The Ultimate Resource for Overlanding - Part 1: What is overlanding?

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The Ultimate Resource for Overlanding - Part 1: What is overlanding?

Updated 2 years, 9 months ago

First read: The Ultimate Resource for Overlanding – Introduction

The first question we are usually asked is, ‘What exactly is overlanding?’

Overlanding, as the name suggests, describes undertaking a journey overland. You can overland on a train, in your own vehicle (be it a 4x4, motorcycle, bicycle or unicycle), on your own two feet or in an overland truck with other people.

The essence of overlanding, no matter what your mode of transport, is that the journey is what is important, not the destination.

Taken from 'It’s NOT a Holiday! The A-Z Guide to Group Travel'

The origins of overlanding

Overlanding in a commercial sense started in the Sixties with equally mad Brits, Aussies and Kiwis setting off on journeys from London to Cape Town and the famous ‘Hippie Trail’ from London to Kathmandu.

A few of these mad pioneers became addicted to the adventure and freedom that life on the road offered and returned home to start up their own ‘overlanding’ companies. They customised double-decker buses and old Bedford trucks into self-sufficient expedition vehicles and took passengers on the adventure of a lifetime. Travelling with these companies back in those days was rough and ready to the extreme and you didn't really know when, or if, you were going to make it to your final destination. But that was half the attraction.

These pioneering companies expanded and offered trips to more and more off-the-beaten track destinations. This expansion demonstrated that overlanding was commercially viable and led to many more overlanding outfits joining in to make overlanding the industry it is today.

Overlanding today

Some companies have stuck to the ‘grass roots’ of overlanding and continue to offer adventurous trips to far-flung places all over the world, some specialise in certain areas, some cater for particular markets (18-35yr olds, over 50’s etc.) and some cater to special interest markets.

Over time, passengers have also evolved. There are still many travellers seeking the ‘hard-core’ overlanding experience; taking months to travel through a continent, camping and cooking over fire, digging the truck out of mud, forging new roads in the jungle, driving across deserts and building log bridges over rivers. However, the majority are now seeking a style of overlanding that is not so rough around the edges and can be done in the few weeks of annual leave a year people have available.

What is overlanding?

So, what is overlanding? Well it depends on where you are overlanding, the company you are overlanding with and what type of overland trip you are on.

By their very nature, overlanding in Africa, Middle East, Asia, Latin America and North America can be very different experiences.

Overlanding in…

Africa - involves mostly camping (both in established campsites and bush camping), visiting national parks, wildlife safaris, beaches, visiting local schools/communities and adrenalin activities.

Middle East – involves camping out in the desert, ancient cities, mosques/religious sites and visiting ancient ruins such as the Pyramids in Egypt and Petra in Jordan.

Asia – involves a combination of bush camping and hostels/hotels (in cities), mountains, ancient cities, temples/religious sites, cultural sites, hiking/trekking and beaches and water-based activities (in South-East Asia).

Latin America - involves some camping (e.g. in Patagonia) but mostly hostels/hotels (in cities), mountains, colonial cities, hiking/ trekking such as the Inca Trail, jungle and wetland excursions, glaciers, beaches and of course, Rio Carnival.

North America (USA, Canada, Alaska) – involves mostly camping, landscapes, wildlife spotting, glaciers, ice activities and hiking/trekking.

This is a massive generalisation but the main point here is there is more camping and off-roading in Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and North America than there is in South-East Asia and Latin America. That is not to say you won’t camp or off-road in South-East Asia or Latin America, it is just that there isn't an established network of campsites in these areas (as there is in Africa and North America) or available land conducive for bush camping.

As previously mentioned, your overlanding experience will also differ depending on the company you overland with or the type of trip you are doing. There are so many companies now offering a vast array of trips – from your hard-core trip through West Africa to a fully accommodated trip in Patagonia. Some specialise in catering to the more discerning traveller (read ‘active older person’), photographers, wildlife enthusiasts and culture buffs, while others cater to more budget-conscious, gap year types. Then there are companies that cater to those who don’t really identify with any of the above groups – they are more generalists (i.e. your everyday person).

Generally speaking though, an overland trip will involve:

 - travelling in a custom-built and equipped vehicle with like-minded people (hopefully!)
- a mixture of camping and hostel/hotel accommodation
- stopping off to see and do the ‘itinerary highlights’
- participating in as few or as many ‘optional activities’ as you like
- free time in places to see and do what interests you
- experiencing the random things and events that happen every day along the way
- group participation in certain jobs to ensure the smooth running of the trip (e.g. cooking)
- watching the world go by through your window

In fact, this last point is very important to note. It may seem an obvious thing to say, but there is a lot of driving involved in overlanding. But you wouldn't be able to see and experience all those random things if you didn't drive (during the day). That is what overlanding is, going over land.

Besides, overlanding is a damn sight better than taking a night bus, bicycling or even worse, walking!

Next blog in ‘The Ultimate Resource for Overlanding’ series, Part 2: What is overlanding like?

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