It is absolutely without question that my best travel journeys to date have been overland.

Some were on motorbike, others were by way of a cardboard sign on the side of the road, and I have visions of future journeys that involve a big old school bus traversing the lands between Europe and Asia.

Overland travel is inspiring, and it is undoubtedly the best way to hit the road, especially as a backpacker looking to save money and dig deep into countries and cultures. While social media may have you thinking that you need to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a tricked out 4×4 to become an overlander, I’m here to completely dispel that myth.

Sure, van life and Land Rover Defenders are certainly a type of overlanding, but they’re not the end all be all.

Overland travel can be as simple as sticking out your thumb and hitchhiking, or using trains and shared taxis to get from one place to another. But regardless of the rig you choose, I guarantee you the experience of coasting along wide open plains at your own pace, sharing meals of yak yogurt with nomads, and getting to pitch your tent (or park your ride) just about anywhere will be absolutely worth it.

But still, I totally understand that it can all be intimidating. So let’s set the record straight with this ultimate guide to overland travel – where you’ll see that this is very much a “do as you like” adventure.

backpacker holding a backpack waits on the side of the road for his next hitchhiking ride
Proof you don’t even NEED a vehicle to be an overlander!

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    What is Overland Travel?

    While you most likely already know the literal definition – traveling by land AKA avoiding flights – there’s a lot more to overland travel than just what’s in the name.

    Overland travel – whether it be by foot, by bicycle, by rail, by van or whatever method you choose – is an art in and of itself. Closely intertwined with my other favorite form of budget backpacking – slow travel – overlanding allows you to get to know the places you visit far more deeply than a bunch of flights ever could.

    a girl hitchhiking in a blue pickup truck while overland traveling in the mountains of pakistan
    Sometimes overland travel even happens in the back of sand-filled pickup trucks.
    Photo: @intentionaldetours

    Overlanding is TRULY where the journey matters even more than even the destinations themselves. It’s what gave me some of the best moments of my life, something I know virtually all of my favorite adventurers would agree on when reflecting upon their own journeys. 

    And once you get started, I promise you you’ll only want to dig deeper and deeper into what it means to become an overlander…

    Why YOU Should Overland

    Before we REALLY get into this, I want to make something clear.

    Overland travel doesn’t HAVE to be an odyssey. While it is for many travellers – like my journey from the UK to Papua New Guinea – you can travel overland without crossing a single international border.

    The thing is, there are no rules to this type of travel. There’s no right or wrong way to become an overlander. You don’t need a tricked-out Land Rover Defender, you don’t need a van, you don’t need a bicycle. Hell, plenty of inspiring adventurers have embarked on incredible journeys with nothing but their backpack, a sign, and a stuck-up thumb.

    So that, my friends, is one of the reasons WHY you should try overland travel: it’s truly for everyone and anyone.

    man standing in front of a sunflower field next to a rainbow psychedelic colored rickshaw
    My most unique overland adventure to date: by way of rickshaw in rural India.

    But beyond that, in all my years on the road, it’s this type of travel that’s kept me addicted to life on the road. It’s absolutely not the most comfortable, but it will teach you the most about the world, and about yourself too. 

    Overland travel will push you to your limits, and really make you work for each and every view and experience you attain.

    For some – like cyclists – that work may be physical. For others, it may be mental: such as moving past introverted tendencies to travel by hitchhiking or dealing with driving in brand-new countries with insane motorists.

    It allows you to experience life on the ground to the fullest: minute by minute, mile by mile.

    Ways to Travel Overland

    This is no one-size-fits-all all method of travel, as there are so many ways to overland. I’ve even seen people do it completely by foot or on something as crazy as a unicycle.

