1. Going bush
One of the joys of overlanding is the chance to immerse yourself in the environment.
While some nights will be spent in camp grounds, you’ll likely get the opportunity to bush camp, which means you’re camping in the wild with all the local inhabitants – think lions, hyenas, cheetahs and ants that draw blood when they bite (yes, it hurts).
Rest assured you’re perfectly safe (humans apparently aren’t worth the hassle – except for the ants, of course), but the experience of waking in the middle of the night to the sounds of a lion is one that will feature high in your pub talk when you return.
Remember too that Africa is wonderfully diverse. From the dense jungles of Uganda to the vast plains of the Serengeti to the awe-inspiring sight of Victoria Falls, memories of the natural beauty of your journey will last as long as any encounter with a lion.
Top tip: Try to find five minutes to yourself in a quiet spot every day. Africa is the place to rediscover what proper silence sounds like.
2. The people
In many rural areas of Africa the locals want to meet you as much as you want to meet them.
Whether it’s getting an audience when you pull up in what looks like the middle of nowhere to being offered banana beer after a day on the truck, Africans are keen to rub shoulders with tourists.
They’ll be curious to see what you’re up to, exchange pleasantries and keep moving – exactly the same as you, really.
Top tip: Ask locals for permission before you take their photo. Some object, and tourists who start snapping inconsiderately might find out how accurate locals are at throwing rocks.
3. The education
There’s a bar at one camp ground in Tanzania that keeps a quote book of stupid things said by overlanders (“Do you think my mum will be home if I phone her?” takes some beating).
But remember: if you don’t ask, you don’t learn.
Visiting orphanages and schools that educate children for the cost of a couple of pints is a humbling experience. You’ll probably also get to meet volunteers who have taken time out to live in African communities to help where they can.
If you’re thinking this might be the kind of thing you’d like to do, an overland trip will give you a glimpse into what to expect.
Top tip: Avoid judging by western standards. Many traditional cultural practises still go on, including female circumcision. While you may not agree with certain things, remember you are a guest in someone else’s country, and change won’t be instigated by you offending people who are trying to teach you about their customs.
4. Truck life
Part of the fun of overlanding is the time you spend in the truck and camping. Even if you’re not going all the way from Nairobi to Cape Town, don’t expect this to be a holiday in the laze-about sense.
Depending which tour you choose, there may be as few as five passengers or more than 20. You’ll be in close quarters most of the time, so it’s important you pack the right attitude. Even if you travel with a company that provides a cook, you’ll still be expected to help out with everyday tasks such as meal preparation and cleaning up.
If you see something that needs to done, don’t wait to be asked.
Also, if you’re normally the alpha-male/female type, it might be an idea to tone it down a bit.
Your assertiveness might be an asset at work, but overplay it on an overland truck and you risk having everyone behind you raising their eyebrows in a “here we go” style every time you open your mouth.
Finally, be tolerant. There’s guaranteed to be at least one person who’ll sit by watching others flap the pots dry (a daily ritual involving trying to fly with pots and plates in your hand), and another drama queen who wants everyone to know when she has dirt under her nails.
Top tip: Don’t partake in bitching – it’ll make you feel bitter and make the truck feel a lot smaller than it really is. As in every area of life, the good people will outnumber the not-so-good people, and after a couple of weeks you’ll have made some great new friends.
5. The wildlife
I know I said there was more to Africa than the Big Five, but the wildlife in Africa is awesome.
You may have seen elephants in a zoo or at the circus, but having a herd of 30 meandering toward you as you round a bend in the Serengeti is a different experience altogether.
Some people on overland trips are concerned they’ll be viewing the animals from a distance that makes them look like rocks on the horizon.
Rest assured you’ll be getting as close as you’ll ever want to – unless you’d like to get eaten.
One afternoon in our troop-carrier, which only had five of us onboard, we spent half an hour about 15m from four lions having an afternoon rest up a tree.
Two hours later we stumbled across said herd of elephants who passed within metres of our vehicle, before lazily stopping in a nearby water hole for a quick paddle.
Remember to soak up the moment – don’t spend the whole time behind your camera’s viewfinder trying to get that perfect shot.
Even if you’re not an avid photographer, it’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement and hoping against the odds that you’ll jag a shot that could grace the cover of National Geographic.
Make a concerted effort to put the camera down and just watch for your own enjoyment, without trying to capture that Kodak moment.
Top tip: If you’re serious about photography, make sure you have at least a 200mm lens, spare batteries and plenty of memory cards – a couple of keen amateur photographers in our group were taking about 1000 shots a day during game drives.
» Krysten Booth travelled with Dragoman (01728 861133). The Nairobi to Cape Town trip can be taken as an 8.5 week trip or broken into sections
This is very important when overlanding. Most days you’re on the move and sleeping in tents, so there’s not a lot of a lot of room to spread your gear out. Recycling clothes for a couple of days is perfectly acceptable.
… but pack dark
Travel in an overland truck can be very dusty. In order to keep the clean clothes appearance up, pack dark clothes.
They look ridiculous when you try them on in the store, but when you’re camping a head torch is more essential than a tent. Almost.
You’ll need a sleeping bag, but if it’s warm you might not want to cocoon yourself all night. Pack a sheet to sleep on and throw in a pillowcase as well – stuff it with clothes to rest your head on.
Don’t cut corners on this one, and don’t leave it until the last minute. Visit an NHS clinic that has a travel nurse at least eight weeks before you travel and find out what vaccinations you will need. For some jabs you’ll need to visit a specialist clinic.
Do your study
Every company will give you tour notes before you leave. Read them before you jump on the plane – you don’t want to arrive expecting camping gear to be included, only to find everyone else knew to bring their own.
In Africa, the US dollar is top of the tree. People are nervous about carrying large amounts of cash, but your tour company will have appropriate security in place.