The ten commandments of overlanding

Overlanding is an incredibly rewarding experience, provided you approach it in the right manner. Let these ten commandments guide you. By Karin Theron

Commandment #1: Thou shalt make it happen if thou really want to

When we set out to do our African overland trip from Cape Town so many people said to us: “Oh, you are so lucky! I wish I could do it.” Fact is, if you really want to do it, you will find a way to make it happen.

During our travels we met young people who have saved and gave up their jobs to do an overland trip on a very low budget. We met a middle aged couple who sold property and took their six year old daughter with them on the trip. Another middle aged couple took their three boys out of school for six months for theirs. We also met a few retired couples who said that they were using their kids’ inheritance to make their life long dream come true. In our case, Pete is retired and Tracks4Africa generously allowed me to work half day for the duration of the trip. We both rented out our houses to fund the monthly expenses.

Commandment #2: Thou shalt have a reliable vehicle

You should do your best to ensure that your vehicle is reliable. Consider the availability of spare parts and tools further up Africa, as well as whether African mechanics will be able to work on your vehicle. In Africa you can get literally everything mechanical fixed (albeit with less sophistication than at home) but if your vehicle is highly electronic, the chances are that you won’t readily find a dealer who can do this work.

Commandment #3: Thou shalt kit out thine vehicle to be totally self-sufficient

If you want to do an extended overland trip, it is best to equip your 4WD vehicle so that you are totally self-reliant. You have to carry water for drinking and washing, as well as extra fuel, food for at least four days, a well-stocked medical kit and sleeping gear. You must be equipped to prepare your own food and have shelter against rain and sun.

Commandment #4: Thou shalt not commit to a fixed itinerary

One of the biggest pleasures of an overland trip is the freedom it provides. Don’t spoil your fun by committing yourself to a fixed itinerary and pre-booking. Even meeting people halfway through your trip puts pressure on your schedule to see and experience everything you want to, yet still be in time to meet whoever is joining you.

Commandment #5: Thou shalt get as many maps as possible

If you are going off the beaten track then be sure to have all available maps: paper maps, Open Street Maps on your electronic device and Tracks4Africa maps on paper, your tablet/smartphone or iPad/iPhone and your GPS. No map can be perfect as things change all the time, so the more information you have, the better, even if they just provide you with the names of villages ahead. Armed with this, you can usually get directions from the locals.

 Commandment #6: Thou shalt go well informed

Do as much research as possible about the places you want to visit. Take guide books on an electronic device of all the countries that you are going to visit.  These can enrich your experience tremendously. Also ensure that you have guide apps and apps for birding, animals and trees on your electronic device. One of the best sources of information is fellow travellers. Talk to them at overnight stops and follow their blogs.

Commandment #7: Thou shalt take a variety of bank cards

You will be able to withdraw money at ATMs in most of the bigger towns throughout Africa. Ideally have a variety of Visa/Master/Maestro cards with you as well as cards from different financial institutions as either your bank or the ATM itself can be fussy about paying out. Take some US$ in cash as a backup and to pay for visas at border crossings. Only use these when all other sources of funds have failed.

Commandment #8: Thou shalt not expect a luxury holiday

Overland travelling is tiresome in the long run. It is exhausting to pitch camp daily and travel long hours on challenging roads. The average overlanders cannot afford to use luxury accommodation throughout their trip and in fact, they don’t want to. They are the kind of people who prefer to get out into the bush, away from all the luxuries at home.

Commandment #9: Thou shalt take good regular breaks

If you want to enjoy your extended overland trip, you will need to regularly find a nice, comfortable campsite with good facilities where you can stand over for a few days to relax and catch up on your admin, washing and repair jobs. If your budget is not too tight you can spoil yourself to lodging in luxury accommodation and eating out.

Commandment #10 : Thou shalt love it

It may take you a few weeks, but you will eventually relax, learn to go with the flow, expect things to happen in African time and enjoy this, as well as the rich experience that Africa and its people will offer you. Doing an extended overland trip in Africa will be one of your best experiences and it will give you a new perspective on your First World life.

8 thoughts on “The ten commandments of overlanding”

  1. So true!! I couldn’t agree more with the commandments and the comments! I have done 4 trips in and round Australia with my brother and my Fiancé (whom I met during)
    We ran overland rideshare adventures, inviting backpackers to share our 2 Landcruisers in what was the most fantastic life experience of our lives! My Landcruiser is now back home here in the uk and I and my fiancé want to continue our adventures the world over!! Follow us on Facebook @ “the Benjy&Roxy show” x

  2. I agree on most everything. About the vehicles : there are a lot of very capable 4×4 vehicles on the market Only 2 4×4 vehicles are preferable for an overland trip and most certainly for Africa and these are Toyota Landcruser and Land Rover Defender. Not that other 4x4s can’t do the job and are not as capable but there are 2 main reasons : they are not electronic high tech but very simple and easy to repair and 2nd all over Africa you will get quite easy spares.

  3. Karin, you hit the nail on the head! One other to add – when you have any dealings with officialdom such as border crossings or road blocks, never pay a bribe and act as though you have the whole day. Very soon they will be sending you on your way.

  4. How true.
    Karin,glad to see you are still around.
    planning your next trip.
    greetings fanie

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