What to Expect on an Overland Safari in Africa

Expect Overland Safari Africa

Booking an overland safari in Africa will be accompanied by a range of emotions. Excitement – because it’s one amazing adventure. Wonder – as in you may wonder how many animals you’re going to see. (The answer is lots!! 😀 ) And maybe a little bit of apprehension. What is life like on tour? Where do you sleep? What do you eat? How long are the driving days? Well, I’m here to answer all of these questions and more. Read on to find out what to expect when overlanding in Africa!

Expect Overland Safari Africa

expect overland safari Africa

What to Expect on an Overland Safari in Africa

So you are thinking about an overland safari in Africa but have no idea what to expect? Then you are in the right place. In this post I’ll share with you all the key details about life on the truck so you can make a decision about whether this style of tour is right for you! And if it is – grab yourself the 5% discount code at the bottom of the post and get booking!

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The Truck

Expect Overland Safari Africa

As I mentioned in my Budget Overland Safari Route Post, life on an overland tour revolves around the truck. Each overland company have their own tricked out vehicles with seating above and enough storage below to carry backpacks, tents, roll mats, cooking equipment, camp chairs, trestle tables and non-perishable food. You’ll be amazed at everything that fits under there!

Seats are on a first come first served basis – but most people will be happy to rotate every week or so. Some trucks have lock boxes under the seats – this is where the cable locks come in handy and are big enough to lock away laptops, passports and other essentials.

Those who sit at the front of the truck will be in charge of a few things. First – the buzzer. Used to let the driver and guide know when you need to stop the truck for a toilet stop. Second – they get to play DJ. Most trucks will have a sound system that you can plug your ipod/mp3 players into. And third – they will be responsible for the rotation of devices that need charging.  There is usually a charging station at the front of the truck for communal use. The plugs/usb ports only work when the truck is turned on, and everyone gets a chance to charge their electronics. It may be the one consistent source of power – depending on which country you are in! I highly recommend a power cube/power bank to maximise the available sockets. Head over to the SHOP to grab these and other overland essentials!

Related: Wondering what you need to pack for an overland safari? I’ve got the Ultimate Safari Packing List for you!

Job Rotation

Life on the truck is quite structured in so much as there are a few key tasks that have to be done everyday to keep everyone safe, fed and watered. To keep things fair, the group is split into (5) teams who rotate through the 4 groups of tasks:  cooks, dishies, security, and truckies – the completion of the 4 days is then followed by a day off.

  • Cooks – pretty self explanatory – you shop for ingredients and cook a meal for the group;
  • Dishies – you wash up after the cooks;
  • Security – you make sure the windows are closed and the truck is locked when exiting during the day and that everything (tables, chairs, cooking equipment) is locked up on the truck at night;
  • Truckies – you clean the truck cabin after a day on the road. This includes mopping the floor, cleaning out the fridge (so it doesn’t get smelly), and disinfecting the surfaces.

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Sleeping

Expect Overland Safari Africa

If your safari is at the budget end of the spectrum, don’t be expecting any lodge-style accommodation! Overland tours keep the costs low by camping along the route – and on most – you’ll be responsible for putting the tent up each day and taking it down/packing it away each morning. They supply the tents & roll mats, and you take your own sleeping bag. The temperature rating will depend on where in Africa you are heading and at what time of year. I would also highly recommend a full size pillow. Travel pillows do not provide for the best night’s sleep over the course of several weeks!

If you’re getting sick of the tent you will also have the option to upgrade (for a extra fee) to a private room or cabin at some of the bigger camps  and towns along the way. These are on a first come first served basis, so if you’re thinking about upgrading, let your guide know as soon as possible that he can try and make reservations for you. As you’ll hear a lot in Africa – there are ‘no guarantees’. That goes for hot water and wifi too!

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food

Expect Overland Safari Africa

Most overland tours will include a self-serve breakfast and an evening meal in the cost. You will be responsible your own lunches. The cooks of the day will decide on a meal and buy the ingredients from a supermarket with money from the group kitty. This gives everyone a chance to be creative – or just cook something that they are missing from home. (Whatever or wherever that may be). The guide will give you some ideas if you are struggling – and the only think to keep in mind is the limited cooking facilities. For example, you’ll cook over a campfire or gas stove and prepare food on the trestle tables. We had some amazing group meals – a lot of which were better than the occasional meal out that we had!

