Speed planning: prepare your next overland trip

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Driving a long, overland trip by yourself is a challenge - an exciting, fascinating one. There are many tour operators and tour guides out there, and some of them offer great trips. Working with a service like that may be really convenient, in the sense that you don’t have to plan as much yourself. That being said, organizing your own journey definitely has its advantages: You get to decide how much you want to spend, and where you want to spend it. You get to choose exactly where to go and make time for spontaneous detours. It’s an exciting and rewarding process, but you’ll definitely need to spend some time doing research. The skills you need can be taught, but in this case, experience really is the best learning tool. In this article, I will share some tips, based on my personal experiences of both shorter and longer overland trips. Hopefully, your fire will be fueled, and you’ll get started on planning your own journey!

Finding the right destination for your trip

The first step is a fun one, choosing where you want to go! There are so many amazing places to explore across the globe, so take some time to figure out WHY exactly you want to make this trip. What are the things you want to see, what is it that you want to get out of your adventure? By asking yourself those questions, you’re setting some expectations for yourself.

Overland trips are ideal if you want to pass through a bunch of places in a relatively short time period. For some inspiration, check out what places guided tours visit. Another good option is connecting with other travelers. You don’t necessarily need to carbon copy somebody else’s journey, but exploring options might give you some good ideas.

sitting in a restaurant in South Africa and planning my next journey to Mozambique

Defining your highlight point of interests

For the perfect overland trip, you need to connect the dots to make a somewhat logistic route. Those ‘dots’ should represent your highlights, the places you want to visit most. To find activities and sights in a certain region, invest time in doing a bit of research. Browse the internet, read lots of travel books, and look at a physical map. It’s always better to start with lots of possibilities and ideas, and then narrow it down to your favorites. After making a final decision on your points of interest (POI), you can start connecting them.

Connecting the dots through the best route

If you have a time constraint, which - let’s face it - most of us do, it simply isn’t possible to visit all your POIs. On top of that, there are usually multiple ways to get to one place. Especially in African countries (but also in Europe, Asia, and America - really anywhere), not all roads are in the same condition. You might need to drive slower than expected, due to muddy roads, potholes or other problems. Thanks to online maps, it’s easy to find an alternative route if you have less time than you anticipated or if conditions are bad.

There are a couple of things you should keep in mind: First of all, you need to try out different scenarios and be realistic with how much time you have. You want to make sure you’ll have a place to stay every night, so calculate how far you need to drive to find suitable accommodation!  

Setting your personal daily target

The tighter your timeframe, the more preparation that is required for your overland trip. Study the map, and be honest with yourself about how much you can (and want to) drive in a day. Schedule in time for bathroom breaks, stretching your legs, eating, and sightseeing. You don’t want to feel rushed because you didn’t plan those extra hours in. For the same reason, add some extra buffer day to your schedule, just in case something unexpected pops up.

quick stop in Botswana (Tsodilo Hills) on my overland trip across Africa

Enjoying your exciting overland trip

I highly recommend having a general plan, as making decisions while you drive is pretty stressful. Changing your targets a lot will quickly add up to a huge difference in time and location. But as Mike Tyson once said: ‘Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face’. In other words, remember: Things happen, but your overland trip should be fun. Be open-minded and don’t be afraid to change a plan if necessary. If you see something exciting, change your priorities accordingly.

So, what you should take away from this article is the following: Preparation for an overland journey is indeed vital, but your enjoyment is the most important thing!

Of course, if your trip is longer and more complex, you’ll need to plan a little more. Consider all of your points of interest, and make an informed choice. The key is to find the perfect balance between a structured route and an open mind. Follow your plan to a certain degree, but most importantly, follow your heart!

Adrian Sameli founder and editor of aSabbatical.com
Travel mindfully to meet local people around the world and embrace new cultures. Get inspired and inspire others!