I heard about “overland tours” long before I actually took one. The idea of packing your bag, climbing onto a converted army truck and setting off on an adventure was romantic and enticing. In reality, it held up to my expectations, if a little more realistic.
My chosen overland tour was with Drifters, a company based out of South Africa, and my tour was the 24-day Southern Circle Route. This took us through South Africa, Zimbabwe (really just Victoria Falls), Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi and Botswana.
An overland tour is as it sounds. The truck is your home for the length of your stay. It takes you from place to place, you cook off the side of it in a handy-dandy hidden kitchen, it stores your tents, and it provides glorious views of the scenery with wide windows. Disclaimer: if you’re not prepared to rough it, over landing through Southern Africa might not be for you. Yep, there were definitely many moments of peeing in the bushes, dressing in your tent, making fires and wondering if that smell is you (it probably is).
But what you do get by going overland is unattainable through any other type of travel. I woke up to an elephant crossing one morning, a herd of elephants crossing the Zambezi river with tiny white birds hopping aboard their backs. I canoed for three days down the Zambezi river. We literally had to steer around pods (pods?) of hippos in the water – they are not something you want to come into close contact with. I heard the growls of lions at night, only to be promised by our gun-toting-tour-guides that the lions were at least a few kilometres away. I cooked with new British and Swiss friends, sharing recipes, stories and favourite songs. I washed dishes with the tour guide. I shared a tent with a gutsy German adventure-ess – so gutsy she slept under the stars one night, only to run into someone’s tent when she heard a growl.
I’m not a camper by nature, but it was an incredible experience. By the end my tent-assembling skills were in the expert category. I’ve never spent so many consecutive days in the outdoors at length. It was refreshing. Internet cafes were not commonplace at our destinations, so I had the luxury of switching off. I read. I journalled. I made new friends.
If you want adventure, nature and culture, this is the tour to take and the place to visit. Immerse yourself in the experience and you’ll never look back.
Now, the nitty gritty of what I recommend and don’t:
- Don’t buy a she-wee (the purple colander looking thing). Just make sure to incorporate squats into your workouts before you go.
- Do wear sunscreen – it may seem overcast in many areas of the countries, but don’t be fooled! I went in their winter and still burned. Badly.
- If you get stung by a jelly fish (like I did) DON’T pee on it (I did not), not if you have the option of vinegar (ah, sweet, sweet vinegar). Ask first, pee later.
- US dollars… meh. I found that most markets and shops still required the local currency. DO get your credit card approved for the countries you’re going to. Charge it, or if you’re going to be in a country for a while, take cash out on your card through ATMs.
- Travel wallets – at the end of the day, you’re on a tour. You’re with other people, so I occasionally regretted the rubbing fabric of my travel wallet against my belly. That said, I was never robbed en route.
- DON’T bring valuables. Unless you’re a travel blogger, this is not the destination to bring a lap top. You won’t get wifi anyways. If you need your fizz, bring a smartphone.
- Be kind to your travel mates. After 24 days (heck 7 days in) it can be draining to be in the presence of others 24/7. Be kind, because they’re going through the same thing as you. Don’t take things personally, give them the benefit of the doubt, and at the end of the day, know that you can keep the friends you like and leave those you don’t after a short space of time.
- Back up your pictures, regularly. We had one girl on our tour on Day 22 who accidentally deleted all of her photos. Now, I know I said don’t bring a lap top, but maybe ‘back up’ is the wrong word. Swap out your camera cards regularly. Have 5-8 cards on you, so you’re only at risk of losing a couple of days of pictures. If you’re unlucky enough for this to happen to you, talk to your tour-mates. They’ll definitely share their pictures with you.
Have fun, relax and remember this isn’t your average trip, so don’t have average expectations.
Anyone been on an overland tour? Care to share your experience?