The roots of overlanding snake back over hundreds of years, the participants appearing in many guises. Whilst a quick study of the Oxford English Reference Dictionary defines an overlander as a person who drives livestock overland (originally one who drove stock from New South Wales to the colony of South Australia), some of the earliest explorers, those uncompromising adventurers armed with little more than a compass, a musket and a loud frock-coat, have been variously described as overlanders. Hardy settlers forging a passage in their ox-drawn wagons across the once untamed lands of North America have also carried the stamp of an overlander. Even those bus-loads of dreamers and drifters scattered along the Hippie Trail of the 1960s were all overlanders of sorts.
However, from the mid-1950s, graduates of British universities embarking on ambitious “Expeditions” (examples include the “Cambridge Afghanistan Expedition”, “The Oxford and Cambridge Far East Expedition” and the “Oxford and Cambridge Trans-African Expedition”) are most likely the forerunners to what has become a global occupation. Today’s overlanders are recreational and lifestyle adventurers engaged in long-distance, vehicle-based travel and the term overlanding applies equally to the lone cyclist, the independent traveller driving their own camper, or companies offering multi-itinerary group tours using specially adapted trucks.
The essence of overlanding is recognised as being the journey itself, along the way taking the time to explore cultures, wildlife, landscapes, history and, not least, the individual traveller’s own resourcefulness and courage. The adventurer should be self-contained, mostly living in or around their mode of transport. Crossing continents or circumnavigating the world means many overland journeys last for months, some continue for years. A sense of adventure, independence and freedom are the principal drivers.