A sample of the meals include pasta and rice dishes, tacos, curries, stir fry’s, steak, potato and salad/veggies. I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of food available – and although you can’t get everything at the supermarkets that you can in the western world – you can get a great deal.

Dietary restrictions or allergies are dealt with exceptionally well, and the guides will go out of their way to ensure you have what you need (where it can be bought) i.e soy milk/vegan/vegetarian protein. Again, paid for out of the group kitty.

There will typically be a fridge on the truck where the fresh food is stored – and any group food takes priority over personal items. There is usually space in the fridge for bought lunches too – but drinks are a no go.

Drinks

Expect Overland Safari Africa

On the drinks front, you will need to purchase water from the supermarkets and its is recommended you carry a 1l bottle to decant into. The roads are very bumpy and trying to drink out of a 5l carton is not easy – but highly entertaining if you’re watching someone try! For those who like soda, this is also easily obtained – but you may not be able to refrigerate it as food must take precedence in the fridge. And then there’s alcohol. For some reason I believed that I would be on a detox in Africa, and that wine would be scarce. How wonderfully wrong I was. You can buy decent quality wine and beer for very little money – you may just need to agree with the group to keep buying ice for the cool box to keep everything cold! And if cold is not an option.. there’s always red wine 🙂

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Scarce Wifi

Now this is one thing you can take a detox from when overlanding – unless you want to incur horrific roaming charges. Most trucks will not have wifi – and although some (pricier ones) do I wouldn’t recommend it. Life on the truck is about the journey and experiencing it with your fellow travelers. Not sharing every other second on social media. Around 50% of the campsites will have wifi – but it doesn’t always work; and when it does, everyone on the truck wants to use it! This means trying to load your emails or FB could be a very frustrating half an hour (or more!). If you really really need it, my advice would be to wait until late at night when everyone has gone to bed, or get up super early before everyone else is awake!

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Cash/ATMs

There are ATMs and Money Changers throughout Africa, although they are limited to larger towns outside South Africa. You guide will give you a heads up about what currency you need and an estimation of how much to get out every few days; and activity providers/supermarkets will often take credit/debit cards for payment. If you can carry one Visa and one Mastercard – and some local currency – you should have all bases covered. But remember,  AMEX is not accepted anywhere.

If you are carrying cash daily, only have enough for lunch/drinks/souvenirs and keep the majority locked away. Don’t flash it around. The places you visit are not necessarily dangerous, but you should exercise the same amount of caution with cash that you would anywhere else in the world.

 

Activity Costs

Expect Overland Safari Africa

White Water Rafting will set you back approx $120

Something that definitely needs to be considered when budgeting is the range of optional add-on activities that are available at various locations throughout the tour. These are often available on the operators website before you go, so it’s easy to work out what you want to do before you get there. Most overland tours include 3-5 game drives within the cost of the tour, but there are many other fun things to do on top of these. Victoria Falls is by far the most expensive town you will stop in, with multiple high adrenaline activities for quite high prices – you can read all about the amazing activities on offer here. There are also extra safari’s – such as a mokoro safari in the Okavango Delta or a river cruise in Chobe National Park in Botswana – that are definitely worth the additional cost. My theory was – I didn’t know when I would be back so I was going to do everything on the list. It was expensive but so so so worth it.

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‘TIA’ will become a way of life

TIA – or “This Is Africa” – will be the explanation for anything you don’t understand, don’t like and just don’t get when you are in Africa. This can be hot water that works at a certain time – or runs out after the first 3 people.. The wifi signal that is there – but won’t let you connect… The concept of ‘Africa time’ – is not time told by a traditional watch… Or the fact you are covered in dust from head to toe and you’ve been in the truck all day!

Add that to the fact you wake up at 5am every day when the night is at it’s coldest and Toto’s Africa or the Lion King’s Circle of Life become the soundtrack to your daily life, and you know you’re overlanding in Africa! For each and every quirk – TIA is the answer. And I love it.

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Driving Days Are Long…

Expect Overland Safari Africa

Africa is big. Like really big. And getting from A to B in some countries can take anywhere between 2 and 10+ hours. That’s right – 10+ hours of driving. This is where your books, movies, kindles, music, packs of cards or group games come in handy. The truck will be hot, the road will be bumpy and if you can manage to grab a couple of hours sleep here and there, good for you. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

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… and Mornings are early

Expect Overland Safari Africa

Thankfully.. there is coffee!

