For adventurers and Africa lovers, overlanding is a passion. So what role does it play as we grapple with the Covid-19 pandemic? Expedition specialist Paul Marsh shares his insights. By Magriet Kruger
Since the Lockdown first put the brakes on travel, I’ve been wondering about the impact of the pandemic on overlanding. Who better to answer my questions than expedition specialist Paul Marsh? For over 30 years he’s helped people to plan expeditions and kit out their overlanding vehicles. What is more important than building vehicles, says Paul, is helping people build their dreams. And from his experience, people are determined to keep their overlanding dreams alive.
To better understand the state of overlanding, I asked Paul some questions.
What is the mood around overlanding out there?
I’ve been very busy engaging with clients from around the world. I would love to be able to tell people when overlanding through Africa is going to open up. Many of my clients have vehicles that we’ve built for them which are now in storage. We’ve also got a good number of clients that we’re busy building vehicles for. So people haven’t decided to put everything on hold. Instead, most of them have looked at this as an opportunity, in the sense that they have the time to think about what they want and bring their dream alive. When cross-border travel does open, they’re going to be back on the road exploring in their 4×4.
Has the pandemic influenced people’s thinking?
It’s definitely what I have found based on conversations with people from around the world. In my business, I engage with people who are looking at how they want to live their lives. Covid has come into all of our lives and it’s helping us re-evaluate some of our priorities – like a reset button.
It’s forced people to be at home or in a more confined space where they don’t have so many distractions. So the pandemic is giving people time to connect more with themselves. I find that people are looking to return to some core values. One of those values is simplicity. It’s a very powerful word and the impact of it is huge.
When you go out into the bush, you can be disciplined about putting the phone away, not watching TV and taking your watch off – it’s a chance to break those habits. Without these distractions around us, we have time to focus on what is important. So I see people looking at opportunities of how they can do that.
Do we need overlanding right now?
Working from home, you often work a lot harder and the companies really benefit, so where does the cost lie? The cost often lies with the person doing the work, because you don’t have balance. Many of us sit very badly at our desks, so we get all kinds of aches and pains. Being out in nature, you can find balance.
People also see that nature is actually a very safe place to be during a pandemic. If you go out into Namaqualand and go camping, that’s a great place to be. It’s got to be safe, because there’s nothing around you. If people are sensible about how they behave and manage their hygiene, there’s no reason they can’t go overlanding. Just live mindfully and safely in every aspect.
Do you see it as a limitation that we can’t travel across borders?
It’s easy to forget about the gems in our own country. Two years ago we drove up to Tanzania and we met a guy who owned a campsite in Malawi. He showed us some beautiful photographs and when he told me he’d taken all of them in 1km2 of his camp, I was blown away. He’d made it his mission to see what he could capture in that area. It made me think, “Wow, we’re so busy trying to see other places that we haven’t explored the areas that are close by.”
So what a lovely opportunity, because now, instead of everyone rushing far out, we can actually get to know the places within our own country.
Is now the time to head out on back roads?
Whenever I go to one of the big cities and I’m travelling by road, I always look for a different route to visit places I haven’t been to. Those are the small places we want to keep alive. More importantly, they give you an opportunity to connect with people who live a different life.
I built a vehicle for a couple who had a fascinating experience when they lost all their maps and guidebooks (stolen out of their vehicle). They decided to stop in at all the little towns and ask people what they should see and where they should go. Their experience was so different. If you ask someone who’s lived in a town his whole life what there is to see, he might direct you to a sight not many people know about. Then you’ve done something really unique.
How should businesses think about this time? Are there opportunities?
Certainly, if the people who are running places generally aimed at European tourists come to the party, they can make them accessible to locals. People build beautiful lodges, but they’re only ever accessible to the wealthy or people coming from overseas. Well, here’s your opportunity. If you can make it accessible to people at a rate that keeps your lodge going, you give your own countryfolk a glimpse of what you’ve done and build your business at the same time. What a powerful marketing tool, because we’ve all got friends overseas. So instead of pouring a lot of money into marketing, you could actually keep your lodge alive while getting the locals to put the word out. Word of mouth is the easiest, quickest and cheapest way to advertise. It’s a win-win.
What lessons can we learn from this time?
I believe attitude is everything. If you have a great attitude, you can embrace whatever confronts you. If you get stuck in the sand, you can curse and swear blind, because you’re stuck, or you can look at it and say, that’s okay, because we’re going to get unstuck. Let’s just stop and figure out how we do it, and let’s make a plan. As long as we’re safe and we get out, it’s not the end of the world. What’s the story you tell when you talk to your friends? The time you got stuck. Because that’s the story that makes for interesting telling. It’s the same with being stuck at home, it’s how you approach it.
Take time to prepare yourself for your journey to make it memorable and meaningful.