Overland Group Travel 101: What to Expect!
We believe that people appreciate upfront, straight-talking honesty. In fact in this line of work we’ve come to learn that to ‘call a spade a spade’ is not simply a good idea, it’s an absolute necessity.
West Africa is still largely untouched by mass tourism and for that reason very appealing to the more ‘adventurous’ travellers out there. It’s home to some of the most talented musicians in the world, some of the most colourful markets, some of the most pristine beaches and untouched landscapes, and without a doubt some of the friendliest and most entertaining characters you’re ever likely to meet.
We won’t be bumping into loads of other tourists at every site we visit and we won’t have to share a campsite with numerous other overland vehicles every night. West Africa is a place where we can experience the kind of genuine interaction with local people in a way that hasn’t been ‘diluted’ for the mass tourist market.
With all that said, we feel that it is important to make people aware of what’s involved in an overland trip. A few years on the road has taught us that managing expectations is the key to running a successful trip, especially in the more challenging parts of the world like West Africa.
So, if the idea of Overlanding West Africa sounds good so far, but you would like to know a little more about the practical realities and what to expect, the following should help. This list is by no means exclusive to the trips that we run, you will find the same points apply to any overland trip in the more undeveloped parts of the world.
Trip Schedule: Delays and changes of plan can happen, they are part of the reality of overlanding through the developing world where tourism is in its infancy. Be it bad weather, road conditions, corrupt officials, bureaucracy, border closures, mechanical problems, or out dated information, we will have to adapt our plans according to the circumstances. We may fall behind schedule at times, but have built spare days in to each itinerary to account for any unforeseen issues so that we can make the time up. Please note that we can never guarantee a visit to each place detailed in the intended itinerary every time we run the trip – local circumstances/conditions beyond our control may prevent us from doing so. This is why it is important to have a flexible approach when travelling in the countries of West Africa!
Overlanding Is Not A Packaged Holiday: We often use the term ‘old school’ when referring to the ethos of our trips. That is to say, that when challenges present themselves – as they often do travelling in this part of the world – we pull together as a group and ‘muck in’ where necessary. This idea of being part of the adventure, and not just a passenger, has been a fundamental element of overlanding for decades. Everybody plays a small part in making a big trip happen, including doing a daily job on the truck and helping dig and push the truck if she gets stuck! If you are not prepared to chip in then this is not the trip for you.
Group Dynamics: If you’re somebody who isn’t particularly sociable, or somebody who easily takes offence, or somebody who thrives on confrontation and arguing, or somebody who struggles to accept other people’s views and approach to doing things, then this is not the trip for you! We usually attract a wide range of nationalities and ages and it’s almost inevitable that there will be somebody in the group who you don’t particularly like. Our trips are quite long so it’s important we all get along as best as possible!
Flexibility: Some parts of our trips will be exploratory so some flexibility is built into all of our itineraries. Years of travelling has taught us that it’s the little and often unexpected things that can make a trip special – so where possible we take advantage of this flexibility to adapt the itineraries to fit in with local circumstances, for example to visit a local carnival or to have dinner at a local chiefs house.
Long Drive Days: This is an inevitable part of ANY overland trip. We’ve got a lot of kilometers to cover and some days our progress will be slow due to poor road conditions. Where possible we’ll try to break up the long drives with time off the truck for optional activities – but please be prepared for a few long days in the back on all of our trips.
Infrastructure: Our trips visit some remote areas where infrastructure is very basic – or in some cases non-existent. Overlanding with us in West Africa requires an understanding that standards will simply not be as they are in your home country (or in a number of other parts of the world where you’ve probably travelled). Our trips are not designed to shield you from the realities of life in the countries we visit; in many of the places that we operate in, what we recognise as the tourism ‘industry’ and the amenities it brings simply do not exist.
Accommodation: Standards can be somewhat sketchy at times! Campsites with ‘decent’ facilities are limited for some parts of all of our trips, and any hotels we use will be of a basic standard- so do not expect five star standards! We’ll be bush camping some of the time, where there will be no facilities at all, so you’ll have to be prepared to camp for a few days without a shower or running water. That said, we will often stop by a river when we can to wash away the dirt. That is the magic of an overland adventure – camping in the middle of nowhere under the stars with a fantastic view of the surrounding area – it sure beats being in a campsite or hotel with dozens of other people around!
Toilets: This goes without saying really – but if you are not prepared to bare your bum to a bush then this isn’t your kind of trip. When we do find toilets to use, they are often so disgusting you may prefer a bush anyway!
Truck Jobs: We run group overland expeditions and we work hard to make sure everyone on our trips has a great time but we can’t do everything and a truck with 20 or so travellers in the back creates a surprising amount of work. Daily jobs are part and parcel of ANY overland trip and everyone has to do their fair share. Jobs on the truck include; shopping for and preparing food; cooking; sweeping out the truck; loading/unloading bags and equipment; and collecting firewood. If everybody chips in with their job it makes for a much more successful trip. Also bear in mind that a positive attitude and an open mind are just as important as your ability to get involved with the daily jobs. Please note that if the truck gets bogged on bad roads then all passengers are expected to assist in getting her moving again!
Trip Leaders: We have a sound knowledge of the places we’re visiting and the route we are taking. We provide practical information about the places you’ll be travelling through and will offer suggestions for things to see and do – but we won’t be giving a running commentary on the history, geology, flora and fauna, etc. Our job is to deal with the day-to-day logistics of running the trip and to get you to those hard-to-get-to places. There is a certain amount of free time when we arrive in places, so you can go off and explore what you want to see, not what we think you should do.
The Journey: It’s a well worn cliché that overlanding is about the journey and the experiences along the way – and not the destination – but it really is true. In our instant-access, information overloaded world where you can watch a documentary and vicariously experience practically any far-flung corner of the earth at the click of a button – it’s all too easy to build up impossible expectations of places that can lead to disappointment. Over the years we’ve found that it’s best to leave your expectations and pre-conceived ideas of places behind and to simply take the trip as it comes.
If all of the above sounds exciting – you can be certain that you are one step closer to experiencing the trip of a lifetime.
Overlanding West Africa is about venturing to a region relatively untouched by mass tourism. Our itineraries are not littered with world renowned national parks or UNESCO heritage sites. Our trips are about shopping in lively colourful markets, driving through stunning landscapes on dirt roads, camping out under the stars, meeting local people on the way quite unaccustomed to meeting foreign travellers – and discovering one of the most exciting places for music in the entire world. The simple, small things count.
Come join us, and experience the true magic of West Africa for yourself!