Due to the size of Africa – as mentioned above – to get those driving days in, you need to be up and on the truck early. And even on the shorter driving days – and especially on border crossing days – you want to get to where you are going early. The earlier you arrive the more chance you have of fitting in an activity – be it organsied or something as mundane as washing – doing other things during the day helps break up the long stretches on the road.

The time you get up depends on the time of your departure and if you want breakfast. So if you’re on the truck at 7am – that means breakfast is available from 6 to 6.45am – and you’re tent needs to be down and packed away before you eat. Everyone then helps pack the cookware back onto the truck and you get away on time.  It sounds extreme, but you get into it after a few days!

So there you have it! An insight into life on-board an Overland Truck in Africa. It’s an incredible adventure, and one of the most affordable ways to experience Africa.          

I really can’t recommend highly enough.

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97 thoughts on “What to Expect on an Overland Safari in Africa

  1. Rob says:

    Wow sounds like a great way to travel through Africa. Camping under the stars, cooking on an open fire, I’m sold. So many activities and extra safaris how did you choose what you were going to see and do? and what countries did you go through?

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    • Vicki says:

      Thanks Rob! We didn’t really decide on activities – we just did everything! We figured we may as well as we didn’t know when we would be back!
      On this trip we went through 5 countries over 6 weeks – it was incredible!

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  2. Alex says:

    This is super useful! I went on an overland safari in Africa a couple years back, and I remember having literally no idea what to expect. I was shocked at the massive size of the vehicle, and like you, I ended up drinking much more than expected 😉 I can definitely see the benefits of a post like this for first time safari goers. Great work!

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    • Vicki says:

      Thanks Alex! I searched high and low for something like this before I went and found a few but thought I should update the landscape a little. I’m so pleased that you think it will be useful 🙂

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    • Vicki says:

      Thank you!
      As a veggie you’ll be absolutely fine – on our truck we had 3 vegans and 4 veggies throughout the trip and they were always well fed. You can get the ‘fake meat’/tofu based food things and there are veggies with every meal 🙂

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  3. Neha says:

    Wow..I am impressed by the way you traveled through Africa. Camping, gazing at the stars, cooking on those woods. You really traveled closest to nature..isn’t it? What all places you chose on your route?

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  4. Zoe Naylor says:

    I’ve been thinking of doing an overland safari in Africa and this post is great and really informative. I had no idea what it would be like until I read this, it sounds such an adventure! Great to see that nice food and alcohol is easily available too 🙂

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    • Vicki says:

      Haha Gok – the front the only place you can’t sit! That’s just for the driver & the guide!
      Our truck could take a maximum of 28-30 – and I think ours was one of the bigger ones. We saw some as small as 15!

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  5. Lindsay says:

    This is so very helpful!! I’ve always wanted to do a safari in Africa and the tips/info you provided will be great when I finally plan my trip. I’m glad to hear that the guides are super helpful and that I kinda know what will be expected of me as a safari participant – I’ll be super excited to cook for the group. Also, helps me keep it in perspective that not being depending on wifi can be a blessing ^^

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  6. Megan Jerrard says:

    Great guide of things to expect – many of which reminded me of our African safari. We had such a wonderful time 🙂 Agreed on the scarce WiFi – from memory there were a couple of towns along the route where we were able to log on cheaply for an hour, but on the all and all it’s a great excuse for a digital detox 🙂

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  7. Katja says:

    This is such a comprehensive guide for anyone looking to enjoy an overland African adventure. How long were you on the road for and was it long enough / too long? Did everyone get on well? I can imagine you must get some characters on board! Thanks for all these fantastic tips.

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    • Vicki says:

      Thanks Katja – we were on the truck for 31 days this time (when we go back we’re doing 55) – but I think that would be my limit. The longest trip is 83 days (most people who do the Absolute Safari stop at 73) but I think that’s too long. There were some clashes with people on board, but nothing too major. But its bound to happen when you put 20+ strangers in a truck for several weeks!

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  8. Mike says:

    Such an an awesome and detailed post! And after spending 100 days overlanding (by ourself) through Africa, we totally understand TIA…and we also love it. Question for you. how much was the overland tour you did (all in for the truck/basic meals/etc, not including the extra optional activities).

