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The Li-MITLESS ENERGY Podcast: International Overlanding

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A van lifer adapting their vehicle to explore rugged terrain. A mid-size truck equipped with a rooftop tent. Or an SUV completely transformed from the inside out to accommodate the necessities. Overlanding can be difficult to definitively define due to the numerous different types of travel, vehicles, and duration. Graeme Bell defines himself as an overland “extremist” – an overlander who pushes the limits of off-the-beaten-path adventure. Bell, a full-time overlander and author of Overland Journal, has traveled internationally in various overland vehicles for years, including taking on adventures with his family of four. Now, with the help of Jon Turner, Founder and Chief Engineer of Nimbl, Graeme shares some of the most recent journeys he’s been on in his Nimbl expedition vehicle.  

Hitting the Open: International Road

A Nimble overlanding truck is driving over a bridge in the forest.

Graeme Bell, who has been recognized as an overlanding expert for years, sits down with Denis Phares on the Li-MITLESS ENERGY Podcast to talk about working hand-in-hand with Jon Turner, the Founder and Chief Engineer of Nimbl, to help make international overlanding not only possible but comfortable. 

Prior to hitting the road in their Nimbl rig, the Bell family used to overland internationally in their Land Rover, which lacked luxuries like interior plumbing, air conditioning, and an induction cooktop. Their overlanding journey changed when Jon introduced Graeme to a Nimbl vehicle, fitted with luxuries that made living and working on the road sustainable, liberating Graeme and his family. With newfound reliability and resources, Graeme was able to circumnavigate the Americas and overland with no limitations in his Nimbl, opening up endless possibilities for his travels.

Want to learn more about roaming international territories in an overlanding Nimbl rig? Listen to the full episode of the Li-MITLESS ENERGY Podcast on your favorite podcast platform. Or check out the video interview on the Dragonfly Energy YouTube Channel to learn more about the Bell’s overlanding adventures, and the journey to a comfortable rig with the help of Nimbl.  You can learn more about Nimbl Vehicles through their website, YouTube, or Instagram. More about Graeme Bell and his ‘extremist’ adventures can be found on his A2a Expedition website, YouTube, or Instagram.

Podcast Transcript:

Denis Phares  0:14

Welcome to The Li-MITLESS ENERGY Podcast. My guests today are Graham Bell, writer and international Overlander, and Jon Turner, Founder and Chief Engineer at Nimbl. So, let’s talk about overlanding. I’ll let Graham start off here since this is something that you do for most of your time. We are used to RVing here. So obviously, we’ve done a lot of electrical work when it comes to a recreational vehicle, getting out on the road, even boondocking. How is overlanding different?


Graham Bell  0:47

You get different types of overlanding and I think that’s important for many people to realize. Some people are part-time overlanders, some people are aspirational overlanders, and others, like me, are extremists, and we’re full-time overlanders. And that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 11 years full-time.


Denis Phares  1:08

So, let’s define overlanding.


Graham Bell  1:11

With the growth of the popularity of the activity, let’s call it that, the parameters have changed. Back in the day, when I started overlanding, it was usually guys in four-by-fours with root tents that were doing that, that was what it was. But I discovered in South America, when we shipped our Lander Rover there from South Africa, that there were people that were driving all the way down from Alaska, well, the USA from the lower 48 to Argentina in a scooty, and you ask, “Well, is that overlanding?” Well, surely, by definition, it is. It is indeed. Obviously again, when you try and define overlanding, you then look at, well, it’s vehicle-based, but a lot of people would define it as being a four-wheel drive, as in four-by-four, as in going off the beaten track, and exploring, and testing your own capability and your own vehicles capabilities. Where I think, when it comes to international overlanding, it doesn’t matter what you’re driving, it’s the fact that you’re just doing it. This is kind of why I don’t like trying to define it.


Denis Phares  2:22

Okay, so maybe we will try to define it.


Graham Bell  2:23

I can define what I do.


Denis Phares  2:24

Okay. Let’s start there.


Graham Bell  2:26

Okay. So, I’m an international overlander. My family and I, together with our children. We took them out of school, got on our Land Rover, and we left home.


