For most of history, the urge to travel was not something one could act upon. Most folks lived where they were born, and would have been considered lucky to explore even a bit of their own country. Nowadays, we find that hard to imagine. Tourism continues to grow with virtually everyone being a traveler.
However, we can make the argument that traveling has actually become too easy. It used to be a special experience, something you had to plan extensively. Now you can just go to an agency, set up a trip, and enjoy a vacation. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that, except that some people want to travel for the challenge. So they do!
Join me in learning what it means to be an overlander and why people choose this adventure. Prepare for a thrilling ride!
What is overlanding
The short way to describe overlanding can leave you quite confused. It is a form of self-reliant adventure travel to remote destinations, typically for a long period of time (months, or even years). Okay, but what does that even mean? Many things can be described in the same manner, so where is the distinction? Let me try to add a bit of clarity.
Overlanding is not your regular type of traveling. Some people have compared it to an expedition with off-road vehicles, but there is a major difference. An expedition has a clear objective – you have to go somewhere and see or do something.
For similar reasons, it should also not be considered off-roading. Overlanders use off-road vehicles because they travel through rough terrain, but that is not the goal itself. Their main idea is to experience something that is way outside of your everyday life.
That being said, even among the overlanding crowd, there is variety. Some prefer to focus on the outdoors. This is quite popular in Africa and Australia, where you can explore the vast country.
Other folks choose a different route, though – exploring cultures. They may roam an entire continent not just to enjoy its nature, but also to meets its unique people. This has actually been growing in popularity, merging with the niche of experiential travel.
Another major distinction is that you are not supposed to go overlanding the easy way. You have to put in some effort into organizing the whole experience, learning to be self-sufficient, and preparing your vehicle. In fact, that last part is vital to the whole overlanding adventure. Let us see why!
Overlanding vehicles – what do you need to know?
There are two schools of thought when it comes to overlanding vehicles. The first one focuses on personal preparation, where you get a good off-roader and make it a proper overlander. A popular way to do this is by getting an older (and supposedly simpler) off-roader, learning all about its repairs and modding what you need to mod. Some comfort accommodations should also be done, but that depends on how challenging you want your trip to be.
A lot can be said about making your own overlanding vehicle. There are countless guides online, and even with them, you can find some disagreeing opinions. If you are interested in that, you can research how to build an overlanding vehicle, but be prepared for a flood of information
The second school of thought is newer and ties together with the culture travel I mentioned above. It does not place focus on building the car. Instead, you get the most comfortable off-road capable vehicle and go from there. You are not expected to mod it, though you may have to equip it with better tires and buy devices for when you are on the road.
I have to mention that many people consider the second method to detract from the whole experience. For them, part of the adventure lies in the preparation itself. However, if you just want to dive straight into the journey, there is nothing wrong with that either. In both cases, though, you would need some kind of a vehicle. Shall we see a few examples to give you some ideas?
Some vehicles used by overlanders
Overlanding vehicles can differ quite a lot, but there is a common requirement, of course. You want a vehicle that can handle rough terrain properly. That means you can just skip over the most popular everyday SUVs. They are made for the street and most of them can barely handle gravel, let alone something harsher.
Sadly, many people feel lost once they hear that. Most of us cannot tell which vehicles can really go off the road. Do not worry though, I am here to help! Here are some excellent vehicles for overlanding (pay attention to commonalities between them):
- The hardcore choice – Mercedes-Benz Unimog
If you can afford it and do not want to waste a lot of time preparing your overlander, the Unimog is hands down the best choice out there. You can fit it for pretty much anything, it can handle off-road terrains like a champ, and it is surprisingly comfortable. Not to mention that it offers tons of space and you may set it up as a small apartment if you wish.
- The Classic American – Ford F-150 Raptor
This is a more affordable choice, which is pretty much set for overlanding from the get-go. That being said, it allows for a lot of modifications to make it as comfortable as possible. It may not be the ultimate off-road beast, but it can definitely handle most of the terrain out there.
- An SUV that deserves its name – Toyota 4Runner TRD
While not super cheap, this Toyota looks like it is made to live on the off-road. On top of that, it makes for an awesome choice if you want to go overlanding with more people. It offers plenty of cabin space if you do not mind camping on the outside (most people do that anyway). It is perhaps the best choice in terms of comfort.
- Overlanding on a budget – Any older off-roader
If you do not want to shell out tons of money for overlanding, you may simply pick a reliable off-roader that has stood the test of time. Some notable examples are Jeep Grand Wagoneer, Jeep Cherokee, the older Toyota 4Runner, or similar vehicles. Of course, you will have to touch them up a bit, but they will serve you well!
Now that you know more about the vehicles, you may feel tempted to try out overlanding for yourself. So here comes the next question – where can you actually do that?
Where do people go for overlanding?
The thing about overlanding is that the whole world can be your playground. However, most of us cannot really afford to travel the globe. Luckily, you can find some great overlanding routes in the States as well!
Many people prefer to set up their own adventures, but it does not hurt to get some ideas from popular routes. The Alpine Loop in Colorado is the perfect entry for people who are new to overlanding. Being fairly short, you can do it in a day or two just to feel the thrill. The good thing is that you can expand the journey if you wish because Colorado has plenty more to offer with scenic views all around.
If you want something extremely engaging though, you should do the Trans-America trail. Its name gives it up – you go across the US starting in Tennessee and turning to Oregon, scoring almost 5,000 miles along the way. Naturally, many people find that to be quite daunting. You can break it up in sections if you like, and cover them separately over time. However, even if you try to cover it all at once you can do it in a month without much issue.
For those who are looking to make their custom trail, the Blue Ridge Mountains offer a lot of options. You can mix and match different routes to make something as short or as long as you like.
How to get on such a trail
As you can see, chances are that you do not live anywhere near those trails. How do people then travel to them? Do they simply drive their vehicles from one part of the States to hop on a trail? Some do, but that may not be the best choice.
Mileage proves to be the ultimate issue. When you drive your car (on or off the road, it does not matter) you wear its parts out. Obviously, nobody wants their vehicle to break down in the middle of a trip. That means it is best to minimize driving off the trail. How do you do that though?
The easy way to go around this problem is with a car shipping service. You do not have to drive from the west coast all the way to the Blue Ridge Mountains if you can simply ship your car there. This saves you a lot of miles on the engine and the parts of the vehicle. Not to mention that you will not be pre-exhausted from the long trip before the actual adventure.
Does overlanding excite you?
This was a fairly short overview of the subject, and there is more to be said for sure. Perhaps in the future, I will delve deeper into the overlanding culture as a whole. There are many things I can cover!
Now tell me, which aspect of overlanding interests you the most? Do you like the whole idea of preparing your own vehicle, or do you just want to enjoy the experience? Maybe you are more into the whole “survival” thing? I can say for myself that I am excited about fitting a vehicle with all the little gadgets to make myself feel like the ultimate explorer. Perhaps one day I will do just that!