When Mary Hannah Hardcastle, better known as MH, and Andy Ellis started dating, their relationship was anything but typical – one of their first dates included embarking on a 2-week road trip through the Smoky Mountains in a 2WD Jeep Liberty. Eventually, the road trips they took together became longer, the cars they embarked on them in beefier, and their relationship grew stronger. Today, the married couple spends about 50-75% of their time living on the road together out of their 2010 Land Rover Defender 110, Tango, and Expedition Rove was born.
Andy, a former British Paratrooper turned Land Rover Technician handles many of the mechanical logistics on the road while MH, who has a past life working in media and advertising, runs a successful freelance photography and videography business during their travels. Together they have grown their Instagram account to more than 68.5k followers and they work with some of the most well-known brands in the outdoor and automotive business, including them on their expeditions.
Having just returned from a 17 country, 114 day expedition through some of the dreamiest parts of Europe, from Switzerland to Italy, Germany to Greece, Albania to Turkey, bringing their country crossing list to 35, it was only fitting that I asked them about life on the road and how they tackled this ultimate European road trip.
MEET EXPEDITION ROVE
Breanna Wilson (BW): You just returned from a four month overlanding trip that took you from the UK to Turkey and back. How did this plan come about?
MH Hardcastle and Andy Ellis from Expedition Rove (ER): Our original plan for 2022 was to head from Morocco to Far East Russia. But, similar to our 2020 Africa plans, we had to adapt our route to the times with the unfortunate news of the Ukraine war. We ended up landing on the UK to Turkey, with the intention of continuing onwards into Georgia and into some of the “Stans.” But, when the news was announced in August that Azerbaijan would be keeping its borders locked down surrounding Covid-19 regulations, we decided to reroute yet again and finally take on Africa. We still haven’t given up hope on doing some of the “Stans” and heading further into Asia down the road, but we’ll reassess after Africa.
BW: You were able to experience so many countries during this expedition – give us an overview of where this adventure lead you.
ER: We started in Yorkshire, England, before heading over to Germany for a few Outdoor/Overland shows with the Dometic team, a company we’ve worked closely with over the last few years. From there, the real trip started as we headed straight for a place we’ve dreamed about for years: The Alps. We spent a couple of weeks tucked among the mountains and getting settled into our new home on wheels exploring the likes of Lake Geneva, Champery, Chamonix, Zermatt. From there, we headed to explore Italy: Lake Como, Cinque Terre, Pisa, Tuscany, Florence, and Venice, before heading to another dream destination for any outdoor enthusiast on a European road trip: The Dolomites. I could have stayed there forever. We hiked until our legs gave out, and then hiked some more, taking in sites like Seceda, Tre Cime Di Lavaredo, and Cadini di Misurina.
Onwards we went into southern Austria, before heading into Slovenia. On our way out of Slovenia, we stopped at our friend Toni’s house. At the time we only knew him through social media – he’d offered up his address when we were on the hunt for an address to ship parts. But this quickly became one of our favorite experiences of the entire trip. Toni welcomed us in, nonchalantly, offering us a cup of coffee. As we walked in the door we were greeted by his entire family, from mom and dad, his eldest to youngest sister, and his girlfriend as well. Before we knew it, we were taking a shot of homemade liquor with his mom and sitting down for a meal with the whole family. Not only did they immediately welcome us like their own kin, but they’d prepared an entire traditional Slovenian feast for our arrival, complete with homemade apple strudel. We spent the evening sipping on wine, exchanging stories, and laughing under the stars. It was priceless, and it’s moments like this that we’ll hold onto more than anything else from our travels.
We spent the next few weeks exploring the Adriatic Coast, and eventually Andy’s mum, Sue, joined us for the fun all the way from the UK. We picked her up at the airport and spent the next 5 days exploring as much of Croatia as we could together.
After Croatia we had a very short overnight experience in Bosnia, which unfortunately was rife with a bit of corruption (nothing serious), so we decided to cut our already short plan shorter, and head into Montenegro.
As we were headed towards Albania, we met another British couple traveling in their DAF truck, who recommended an off-road route to get to Theth National Park in Albania. At the news that it took them 4 days, we were sold, and off we went. We spent 2 full days on the trail and finally reached Theth, where we were greeted by towering mountain peaks, rushing rivers, and an endless selection of wild camping spots. After 4 days in paradise, we headed on, down to Gjirokaster and onwards to Albania’s “Blue Eye”, before heading to the coastal town of Kasmil, and onwards into Greece.
I’ve (MH) dreamed about Greece for years, and to ring in my 30th birthday we booked it down to celebrate another decade. But as we headed into Greece, I had to come to terms with the fact that this trip wasn’t the “Santorini trip” that I usually think of when I think of Greece, this trip was devoted to finding the off-the-beaten path spots that most tourists don’t head to. So instead of sipping cocktails and sailing around the islands, we did what we do best and headed to find the hidden gems and authentic Greek experiences. We headed to the Peloponnese peninsula, camped, and danced (okay, I danced, Andy laughed) on beaches without another soul in sight, we ferried to a tiny island called Elafonisos and spent 2 days mere steps from some of the clearest water I’ve ever laid eyes on, we watched WRC (the World Rally Championship) and camped out with a few Greek locals. We stopped and ate at the tiniest authentic restaurants we could find, camped for 4 days in the mountains with only the sheep herders passing by (this is where we made the decision to take on Africa again), and even managed to squeeze in a few must-sees like Mount Olympus and the Acropolis. Greece was amazing. It was everything I had never even dreamed of. But, with only a few short weeks left on our Schengen Visa (90 days total), we pushed on into Turkey.
