What is Overlanding? - Its History, The Lifestyle, The Very Basics That You Need To Know                                           

Overlanding is booming in popularity, largely because people yearn for knowledge and adventure. Perhaps more folks are wanting to get away from the city madness! Whatever the reason, overlanding gives you an opportunity to explore the world and learn from it.

We are enthusiasts of overlanding, and we want to share the humble knowledge we have built up on this matter. It is our hope by so doing we can help you explore the world and learn from it. But what is overlanding and where is it coming from?

In this article we highlight the origins and history of overlanding, bucket list-worthy routes, basic gear and skill requirements. We hope, over time, to accumulate and share knowledge on every aspect of this awesome way of travel and adventure.


What Is Overlanding And Where Did It Originate

Off-roading vs. Overlanding

If we would like to define Overlanding, we need to look at the different types of vehicle assisted travel. 

Overlanding is often confused with off-roading. Off-roading is a type of adventure that takes place on un-surfaced roads or no roads at all. It is different from overlanding where the type of road is not an issue. Overlanding often takes you through rough terrains and off-road trails, but tackling a steep hill which resembles a wall is not a primary objective when overlanding. Overlanding can go straight through cities as well.

You might say then, that overland travel is just another word for a road trip. Well, the main difference is that a road trip has a destination, whereas overlanding is about the journey itself. Besides that, the primary mode of accommodation for overlanders is camping with all of its fun and challenge.

As we've mentioned, Overlanding is definitely a growing trend. This style of travel entails using usually an off-road vehicle or a van to cover a long distance, typically in a remote area. More emphasis is placed on the journey and taking in the landscape rather than any destination. It opens up a world of opportunities for those who love to discover the planet on their terms and at their own pace.

Overlanding may not be for everyone, however, the opportunity to make unforgettable memories are unrivaled.

The term Overlanding seems to have originated in Australia, and referred to driving cattle long distances across the Outback. Later, road construction crews used it as they opened up the vast landscapes that characterize the Australian wilderness. More on this later...

landrover in mongolia

Today, serious overlanders, armed with some serious gear have taken this concept to an entirely new level. It is quite common to have people overlanding for weeks, months or even years in some remote regions of the world. 

One of the most common misconceptions about overlanding is that you have to be young, child free and in the sort of peak physical shape of a mountain climber. This is, in fact, not true; overlanding can be a family adventure for people of any age or almost any fitness level. Provided you are willing to occasionally dig your vehicle out of a hole, and you of course probably need to have at least a mild attraction to the great outdoors.

Additionally, some people may think that overlanding means they will have to disconnect from their electronic devices and be forced to live like a nomad for weeks. If you genuinely require your tools for work while overlanding, it's become easier to utilize your devices whilst on the road. With advances in battery technology, you can bring enough juice with you to power your devices.

struggling

The History of Overlanding

We could say that one of the first overland expeditions can be traced back to the 13th century when Marco Polo made his trip to the Court of Kublai Khan, all the way from Venice. However, it took a few more centuries before the modern form of overlanding was developed.

As we mentioned, the term overlanding can be traced back to the Australian outback. At the time, farmers had to move their cattle across long distances as the seasons changed. They had to traverse the long distance, and that is how they coined the word. Later on, as workers were building highways to open up the Outback, they used the phrase overlanding to describe their journey across the outback. Up to this day, overlanding enthusiasts use these roads in Australia.

overlanding overlanders overland lifestyle

In general, in Australia as well as in South-Africa there is a long tradition of exploring by a self-contained vehicle or motorcycle.

One of the first ever use of motorized transport for leisure only can be traced back to the United States. It took place in 1903 when George A. Wyman rode a motorized bicycle to New York from San Francisco. He managed to cover 3,800 miles in just 50 days. However, his bicycle’s engine broke down on the final 150 miles, and he had to pedal to the finish.

