While planning my to Africa, I had a tough decision to make. Did I want to travel independently or join an overland tour? If you’re reading this, you’re probably facing the same dilemma. Many travelers choose to travel in an overland group tour when visiting Africa for the first time. Usually either because of fears of safety or simply because planning an African trip is such an undertaking. This guide is designed to give you an honest and rational look at the pros and cons of African overland tours vs independent travel. In this guide, we will examine cost, safety, logistics, time, and a number of other factors. Hopefully, it will help you to make an educated decision of your own which type of trip is best for you.
This is a pretty long article. Use the links below to help navigate the page.
- Pros of Overland Tours
- Cons of Overland Tours
- Pros of Independent Travel
- Cons of Independent Travel
- Overland Tour Vs. Independent Travel: My Choice
What is an Overland Tour?
African overland tours are guided group tours which travel across the continent in a bus or truck. When selecting a tour, you decide:
- Where you want to go- Tour companies operate different routes all over the continent. You choose the region you want to explore and find the tour that suits you. East Africa tours are probably the most popular. Another popular route is from Nairobi to Cape Town. Single country tours are also available. Some parts of the continent are more popular than others. In West Africa, you only have a handful of options whereas East Africa has dozens of overland companies operating tours at all times.
- For how long you want to travel- Tours vary in length from around a week for one country to several months for crossing the continent. Most tours allow you to hop on or off wherever. For example, if you are in Kampala, you can arrange to join a tour that is passing through if they have space available.
- What kind of tour you want to take- Do you prefer a more adventurous tour or something more laid back? Companies specialize in different demographics. For example, there are budget tours designed especially for the 18-24 backpacker crowd. There are also tours designed for retirees, families with children, and tours in a multitude of languages. Luxury tours are also available for travelers on a higher budget who don’t want to go for a private tour.
What is Included in an Africa Overland Tour?
- Transportation- This is usually a large truck or bus driven by a professional driver. You stay with the same truck for the duration of the tour.
- Accommodation- Most nights you will be camping with a few nights in hotels in select locations where camping is unavailable. Higher priced tours include more hotel stays.
- Food- One of the guides acts as the cook. Simple but healthy meals are prepared at the campsite most nights. The group is expected to help with preparation and clean up after the meal.
- Guide- A local guide accompanies you for the duration of the tour, explaining each destination and helping with visas and any other issues that may arise. Larger tours have multiple guides.
- Entry tickets- When booking the tour, you will decide which destinations you wish to visit. Some have entry fees which you can pay when you book the tour. Some fees must be paid when you reach the site.
What’s Not Included?
- Alcohol- You’re responsible for buying your own drinks when you go out.
- Visas- You are responsible for obtaining your own visas. The company that operates the tour will help you out and offer advice and guidance. If you prefer, you can pay an agency to arrange the visas for you but this comes with an additional cost.
- Snacks- If you get hungry between meals, you’ll have to pay for your own snacks.
- Tips- You are expected to tip your driver and guides at the end of the trip. The amount depends on the duration and cost of the trip. If you are not happy with the service, don’t tip.
- Some outings and tours- Occasionally, you will be given a choice of activities for the day. Some options cost extra and some are free. For example, maybe you’re at Lake Kivu in Rwanda and you are given the choice of going on a boat tour of the lake or relaxing on the beach. If you choose the boat tour, you will have to pay extra. Laying on the beach is free.
What is Independent Travel?
Independent travel involves planning and organizing everything for yourself without the aid of a guide or travel agency. This includes:
- Booking hotels and campsites- You’ll have to find a place to sleep each night. For making reservations in Africa, Booking.com works best. With that being said, I found that in Africa, many hotels have no online presence or rarely check their bookings. Most of the time, you’re better off just showing up, finding a hotel, and negotiating the price of a room yourself.
- Organizing transportation- I’m not going to lie, getting around in Africa is a headache. Transportation options are limited and unpredictable. The cheapest and most common way to get around in Africa is by bus. There are very few train routes and flying is expensive.
- Choosing restaurants or cooking your own meals- Finding a tasty meal is pretty easy in Africa. Small local restaurants are everywhere. Grocery stores are also well stocked if you prefer to cook your own food.
- Arranging Visas- This can get complicated. African visas are expensive and there is a lot of bureaucracy involved in some regions. Policies change often as well.
