5 Great Reasons You Should Travel Overland

There’s as many ‘styles’ of travel as there are individual travelers. From luxury to budget; planes to trains; backpacking to bicycling and everything in between.

One area of exploration that perhaps doesn’t receive as much attention as it might, is overland travel. Perhaps this is because many people erroneously believe that in order to travel overland you need a unimog with $100,000 in modifications.

However in our personal experience, and from the examples of other overlanders, this mode of travel can actually be affordable, and extremely rewarding.

Here’s 5 reasons you (and your family) should consider overland travel:

1. Freedom to Explore

One of the main reasons that our family chose to try overlanding was because of the way we like to experience travel – we love to observe a variety of new places, rather than being limited to exploration in one location due to accommodations, transportation and other considerations. Having a vehicle gives us the freedom to explore when and where we want.

While living in Costa Rica, we had our own vehicle (that we had driven from the States) and thoroughly enjoyed being able to explore ‘off the beaten path’, to find the far off beaches and waterfalls, and set our own travel schedule.

Contrast that to our experience living in the Dominican Republic. Being an island, we had to fly, and lacked having personal transportation. We were limited to the schedules and routes of the buses, taxis and ‘gua-guas’.

While this contributed to it’s own set of unique circumstances and adventures (that we’re glad we had), we were limited in our exploration, and saw significantly less of the country as a result.

When contemplating our next adventure, we considered a move to Thailand or Colombia to live, but ultimately having the freedom a vehicle provides was the determining factor for choosing overland travel.

2. Increased Number of Experiences

Hopping on a plane and flying to Costa Rica is great if you just want to ‘get there’, whether to live or for a vacation.

But imagine all the experiences you’re flying over instead of driving through – and as a result missing out on.

When our family moved to Costa Rica, we opted to drive from the United States.

While living in Costa Rica was an incredible experience in itself, there were so many amazing adventures we shared just getting there – beautiful beaches and a jungle river tour in Mexico; Guatemala City nestled beneath a volcano; ancient ruins in Honduras; potholes and police bribery in Nicaragua; just to name a few.

Driving overland gives you the opportunity to become intimately acquainted with the land, people, culture and food, that you might otherwise miss by zipping through the air overhead.

3. Slow Travel

‘Slow travel’ has become the watchword of trendsetting travelers. Country hopping to various venues for 2-week jaunts just doesn’t provide the same encounter as an unhurried examination of a place.

Overland travel is one of the best ways to facilitate ‘slow travel.’ Instead of jet-setting from spot to spot, you’re limited to the distance you can traverse by speed limits, fuel levels, and personal needs (i.e. bathroom breaks).

These more frequent stops supply the circumstances for closer acquaintance with the locale you’re visiting, or even just passing through. It provides for unique adventures; educational encounters with locals; and an up-close view of terrain and topography.

4. Cut Costs and Extend the Journey

When exploring overland, it’s customary to travel with a trailer, roof top or pop-up tent, in a RV, or pulling a trailer.

Carrying your accommodations on your back actually allows you to travel fairly inexpensively. Compare paying $20-$50 a night for a hotel or hostel, to crashing in your already-paid-for roof top tent. If your RTT costs you $1200, that’s equal to 24 nights stay at $50 a night. After that, you’re sleeping for free.

Other cost-saving benefits include the ability to prepare your own meals by bringing along your camping equipment and less expensive travel for groups and families (i.e. buying plane tickets several people vs. gas for one vehicle)

And if you get real creative, you can travel using alternative fuels (like recycled vegetable oil), and cut your costs even more.

Our expedition vehicle is nothing fancy – a modified Ford F250 that runs on veggie, with a roof top tent, camping stove and carpet kit in the back. The entire set-up cost us less than $15,000.

But now, we can travel for almost free. With our free veggie, and our home on our back, it costs us nothing (except for food) to go exploring.

Lower travel costs means you can go more often, stay longer and enjoy more.

5. Intimacy with Nature

One of my favorite parts of overlanding, is the camping, and as a result, intimacy with nature.

Yes, it’s true, you’re exposed to the elements. You get cold when it’s cold, and hot when it’s hot.

But you also get to gaze at the stars before you go to bed. You get to watch the sun rise when you do in the morning. You get an up-close-and-personal look at the cacti, the trees, the dirt. You hear the coyotes or howler monkeys howling; the elk bugling at night; you make a connection to something that our technology-based, consumerism society has disconnected from.

You reconnect to your humanity. This is the best part.

One night while camping in the solitude of the Southern Utah desert, my husband and I sat atop our truck and stared at the milky way, in awe at the legion of twinkling lights.

I thought of Emerson saying, “if the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how men would believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God that had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.”

Yet how often do we even look up to glance at them, let alone stare in wonder. When do we have the time, or a dark enough sky?

Overland travel gives you the opportunity to explore out in ‘nature’s playground’, where there’s dark sky and a moonlit night; warming sunshine and cooling rain; and countless curiosities to interest the inquisitive among us.

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Rachel Denning is a writer and photographer for her website on family travel and lifestyle design. She and her husband are driving from Alaska to Argentina with their 5 children. Read more about Rachel Denning and check out her other BootsnAll articles.
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  • David Hays said at 2012-03-19T16:28:06+0000: Very fun to read, and I like how independent you have made your lifestyle. As Rachel pointed out, I'd be interested as well in seeing more about the day-to-day basics.
  • Jane Deck said at 2011-10-26T06:19:04+0000: Great article, Rachel. You are definitely "back to basics" with your current lifestyle. I'd like to see an article about how you bathe, do dishes, cook, and handle toiletries living out of a truck. What is your water source? Photos to accompany that would be most interesting to see :>) Love you. AJ