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What is overlanding and how does it work?

Overlanding is a type of tourism that has grown in popularity in recent years. Perfect for the adventurous tourist seeking an experiential travel experience who wants to embrace slow tourism, overlanding is a more ethical form of travel than many other tourism types. But what is overlanding and how does it work? Read on to find out….

What is overlanding?

What is overlanding?

There are so many different types of travel and tourism – so many different ways to experience new places and new cultures. Overlanding is simply another type of travel. It is one where the journey is the most important part of it all, rather than the destination. Overlanding involves travelling over/on land, and being self-reliant while doing so.

Overlanding often involves the use of large group trucks (for group tours) or recreational vehicles, such as campervans. Overlanding is typically a form of slow tourism, meaning that you travel slowly, taking in everything that the destination has to offer. This often has less negative environmental, economic and social impacts and is more responsible than other forms of tourism, which is great!

Overlanding definition

Firstly, the Cambridge dictionary defines ‘overland’ as any form of travel or transportation that occurs on land rather than via air or sea. So ‘overlanding’ as a verb is literal movement across land, generally in a vehicle.

Outside Online have “defined it as “backpacking out of a vehicle.” That is to say: you’ll be going on an adventure through remote places and relying on the gear you carry with you. Only, with a truck, motorcycle, or car, you’ll be able to travel much farther, and it’ll be a lot easier to bring items like good food, quality booze, and a comfortable sleep system and shelter along.

What makes overlanding different from simply going off-road, or taking a car-camping trip, is the emphasis on travel over exploring the technical limits of your vehicle. An ideal overlanding trip should involve exploring new places.

Does the definition of overlanding seem a little vague and open-ended? That’s on purpose. What’s new and exciting for you will be different from what’s new and exciting, or even possible, for others. The key here is to get out of your comfort zone and test yourself within the realm of your other interests, your tolerance for risk or discomfort, your level of experience, and the capabilities of your vehicle and other gear.

Who can go overlanding?

Anyone can go overlanding!

Obviously someone in your travel party needs to have a license for the vehicle you choose to use, but it is an accessible and often quite affordable way to travel, and if you don’t want to do the driving yourself, you can always hire a driver or join a group tour with a driver included.

What is overlanding?

If you travel by car, for example, and keep a tent in your roof box, you can often find somewhere to camp for free meaning this is a real budget way of exploring somewhere new. You eliminate the cost of hotels or apartments, which can often add up especially if you are wanting to see a large area during your trip.

How much does overlanding cost?

When it comes to the costs of overlanding, these can be quite minimal, but they can also be quite expensive!

If you already own a campervan, for example, you can do this kind of trip for fairly cheap – especially in your own country. You could get the ferry to a nearby country also, something that can be quite affordable, and start your overlanding holiday there. For someone based in the UK doing an overlanding holiday in Spain, for example, the costs (or things you need to pay for) would be as follows… This is based on someone who owns and is travelling in a campervan or caravan that they will be sleeping in.

  • Petrol
  • Insurance
  • Ferry crossing
  • Food/drink
  • Site fees if you are using an official campsite
  • Spending money
  • Toll fees

As you can see, there are not too many costs involved in this trip. You may be adding in entrance fees to certain tourist attractions, and you may well choose to spend one night in a hotel as a treat – but generally, it can be affordable. Added costs can come with having to hire a campervan or car, of course. Or you might choose to travel by motorcycle, in which case you are likely to need accommodation.

What is overlanding?

On the other hand, if you choose to join a group tour, then the costs can add up quickly. There are many overlanding tours available, many of which are offered by mainstream tour operators as well as niche tourism operators. These organisations are usually for-profit businesses and their profit margins are pretty healthy! This means that whilst you do get the benefit of a pre-planned itinerary and a group of like-minded people to travel with, you will often pay a premium for the privilege. This is particularly common with long overlanding tours, such as trips across Africa or Asia.

What gear do you need to travel overland?

In terms of what you need to go overlanding, it isn’t actually a lot. Obviously you need a vehicle – and really, this is the only thing you *need* for overlanding. It would definitely be more expensive, but you could simply drive cross-country and stay in hotels along the way! Below you’ll find a list of other things that can prove useful for a typical overlanding holiday…

  • Car/campervan/caravan/motorcycle
  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Torch
  • Portable cooker/BBQ
  • First aid kit
  • Breakdown contingency bag
  • Warm clothes
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Cooler box
  • Towels
  • Hiking equipment
  • Map/offline GPS system
  • Fold-away table and chairs
  • Long-lasting food items and spare fuel if you are planning to be in a more remote area such as the desert for an extended period of time

Why choose overlanding?

