What is Overlanding?

Last updated

Overlanding is booming in popularity, largely because people yearn for knowledge and adventure. Perhaps more folks are wanting to get away from the city madness!

Whatever the reason, overlanding gives you an opportunity to explore the world and learn from it. But what is overlanding?

We are enthusiasts of overlanding, and we want to share the humble knowledge we have built up on this matter.

It is our hope by so doing we can help you explore the world and learn from it. What is overlanding and where is it coming from?

What is Overlanding?

Overlanding is vehicle dependent travel, where the main goal is the journey itself, not the destination.

It often involves off-road capable vehicles where travelers can discover remote trails and areas that are less frequently visited.

Overlanders usually enjoy off-grid camping and try to be self-sustained for an extended period of time.

Do you agree with this definition of what overlanding is? Comment below!

In this article, we highlight the origins and history of overlanding, bucket list-worthy routes, basic gear, and skill requirements.

We hope, over time, to accumulate and share knowledge on every aspect of this awesome way of travel and adventure.

What Is Overlanding And Where Did It Originate

If we would like to define Overlanding, we need to look at the different types of vehicle-assisted travel.

overlanding vs offroading

Off-roading vs. Overlanding

Overlanding vs Off-Roading

Overlanding is often confused with off-roading. Off-roading is a type of adventure that takes place on un-surfaced roads or no roads at all. It is different from overlanding where the type of road is not an issue.

Overlanding often takes you through rough terrains and off-road trails, but tackling a steep hill that resembles a wall is not a primary objective when overlanding. Overlanding can go straight through cities as well.

Overlanding vs Road-Tripping

You might say then, that overland travel is just another word for a road trip. Well, the main difference is that a road trip has a destination, whereas overlanding is about the journey itself. Besides that, the primary mode of accommodation for overlanders is camping with all of its fun and challenge.

As we’ve mentioned, Overlanding is definitely a growing trend. This style of self-reliant travel entails using usually an off-road vehicle or a van to cover a long distance, typically in a remote area.

Click here for the German version of this article (Deutsche fassung: Was ist Overlanding?)

More emphasis is placed on the journey and taking in the landscape rather than any destination. It opens up a world of opportunities for those who love to discover the planet on their terms and at their own pace.

Overlanding may not be for everyone, however, the opportunity to make unforgettable memories are unrivaled.

Who is Overlanding For?

The term Overlanding seems to have originated in Australia and referred to driving cattle long distances across the Outback. Later, road construction crews used it as they opened up the vast landscapes that characterize the Australian wilderness. More on this later…

overlanding toyota hilux mongolia

Today, serious overlanders, armed with some serious gear have taken this concept to an entirely new level. It is quite common to have people overlanding for weeks, months or even years in some remote regions of the world.

One of the most common misconceptions about overlanding is that you have to be young, child-free, and in the sort of peak physical shape of a mountain climber.

This is, in fact, not true; overlanding can be a family adventure for people of any age or almost any fitness level.

Provided you are willing to occasionally dig your vehicle out of a hole, and you of course probably need to have at least a mild attraction to the great outdoors.

overlanding with kids

Additionally, some people may think that overlanding means they will have to disconnect from their electronic devices and be forced to live like a nomad for weeks.

If you genuinely require your tools for work while overlanding, it’s become easier to utilize your devices whilst on the road. With advances in battery technology, you can bring enough juice with you to power your devices.

The History of Overlanding

We could say that one of the first overland expeditions can be traced back to the 13th century when Marco Polo made his trip to the Court of Kublai Khan, all the way from Venice. However, it took a few more centuries before the modern form of overlanding was developed.

As we mentioned, the term overlanding can be traced back to the Australian outback. At the time, farmers had to move their cattle across long distances as the seasons changed.

They had to traverse the long distance, and that is how they coined the word. Later on, as workers were building highways to open up the Outback, they used the phrase overlanding to describe their journey across the outback.

Up to this day, overlanding enthusiasts use these roads in Australia.

In general, in Australia as well as in South Africa there is a long tradition of exploring by a self-contained vehicle or motorcycle, they really know what is overlanding.

