For many years overland trucks have been a regular sighting across the continent of Africa. These heavyweight trucks are designed to travel long distances, across all the different terrains as they travel between varying and diverse countries. From lush green areas to deserts to beach to the savannah, there are very few places they can not go. It is for this reason that these vehicles have been used to carry tourists who want to visit multiple countries, often over extended periods of time, to see a wide variety of wildlife, cultures and scenery.
For many years overlanding has been seen as the domain of the budget traveller. The trucks were traditionally equipped with dome tents, fridges, lockers and cooking equipment so that tour groups were self-sufficient from the truck. All meals would be cooked using the camping stoves attached to the vehicles, and everyday the tents would be put up and then taken down in a new and fascinating destination. This model has worked well for many years, and those who have taken these tours always speak highly of seeing amazing places and meeting likeminded individuals on their travels. However, lets face it camping isn’t for everyone!
In recent years the market moved on to offer the same tour routes but with an ‘accommodated’ option. This hybrid model meant that the same sturdy but basic (no air-con) trucks would be used for transport and most meals were eaten from the truck. However, instead of camping at each destination the trucks would arrive at basic local lodges where after a long day of driving/activities tourists would spend the night in a (usually) comfortable bed. The accommodations vary greatly in standard, depending on the countries visited, however at a minimum they would normally be basic, clean and have an en-suite. This type of tour has been popular with people of all ages, who want to cover long distances on their trips but do still want some level of comfort whilst travelling. This option provides good value for money for people that do not need luxuries, and are more concerned with experiences. I have personally done several of these accommodated tours across Southern and East Africa, and I have enjoyed all of them. I have met amazing people, some of who will now undoubtedly be lifelong friends, and I have seen a vast amount within countries that would simply have been inaccessible to me, as a single female traveller, via any other means of travel.
This brings us to the present! So as of 2017/18 a couple of well-established companies have launched a new product which falls into the category of Premium Overlanding. The difference with these tours is that they are appealing to a new middle market traveller. The trucks used for these tours are still robust to deal with the African terrains, but the difference lies on the inside. Instead of up-to 24 seats crammed into the vehicles, the Premium Overland vehicles only have 12 seats, and they are all individual seat pitches with a window. This makes the time on the truck much more bearable, as you are not sat next to another person for hours at a time in hot climates, which could get stuffy and uncomfortable on the traditional overland vehicles! Each seat has their own locker in which to safely store personal belongings, there are charging points at each seat, and the trucks have air-conditioning! The accommodation used on these tours is of a slightly higher standard, but it is still local lodges that are predominantly used to ensure that tourism is working to the benefit of the local towns and villages that are visited. On the premium overland tours more often than not meals are taken at the accommodation and not from the truck. There are positives and negatives to this. Whilst breakfasts are usually included in the price, only a limited amount of lunches and dinners are included. This means you will need to budget the cost of these into any money that you take with you on tour. The benefit however, is that you get a choice of meal to eat, and get to experience some of the local cuisines and in some places there is a choice of restaurants.
With the reduction in the value of the pound and VAT increases coming in to force across several African countries the cost of travel to Africa has significantly increased over the last couple of years, making it now seem an unrealistic destination for more people. Premium Overlanding goes some way to bridging the gap, as the prices are comparatively reasonable and you still get to travel in relative comfort and style. Clearly if you are looking for a personal tour, with 4-5* lodges and accommodation this isn’t going to be the right option. However, if your agenda is to visit a wide range of places, have a variety of experiences, you don’t mind long distances and you are happy in clean/basic accommodation then this is definitely a great way to travel.
For single travellers I think premium overlanding is an excellent option. I have been a solo female traveller for a number of years now, and I find that these smaller group sizes are much better for socialising with like-minded individuals. It is great to have people around to share new experiences with, but it is also great to go back to your own comfortable room, when it suits! The age range of premium overlanders does vary – but the minimum age tends to be higher than the regular overland tours, with 30’-60’s being a key market for UK tourists.
There are a variety of tours available from 1 week to 6 weeks in duration, that cover a number of countries including South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Lesotho, Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya. Each tour has it’s own unique and interesting itinerary, and I can assure you that each will provide memories to last a lifetime……..