African Overland Trucks: A Survival Guide

African Overland Trucks: A Survival Guide

There are a lot of different ways to travel through Africa; some choose to fly, others take blue trains in South Africa. Me? I rode through four countries in an overland truck. When I booked my tour to Africa with Gecko’s Adventures, I didn’t know much about it. All I knew was that I wanted to see Victoria Falls and Cape Town. Since the tour started and ended in those two places, it sounded perfect. Plus, I felt like it was finally time to get myself to my dream continent.

Because Gecko’s was super affordable, and the itinerary sounded good, I decided to just do it, not knowing exactly what I was signing myself up for. In fact, it wasn’t until my trip was paid off that I actually read the itinerary again and realized that sixteen of the twenty-one days would be spent camping. In a tent. In Africa. I freaked. I was not a camper, not even in the States; how would I possibly survive camping in Africa?

I also didn’t quite understand how we’d be traveling around. I read that we’d be in an overland truck, but what was that? I was intrigued, was it a bus or a truck? Turns out it’s a bit of both, and with the roads of Africa, it’s also a sturdy, yet often unreliable, form of transportation.

African Overland Trucks: A Survival Guide

That being said, traveling through Africa in an overland truck is often an adventure all its own. From breakdowns to long day drives to pulling up in an African town in a vehicle that screams outsider, nothing quite compares to it. After a few long days of travel, everyone can become a bit stir crazy, which can lead to Disney songs being sung very loudly by a few of the group members. And when that happens, trust me, not everyone is amused.

African Overland Trucks: A Survival Guide

But, there are a few ways to make the overland trip more comfortable and find time for a little peace, while traveling through Africa with a truckload of strangers.

Be Prepared for Anything

African Overland Trucks: A Survival Guide

Our guide, Caesar, had a saying that he would constantly repeat during our trip:

This is Africa, you may be delayed, but not denied.

What he meant was be prepared for anything. We actually began repeating this over and over again, and it became our mantra, which was great, because if something did go wrong, we had our answer, and no one seemed to really mind.

During our three weeks, we actually went through three overland trucks on our way from Zimbabwe to Namibia. Honestly, this was never a big deal, because it didn’t seem to effect our travel plans, even when we broke down at the border between Botswana and Namibia. Luckily, because we were at the border, we were able to go back into Namibia for the night to a nearby campsite. All in all, it could have been much worse.

Bring a Pillow

African Overland Trucks: A Survival Guide

Before I left, people told me I would be just fine stuffing my clothes into my stuff sack and using it as a pillow. I’m here to tell you, they were wrong. After a few sleepless nights, I broke down and bought a pillow in Botswana. This was the smartest move I made on the journey.

Not only did I finally get to sleep at night, but it came in handy on the long truck rides. I hate to say it, but life on the road can get boring, even in Africa. When you are spending 12-hours a day on a truck, the scenery loses its appeal after a while, and exhaustion from late nights around the campfire kick in. Overlanding can be the ideal opportunity to catch up on some z’s.

Bring a Book or JournalAfrican Overland Trucks: A Survival Guide

A book is a great way to spend your time on board. Whether you bring your book electronically, or an old fashioned paperback, you’ll always have something to do during the long journeys. Many of the people on my tour also had crossword puzzle and sudoku books, which are also ideal for killing time.

Another option is to bring a journal, which is great for writing down what is happening during your travels. Just little tidbits of information that may be forgotten along the way can be written down when you have a free moment. And, there are plenty of those on board the truck.

Don’t Forget Headphones and an i-Pod

African Overland Trucks: A Survival Guide

Music holds the magical ability to block out any unwanted noises. That makes this item absolutely priceless. Plus, it’s always nice to find which songs on your playlist match the scenery you’ll be passing by. The best part is, if you get sick of your music, you can always trade i-Pods with someone else in your group, which is a great way to discover new artists.

Buy Plenty of Alcohol and Snacks

African Overland Trucks: A Survival Guide

The trucks make plenty of stops at grocery stores, as they need to buy food for meals. This means there’s always enough time to stock up on alcohol and snacks, and when you’re bored, nothing says time killer like a bottle of beer and some cheese puffs. Plus, the truck has a cooler, which means no matter where you are, or what you are doing, you can always have a cold beer.

Bring Cards or Games

With a table in the front of our bus, there was always room for games. We spent plenty of time playing 500, Old Maid, Go Fish, and Uno, and this made the time fly because we were distracted. Not only where these great for our long drives, but we also spent a lot of time at night playing cards at our campsite’s bar.

Wear Your Seat Belt

African Overland Trucks: A Survival Guide

African Overland Trucks: A Survival Guide

You’re thinking no-brainer. Seriously, even the truck had a sign in it reminding us to wear our belts. But, after a few weeks on the road, you almost forget the logic behind wearing one. Sure, it’s there to protect you, and yes, the roads in Africa aren’t great, but when you’ve been safe the whole trip, you kind of forget why it’s necessary. I’m here to tell you it is. We hit a bump in Namibia that had me flying into the overhead racks, and let me just say, I saw stars. Luckily, I didn’t break skin, but I was very dizzy for the rest of the day, and it kind of put a damper on seeing The Tropic of Capricorn and dining on some pretty fantastic apple pie in the town of Solitaire.

Bring Toilet Paper and Antibacterial Gel

African Overland Trucks: A Survival Guide

There are no rest stops along the roads in Africa, instead there are bush-bush breaks. This means, find a bush and use the facilities there. At first, this isn’t the easiest task, especially when you are usually right off the road, and wondering if an animal is going to come up from behind you while you’re doing in your business. But, a few days in, you’re a pro, and after traveling around Africa, you could probably use the bathroom anywhere and just not care. That being said, toilet paper and hand sanitizer are essential. Trust me.