Best Books On Overlanding

q? encoding=UTF8&ASIN=1905864876&Format= SL250 &ID=AsinImage&MarketPlace=US&ServiceVersion=20070822&WS=1&tag=books overlandsite 20&language=en USir?t=books overlandsite 20&language=en US&l=li2&o=1&a=1905864876
q? encoding=UTF8&ASIN=1909930369&Format= SL250 &ID=AsinImage&MarketPlace=US&ServiceVersion=20070822&WS=1&tag=books overlandsite 20&language=en USir?t=books overlandsite 20&language=en US&l=li3&o=1&a=1909930369
q? encoding=UTF8&ASIN=0639925707&Format= SL250 &ID=AsinImage&MarketPlace=US&ServiceVersion=20070822&WS=1&tag=books overlandsite 20&language=en USir?t=books overlandsite 20&language=en US&l=li3&o=1&a=0639925707

One of the first-ever use of motorized transport for leisure only can be traced back to the United States. It took place in 1903 when George A. Wyman rode a motorized bicycle to New York from San Francisco.

He managed to cover 3,800 miles in just 50 days. However, his bicycle’s engine broke down during the final 150 miles, and he had to pedal to the finish.

A well-documented, among the largest and peaceful overland expedition took off from the UK to India and back. The entire convoy comprised over twenty coaches that carried 25 people each.

The Commonwealth Expedition, which was often called the Comex 3, still holds the record as the most prominent overlanding expedition ever. The expedition took place in 1969 and was among the largest and most peaceful overland expeditions of the time.

what is overlanding
Comex 3. Photo credit: xor.org.uk

The entire convoy comprised over twenty coaches that carried 25 people each who traversed the huge distances between the UK and India.

Another notable expedition took place between 1969 and 1970. A convoy of four Land Rovers embarked on an overland journey that took them from South Africa to the UK.

As you can imagine, it was not easy.

The main reason was the poor state of the roads in Africa at the time. Members of the expedition had to spend long hours trying to pull their vehicles out of the mud in areas used for foot or animal traffic. However, you can imagine the rewards far outweighed the effort.

Growth in the Popularity of Overlanding

Technology has been a primary driver in growing the accessibility of people to Overlanding. The ability to work remotely has given folks the flexibility to take their work on the road.

All you need is a laptop, some juice, and perhaps the odd internet connection, and you can still work while marveling at the stunning vista you have discovered. Another reason is that modern overlanding can be quite cost-effective.

work online as an overlander

For example, you do not have to spend thousands of dollars to stay at hotels or to eat at expensive restaurants. You can add a lot more fun by bringing everything you might need for the trip.

A great thing about overlanding is that you can go alone or with friends, or family, but when you are in groups, it becomes easier to handle issues like a breakdown, and it is also a lot safer.

If you like, you can bring a pet with you, just ensure you carry enough food for him or her. Besides that, ensure you get all of the legal permits required at international borders with pets.

Since you will probably not be staying at any hotels, you do not have to worry about being denied accommodation for your pet.

Travelling in a cost-effective way is really part of the essence of what overlanding is today. But not only wallet-friendly, your overland travel can also be environment-friendly too.

Classic and Modern Routes Used by Overlanders

The world is your oyster when it comes to where to go. If you’re wondering what overlanding is and where can you go, here are some of the best examples but the route ideas are endless:

The Pan American Highway

Driving on the Pan American Highway that starts in Alaska all the way to Argentina is probably one of the most popular overland routes in the world. The best part of this overland route is that it is quite achievable for an ordinary person.

We are doing this right now and it may be one of the biggest adventures that we do in our lifetime. There are a number of people who have already done it, who gained immense knowledge on how to travel overland and how to tackle the number of issues one definitely comes across during a 40-thousand-mile trip. You can check out overlanding legends Ashley and Richard’s website, DeskToGlory, to get inspired.

The Rubicon Trail, California

The Rubicon Trail is a classic overlanding route that is located in California’s Sierra Nevada region. The route features a challenging mix of paved roads and dirt trails that take travelers past some of the most scenic areas in California.

Different trails along the route lead to popular destinations such as Lake Tahoe, El Dorado National Forest, Loon Lake, Buck Island Lake, and the campsites that surround Rubicon Springs.

The terrain is rife with obstacles such as Walker Hill, Thousand Dollar Hill, Silby Rock, and Cadillac Hill, and the off-roading opportunities are so authentic that car manufacturers test out their 4Ă—4 vehicles on parts of the route.

Pamir highway itinerary guide

Pamir Highway

The Silk Road

The Silk Road is a famous road from medieval times that spans the Eurasian continent.

You can now go on an overland tour of this ancient trade route that goes all the way from China up to Paris or Rome, or in fact, any parts of Europe. You can traverse the entire path or only on sections of it.

Connecting to the Silk Road, the great Karakoram Highway (known as KKH among overlanders) crosses from Pakistan to China and it is one of the most spectacular roads in the world.