- Selecting your route- This involves some research on your part. Sometimes visas will be an issue. Sometimes transportation is difficult or time-consuming. Some regions should be avoided for safety reasons. Before you arrive, you will want to do a bit of research to and outline an itinerary. To help you get started, check out my article: How to Plan a Cairo to Cape Town Trip.
For more info, check out my solo travel vs group travel pros and cons list.
Pros of Africa Overland Tours
There is no stress
This is, by far, the biggest benefit to taking an overland tour. Travel in Africa is stressful. Waiting for minibusses to fill up, negotiating every purchase, dealing with beggars and scammers, etc. The list goes on and on. Everything is a hassle and takes longer than expected. Sometimes it feels like the world is against you when you’re trying to get something simple done like exchange money or washing your clothes.
When you travel by overland tour, you have no worries. You don’t have to worry about missing your bus, finding a place to sleep, or constantly getting scammed. You just sit back in the truck and relax while the driver takes you to your next destination. When you arrive at the campsite, you enjoy your evening with the group. Your guide accompanies you to a new site every day. It’s an easy way to travel.
Overland tours are reasonably priced
Overland tours cost more than independent travel. The reason I’m putting this in the pros section is because they aren’t that much more. For what you get, prices are surprisingly reasonable. I estimate that you pay about a 20-30% premium for the tour, which isn’t too bad.
The tour companies keep prices down by camping most nights instead of staying in hotels as well as preparing their own low-cost meals rather than going to restaurants. Accommodation and food are two of the biggest cost of any trip. By cutting these down, they can save a lot of money.
When traveling independently, it’s not really possible camp as much unless you are traveling with your own means of transportation as campgrounds are usually located outside of cities. Cooking for yourself is also less likely simply because it’s time-consuming and it gets tiring.
Overland Tours are safer
Africa is, in general, a pretty safe place to travel. With that being said, every travel destination has its own set of risks. There are two categories of crime that you will encounter while traveling in Africa: Violent crime and non-violent crime. Overland tours will, for the most part, protect you from violent crime for three reasons.
- You always have a local guide with you- Part of their job description is to make sure no one is injured or falls victim to a crime. They are there to look after you.
- They will not take you anywhere dangerous or risky- The company will always err on the side of caution. Their business depends on it. If a region becomes dangerous due to terrorism or unrest, they will simply stop traveling there.
- Other members of the group are always around- A criminal is less likely to attempt to rob a group of people. There is safety in numbers.
When traveling in a group, you are much less likely to fall victim to a violent crime. Scams and minor crimes still carry the same risk. For example, a tour guide has no way to protect you from being pickpocketed or scammed when making a purchase. They can’t watch everyone all the time.
Theft is less likely
While traveling, you have to keep a close eye on your belongings. The chance of falling victim to theft is much less on an overland tour for two reasons:
- Your belongings will always be safely locked up in the overland truck- When you ride in a coach a multitude of strangers have access to your bag. Bus company staff, baggage handlers, and even other passengers have been known to open bags and steal items. It’s rare but not unheard of. On an overland trip, theft is highly unlikely. Fellow travelers are trustworthy. Guides are well paid and wouldn’t want to risk their jobs over stealing from a guest.
- The campsites and hotels where you stay on an overland tour will generally be more secure- Overland companies tend to stay in the same campgrounds every time. These places are designed to cater to tourists. Everyone around is either a tourist or guide. When you stay in a random budget hotel, all bets are off. I have heard stories of hotel staff going into tourists rooms and going through their bags while they’re out. Again, this crime is rare but it does happen.
Getting sick is less likely
In Africa, food hygiene standards are lower than you’re used to. Foods sit out too long, aren’t cleaned properly, and are exposed to bacteria that your body isn’t used to. Chances are, at some point in your travels on the continent, you will get a case of travelers diarrhea or food poisoning.
On an overland tour, food is prepared fresh each night at camp. You can watch the guides and fellow travelers preparing the food. You know it has been properly washed and is safe to eat. In a restaurant kitchen, you never know what’s going on.
Western standards are also taken into consideration when the menu is being decided. The people running the overland tours know their clientele. They understand that foreigners bodies aren’t used to the local bacteria and certain local foods. They also offer vegetarian or vegan options which may be impossible to find in local restaurants.
While the food may not be authentic, it is at least safe to eat and reasonably healthy.
