A few months ago as I told friends and family of the journey I was planning, almost everyone asked: but what are you going to actually do in Chile for six whole months?
‘Overlanding’ was the answer. But it was just a word, and a nebulous one at that. I mean, what really is overlanding?
On Wikipedia, overlanding is defined as:
‘self-reliant overland travel to remote destinations where the journey is the principal goal. Typically, but not exclusively, accommodated by mechanized off-road capable transport (from bicycles to trucks) where the principal form of lodging is camping; often lasting for extended lengths of time (months to years) and spanning international boundaries.’
After nearly 3 months and over 10,000 kilometers on the road, I’m going to try my best to bring to life the crazy, exhausting, and thoroughly incredible overlander lifestyle.
‘…mechanized off-road capable transport…’
Overlanding vehicles run the gamut from giant, tank-like trucks that are totally self sufficient and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, to standard motor homes, to conversions of every type of vehicle you can imagine, to motorcycles, bicycles and even a skateboard.
In this one photo, you can see (from left to right): a converted Mercedes Benz sprinter van, our truck with a camper on the bed, a few converted vans, a rented Wicked camper, and one of the aforementioned tanks.
Some vehicles, like our Big Mo, are bought and sold within South America time and time again. Other overlanders ship their vehicles from Europe, Australia or North America to one of the main ports like Montevideo and then start their journeys there. There was even a guy who’s spent nearly two years skateboarding from Vancouver to Ushuaia.
Whatever the vehicle, overlanders share a common understanding of life on the road, its joys and its challenges.
‘…the principle form of lodging is camping…’
The Bible of overlanding is an app called iOverlander. On it, you can find places to camp pretty much everywhere. The app splits it into three types:
Established campground – as you might imagine, you pay for a dedicated spot to park or camp and facilities. The most basic facilities only have toilets, showers and sinks. Some also have communal kitchens and common areas to hang out, and one even had a swimming pool. Prices are charged per person, per night.
Informal campground – normally this means somewhere with 24hr access to a bathroom, and where camping is allowed, but it’s not a set campground. For us, this has ranged from a night by a gas station (not great) to a night outside a national park visitor center surrounded by a herd of guanaco (awesome).
Wild camping – this isn’t necessarily somewhere ‘wild’, but rather somewhere with zero facilities where you’re just rocking up to spend a night. These are the best, because you end up in the most incredible places surrounded by nothing but nature. Here’s a photo from one of our recent wild camps:
Additionally, there are hostels that allow overlanders to park outside, but just pay to use facilities. And we’ve spent nights in mechanic’s garages while repairs were underway. You get the idea.
The balance of how much an overlander uses each of these types of lodging varies massively depending on budget, weather, location, and lots of other factors. For us, we’ve settled into wild camping as much as possible because it’s free, and oftentimes the locations are stunning. We only cave for paid sites when we need to shower, do laundry or get access to WiFi (very tricky in some parts of Patagonia).
Cost-wise, it’s actually a very budget-friendly way to travel, especially the more you wild camp. You essentially reduce your costs to food, fuel and the odd activity.
‘…often lasting for extended periods of time…’
Even after 3 months, I still think of myself as a newbie overlander. We’ve met overlanders who have been on the road for multiple years, who’ve visited every continent (except Antarctica), and for whom this is their life. It’s an incredible commitment to see the world overland, one that is also rewarding in a completely different way to jetting in somewhere for a week or two of holiday.
The opposite end of the spectrum is the rented camper. There are many travelers renting a camper for just a week or two, as I did in New Zealand many years ago. I don’t consider them truly overlanding, but it’s still a fun way to travel.
It’s about the journey
‘…the journey is the principle goal…’
This one’s the most important part of the definition. Fellow travelers often ask me: what’s your highlight so far? What’s your favorite?
That, is impossible to answer properly. Sometimes, I’ll pick one great day out of the many, because it’s easier just to say something rather than launch into a bigger discussion. But in reality, no one day or experience can be distinctly separated from the others. This is one of the greatest lessons so far.
A few months ago, I wrote about my inspiration for the trip and ambition to visit the 17 parks along La Ruta de Los Parques before my 31st birthday. I think we’ll end up with about 13 of the 17 because some of the parks don’t have any infrastructure yet and are just too hard to reach. Previously, it could have been disappointing to fail to achieve the goal.
But not this time. This time, as an overlander, I know it was always about the journey itself. A journey through one of the last, wild places on our planet, surrounded by incredible nature. A physical, mental, emotional and spiritual journey that has already been transformative to the core.
There are still a few months left to spend here in Chile and Argentina. Here’s to the rest of the ride!