Is Overlanding Dangerous?


If you’re not familiar with OverlandingOpens in a new tab., just think of a road trip, but on a massive scale, and usually to far-flung corners of the world. Instead of thinking of airplanes, hotels, and days, think 4×4 off-road vehicles, Opens in a new tab.tents, weeks, or months and, most of all, think of a destination anywhere. Travel without limitation sounds great, but is Overlanding dangerous?

Overlanding is dangerous if you don’t prepare and take precautions beforehand. Travel with an organized tour. If going alone, learn about the vehicle you’ll be using and how to drive it in different conditions. Keep mindful of travel advisories, stay in touch, and let people know where you’re going.

Well, like anything, avoiding danger when Overlanding is a matter of preparation. So, before setting off on your adventures, take a quick trip through this article. You’ll learn more tips on how to reduce the risks and stay safe when Overlanding.

Overland With an Organized Group Tour

One thing that can make Overlanding dangerous is underestimating what’s involved. It’s a mistake that’s easily made if you’re new to it. So, one way to overland in relative safety is with an organized group.

Overland tour companies offer lengthy trips to various destinations using dedicated overland vehicles. They’ll also provide experienced tour leaders. And, it makes it easy to venture further afield.

This Western Trans AfricaOpens in a new tab. 134-day trip is a good example. It offers no guarantees on the countries you’ll visit, where you’ll stay, or the itinerary. Sounds pretty close to going it alone.

With a trip like this, you get the adventure. But, you have the comfort of knowing that if things go wrong, there’s an experienced team around you.

Even if you’re intent on Overlanding independently, it’s still worth considering a shorter organized trip as a taster. That way, you get some experience under your belt before embarking on the big one.

Most Overlanding tour companies offer shorter trips, like this South AmericanOpens in a new tab. 56-day tour. Such trips can give you some insight into the type of issues you might encounter. So, you can use it as a learning experience. 

Picking up experience in a supported environment will help reduce risks in your future independent trips.

Learn About Your Vehicle Before Overlanding

If you’re not going the organized tour route, before jumping into your 4×4, stop and think.

You might consider your vehicle to be your safe haven when Overlanding, but that same vehicle can also be one of the most significant sources of danger on your overland trip.

Get Off-Road Training

Head off-road unprepared, and you’re increasing the risk of danger. One of the attractions of Overlanding is getting off the beaten track. So, if you’ve never driven off-road before, get yourself some thorough training. 

Learn how to drive a 4×4 vehicle safely. Understanding its limitations under different conditions is crucial to staying safe.

Push your vehicle too far when driving, or make the wrong maneuver, and you’ll put yourself in danger. Practical training in driving on different terrains will help reduce the risks. 

This video contains some examples of good and bad off-roading. You’ll see why it’s worth getting some training and experience.

So, you need to know how to handle sandOpens in a new tab., steep ascentsOpens in a new tab., descentsOpens in a new tab., water crossings, and rugged rocky terrainOpens in a new tab.

For example, flooring your vehicle to power it up a steep, rugged ascent may seem like a good idea. But, did you check what’s on the other side? Well, fingers crossed that it’s not a sheer drop. 

This is the sort of risk you can minimize through training. After all, you wouldn’t dive into the deep end of a pool without first learning how to swim.

Learn How to Maintain Your Vehicle

If you’re Overlanding for weeks or months, you’ll need to learn how to maintain the vehicle to keep it roadworthy and safe. If you drive a vehicle that’s in an unsafe condition, you’re inviting unnecessary danger.

Travel With Two Vehicles

Something else to consider is using two vehicles. 

If you’re traveling in a group, using two vehicles gives you a recovery option if one gets stuck. Or you’ll have backup transport to get to safety.

Don’t Overland Off-Road Alone

Even if you’re an experienced off-roader or just going off-road for the day, you should take someone with you. 

Safe off-roading needs a spotterOpens in a new tab. to look out for hazards you might miss. Especially in unfamiliar territory, a spotter can help steer you away from danger.

Check Travel Advisories if Overlanding Abroad

One of the attractions of a DIY overland trip is you get to choose your itinerary.

That’s part of the liberating experience. But, it also holds hidden dangers, especially if you’re venturing abroad. The more you stray off the beaten track, the more dangerous it can become.

Abandoning your comfort zone for the adventure of Overlanding is one thing. Casting aside your commonsense as well is another, which can get you in trouble.

So, don’t disregard basic travel safety precautions. Check government travel advisories when you’re planning your international overland trip. 

For example, the US Department of StateOpens in a new tab. provides a wealth of travel advice. You can even enroll in their Smart Traveller Enrolment ProgramOpens in a new tab. to stay up to date with advisories.

The modern world is now more volatile than ever, so you’ll need to regularly check travel advisories. Make sure you keep abreast of what’s going on around your route and your intended destination.

Stumbling into a warzone isn’t probably meant to be part of your overland experience. That might be taking adventurism a bit too far.

Unless you want your Overlanding to be dangerous, don’t neglect this step, even when you’re on the road. 

Let Someone Know About Your Itinerary

If you’re Overlanding abroad, use something like the US State Department’s Smart Traveller Enrolment Program. It lets you register your itinerary, so you’ll be traceable in an emergency.

Even then, or if you’re Overlanding in your home country, always ensure someone knows where you’re heading. This is especially important if you change your plans on a whim.

Remember, you’re going on an adventure, not on the run.

Stay in Touch With Friends and Family

Going completely off-grid may sound like a fantastic idea when you’re planning your overland trip. 

You might change your mind when you’ve rolled your 4×4, trying to descend a desert dune. Being stranded in 120°F (49°C) heat with no means of escape may bring you to your senses, but it’ll be a tad too late.

So, think ahead. Staying in touch these days has never been easier.

If you’re heading to remote locations, invest in a satellite messenger. A good example is this Garmin inReach Explorer+Opens in a new tab.. It includes global two-way SMS and GPS tracking, even where there’s no cellular signal. Both of these features can help with letting people know where you are.

Perhaps set up a schedule for reporting in. If you fail to do so, someone will be alert to the possibility that something may be wrong.

If you do have an emergency, the Garmin inReach Explorer+ also has an SOS feature. So, on the press of a button, you can send an alert to emergency services that can locate and send you help.

Respect Local Customs and Laws

Learn about your destinations and the laws and customs of the region. 

Find out about and have due regard to local sensitivities. Not offending the locals is an essential part of staying safe when Overlanding.

Treat everyone you come across with respect, and most of the time, that’ll see you through.

Conclusion

As you can see, Overlanding is only as dangerous as you make it. 

You can never eliminate risk, but for your Overlanding adventure, common sense, preparation, and safety precautions will help keep you out of trouble. 

Overlanding and adventure go hand in hand. Overlanding and danger don’t have to.

Jeremy Hoxie

Born and raised in beautiful Northern Michigan, I've have spent two decades enjoying everything the outdoors has to offer. When not working on RigForge, I spend my time Overlanding and tackling off-road trails while sharing my experiences and testing gear along the way. My current rig is a 2013 Jeep JKU Moab.

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