What you need
Maps – preferably paper as well as electronic, are essential – make sure your additions are as up to date, and even then expect to find glaring errors and omission as you leave the precision of the European road system.
It ironic that in the information age the best route information you’ll get will be by word of mouth, either from other travellers or savvy locals.
Books aren’t essential, but taking the right selection can enrich your travelling experience.
Guide books are extremely useful – they tell you what you can see, where you can stay, and throw in a lot of additional information as well. You needn’t be restricted by them – it’s your adventure and at the end of it the guide book writers may even be chasing you for information.
Local histories, wildlife guides, even books on geology can all give you a better insight into the countries you are travelling through.
Phrase books will teach you enough of the local languages for you to earn the respect of the locals, and will help you overcome many of the barriers that would otherwise insulate you from other cultures.
A great favourite for trading with other travellers are travel books, especially ones written about the regions you are passing through – and just as good are works of fiction set in the same countries.
Finally – you can’t leave without a good hard copy of your vehicle workshop manual or the Haynes equivalent.
Make your book selections carefully; decide upon the level of detail you want – some guides cover larger areas than others. Books are obviously heavy and the fewer you take the better.
Where to Shop
Stanfords is a name that is synonymous with maps, but they also stock a good selection of travel guides – this is a great starting point.
Prices are of course lower online at Amazon, and when you are selecting guide books it is useful to have a complete selection available to ensure that you are always buying the latest edition. People will usually have a favourite series – be it Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, or another. The styles vary, but the general rule, especially in Africa, is that these guides very rapidly become less useful as they get older.
If Africa is your destination then abandon all your preconceptions about cartography. This is a continent where new roads may crumble into nothing in a few short years, and where cartographers rely on corrupt road ministers’ statements of good work completed to budget. Pistes wander aimlessly through the shifting sands of the deserts, bridges collapse, floods wash away main routes… it’s a continent of constant change.
For a good overview the Michelin African Series (check for the most current edition) is a starting point. This consists of Map 741 (Africa North & West), Map 745 (Africa North & East), and Map 746 (Africa Central & South), and also Map 742 (Morocco) as there are more roads there. The others may be useful according to your itinerary. These maps are dreadfully inaccurate, and each new edition perpetuates long-known howlers, but they are sadly the best in the public domain. Beware of up to a 40km offset on the Lat-Long grid, and always talk about your proposed route with other travellers who know for sure what is a real road and what is fiction. And when you arrive at the head of a good asphalt road which turns out to have been lost to the jungle back on the 1970s remember that it’s all part of the adventure.
Various other of map series are available, but unless one has been specifically recommended and is recent it will probably be near useless. Sadly many of the excuses for cartography that are on sale are criminally inaccurate. Things get better in the South; in Namibia and South Africa excellent free maps are available from gas stations.
Start by looking at the editions that have recently been updated – this should dictate your choice of series. In Africa Lonely Planet is the firm favourite, and the information seems to be better than the competitions.
Some countries are barely covered, others are only included in regional guides – others have their own guides. Choose carefully, as you will need to limit the weight of books you can carry.
If possible take both electronic and Paper copies which suit your level of technical expertise. The Downloads section of this site has a selection of downloadable manuals which can be extremely useful if you are taking a laptop or PDA with you, and even better, they weigh nothing!