You definitely feel far away from home while traveling the 800 miles of this mostly paved road that took 20 years to construct.

Another route often on the bucket list of overlanders is the Pamir Highway. This 1000-year-old route is a spectacular and challenging part of the old Silk Road. Going through the 15,270 ft high Ak-Baital Pass in Tajikistan is demanding, to say the least.


Australia is a vast country, with endless opportunities for overlanding. There is no shortage of wild marvels along the coast or, in fact, inland. One example would be the Canning Stock Route, which is a 1,150 miles long, challenging four-wheel drive trek typically taking two to three weeks to complete.

Australia has got so much to offer in self-reliant vehicle-assisted adventures, that it deserves a whole new article.

Cape Town to Cairo

The route is a great way to see Africa. It starts in Cape Town and goes all the way to the very north of the continent through Mozambique, Tanzania, and Kenya, just to name a few.

The stage from Cape Town, South Africa to Nairobi, Kenya is complete with the woodlands and grasslands of the famous big game reserves and national parks, Wildebeests, zebra, antelope, elephants, and hippos are all likely to be stars of the show.

Europe to Singapore overland

Europe to Singapore

Whether you start in London or Budapest, it doesn’t really matter when you’re driving all the way to Singapore.

For Europeans, Singapore is often the finish line, given that travelling any further requires shipping. You can choose to travel through “the Stans” and include the Silk Road in your adventure, or discover nearly the whole length of Russia before usually crossing south through Mongolia and China towards South East Asia.

Once overlanders arrive at their destination of Singapore, they either ship from Kuala Lumpur or Singapore itself.

The shipping process can be overwhelming, but there are great resources online to educate yourself, such as LandCruising Adventure’s articles on the subject.

route of landcruising adventure

They’ve been on the road since 2003, so you can be sure they know what they’re talking about! What is overlanding? They’re the ones who really know the answer.

There are many other routes of course, but these are amongst the longest and most popular.

Read more:

The African Adventure Blog Series

The Budapest to Singapore Blog Series

What is Needed For Overlanding?

Part of the fun of any journey is trip planning. Since overland adventures are usually longer in duration than most other types of vacations, planning and preparing for them require careful consideration and attention to detail.

Overlanders don’t want to plan all of the spontaneity and adventure out of their trips, but they also don’t want to put their lives and the lives of their travelling companions in undue danger.

Here are some of our top planning and preparation tips that will help to strike the right balance between an exciting adventure and a fool-hardy quest.

kupilka 12 review

The Finances and Time

Money is the first thing you think about while planning. Although it may be cheaper than staying at hotels, you still need to have enough of it.

You need to plan the time you’re going to spend out there carefully.

Remember, the longer it takes, the more money you will need. For instance, you want to ensure you do not overstay at a stopover on the route.

Always have a diary with you and have a clear timetable for how to cover the course. If you experience a breakdown, you may have to cancel some of the things on your bucket list to make up for lost time.

It is imperative that you plan for your finances to the last dollar. Ensure you know how much you will need for the trip, and then carry extra.

For instance, you may find that fuel costs are unexpectedly higher in another country than you expected. It is best to calculate a daily budget, and then forecast a total budget depending on the length of your trip.

These preparations are mainly true for longer endeavors, a shorter overlanding break in the next state or anywhere within the country can be done more spontaneously, with a pack-and-go attitude.

In Chris Scott’s great Overlander’s Handbook, you’d find tons of information on trip planning, including finances, but as the title suggests, it is an all-round great book if you want to know the ins and outs of this lifestyle.

Choose the Right Vehicle – What is the Best Vehicle for Overlanding?

An overlanding expedition can only be as successful as the vehicle you are driving. 4-wheel-drive vehicles tend to be more popular these days among overlanders, but as a rule, you can drive anything you want. The main goal is to have fun and discover as much as possible.

expedition truck family

You just need to know the limits of your car in order to avoid situations where you put yourself in danger. You also need to decide how far you are planning to go in terms of distance as well as the difficulty of the terrain.

These factors, as well as the size of your wallet will decide what kind of vehicle will you choose for overlanding.

The most popular and reliable options are usually 4WD station wagons. However, vans and pickups are also often used, while expedition trucks are becoming ever more popular, especially when traveling with a large family.

While vans have limited capability if your route goes over rough terrain (with a few exceptions such as the Iveco Turbodaily 4×4), their plus side is obviously their flexibility in terms of space inside.

The proven names among off-road travelers are Jeep, Toyota, Land Rover, Mercedes, and Nissan. Ford, Mercedes, Dodge, and Chevy Vans are nowadays often chosen instead of the classic Volkswagen Westies.

