Imagine packing up the car and heading off for a drive across the Congo. Or through the jungles of South America. Or across Siberia. Sound like a roadtrip on steroids? It is… and it’s called overlanding.
Generally speaking, overlanding (or landcruising) is a self-reliant method of travel using specialized vehicles. Destinations are often remote and the journey to reach them can be long and difficult. Overlanders carry most of their supplies (food, tools, spare parts) with them and camp along the way. While the vehicles can be expensive, overlanding is far from being a luxurious romp in the back of beyond. It can be a real challenge.
Surprisingly, the challenge isn’t necessarily the goal. The Bible of overlanding, Overland Journal magazine, describes this method of travel as being more about exploring and less about overcoming obstacles.
“While the roads and trails we travel might be rough or technically challenging, they are the means to an end, not the goal itself,” says the magazine. “The goal is to see and learn about our world, whether on a weekend trip 100 miles from home or a 10,000-mile expedition across another continent.”
Vehicles used for overlanding are as varied as the routes they travel. Some overlanders prefer the high end: fully outfitted 4×4′s with rooftop camping (for keeping those pesky lions at bay) that can cost north of $100,000. This kind of kit is generally used by people who have adopted overlanding as more of a lifestyle.
Many overlanders prefer the cheaper option of a converted van, although this can limit access to more difficult terrain.
And then there are those who choose two-wheeled exploration. They hit the road on specially outfitted motorcycles. Overlanding by bike allows better access in many cases, however it’s much more difficult to carry all the supplies that one might need.
Do It Yourself
Because overland travel takes you to remote areas where there are limited facilities, stocking up on food, supplies and parts is important. When things go wrong, it’s up to you to find a solution. That means when an axle breaks 50 kilometres from the nearest village and you’re on little more than a dirt track that few others use, you’ve got to fix it yourself.
Travelling in a popular make of vehicle is especially important. This goes a long way to ensuring you can find spare parts. There’s a reason you see a lot of Toyota trucks in the developing world.
Carrying all that stuff and driving a large, heavy vehicle means you’ll have some significant fuel costs. Although camping will reduce the cost of meals and accommodation, overall costs of an overlanding trip can vary wildly depending on the route, the destination, the length of time and the type of vehicle.
In many countries you can rent a fully outfitted 4×4. This is certainly a cheaper option than buying and upgrading a vehicle. In southern Africa, for example, you can rent a 4×4 with camping gear for around $200-250 a day. Don’t forget that you’ll need insurance and paperwork for crossing international borders.
The biggest benefit of self-reliant travel is the ability to change course on a whim. If you discover an amazing place, you can stay longer. If you don’t like it, you can just pack up and go.
Overlanding can take you to places most people will never get to. It provides a way to experience the world like no other. It isn’t easy, but if you love challenges, then overlanding might be for you.
If you’re interested in overlanding, check out the Overland Expo. It’s held every spring in Arizona. The 3-day event brings together enthusiasts, experts and suppliers.
A good primer is the TV series “Long Way Round” – in which actor Ewan McGregor and his pal Charley Boorman travelled 31,000 kilometres from London to New York, by way of Europe and Asia. Most of the journey was done on motorcycles. Even though they were supported on their trip, it’s a fascinating look at a very different kind of travel.