Do overlanders and backpackers have anything in common?
Unfortunately, there's no straight answer to the question, and the majority of independent travelers could be forgiven for thinking that tour based ” adventurism” is just way too contrived. After all, it's the spontaneity of solo wandering that really does it for the singleton heading off on the road alone. Then again, when you have Africa at your feet, that ” on a whim” notion becomes part and parcel of the whole travel experience, however you decide to dig it. And most people, whether tour leaders or tour buddies have learnt to deal with (and enjoyed) the well, unexpected!
But more to the point, why should you hop on a truck with 24 other continent curious safari goers, especially if you're a one of a kind nomad? Before you draw a line through the idea completely, here are some bona fide reasons for biting the bullet and overlanding in Africa.
Want to hook up out on the road? Alex Garland's novel might have faded into the ether over the years, but we've all happened upon those unfortunate urban-travel myths. Switch your guard off over a few Tusker beers in Nairobi, and your seemingly rational choice of travel companion could be a thorn in your side only a few days into your backpacking mission. Of course, if you're in need of a hasty escape route you can always throw the odd white lie into the equation. Feigning illness, visa irregularities or a death in the family have always been popular options, but why bother when trucking across the continent could make the whole post solo journey much less painless?
On an organized trip you'll be interacting with a range of adventurers (and more importantly ” travel buddy” watching). Put simply, there's just no comparison between overlanding and those brief hostel compatibility checks, and after two weeks or more, you'll know if you're going to be compadres on the continent or just plain destined for disaster after the expedition is out.
Africa Virgins!, Whether it's down to safety or general awareness, breaching out into the unknown with little more than a guidebook and a confident ” I've done this before” mentality, is not an assurance that all will be alright on the trip. We travel because we want to step into the undiscovered, and not because we feel comfortable having crossed a few destinations off our list.
Africa has the ability to leave even the most cultured of travelers fumbling at the first location, and while a five to eight week overland itinerary might sound suffocating to the established backpacker, there are some handy bite-size jaunts on offer. Short and sweet options of fewer than two weeks won't be too invasive when it comes to your personal travel time, and you'll have more common sense when it comes to going it alone.
Career gapper envy? As your departure date nears, your rat race friends will no doubt be salivating over your adventurous plans. But sadly, there are two sides to every story, and that once in a lifetime solo jaunt can take its toll on even the most ardent of explorers. Yes, for every burn out career victim there's likely to be a nomad in similar dire straits, so if you're in it for the long haul, an overlanding break is a great opportunity to sit back and enjoy the ride sans the logistics!
Go Off the Beaten Track
Trailblazers Unite! Some parts of Africa are still relatively undiscovered, and Zimbabwe is certainly one of the hot spots for the David Livingstone-esque junkie. For obvious reasons, it's not on everyone's hit list, but if you're a modern day explorer, now is the time to hit the trail. Those crowd free game drives in the Hwange National Park won't be on offer for long, and there's just something about traveling through a country that hasn't hit the mainstream.
Of course, jumping in all gung-ho isn't a no-no, but a registered tour operator will be constantly monitoring the situation on the ground, peace of mind for anyone choosing to wander through more avant-garde Africa.
According to the blogging community, voluntourism has retained its status, as the major buzzword in travel. Trawl the net and you'll find a never-ending list of non-profit organizations willing you to pitch in, closely followed by a multitude of principled adventurers with an even longer list of reasons to give back. Not wanting to burst your ethical bubble, but no one individual is the same, and it might be better to get your feet wet on a short stint before going the whole hog. A brief voluntour experience on an overland expedition could give you some welcome insight on what to expect when signing up to similar projects, and a well-rounded appreciation of what's required before making a more serious commitment.
So backpackers, don't throw the towel in when it comes to booking a tour, as an organized itinerary could expand your ” travel-psyche” in more ways than one!
About the Author: Vivian McCarthy is the General Manager of Acacia Africa, a company that specializes in offering overland and small group safaris, adventure holidays, voluntours, city and beach breaks & tented lodge safaris. He visits Africa once or twice a year and has a particular soft spot for Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, because, he says, ” these places are less simply less predictable, and that's part of the joy of traveling.” Follow Acacia Africa on Twitter @AcaciaAfrica.
Photo Credit: All photos courtesy of Acacia Africa.