a woman, going “#1” is basically as involved as it is for a man going “#2.” Fortunately there are numerous ways to make the procedure both comfortable and private. You can store a pop-up enclosure in the back of the vehicle and deploy and un-deploy it in seconds if privacy is necessary or desired. Portable toilet systems now range from basic but surprisingly comfortable seats that fit over a five-gallon bucket with a liner, to porta-pottis with a water reservoir for flushing, and cassette toilets that simplify emptying later. Add something as simple as a tap on a five-gallon water can for washing, and you’ll have all the same things covered as you would at home: privacy, comfort, and cleanliness.
Shower. Closely related to the bathroom issue, since the enclosure can serve both. However, bathing and changing is much easier in a fairly large and decently windproof enclosure (i.e. not a pop-up), so there’s nothing wrong with carrying a compact pop-up for on-the-road bathroom breaks, as well as a larger enclosure for camp duty as both toilet and shower room. There are lots of excellent products on the market that will provide a hot shower, from simple but effective hanging bags heated by the sun to engine-mounted heat exchangers to propane-heated units with 12V powered pumps. Go with whatever level of luxury you feel your mate desires—or deserves.
Bedroom. If you have a camper or trailer this is pretty easy. If not, consider either a roof tent with a dressing room attachment, or a ground tent with standing headroom (e.g., a Turbo Tent or a Springbar, two of my favorites). Equip the ground tent with generously-sized cots, thick Therm-a-Rest camp mattresses, a flannel-lined sleeping bags, and a real pillow, and there’s a good chance your significant other will wake up the next morning and say, “That was more comfortable than our bed at home.”
Kitchen. You might be fine with spooning SpaghettiOs out of a can heated in the fire when you’re out on your own. Or you may have the full-on Snow Peak Iron Grill kit. In either case, when your mate is along you need to orient the kitchen and food to her (or his) taste. Does she do the cooking at home? If so, would she like to in the outdoors as well given a sufficiently well-equipped kitchen? Then make it so. If she cooks at home but has no desire to do so on the road, then do your finest to provide her with excellent meals. With the superb 12V fridges available now, there is no excuse not to bring fresh produce and meats and have menus fully the equivalent of those at home. And if getting her out means skipping camp food for restaurants now and then, do it. Along those lines . . .
Hotels. I’ve talked with a surprising number of both men and women who enjoy camping—just not for weeks at a time. If your situation is similar, then work out trips and itineraries so that camp days can alternate with hotel or lodge days on whatever schedule works best. Do this for a while and you might find you both start being happy with more days camping and fewer under roofs.
Overlanding does not have to be an all-or-nothing proposition, unless your loved one simply does not like camping at all, period. Even in that case it’s possible to compromise. Enjoy civilized trips together, then every once in a while you can take off on your own, skip showers for a week, pee on trees, and eat SpaghettiOs.
Just don’t be the handbrake on your relationship.