What Is Overlanding?

Day four of the blog post a day in May and time to finally get round to writing some pieces on travel or, more specifically, overlanding.

HAVE spent more than a year of my life on overland group trips and spend more time explaining the manner of the trips than the places we have been.

That four days on a train, digging a truck out of mud or spending the nights wild camping in the wilds of Africa is as much a part of the trip as big cities, tourist trail trips or ticking off bucket list attractions.

Or that the strangers you met on the first day (almost certainly far too early) will become your family, your friends, your gang – the ones who are there to share the highs and carry you through the tough moments.

Over a few upcoming posts, hope to take you through the different aspects of overland travel and the preparations for my next bout of riding around in a big yellow truck in South America (this website was, after all, set up as a travel blog).

But let’s start with an overview – what exactly is overlanding?

Have travelled with, after a quick count, 40-odd people over the course of two long trips and pretty sure they would all give you a different answer. We all had slightly different trips, different highlights, different tales to tell, each of us playing a slightly different part to make up the (largely) harmonious whole.

The simple take is that the journey is as important as the destination.

Don’t get me wrong, have been to some amazing places, cities and sights which should be on anyone’s must-see list, but it is those things you only see and moments you only share with your fellow passengers by journeying through the places, hidden gems or, let’s be honest, problems that are far too easily overlooked or over flown.

Been to New York a fair few times but only one of the journeys there saw me walk across a frozen lake, sleep in a ger in the Mongolian wilderness, trek through US National Parks and, ahem, be sick on the Great Wall of China. Or wear a truly horrific shirt somewhere in the middle of the Pacific.

Rather more exciting than eight hours on a plane deciding between chicken and beef or which film to watch.

As great a place as it is, New York barely features in the memories of those 90 days travelling overland from London – it was journey’s end and dominated by goodbyes and nights out with the friends who had shared those experiences.

That trip involved a mix of coach travel, train and, as the only way to complete the journey without flying, cruise ship. Sleeping was in hostels, hotels, sharing cabins on the Trans-Siberian or the ship and a bus converted for travelling through the night with camping for those who chose to abandon the refuge of the bus.

But overlanding takes in a wide range of styles, different operators and the demands of where you are travelling shape much of that – there is no tourist infrastructure in West Africa while the safari hotspots of the east are much more set up to offer a few comforts.

So while you may find yourself with the option of a bed, power, WiFi, a bar and hot shower (the ultimate wishlist of the overlander) and even a proper road in the east, you can go days without any of those down the west coast.

And that’s without mentioning toilets (we’ll keep that for another post that comes complete with a warning for any nervous reader).

Those basic conditions – camping wild wherever we could find, bereft of facilities, at the mercy of the elements and days without showers – were approached with trepidation on the 10-month Trans Africa adventure with Oasis Overland.

People even had the prospect of surviving on my cooking. Over an open fire. From what could be found on a limited budget in the local markets.

But from nervous starts, we embraced the delights of bush camping and began to look forward to them between the more luxurious (and that’s all relative) surroundings of the east.

And hey, if none of you have showered for days, you soon stop noticing the smell.

Those hardships have their rewards. The people you travel with, the people you meet along the way, the experiences which pop out of nowhere – these are the things that will come back to you and crop up whenever you reminisce with your travelling buddies.

And you still get the tourist trail attractions and cities others have taken the far less rewarding direct route to.

In September, will hop back on a big yellow Oasis truck for seven months around South America and the trip will be slightly different again – the balance between camping and hostels more even as a fresh continent throws up fresh challengers from Africa.

Between now and departure, will dig into overlanding in more depth – what to pack (and what not to pack), life on a truck, wild camping, overland cooking and anything else that springs to mind.

But will leave you with one last thought from somebody else.

Oasis Overland posted their own blog recently about what to pack and asked for comments on what people should pack and what should be left at home.

The answer that stuck with me came from an overland driver on what you don’t bring that is more important:

  • Detailed itineraries;
  • Expectations that it will be a holiday;
  • A piece of clothing or equipment you are not prepared to lose;
  • Rolling suitcases;
  • Beliefs that your views are more important/correct than others;
  • Western views on how other people in other cultures “should” live.
  • Leave those at home and you will have a fantastic time!

Think that pretty much sums up overlanding.

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