Overlanding in Africa 101: 15 Things the Pre-Departure Guide Doesn’t Tell You

by Melissa on September 20, 2012 · 16 comments

Since returning home from my three week overland tour with Nomad Adventure Tours I figured those who are considering traveling to Africa in the same manner I did may benefit from a short guide to overlanding in Africa.  The following fifteen points are things that the brochure or pre-departure guide don’t tell you about overlanding in Africa, but are really helpful tips or things to consider before committing to a lengthy trip on the road with any overland tour company.

1.  Waking up at 7:00am is considered sleeping in – and after a few days you won’t be able to sleep past 6am.

dust 2.  Prepare to be covered and have everything you own covered in dust. Thank you Namibian gravel roads.

3.  Speaking of dust- your nose will become so sore from the dust drying it out- you’ll be sniffling all day and night.  Tiger balm will become your friend.

4.  Also on the topic of dust- your skin will become stupidly dry.  Moisturizer will become your best friend.

5.  On the first few days seeing springbok, ostrich and oryx is really cool and you’ll ask the driver to stop the truck so you can get 20 more pictures of them.  After a few days you won’t even care and you’ll be deleting  hundreds of pictures you have of them to make room for new sights.

cold in africa 6.  African nights get cold in the winter months (May- August). Bring a warm hat and spare blanket.

7.   At meal time, make sure everyone (including guides and drivers) has gone up for food before you go for seconds.  Common courtesy.

8.  Even if you’ve never camped before, within a few days you will be able to put up and take down your tent in less than 5min.

9.  Bring your own toilet paper– helps with peeing in bushes and at many of the toilet stops along the way that don’t provide any.

10.  Watch out for rocks.

11.  Walking barefoot is not advisable– there are thorns, scorpions, snakes and more things that can hurt.

12.  If anyone asks you if you’d like an African massage – they’re referring to the ridiculously bumpy roads.

13.  When you reach a stop that has WIFI (particularly if it’s free) don’t be surprised if everyone whips out their smartphones, tablets and laptops quicker than a junkie getting his heroin fix!  At these times your entire tour group will be sitting together all in their own technological worlds.

helping out 14.  Have realistic expectations.  This means doing your homework.  Do some research ahead of time and find out a little bit about the places you will be going to.

15.  Be prepared to help out! Sign up for a tour that will suit your needs.  If you don’t like helping out with meal preparations or cleaning up afterward, don’t go on a camping tour!

Have you been overlanding in Africa?  Do you have any tips that could be helpful to future overland travellers?

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Kimberley @ The Good Girls Guide September 20, 2012 at 2:42 am

Hi Melissa, I went on my first overlanding trip last year December – 2 weeks from Swakopmund to Vic Falls with ATC (Africa Travel Co) – and I can HEARTILY agree with all your statements above! It really is an unforgettable experience, I can say that I’d love to do another one!
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Melissa September 20, 2012 at 10:31 am

Isn’t overlanding such an incredible experience? I absolutely loved it. I’ll be returning to Africa next year to do Nomad’s East Africa & Gorillas tour -come along! 🙂

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The World Wanderer September 20, 2012 at 10:03 am

Haha, these tips are great! I’ve never been dirtier or happier than I was overlanding in Africa, that’s for sure! Loved the part about wi-fi – too true! But, number 8, was a bit tricky for me. I actually wasn’t able to do it until the very last day – haha!
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Melissa September 20, 2012 at 10:36 am

It’s soooo true re:WIFI. And cause everyone knew I was a blogger and did a lot of ‘work’ through the internet – we had this inside joke and they’d be like “WIFI?!” and I’d perk up completely and be like “OMG WHERE?!” and hold up my phone looking for signal 😉

Did you have a tent buddy to help you put it up?

