‘To Roam the roads of lands remote, to travel is to live’ – Hans Christian Anderson
Although we generally regard ourselves as independent travellers, there are times when taking a tour isn’t such a bad idea. Since the hippies blazed a trail to India and Nepal back in the 1960’s, overland tours have been big business. In fact, a 70-day, 18-country bus ride from London to Delhi is planned for summer 2020 by Adventures Overland. At a whopping £15,000, it costs a little more than the hippies paid to get to India back in the day!
From a week to several months, overland tours are especially suited to the vast continents of Africa or South America. Dragoman, Explore, Oasis and Intrepid are just a handful of the major companies who run trips worldwide.
If you have ever considered taking an overland trip, but are not sure whether it’s for you or not, here we take a look at both the pros and cons:
Pros of Overland Tours
1) There is safety in numbers. For many, this is one of the main reasons to choose overlanding. Not everyone wants to travel alone in the Congo.
2) It’s likely that you will meet like-minded people, and with a little luck, make some friends.
3) Your trip leaders will take the hassle away from you. They will expertly handle issues such as dealing with bribes at borders and aggressive touts. Their knowledge and experience means that you can relax, enjoy the trip and let them take care of the brunt of the problems.
4) Odds are that it will be safer travelling on an overland truck than putting yourself into the hands of the local bus drivers.
5) You will experience the highlights of the country or region that you are travelling through.
6) Overlanding can be a potentially cost-effective way to cover long distances.
7) You will have access to places that you can’t always get to on public transport.
Cons of Overland Tours
- 1. You will be travelling with the same group of people, possibly for a very long time. If you are lucky, the group dynamics will be good and you will have the experience of a lifetime. If not, it could be a long trip.
2. For those accustomed to travelling independently, it may initially be difficult to adjust to being in a group.
3. Overlanding is only for those who are happy to rough it a little. You often have long days traversing pot-holed roads. You have to put your own tent up when you are tired after a day on the road. Often, passengers share the responsibility for shopping, cooking and pot scrubbing.
4. Sometimes, given the nature of overlanding in unpredictable countries, things go wrong. It’s all part of the adventure you sign up for. When you find yourself camping in the staggeringly beautiful sand dunes of Namibia or gazing up at the ice-capped Andes of Patagonia, any negatives will quickly be outweighed.
Exploring the USA and New Zealand
As a couple, we have yet to experience the joys of a classic overland journey in Africa or South America. However, back when I was still roaming the world solo, I travelled with Trek America, Green Tortoise and Kiwi Experience. I was sad to hear recently that Trek America had gone bust, but Green Tortoise and Kiwi Experience are still going strong.
Green Tortoise Adventure Travel
Founded in 1973 by Gardner Kent, Green Tortoise run budget trips in the USA and Mexico (including Alaska). Their converted school buses have mattresses inside and a few seats and tables up front. The buses either ride through the night as you sleep onboard or stop and make camp, usually somewhere beautiful and remote. The mattresses are unloaded, and passengers sleep under the starts in canyons, deserts and on beaches.
The highlight of my trip was a hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, where we slept overnight next to the Colorado River. Everyone shares the cooking and clean-up. It’s a little rough and ready and not for everyone, but I loved it. Baja Treks are a similarly run, but smaller operation. They organise trips from California to Baja in Mexico.
The Kiwi Experience
The Kiwi Experience is a hop on-hop off bus that traverses New Zealand. (Australia has a version too – The Oz Experience). They stop off at various places of interest and arrange accomodation from a variety of options. Activities such as bungy jumping and white-water river rafting are arranged for those interested. I travelled with them on my first trip to New Zealand and it was a convenient, fun and sociable introduction to the country.
In conclusion, organised overland tours can be a great way to go if:
- You are still finding your travel legs
- For those who are heading somewhere known to be a little edgy or challenging to travel in and want some added security.
- You are travelling alone.
- You want to go to ‘out of the way’ destinations that would be difficult to reach independently.