Overlanding travel guide, including overlanding travel advice and overlanding travel ideas for Africa, South America, Asia, UK, Australia and the Middle East
Wilbur Smith, in his book Elephant Song, really had it in for overlanding. ‘The overland safari meant amoebic dysentery and punctures, five thousand miles of potholes and army roadblocks. Once was enough to last a lifetime...
Oh dear. But though he was potentially right about the potholes, he was wrong on his overall sentiment.
Overlanding is the perfect choice if you want to explore a region or a continent, including off-the-beaten-track places, but in the company of like-minded people. You’ll get to places you could never have reached under your own steam, and with the security of your ‘home’ and your new ‘family’ going with you.
You can do anything from a short African safari leg to a whole London to South Africa traverse, or you could follow the Silk Road, circumnavigate South America or do a classic Istanbul to Cairo odyssey.
Trips most often have a crew of two, usually a driver and a tour leader. Accommodation is commonly in two-person tents for most of the trip, although some nights may be spent in budget hotels. More than half of the group are usually travelling solo, and will share a tent/room with someone of the same sex. Campsites might be anything from an organised site with facilities through to a bit of flat ground deep in the bush. Finding each night’s camping spot can be part of the adventure.
Overlanding is not necessarily for everyone. Teamwork and flexibility are the order of the day. It can be intense – a bit like an On the Road soap opera. But it’s affordable, it’s fun and it’s safe. You’ll cover more ground than you could have covered on your own, and get to places that would be near-impossible to access without a truck. You may find yourself making lifelong friends: sharing the highs and lows, the shopping and cooking, the breakdowns and route changes, all create an amazing bond. Whatever else it is, overlanding is certainly never less than an adventure.
Top five overlanding experiences
- Trans Africa (16-24 weeks). Many travellers would sell their souls to experience an overland trip from Cairo to Cape Town: ancient history through safari heaven to the modern Rainbow Nation of South Africa. Leave the Pyramids of Egypt for dust and travel south through Ethiopia, Kenya and Malawi, stopping off at the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.
- South America (10-16 weeks). Carve a tropical trail through South America. Jump straight into the adventure with an Amazon jungle trip in Ecuador, overland it through the Andes and to Peru’s Inca eyrie, Machu Picchu. And make sure you arrive with enough energy for Carnival in Brazil’s samba capital, Rio de Janeiro.
- UK to Australia (16-28 weeks). Join the exclusive club who have travelled from UK to Australia by land. Forge through France, roam into Romania, get tied up in Tibet and then scoot through South-East Asia to reach Australia – the perfect place to relax after overlanding through over 20 countries.
- Istanbul to Cairo (4-8 weeks). Travel through unexplored parts of Turkey before diving into the heart of the Middle East. Witness the impressive wonders of the ancient world in Syria and Jordan before entering Africa via the troubled but enlightening land Israel.
- Asia (11-16 weeks). Follow in the footsteps of the silk traders of old through the Far East. Start from Kyrgyzstan where you can stock up on local drink kumis – fermented mare’s milk – before heading into the remote west of China. Overland it through Himalayan passes at dizzying altitudes, hike up to Everest Base Camp and end your journey in India or bustling Beijing.
Overlanding travel tips
- You will probably be asked for a ‘local payment’ at the start of the trip to cover the food kitty, admission fees, etc.
- When comparing costs from various companies, do check what is included, and remember to add in the local payment and the suggested amount for optional activities.
- Don’t miss out on these activities (eg, whitewater rafting, hot air ballooning) unless you’re really not interested – you’ll only regret the things you don’t do, not the ones you do.
- Check what your involvement will be: some tours carry a cook, but on many trucks the passengers are put into teams and take turns to cook for the group and to clean the truck. Don’t panic – this participation is usually good fun.
- Some overlanding companies have their own trucks and staff, while others subcontract to third parties. Is this important to you? Check the safety records of subcontracted truck companies.
- By their very nature, overland trips sometimes overrun – so be flexible with return dates, and don’t book non-refundable flights for the day the overland tour is scheduled to end.
- Don’t pack too much. But do take loo roll, a first aid kit, and a flexible attitude. A massive sense of humour will go a long way, too!