What is Overlanding? Everything You Need to Know
Today’s overlanding is typically vehicle-assisted, self-reliant travel for extended lengths of time where the journey — not the destination — is emphasized. But what makes the journey in overlanding exciting and different from other forms of outdoor adventure? How is overlanding different from other types of travel such as off-roading or long-distance hiking? And what do you really need to get started overlanding?
Check out this guide to overlanding for the answers to all of these questions and more.
What is overlanding?
A brief history of overlanding
It is generally accepted that the term “overlanding” originated in Australia, when livestock was moved long distances over land, typically to be sold at market. In the early 1900s, official stock routes that crossed the country were constructed, including the Canning Stock Route. Mid-century, these routes would be repurposed into roads used by colonizers. In turn, these same roads, including the Gunbarrel Highway, the Connie Sue Highway, and the Anne Beadell Highway, began to be used for more recreational overlanding, and are still considered top overlanding destinations to this day.
What is overlanding today?
Modern overlanding typically requires a vehicle, often with additions and modifications to make it suitable for different types of terrain, camping or car camping as the principal form of lodging, and a commitment to self-reliance. But it would be wrong to assume that every overlander is spending weeks driving through isolated terrain, roughing it with nothing but a water filter and a supply of trail food. Today’s overlanding may describe anything from a week-long journey within your home country to months or years spent on the road, crossing international borders. Overlanding can be a lifestyle, but it can also be a pastime, or even — some argue — a mindset.
Depending on your setup, overlanding can be done alone, with family members, or even with a pet. And because you do not have to stay in hotels while overlanding, more and more people are seeing overlanding as a cost-effective way to travel. Finally, although overlanding is typically associated with unplugging and connecting with nature, some people today successfully combine overlanding with remote work, living on the road full-time.
We encourage you not to get too caught up defining “authentic” overlanding, and instead focus on what makes overlanding appealing to you in particular.
Overlanding vs. off-roading vs. long-distance hiking, etc.
Since overlanding is often vehicle-assisted, one of the most common questions we get is, “What is the difference between off-roading and overlanding?”
In off-roading, one of the primary objectives of the journey is to use unsurfaced roads or routes with no roads whatsoever. Off-road enthusiasts place special emphasis on traversing extreme terrain and navigating natural elements like shoulder-high boulders or particularly difficult river crossings. While overlanding, you might cover rough terrain, but that is not the main objective. A route can take you smack dab through the middle of a bustling city as part of the journey and still be considered overlanding.
Does long-distance hiking count as overlanding? Like off-roading, long-distance hiking has a lot in common with overlanding. Both involve traveling great distances and camping overnight using your own equipment, and both require a great deal of planning. The main difference between long-distance hiking and overlanding is that overlanding is typically vehicle-assisted travel while long-distance hiking is (perhaps obviously) completed on foot.
What do you need for overlanding?
Before we get into the specifics of recommended overlanding gear, we want to emphasize again that it’s not the tools and trapping of overlanding that make it special. Experiencing history, culture, and wildlife while practicing self-sufficiency on your journey are overlanding’s largest rewards.
That said, having the right equipment can make your overlanding experience a lot more enjoyable, not to mention safer. Heading out on an overlanding journey with nothing but the clothes on your back and gas money in your pocket sounds romantic, but it’s a recipe for headaches and disaster. Some discomforts are inevitable if you spend days on the road, but the less time you have to focus on fixing a broken-down trailer or handling a medical emergency without proper supplies, the better.
Overlanding logistics & skills
Planning: Planning is a crucial element of overlanding, especially if your journey takes you across international borders. At the very least, you will want to build a rough itinerary for your trip. But more often than not, you will also want to look into:
- Locations, rules, costs, and opening/closing times for local camping and attractions
- Visas, a Carnet de Passage (CPD), Temporary Import Papers/Permits (TIPs)
- Insurance for yourself and your vehicles, including the Comesa Yellow Card for the African east coast
- Information regarding rules and regulations for applicable border crossings
Budget: Depending on the length and complexity of your overlanding journey, you may want to build out a weekly or even daily budget. Things to consider in your budget include:
- Set-up costs, including your vehicle, trailer, and equipment (always budget for quality tires)
- Shipping and flights
- Fees for border crossings, visas, and camping, etc.
