What Is Overland Travel?

C. Mitchell

Overland travel is basically any sort of travel that goes across land, connecting two or more points on foot, by car, by train, or by bus. Air and boat travel are usually excluded. Overland travel was one of the first ways that continents were explored by early settlers and adventurers. In modern times, overland travel is usually meant to mimic these early explorations: trips are generally rustic and primitive, and often last for several months or more. They are often marketed as a way to really connect with foreign lands and cultures.

Trekking is a type of overland travel.
Trekking is a type of overland travel.

An overland journey is usually considered to be an extended vacation or holiday, though this was not originally the case. Back before modern travel luxuries like jet planes and paved highways, most travel was overland travel, by necessity if nothing else. Some of the first world explorers and settlers learned about other cultures and terrains by experiencing them first-hand, usually on foot or horseback.

The Inca Trail, which overlooks the ruins of Machu Picchu, is a popular choice for guided treks.
The Inca Trail, which overlooks the ruins of Machu Picchu, is a popular choice for guided treks.

Today, overlanding is a style of travel that seeks to connect vacationers with the land and with the act of traveling more than the art of being a tourist. Travel can be planned or informal, depending in large part on the participants. Some of the most basic overland travel happens when like-minded travelers meet up with one another, in airports or other travel hubs, and decide to band together for an overland adventure. They usually share responsibilities equally, including cooking, car repair, and incidental expenses, and often decide the route as they go.

A number of commercial tour operators seek to recreate the spontaneity and rawness of this sort of travel by arranging and selling overland travel packages. Most of these trips maintain the core value of simplicity, but pair it with a bit more predictability for travelers who may need to balance adventure with other life obligations. Tours usually cross through predetermined overland travel routes with fixed start and end cities, dates, and times.

Most overland trips are designed to take at least a few weeks, and often last for months or more. Some of the most popular overland routes cross the African continent, or cut across Asia from the tropical southeastern countries up through Siberia. Trekking the Appalachian Trail in eastern North America is also a popular overland journey.

Some groups will arrange chartered travel for groups, but communal travel is the most common way to participate in overlanding. Strangers are usually matched together in rugged sport vehicles, or assigned to hiking and trekking groups. Use of roadways is common, but highways are usually avoided in favor of more rustic pathways. Sometimes travelers stay in motels and hostels, but camping is usually the preferred lodging.

Even on commercial trips, participants are usually asked to help out with meal preparation, vehicle cleaning, and campsite set-up. Overlanding is not considered luxury travel, and people do not usually sign up for these kinds of trips in order to be taken care of or waited on. The whole point is usually adventure. Participating in overland travel with a group adds some predictability while still catering to travelers’ desire for rustic exploration.

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