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Erik September 20, 2012 at 12:18 pm

This is a very informative post. I would love to visit Africa someday, and since I’m a solo traveler, I’m sure I’ll be doing it on a tour- glad to know what to expect. I’ve really enjoyed these posts, and I’m sad the daily recaps are over!
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Melissa September 21, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Hi Erik!
I genuinely hope that you can make it to Africa one day soon! 🙂 When and if you do – please consider going with Nomad Adventure Tours – I had an absolute ball. If you do, I can put you in touch with my contacts there and if you mention me/my blog, they may be able to work you out a deal 😉

I’m also very sad that my daily Nomad posts are finished for now – can’t wait to go back next year to do it all again (on a different tour). But don’t go too far, there are going to be lots more Africa posts- including my time volunteering at the lion conservation project in Gweru, Zimbabwe 🙂

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Russell VJ Ward September 20, 2012 at 3:53 pm

Never overlanded in Africa and no tips but just reading these recent posts has me hooked. I fairly recently trekked in Nepal so can relate to the dust up nose, waking up at the crack of dawn-type thing but Africa is one of those places I’ve always fancied but never tried. One day… Thanks for sharing your adventures, M.
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Melissa September 21, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Thanks for reading along, Russell! 🙂 Lots more adventures (from Africa and back in NZ) to come! 🙂

I would love to trek in Nepal – good to know I can expect much of the same.

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Hannah September 20, 2012 at 12:13 am

It’s been great reading about your tour Melissa – you’ve definitely made me want to do one 🙂
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Melissa September 20, 2012 at 1:36 am

Thanks so much, Hannah! It was incredible. If you do end up doing one – please consider Nomad – and if you contact them directly, mention my blog… they may be able to work you out some sort of deal 😉

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Bethany ~ twoOregonians September 20, 2012 at 4:51 pm

Haha, the wifi bit is so true. Good list of recommendations! Having my own emergency stash of TP definitely helps when the situation gets dicey 🙂 and YES, high quality hand lotion is a must. Great job getting through the more challenging bits. I think the 7am sleep-in limit would’ve become quite difficult for me by day #4… 😉

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Melissa September 21, 2012 at 3:29 pm

To be honest, the whole waking up early thing didn’t bother me as I was so exhausted and asleep most nights by 10 or 11! So by the time 5 or 6 rolled around I was ready and raring to go for the day.

I had brought 2 rolls of (QUALITY- thicker than 1 ply) TP and it was a godsend – not to mention a great way to bond with the other girls 😛 haha

I went through an entire medium sized bottle of Vaseline cocoa butter intensive moisturizer in the 3 wks I was on tour — granted I was also sharing with others when they asked.

Hope you guys had a fantastic time in S.Africa 🙂

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Tom @ Waegook Tom September 20, 2012 at 3:12 am

Great tips – I’ll be overlanding in Africa next year. Gotta pack that Tiger Balm and moisturiser. Don’t want to get flaky! Also, you can NEVER have enough photos of ostriches.
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Melissa September 20, 2012 at 10:34 am

Oh but you CAN have too many pictures of ostriches! 😛 Especially when you dont have any memory on your card for pictures of lions or leopards!

Tiger Balm was a lifesaver – would stick a few dabs up my nose in the morning and I was sweet! And moisturizer – you’ll become everyone’s best friend if you’ve got some moisturizer – so buy the big bottle 😉 haha

Also – if you’re thinking of overlanding, please consider Nomad – I can give you my contact there and if you mention me, they may be able to give you some sort of deal – especially cause you’re a fellow blogger. I’m going back in either June or July to do the East Africa and Gorillas tour, if you’re interested in joining! 😉

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Simo September 26, 2012 at 1:17 am

Hahahaha watch out for rocks…. Oh Mel… 😉
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Melissa September 26, 2012 at 3:54 pm

I know… I probably should have just written “watch where you’re walking”… cause it wasn’t a rock that broke my toe on your tour – it was the lip of concrete around the petrol station! OY! I’m such a clusterf**k!

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