Affiliate links linking to products we love may be found within this article. For more info, please check our Disclosure page.
Overlanding is broadly accepted as self reliant, vehicle dependant travel where the emphasis is more on the journey than the destination. Typically, accommodation is camping.
Often, though not always, overland vehicles are off road capable. Overland trips have a tendency to last months, if not years. Overlanding, for us at least, has become a way of life – a lifestyle of exploration.
Overland vehicles, equipment and routes vary widely within the world of overlanding. What overlanders seek as part of their journeys is unique and personal to them.
Some prefer to find the most challenging route. Others to explore remote villages and cultures other than their own. And everything and every combination between.
Yet something joins us together as a community. The common desire for exploration, empathy for the daily challenges and passion for sharing stories from the road.
What overlanding isn’t
Ooh, contentious! Some people are rather rigid in their definition of what overlanding is. We don’t think it matters. What overlanding is to me, could be quite different from what it is to you.
The main aspects are self reliance, vehicle dependant (or supported), remote locations, adventure travel and exploration. Use your own definition of what each of these means to you to determine if you overland or not.
Owning an overland vehicle doesn’t make you an overlander
We know of many people whose hobby is to build overland vehicles. Maybe one day they’ll use them for an overland adventure. Perhaps it’s a dream, a retirement plan, maybe they just want an overland vehicle or they’re happy with their hobby.
We got more use out of those vehicles on weekend camping trips though so for most of the year, we were campers with overland vehicles. Training for the overlanding lifestyle we have today.
Take a look at these gift ideas for the campervan owner in your life
What types of journeys constitute overlanding?
This is a tough one to define because the generic definition of what overlanding is, is well, a generalisation. I’ll try to illustrate it with some examples.
Is a cyclist travelling the PanAmerican highway overlanding? We’d say yes. They often camp, travel at a slow pace and the journey is the adventure. They’re also hardcore – although that’s not a prerequisite of overlanding.
Is a backpacker touring South America overlanding? We’d say no. They travel on public transport, hitch hike or travel by air. They generally stay in hostels.
Yet thinking it through, this is still a type of overlanding, albeit without a vehicle. They’re self reliant and often adventurous. On the basis they refer to themselves as backpackers though, we will too.
So what about a 3 week trip from let’s say the UK to Morocco in your own vehicle? Again, we’d say yes. The duration is short but the dependancy on the vehicle is there.
The daily drama of border crossings, the challenges of where to eat and sleep all apply.
What about someone driving from Las Vegas to Death Valley National Park, California for a weekend? We’d say no. The duration is so short and the journey is more about the destination.
Add to this any dramas experienced are short lived. Camping for a weekend is just that – a camping trip.
What about a 6 month trip to Cape Town on an organised tour with a company like Dragoman or Oasis Overland? Perhaps even more contentious, at least for those profit making expedition companies, we’d say an emphatic no – well, errrr, probably not.
Passengers may need to camp and even set up their own tents and muck in with group chores but these expeditions amount to long coach trips.
Once you pay the fare, the tour company takes care of everything else. You don’t need to worry about visas and they organise your daily itinerary.
Even in the event of a catastrophic vehicle breakdown, the expedition company lays on alternative transport.
To us, this is a world away from the type of overlanding lifestyle we have. But hey, they’re still overland journeys nonetheless, so this too is overlanding.
Graham thinks overlanding must at least involve crossing one border, if not an international one, at least a state line. But, I don’t think it matters. The most important thing is to enjoy the journey.
History of overlanding
Australians coined the term overlanding at the end of the 19th century and early into the 20th century. Cattle farmers on horseback drove their cows across vast distances to open up new pastures in remote regions of the outback.
As companies built roads, the highway workers used the phrase overlanding to describe their journey across the outback too.
Motorised vehicles brought about new opportunities in leisure travel. Prominent overland expeditions across continents took place in the late 1960s from the UK to India and South Africa to Europe.
In 1955, 6 British post grads convinced Land Rover of the marketing opportunities an epic journey from the UK to Singapore would have, bagging themselves a couple of loaded Defenders.
The BBC, David Attenborough and a whole bunch of sponsors got involved. After 6 months and almost 16000 miles, the 2 Land Rovers and the 6 overlanders arrived in Singapore.
In 1980 the Camel Trophy brought overlanding into the modern era, making 4wd vehicles a popular choice. Make no mistake, while a 4wd is terrific for overlanding, opening up more route opportunities, it is far from essential.
More recently, modern overlanding is beginning to trend somewhat, and efforts to escape the rat race only add fuel to this every growing bandwagon.
The overlanding community
While most people overlanding do so on their own, or at least in one vehicle rather than in convoy, we actually don’t feel alone at all.
With a growing online community and increasing numbers travelling overland, the road is far from lonely. In fact, we think this overlanding lifestyle would be more difficult if fewer people were doing it.
There’s many Facebook groups dedicated to overlanding in specific continents and members help each other with all sorts of aspects of life on the road.
Information is available on road conditions and border formalities – especially important when things on the ground change often.
Getting advice of where to find a local mechanic, shipping information and even where to find a vet in a random town is usually a Facebook post away. There’s a genuine and great support network out there.
Some overlanding routes are especially popular with overlanders and so our paths often cross with fellow travellers. It’s often a source of much joy to meet other overlanders on the road.
We may have met before on the road or in one of the chat rooms. Meetings always involve discussing our respective vehicles and routes taken.
We discuss recommendations on campsites and places to go, with a few tales from the road thrown in for good measure.
As the night grows later and we share a glass of wine or 2, the laughter increases before turning into our respective overland vehicles.
We part ways soon after – even days later sometimes – having made friends and added a new trip card to the growing pile. We bid farewell confident our paths will cross again one day in the future.
For a humorous insight into what it is to be an overlander, check out Graeme Bell’s article on Expedition Portal.