Picking an overlanding route, the well traveled trails for 2019

So you are planning an overland adventure, being away from home for months or years and possibly even a round-the-world trip. But where to go? Here are the well travelled trails of the world.

Map with the common routes traveled by overlanders.

These are the classics

  1. LONDON - SYDNEY
  2. TRANS-SIBERIAN HIGHWAY
  3. TRANSAMERICAN HIGHWAY
  4. CAPE2CAPE EAST
  5. CAPE2CAPE WEST

Let’s state up front that nobody is telling you where to go, but safety issues, visa difficulties and other challenges seem to guide people to follow the same trails. You can make as many detours and side trips as you want if you have the time and the money to do so. Another advantage of following the trails is that there will be plenty information out there on border crossings, places to stay and how to handle issues. So let’s discuss each so you have a head start in planning your adventure.


The route that takes you from the Western world into Eastern culture and back.

1. LONDON - SYDNEY

This classic route for Europeans has a lot to offer. Riding from Western to Eastern culture is fascinating and also the landscape changes along the way are incredible. There are plenty of detours available to stretch your trip even longer but on average people take about a year to travel this trail.

Start - End
Rough estimate of distance to cover
Average time taken
Pricing
Safety
Stability
Carnet needed
Visa difficulties
Offroad opportunities
Ideal time (months) to leave

London - Sydney
30.000km / 18,600miles
12 months
MEDIUM on average
Safe on average
Medium on average
Yes
Challenging
Plenty
Eastbound: May-September, 
Westbound: May-September


Issues you need to know off

  • China & Myanmar require a guide to travel through with your motorised vehicle, expect to pay $100 - $150 per person per day depending on the group size. Especially China can vary by the route (e.g. riding to Tibet can be really expensive).
  • For USA, CAN & UK citizens they also require a guide in Iran, a popular detour is to take the boat from Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan and go through the Stans and China to reach the East.
  • Getting from Malaysia to Indonesia is not as straight forward as it might seem but not impossible.
  • Getting from Indonesia to Australia requires you to ship your vehicle in a container
  • Getting into Australia requires you to thoroughly clean your vehicle due to very strict contamination laws. I’m talking cleaner then when it came out of the factory. Calculate at least a week into your schedule to take a part, scrub and box before putting it in the container.

Countries to visit along the route
The standard countries that you will go through include United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Timor Leste, Australia.

Detours you can make
There are plenty of detours to take on this route such as a trip through the
Balkans: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece Caucasus: Armenia, Georgia, Azerbijan
Central Asia: Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan
Himalayas: Nepal
South East Asia: Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia


Karakoram Highway in Pakistan, © Adventurism.tv

Karakoram Highway in Pakistan, © Adventurism.tv

Why you should go here

There is something magic driving down the street into adventure, chasing the horizon going places you might have been to before, but never seen the connections until you visited all the countries in between. London to Sydney has it all, culture, mountain, beaches and organisational challenges.

Don’t let Pakistan scare you, but read up on stories of people who have been there recently and then decide. Don’t judge only on the advice your government gives you. Alternatively you can travel through China but do start organising this 3-6 months in advance which will give you a deadline when to be where.

Starting in Europe or Australia you will have a nice start, before diving into the cultural shock of India, Pakistan and Iran. Anyways alongside during this trip you will experience a lot of hospitality, rich cultures and good food.

The weather will push you to move on although I do know people who have been on the ‘wrong’ places in the ‘wrong’ timeframe and still had a blast.


The route that follows the Trans-Siberian express.

2. TRANS-SIBERIAN HIGHWAY

Famous from long way round and many more this route takes you through the endless country called Russia. You’ll have plenty of time to learn the language, meet the locals and try the vodka. It is the shortest and cheapest route to get into overlanding.

