The Principles of Overlanding :: Insights on Exploring the World by Vehicle

The Principles of Overlanding :: Insights on Exploring the World by Vehicle

Lessons are often learned the hard way, which, in my case, includes screwing up, getting stuck, carjacked, impounded, detained, delayed, and generally mired in the throes of adventure. Even the worst scenarios had a silver lining (maybe not the carjacking) as my awareness grew, and I adjusted my traveling operating system. During my travels, I have also been fortunate to meet countless overlanders far more skilled, knowledgeable, and clever than myself, contributing to my source code for sound overland principles. 

These principles of overlanding are my attempt at sharing those learnings in as concise a way as possible, distilling the first principles of vehicle-based adventure travel while attempting to strike a balance between laissez-faire and pedantic. The list is organized from the macro to the micro, and an argument could be made contrary to any of them. While these principles represent a practical and measured approach toward overlanding, they should be modified (or ignored) based on individual needs and tendencies. This list is our view on a pursuit we all adore—but ultimately, the most essential principle is to go, as travel will teach us the rest along the journey.

Overlanding is vehicle-based adventure travel. Adventure is an undertaking with an unknown outcome. Travel is a journey, especially to a distant or unfamiliar place.

Overlanding does not need to be expensive. Motorcycle travelers have explored the globe for less than $22 per day (average). 

Overlanding is not synonymous with car camping or off-roading. It is possible to drive around the world without a single mile of dirt or a night of camping. 

Only the most austere, remote, and challenging routes require specialized vehicles and modifications. Stock 4WDs, passenger cars, and touring motorcycles have completed notable trips across continents. Almost any vehicle you own or enjoy will work for driving around the world.

Be the student. Prepare for visiting a foreign land by studying its history, culture, and laws as part of being a gracious guest. At a minimum, learn to say basic salutations in the host country’s language. An attempt to speak the native tongue is a gesture of respect.

According to Gallop, the world is safer than it has ever been. Conflicts are isolated to hot spots within countries, not regions. As a result, be critical of travel advice from mainstream media or individuals who have not recently visited the area you intend to explore.

Our responsibility is to be good stewards, leaving the places we visit better than we found them. Lower tire pressures and engage 4WD early to limit road damage. Pack out all trash and, whenever possible, human waste. Tag and share locations responsibly, leaving little-known routes wild and unadvertised.

The best way to prepare for vehicle-based travel is to first travel by backpack, bicycle, or motorcycle. Reality dictates that there are few essential items; the rest can be done without or sourced locally.

Engage with your companions to determine their wants, needs, and travel goals. Make your fellow travelers a part of the planning process and vehicle configuration, increasing their sense of ownership and connection with the journey. Answer the “whys” before you leave. 

Essential travel items include the quality clothing you are wearing, a passport, a credit/debit card, and (arguably) a smartphone. An experienced traveler can solve most challenges with those tools.

Overland planning starts with coordinating required visas and shipping logistics. With those items defined or secured, the remaining planning can be more fluid or spontaneous, including inter-country routing and provisioning. 

Travel light and in small groups (of one to five vehicles, with one or three being optimal) to avoid damage to remote tracks and small-capacity campsites. Many overlanders travel solo. 

Keep multiple originals of travel documents along with printed copies; scan all documents (along with new records from each border crossing) and keep copies on a thumb drive and in the cloud.

Who we travel with is more meaningful than how we travel or what we travel in. Venture into the unknown with calm, rationally optimistic travelers. Eject the negative personalities as soon as possible. 

Recognize the planning fallacy when estimating travel distance and time. Plan for fewer miles traveled due to road closures, mechanical issues, fuel availability, driver fatigue, serendipity, and more. Expect that travel will not go as planned, and you will never be disappointed. 

Training before tools. Enhancing vehicle capability through modification is often more expensive and ultimately less effective than achieving the same results through driver training.

The driver’s primary responsibility is occupant safety, followed immediately by mechanical sympathy, which preserves the vehicle and equipment. All age-appropriate occupants should be trained on vehicle operation and systems.

Pinnacle vehicles and equipment are always less expensive in the long term and often help support favorable travel outcomes. The Toyota Land Cruiser is considered a pinnacle overland vehicle, along with other similar halo models from other manufacturers. 

If the vehicle is stolen or totaled outside of the insurance coverage area, does the loss materially impact your financial security? Buy a vehicle you can afford to lose.

Understand the influence of Parkinson’s Law on vehicle selection, and consider buying a smaller vehicle, which will create a physical limit to the available space for stuff. (Parkinson’s Law posits that most systems will expand to fill the available space, time, or budget.)

Weight is the enemy of vehicle safety, durability, and performance. Know the vehicle’s payload and roof load limit and do not exceed it. Reduce that limit by 10 percent for each additional 30 millimeters of lift and/or increase in tire diameter.

Consider the 80/20 rule: 80 percent of the overlander’s budget should be spent on travel and only 20 percent on the vehicle and modifications. Simple vehicle = happy travels :: Overbuilt vehicle = happy ego

Complexity is the enemy of reliability. Keep the vehicle as stock as possible, only modifying as conditions demand or limitations are discovered. Match the vehicle selection to occupant count, payload, and anticipated route conditions. If the vehicle is over payload, it is overbuilt.

Vehicle modifications for most overland travel can be limited to the following: communications (cellular, radio, and satellite); emergency medical and survival supplies; navigation (paper maps and GPS); tools, spares, and recovery equipment; quality all-terrain tires.

Electronics and wiring will be the most common failure modes for modifications, so install limited electric systems with the highest quality components and installation. 

Suspension changes should emphasize both on- and off-road performance, ensuring that the vehicle retains limit-handling capability to allow for emergency stopping and accident avoidance.

There is never a perfect time to travel, there will never be the ideal vehicle, and there is never enough money in the bank. The rapid passage of time is the only constant, so toss off the bowlines and go. 

Please enjoy Episode 164 of the Overland Journal Podcast: Principles of Overlanding, 30 Insights on Traveling the World by Vehicle

Our No Compromise Clause: We do not accept advertorial content or allow advertising to influence our coverage, and our contributors are guaranteed editorial independence. Overland International may earn a small commission from affiliate links included in this article. We appreciate your support.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in Overland Journal’s Spring 2024 Issue

The post The Principles of Overlanding :: Insights on Exploring the World by Vehicle appeared first on Expedition Portal.

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