Which Overlanding Vehicle Best Fits You?!

Take the quiz to find out which overlanding vehicle best fits you and your travel style.

Overlandsite - take the quiz

If one wants to go for a van with true off-road capabilities, the Mercedes Sprinter 4×4 and the Iveco TurboDaily 4×4 appear to be the overlanders’ choices.

Once you’ve picked your vehicle, you will then need to decide on the modifications. You might not need, nor want any modifications, while some overlanders install so many aftermarket parts that it is hard to recognize the original vehicle.

Most overlanding enthusiasts end up in the middle: upgrade the suspension, underbody protection, snorkel, good storage system, and off-road tires just to name the most common ones.

Modifying the vehicle becomes part of the lifestyle for many. It’s not only fun but getting it done correctly will help you on the trip tremendously.

Overlanding Gear

Apart from modifying your vehicle, choosing your overlanding gear can also be a lot of fun, but to end up with the right equipment you need to go through some serious amount of information.

what is overlanding

At the end of the day, overlanding is a kind of adventure travel, so you need to be prepared.

There is some essential gear, which you must ensure you have on your adventure. According to Overland Journal, which is one of the best resources for information on overlanding, these are the absolute bare essentials for your vehicle:

  • Fire extinguisher
  • Front and rear recovery points
  • Shovel
  • Jumper cables
  • Drivetrain fluids
  • Recovery strap
  • Jack
  • Tarp
  • Tool kit appropriate to the vehicle
  • Vehicle spares appropriate to the vehicle
  • Full-size spare tire
  • Light truck or better tires
  • Spare key, hidden outside the vehicle

The list of equipment that may be considered essential versus those that are nice-to-have, are endless.

Of course, you should never leave your house without a very good first aid kit, however that top-of-the-range electric hot-water system might be considered a luxury.

Everyone needs to decide for themselves, but choosing and installing overlanding gear for your vehicle is definitely part of the lifestyle and fun.

We would recommend you also consider the following:

The Skills You Need for Overlanding

Besides reliable equipment, you will also need to develop a few new skills and learn some not-so-obvious tricks of the trade.

One of the skills that you may need as an overlander is the knowledge of local road rules. For instance, in some countries, you need to drive on the right side instead of the left side.

bazaar in Murghab on the Pamir Highway

Understanding this could not only save your life, but it could also help you avoid costly fines.

It is very important to also understand the local signaling rules while on the road. While flashing lights in your country may mean one thing, it may signal something very different on another.

You also need to understand the hand signs. For instance, when traveling to the Middle East, an open palm facing toward a person does not mean stop, it means to come closer.

In other places, the simple act of flicking your fingers from your chin with the palm facing towards you is an insult.

Understand all these intricacies before embarking on a journey. In fact, understanding the local culture and respecting their customs is essential.

As you might imagine, excellent driving skills are crucial for successful overlanding. The vehicle you use may not be the one you are used to driving. Also, the terrain can be very different.

If possible, ensure you go for some off-road driving lessons before you go on the trip.

Knowing how to properly and safely use your recovery gear to get your vehicle unstuck can save your life.

On top of these, knowing how to craft a campfire and how to make a great meal are all useful skills to have if you’re an overlander.

Final Thoughts, and the Great Names in the World of Overlanding

On one of the largest online forums on overlanding, Overlandbound, you will find a few guiding principles for the overlanding community.

We also very much believe in these principles and would like all those who view our content to consider them. It will help to grow an active community of overlanding enthusiasts from all around the world.

Consider the tips below:

Overlanding requires a willingness to persevere: as an overlander, you will be able to explore the world and experience a connection with nature.

However, you must understand that nature is relentless. If you hope to survive nature, you need to rise to the occasion and respect it. If this is something you can do, overlanding was designed for you. It could be the adventure travel lifestyle, you always wanted.

Keep it simple. When going to the outdoors, it is essential that you keep things simple. Always avoid overpacking for your outdoor adventure.

Understand the basics. If you want to make it on your trip, you have to be ready to ask all the right questions. Do not be afraid to look naive to fellow overlanders. It is better to have the proper knowledge and be labeled a newbie than to wing it and fail.

Be willing to share. You are part of a young but growing community. The best way to support each other is by sharing.

You have to be willing to tell fellow overlanders about your experiences and any lessons you learned. Besides that, if you discover a new route, ensure that those in the community know about it.

what is overlanding

The type of vehicle does not matter. Overlanding is not tied to any brand or model. The only requirement is that you pick a vehicle that is up to the task and is able to do the trip safely.