You can carry less stuff
The overland company supplies a big chunk of your gear. You don’t have to pack or carry around your:
- Sleeping bag
- Sleep Mat
- Cooking gear
- Camp Stove
This makes your bag much lighter and makes the packing process easier. It also saves you from having to buy expensive gear of your own if you don’t already have it.
While you’re out exploring, you are able to leave most of your stuff locked away safely in the truck. You don’t need to schlep around all of your clothes, toiletries, and electronics everywhere you go. Just bring a day pack.
Not having to drag around a giant backpack everywhere you go makes the trip much less tiring and more enjoyable.
You don’t have to negotiate as much
One of the most annoying parts of traveling in Africa is the fact that nearly every purchase must be negotiated. For whatever reason, people seem to get a kick out of ripping off foreigners. The price of hotels, taxis, minibusses, foods, and occasionally restaurants are all up for negotiation. Even after the price has been settled, it can suddenly change for no reason. It gets exhausting having to barter and argue over prices multiple times per day.
When traveling on an overland tour, you pay for most of your expenses in one lump sum before the tour begins. Everything is covered with the exception of a few minor items. This removes an enormous amount of stress and hassle from the trip. This also greatly reduces the likelihood of getting scammed.
You’re never alone on an Overland Tour
Travel in Africa is lonely. In parts of the continent, you can go weeks without meeting another traveler. Some countries only see a handful of tourists each year. Check out the interesting article “The World’s 20 Least Touristy Countries” from The Garfors Globe. You’ll see that many of the least visited countries are in Africa.
While on an overland tour, you’re never alone. You always have a guide or fellow traveler to talk to, eat with, and share experiences.
When traveling independently, you can always find a local that is eager to chat, but sometimes you just want to have someone familiar around that you can share experiences with and relate to, like another traveler.
You can see more in less time
Overland tours move right along. You will stop in one destination, see the sites, then head off to the next place on the list. No time is wasted sitting around waiting for minibusses to fill up. You don’t have to spend hours searching for a hotel or restaurant.
If you’re short on time, you can cram all of the main African sites into a short trip if you go with an overland tour. For example, you can make the classic Nairobi to Cape Town trip in just 40 days. It takes you to nearly every major tourist site in between including the Serengeti, Victoria Falls, Mount Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar, and more. It would be nearly impossible to do the same trip independently in the same time frame.
Check out this Nairobi to Cape Town itinerary from the overland company G Adventures. They are on the move every couple of days. It’s amazing what they pack into a 40-day tour. I spent almost 4 months traveling that same route independently and felt like I was moving too fast.
If there is an emergency, someone is there to help you out
Africa is unpredictable. You never know when an emergency will arise. On an overland tour, there is always someone nearby to assist you. Problems that can pop up include:
- Malaria- This is a common disease in Africa. If you travel long enough, you’ll get malaria. It doesn’t matter if you’re taking tablets or not. When you travel on an overland tour, the guides are always around to take you to a clinic if necessary. They may even have emergency drugs on hand just in case. You won’t end up suffering alone in a hotel room somewhere.
- Your credit or debit card gets lost, stolen, or shut off- If you have no way to access your money, you could be in trouble. When traveling on an overland tour, chances are that someone will lend you some cash until you get your finances straightened out.
- You get pickpocketed or robbed- If you need to involve the police, the local guide will help you navigate the system.
Cons of Africa Overland Tours
You have less freedom of choice
This, for me, is the biggest drawback to traveling in an overland tour. Everything is decided for you including:
- What you eat- Meals are chosen by the group or the guides. Maybe you feel like a burger and fries but the group wants spaghetti. When traveling on an overland tour, you don’t really have a choice.
- Where you sleep- Maybe your back needs a break from sleeping in a tent on the ground but the guides decide that you will be camping again.
- The itinerary- Maybe you pass through a town that you particularly enjoy and want to spend a few extra days there. You can’t really do this on an overland tour. The itinerary is pre-planned and fairly tight. I fell in love with Nairobi when I was passing through. It’s my favorite city in Africa. I ended up spending a few extra weeks there just getting to know the city. This would have been impossible if I was traveling with a tour.
The experience is less authentic
On an overland tour, you don’t get to experience much of the ‘real’ Africa. For the duration of the tour, you only interact with people in the tourism industry and other tourists. The guides and employees in the restaurants, campsites, and parks that you visit deal with tourists every day. They aren’t typical African locals.
