What I wish I knew before overlanding East Africa

It’s the stuff you wish you knew upfront, the “minor” details tour companies “forget” to outline in their trip itineraries. We knew we weren’t signing up for a Bora Bora. Then again, I wasn’t expecting to go pee outside my tent at one in the morning either. But that we did. Truth is, we knew it was going to be a bit out of our norm and comfort zone, but that’s also how we tend to travel to experience a new place and culture. Still, had I known about these in advance, I would have came far more prepared.

If you’re thinking of over landing Africa, here are a few more things you should know about:

10+ hour, bumpy rides and rotations

Of your 21-day tour, nearly half is spent in the truck on 10+ hour long rides on less than desirable road conditions. It wasn’t just bumpy, it was dusty and hot so grabbing the right seat is key on these trips: in the back and you’ll feel every bump. By the window and it’s wind and dust in your face all the time. On the wrong side, the sun is beating down on you. In the front, well it’s just plain awkward. And you can’t get too comfortable because at some point, someone will complain and you’ll be placed on rotation. Meaning, your seat today will not be your seat tomorrow.

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Most days we starred into the never-ending distance. Only 8 or so more hours to go..

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Tip: Because the rides were so bumpy, it was hard to read our Kindle. Instead, pack audiobooks or movies to help pass time. Make sure to get up and stretch too.

2. Packed lunches!

White bread, bologna or mystery meat, lettuce, tomato onion and strange cheese with runny mayonnaise — yes, that’s what’s for lunch all day, err day. Most days, we ate our morning made sandwiches on a moving truck. After week 1, I was repulsed at the thought of lunchtime on the bus. It was literally making me nauseous.

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Here’s us making lunch during the daytime on the side of the road. It happened maybe twice on the entire trip. Most days, the picture on the bottom right paints a more realistic setting — packing sandwiches at 5AM in the dark.

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Luckily, I came prepared. I packed a plastic bowl and ramen noodles, MAMA and beef pho to be exact. The first day I opened my first ramen package (I packed 4), it was after a consecutive 3-day long, 10+ hours drive – I needed this.

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You don’t have to pack your own tupperware, you can pick it up on a market run day. Ramen noodles are available too, though in strange flavors like picante, it does the trick. Our group even got creative with each passing lunch: swapping bread for tortilla wraps, omitting bread altogether and opted for packed salads – we just picked up a bottle of dressing to share amongst the group. Gerard really wished he packed more Clif bars as we couldn’t find any protein bars in Africa.

Tip: get the samosas at the border crossings, they’re the best. Even better than the ones at the market.

5am wake up calls

Most days, you’d be waking up at five in the morning. But five in the morning we woke: grab our torch and headlamp, go pee and brush, pack up our sleeping bags and backpacks, break down our tents.. all in the dark. Here we are, brushing our teeth in the dark. Gerard’s got a head light on his head, hence the bright flash. It was definitely a challenge to pee with a headlamp on your head or a torch in your hand, but after a few days, it was second nature to us — our new morning routine.

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Laundry day

When you arrive late afternoon and have to leave early the next day virtually everyday, there isn’t a lot of time for laundry. More importantly, there isn’t enough time for drying the clothes you’ve just hand washed, so it is really important you pack light and things that dry fast. No fluffy towels allowed. Luckily, we’ve gotten pretty use to packing long-term and on-the-go. I almost thought my hand washing days were behind us when we ended our year long trip. Wishful thinking I guess.   

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Tip: Bring a long clothesline. Preferably one that can clip anywhere, like from one tree to the next.

Chores

Yes, you will have chores: cleaning the truck, dish washing, flap dry (if you’ve been, you know what I mean by this), be the chef’s helper like chopping vegetables, lots of them. All part of the joys of overlanding Africa.

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We somehow avoided truck cleaning altogether, someone went out of order on the list. Oh well, we made up for it plenty with our green bean and carrot chopping skills! Here we are with Peter, our chef.

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Bush toilets

It’s exactly what it sounds like. There’s no such thing as a rest stop in Africa. Instead, there are bush stops. This means, pull over to the side of the road, find a decent bush and go. It’s unlady like and hard to find a spot that’s far enough from the road or even the girl right next to you. By our second bush run, we were all too comfortable squatting next to one another and peeing.

You can thank G for this embarrassing photo, my lowest point on the trip to date and he took full advantage of it, that’s my hub. Here I am, making a break in the Serengeti. We weren’t allowed to stray far from the truck for fear of getting mauled by a lion, so back of the truck we went.

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Because of long bus days, we suppressed from drinking too much which left us all really dehydrated. TMI but we’ve never seen our pee so dark yellow, it was definitely not a good sign. Most days, we slept all day just to pass time on the road and not think about thirst and boredom.

Tip: pack toilet paper, baby wipes and hand sanitizer.

Upgrades! It’s a good thing.

Finally, something good they didn’t tell us — the opportunity to upgrade your tent to a dorm or private bed! I must confess, we didn’t tent it as often as we probably should have. However, the few times we did pitch and break our own tents, I really liked it. Our tents were brand new and massive! It was spacious and cozy, far more comfortable than I thought it would be. I just didn’t enjoy having to break then down at five in the morning.