There is no competition between overlanders. This is not about competing who has the best model or who has better gear. Experiencing nature, the outdoors and culture is more important than any gear you have.

Giving advice is an important pillar. The overlanding community will always be ready to offer advice on what you need to make your vehicle available for a trip.

For instance, if the car requires any modifications, you will be advised and helped. There is tons of information out there.

It is okay to admit you do not know. Honest advice drives this community. If you do not know the answer to something, it is better to say so than give wrong information to a fellow overlander.

We also always ask for advice. In the overlanding community, it is about sharing and growing, if you have no idea how something works, always ask for help even though it may seem stupid.

It is all about fun. We want to ensure everyone has a positive experience on their journey.

On our site, we want to generate as much useful information about overlanding as possible. We aim to help the community grow by putting the right information out there for others to access it.

We are constantly learning through experience, but also from great people who already established a name in this field already. Just to name a few, these are some of the most inspiring people in Overlanding:

  • Andrew St.Pierre White – there is literally nothing he doesn’t know about overlanding. Check out his Youtube Channel for great videos from all around the world
  • The Expedition Overland Team – Clay & Rachelle Croft and their team created some of the most inspiring adventure travel videos on this subject. Truly amazing.
  • Brian and Ronny Dahl – a real Aussie 4WD expert and overlander with immense knowledge and experience on equipment, how-tos, and more.

Please let us know what do you think by adding a comment below and perhaps check out the Infographic

Photo of author
Ferenc Elekes has been a devout Overlanding enthusiast for many years. During that time, Ferenc has explored 75 countries on six continents, with overland travel involved in 40 countries on three continents. From his trusty 2006 Toyota Land Cruiser Prado with a roof-top tent, he’s blogged about experiences that can only be found in the remotest regions on Earth. Along the way, he's gained in-depth knowledge of the novel challenges overlanders encounter and practical ways to meet them. On his website, he shares informed opinions about everything from the best overland gear to how to get a vehicle unstuck. Ferenc has also written for Ih8mud, the Expedition Portal, the Overland Journal, and he is often invited as a guest to outdoors-related podcasts.
Which Overlanding Vehicle Best Fits You?!

Take the quiz to find out which overlanding vehicle best fits you and your travel style.

Overlandsite - take the quiz

23 thoughts on “What is Overlanding?”

    • Lindsey I totally agree. There is a lot of spontaneity in the fact that when you’re overlanding, you’re totally independent and can decide on the road where you’re headed. No specific plans are needed!

  1. I’m just coming in contact with overlanding,I know I have undertaken journeys like this but I didn’t just know the name. overlanding was well detailed here.

    • You just have to start it. It doesn’t matter what you drive, you can use your daily driver, just get out there and start it.

  2. Wow!!…I have never heard of overlanding before but i like the sound of it…it looks dangerous though but its a way to have fun and experience some new places and create new memories..

    • You need to be careful, but just with anything else. If you take the necessary precautions and you’re prepared, it’s not more dangerous than a walk in the park.

  3. Overlanding is one of those expensive hobbies to have. That notwithstanding I think it’s much more fun than most of the other hobbies out there.

    • How expensive it is will depend on you. We know a family who’s been travelling since 2006 on $600 a month! I would say that’s very cheap.

    • Oliver I totally agree. I’ve done two major road trips in Australia before, but have yet to do a proper overlanding trip around the country. I can’t wait!

    • Some of them don’t, but as I mentioned, it doesn’t matter what you drive. You need to get out there, discover it yourself, what works best for you. You don’t need to spend too much money upfront. Buy your gear and equip your vehicle step-by-step for overlanding.

  4. This hobby seems very much like what we used to call a “camping trip”. It seems like it is for guys who just wanted to build their vehicles to look a certain way, so the fad began.

    • Thank you for your comment but I have to disagree. Overlanding is a lot more complex with problem solving, technical skills and challenging situations both with the vehicle or for example border crossings, water management, budget, off-roading routes, etc. the list goes on and on. If you’re driving from Alaska to Argentina, you wouldn’t say to your friend’s “I’m just going camping”, would you?

  5. I’ve only been overlanding for about a year and a half before the pandemic. And this makes me think that I’m still such a newbie when it comes to the most effective customization. But I guess it really does depend on what type of overlanding you usually do that determines what type of vehicle you’d be using.

  6. Awesome, in-depth article! I love that you touch on how the growth of technology and remote work has accelerated the overland trend.


Leave a Comment