Overlanding is a style of adventure travel that tends to put the emphasis of the trip on the journey, rather than the destination. This type of travel usually takes place in a motorized vehicle such as a 4x4, camper van, or a train, and often involves visiting remote places that are far off the regular tourist track. Because it has a self-reliant aspect to it, overlanding has grown in popularity in recent years, particularly amongst the more adventurous crowd. There is something romantic about hitting the road, traveling at your own pace, and discovering your own magical experiences along the way.
If this sounds like something you'd like to try, here are some suggestions for five classic overlanding routes that should be on your bucket list.
Australia: Melbourne to Darwin
Overlanding can trace its roots back to Australia, which is where the term and style of travel first started to take hold. That massive country has a number of great overlanding routes to explore of course, with most going through the vast, remote, and wild Outback along the way. One of the most popular trips is a drive from Melbourne in the south to Darwin in the north, passing through the famed "Red Center" in the process. Highlights include a visit to the sacred site of Uluru and Kakadu National Park, where Australis' natural wonders are on full display.
If done right, with plenty of stops in scenic places, this trip will take about three weeks to complete, covering approximately 2300 miles (3700 km) in the process.
The Silk Road: Kashgar to Istanbul
The historic Silk Road was once an important trading route that linked Asia and Europe, stopping in numerous cities and outposts along the way. At its height, the Road stretched for more than 4000 miles, passing through China, Central Asia, Turkey, and into the heart of Europe itself. Today, it is still possible to follow this ancient path and it makes for quite a cultural and historical journey.
Start in Kashgar, the westernmost city in China, and travel by car and/or train across Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, and Turkey to reach Istanbul, which was once home to a major trade center at the terminus of the Silk Road. Both culturally and historically, this is a tough trip to top. Bring a 4x4 though, as some sections of the route remain remote and wild.
Across Africa: Cairo to Cape Town
One of the more classic overland routes begins in Cairo, Egypt and ends in Cape Town, South Africa. This journey covers some 6250 miles, crossing through the very wild heart of Africa in the process. Most travelers head south through Egypt, then cross over the border into Sudan, turn east to Ethiopia, and continue south through Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and finally South Africa. Along the way they can experience Africa's spectacular wildlife, interact with villagers who continue to live simple yet fulfilling lives, and experience an adventure unlike any other.
How long you take completing the route is entirely up to you, but considering the state of the roads and the often-challenging terrain, this is a trip that could take weeks, if not months to finish. With countless places to visit while en route however, this is a journey that you won't want to rush.
Trans-Siberian Railway: Moscow to Vladivostok
One of the longest overland journeys an adventure traveler can make isn't by car or 4x4. Instead, take the famed Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Vladivostok in Siberia, passing through remote Russia, Mongolia, and China along the way.
The train makes numerous stops while en route, but still manages to cover the entire 6152-mile journey in just 7 days. Want to stretch it out longer? Why not hop off at a destination that peaks your interest, spend a few days there, then hit the road again once you're ready to continue traveling. After all, one of the best parts about overlanding is traveling at your own pace, even when you're traveling by train.
The Pan-American Highway
For the truly adventurous, the Pan-American Highway is possibly the Holy Grail of overlanding. Stretching for more than 30,000 miles, the road begins in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and ends in Ushuaia, Argentina, crossing through nearly the entire lengths of both North and South America along the way. The road, which is actually a network of different routes that are interconnected, serves more than 20 countries, and is considered the longest "motorable" route in the world.
There is one break in this vast road trip however. The legendary Darién Gap along the border of Panama and Colombia is nearly impassable, even with a 4x4. Most travelers avoid it and take a ferry around instead, skipping about 60 miles of road. If you have the nerve however, the Gap is one of the last truly unexplored and wild places on Earth. Be warned though, it consists of incredibly thick jungles that is populated by wild animals, disease carrying insects, gun runners, and drug smugglers. In other words, not the nicest place for tourists and more than a few who have attempted the crossing have fallen victim to bandits and other nefarious types.