Everything you see will be mainstream and touristy. For example, you won’t experience basic African hotels without running water. You won’t visit any small villages or slums. The tour company determines exactly what you see and do.
Overland tours are more expensive than independent travel
Even though the prices of African overland tours are reasonable, you still pay a premium for the service. It’s a business after all. I estimate that you pay about 20-30% more for an overland tour than you would for a similar experience traveling independently.
You’re stuck with the people in your group
If you get unlucky and end up with an asshole in your group, you’re stuck with them for the duration of the tour. It’s easy to put up with an unpleasant person for a few hours but imagine being stuck in the same truck, at the same dinner table, and on the same tour with this person for weeks or months on end. Getting stuck with a bad group could spoil your whole trip and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Sometimes people just get under your skin for whatever reason. For example, my buddy told me about his experience gorilla trekking with a tour group in Uganda. In his group, there was one particularly annoying couple he just couldn’t stand. They wouldn’t shut up and always had to be in the front of the group blocking the view with their massive cameras. By the end of the two-day tour, he wanted to strangle this annoying couple. Imagine having to endure that behavior for a few months.
There is also the possibility that you end up in a group that you just don’t fit in with. Maybe you like to go out for drinks and have a good time but your whole group prefers to be in bed by 8 pm. Maybe you like being active and want to go for a hike but your group prefers to lay out on the beach. Everyone has a different idea of a good vacation.
My Experience with this
While traveling independently, I ended up staying in the same campground as overlanders on a few occasions. I noticed that they liked to go to bed early. Usually, I was the last one still up in the campground. As a night owl, I simply wouldn’t fit in with a group like that. If I was stuck on one of those tours, I wouldn’t have enjoyed my trip nearly as much.
Spontaneity is impossible
On an overland tour, the group follows a strict itinerary. These companies have been doing the same tours so long that they have it down to a science. Occasionally, you’ll have a choice of activities for the day, but, for the most part, the schedule is predetermined. Spontaneous decision making isn’t part of the trip. Some travelers prefer to have everything planned out but many find this incredibly boring.
When I set off on my first trip to Africa, I landed in Addis Ababa with no plans. I had done a bit of research and knew some of the sites that I wanted to see, but had no reservations or deadlines. I met some interesting people along the way and ended up traveling places that I had never even heard of.
While in a hostel in Nairobi, I met some fellow travelers with great recommendations about Uganda including beautiful Lake Bunyonyi pictured below. This country wasn’t in my itinerary but I decided to apply for a visa and catch a bus there just a couple of days later. Uganda turned out to be one of my favorite countries that I have ever visited. If I was trapped by a strict itinerary, this trip wouldn’t have happened.
Your trip isn’t unique
Overland trucks are constantly driving back and forth across the continent making the same trips month after month. Your experience will be the exact same as those that have gone before you. Sure, there will be slight variations. Maybe the guide will decide to stop at a different restaurant or campground. For the most part, the trip is the same every time they do it. The tour guides follow the same script and tell the same jokes that they have been using for years. Knowing this makes the trip just a little less special, in my opinion.
You have to purchase travel insurance
I’m putting this in the cons list because it’s an additional expense that is required. Most overland tour companies won’t take you unless you have proof that you purchases travel insurance for the trip. Really, you should have travel insurance either way but it is not a requirement when traveling independently.
In the past, I never bothered with travel insurance. These days, I never travel without it just for the peace of mind. I like World Nomads. They can cover you in the event of an accident, injury, or theft. For more information and a free quote, check out my travel insurance page.
Pros of Traveling in Africa Independently
This is the #1 reason why I, personally, would never take an overland tour. I hate the thought of being forced into sticking to a strict itinerary. While traveling independently, you can do whatever you want. You have absolute freedom. For example:
- You can make up your itinerary as you go- If you arrive in a new country and aren’t enjoying yourself, you can catch the next bus out. For example, I hated Tanzania and will probably never return. I spent a couple of weeks there traveling around and seeing the sites but really didn’t enjoy myself. I found the people incredibly unwelcoming compared to the surrounding countries that I had visited. After I had enough, I took a bus to Malawi. Immediately after crossing the border, everything changed. Everyone I met was friendly and welcoming. Independent travel gives you the freedom to go where you want, when you want.
