Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. It’s a quote by Helen Keller that seems to be a rallying call for those bitten by wanderlust, thirsty for adrenalin, or anyone else seeking a thrilling moment of exploration. When such an adventure calls you to Africa, an overland safari may seem the best way to scratch the itch. No other option can afford you the ability to trace around the continent over a matter of weeks with so few logistical cares. But what does such an overland adventure entail? After experiencing Acacia Africa’s 25-day Desert Tracker itinerary, there’s a few things one might expect.
With itineraries that can extend over a month in duration, it may seem that preparing for an overland adventure would require judo-like packing skills. However, as we’ve traveled the global continuously for nearly a year, we’d argue that packing simply is your best friend. Forgo the luxury. Pack layers. Plan to re-wear clothes. This is an adventure, remember?
And don’t worry, there will be opportunities for laundry. Your friendly guides can provide you with a plastic washtub and washing powder is an easy and affordable find in nearly each town you visit. The African sun will be sure to dry anything you wash in quick order too. If that’s a little too simple for you, there are usually a handful of destinations on an overland adventure where you can arrange for your items to be cleaned and returned to you the next day.
One additional reminder. While the lockers in an overland vehicle are fairly spacious, they do not easily accommodate hard-sided luggage or wheeled bags. Soft, squishy backpacks and duffle bags are perfect. We found that our 40 liter Osprey bags fit perfectly. The extra space allowed us to have a small collapsible tote bag in the locker with clothes, snacks, and other things we may want to grab quickly without rummaging through our backpacks.
Accept (Some) Discomfort
Don’t get us wrong – we were quite comfortable on our overland adventure with Acacia! However, unless you’ve spent significant time camping outdoors, you may face some discomforts you’re not used to at home. There is dirt. Clean becomes a rather arbitrary definition when it comes to clothes and even, despite best efforts, the inside of the truck. Weeks of travel on dusty African roads mean that dirt and grime will eventually find their way to you. There are also bugs. When not on the truck, most of your time is spent outdoors…and this was their home first. This doesn’t mean you should expect infestations, but there may be a night or two where something crawly finds its way into your tent. Especially if you didn’t zip it up fully!
There’s no heat or AC. If you’re cold, you need to add layers. If hot, open the window or shed a few layers. Expect such ‘first world’ hardships and use them to open your eyes to how many others on this planet live. You will pass villages where your tent accommodations could be quite luxurious, so keep that in perspective. And if you ever need a break from some of the minor discomforts, occasionally some accommodations on your overland adventure will offer ‘upgrades’ to permanent tents, bungalows, or even private hotel rooms for an additional charge.
An overland adventure is exploration at its very best. To make the most out of every opportunity, you need to consider yourself part of the team. That means pitching in. Expect your overland team to be divided into groups of 3-5 people; each taking on tasks throughout the days on the road. There will be the duties of cooking, dishwashing, truck cleaning, and packing and unpacking the truck. Your guides will help show you the ropes and will pitch in a bit too, so no need to stress about your newfound responsibilities. Even if cooking is not your thing, someone will be there to help you learn and contribute to the group. In most cases, your guides will set the times for your group to meet and complete your tasks, but if not, take the initiative. This way nobody can claim the excuse of not knowing when they needed to be ready to help. Remember, the more each person contributes, the more everyone gets to experience.
Speaking of, you’ll get to experience all the tasks. Groups rotate throughout the week so you don’t need to worry on becoming the team’s dishwasher for 25 days straight.
Living in the Moment
You’ll hear the phrase “This is Africa!” often. It’s meant to remind you that throughout Africa, one might not expect all the modern conveniences of back home. Sometimes wifi at an accommodation doesn’t work…even when the itinerary indicates you will have it. Somedays you may breeze through a border crossing while others may provide an opportunity to brush up on card games. When you face moments like these, embrace them as part of the experience. They will add to the story that you’re actively shaping on your overland adventure. When such inconveniences crop up, you never know how they may shape your day for the better. Unplugging for a little bit may mean you get to witness baboons playing near your campground. Or your delayed border crossing may coincide better with your watching zebras drinking from a watering hole at sunset when you arrive at the campsite.
It’s not often one can claim traveling half a world away and coming back with new friends from all over the globe. Sure, you’re bound to make some new acquaintances as you travel. But rarely will you have the opportunity to share so many new experiences with people that were strangers but weeks ago. Our team progressed from trepid introductions to teary-eyed goodbyes over the course of 25-days. We learned each other’s likes and dislikes, shared in laughs, and empathized in frustrations. It’s what being part of something bigger than yourself is all about. And make no mistake that an overland adventure is about something bigger than you. That’s because you’re forced to put aside a few comforts and some of your time to make the most of exploring new destinations with your newfound team. Few other experiences can do that. So even when you’re facing a simple lifestyle, some dirt and bugs, daily chores, and unexpected events, you’re walking away with friends for a lifetime. That’s the heart of exploration.
Have more questions about what it’s like on an overland adventure? Feel free to ask away in the comments below! Just remember – you’re embarking on one daring adventure!
Blog and images by: Simple Discoveries
Two former NASA rocket scientists are on an around-the-world journey, sharing discoveries of innovation and exploration as they travel. They recently partnered with Acacia Africa to compare the challenges and discoveries of overland travel to spaceflight while sharing examples of Africa’s natural beauty. You can read more and follow their social media streams at www.simplediscoveries.com.