    But the following are the most common, and popular, ways to get around on the ground: 

    By Bicycle

    While I am not a cycling fan myself, those who have done it have nothing but incredible things to say about bikepacking – which is essentially overlanding with a bicycle strapped with a whole lot of stuff. Travelling by bicycle gives you the chance to slow down and see more than virtually any other way of overlanding.

    couple cycling overland on a dirt road in tajikistan with fully loaded bikes
    Talk about lunar landscapes.
    Photo: @intentionaldetours

    For one your speed (most cyclists don’t do more than 70km per day, depending on the terrain) will allow you to take in just about every village and turn – you’ll get to camp in places far off the tourist trail and meet an incredible lot of locals.

    But moreover, cycling is as simple as it is cheap: you don’t need to worry about fuel or engine oil, it’s significantly easier to repair issues, and spare parts don’t tend to weigh that much. It’s also a hell of an accomplishment: unlike all the other forms of overland travel aside from walking, you’ll be physically putting in work every single day.

    By Motorbike

    As much as I love hitchhiking, traveling by motorbike truly ignites a passion that I have rarely found in other methods of exploring. The feeling of crisp mountain wind on my face as I coast through surreal scenery is one that just doesn’t get old, and it’s certainly something I’d like to try out for longer periods.

    man sitting on a motorbike with a mountain behind him and a fully loaded backpack while traveling overland in pakistan
    Overlanding in the mountains of Hunza Valley, Northern Pakistan.

    The one thing to keep in mind though is that start-up costs will not be cheap. Good bikes that can actually make it across continents are not cheap, and you’ll also need to buy extra tires, tons of fluids, and other parts that likely will not be available in the places you intend to ride.

    But still: it’s worth it. You get the benefits of cycling without the intense struggle, and you’ll be able to maneuver in places where cars cannot. You’ll be able to carry a lot more than a bicycle could, and it will still be cheaper than any van or 4×4.

    By Van/Your Own Vehicle

    Perhaps the most OG form of overland travel is with your own car: whether it be a van, a 4×4 or an old ambulance, I’ve seen adventurous souls carving their own paths in virtually every type of rig you could imagine.

    man sitting in an old white converted campervan while travelling overland
    Van life doesn’t have to be fancy, check out local listings to seek out hidden gems for sale.
    Photo: @themanwiththetinyguitar

    With the popularity of vanlife these days, I’m sure you’ve thought about or at least heard about this craze. I mean, the upsides are many. Your home is with you at all times, you can carry so much more stuff, and you can design your ride exactly as you like. For many, the process of building their house on wheels is just as special as the trip itself.

    But there are negatives too: many countries require a carnet de passage that often requires a hefty deposit, repairs can be super expensive, and it’s a whole lot of responsibility. But if you’re determined to make it happen, this is undoubtedly the most comfortable and adventurous way to travel overland, as you can go just about anywhere and won’t be as limited by weather.

    By Hitchhiking

    My overland hitching journey from UK to Papua New Guinea may not have been completed, but it certainly brought me some incredible (and life-changing) travel memories that I’ll hold on to forever.

    man making a cardboard sign to overland travel by hitchhiking
    Making a sign in Iran.

    Exploring overland by way of the thumb is not for the faint of heart, or for those lacking patience. But it will bring you closer to strangers and teach you more about the world than any other type of travel. When you’re in a vehicle of any kind (even a bicycle) it somewhat separates you from locals: you’re self-sufficient, right?

    But when you’re relying on the kindness of random folks to help you see the world, it opens up doors you didn’t even know were in sight. It leads to unexpected family dinners in local homes, to long chats alongside crackling fires, and to hours spent in random places you would have never visited otherwise. Hitchhiking will change you for the better if you let it, and all you need to get started is a smile, a sign and a stuck-up thumb.

    Overland Travel Tips

    My top travel tips for making your adventure as smooth as it can be…

    1. Do your visa research 

    While most Westerners are privileged to be able to enter many countries without a visa, you can’t just roll up everywhere. Places like Pakistan, Vietnam, India, and Azerbaijan still require e-visas in advance, and China (often a pain for a lot of overlanders) has a set of very specific rules that usually requires applying for a sticker visa from your home country.

    man riding a motorcycle in the karakoram mountains
    I like to apply for e-visas about 10 or more days in advance, even if the directions say it can be faster.

