If you want to travel to Africa and love a solo adventure or the company of like-minded travelers, then an African overland tour is a fantastic option for you.
There’s hardly a better way to get to know the “real Africa’’ than by hitting the road. Far removed from the overdone tourist circuits, an overland tour gives you the opportunity to experience Africa first-hand. Revel in meeting locals, exploring remote areas, and traveling with like-minded people.
If you’ve never been overlanding before then you may be hesitant. I get it, the idea of spending weeks on the open road can be daunting and you likely have got a million questions. But, worry not intrepid travelers, we’ve got your back.
Here are 12 Things you need to know before you go on an African overland tour.
Booking, packing, and admin
1. Last minute is not always an option
We’ve all had impulsive travel moments. You know those ones when there’s a glitch in the flight matrix, a return ticket to South Africa is going for $100 USD, and you’re about a split second away from purchasing a seat on a plane that’s departing tomorrow.
It can be tempting to book but HOLD UP! An overlanding tour through Africa is unlike any other travel experience you’ve had, so you wouldn’t want to jump into it without some prep.
You need to consider the following when planning your African overlanding adventure:
- How long you’re prepared to be on the road for.
- What countries in Africa you want to see.
- Which season you’d like to travel in.
- What your travel style is.
We do not recommend booking your flights until you have booked your tour. Often seats on tours sell-out months in advance and with limited departure dates available, you may be left stranded.
2. Cheap is not always the best
The search term “cheap holidays in Africa” brings up about 74 400 000 results in 0,47 seconds. While it can be tempting to go with the cheapest option it is important to remember that you get what you pay for.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of legitimate and fun budget friendly tours out there. But, beware of hidden fees. Often travelers realize that the price advertised is for a portion of the total package. And, if not careful, a vacation you thought would show you the best of a region may actually turn into a vacation that is restrictive and out of budget.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Going on a budget friendly overlanding tour in Africa is totally possible when planned properly. If you need a bit of help then check out our tips on how to budget for an overlanding trip to Africa.
3. The benefit of add on days
You’re likely to be exhausted at the end of your trip. While any adventure travel can be tiring, an African overland safari is certainly no different.
Despite the fact that you’re on a truck for long periods of time the quick schedule and action-packed days will catch up to you. This is where “add on days” come in handy. We recommend this approach to extend your experience or to recover and enjoy some “me-time” before heading home.
Chances are, you’re going to need a visa when traveling to Africa. While majority can be obtained at the border on online with an e-visa, it is always good to check your requirements with the relevant African country before you travel.
5. Health & Safety
In 2001, George W. Bush famously commented that “Africa is a nation that suffers from terrible disease”. There are so many things wrong with this statement but let’s just focus on the disease part.
Diseases take millions of lives every year in Africa because of a lack of access to childhood immunization programs and basic healthcare. However, successful immunization programs have made huge strides in major diseases in the last decade and it is possible to get good care in Africa.
That said, as a tourist you can guard against diseases such as yellow fever, typhoid, and Malaria by simply getting a vaccination and some anti-malaria medication. In fact, some vaccinations, such as Yellow Fever, are actually a requirement for entry into certain countries.
We recommend visiting a travel doctor 6-8 weeks before your departure date in order to get everything you need sorted in time.
When it comes to safety it helps to be aware of your surroundings like you would in any other destination. Don’t go into dark alleys at night, keep cash and mobile phones out of public eye. For wildlife safety, listen to the guides who are experienced. And remember the number one rule: It’s not safe to get out the 4×4 game drive vehicle.
There are two kinds of travelers – those who can fit a month’s worth in a carry on and those who need a 90 liter suitcase for a one week trip. There’s no judgement here, we all have our own way but when it comes to overlanding in Africa, suitcases are just a no, no.
One backpack and one daypack are all you get and these can weigh no more than 25kg (International flights allow for 20kgs check-in and 5kgs carry-on). With this in mind, packing smart is a must.
