More often than not, when you see overlanders on social media or on the road, they travel in groups. Very rarely do you encounter a solo overlander traveling to remote corners of the globe alone. Yet, they do exist.
I know this because I’m one such overlander who takes off on her own across America and Mexico. In fact, I live on the road full-time. So, how can you get started on your own solo overlanding adventure?
Why go solo overlanding?
First, let’s start with why you would want to go overlanding on your own. Some love solo overlanding for the challenge of self-sufficiency, others like the freedom to do whatever they want whenever they want, and some just like the solitude of being in nature alone. Whatever the reason, solo overlanding is one of the only ways to achieve some of these feelings, and is absolutely worth every second of the experience.
Tips for beginners to get started solo overlanding
So how can you get started in this incredible adventuring category? Depending on if you’ve been overlanding before and just want to try it by yourself, or have never been overlanding at all, this can be pretty overwhelming.
1. Create your overlanding safety plan
You rarely hear stories of the rogue overlander going missing or falling victim to violent crime. Even so, any incident is one incident too many. Yes, the more you gain experience as a solo overlander, the more confident and fearless you become. Nevertheless, in the beginning, be mindful that you’re still just learning and getting a feel for remote spaces.
Before anything, let someone know where you’re going, and when you will be back. We’d also recommend getting a satellite phone (like the inReach Explorer), in case you need to update them on timeline, location, or any other important info. Hopefully, you never have to use it, but it’s incredibly important to just be safe and have contingencies in case things go awry.
Once you’re out into the wild, use basic common sense and pay attention to your surroundings. Here are some safety tips you should consider:
- Always check your planned camping spot and surrounding area for flash flood and wildfire warnings.
- If your camping spot feels sketchy, trust your gut; leave and find another one.
- Avoid polarizing stickers on your vehicle that might prompt confrontation.
- Consider the safety pros and cons carefully before choosing locations with no service.
- Arm yourself with whatever weapon you feel comfortable owning and using.
- Consider purchasing a personal locator beacon or installing a GPS vehicle tracker that someone you trust has access to.
2. Get some off-road driving experience
If you are already the proud owner of a heavily modded vehicle, you might find that local overlanders will happily show you the ropes. Unfortunately, they’re often not as welcome to owners of stock vehicles and cars, but there are ways around that. Start by checking online for offroading classes and bring the vehicle you plan to go overlanding with to the class.
In all honesty, I chose to hit the ground running. But, in my defense, I was born and raised in mountain towns in Jamaica. Off-roading was pretty much the default setting for us.
3. Choose the right overlanding vehicle
Don’t believe the hype. I promise — you can go overlanding in anything! I’ve taken my FJ Cruiser offroad in the Nevada desert to get up close and personal with a good view — only to see a Kia Soul or Toyota Prius casually parked up at the end of the trail. That said, if you have the budget for a second vehicle or you’re willing to trade in your existing one, keep these tips in mind:
- Do you plan to travel long distances to your overlanding destinations? Balance fuel efficiency with your gas budget.
- Will your overlanding vehicle double as your daily driver? Consider the ride quality and everyday functionality.
- Are you handy or do you like the idea of frequent appointments with the mechanic? If not, make sure to prioritize reliability.
- Do you plan to tow a trailer? Prioritize towing capacity, as this will determine the size of the trailer you can tow safely and efficiently.
- Never purchase any vehicle without getting a full inspection from an experienced mechanic.
If you are looking to tow a trailer, our TigerMoth’s Overland Edition is a great starter trailer that can sleep up to three adults, but can also be towed by most cars on the road (like a Subaru Outback, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Chevy Equinox, Mazda CX-5, and more). See an in-depth walkthrough here:
4. Build your overlanding setup
If you have never gone camping or overlanding, opt for the lowest-cost solutions. You can then make improvements and upgrades as you become more familiar with your camping style. In fact, while people will hype up the heavy mods on social media, the travelers we all truly respect are the adventurers with the simplest and most minimalistic setups.
With this in mind, build out your initial camping gear and overlanding mods by using these important questions as a guide:
- Where will I sleep?
- What is my plan for water and sanitation?
- Do I need extra gear for heating or cooling?
- What will I use for cooking?
- What is my bathroom plan?
- Are there wild animals in the area that I need to account for?
- What recovery gear do I need based on where I’m headed?
Our Mantis Overland Edition has a variety of amenities and features that make answering these questions easy, but keeps the feeling of being in nature:
5. Take a solo overlander test trip
If you are already familiar with the great outdoors, answer the call of the wild! For everyone else, I recommend visiting a nearby established campground with facilities and neighbors. If you find yourself in a bind or your gear doesn’t work quite the way you envisioned, you can get help. In the worst-case scenario, you can hightail it home and revise your buildout for round two.
RVing was my introductory course to overlanding. When I got to my first campground, I was 600 miles away from home and had never even spent a night in an RV. I knew only what I had seen on YouTube and read in books. I would have likely made some costly mistakes if my neighbors hadn’t come running. They were happy to help the obvious newbie on the road.
6. Know your solo overlanding limits
Overlanding is addictive for all the right reasons. Once you get that first taste of freedom, you’ll keep chasing it for a lifetime. Just be mindful of your limits when you do. Remember that when you’re adventuring solo in the middle of nowhere, there might be no one coming to save you anytime soon. So, be careful about pushing yourself or your vehicle.
I have one friend who got stuck on a muddy dirt road in the winter. He had to set up camp for two nights while he dug himself out. This could happen to anyone, so always bring blankets, extra food, water, and recovery gear, in case things go sideways.
Remember: The goal is the journey, not the destination
Solo overlanding is one of the most magical experiences you’ll ever have. There’s something oddly comforting about looking up at a starry sky in the pitch-black night while the high-pitched cries of coyotes fill the air. On that note, you’ll definitely have plenty of time to think and reflect while you’re out there, so remember to pack a camera and notebook!
Will you enjoy the solitude as much as I do? Well, the only way to find out is to get up, get out, and get going. The important thing is getting started. Everything else can take a backseat.