- You can eat what you want- If you feel like going out for pizza, you can. If you want to eat rice and beans every day, you can. When traveling independently, you choose your own restaurants or cook your own food. You don’t have to stick to the menu of the group.
- You can sleep where you want- Africa offers a lot of options in terms of accommodation. If you’re on a tight budget, you can camp every night. If you’re sick of roughing it, you can book yourself a night in a fancy lodge and live in luxury. You decide.
Independent travel is cheaper
I estimate that, on average, independent travel in Africa costs about 20-30% less than an overland tour. To be fair, overland tours are actually a pretty cost-effective way to experience the continent.
A few areas where you can cut costs when traveling independently include:
- Food- If you’re willing to eat like a local, you can save a significant amount of money. Rice and beans is a common African meal. A filling plate costs just a dollar or two. Cassava is another African staple food. Many other low-cost meals are available across the continent. You could get by spending less than $100 per month on food if you’re careful. If you eat like a local, you could probably survive on less than $30, though that wouldn’t be much fun.
- Transportation- Minibuses can transport you across the continent for around a dollar per hour of travel. Coaches are available on many routes for just a little bit more.
- Park entry and guide fees- These are some of the most expensive parts of traveling in Africa. One way to cut down on fees is to pick and choose which parks you visit and design your own tour to save on guides. For example, you can take a safari in the Maasai Mara in Kenya for less than $200. A similar safari in the Serengeti costs more than twice that.
- Drive yourself- When visiting some sites, you can save a significant amount of money by driving yourself and doing without a guide or tour. For example, my friend and I rented a car and drove to Sossusvlei, Namibia for less than half of what an organized tour would have cost
- Travel insurance- When traveling independently, no one is going to make you buy travel insurance. Having said that, you should have it anyway just for peace of mind.
For more money-saving tips, check out my guide Ultra Low Budget Travel: How to See the World for Less than $10 Per Day.
For help making a budget for this trip, check out my guide: Traveling Africa on a Budget.
Ultra Low Budget
If you are willing to give up on some luxuries and live like a local, you can travel independently in Africa on a very low budget. In fact, Africa is probably the cheapest part of the world to travel if you know what you’re doing.
For example, hostels are rare in Africa so most nights you’ll be staying in hotels. This can add up quickly if you’re not careful. There are a few ways to cut costs. In many villages and cities, you can rent a room by the month for less than $100 per month. You could pick a place to make your base, rent a cheap room, and explore the surrounding area.
Camping is also a money saving option. I recommend you always carry a tent while traveling in Africa. You can wild camp for free if you have the nerve for it.
I have a friend doing volunteer work and traveling in East Africa. He rents rooms by the month and lives like a local. I don’t know his exact budget but I would estimate that he spends significantly less than $500 per month.
Independent travel is an adventure
Traveling in Africa is pure adventure. Not knowing who you’ll meet, where you’ll sleep, or how you’ll get to where you’re going is all part of the fun. Somehow the uncertainty adds to the experience. Africa is one of the few parts of the world left where you can have a classic adventure like the explorers who traveled the world before us.
The trip is more authentic
Overall, Africa doesn’t have many traditional tourist attractions. There aren’t any world-class museums, infrastructure is generally poor, and the food is nothing to write home about. Really, the biggest draw to the continent is the wildlife viewing (which is spectacular). Overland tours will bus you from one tourist site to the other but you’ll miss out on the two best things that Africa has to offer.
- The people- When traveling independently in Africa, you meet some of the most friendly and happy people on the planet. Africans love to dance, joke around, and welcome you into their life. Hospitality is second to none.
- Small villages- African capital cities are best avoided if possible. They are crowded, polluted, and full of crime. For the most authentic experience, head into rural areas and smaller towns. Life is slow and people are friendly. You won’t get to experience anyplace like this on an overland tour.
You can see more
Overland tours don’t go everywhere on the continent. Some places you have no option but to travel independently. For example, I don’t know of any tour companies operating in Somalia, South Sudan, or the Central African Republic. If you want to visit these countries, you’ll have to travel independently or arrange a private tour.
You don’t have to be social all the time.
While traveling independently, you get to decide:
- Who you hang out with- I met an interesting guy in Nairobi who I ended up traveling across half the continent with. We’re still friends to this day. If I had gotten sick of him, I could have easily gone my own way. This is a luxury you have when traveling independently. When you go on an overland tour, you are stuck with the same group day in and day out. If someone gets on your nerves, there is nothing you can do. You just have to put up with them.