Among the clothing essentials for an overlanding tour are:
- A waterproof jacket
- Long trousers
- Hiking boots
- Flip flops
- Thin long-sleeved tops
- A sun hat
- Some clothing like leggings that allow you to layer.
For a more detailed list, check out our guide to packing for an overlanding safari.
On the Ground
7. Things may not always go to plan
This is not a holiday, it’s an adventure. And, like any other adventure things don’t always go according to plan. There may be a few hiccups in the itinerary when a bridge is washed away or a bumpy stretch of road results in a flat tyre.
The unexpected is always to be expected when on an African overland tour, which sometimes requires a slight change of plan. But, none of these will spoil your trip if you approach them with the flexible attitude and a good sense of humour.
8. Life on the road can be challenging
Trucklife is going to be a big part of your journey. Any African overland tour is likely to involve some seriously long driving days and the “are we there yet” vibe won’t do you any good. This is Africa after all and the journey to the most rewarding destinations is often taken on gravel and poorly kept tarmac roads – both setting the travel pace.
Thankfully, you’ll be on an amazing adventure with like-minded people and there are always ways to make the ride pass quicker or feel more enjoyable.
That said, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Wifi is generally intermittent throughout Africa and you may only have access every 3-5 days based on where you are staying the night. We recommend rather downloading a boxset of your favorite series and tunes to your phone. Most vehicles have plug points, so make sure to bring your chargers. If you want more stable signal coverage, we recommend you buy a local sim on arrival.
- Forgo the paperbacks and fill up a kindle with a couple of good books. Remember that space is a precious commodity and you definitely don’t want unnecessary bulk.
- Download some podcasts. Stuff You Should Know and Lightspeed Magazine are my personal favorites but there are plenty of genres out there.
- Get social with the people around you. A game of cards and an epic road-trip sing-along is bound to make time speed up and you’ll be making friends in the process.
- Look out the window. You are in Africa after all and some of the best sightings can be glimpsed from the truck window.
9. Let’s talk fitness
For the most part, the tour and activities are not overly strenuous and suit most fitness levels. However bear in mind that sitting in the truck for long drives and plenty of walking can be tiring on your body. I wouldn’t recommend an overland trip if you aren’t up for roughing it a bit, being reasonably physically active or looking to experience a bit of wilderness.
10. ATMS and Foreign Exchange
If your home currency is USD then you’re in luck. There are a few countries throughout eastern Africa that accept USD as a standard currency. This means that your bills can be easily exchanged. And, in some cases, even used to pay for goods and services within the countries themselves.
While carrying an emergency credit card is always a good idea while traveling, you’re likely to get slammed with high foreign transaction fees and poor exchange rates – that is, if you can find an ATM. Generally speaking, ATMS are accessible every 2-3 days so I would recommend keeping both USD and local currency on hand where possible. Also be mindful when withdrawing money at ATMS – as you would anywhere else in the world.
11. You have to be a team player
Although there are different levels of luxury when to comes African overland safari trips, most involve some level of camping and help preparing the meals. While tour guides will take the lead on most things, team work does make the process more fun and collaborative.
This means you’ll have to be open to pitching a tent, washing up, and chopping vegetables on some days. Working together and not slacking off is essential to the success of the trip and the spirit of the group, so don’t be that person who slacks off!
12. You won’t be the same person when you go home
We could write novels in an attempt to prepare you for an African overland tour. But, the truth is that the only thing you should expect is the unexpected. An African adventure like this is unlike any other travel experience you’ve had before and chances are, you won’t be the same when it’s over. Some parts of Africa are remote, yet the diverse landscape and cultures are often inspiring. Prepare yourself for a unique trip of a lifetime.
It’s not just about the wildlife safaris. When doing an overlanding tour across Africa you get to go back to a simpler time in life. When wifi was rare, human interaction was more than a like button and connecting with the earth meant getting your hands dirty.
You will have the opportunity to connect with nature and yourself in a way that you cannot yet fathom. We can almost guarantee you will return home and reflect on the experience and how it has afforded you a new perspective on life.