Start - End
Rough estimate of distance to cover
Average time taken
Pricing
Safety
Stability
Carnet needed
Visa difficulties
Offroad opportunities
Ideal time (months) to leave

Amsterdam - Vladivostok
15.000km / 9,300miles
4 months
CHEAP on average
Safe on average
Stable on average
No
Easy
Gobi desert, need I say more?
Eastbound: May-July, 
Westbound: May-August

Issues you need to know of

  • Do apply for a visa for Russia before you leave, they are not easy to get on the road. A multiple entry visa is hard to get so most people apply for a business visa.
  • You cannot go from Kazakhstan straight into Mongolia and will have to go back via Russia.
  • If you want to extend your trip to Japan you will need a carnet.
  • There might be a problem with German registered vehicles due to a convention not signed by them, but there do seem ways around it. Do your research before you jump on the ferry. http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/northern-asia/inspection-temporary-import-bike-japan-74702
  • Magadan is a dead end so you will either have to track back or ship out via Vladivostok.

Countries to visit along the route
The standard countries that you will go through include Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Lituania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia.

Detours you can make
There are some interesting of detours to take on this route such as a trip through
Central Asia: Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan
Japan: Ferry to South Korea and then a ferry to Japan

The Gobi Freeway, ©Onherbike.com

The Gobi Freeway, ©Onherbike.com

Why you should go here

Russians will welcome you with open arms once you arrive and the sheer size of the country will undoubtedly amaze you as you keep making distance but do not seem to get anywhere. Then riding into the Gobi desert where you can pretend you are a Dakar rally racer and enjoy the lonely starry nights. Finally you will have to decide if you want to ride the old summer road and challenge yourself or stay on the new road of bones. With this route you will experience the incredible size of Russia, from the border of Europe over twelve time zones, you can wave to the North Koreans when you reach the eastern coast. Especially if you are looking for a route through remoteness than the Trans Siberian Route will be your choice, providing the least populated area on earth.

The Trans American Highway

3. TRANS-AMERICAN HIGHWAY

A classic among American is just to hop in the car and start riding South. Some will take the time to reach the most Northern Point of the American continent and make it a goal to also reach the most Southern point in Argentina. In this trip you will roughly follow the mountain range that makes up the East Side of the ring of fire making it one of the most spectacular rides on the planet when you enjoy mountain passes so make sure to take your time exploring the Andes. The fact that you don’t need to preplan any visas or apply for a carnet makes it a very easy continent to discover. Don’t let the new scare you with stories of drug wars and gangs, as long as you stay smart and use common sense there is no need to fear these places. Embrace the culture and you will make memories for life.

Start - End
Rough estimate of distance to cover
Average time taken
Pricing
Safety
Stability
Carnet needed
Visa difficulties
Offroad opportunities
Ideal time (months) to leave

Anchorage - Buenos Aires
30.000 km / 18,600 miles
12 months
Medium on average
Average
Average
No
No
Plenty
Northbound: October - November
Southbound: June - July

Issues you need to know of

  • There are big differences between North, Central and South America in terms of costs, safety and stability.
  • You will have to find a way to cross the Darien Gap but don’t worry, it’s a well travelled trail so there are option out there.
  • It is of course possible to travel through Alaska in winter but don’t be mistaken, come prepared and inform yourself by getting advice from locals.

Countries to visit along the route
The standard countries that you will go through include United States, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chili, Argentina

Detours you can make
There are some interesting of detours to take on this route such as a trip through
Canada: Instead of going to Deadhorse you could decide to reach the Arctic Ocean at Tuktoyatuk
Brazil: Uruguay, Brazil and Paraguay


Cordillera Blanca range in Central Peru,  © SMBOILERWORKS

Cordillera Blanca range in Central Peru, © SMBOILERWORKS

Why you should go here

Because it will be the adventure of a lifetime and there is so much to explore. This route includes the the cold remoteness of Alaska, with the hot desert of Mexico and everything in between and after. Step out of your comfort zone and onto one of the easiest trails to follow and let it amaze you. It’s all right there on your doorstep.