    Make sure you read up on every destination you plan to overland through to ensure you don’t find yourself caught out in no man’s land. Sometimes visa rules can change abruptly too, so it’s key to stay on top of them.

    2. Bring a LOT of Spare Parts 

    I cannot stress this enough: if you’re travelling by way of ANY vehicle, it is absolutely essential that you have a good amount of spare parts in tow. Many of the best places to overland are NOT known for their equipment, which means you could potentially be caught out far, far away from civilization.

    Spruce up your rig before heading out into super remote areas, and prepare for the unplanned. It’s far better to be a bit overloaded but have everything you need for a mishap than to travel light and become stranded.

    3. Don’t forget the little things

    You won’t realize how much you need a laundry bag, an eye mask or a good headlamp until you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere with none of the above to be found.

    man starting a fire with sticks while overlanding
    A headlamp will ALWAYS come in handy at some point.

    For little things like these, it’s definitely worth it to double up on your supply. You never know when something can get lost or break on the road. 

    4. Bring a first aid kit 

    Whether you’re walking, cycling, or traveling in a jacked-out 4×4, the need for a first aid kit remains. You never know when you might need it, but when that time comes, you’ll be incredibly happy you added it to your packing list.

    While these honestly aren’t that cheap these days, it’s worth it to splurge on a large, well-stocked one that will actually last you a decent amount of time. If you have any favorite OTC medicines, I highly recommend hoarding them before you head out: pharmacies out in the wild leave much to be desired. 

    5. Go slow 

    The art of slow travel goes hand in hand with overlanding, but sometimes it can be easy to fixate on the destination rather than the journey.

    girl in blue traditional dress sitting with two older women in a traditional house in southern pakistan
    Slow overland travel leads to serendipitous experiences like this.
    Photo: @intentionaldetours

    But unless you have a hard deadline to meet, take it easy out there. The whole point of overlanding is to experience the route, not just each individual destination.

    Take some rest days where you do nothing but take it all in. Perhaps dive into some journaling, or park yourself at a nice lake or even a beach. The road has infinite pleasures to indulge in. 

    6. Download Maps in Advance

    Even if you’re well prepared with a local SIM card, there will undoubtedly be places without service somewhere along your journey.

    Unless you have a paper map like the kind I used to travel with back in the day, get all your necessary navigation downloaded and ready for use when you find yourself with a solid data or Wi-Fi connection.

    7. Use Google Translate or Dictionaries 

    While English speakers are pretty privileged in that we can get by in most of the world, most does not mean everywhere. Take Central Asia for example where Russian rules – you’re going to need some assistance.

    While learning a bit of the language in advance is certainly helpful, Google Translate’s offline abilities have truly saved me many times, and it’s a free app you should definitely download. The old-school dictionary method is useful too, especially if you plan to spend time in one place or region for a while. 

    Overland Travel Packing List

    While your specific adventure packing list may look different depending on your method of overlanding, these are a few universal expedition items that anyone will need on the road.

    Product
    Description
    Osprey Aether AG 70

    Osprey Aether 70

    • Features: Stow-On-The-Go™ trekking pole attachment >
    • > External hydration sleeve in backpanel
    • > New IsoForm? CM™ hipbelt

    ORIA Combination Lock

    • Features: 2 pack : set includes 2 zinc alloy 4-digit re-settable combination travel locks >
    • > Offers 10,000 combinations
    • > Small volume, light weight, fit through the holes of a lot of suitcases
    Power Adapter

    World Travel Adapter

    • Features: Input socket: Euro, USA / Japan, Australia / China, United Kingdom (UK version not in Switzerland) >
    • > Retractable plugs: Euro, UK, USA / Japan, Australia / China
    • > Charge a laptop and two usb devices at once
    kindle amazing gift idea for Hikers and Adventurers

    Kindle

    • Features: Higher resolution display (300 ppi) – with twice as many pixels >
    • > Built-in adjustable light – read day and night
    • > A single battery charge lasts weeks, not hours
    Macbook Pro

    MacBook Pro

    • Features: 2.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor with Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz >
    • > 8GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 memory
    • > 128GB SSD storage

    Where to Start Overland Travel

    You can certainly overland anywhere: from somewhere as simple your home state/province to any country that calls to you, but overall I’d say these are the best places for a truly epic overland travel journey.