Jon Turner  2:37

And how old was Jessica when you started? Jessica was four?


Graham Bell  2:38

I don’t know, she could have been older, five or six. Yeah. And we circumnavigated South America. We drove from Cape Town to [Inaudible 2:48]. We drove through the Amazon. We grinned from Argentina to Alaska. That’s how we travel. That, to me, is what my brand of overlanding is as an international overlander.


Denis Phares  3:01

Okay. So, Jon, well, first of all, let’s talk about Nimbl Vehicles. What is special about what you’re doing?


Jon Turner  3:11

So, as Graham said, there’s lots of different types of overlanders. And so, we cater to the overlander who really wants to go off the beaten track. So, we build on pickup truck chassis, so we’re not building on a huge vehicle chassis. We try to fit as many creature comforts into our vehicles as possible. So, we do hand-lead, hand-constructed builds to a very high specification. And they aren’t for everyone, but what’s great about overlanding is that, no matter what price point, no matter what budget, no matter what your aspirations are, you can find something that’s going to fit for you. We, honestly, we fit towards the higher end of the successful couples who have had a successful life and want to get out and see the world but still have a taste for some of the good life, and this allows them to preserve that on the road. Going to these really wild, interesting, out of the way places.


Denis Phares  4:12

So, this is not glamping, right? You’re building a vehicle that needs… It’s not as much luxury as much as it is the ability to get to places you normally couldn’t otherwise get to.


Jon Turner  4:25

Tight. Well, luxury to us means having a bed, and having an induction cooktop, and having a refrigerator, and having 75 gallons of water, which means you can take a hot shower when you want to. And having a toilet, and having, these days, a DC air conditioner because that technology has changed, both storage, and also, DC air conditioner. So, there’s a lot of comforts that you can take along the road that just contribute to your enjoyment.


Graham Bell  4:55

I can add to that as well because we’ve been using — my wife and I, and actually, my kids as well have been using a Nimbl for the last year. And what’s beautiful about the Nimbl Vehicles is that it gives you the capability to go out and stay out. And we see a lot of vehicles which have similar comfort, but they’re very tall, they’re very wide. And the Nimbl had the roof that comes down. So, we were doing trials near Tulum in Mexico, which other vehicles couldn’t go to. But we could squeeze through there, we could get a bit of pinstriping, and he’s forgiven me. But we then get to the beach, up goes the roof. I’ve got, what, 75 gallons of water, I can stay there for three, four days, five days if I want. Tons of storage, etc. So yeah, I think that’s definitely, it’s the luxury to go out there and stay out there.


Denis Phares  5:43

So, by the way, I love that. So, Graham, you’ve been doing this for, you said 11, 12 years now.


Graham Bell  5:50 

Full-time, yeah.


Denis Phares  5:51 

Full-time. But you’ve been in Nimbl for about a year now.


Graham Bell  5:54 

That’s right.


Denis Phares  5:55 

So, how did you meet Jon? Why did you select this vehicle? Was it because you could get around easily in it?


Graham Bell  6:02

Yeah. Well, it’s a long story, all my stories are long, so you just got to bear with me.


Denis Phares  6:07

Okay, we got a few minutes.


Graham Bell  6:09

All right. So, my family and I, we just finished doing West Africa in our Land Rover. And we fixed her, she broke a few times, and we managed to fix her up. Then we got stuck in South Africa with COVID. And we were itching. After six months, we were like, “We need to get out of here.” So, we very responsibly traveled around Southern and East Africa during the pandemic. We came back to South Africa, and the whole idea was we were going to try to get from Cape Town to Vladivostok in Russia. We actually left during the pandemic and we couldn’t get through, we had to return.


Denis Phares  6:45

Which, by the way, is incredible, from Cape Town to Vladivostok.