There are so many reasons as to why you might choose overlanding for your next holiday. One is that, as mentioned, it can be done on a budget especially if you can use a vehicle you already own. If you are able to spend a long period of time travelling, this is definitely a more affordable option than booking into various hotels and apartments throughout your chosen country! This means you can make the most of any travel time you have available.

Another reason is that overlanding allows you to see so much of a place. If you are on a typical holiday, you can be limited to your immediate location. For example if you have flown to the Costa Brava in Spain and want to visit Barcelona, you are limited to getting the train one morning and returning that evening to your accommodation. Whereas with an overland trip, you can spend a few nights camping in the Costa Brava area then drive to the outskirts of the city, ready to explore before heading back to your vehicle to sleep. Not seen enough of the capital? Simply stay another day!

You also get to head off the beaten track when you are overlanding. Having your own mode of transport means you are not constrained by local public transport options. This means freedom! You can choose exactly where you want to go and when, meaning it’s a much more flexible travel option.

The advantages of overlanding

As I mentioned previously, overlanding is often viewed as a more sustainable form of tourism than other tourism types. This is because it doesn’t usually include flying (although there may be a flight to/from the destination), so it causes less CO2 emissions than many other holidays. Because it is a form of slow travel, it encourages people to spend more time in smaller, local communities- this limits economic leakage and promotes cultural tourism.

Overlanding also allows tourists to travel off-the-beaten path and exploring further and deeper. Tourists can have unique experiences away from the mass tourism crowds and local communities can reap the rewards economically and socially. Tourists can save money too, especially of they have their own capervan or recreational vehicle that they can sleep in.

The disadvantages of overlanding

Whilst this type of niche tourism is generally viewed as more positive than many tourism types, there are still some disadvantages that are worth noting. To begin, whichever vehicle is used with omit some emissions, even electric vehicles need to be powered and this power all too often comes from coal. Furthermore, if responsible tourism is not undertaken, there may be unsustainable tourism development that occurs and unethical tourism behaviour, which is never a good thing.

Overlanding destinations

So, where can you go overlanding? The answer is pretty much anywhere there’s land! Obviously there are personal limitations – like if you’re based in the UK and want to use your own vehicle, you won’t be able to overland travel in America or China (like I did when I travelled along the Silk Road)… there would be nothing stopping you flying over there, however, and renting a vehicle. This comes highly recommended by so many people.

Finding the perfect overlanding destination for you is all a matter of preference. Do you want somewhere in Europe or somewhere in South America, for example – do you want hot, cold or something in between? How rural and remote do you want to go? Below you’ll find some great overlanding destinations to get you thinking…

Overlanding in The Pyrenees

Taking you from France through to Spain, you can do a 3-4 day route through the Pyrenees. This stunning mountain range will provide breathtaking scenery, and there are plenty of hiking trails along this route. Park up, go for a hike, then come back and star-gaze from the comfort of your campervan or tent. Don’t forget the blankets, though, because it gets cold at night!

Overlanding in Africa

There are some awesome overlanding trips through Africa. Whilst most people tend to book onto an organised trip when overlanding in Africa due to safety concerns, it is also possible to it yourself- you can see a great example of that here.

Overlanding in Cape Town to Victoria Falls

This is a much longer route. Covering around 5000km, this overlanding trip will last you three-four weeks: definitely one to do if you’ve got plenty of time on your hands. You’ll drive through four countries (South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana) and see so much beautiful wildlife along the way! This is definitely a caravan or campervan trip, I’d say, rather than one to do in a car or on a motorbike. But that’s not to say it can’t be done!

Overlanding in India

This might seem vague, but India as a whole is just a gorgeous country to overland through. Jump in your van and get driving! With so much diversity, nature, culture, colour, food and more, you won’t regret it. Whether you spend a week or a year overlanding through India, there is so much to see and so many places to visit.

Overlanding in Jordan

Jordan is a breathtaking location – and one where overlanding is highly recommended. A road trip from Amman to the Dead Sea, passing through Wadi Rum and Petra, will give you a lifetime of memories. There are so many beautiful nature zones, alongside archaeological sites and historic monuments, clear open skies for watching the stars and so much more! You can do this in around 7-10 days but if you fall in love with a particular area, there’s nothing stopping you staying put for a little longer. You can also take detours – all part of the beauty of overlanding!

Further reading

I have done plenty of overlanding trips in my time, you can read about some of them here!