    Central Asia

    The 5 Stans are some of the most adventurous places left on this planet, and they’re home to some of the most mesmerizing roads at that. As of 2023, it’s easy for Western passport holders to travel through all of them (save Turkmenistan), and each one (Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan) has something incredible to offer.

    hiker standing on top of a hill with a huge white mountain in the background
    The land of open skies and magical mountains.

    Public transport is also expensive and lacking in most of these locales, which makes overlanding that much more valuable.

    All four Stans are all interconnected, safe, and essentially a big old playground for overlanders. Do not underestimate the size of this region though: I’d recommend blocking out at least 3 months to get a real feel for what it has to offer.

    South/Southeast Asia

    man hitchhiking on top of a van in nepal
    Hitching on top of a local van somewhere in Nepal.

    Ah, South and Southeast Asia. Home to some of my favourite countries in the world that have made the most indelible marks on my travels and my life.

    India, Pakistan, Nepal and the infamous Banana Pancake trail (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam) are perfect places to give overland exploring a try.

    Public transport is widespread, and you’ll get a feel for what it’s like to cross borders. But of course, having your own vehicle will make things even more accessible and give you access to rural areas most do not get to see.

    When I rode a rickshaw around India, I found myself incredibly off trail in places that had never even seen foreigners before.

    Europe

    Every year, thousands of Europeans head East to Asia in their own cycles, 4x4s or by way of hitchhiking. And while the journey from Europe to Asia is absolutely epic, you can also opt to travel within the continent too.

    With so many countries to check out, it may be the easiest (though certainly not the cheapest) place in the world to overland. Border crossings are simple, and so many countries are interconnected, that it’s a breeze to spend months moving about.

    For Brits, Americans and other non-EU nationals, it’s key to be aware of the 90-day visa rule within the European Union. Luckily, there are some fantastic countries out East that you can visit once your time is up.

    USA

    Many van lifers take to the wide open roads of the United States, with 49 to choose from (discounting Hawaii) and the ability to head north into Canada, I can see why this massive country has become so popular in the world of overland adventuring.

    The Perfect RV for a California Road Trip

    Personally, the USA is not at the top of my bucket list for many reasons, but if you’re already living there and want to get a feel for overland travel, incredible landscapes and opportunities await. Just note that public transportation and hitchhiking are definitely not recommended, as the former barely exists and the latter is not safe.

    So van lifers, this is your time to shine. I know many folks who have fixed up relatively cheap vans and set out to see virtually all the states in the Union. If you have limited time or money, definitely focus your energy on the West Coast. That’s where you’ll find all the national parks and the scenery that makes the country worth exploring.

    Getting Insured BEFORE Hitting the Road

    Regardless of where or how you plan to overland, you should definitely sort some solid travel insurance before leaving home.

    ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing.

    They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.

    SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to it!

    Click the button below to learn more about SafetyWing’s setup or read our insider review for the full tasty scoop.

    Final Thoughts on Overland Travel

    I hope I’ve now convinced you that your next trip should be an overland one. Ditching flights and committing to crossing borders and provinces on your own wheels (or by way of hitchhiking) will take your travels to entirely new heights.

    You’ll have experiences that aren’t possible if you’re jetting about between places, and you’ll get to know each country and region like never before.

    With so many ways to make it happen, from cycling to van life to even public buses, overland travel is something that is truly for everyone and anyone.

    So what are you waiting for – get to planning and get the hell out there.

    Will Hatton enjoys an epic view in Pakistan from his motorbike
    The open road awaits 😉