Graham Bell  6:49

Yeah. It would have been awesome. And it wasn’t COVID that stopped us, it was the situation in Ethiopia. The civil war there, the Tigray region. That’s what actually put the brakes on us. And we spoke to a friend and we were like, “Well, we’re kind of cooling our heels here. We don’t really know what to do with ourselves.” He says, “Well, you love America, go to America.” So, we thought, “Okay, fine.” So, booked a flight, managed to get in here, and borrowed an old Ranger of a classic, and bundled the whole family into that and drove up and down, all around the US. And I was speaking to Jon, I’m like, “Look, we got a few months left here,” and he’s like, “Well, you can use my Nimbl, we’re not using it at the moment.” And we went from that Range Rover into the Nimbl proto, which is the prototype vehicle. And what a game-changer, the family is smiling all of a sudden.  There is space, there’s indoor plumbing, everything that you need, and everyone was quite enamored with the vehicle very, very quickly. And it just opens up so many opportunities for travel. And we kind of fell in love with it. I don’t know how we got to talking about it. I remember, I think we were driving alone, I was like, “Hey, Jon, I could drive this thing to Russia.” And he goes, “Okay, well, why don’t you?” And I’m like, “You’re kidding.” And he wasn’t kidding, he was serious. And next thing I know, we chatted about it, and we sorted some things out, got the logistics all lined up and we were heading down to Latin America.


Denis Phares  8:18

So, where have you taken this Nimbl to so far?


Graham Bell  8:21

So far, we drove her down from California, over to Nevada, down to Baja California, up and down around Baja, across to mainland Mexico. Quite an extensive tour of mainland Mexico, and then, we crossed into Guatemala. We were in a few months in Guatemala, then into Belize. And, unfortunately, we wanted to go all the way down to Panama, but we had to turn around because we needed to get visas for the US, and, as South Africans, it’s difficult for us. And we end up having to return to Mexico so that we get visas so we could return to the US. And that’s basically it. But that’s over the last year, that’s what we did with it.


Denis Phares  9:04

Is that your typical customer, Jon?


Jon Turner  9:09

Our customers do travel internationally, but the difference between the US and the rest of the world is the vastness of the US because you think of it as 50 states, 50 different countries, and completely different locales that you can go to, And so, it’s possible to be pretty much an international overlander and never leave the USA because you can drive 3000 miles in one direction and still be inside the USA. So, we just have such a wealth of beauty and different locales to take advantage of in the US, people do that. But we have units in Australia, we have them in South America,, we’ve had them in Africa, we’ve had them in Europe. So, they do get around. COVID has kind of cramped a lot of people’s style on that the past couple of years, but we will have people kind of launching out on those trips again.


Denis Phares  10:02

That’s funny because, domestically, COVID kind of helped to that whole activity, right? Everyone decided this is the thing to do, let’s get out of the cities and do this.


Jon Turner  10:11

Well, if you got a camper that’s like a hotel, it’s a hotel with social distancing because you’ve got a camper, you’ve got your bed, you’ve got your shower, you’ve got your kitchen, you have this little encapsulated COVID sphere of protection.


Denis Phares  10:27

Obviously, I’m interested in the electrical system. And, right now, the Nimbl has, what is it? Two, three GC3s?


Jon Turner  10:37

Three GC3s.


Denis Phares  10:37

Three GC3s, is this what your model has or was it before the GC3?


Jon Turner  10:42

No, he has four of the GC2s. So, the ones that we build now are the GC3s and, in all Vectron systems. And then, we’re using… Dometic as a very nice DC air conditioner we’re putting on the roof. And that works really, really well, especially when you’re in parts of the US that have high humidity. Air conditioning, not such a big deal if you’re in Nevada, but if you’re in Florida, as you learned in your Range Rover…


Graham Bell  11:12

Yeah. I would have killed for some AC out here.


Denis Phares  11:14

If you’re in Belize, how did that go?


Graham Bell  11:17

Yeah, absolutely. And, actually, fans are almost as good as AC. As long as that air is moving, you can breathe. If the air stops moving, you can die, or it feels like you’re going to die.


Denis Phares  11:27

Right. What has the system allowed you to do that, maybe, you weren’t able to do previously?


