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  • Writer's pictureDeborah

Overlanding unpacked

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

Overlanding truck
Day 1 of our overlanding adventure!

...So, what is overlanding really?

Overlanding is a self-reliant land-based adventure. Travellers usually journey aboard a purpose-built vehicle that can go off-road, and house a large amount of equipment. This type of travel is all about the journey, and not necessarily the destination.

It is associated with very lengthy itineraries, which can take weeks, months or even years to achieve! They could be done across single countries such as Australia (think about the Grey Nomads!) or on multi-country journeys, for example across the length of Africa (Cairo to Cape Town!).

Maasai Mara
An epic African journey

Overlanding can be done alone or with friends and family. Through big travel companies, overlanding entails travelling in a group, participating in cleaning duties and meal preps, and of course, camping. Far from your relaxing 5-star holiday, overlanding is more like a fast-paced adventure that will test your endurance but reward you with unforgettable moments and star-lit skies.

After 63 days of overlanding through Eastern and Southern Africa, I have learnt many lessons on this type of travel. If you are looking at leaping yourself, here are some tips and lessons I think will be very useful.

Choose your itinerary wisely

Choosing an itinerary that is right for you is a crucial decision before you start your overlanding journey. Looking at driving distances, the style of accommodation and the input expectations for a group trip are some basics that should not be overlooked. Depending on the trip, these can vary greatly.

Our trip involved many long driving days of 8+ hours (so much so that days involving 5-6 hours of driving were considered very easy!), camping throughout and participation from all travellers for various tasks around camp.

Lunch stop with the truck
The essence of overlanding

Whilst most overlanding trips are in this format, not all are. Some can involve glamping or even hotel stays (with varying degrees of comfort!). Similarly, the commuting time between the places you visit will reflect the itinerary you choose, depending on how much you wish to see and how vast the area you wish to explore is.

Skimming your trip notes could lead to funny anecdotes in hindsight but very frustrating situations at the moment. The last thing you would want is to realise on your first night that you booked a camping trip…(true story from someone in our group!)

Morning sunrise from the tent
Morning sunshine

Learning about the places that you will visit is equally as essential in my opinion. These include but are not limited to, the local culture and customs (to avoid a faux pas), border procedures, and medical advice (I am referring to visas, vaccines and medication). Preparing ahead of time will not only alleviate stress for yourself but also for the others travelling with you.

Funny story: someone in our group did not appreciate yellow fever vaccination was mandatory to enter some African countries on our itinerary and caused a 3-hour delay at the border….Don’t be that person, read your trip notes!

Pack smartly!

In the same vein, packing, albeit not always the most enjoyable task, can also greatly impact your trip comfort. And packing for an overlanding trip is an entirely different kettle of fish. Especially if you are travelling to more remote areas where forgotten items may be harder to source, if at all.

Namibian flat lands
Far from everything

Overland packing is not as simple as throwing a couple of shirts and a pair of jeans into a suitcase. Firstly, choosing a suitable pack is important as there are strict weight and sizing restrictions to fit the truck lockers. I highly recommend a travelling backpack or a soft duffel bag. We used our Osprey Farpoint and Fairview packs which were perfect.

Practical and technical clothing, whilst not always the prettiest, I know, is certainly the best choice when it comes to overlanding. Packing for changing weather and varying temperatures is a challenge when the golden rule is to pack light but doable. A lifesaver for us was our Scrubba, an ingenuous washbag that helped us keep our clothes clean daily and thus rotate through them more frequently!

For toiletries, I recommend minimalism. Ladies, the chances of wearing make-up in the middle of the jungle/desert/beach are close to zero. Bar soaps are perfect, especially those made with only natural products; I find that they last longer and are easier to carry.

Namibian camping
Nature calls

Overlanding also calls for more essential items. A first aid kit filled with extra meds is non-negotiable, and trust me, it is a relief when you are in the middle of nowhere with stomach cramps!

In addition, camping gear is also required on most trips; this includes a sleeping bag and pillow as well as useful items like a head torch, tent light, mozzie spray or even a multi-tool.

Trust the truck

The truck is your trusted home away from home. In Africa, the truck is your very special therapy room, where the famous African massage will work its wonders on your neck and back…! Be prepared to spend hours, even days, within its confines.

Stuck with the truck in the national park
Stuck in the middle of a National Park

But don’t fret, the truck is also a place where many great memories are made. With so much time on your hands, nowhere to be and nothing to do, the time spent in the truck can be put to use.

Why not finally start this book that’s been sitting on your bedside table untouched all year? Or gaze out the window and zone out for a change?

If you choose to use electronic devices onboard, the truck has plugs you can use so you are never out of battery. They were a godsend on more than one occasion for us, as we were unable to charge any of our (many) devices in the remote campsites we stayed at.

And if you are feeling social, the truck is the best place to get to know fellow travellers. Sharing snacks is a ritual that often leads to conversation starters. There are also tables which can be used to play card games.

Be a team player

With group dynamics in mind, some basic unspoken rules apply to overlanding, such as being polite, considerate of others and being a team player. If you are someone who hates people, you might want to reconsider booking this type of adventure. The same goes if you don’t expect to lift a finger on your holiday (which is fine, just more appropriate on a cruise).

On our trip, we were accompanied by three to five amazing crew members from Intrepid who not only went above and beyond to ensure we had a great time but also conversed with us and taught us about their own cultures. And to make sure we made the most of the latter, a roster was in place, where every traveller was tasked with a job to help out the crew.

The jobs are all quite simple, and when done efficiently, they only take a few minutes. Cleaning the truck, putting up tents, helping prepare meals, and washing up are all examples of jobs that need doing around camp.

On a typical day, jobs are all done around meal times e.g., breakfast, lunch and dinner with the most usually done at the end of the day, upon arrival at camp. To be fair, jobs would not take more than an hour of our time per day. Very manageable!

Keep an open mind

One of the reasons I love travelling so much is because I get to learn first-hand about the world around me. I am fascinated by new languages, different cultures, exotic cuisines and new landscapes. When you overland, all this is right out your window. Every day, you can get out of the trusty truck and immerse yourself in your destination of choice. Meet new people, try something different or just take in your surroundings.

Travelling through Africa, for us, was mind-opening. We learnt so much about the countries we visited, their people and wildlife. Some were confronting, and difficult to process, while other pieces of information were fascinating and shifted our perspective on the topic.

Conversing with locals, witnessing the day-to-day, and having this rawer experience is one of the true privileges and highlights of overlanding. For me, meeting the San people in Namibia, eating a traditional meal prepared by local women in the Usambara mountains and being lulled to sleep by the growl of hippos on a deserted island are some of the many amazing memories of my overlanding adventure.

Soak it all in!

Looking back at our overlanding adventure, I smile at the moments of hardship, and I get goosebumps at my most treasured memories.

On this adventure, everything seems to happen at double speed. Senses are heightened, and the excitement overflows. The days flash by in a highlights reel. My biggest tip is to soak it all in and make the most of this beautiful adventure, whatever that may mean to you.

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