- When you want to be social- While on an overland tour, you are expected to be somewhat social all the time. You will be constantly surrounded by people that expect you to talk and interact with them all day long. As an introvert, this sounds exhausting. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood to talk to anyone. When traveling independently, you are free to go out and be social or just enjoy your own company.
Cons of Traveling in Africa Independently
You are responsible for all of the planning
Planning an extended trip through Africa is a massive undertaking. A lot of logistical planning goes into making a trip happen.
You have to consider:
- Transportation- One of the most difficult parts of traveling in Africa independently is simply getting from point A to point B. Figuring out bus schedules and ticket office locations takes time. Distances between sites are far and sometimes require several transfers. For an example, it takes 4 days to travel from Addis Ababa to Nairobi by bus. If there is no coach service available, you’ll have to figure out the minibus route which is another headache. I found that a lot of this information wasn’t available online. Check out my guide to help you plan some of the more popular African bus routes.
- Food- When traveling independently, you are responsible for keeping yourself well fed. You have to take the time to go shopping for food, cook, or stop at restaurants. In Africa, you must also consider food cleanliness so you don’t get sick.
- Accommodation- Each night, you need to find a place to sleep. This includes booking a hotel or finding a place to camp. This sometimes walking around looking for a hotel that’s within your budget.
- Money- In Africa, it can sometimes be a challenge to find a working ATM that has money in it. For example, check out this interesting article about the money situation in Zimbabwe. When I was there, I ran out of cash. Luckily, the man at the bus ticket office allowed me to pay for my ticket when I reached Zambia, where I could take money from the ATM.
- Visas- Before you leave for your trip, you need to know which visas are available at the border and which you must obtain in advance. Visa policy in Africa is confusing and changes often and without notice.
Independent travel isn’t as safe
Overall, Independent travel in Africa is fairly safe. With that being said, there are times when traveling in an overland group is safer. Examples include:
- Mugging- A criminal is more likely to target an individual than a group. There is safety in numbers.
- Transportation- The most dangerous part of traveling in Africa is bus travel. Accidents do happen. For whatever reason, Africans like to drive fast. Road conditions are often poor. When you are traveling on an overland tour, you are being driven around by a professional driver. Who knows what kind of training the average minibus driver has? Probably none.
- Theft- When traveling independently, there are more opportunities for thieves to steal your belongings. Hotel workers have been known to go through guests bags while they’re out. You can’t always keep an eye on your bags while they are under the bus. In an overland truck, your stuff is pretty safe.
You will spend a lot of time alone
Many African countries don’t see many tourists. There are times where you will go for weeks or months without seeing a single other traveler. It gets lonely.
The bright side is that African people are incredibly friendly. There is always someone to talk to. After a while, it is nice to have someone from the same culture to share the experience with. You don’t always have this when traveling independently.
After traveling in Ethiopia, where I saw very few tourists, I was thrilled to meet another traveler when I arrived in Nairobi.
You have to negotiate everything
One of the most annoying things about traveling in Africa is simply making a purchase. Everything must be negotiated. For whatever reason, sellers in Africa don’t feel bad about scamming a tourist. Some even think it’s funny.
You must negotiate hotel rooms, restaurant meals, minibus rides, taxi rides, and many food purchases. The only place you don’t have to negotiate are those where the price is set and posted such as bus ticket offices and grocery stores. Other than that, nearly everything must be negotiated.
Personally, I find negotiating exhausting. Unfortunately, it’s just part of the fun of traveling in Africa. Some countries are worse than others. For example, in Ethiopia and Tanzania, almost every purchase needs to be negotiated. In Rwanda and Uganda, people seemed much more willing to give an honest price.
If there is an emergency, you are on your own
Travel in Africa is unpredictable. If an emergency comes up while you are traveling independently, you have to rely on yourself to find a solution. You must be resourceful and prepared
Imagine coming down with a severe case of malaria. You have no one to rely on to take you to the clinic or take care of you while you recover. In this case, you must get the treatment that you need all by yourself.
You are more likely to get sick
When traveling independently, you don’t always have the luxury of cooking a fresh meal every night. Sometimes you are in the middle of nowhere at a bus stop where the only option for food is some sketchy looking plate of unidentifiable meat and rice. Hygiene standards are questionable at best. If you’re hungry enough, you’ll eat anything. Chances are, somewhere along the way, you’ll get a case of food poisoning or travelers diarrhea.