Graham Bell  11:36

It’s liberating, is what I would say. Is that, for instance, we went down, Louisa and myself, we dropped the kids off in Oaxaca in Mexico — their now older, tired of traveling, they spent their entire lives traveling the world, poor kids, I feel sorry for them — and we went off and had Christmas and New Year’s on the beach in Baja [Inaudible 12:00]. We could see another overland vehicle over there in the distance. We stocked up with charcoal, wood, meat, everything we needed that we could get onto the beach, as far as we wanted to go. The vehicle’s got all the lockers, it’s got all the capability to get down on the deep sand to where I want to go. And then, it gives me the opportunity to stay there. And, obviously, our needs have changed as we’ve traveled. We were really analog in the beginning, we had a dual battery system and a fridge, and I think that was the extent of our electrical requirements.


Jon Turner  12:34 

Now we have Starlink.


Graham Bell  12:36 

Now we have Starlink, now I’ve got deadlines. It’s a different ballgame. But I can sit out there, middle of nowhere, go fishing in the morning, come back, hook up the Starlink, get the sola coming in, cook myself some breakfast, do my work. So, it’s really liberating to have the systems that allow you to engage in the activities that keep the dream alive.


Denis Phares  13:04

So, has that fundamentally changed overlanding recently with the onset of lithium and bigger electrical systems?


Jon Turner  13:11

I can answer that. I think it has because I’ve dealt with both. I’ve had campers with 840 amp power AGM backs, and now, I have a 800 amp hour lithium back, because whatever can be done can be overdone, is one of my mottos. But, with lithiums, you don’t have that anxiety with AGM because, AGMs, you drop that $2,000 bag down below 50% and you’re like, “Have I hurt my batteries?” But, with lithiums, you just don’t have to worry about it. So, it gets rid of all of that anxiety. It’s the kind of one less thing to worry about because, even if you do discharge them all the way, you just charge them back up again. And that’s a very liberating thing about the lithium product compared to the lead acid, in my opinion.


Denis Phares  13:59

Sure. Well, you’re not going to get an argument from me there.


Jon Turner  14:02

I would have been surprised. (Laughs)


Denis Phares  14:05

Well, for us, we’ve been doing this a little while and it’s nice to hear different applications. And we’ve obviously been in contact with a lot of overlanders over the years. And so, it’s interesting to me to hear how it used to be, how it’s evolved. And Graham, you’re a writer, you write about it. And, in your writing, have you written about this evolution? Have you had a lot of interest as to how your equipment has progressed over the years?


Graham Bell  14:38

Yeah. To be quite honest, I’m not really into tech. I’m not interested in tech itself, I’m more interested in what it can do for me. My son’s very different, he’s a hyper nerd. He lives for tech.


Denis Phares  14:52

I can relate to him.


Jon Turner  14:55

He’s surrounded by engineers.


Graham Bell  14:56

Right. But I have seen the evolution, I’ve seen how it’s changed. I’ve seen how overlanding has changed and how technology has changed with it. And some of it can be over the top, but it all depends on the application. And so, what do you need? It’s not about looking at what Jon’s got and saying, “I got to have a Jon has,” because your needs might not be the same as Jon’s. I now need Starlink, I need power to run that, I need power to run my computers, I have to have my cameras charged, I have to have everything running for me. It’s different to how I… So, I’ve evolved, my needs have evolved. And luckily, the technology has come along.


Denis Phares  15:40

You think your needs preempted the evolution of the technology? Because what we found is people are like, “Wait, I can do this? Now I need an air conditioner. Now I need a microwave.”


Graham Bell  15:49

Right. Yeah, to a degree, because I live and work on the road, I see that the tools that are available, they’re just so liberating and important to me. And I don’t know if I could do it without them.


Denis Phares  16:04

But it makes the work easier.


Graham Bell  16:05

Right. And Starlink is a huge part of that as well. And you’re going to see how the entire industry is going to change just with the introduction of Starlink. We saw it already in Baja, for instance, hundreds of vans, hundreds of trucks, hundreds of overland vehicles. And I would say, easily, 80 to 85% of them would have a Starlink sitting outside…


Jon Turner  16:29 

Which they have to power.


