This is a compilation of the best overland holidays worldwide. They are trips that stand out from the crowd and we hope these ultimate travel adventures will inspire you to hit the road. But first a true story of how overlanding can take over your life, with one of the most inspirational journeys we have encountered.
Ultimate travel adventures
In 1989, as the Berlin wall was about to crumble, German airline executive Gunther Holtorf and his wife Christine were setting out on what was supposed to be an 18-month tour of Africa in their Mercedes Benz G Wagen. But their journey didn’t end there and they stayed on the road until 2010, when Christine passed away. Gunther then carried on travelling until 2014.
After 26 years and 900,000 km, the journey came to an end for Gunther and Otto (as the car is now affectionately known). In what must be the definition of Wanderlust, Holtorf visited 215 countries including North Korea, crossed the Sahara desert and has even made it 5,200m up Mount Everest, all without a major breakdown.
There is something incredibly inspiring and hopelessly tempting about such an open-ended trip. The only limit to where you can travel next is your imagination and perhaps the ferry timetables. And there won’t be any post holiday-blues, if the journey never ends.
Best overland holidays worldwide
Now, you may not be able to give up 26 years of your life, but if you want to dedicate a serious amount of time to exploring, then here are seven ideas to get you going.
Cairo to Cape Town overland
Immortalised by Paul Theroux in his classic travel book Dark Star Safari, this epic, king of ultimate travel adventures, is a cross-continental overland trip can be undertaken using various modes of transport. This adventure is a great way to kick off our compilation of the best overland holidays worldwide.
The most popular route for this journey is down the eastern side of Africa. It’s possible to travel using only public transport, but if you want to live in a little more comfort, travelling as part of a guided tour or driving yourself might be easier. Travelling by car or public transport should take you between three and five months depending on how much you want to explore along the way.
Or for those who shun comfort, the Tour d’Afrique is a four-month, 12,000km cycle journey form Cairo to Cape Town. Averaging 123 km a day (there are 25 ‘rest days’ included in the journey) this is one for the determined cyclist. But you will be rewarded for your perseverance and saddle-sores by some amazing sights along the way and the sense of achievement on completing this once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
The Silk Road, Istanbul to Beijing
The most famous follower of The Silk Road was Marco Polo, one of the world’s first professional travellers. So it makes a fitting route for your own travel odyssey. The Silk Road is the original for ultimate travel adventures, and a fitting addition to our list of the best overland holidays worldwide.
Stretching 8,000km from Istanbul to Beijing, The Silk Road is one of the greatest travel routes of all time. Rather than being one distinct highway, it is made up of lots of smaller tributaries.
The main difficulty of this overland trip is negotiating the red tape of the countries that you pass through. Pretty much all require advanced visas, and if you are thinking of driving it in your own vehicle, there is even more paperwork to deal with.
Trains can be used almost all of the way, and although they are slow they offer you the time to reflect on the changing landscape and romanticise about your destination. Travelling The Silk Road will take three to four months depending on border crossings and breakdowns. But it really is a journey worth making.
The Trans Siberian Railway
Built between 1891 and 1916, the Trans Siberian Railway connects Moscow with the Russian Far East. At 5,772 miles in length, it was the longest railway in the world for many years. The railway also spans across a record 8 time zones!
The main route of this epic journey starts in Moscow at Yaroslavsky Vokzal, the through Yaroslavl, Chelyabinsk, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk, Ulan-Ude, Chita, and Khabarovsk to Vladivostok, via southern Siberia. These days it passes through Mongolia and finishes in Beijing.
Playing a huge part in Russian history, the Trans Siberian Railway still play an important role in modern times, as 30% of Russian exports travel on the line. The romantic notion of travelling by railway will never die. If you want to plan your own adventure by train, then check out Tailor Made Rail Holidays to experience one of the most relaxing ways to travel and explore.
London to Sydney
Normally if you want to travel from London to Sydney, the first thing I am sure most of you will check out is the flights. For those who do not like flying, by sea is the next obvious choice. But, have you ever considered driving it?