Cape to Cape, Northcape to Southcape via the East Coast of Africa

4. CAPE2CAPE EAST

This is the place where change is happening, every year the experience will we different and in 10 years there will be place that will be unrecognisable. So put your adventure hat on and learn what lies behind the meaning of TIA (This is Africa). Thinking of Africa you might assume it is relatively cheap but this is deceiving. Especially on the East Coast where park entry fees can empty the bank in a heartbeat. Spend your money wisely but don’t cheap out and skip everything because you came here for an experience, not to get to the end point as fast as possible.

Start - End
Rough estimate of distance to cover
Average time taken
Pricing
Safety
Stability
Carnet needed
Visa difficulties
Offroad opportunities
Ideal time (months) to leave

Hamburg - Cape Town
22.000 km / 13,700 miles
9 months
Higher then average
Medium
This is Africa, lower then average
Yes
Easy
Many
Northbound: May - June
Southbound: July - August

Issues you need to know of

  • There are places in Africa you should avoid as they are really dangerous, keep an eye out on the forums and facebook groups to know where you can and cannot go.
  • Getting to Egypt is not possible overland at the moment so you will have to ship/fly in.

Countries to visit along the route
The standard countries that you will go through include Germany, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lituania, Poland, Hungary, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenia, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa

Detours you can make
There are some interesting of detours to take on this route such as a trip through
East Europe: Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria Middle East: Israel, Jordan
Big tour middle east: Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan
Central Africa: Uganda, Rwanda
Southern Africa: Botswana, Namibia


On the road to Lake Turkana, © FROM AMSTERDAM TO ANYWHERE

On the road to Lake Turkana, © FROM AMSTERDAM TO ANYWHERE

Why you should go here

Because you want to spot the big five, because you want to experience the real Africa, because you want to learn and experience different cultures. But if all that doesn’t convince you then maybe you go there because you can.

Cape to Cape following the West Coast of Africa

5. CAPE2CAPE WEST

So if you want to explore Africa, but do not want to pay the deposit for a Carnet then consider going down the West coast. Getting there is easy and soon you will follow the trails of the original Dakar rally. Africa is growing up but the West coast if the rougher side of the continent. It will challenge you, keep you on your toes and requires you to pull out all the stops to solve the problems you face along the way. Are you up for it?

Start - End
Rough estimate of distance to cover
Average time taken
Pricing
Safety
Stability
Carnet needed
Visa difficulties
Offroad opportunities
Ideal time (months) to leave

Hamburg - Cape Town
25.000 km / 15,500 miles
9 months
Average
Lower than average
Low
No
Yes
Plenty
Northbound: December - January
Southbound: July - August

Issues you need to know of

  • This trail changes from time to time depending on the security in the countries on the route, but since there are so many there is always way forward. Stay safe by doing the facebook groups and WhatsApp groups.
  • Alongside this route you will face a lot of bureaucracy, which requires some flexibility and also a relaxed mindset.

Countries to visit along the route
The standard countries that you will go through include Germany, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Austria, Switzerland, France, Spain, Morocco, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Congo Brazaville, DRC, Angola, Namibia, South Africa.

Detours you can make
There are some interesting of detours to take on this route such as a trip through the
Golden Coast: Senegal, Gambia, Guinee-Bissau, Guinnee, Ivory Coast


Muddy trails in DRC, © BUGS ON MY BOARD

Muddy trails in DRC, © BUGS ON MY BOARD

Why you should go here

The last rough track where your problem solving capabilities will be put to the test. Are you ready to handle the African corrupt border officials, outsmart police checkpoints and get through Africa without paying a single bribe? Then this is the route for you where you will find the unpolished diamond called Africa. Not traveling from one luxury hotel to the other, but roughing it in local hotels. You will be rewarded with the smiles of the people and the stories you will share for long times to come after you’ve reached the final destination Cape Town.
 

 

Conclusion

Where you go is up to you, do your research on what you want to see. Stay safe, go out and explore. Each route is unique for and there are no better options, choose whichever your heart tells you to and combine freely. Then there is only one more step to take, so get up and get out, smell adventure in the air.