- Maintenance and repair costs
- Food and water
- Attraction and park fees
- Miscellaneous daily expenses
Cultural knowledge: If you plan to overland internationally, you’ll be doing yourself and the country you’re visiting a big favor if you take the time to research local rules and customs. Knowing the following in particular will serve you well:
- Driving rules, regulations, and signage
- Local hand signals and basic language skills for interactions
- Emergency protocols (their equivalent of calling 911, if they have one in place)
- Resource acquisition, including where to buy food and fuel
- Local weather
Mechanical knowledge: Having a basic understanding of some mechanics is absolutely essential if you plan on going on a long overland journey, or even a difficult short trip. Regularly checking the state of your overlanding vehicle and trailer can also help you anticipate and avoid breakdowns. You may even want to take a mechanics class to really brush up on your knowledge. At the minimum, learn how to fix or assess the following before you set out:
- Replace or repair tires
- Airing down tires for enhanced traction
- Reviving a dead battery
- Checking and replacing the oil
- Checking and replacing air filters
- Securing loose cargo for rough terrain
Make sure that you know your Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), tire size and recommended pressure, and the part numbers for your oil and air filters.
Survival knowledge: Many overlanders travel to remote destinations where immediate outside assistance is not guaranteed. Investing in first-aid and survival training could save your life or the lives of your travel companions. Make sure you and anyone you travel with have a basic understanding of the following:
- First-aid skills, including CPR, cleaning a wound, setting a sprint, treating a burn, and stopping severe bleeding
- How to find and build a shelter in case your equipment is lost
- Local wildlife, including how to handle encounters and how to treat stings and bites
- How to get in touch with the nearest emergency services, including how to work your communication and navigational devices
Technically, you can drive any vehicle that you want when you’re overlanding, but the best overlanding vehicles for enthusiastic adventurers typically have four-wheel drive, a durable engine, axles, and suspension, reasonable fuel economy, and higher-than-average clearance. Some of the big names in overlanding vehicles include Land Rover, Jeep, Toyota, and Ford.
An increasing number of seasoned and new overlanding enthusiasts alike have discovered the new opportunities that traveling with an overlanding travel trailer can provide. To scratch just the surface of these added freedoms and flexibilities, having a travel trailer means better weight distribution, improved kitchen spaces, more effective organization, and an increasing number of customization options.
Whether you’re interested in living remotely in an overlanding trailer or you simply want to take your overlanding experience to the next level, there are a wide variety of travel trailers that can meet different overlanding needs.
You can learn more about different overland travel trailer distinctions on our site, or explore our different travel habitat options below:
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when it comes to what gear to buy for overland travel. If you’re new to overlanding, we encourage you to start with the basics and see over time what additional gear would enhance your experience or make your overlanding journey more enjoyable.
- First-aid kit
- Tool kit
- Shelter system
- Bug Out Bag
- Spare tires and tire repair kit
- Fire extinguisher
- Jumper cables
- Fluids for your vehicle
- Recovery strap
- Recovery points for front and rear
- A satellite communication device
- Navigation device
- A water filtration system
Top overlanding journeys & trails
There are seemingly endless possibilities when it comes to overlanding trails and routes, but the following are the most famous:
- The Pan-American Highway
- The Silk Road
- The Rubicon Trail
- The Canning Stock Route
- Cape Town to Cairo
Overlanding with TAXA: Out is In™
What is overlanding? At its heart, overlanding is another way to experience the world and get out in nature. At TAXA Outdoors, we aim to build habitats that encourage outdoor exploration, that provide you with everything you need and nothing you don’t. All of our overland habitats are built for adventuring and with the aim of moving you toward and into nature.