A company called OzBus Tours does just that! This amazing overland adventure takes 3 months to complete, travelling through 16 countries. From Western and Eastern Europe, to Turkey, Asia, Iran, Nepal, Indonesia, before flying to Darwin, Australia. The adventure then carries on through the Australian Outback onto Sydney.
You could of course do this yourself, either in a robust vehicle, or on a motorbike but there is a lot of red tape getting vehicles through some of the countries. It’s also perfectly possibly on local buses and and trains – you can even get the ferry from Indonesia to Darwin. It may not be the quickest route, but has to score high in the category of ultimate travel adventures.
The Americas – Tip to Tail in the Pan-American Highway
An easy choice for our ‘Best overland holidays worldwide’ collective. This is one for the ultimate travel adventures! It will certainly take great planning to cross this vast continent on public transport.
In North America you can travel by Train, but the Amtrak rail service can be skeletal in certain states. So detailed planning of the route and timetables is a necessity. Travelling by rail through South America is also an option but would not be easy.
Travelling by coach would be easier. The famous Greyhound give a great service throughout North America. Especially city to city connections. It also normally works out cheaper travelling by coach than rail, if you plan and book in advance.
There are also good, reliable, long distance coach services in South America. Just make sure that you plan your journeys so you don’t get dropped off at night in a coach depot, as sometimes these are in dodgy areas.
But is there any better way than travelling across the Americas than by car! Just follow the Pan American Highway from Alaska all the way to Urishia in Argentina. With plenty of incredible side trips to take, it certainly has more of a romantic notion. You can take your time in what must be one life’s ultimate travel adventures.
The only tricky bit is the 100-mile Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia. It consists of undeveloped swampland, impenetrable rainforest and wild tribes. Driving through South America is an incredible experience. But you may want to factor in lengthy border queues.
Of course, you can always mix it up and travel from tip to tail by rail, car and coach!
Interrailing in Europe
Travelling by train is the best way to experience Europe and one of the easiest. With a one month interrail pass costing from €510 you can around the continent on a budget – particularly if you take a lot of overnight trains as then you don’t have to pay for accommodation!
When I was 18 I inter railed around Europe and visited 16 countries in just a month. Begin at your local train station and visit amazing cities like London, Amsterdam, Rome, Berlin, Paris, Athens and Budapest. You can travel from Ireland to Istanbul or from Sicily to Sweden and of course everything in between.
The train services across Europe are usually fast, clean and punctual. It is also very easy to travel from country to country. This is a great way to explore and because of the sheer volume of countries you can visit and history you can take in, it’s one of the best overland holidays worldwide.
Round the World, The Full Monty
This has got to be the ultimate travel adventures for any overland adventure travel junkie. Round the world, all the way, without flying. Should this be top of our list of the best overland holidays worldwide?
Like Gunther Holtorf, you could equip yourself with an indestructible car and make the trip on four wheels. Or do it on two wheels like motorcycle adventurer Sam Manicom. But using public transport is also a good option for this kind of trip, as the cost of shipping a vehicle between continents can be considerable.
The first thing to plan is your sea crossings. The cheapest way to navigate the oceans is by cargo ship. The number of passengers that freight ships can take is limited so book well in advance to avoid being stranded at the end of a continent.
Next it’s just a case of planning your route, researching the transport systems in each country, acquiring necessary visa’s, getting your vaccinations, and setting up your Instagram account and blog (every RTW adventurer needs a blog!). And away you go.
Round the world trips can take anywhere from a few months (if you fly instead of sail between continents) to many years. In our opinion you need at least 12 months to do it properly, and really 24 if you want to get to know the countries you are passing through.
Best overland holidays worldwide don’t always go to plan
Travelling overland can be an awe-inspiring experience, the countries that you visit, the people you meet and the difficulties you overcome will all add to the journey.
Just remember when things do get tricky, and you’ve missed the last bus of the season or the train is sold out, there is always another route that you can try or a town you can relax in until something else turns up.
Do you agree with our 7 best overland holidays worldwide? If not let us know your ultimate travel adventures in the comments. If travelling, be sure to check out our adventure holiday discounts as you could save a fortune along the way.