The overland industry in Africa was pioneered by a few brave souls who in the late 1970s regularly transected the continent from Europe to the Cape in army surplus troop carriers. These were commercial trips, but at the time they were astonishingly adventurous, and blazed the trail for what in the ensuing years has become an established and highly organized travel option. Nowadays, as conditions have generally improved, you rarely see the brutish German M.A.N. 630 L2 six wheelers that at one time carved a deep channel from Marrakesh to Nairobi, but a fairly late model Scania tending to rugged appeal rather than heavy, off road capacity. The routes these days are fairly standard, the support en-route predictable, and the itineraries reasonably tight. Despite this the overland experience is without doubt adventure travel, and if you choose your carrier carefully, you will more than likely travel in a compatible group with broadly similar objectives.
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In essence contemporary overlanding is a way for uninitiated travelers to see the continent at grass roots without having to tough thier way through the undoubted rigors of independent travel. It is an enduring truism in travel that two thirds of your budget is usually spent in the first week, but on an overland truck you can always rely on a seasoned driver and courier to shepherd you past the initial hurdles of villainous taxi drivers and dodgey currency exchanges. You will also not be mobbed wherever you go by tour touts selling suspect trips with the tariff up front. And nor will you you ever be stranded with a hangover at a dusty junction a 1000 miles from where you should be. All of these are extremely valuable time, life and money savers in the unpredictable world of African travel.
There are many options in the overland business, ranging from budget booze and vomit excursions to sophisticated operations catering for baby boomers with an equal measure of time, money and interest. The best of these, in the opinion of the author, are not those older organizations based in Britain or Europe, but those locally based in South Africa. Of these there are a number, and again style and budgets vary, and all can usually be booked through a reputable travel or booking agent, either from home or when you get there. Backpacker and other lodges in the main cities of South Africa almost always have a little travel shop, and a strong symbiosis exists between local overland companies and crew, and the proprietors of hospitality establishments. Some more than others, of course, but it is rarely a struggle to locate and identify the trip particularly suited to you.
…and the Cons
Choose wisely though. It can seriously compromise your vacation if you leave Johannesburg expecting a cerebral tour of the historical and cultural sites of Africa to instead be shuttled from beach bar to barbecue in the company of two dozen teenagers test driving their bodies on the Africa party circuit.