Graham Bell  16:31 

Which they have the power. And the longer they can power that Starlink, the longer they can work remotely, the longer they can stay on that beach and pay zero rent, the happier they’re going to be, the more it’s going to change the dynamic. So, I think, if you take the combination of your technology with that technology, and you’re going to see the housing crisis, pandemic, it’s all coming together. When people will look at this boon in overland travel, in car camping, or whatever you want to call it, it’s not something that’s going to go away anytime soon, if anything, it’s just going to become more, and more, and more popular.


Denis Phares  17:11

I agree with you. Yeah. Well, let’s talk about your next trip. You’re going up to the Arctic.


Graham Bell  17:16

That’s right.


Denis Phares  17:17



Graham Bell  17:20

My Land Rover, I love her. Her name’s Mafuta, which is Swahili for oil. If you know anything about Land Rovers, you’ll know why. That’s how you check a Land Rover in the morning, you look underneath her first for the oil patch. So, Mafuta is a Land Rover Defender which I converted into a camper for a family of four. It’s a robust, utilitarian vehicle. It is not the Nimbl. The Nimbl is well insulated. It starts when it’s cold, it’s reliable, it’s powerful. It has a lot of storage, it has a working heater, it has all the things that I need to go and do a trip to the Arctic Circle. And my Land Rover is coming back to us in June, and I’m looking at this and I’m thinking I really want to go and travel in extreme cold, in extreme terrain over a long distance. It’s just part of my learning experiences in overland travelling. Doing West Africa was the same thing, that, at the end of that journey, I had a skill set that I didn’t have before. That is my motivation for doing this journey now is because I can, because I have the vehicle that is capable, that will forgive my ignorance until I catch up, until I learn. And that’s why I want to do it, and because it’s a challenge, and it’s going to be beautiful.


Denis Phares  18:49

So, was it the availability of the vehicle that made you think, “I want to do this trip now”?


Graham Bell  18:53

Yep. Now’s the time


Denis Phares  18:54

And you’ve never been?


Graham Bell  18:55

I have, with a Landrover. We went in September, October. It was cold, but it’s not -30.


Denis Phares  19:01

Okay. All right. And where are you going exactly?


Graham Bell  19:06

We’re going to Tuktoyaktuk, which is on the Arctic Ocean, it’s on the Canadian side. We’re not going to go into Alaska, we’re going to just carry on up. We’re going to get to Dawson City, and then carry on up through to Inuvik. Inuvik up to Tuktoyaktuk to the Arctic Ocean.


Denis Phares  19:20

Okay. So, I assume you have heated batteries, you have insulated batteries. So yeah, what’s the preparation?


Jon Turner  19:28

Yeah. So I have heated batteries in mind because there’s slung underneath the vehicle. And, in fact, I actually have heated the holding tank pads underneath it as well to add a little bit of extra heat. One of the things about Nimbl is the batteries are stored inside the envelope of the vehicle and they back right onto the 75-gallon water tank, which is a huge heat sack. And so, as long as the heater is running inside the vehicle and you keep it… In a situation like that, you’re going to keep it running the whole time.


Denis Phares  19:56

So the batteries are heated.


Jon Turner  19:57

So the batteries are heated, yeah. And I would say, for me, it’s the adventure, and I like seeing nature at its fiercest. So, if you want to see the Arctic, go on the middle of winter, see it when it’s really in its full magnificent glory. Same thing like I’ll go to Death Valley. I’ve been to Death Valley when it is 122 degrees in the shade because, if you want to experience the desert, that’s what you need to do to really experience the desert. Don’t go to it when it’s tan, go to it when it’s at its wildest.


Denis Phares  20:31

I’m going to trust you on that. So, on that note, I’d like to thank both of you guys for coming on the podcast today.


Jon Turner  20:39 

All right, thank you.


Graham Bell  20:39

Thank you very much.


Denis Phares  20:40

Well, that’s going to do it for today’s episode. Be sure to subscribe to The Li-MITLESS ENERGY Podcast on any of your favorite podcast platforms.

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