Concern about safety is, understandably, one of the main issues many people have with the idea of overlanding. After all, traveling through unfamiliar regions and braving foreign lands is nothing to scoff at. Is overlanding dangerous, then?
The simplest possible answer – albeit not necessarily a totally satisfying one – is that it can, but doesn’t have to be. At its core, overland travel is precisely what it says on the tin: travel. How dangerous it gets is entirely up to the traveler themselves.
Since virtually every bout of overlanding is unique in this way or the other, there’s no hard and fast rule we could dispense at a moment’s notice. What we can do, instead, is to talk about some potential sources of danger you may (or may not) come across while overlanding.
What Are The Dangers of Overlanding?
Overlanding isn’t inherently more dangerous than any other form of travel. It does, however, remove a number of safety nets from underneath you. This means that you need to be able to rely on yourself to properly navigate potential dangers as they arise.
The logical first step towards becoming safely self-reliant is a healthy dose of awareness, of course. To that end, this section of the article will familiarize you with some of the most common trials and tribulations of overland travel.
For many, there’s nothing quite like getting to spend time alone in nature. Whether you’re trying to get in tune with your inner wildling or simply aiming to get away from cellular coverage for a while, remoteness is a core feature of overlanding by definition.
Depending on the route you aim to take, you may be more or less far-removed from the nearest maintained infrastructure and villages or towns. While this will afford you the freedom that you might be looking for, you also need to keep in mind that being off-grid comes with certain risks.
In fact, most of the other dangers we’ll mention here grow more severe the more remotely you need to face them. If your engine sputters out a few miles away from the nearest gas station, no big deal. If it grinds to a halt in the middle of nowhere, you’re in trouble.
Problems with your vehicle, in particular, are not so much a matter of ‘if’, but rather of ‘when’. As is the case with all kinds of machinery, vehicles, too, break down. Depending on how lucky you are, there’s a whole sliding scale of how dangerous your breakdown might end up being.
A flat tire is as innocuous as it gets, for example, long as you’ve got a spare you can quickly replace it with. If your fancy new 4WD’s electronic components begin to short out, though, there’s virtually no way to get them safely replaced until you’re back home.
Regular vehicle maintenance is a must if you’re a keen overlander, and sticking with simpler, purely mechanical models with combustion engines will be a good idea in the long run.
While we’re on the topic of vehicle use, off-roading is another part-and-parcel feature of overlanding, and it should be obvious why it made its way onto this list.
As we all know, traffic accidents can happen anywhere and everywhere, with reasons ranging from the apparent lack of attention from drivers all the way to mechanical failures and troublesome road conditions.
All of this applies to off-roading, too, except in far more extreme ways. Remote pathways often take unexpected twists and turns and, depending on the weather, you might even find yourself in the middle of a mudslide if you’re really unlucky.
One extremely useful gadget you should consider investing in are recovery traction tracks, though they won’t help you if your vehicle is totaled during the expedition.
Nature (Landslides, extreme temperatures, etc.)
Much as nature giveth, so might nature taketh away. For all of its impeccable serenity and beauty, it’s always worth remembering that nature is incredibly indifferent to us and virtually everything we do; including overlanding.
Having mentioned mudslides already in the section above, they’re hardly the only danger posed by forces of nature themselves.
Extreme temperatures, for one, may be a serious consideration depending on where you’re overlanding. In some cases, you may even need to have a way to contend with both extremes in the same climate region.
Elsewhere, you may come across fully-fledged landslides, hurricanes, flooding, and a wide variety of other natural disasters. Do not take these lightly, because they’re possibly the single most implacable danger you may ever come across.
Check the weather and climate patterns of the region you’re overlanding through. Preferably well-ahead of time, because that’s the only way to avoid dangers such as these.
But, of course, danger doesn’t always come from the outside world. Sometimes, it comes from the inside, with your own body conspiring against you.
Illness comes in many shapes and sizes, and while most common diseases can easily be handled by modern medicine, you should generally try to avoid all of them to the best of your abilities while overlanding.
Firstly, it’s clearly less than ideal for anyone to be ill during an overlanding adventure. Secondly, you may contract diseases that you had never even heard of before, let alone been exposed to. Thirdly, do you want to rely on the local health care system?
At the very least, make sure that you have a survival-grade first aid kit at hand, and that you know how to use each and every one of the tools it offers.
Depending on where your overland travels take you, you may find yourself in one of the many regions of the world that are (in)famous for corruption in the ranks of their police. In these cases, you may find yourself getting blackmailed on the side of the road.
While there’s no way to 100% prevent this from ever happening, do try to always have a photocopy of your passport (and other key documents) at hand. Otherwise, if you give the corrupt officials your actual documents, you may find it really hard to get it back.
Unless, of course, you pay whatever “fees” they might have in store for you.