You have to carry more gear
When traveling independently, you have to drag all of your gear around by yourself. There is no tour company to haul around food, bedding, and cooking utensils. You don’t have the luxury of leaving some of your stuff on the overland truck either. You have to carry:
- Sleeping Bag
- Sleep Mat
- Mosquito net
- Camp Stove
Many of these are heavy items that the overland company includes with the cost of the trip. If you’re traveling independently and you don’t already have these items, you’ll have to purchase them before the trip. This adds to the cost. Admittedly, if you decide to stay in hotels every night and don’t eat out, most of these items are unnecessary.
Overland Tours Vs. Independent Travel: My Choice
Personally, the benefits of independent travel far outweigh the drawbacks. The main reason I travel is the feeling of absolute freedom and adventure. Sure, there are highs and lows. Suffering and being miserable is just part of the experience. Being able to look back and admire or critique how I dealt with difficult situations has helped me grow as a person. I also put a lot of value on my freedom. Overland tours just can’t offer that kind of experience.
Which type of travel you choose is really a personal choice. It comes down to three factors:
- Your personality- If you are the type of person that needs to have a set itinerary to be comfortable, book an overland tour. If you don’t care about knowing where you’re going to sleep tonight, consider traveling independently.
- Your expectation of comfort- While traveling on an overland tour, you will travel in relative comfort. You won’t be packed into a minibus or sleep in a hotel without running water. If you don’t mind roughing it, try traveling independently.
- Your level of experience with international travel- If you’re 18 years old and leaving your home country for the first time, independent travel in Africa is a big jump. Yet still completely manageable if you take the time to prepare and research. If you’ve traveled independently in Asia and Latin America and are planning your first trip to Africa, there is really no reason you need to take an overland tour, unless you want to.
Again, it’s really a personal choice. Some people will have a much better experience on an overland tour. Some will enjoy traveling independently much more. Neither is better than the other though there are benefits and drawbacks to each style of travel. Whichever you choose, you will have a different yet worthwhile experience, I’m sure.
Combining Overland Tours With Independent Travel
Many travelers choose to take an overland tour for their first visit to Africa then travel independently after they get a feel for the continent. This is a good option if you’re on the fence. You get the best of both worlds.
In general, Southern Africa is the most developed and easiest part of the continent to travel. East Africa is slightly less developed but sees a lot of tourists. West and Central Africa are, by far, the least developed and most difficult parts of the continent to travel.
For example, you could fly into my favorite African city, Nairobi, and explore for a few days before beginning your overland tour. You could travel in a tour group around East Africa or to South Africa then begin exploring independently. This way, you get the comfort of a tour but also the opportunity to explore by yourself.
Sometimes You Have To Take a Tour
Even if you are traveling independently, you’ll be taking tours on occasion. For whatever reason, Africa loves pushing tours and guides on tourists. They have structured park fees and permissions in a way that makes visiting in a tour is essentially required in some cases.
To visit the Serengeti, for example, the best and cheapest way to go is to book a tour from Arusha. My friends and I arranged everything ourselves including camping, truck, driver, food, and entry tickets. We ended up paying more than if we just booked a tour.
If you want to visit the Omo Valley of Ethiopia, you’ll have to hire a guide for part of the trip as well.
Final Thoughts on Overland Tours Vs. Independent Travel in Africa
Africa is addictive. It’s a place that everyone should travel at least once in their life. It doesn’t matter if you are on an overland tour or traveling independently, just go. This sounds cheesy or cliché but I can honestly say that traveling in Africa changed me. I absolutely fell in love with the continent. From the moment I got back home, all I could think about was making a return trip. The people, the villages, and the lifestyle, I loved it all and can’t wait to return. I’m sure you’ll feel the same way.
Have you taken an Africa overland tour? Share your experience in the comments below!
More from Where The Road Forks
- Is Travel in Africa Safe? Avoiding Crime, Disease, Injury, and Scams
- How to Plan a Cairo to Cape Town Trip
- The Travelers Guide to Malaria Prevention, Treatment, and Tablets in Africa
- Maasai Mara Vs. Serengeti: Where is the Better Safari?
- The African Visa Guide
- The Ultimate Guide to Bus Travel in Africa
- 15 Great Rift Valley Lakes to Visit in East Africa