Comex 3. Photo credit: xor.org.uk

A well documented, among the largest and peaceful overland expedition took off from the UK to India and back. The entire convoy comprised over twenty coaches that carried 25 people each. The Commonwealth Expedition, which was often called the Comex 3, still holds the record as the most prominent overlanding expedition ever. The expedition took place in 1969 and was among the largest and most peaceful overland expeditions of the time. The entire convoy comprised over twenty coaches that carried 25 people each who traversed the huge distances between the UK and India.

Another notable expedition took place between 1969 and 1970. A convoy of four Land Rovers embarked on an overland journey that took them from South Africa to the UK. As you can imagine, it was not easy. The main reason being the poor state of the roads in Africa at the time. Members of the expedition had to spend long hours trying to pull their vehicles out of the mud in areas used to foot or animal traffic. However you can imagine the rewards far outweighed the effort.

Abandoned Land Rover

Growth in the Popularity of Overlanding

Technology has been a primary driver in growing the accessibility of people to Overlanding. The ability to work remotely has given folks the flexibility to take their work on the road. All you need is a laptop, some juice, and perhaps the odd internet connection, and still work while marveling at the stunning vista you have discovered. Another reason is that overlanding can be quite cost-effective. For example you do not have to spend thousands of dollars to stay at hotels or to eat at expensive restaurants. You can add a lot more fun by bringing everything you might need for the trip.


A great thing about overlanding is that you can go alone or with friends, family, but when you are in groups, it becomes easier to handle issues like a breakdown, and it also a lot safer.

If you like, you can bring a pet with you, just ensure you carry enough food for him or her. Besides that, ensure you get all of the legal permits required at international borders with pets. Since you will probably not be staying at any hotels, you do not have to worry about being denied accommodation for your pet.


Classic and Modern Routes Used by Overlanders

The world is your oyster when it comes to where to go. Here are some of the best examples but the route ideas are endless:


The Pan American Highway

Driving on the Pan American Highway that starts in Alaska all the way to Argentina is probably one of the most popular overland routes in the world. The best part of this route is that it is quite achievable for an ordinary person.

Amie, Matt and Jaeger are a good example how much this route has got to offer: The Traveling Together Journal.

They are travelling from California to Panama. They make regular video updates that can prove to be valuable lessons for anyone who plans on going on this overland route. There is not much paperwork needed if you plan to make this trip. Best of all, this route is quite affordable. 


The Rubicon Trail, California

The Rubicon Trail is a classic overlanding route that is located in California's Sierra Nevada region. The route features a challenging mix of paved roads and dirt trails that take travelers past some of the most scenic areas in California. Different trails along the route lead to popular destinations such as Lake Tahoe, El Dorado National Forest, Loon Lake, Buck Island Lake and the camp sites that surround Rubicon Springs. The terrain is rife with obstacles such as Walker Hill, Thousand Dollar Hill, Silby Rock and Cadillac Hill, and the off-roading opportunities are so authentic that car manufacturers test out their 4x4 vehicles on parts of the route.


The Silk Road

The Silk Road is a famous road from medieval times that spans the Eurasian continent. You can now go on a tour of this ancient trade route that goes all the way from China up to Paris or Rome, or in fact, any parts of Europe. You can traverse the entire path or only on sections of it.

The Pamir Highway

Connecting to the Silk Road, the great Karakoram Highway (known as KKH among overlanders) crosses from Pakistan to China and it is one of the most spectacular roads in the world. You definitely feel far away from home while driving the 800 miles of this mostly paved road that took 20 years to construct.

Another route often on the bucket list of overlanders is the Pamir Highway. This 1000 year old route is a spectacular and challenging part of the old Silk Road. Going through the 15,270 ft high Ak-Baital Pass in Tajikistan is demanding, to say the least.


Australia

Australia is a vast country, with endless opportunities for overlanding. There is no shortage of wild marvels along the coast or, in fact, inland. One example would be the Canning Stock Route, which is a 1,150 miles long, challenging four-wheel drive trek typically taking two to three weeks to complete. Australia has got so much to offer in vehicle assisted adventures, that it deserves a whole new article.