There’s nothing like seeing Africa from an overland truck, but the experience can be greatly enhanced with the addition of a few items to make life on the road a bit easier. And, if you’re lucky enough to have a group as great as mine, you won’t need much else.

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African Overland Trucks: A Survival Guide

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Comments (34)

  1. Melissa - The Mellyboo Project

    Great post! It compliments my Overlanding 101: 15 things the Pre Departure Guide Doesn’t Tell You (http://themellybooproject.com/2012/09/overlanding-in-africa-guide/)

    Very good advice. Not gonna lie though, I never wore my seatbelt – bad girl that I am. Also pretty bummed that my ereader’s screen broke on my 2nd day! I didn’t have another book until the very end of the tour when someone took pity on me and gave me their copy of Eat, Pray, Love that they had finished reading.

    1. The World Wanderer

      It does go well with your post, which had great tips for the overall adventure. 🙂 I brought a book I hated, so I just wound up sleeping most of the time, haha.

  2. Leah Travels

    I LOVE this post! So much fun, Erin. Each and every time you write about Africa pulls me closer to the Dark Continent. Hell, I might even consider doing it like you did. MIGHT.

    1. The World Wanderer

      Haha, I can’t even believe I did it, but turns out, sometimes you can surprise yourself. It really was such an amazing trip. So grateful for every experience!

  3. our daily round up of favorite travel reading for the day.

    […] Erin manages to make this sound like a serious dream come true. African Overland Trucks: A Survival Guide. […]

  4. D.J. - The World of Deej

    Great stuff…I’d definitely need plenty of that wine to survive!

    1. The World Wanderer

      Haha, yes, the wine is quite wonderful! We started buying it in boxes bc it was the easiest to keep!

  5. Kieu ~ GQ trippin

    LOVE THIS! Gerard and I learned about overland trips in Africa earlier this year. Definitely something we’d like to do when we make it out there. It sounds like a good way to get around Africa. Thanks for writing this useful guide!

    1. The World Wanderer

      You’re welcome! It’s a great way to see as much as you in a short amount of time. And, it was so much fun! I’d definitely suggest it. I am thinking of going again in two years – Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Zanzibar, and Mozambique; we could go together! 😉

  6. the lazy travelers

    you’re really making us second guess our vow to never do a group tour.

    1. The World Wanderer

      I know, I made that vow too, but this trip was incredible!

  7. Pola (@jettingaround)

    These area some great tips! I’d love to make use of them sometime soon… 🙂

  8. Tawny- Captain and Clark

    Ah, I absolutely love Africa. I didn’t have the chance to to an overland trip the last time I was there, but would love to do one in the future. Thanks for the recap and great advice. It looks like you had an absolute blast!

    1. The World Wanderer

      I did! Africa is incredible, isn’t it? Maybe, we can take a group overland trip. 😉

  9. Craig Zabransky

    I actually flew between the Victoria Falls area – Cape Town – Namibia. I wonder how it would have been on the overland… certainly seems adventurous… and I imagine the campsites were a blast.
    stay adventurous, Craig

    1. The World Wanderer

      The campsites were amazing! It’s funny because I was never a camper, but now I think I could sleep anywhere. The scenery along the way is stunning. Africa truly is a beautiful continent.

  10. Craig Zabransky

    and the meditation photo is perfect. great shot.

    1. The World Wanderer

      Haha, thanks! One of the girls on the tour took it, it is so funny! Think it was after one of the crazies on the trip lost it. But, that’s a story for a another post…

  11. Raul (@ilivetotravel)

    Love the candid review. Exactly the info I would want before doing that trip (which I WILL do some day! Dying to see Botswana, Namibia and Victoria Falls). E.g., the advice on the pillow! Besides the headphones, I am sure ear plugs would be a good idea to take. Question: would you have been able to charge an ebook reader somewhere?

    1. The World Wanderer

      Yes, ear plugs also work, though luckily, when your sleeping, usually everyone else is too! Yes, actually it’s so funny, when we got to a campsite, we all loaded up our cameras, ebooks, and laptops. There are a couple of funny photos where the outlets are completely overloaded. Luckily, everyone knows how important it is to keep everything charged, especially cameras! I hope you do take a trip like this one day, truly unforgettable!

  12. @mrsoaroundworld

    Thanks for this, Erin! Some great tips indeed 🙂

  13. Maria

    Great post, love the photos!

      1. Fiona

        Hi World Wanderer. How did you find Gecko’s as a tour company? Would you recommend them compared to other companies. Your trip sounds amazing, I can’t wait to go on mine!

        1. The World Wanderer

          Hi Fiona! I found Gecko’s on Twitter and wrote a few guest posts for them. From there, I looked up their tours and loved what they had to offer, so I went with them. They are my first and only experience with a tour company and I loved them. Will definitely use them again! 🙂

  14. Fiona

    Thanks for the recommendation!

  15. My Homes Away From Home. | The World Wanderer

    […] snuggled up in my sleeping bag in the tent, and each day I was carried throughout Africa in this overland truck. In these two places, I slept, ate, played games, listened to music, and was surrounded by a group […]

  16. Christina

    Awesome meditation photo! You are awesome!

  17. Carolyn

    Great article and a great set of photos. Having visited Lilongwe on many occasions I have gone overland in Africa; it really is the best way to really appreciate the country

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  19. Overland Gear

    Awesome post. I’ve been looking into doing a trip like this and this was really helpful.

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