What is Overlanding? [Explained by Real-Life Overlander]

“Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all” – Helen Keller

Had Helen Keller been born into different circumstances she would have loved overlanding as her famous quote so perfectly captures the spirit of overlanding.

So, what is Overlanding? Encyclopedias have tried to describe it as a verb, the act of setting out on self-reliant long-distance travel to remote destinations in some form of vehicle.

That’s a bit like describing fine dining as masticating on proteins, starches and fats, usually accompanied by a liquid refreshment. It doesn’t encapsulate the essence of overlanding, and what it means to a growing community.

Below I will expand on each of these technical aspects of overlanding to bring them to life.


Person planning with a map

While there is definitely a place in this world for holidays involving a pool lounger, a waiter, and Pina Coladas on tap, there are many looking for memorable, meaningful holidays that challenge them.

Overlanding requires careful planning, ensuring the right provisions are present, resourcefulness when challenges arise, and hardiness to withstand the elements overlanders are routinely exposed to.

All of these are forms of self-reliance and getting them right can leave one with a great sense of achievement. Getting them wrong can generate great stories to relate around the campfire.

There is something instinctual in the human condition that is awakened when challenging yourself against nature, and it makes you feel alive!

The self-reliance aspect of overlanding is made even more rewarding by the awesome gadgets and gear that can challenge your ingenuity and, once mastered, increase your self-reliance even further.

Nothing is more satisfying than surprising weary co-travellers with solar-powered hot showers after a dusty day in the desert.

Long distance travel to remote destinations

Remote destination

The term “long distance travel” might create dread in some readers as they imagine endless highways full of traffic. While using major roads might be a necessary evil on overlanding expeditions, they usually represent only a fraction of the journey.

The remainder are roads less travelled, byways that yield unique sights and encounters, ones that challenge the driver’s off-roading capabilities and play into that satisfying feeling of self-reliance.

Equally rewarding is finding undiscovered gems, like a bakery in a small one-horse town with a waitress who looks trapped in yesteryear but does the best croissants you have ever sampled - an experience so unique it etches itself into your memory.

For many overlanders the answer to the question “what is overlanding about?” the answer is the journey itself. For others the destination is of equal importance.

Remote destinations are by definition a rarity, made even more special in a crowded world. So when an overlanding novice gets to experience their first night under the stars, with no lights or noise pollution, experiencing views that very few others will ever see, they realize the importance of the journey.

Some form of vehicle…

Overland Trucks in a desert

There are of course those for whom azure skies and wide-open spaces are simply nice side-benefits of overlanding. The main point to this breed of overlanders is the boys-with-their-toys challenge that off-roading provides.

The amount of 4-wheel drive SUV’s on the roads provides a clue to the large number of people who harbor some ambition to go off-roading, though many never actually take challenge their pristine 4x4 further than mounting the curb.

To those who do, there is an adrenaline fix that becomes addictive. The off-roading aspect of overlanding brings the mental challenges of evaluating the terrain and knowing your vehicle's capabilities in those conditions, to knowing how the plethora of available equipment, from high-lift jacks to snorkels, is meant to be used.

There are also physical challenges. Even the most seasoned overlanders get caught in the sand or snow from time to time. This usually requires getting down and dirty to sort out. In a world of climate-controlled offices and automation, this kind of physical challenge fills a void.

Although SUV’s and other personal 4x4 vehicles have become synonymous with overlanding, the original usage of the term encompassed all forms of transport serving the purpose of taking people long distances to remote areas.

An overlanding expedition across Africa in the 1950’s might just as readily have involved stints on a train or rural bus as a Land Rover. It was a different form of self-reliant travel in an era where remote places were less difficult to find and requiring of some off-roading.

Wrapping Up

As you will no doubt have gleaned from the above, the full answer to the question “what is overlanding?” is so much more than the sum of its parts.

The modern digital area affords less and less opportunity for people to connect with nature, challenge themselves and create unique memories that haven’t already been shared a thousand times on social media by others before them.

Overlanding is the answer to many of these yearnings.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published