Cape Town to Cairo

The route is a great way to see Africa. It starts in Cape Town and goes all the way to the very north of the continent through Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, just to name a few. The stage from Cape Town, South Africa to Nairobi, Kenya is complete with the woodlands and grasslands of the famous big game reserves and national parks, Wildebeests, zebra, antelope, elephants and hippos are all likely to be stars of the show. 


There are many other routes of course, but these are amongst the longest and most popular.

Planning and Preparation for Overlanding

Part of the fun of any journey is trip planning. Since overland adventures are usually longer in duration than most other types of vacations, planning and preparing for them require careful consideration and attention to detail. Overlanders don't want to plan all of the spontaneity out of their trips, but they also don't want to put their lives and the lives of their travelling companions in undue danger.

Here are some of our top planning and preparation tips that will help to strike the right balance between an exciting adventure and a fool-hardy quest.


The Finances and Time

Money is the first thing you think about while planning. Although it may be cheaper than staying at hotels, you still need to have enough of it. You need to plan the time you're going to spend out there carefully.

Remember, the longer it takes, the more money you will need. For instance, you want to ensure you do not overstay at a stopover on the route. Always have a diary with you and have a clear timetable for how to cover the course. If you experience a breakdown, you may have to cancel some of the things on your bucket list to make up for lost time.

what is overlanding

It is imperative that you plan for your finances to the last dollar. Ensure you know how much you will need for the trip, and then carry extra. For instance, you may find that fuel costs are unexpectedly higher in another country that you expected. It is best to calculate a daily budget, and then forecast a total budget depending on the length of your trip.

These preparations are mainly true for longer endeavours, a shorter overlanding break in the next state or anywhere within the country can be done more spontaneously, with a pack-and-go attitude.

In Chris Scott's great Overlander's Handbook, you'd find tons of information on trip planning, including finances, but as the title suggests, it is an all round great book if you want to know the ins and outs of this lifestyle.


Choose the Right Vehicle

An overlanding expedition can only be as successful as the vehicle you are driving. 4-wheel-drive vehicles tend to be more popular these days among overlanders, but as a rule, you can drive anything you want. The main goal is to have fun and discover as much as possible. You just need to know the limits of your car in order to avoid situations where you put yourself in danger. You also need to decide how far you are planning to go in terms of distance as well as difficulty of the terrain. These factors, as well as the size of your wallet will decide what kind of vehicle will you chose for overlanding.

4birdsoverland's Awesome Expedition Truck

The most popular and reliable options are usually 4WD station wagons. However, vans and pickups are also often used, while expedition trucks are becoming ever more popular, especially when traveling with a large family. While vans have limited capability if your route goes over a rough terrain, their plus side is obviously their flexibility in terms of space inside.

The proven names among off-road travelers are Jeep, Toyota, Land Rover, Mercedes and Nissan. Ford, Dodge and Chevy Vans are nowadays often chosen instead of the classic Volkswagen Westies. Once you have picked your vehicle, you will then need to decide on the modifications. You might not need, nor want any modifications, while some overlanders install so many aftermarket parts that it is hard to recognise the original vehicle. Most overlanding enthusiasts end up in the middle: upgrade the suspension, underbody protection, snorkel, good storage system, off road tires just to name the most common ones. Modifying the vehicle becomes part of the lifestyle for many. It’s not only fun, but getting it done correctly will help you on the trip tremendously.

overlanding in mongolia defender

Overlanding Gear

Apart from modifying your vehicle, choosing your overlanding gear can also be a lot of fun, but to end up with the right equipment you need to go through some serious amount of information. There is some essential gear, which you must ensure you have on your adventure. According to Overland Journal, which is one of the best resources for information on overlanding, these are the absolute bare essentials for your vehicle:

  • Fire extinguisher
  • Front and rear recovery points
  • Shovel
  • Jumper cables
  • Drivetrain fluids
  • Recovery strap
  • Jack
  • Tarp
  • Tool kit appropriate to vehicle
  • Vehicle spares appropriate to vehicle
  • Full-size spare tire
  • Light truck or better tires
  • Spare key, hidden outside vehicle

The list of equipment that maybe considered essential versus those that are nice-to-have, are endless. Of course you should never leave your house without a very good first aid kit, however that top of the range electric hotwater system might be considered a luxury. Everyone needs to decide for themselves, but choosing and installing overlanding gear for your vehicle is definitely part of the lifestyle and fun.