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It’s not exactly the honeymoon most people go on. Then again, we were never the conventional, cookie cutter traveling duo. We knew half of what we were getting ourselves into. It’s all part of overlanding in Africa and despite some of the things listed above, we thoroughly enjoyed the way we traveled East Africa.

By the way, we heard the roads and campsites were of better quality in South Africa. Our experience is based traveling through East Africa, where it’s rougher and not as developed as South Africa.

I wouldn’t have minded a little heads up either though. I would have came far more prepared: an extra head lamp, more cup o’noodles and a shepee. I’m not joking.

Have you traveled Africa by overlanding? Share some of your most memorable moments in the comments!

 

 

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  • http://www.gettingstamped.com Hannah @ GettingStamped

    Love this post! I can relate to every single one of these…hate the sandwiches and the 430am wake up calls! We had a 4:30 wake up day start driving at 5 and get into Dar after 8pm SUCKED!

  • http://www.greatbigglobe.com Alana

    Thanks for the info! We’re overlanding in Africa early next year. I actually considered buying one of those shepees before we left on our trip but decided against it. We have some friends meeting us right before the overland part of our trip, maybe I will have them bring me one! I’m not sure if our company offers upgrades on various days but we might just have to treat ourselves every once in awhile. :)

    • gqtrippin

      They most likely do. Prices will vary, good thing is you can always pick and choose. :)

  • Marilyn

    Your trip looked incredible. I would love to do something like this one day. What company did you use to go on your trip? Would you recommend them?

    • gqtrippin

      We went with Africa Travel Co because they had the dates/itinerary we wanted along with being one of the most affordable. We were satisfied. There are slightly slightly higher quality companies like Acacia Africa & Dragoman. But you may pay a little bit more.

  • http://leahtravels.com/site/ Leah

    I’m so happy you wrote this. Now, I without a doubt, know that I will NEVER do anything like this. EVER. Oh my goodness…it sure was fun to keep up with your updates along the way.

  • http://travelingted.com Traveling Ted

    No need to apologize for an upgrade. After peeing in a bush along the road, you are definitely due. Kudos for stepping out of your comfort zone for your honeymoon. Loved the pics on Facebook and cannot wait to read more.

  • http://www.jettingaround.com Pola (JettingAround) (@jettingaround)

    Yay for upgrades! Nothing wrong with those after you had to rough it! I’m here giggling at the stuff you mention, even though it probably wasn’t funny when you were in that bus! Adventures like these make for awesome stories later, dont they? :)

    • gqtrippin

      They totally do. Much easier to rough it up on these kind of trips sooner than later. =P

  • http://tripsbylance.com Lance | Trips By Lance

    I agree with Leah, I’ll never do this. So you didn’t inspire me to do this, but it’s like a lot of books I read or movies I watch. The story isn’t something I’ll do so reading your journey puts me there! Seriously, though, kudos to you for taking such a memorable journey for your honeymoon.

  • http://thetravelmanuel.com Vaughan

    This is awesome! A trip my wife and I have been craving for ages. Love your blog guys and congrats on the Top 25 Couples blogs for Flipkey. you definitely have one of the better websites off that list. We’re on it too!

    Cheers,
    Vaughan

    • gqtrippin

      Thanks Vaughn! Glad to have found your blog too.

  • http://thebritishberliner.wordpress.com Victoria@ The British Berliner

    Yikes! I will not be doing this anytime soon. I had thought about doing an overland trip but even though I like roadtrips, I can’t stand the not-washing bit. I hate dirty hands and feet especially when I’m abroad.
    I recently came back from Thailand and Indonesia, and I made my family wash their hands at every opportunity as I have a history of getting ill practically everytime….. LOL!
    A lovely read though and enormously practical advice. Thanks so much for sharing but I’ll stick to taking the train LOL! :) :)

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com/ Kieu – GQ trippin

      LOL, yes the not washing bit got under my skin.. literally. But now looking back a the whole experience, it’s really not that bad. The animals and safari experience made up for all this. 😀

  • Sabine @ The Travelling Chilli

    I really enjoyed reading this post. Overlanding in East Africa can be a bit (or better very) rough with long days and very bumpy roads. But as you mentioned at the end of your post, the campsites and the roads are much better in Southern Africa. So go for it :)
    It’s also very brave to go overlanding for your honeymoon. I can imagine you took the upgrades, it at least gives you some privacy (over the tents) 😉
    I hope we can read more stories about your african adventures!

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com/ Kieu – GQ trippin

      Funny enough, some upgrades weren’t worth it and I wished we’d chosen the tents but the thought of putting them up and breaking them back down.. ugh. We actually quite like the tents if we didn’t have to do that. LOL thanks for stopping by!

  • BakoymaTravels

    Great post, guys, I have Africa on my list and so I’m soaking up hints and tips and these are really good!

    I’m glad you enjoyed your honeymoon though, even with the bumps this sounds like a great trip :o)

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