By Scott Dicken
I’m a traveler that can’t sit still for more than 10 minutes. I love being on the go and want to maximize my time. Seeing as much as feasibly possible on every trip is a primary objective. Overlanding, best described as a self (or group)-reliant adventure to remote destinations where the journey is the primary goal, is a great way to achieve this; you only spend a couple of days in each place, and you get to meet new people; an extrovert’s dream. My overland adventures have taken several different forms including boats, motorized rickshaws, and rental cars; but for this particular article I’m focusing on my adventures in Africa on overland trucks.
There’s something special about overland trucking in Africa. Driving through remote villages and setting up camp as the sun goes down each day has a special allure. The best news is that over the past 10-15 years there’s been a proliferation of companies offering overland experiences, which has substantially driven down prices. However, overlanding isn’t for everyone; before booking you should know more about what overlanding is, research companies in detail and make sure you pick one that best meets your particular style. In this article, we start that research together.
The Pros of Overland Trucking in Africa
Scenery and Sunsets: You’ll get to see parts of Africa that the average tourist doesn’t visit, wake up to some of the best sunrises, and watch some of the best sunsets anywhere in the World.
New Experiences: Getting off the beaten path means you’ll experience a style of holiday, and a style of activities, you don’t normally experience on typical package holidays. You could be hot air ballooning above the Masai Mara one minute and white water rafting the Nile the next. Overland trips open a host of options, some of which you might not even consider until you see everyone else giving it a go.
Things are Taken Care of for you: Let’s be honest, trying to independently arrange an overland trip through Africa takes a huge amount of time, dedication, and a general understanding of African travel limitations. An organized overland truck tour takes all of that planning out of your otherwise busy hands and into the hands of a professional; but all the while still leaving you with a real sense of adventure.
Value for Money: The overlanding style of travel provides fantastic value for money, especially when compared to flying between locations and staying in lodges and hotels. You also stand a much greater chance of knowing most of your costs up front given that food is, on most occasions, included.
Wildlife: Overlanding means you get to maximize your chances of seeing wildlife in a condensed period. In a single two-week vacation you could spend time in the Masai Mara, Nakuru and Naivasha in Kenya tracking leopard, followed by Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda to track gorillas. Alternatively, you could watch elephants cross the river in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, canoe safari through the Okavango Delta in Botswana, and track lion in Etosha National Park, Namibia all in a single trip. That’s a serious amount of wildlife for a single holiday!
The Cons of Overland Trucking in Africa
Undesirables: It isn’t your fault, and it isn’t theirs, but every overland trip has at least one person on it that you wouldn’t usually choose to socially engage with. However, in such restricted confines you will unavoidably have no choice but to. They may have no filter, they may lack a social conscience, or they may just keep managing to steal the last teabag. Either way, roll with the punches. No amount of hiding at the other end of the truck is going to enable you to avoid them for two weeks; make the most of the situation and you’ll often find by the end of the trip that they end up being the person you keep in touch with the most!
Cleanliness: You’ll be camping for at least 90% of your time on an overland trip. This isn’t glamping, it’s camping in Africa. Some of the camps you visit might well be fairly upscale (I remember one campsite I stayed in in Northern Kenya that had a bar that wouldn’t have been out of place in central London), but others might be little more than a field with a couple of taps. However, there’s a strong likelihood that you might need to go a few days without a hot shower. After a while nobody will even notice that you’re slightly more pungent than when you all met at the airport. But if freezing cold showers at the crack of dawn doesn’t really appeal then you might want to take a few packs of wet wipes to last you until the next hot shower is available. Another important point to make here is that you obviously get what you pay for. If you go for a bargain basement overland tour, then you’re likely to get the bottom rung of campsites. Sometimes this actually makes the trip more fun and increases group camaraderie, but admittedly that isn’t for everyone; so, make sure you do your research.
Drive Times: Sometimes I look at trip itineraries and get excited about how many different countries can be visited in such a short amount of time. However, if you delve a little deeper into the trip details you soon come to realize that means a huge amount of time spent on the road. A few days on the road is always to be expected (and can definitely be enjoyable) but I would suggest avoiding trips that have multiple back-to-back days of 8-hour drives. Although you’ll get to see some beautiful landscapes, the idea of an overland isn’t to be confined in the truck 24/7 for however many weeks you’re on it. If you’re doing a two week overland, I would suggest no more than 2-3 countries at the most; those offering more are probably trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.
Chores: I’ve put this in the ‘cons’ section but I honestly think it ends up becoming a fun part of the trip. Some of the best friends I’ve made on overland trips are those that have been in my chore group. Also, an important disclaimer is that the chores aren’t really all that difficult; it’s more a case of chipping in to make sure things run on-time and smoothly. Typical chores include: food preparation and cooking; cleaning the truck; camp tidy-up; and dishwashing. Of course, this is on top of pitching and dismantling your own tent.
Organization: If you’re an organization freak, don’t like leaving anything to chance, and refuse any flexibility in your holiday schedule then overlanding probably is never going to be the best option for you. Trucks do break down, roads do become impassable at short notice (especially in the wet season on dirt roads) and mid-tour changes do occasionally have to be made to adjust the schedule. While I’ve had a truck break down I’ve never arrived late at the final destination; sure it meant extra time spent on the road but that’s all a part of the spirit of adventure you’re buying in to when you pick an overland tour.
Space and Privacy: You’re spending your time in a truck and sleeping in tents. Neither of these things lend themselves to either space or privacy. You’ll get to know the rest of your group intimately well (most notably, who snores the loudest). Another consideration is space for your luggage. Overland trucks typically either have under seat storage lockers (some require you to bring your own padlock if you want enhanced security) or a space under the truck or at the back where luggage can be stored. The space provided is usually fairly snug and so most companies have strict baggage limits (and often require that the bag is soft-shell; no expensive Samsonite hard shells). So, you’ll need to pack fairly conservatively.
Crack of Dawn Starts: In my opinion this is both a con and a pro. OK, you’ll need to get up early and for some people this is the antithesis of a holiday, but it also means you get to see some of the most stunning sunrises you’ll ever see (seriously, Africa has the best sunrises and sunsets anywhere in the World). Once you get over the initial cold (take layers) and have had your morning coffee, you’ll soon get over the tiredness and appreciate the early starts. As an alternative, you’ll always get the chance to sleep on the drive.
Comfort Levels: This type of holiday is never going to be 5-star luxury; and you’d think you’d know what you’re letting yourself in for by the time you book. Sleeping on the floor isn’t for everyone, and if one roll-mat isn’t enough then make sure you take an extra one with you. The food is usually basic, but I’ve never gone hungry. You can also stock up with snacks each time you get to a larger town. One thing my wife and I like to do is treat ourselves to dinner at a nearby ‘fancy’ restaurant every once in a while and skip the camp dinner (you’ll often find camp sites in some of the bigger towns, like Livingstone in Zambia, are right next door to upscale hotels with great restaurants). This way you can break up what might otherwise feel a little monotonous at times.
If you’re looking for more hints and tips on trips to Africa, make sure to visit www.takephotosleavefootprints.com!
About the Author: Scott Dicken is a world traveler and amateur photographer on top of being employed full time at an internationally known company. His love of travel is evident – you can read more articles like this at takephotosleavefootprints.com