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    • Vicki says:

      Thanks Mike! 100 days – wow that’s an adventure!
      We paid $1250 USD for the truck/tour/included activities and a local payment of $650 USD as our contribution to the food (per person) for 31 days.
      This was a combination of two tours: First one was 21 days through Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia & SA finishing in Cape Town and cost $860 + $360 (USD); Second one was 10 days along the Garden Route from CT to JoBurg and cost $299 + $290 (USD)
      It was really good value for everything that was included – it was the option activities that jacked up the price!

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  9. Anda says:

    Very interesting post, Vicki. I always wanted to go on a Safari in Africa but to be honest with you I don’t think I would enjoy the camping lifestyle. I would have probably liked it in my 20s, but now I would like to have some comfort. Do they have one-day safari’s as well? Sounds like a lot of fun though. I’m sure this was a trip to remember.

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    • Vicki says:

      Thanks Anda – they sure do have 1 days safaris. These are great for those staying in one country and near a certain National Park. And you can stay wherever you like so definitely don’t have to compromise on comfort!
      And yes, this certainly was a trip to remember! I can’t wait to go back!

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  10. Mike says:

    Great tips for a safari! This is on my bucketlist so one day I’ll make use of this post haha. Early days aren’t so bad if you’re able to see some amazing things! Did you catch a lot of sunsets/sunrises while you were there?

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  11. Jocelyn says:

    That truck looks solid! Doubt an animal would attempt too often to try and get in 🙂 I’ve thought about going on a safari, but I never thought about all the work that goes into it and keeping everything happy and moving! Sounds like a little village on 4 (or more) wheels 🙂

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  12. Sab says:

    Thanks for sharing, this is really helpful! Africa is such an incredible place, I’ve only been to Namibia and South Africa and I loved it Can’t wait to see more… Will bookmark this, great post!

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    • Vicki says:

      Thanks Brianna – we were in Africa for 6 weeks and on the truck for 31 days! Major cities: Victoria Falls, Maun (for the Okavango Delta), Swakopmund, Spitzkoppe, Stellenbosch, Cape Town, Cape Aghulas, Jeffrey’s Bay & Johannesburg – and lots of little towns along the way!

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  13. Janine Good says:

    These are great tips! I have been wanting to do a safari for ages. I did a ton of research and I can definitely say that you covered things I never thought about. The sleeping arrangements look very rustic, but also completely authentic.

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  14. Marge says:

    Now this kind of adventure I haven’t done and I sure would love to experience it. It would be a unique adventure, would definitely make for interesting story like the one that you got in this post. I don’t expect there’d be wifi but it’s okay, I guess I can use some time for disconnection.

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  15. Amy says:

    This is an absolute dream trip, even if in a tent, doing dishes, waking early and making my own breakfast! Africa is my number one wanderlust destination, and we can hardly wait to go. I love that this trip highlights such a different option and version of what you would expect it to be. And that glass of wine with a view has me sold!

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  16. Rashmi and Chalukya says:

    African Safari is a dream, how amazing it must be spending time amidst nature sometimes barren sometimes rich with nature and wildlife. This Post has provided with great insight into the safari which would help plan our trip and understand what to expect.

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    • Vicki says:

      Overland Safaris can run anywhere from 4 – 83 days. It’s entirely up to the person to decide how long they want to go for!
      As an example of costs – 31 days was $1250 USD per person plus $600 USD local payment.

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  17. Carla Abanes says:

    I dream of going on a safari to Africa. Good thing that I can cook and can easily adapt to roaming lifestyle. I don’t mind not having wifi because TIA and I am in Africa! Thanks for sharing this inspiring post, will really want to do this someday.

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  18. Cai Dominguez says:

    I’m in, wow! I would love to try this kind of traveling. I read from the comment that you can do this for 84 days. I think that’s too much for me. I would love to try this for 1 month. This is so cool, made you appreciate a simple way of living.

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  19. Trisha Velarmino says:

    This is the perfect kind of travel for people who are up for fun and adventure. After my trip from South America, I actually plan to move next to Africa. However, as mentioned in your article. Internet connection is not reliable. My work is highly depended online. So I decided to move to Middle East.

    This kind of adventure is rare to find. This is truly africa. I know one day. Ill push my trip here. Thanks for setting our expectations. Its really helpful.

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    • Vicki says:

      Thank you Trisha – and I can totally understand that Africa may not be the best place for those that work online.. but maybe in a few years things will have improved and you’ll be able to move there. Once you’re bored of the middle east of course!

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