We would recommend you to also consider the following:


The Skills You Need for Overlanding

Besides reliable equipment, you will also need to develop a few new skills and learn some not so obvious tricks of the trade.

One of the skills that you may need as an overlander is the knowledge of local road rules. For instance, in some countries, you need to drive on the right side instead of the left side. Understanding this could not only save your life, but it could also help you avoid costly fines.

It is very important to also understand the local signaling rules while on the road. While flashing lights in your country may mean one thing, it may signal something very different on another. You also need to understand the hand signs. For instance, when traveling to the Middle East, an open palm facing towards a person does not mean stop, it means to come closer. In other places, the simple act of flicking your fingers from chin with the palm facing towards you is an insult. Understand all these intricacies before embarking on a journey. In fact, understanding the local culture and respecting their customs is essential.

Tough traffic in Mauritania

As you might imagine, excellent driving skills are crucial for a successful overlanding. The vehicle you use may not be the one you are used to driving. Also, the terrain can be very different. If possible, ensure you go for some off-road driving lessons before you go on the trip.


Final Thoughts, and the Great Names in this Field

On one of our other favourite sites, overlandbound.com, you will find a few guiding principles for the overlanding community.

We also very much believe in these principles and would like all those who view our content to consider them. It will help to grow an active community of overlanding enthusiasts from all around the world.

Consider the tips below:

Overlanding requires a willingness to persevere: as an overlander, you will be able to explore the world and experience a connection with nature. However, you must understand that nature is relentless. If you hope to survive nature, you need to rise to the occasion and respect it. If this is something you can do, overlanding was designed for you.

Keep it simple. When going to the outdoors, it is essential that you keep things simple. Always avoid over packing for your outdoor adventure.

Understand the basics. If you want to make it on your trip, you have to be ready to ask all the right questions. Do not be afraid to look naive to fellow overlanders. It is better to have the proper knowledge and be labeled a newbie than to wing it and fail.

Be willing to share. You are part of a young but growing community. The best way to support each other is by sharing. You have to be willing to tell fellow overlanders about your experiences and any lessons you learned. Besides that, if you discover a new route, ensure that those in the community know about it.

The type of vehicle does not matter. Overlanding is not tied to any brand or model. The only requirement is that you pick a vehicle that is up to the task and is able to do the trip safely.

There is no competition between overlanders. This is not about competing who has the best model or who has better gear. Experiencing nature, outdoors and culture is more important than any gear you have.

Giving advice is an important pillar. The overlanding community will always be ready to offer advice on what you need to make your vehicle available for a trip. For instance, if the car requires any modifications, you will be advised and helped. There is tons of information out there.

It is okay to admit you do not know. Honest advice drives this community. If you do not know the answer to something, it is better to say so than give wrong information to a fellow overlander.

We also always ask for advice. In the overlanding community, it is about sharing and growing, if you have no idea how something works, always ask for help even though it may seem stupid.

It is all about fun. We want to ensure everyone has a positive experience on their journey.

On our site, we want to generate as much useful information around overlanding as possible. We aim to help the community grow by putting the right information out there for others to access it.

We are constantly learning through experience, but also from great people who already established a name in this field already. Just to name a few, these are some of the most inspiring people in Overlanding:

  • Andrew St.Pierre White - there is literally nothing he doesn't know about overlanding. Check out his Youtube Channel for great videos from all around the world
  • The Expedition Overland Team - Clay Croft and his team created some of the most inspiring travel videos in this subject. Truly amazing.
  • Ronny Dahl - a real Aussie 4WD expert and overlander with immense knowledge and experience on equipment, how-to's and more.

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