I've been called a hard a** on more than one occasion and you know what - I'm good with that. So after 10 years around overland trucks and after thousands of passengers have come and gone, here are the top 5 common issues you should consider before departing on any kind of overland travel adventure.
1. Guide Books Guide books can be great - helpful, useful, and sometimes accurate but they are exactly that - GUIDE books. They should not be perceived as the concrete answer to travel questions. They give you a rough idea of the what, the where and the how and often have some really interesting info about history and points of interest. Big mistake assuming that your guide book, written and printed a year or more ago, has more accurate information about a site or activity than your Crew, who were there a month ago. Even then accept that prices, for example, at any tourist site can change overnight, but your Crew are still likely to have the most up to date info.
2. Your Expectations Expect nothing and you will have a blast! Africa (like anywhere else) and overland travel through Africa (like any travel anywhere) changes constantly. Having expectations of what something will be/look/feel/smell like often leads to disappointment. Be open to everything and then everything is surprising and fantastic and amazing. I remember laughing myself into tears the first time my passenger on a Middle East trip told me "the Sphinx is too small! Why is it so small?!". Too small for what? LOL. But she was horrified. Leave your preconceptions and misconceptions at the door and you'll have a much better time!
3. The Psychology Trap Your trip is what you make it. How many times have you heard that before? It is true though. It is not up to your Crew or your fellow travellers to 'make' your trip for you, however it is up to you if you let them break it for you. Confused? Read it again, slower. :) Saddest thing I heard recently was from a traveller who just finished a Cape to Nairobi 56 day trip. I asked her what was the biggest memory of Africa she will take home with her... her answer... "the mouthy, selfish b**ch who sat across from me for 3 days on the truck". Ok then. Maybe I should have asked what the best memory was instead?? Sad.
For your own sanity - you do your thing and let everyone else do theirs. You are guaranteed that most of the other travellers you will get on with like a house on fire. But put 24 different personalities into a confined space for a extended period of time... there is bound to be some moments where biting your tongue/going for a walk is the best course of action.
4. You Get What You Pay For This could be a whole essay all by itself but the bottom line is - you do get what you pay for. If you want a guided, all bells and whistles, all inclusive package holiday then by all means book one. If you want a suited and booted safari guide pointing out every lizard track before you return to your fully kitted, ensuite tent - then definitely book one. Both of those options may or may not be expensive but neither will be what you get on a normal Overland trip. Overlanding is a budget and basic way of travelling, usually camping, where you are expected to help out with truck and campsite duties and decide for yourself which optional activities you wish to take part in. We call it 'independent travel with out the bulls**t'.
The Crew are there to assist you, get you from A to B, worry about the borders/traffic/road conditions/weather restrictions/food budget/entry fees/game park rules/rampaging elephants for you, organise the logistics and provide info based on the knowledge they have picked up from previous trips. There is no 'over the PA' dialogue about what you see out the window and no waving flag at the front to follow. It's rough, often dirty, occasionally loud, and usually an awesome, fun way to travel.
The trick to having a great trip? - A: do your home work. Research the places you want to visit, compare tour operators, compare prices, know exactly what is included in that price. And then make a decision keeping in mind that your budget is ultimately going to determine your style of travel. B: Accept that in developing countries anything and everything changes constantly. Your overland itinerary is flexible and often fluid as a result. Grumbling about any last minute changes won't help so just stay cool and go with the flow. If you want posh - save a bit longer.
5. Africa is a Continent - Not A Country There are 54 countries in Africa; over 800 main languages, over 2000 dialects, 2 time zones, 9 climatic zones, and over 890 million people. If you can't come up with better than 'What is the weather like in Africa in June?' or 'Do you speak African?' you really shouldn't be travelling.
Anything else you want to know about overlanding or for overland trip information in Africa or the Middle East, contact the team at OverlandingAfrica.com or post your comments below.