A to Z of Adventure Travel: O is for Overlanding

23 04 2009


“Yes, and I expect the lobster bisque to be delivered to my tent with the chilled Dom.” (Namib Desert) 


Thirty years ago, it was popular to quit your job, buy a second-hand Landrover in London, pack a sleeping bag, tent, pots and pans, an atlas, spare tyre, a pair of sandals and a few mates and drive to Kathmandu. When the journey was complete, the Landrover would be sold to similar wandering souls in Nepal who’d then make the reverse journey back to London. Once in the UK, these inveterate travellers would realise that an office job just didn’t hold much appeal after spending 6 months or several years driving across the world on 25 cents per day, and they’d start Overland companies. This would allow them to take truckloads of similarly-minded but less-independent souls on journeys through Asia, the Middle East, Africa or South America…and get paid for it.


Overlanding still exists today although the old 30mph ex-army Bedford trucks that were the mainstay of such trips for decades have been replaced with custom-built Mercedes with docking stations for iPods, re-chargers for laptops, and mini-fridges for beer and gourmet tofu. However, the sense of adventure still remains the same.


An Overland truck is a self-contained eco-system. Held within are long-range fuel tanks that permit trips to remote and often inaccessible areas; water containers; storage units for tinned food and other staples; modern camping equipment; spare parts and bits of equipment for tricky terrain like sandmats, hooks and winches. Although water, bread and fresh produce are picked-up along the way, the self-sufficiency of the onboard stores allow overland vehicles to head well off the beaten path and explore areas of the world previously only available to unemployed people with Landrovers!


Although good value for money, this ability to explore without being a world famous explorer isn’t for everyone. There are usually 18-20 on a truck and everyone is required to assist with the chores. Whether preparing the food, shopping in the markets, doing the dishes, collecting the water or starting the fire, everyone has a duty that rarely occupies more than a few minutes of any day. Overlanding attracts all ages from early 20s to adventurous retirees in their late 60s and everyone from students to engineers, doctors and bank managers. It’s not unusual to find 7 or 8 different nationalities on any trip, women often narrowly outnumber men and singles usually outnumber couples. In fact, overlanding is probably the best mode of travel for adventurous single travellers.


In most destinations, overland trips spend the entire tour camping. This keeps the cost down and also allows for greater wanderings away from tarred roads and civilisation. Camping itself can also be separated into two categories: camping, using organised sites often with bathroom facilities and sometimes a bar or even swimming pool, and bush camping, which entails turning off the road and stopping wherever your travels find you. No bathrooms, no bars, no swimming pools, just untouched wilderness and perfect solitude.


In some cases, however, smaller budget accommodation is used either for convenience, weather or reasons of security usually paid for from a kitty or local payment fund. Regardless of where you lay your head at night however, the truck quickly becomes your home and the travelling companions often become life-long friends. It’s hard not to experience the wonders that overlanding provides and not form an unbreakable bond with your new mates.


Overland companies usually require that you bring nothing more than a sleeping bag, a sense of adventure and an appetite for the unexpected. But whether venturing through Africa, South America, Asia or the Middle East and travelling for 2 weeks or 8 months, they are guaranteed to provide the experience of a lifetime.



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009

Revolutionary Designs

2 04 2008




“The House of Che”


“Why is the t-shirt guy on your money?” she asked, while closely scrutinising a 3-peso note.

“That’s Che Guevara,” the guide patiently explained. “He’s one of our revolutionary heroes, and was also the president of our bank.”

“Oh, I thought he was a fashion designer or something.” she answered before casually strolling past me to take another photograph of Havana.

In a perfect world all meadows would be emerald green and filled with fluffy bunnies, weekends would be 5-days long, restaurants would distribute free glasses of classic single malt scotch instead of water, and everyone who travels would be forced to take a little written examination before they head overseas. Just simple questions like: Do you know where you’re going?

You can always get so much more from any trip if you’ve taken a bit of an interest beforehand. You don’t have to memorise an encyclopedia or attend evening classes on “The History of Terracing and Rice Cultivation in Bali” before you travel, but having a very basic knowledge of any destination, its culture or even just its most current events can heighten any experience and certainly make local interactions much richer.

In 1994 P.M. (ie: pre-Madonna), I was travelling through Malawi just a few weeks after their first-ever democratic election. Their independence leader and long-time dictator – Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda – had overstayed his welcome and been asked to leave office earlier that year. During his three decades of rule he had utilised his powers by banning such things as travel books that said nasty things about him, female visitors wearing pant suits and male travellers with long hair. He had been a rather discerning despot.

The election had gone well and the people were still celebrating their new rights. Everywhere we went, they would whistle and hold up two fingers to signify their recent introduction to two-party democracy. Whenever we stopped or walked down the street, they would come and share their happiness with visitors from fellow democratic countries, bubbling with enthusiasm and elation.

It was only luck that had me in Malawi at such a momentous time in their history, but I will always regard it amongst my greatest travel highlights…even if I couldn’t buy a commemorative t-shirt!

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008