Huddled around a fire in a yurt next to a nomadic tribe on the Kyrgyz steppe at 3,500m above sea level, I know I would never been able to be there without overlanding.
Overlanding is about the journey, as well as the destination; group adventure tours in a self-reliant truck, capable of driving to some of the most remote places on the planet. If you’re interested in taking your first cautionary step into travelling or are tired of backpacking solo, here is why you should give overlanding a go:
1. Get off the beaten path
Overlanding allows you to reach places that would otherwise be inaccessible, hugely expensive or unsafe. The trucks overlanding companies use are specifically designed for terrible roads, or places with no roads at all. They are kitted out with tents, a supply of drinking water, cooking equipment and food storage facilities, meaning they can go for days without needing to be anywhere near civilization.
Whether that is Khyber Pass in Pakistan, a fiery pit in Turkmenistan, fishing market in Benin or witnessing the political instability of Venezuela, you will be able to leave the hordes of tourists behind and head for the road less travelled.
There is nothing better than the feeling of total contentment from the freedom of the open, unexplored road ahead.
Travel has innate risks that you need to comfortable taking, and overlanding is no different, especially as it might take you to ‘riskier’ parts of the world. However, having a supportive tour leader and driver who have local contacts in the areas you’re in can make all the difference in terms of ensuring your safety and making you feel safer.
You will instantly be travelling with a diverse group of like-minded individuals. Most are solo travellers.
4. You Can Be Yourself
No-one knows you before you join a trip, so there are no pre-conceptions or expectations of who you are. Overlanders are some of the most open-minded people – you have to be if you are spending three months driving through West Africa or across the length of China with a bunch of strangers!
5. Truck Life
Truck life centres around teamwork, both with the other passengers and the crew. You will usually be expected to cook your own meals as part of one of daily rotating ‘cook groups’ to which you will be assigned. You will need to help set up camp, shop for food, cook, collect firewood and do the washing up.
This is not a bad thing, though it may sound like it from home. Being involved in truck life means you bond with your fellow passengers, get to experience others’ cuisines, be self-sufficient and get back in touch with nature. Shopping in local markets is a chance to explore regional fresh produce that you can’t get back at home. More than anything, it makes you feel part of a small community working towards a common goal, far away from home.
6. Good Value For Money
Whilst there will be occasional hostels when in cities, mostly overlanding is focused on the great outdoors. An added benefit of this is that all that camping and cooking over an open fire with food bought from local markets keep costs down. Whilst there are both budget and luxury companies that offer overlanding trips, either way, you are getting good value compared to hotels and restaurants.
7. A Break From Technology
There will be days, sometimes weeks at a time where you will not have access to WiFi, and sometimes even phone signal. I’ve listed this as a positive, as I relish the chance to not have access to technology; it lets me live in the moment in a way that we struggle to do at home. It’s incredibly refreshing to have hours-long conversations with people without anyone constantly flicking onto social media.
8. You’ll Sleep Better
If you haven’t switched your phone on that day, let alone had access to a TV or laptop, and instead have spent the evening sitting around a campfire, you’ll notice you will fall asleep in minutes and will often get far better quality sleep than at home.
The lack of glare from a screen and the weeks you spend in the outdoors means you will sleep like a log. Your body becomes more in tune with the more natural rhythm of going to bed soon after sunset and waking up around sunrise. This being said, don’t forget some earplugs – there’s no guarantee your tent buddy won’t be a snorer.
There are plenty of positives, but…
Overlanding can still be hard work - living a semi-nomadic lifestyle for months on end is tough. Things like not having access to basic sanitation, showers or privacy can wear you down if you don’t have occasional stops in hostels.
As a female traveller, it can be frustrating to the point of tears when the only option to relieve oneself is a flat, open desert with nothing to crouch behind. It depends where in the world you are as to if you get access to the luxuries of a hot shower regularly; for example, South America, yes – Africa, probably not. Either way, at some point you will smell, but take comfort in the fact that everyone else will too.
You probably will get sick at some point, it is a rare human that manages to avoid all the stomach bugs whilst abroad. You might have to deal with this whilst on a truck that is bouncing over potholes for 12 hours and not have any access to an actual toilet. However, your fellow passengers will understand your pain, and discussing and comparing bowel habits is socially acceptable.
Overlanding will push you to your limits at times, but this teaches you what your limits are in the most positive way, something you rarely otherwise get to do.
After all, it wouldn’t be such an adventure if it were easy.
I went to Colombia, Venezuela and Central Asia with Oasis Overland.
Travellers should always check FCO travel advice before deciding to visit a country ‘off the beaten path’.