BW: How do you plan an adventure as all-encompassing as this?
ER: I always think back to the old saying “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time,” which is exactly how we approach these trips.
● Route: We usually know our start and end destinations and then a general route to get between the two, which we define by marking our must-see spots (usually the places we’ve dreamed about for years or iconic spots we’ve come across in our preliminary route research), but everything else we plan in bite-sized chunks, usually spanning 2-3 weeks at a time. This allows us to be way more flexible on the road and open to route changes as we discover new places or meet new people along the way.
● Vehicle: Beyond the route, for each of our trips there’s countless hours of preparation to get the vehicle ready. When most people think of a vehicle build, the last thing most would think of would be an excel document, but I’ve learned that the best way to organize a project of this size is just that. We line-item out every single detail that needs to happen to the vehicle so we can keep track of everything and mark the to-dos off as we go. This helps to keep it all organized and make sure everything is accounted for before we hit the road.
● Personal: The same goes for all our personal to-dos such as organizing visas, planning vehicle shipping, copying paperwork, phone plans etc. Every time we think of something, we add it to our to-do list to make sure everything is accounted for.
● Budgeting: I would say this is one of the most important things when it comes to a long-term trip. Finding a sustainable way to make money either on your trips, or in between your trips, plus preparing your finances and downsizing where necessary is part of preparing for a trip like this.
BW: Wild camping can be difficult in Europe – what are your tips for finding places to camp?
ER: This was one of our most-asked questions on this trip! Here’s what we used on this trip:
● Park4night App: This is hands down one of the best apps for road tripping/camping through Europe. It’s great because you can filter spots based on your vehicle type (RV, 4×4, etc.). Because we prefer spots that are a bit more “off the beaten path” we usually look for the green “among nature” spots or the yellow 4×4 spots and have found that if you look for groupings of those within the app, they’ll usually lead you to an area that offers plenty of wild camping options.
● iOverlander App: We absolutely love this app and used it for the entirety of our Pan-American trip. It’s geared towards overlanders more, so we found the options weren’t as plentiful in Europe, but we still found quite a few places thanks to this trusty app on this journey. I should note, it’s not only great for finding places to camp, but also for information on border crossings, and more.
● Ask the locals: You can’t beat a bit of local knowledge! We’ve even been offered by countless locals to camp on their land throughout our journeys which is always such a treat for us. That being said, whether it’s on their land or just a spot that they’ve shared with us, we always respect that they’re sharing their hidden treasures with us and would never post them on iOverlander, park4night, or social media, unless of course they wanted us to. It goes without saying that we always trust our gut in these situations and have politely declined offers when something feels off.
● Google Satellite: Depending where you are, sometimes it’s more fun to “blaze your own trail” and Google Satellite is one of our favorite ways for finding cool trails and secluded spots. We try to always download maps for the area we’ll be driving through, so even if we don’t have service, we can still use our maps.
● Spotting them as we go: If we’ll be in an area for a few days, we’ll mark all the potential spots on our maps so we can easily find them again when we’re ready to make camp. If we see any locals, we always do our best to confirm with them if it’s okay to camp there ahead of time so there’s no surprises in the middle of the night.
BW: In 2020 you shipped Tango to Africa, but you never made it due to the pandemic. You finally have plans to make this plan happen again. What are you most excited about?
ER: I think we’re most excited to finally see this trip through. We devoted so much time to making the trip happen back in 2019/2022 – building out the vehicle, planning, working, and saving, building relationships, etc. and it was absolutely crushing when we had to make the call to ship Tango home back in 2020. But we’re firm believers that everything happens for a reason. Now, two years on, it will almost feel surreal finally getting to take on a trip we’ve not only been dreaming about, but have been actively planning or considering for 4+ years.
Beyond the actual act of finally getting to do the trip, we cannot wait to experience the wildlife down there. We’re both massive wildlife enthusiasts and Africa is simply the pinnacle for that type of experience. We’re also hyper aware of the devastating truth that some of the species down there may not make it to see the next generation, and that’s something that’s motivated us to want to take this trip on.
BW: When will you be setting off? And where will you go?
ER: We’ll be shipping Tango December of 2022. It’ll take around 35 days for the ship to arrive in South Africa after leaving the shores of the UK, so we’ll fly down and meet Tango sometime in January and hit the road from there.
We’ve been dreaming of this route for years, so we’ll be sticking to our original plan. We’ll start in South Africa, making our way down to Cape Town, before starting the journey North, up through Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, before journeying up through Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt. From Egypt we’re at a crossroads…either revisit our route East or make our way back to the UK.
How can people follow along on that adventure?
ER: We’ll be sharing our day to day travels through our Instagram.