One tour leader, one driver, a range of nationalities, 30 days, 6 countries, 7460 km, and one big yellow truck made for one hell of a month through Africa.
We couldn’t have been happier with our decision to take an overland tour with Tucan Travel. Each country we traveled through, we experienced more than we could have asked for. We started out in Pretoria, South Africa and over the course of the month we traveled through Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia and finished up in Cape Town, South Africa. You can find the detailed itinerary here.
We were fortunate to have such a fantastic tour leader from America and a very skilled driver from Kenya. Both of these guides contributed to making this trip even more memorable. They were both full of energy, life, knowledge and patience! It’s not easy guiding people from all different backgrounds but everyone was always catered to evenly and fairly.
Is an overland tour for you? What are your options?
Apart from South Africa, the public transport system in the rest of Africa is almost non-existent. There are a few buses that run country to country routes but it isn’t the most reliable, nor the most common. So, that said, to travel through Africa you really have 2 options.
Rent yourself a 4×4 or hop on board an overland tour.
There’s no doubt that self-driving allows more freedom, however, driving these long distances may take its toll on your vehicle and your concentration! A few things to remember if you plan to self-drive through Africa.
- In certain countries, petrol stations are few and far between so always make sure you know where you can next get fuel.
- Don’t rely solely on GPS, although these days it gets you from A-B, signal often goes in and out throughout the remote areas. Bring an old-fashioned map in case technology fails you.
- Pack plenty of snacks and water
- Know how to change a tyre
- Make sure you have a roadside emergency kit in your car
- Ensure your car is eligible for off-road driving. Especially in Namibia, these roads are not great.
Overland tours bring together like-minded travellers who aren’t fussed to occasionally rough it or go great distances to discover this incredible continent. A lot of people wonder about the amount of time you spend on the bus, the driving distances and the faster-paced schedule but none of these factors concerned us at any stage, nor were they ever a problem. In fact, there were many things to keep us busy on the bus and it made the journeys seem a whole lot shorter.
Jumping on an overland truck really gives you the best opportunity to see as much as you can in a smaller amount of time without the stress of long driving distances, border crossings, logistics, or even dealing with car troubles (it’s bound to happen, some of these roads are very bad). Getting to 6 countries in 30 days on your own would be highly unlikely and nowhere near as practical.
If you love to meet people from around the world, follow a schedule, don’t want to stress about driving and all that comes with it, overland tours are for you but if you have no time limit, love to take things slow, drive yourself, can change a tyre and navigate your way through foreign countries using an old-fashioned map (at times) then conquering Africa on your own may be the way to go. We didn’t have a time limit but we knew we didn’t want to drive the distances, it was as simple as that.
Thankfully, we only had one breakdown in the 30 days and thanks to our very experienced driver, we were up and running within 25 minutes.
What is the Accommodation Like?
Overland tours can be camping, accommodated (meaning hotels and rondavels) or a mix of both. The camping tours are generally the budget-friendly tours and are geared towards 18-35 yr olds whilst the accommodated can be a mix of quality, along with ages. On the camping tours, be prepared to put up and down your own tent every day, sometimes in the dark and chip in to help with meal preparations.
Our tour included a mix of camping, hotels, rondavels and guesthouses. We loved having the opportunity to mix up the types of accommodation and we were very surprised with the quality and range of accommodation options during the month. Although I’m not a big fan of camping, all the campsites had clean facilities and the tents were very user-friendly.
Tours & Trucks
Tucan Travel, G Adventures, Acacia Africa, Dragoman & Nomads Africa are some of the more commonly used overland companies and they all offer something for every budget. Each of them has their own specialized truck and all change quite dramatically in quality, size and features so be sure to check out what they offer and what’s important to you. After all, you will be spending a lot of time in there!
So, meet our truck…the big yellow monster. This bad boy turned heads on every corner and is what carried us through 1000’s of km of tar, dirt, gravel and sanded roads. Inside the truck, we had charging stations, coolers, comfortable seats, open windows and a table for us to use our laptops. This definitely made it easier to be in the truck for sometimes up to 8 hours a day. Underneath the truck, we stored our luggage, food and had a whole kitchen of utensils.
Unfortunately, the only thing this vehicle didn’t have was a toilet but there comes a time on your trip where you have to appreciate the bush and boy were there ample opportunities for a ‘bush wee’ on the side of the road. It soon became a game of how long we could go without calling another stop.
What to pack for an overland tour
What tour you take will dictate what you need to bring but as a basis, we will list the items we found useful. This list doesn’t include your everyday clothing items.
- Mosquito Repellent
- Hydrocortisone cream (guaranteed to get bitten at least once)
- Toilet Paper (sooo many bush wee’s)
- Wet Wipes
- More USA cash that you think (most countries do accept US dollars)
- Quick-dry towel
- Windproof jacket
- Laundry Powder ( Washing machines are few and far between so hand washing becomes your best friend)
- Small umbrella
- Hand sanitizer
- Sleeping Bag & Mat (dependent on what tour & company you take)
- Snacks – Long drive days with minimal shops so it’s best to stock up to avoid any ‘hangry‘ moments.
- Pens, coloured pencils, notepads, colouring books. These are great to leave on the bus and give to the local communities when you pass through. It is recommended to ask your guide or tour leader before handing these out to avoid begging from the children in the future.
- A bag cover (if you are travelling through Namibia). The sand gets in the truck like nothing else and your bag gets smothered in dust and sand.
- Patience and acceptance. After all, you are inside a vehicle for 1000’s of km’s, with people of different age groups, nationalities and personalities, it can be difficult at times! Fortunately, we enjoyed the group we travelled with but you never know …
Eating ‘off the truck”
On most, if not all overland tours, meals are included. Breakfasts, most lunches and a handful of dinners were included in our base price for the tour. Our tour leader would regularly do a grocery shop and stock up for the next couple of days. We would give suggestions or preferences and our guide would cater the best she could. There was a freezer/fridge on the vehicle so it kept certain items cold and the rest of the food was stored underneath the truck.
Breakfasts were tea, coffee, Milo, cereals, yoghurt, toast and at times we were treated to french toast, pancakes, bacon or sausages. Truck lunches were a regular occurrence and we experienced our first one right after we crossed the border from South Africa into Swaziland. Our driver pulls over to the side of the road and parks the truck right past the customs booth. Out came the tables, chopping boards, knives and fresh produce, plus a visit from the security (just sussing out what was going on and perhaps wanting to join).
Each lunch (as seen below) was a salad buffet with a huge selection of condiments. Our guide loved to surprise us with new additions every day. Throughout the 30 days, we definitely stopped in some bizarre locations. I think our favourite was on the side of the road, in the middle of the desert. Tumbleweed for lunch anyone?
Dinners were a group decision and always a team effort. We had Mexican, Thai, English and African themed meals. There was never, ever, a shortage of food!
Overland Adventures aren’t for everyone, nothing is, but if you can see past the long distances and being on a bus then everything else is hard to complain about. Many tours cater to many different budgets & needs so before you brush off the idea completely, check out a few companies and see what they have to offer. What you see and where you go is indescribable. Africa really is one of a kind and we cannot wait to come back.