“There are two kinds of adventurers: those who go truly hoping to find adventure and those who go secretly hoping they won't.”
William Least Heat Moon,
Blue Highways: A Journey Into America
In 1909 22-year old Alice Ramsey stuffed a friend and her two sisters-in-law into a 30-horsepower Maxwell DA touring car and set out to drive across the United States. Only a few short years after the very first coast-to-coast crossing of the continent by automobile, Ramsey and her companions aimed to be the first women to complete the journey from New York to San Francisco.
It took them 59 days to cover the 3800 miles in an open car on tires with no tread. In many parts of the country, especially the the mountain west, highways were basically non-existent, and telegraph was the main channel of communication. Maps? Guidebooks? Hardly. They overnighted in hotels when they could, camped out under the stars when they couldn’t, and fixed their own flats. In 1909, the United States was still an equine society, and there were over 25 million horses in the country. The four women in their Maxwell must have seemed like aliens to the people who lined the roads either to cheer them on, or jeer their folly. Sometimes they relied on the help and kindness of others, at other times they were completely on their own.
Sound familiar? Over a century later, and by any measure, we can instantly recognize Alice Ramsey’s achievement as an overland adventure (even without Instagram). But just who gets to be an “overlander”? What exactly is overlanding? Is it a hobby? An activity? A lifestyle? A hashtag? All of the above? Is a roof top tent required? We don’t like to get too hung up on labels here at Overlander, but, well… it’s in our name so we thought we’d take some time to think about what overland travel means to us and for you.
At the heart of overlanding is movement. In the long scope of our history, humans have been mostly sedentary for only a few thousand years. Mobility and adaptability have always been among our defining traits as a species, and they continue to be. Sometimes we have been on the move by necessity, and at other times for pleasure, or the challenge, or simple curiosity.
It’s an itch we still need to scratch - just by other means in our modern age. The frequently cited definition of overlanding set out by Overland Journal many years ago still applies: self-supported, vehicle-based adventure travel where the journey itself is front and center, rather than any particular destination. As overland travel has evolved over the decades, and as more of us have answered the call of the open road, the scope of “overlanding” has expanded.
In our own travels both at home in America and abroad, we have have met all kinds of overland travelers - from “weekend warriors” to people who had lived most of their adult lives on the road, moving constantly from country to country. For those folks, without a single social media account or sponsorship, they weren’t overlanding, it was just life. We know others with YouTube subscribers in the tens of thousands and Instagram influencers who make their living solely on the hashtag #overland. Some of us are only lucky enough to turn wheels on dirt two or three times a year.
"Oxford" - the first vehicle to drive from London to Singapore overland.
They can’t all be overlanders, can they? Some might argue that you’re not truly overlanding unless you cross an international border. But I can travel much further out of my element within the bounds of my own country by going to the Mississippi Delta of Louisiana than I can by crossing the Canadian border into Alberta near my home in Montana. Some would say the minute you slip behind the wheel and leave your driveway with no particular destination in mind, you’re “overlanding”. But that seems too easy. We might identify the overlander by their vehicle, or their gear, or by how many miles off road they have logged, or how many Instagram followers they have.
The "Mercato" - Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The answer, like with most things, lies somewhere in the middle, and maybe we can let Alice Ramsey help. Are you seeking a vehicle-driven adventure into the unknown, maybe by yourself or with your friends and family? Are you planning a journey of a few days or a few years, perhaps with a goal in mind, but without a particular way to get there? Are you preparing yourself and your vehicle for the unexpected? Are you pushing beyond the boundaries of the familiar - geographically, culturally, linguistically? Are you meeting strangers, and changing the way you see the world? Are you curious?
If you are, then welcome. It’s a big tent (so to speak). Join the discussion, let us know why you’re an overlander.
Photos by Stephan and Julie Edwards
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