Ideally, you should stick to your proverbial guns and insist on paying the fines via official channels. However, listen to your gut. It’s better to pay up than to end up spending a week in jail and having all your belongings rummaged through and potentially stolen.
Animals (Venomous Spiders, Bears, etc.)
Another force of nature, albeit one that’s usually a bit sneakier than your average hurricane, the danger posed to you by the local fauna will vary greatly from one region of the world to the next. We do advise being cautious towards all unfamiliar animals you may encounter, though.
While the potential danger present in coming face-to-face with some subspecies of bear is plainly obvious, the most insidious critters are also the ones you might not ever see coming.
Many parts of the world play host to all sorts of dangerous animals. From venomous spiders and snakes all the way to disease-bearing mosquitos and other assorted insects.
Researching the potentially hazardous indigenous species and learning about their respective life-saving remedies (if any exist) should be on your to-do list while preparing for a new overlanding adventure.
It’s no accident that most overland adventurers reassure people about the low likelihood of being outright robbed while traveling. Yes – crime does exist and it is a factor, but the majority of people simply aren’t thieves and bandits out to get you.
The old adage that the vast majority of committed crime is a crime of opportunity, however, does ring true.
Keep your most valuable gadgets and belongings out of sight if possible. Preferably well-secured and difficult to locate, too, on the off chance that someone does end up going through your stuff while you’re away for whatever reason.
Keeping a fake wallet in your pocket with just a few bills inside might not be a bad idea, either.
To circle back to a danger far more mundane than any pickpocket or venomous snake could ever strive to be, road safety is one last major concern you ought to have.
As everyone (hopefully) knows, driving predictably means driving safely, and a traveler from a different culture is highly unlikely to be well-acquainted with whatever driving customs the locals may have developed over time.
Asia and India, in particular, offer a vastly different traffic context than westerners might be used to.
Drive slowly and safely, without disrupting regular traffic. Try to avoid driving at night, and definitely avoid driving while tired. If you’re at the wheel, make sure that you can remain sharp and focused no matter what.
What Are The Procedures to Make Overlanding Less Dangerous?
By now, you’re aware of the potential dangers that you may come across while overlanding. There are some things you can do to minimize the potential risks you’ll be taking, though.
Start simple, build habits
Are you getting ready for your first round of overlanding? Awesome! Just keep in mind that there’s absolutely no need for you to “go big or go home” in any way, shape, or form.
Quite the opposite – your first bout of overland travel should be a lightweight learning experience first and foremost. You need to assess your limits and figure out which areas of preparation you might be lacking in.
As you can probably imagine, planning is absolutely crucial for safe overlanding. Ideally, you should be aware of the general path you’re going to take. On top of that, you need to be aware of what you’re getting into.
Try to learn as much as possible about your route. If you only intend to stick around your country or state, this won’t be much of an issue, but if you’re from, say, France, and you’re looking to drive around Argentina, you may even want to learn some basic Spanish.
Get to know your expedition vehicle
Ideally, you should have access to a sturdy and reliable four-wheel-drive truck that will make it through unpredictable weather and unruly terrain. Now, it won’t be enough that you know how to drive your vehicle around: chances are that you may also need to do quick repairs on the fly.
Perform as much maintenance on your ride as possible before setting out. Further, learn about its inner workings and consider consulting trained mechanics if you want to be fully prepared for your travels.
Come well-equipped and prepare for contingencies
What happens if you come across an angry mama bear with her cubs close by? What if you run out of food or water? Cell service loss is a major issue as well, and doubly so if something dangerous happens in the middle of nowhere.
Naturally, it’s virtually impossible to come prepared for every potential crisis. It would be wise, however, for you to pack a bear spray, some extra rations, and a way to contact someone in a pinch.
Research is key here, as well as knowing what to rely on in what moment. Sure, having a GPS at hand is awesome, but keep a paper map handy as well. In the case of an attempted robbery, have a throw-away wallet at hand. It’s rare, to be sure, but it can happen.
Tell someone where you’re going
This one is simple, for the most part. Just make an itinerary if at all possible. If you plan to overland for, say, a week, it would be extremely wise to tell your loved ones that this is the case.
Checking in with your overlanding confidant is also key: let them know that you’re safe and sound, and make sure to update them if you make any further changes to your travel plan.
This way, if something bad happens and you end up being unreachable, they’ll know to alert the authorities and to give them a general idea of where you are.
Know your limits
This is fully subjective: you’re the only person that really, truly knows your own limits. Listen to your gut and listen to your body. It’s better for everyone if you avoid a phenomenal sightseeing route that shows signs of danger. You can always return some other time, if you’re really eager.
If you feel unsafe camping in the woods, stick close to the roads and sleep in your vehicle. If you’re not as physically prepared for a taxing trek as you should be, forego it instead.
Just be completely honest with yourself and don’t let your ego get the best of you.