What is Overland Podcast

Show Notes for Podcast Episode #18
Principles of Overlanding :: What is Overlanding?

For this Principles of Overlanding, Scott and Matt discuss the history of the term "overland", and how to properly define it within the context of experience, with input from a large quorum of other overland travelers. They also pose a series of questions to help provide a framework for what makes an overland journey. 


What is Overlanding?: Vehicle-dependent adventure travel. (first used by Overland Journal 2007)

Overlanding is ancient as a term, originally popularized in describing long-distance cattle drives in Australia. For vehicle travel, it has been around since the first automobile, a trip completed by Bertha Benz in 1888 (considered the first overland vehicle journey)

Ask the right questions: If the answer is yes to any one of these (assuming the travel is by vehicle), then it is most likely overlanding
1. Am I traveling remote? 
2. Am I experiencing a culture or region unique from my own?
3. Am I visiting an under-explored or under-documented region?
4. Am I traveling self-supported in unfamiliar territories for multiple days, weeks, months, or years?

Overlanding is Defined as: 
Overland Journal (Written by Jonathan Hanson and Scott Brady in 2007)

Definition (Simplistic): Vehicle-dependent adventure travel
Definition (Thorough): Vehicle-supported, self-reliant adventure travel, typically exploring remote locations and interacting with other cultures.

Let’s look at the more popular definitions from experienced travelers
Dan Grec: Overland Travel (commonly called "Overlanding") is all about traveling through countries "on the land", with some kind of vehicle, for an extended amount of time.
Chris Scott: Described overlanding as really only starting after weeks or months on the road. 

Wikipedia: https://wikitravel.org/en/Overland

Note: While we have used the description of "vehicle-dependent travel" since 2009, we have never considered it a proper definition, as it requires significant context. For example, it would be easy to confuse a simple road trip with overlanding if it is defined as such. As a result, we feel it is critical to include "adventure" as part of the definition, as it provides the necessary context. I am on an adventure with my vehicle. . .  

what-is-overlanding/ (Defined in 2008)
https://expeditionportal.com/what-is-overlanding/ (Defined in 2010)

Other terms worth reviewing:
OFFROADING or FOURWHEELING- Recreational sport using a 4wd 

CAR CAMPING- Traveling in a vehicle to an established campground. If there is a picnic table there or a toilet, it is probably car camping.

BACKCOUNTRY ADVENTURE or 4WD TOURING- A one-day or multi-day off-highway trip on an adventure motorcycle or in a 4WD vehicle.

VEHICLE-DEPENDENT EXPEDITION- An organized, vehicle-dependent journey with a defined purpose, often geographic or scientific in nature.

EXPEDITION VEHICLE- A 4WD vehicle or adventure motorcycle prepared for self-reliant travel over long distances, through unpredictable weather and over variable terrain.


Host Bios:
Scott Brady
Scott is the publisher and co-founder of Expedition Portal and Overland Journal and is often credited with popularizing overlanding in North America. His travels by 4WD and adventure motorcycle span all seven continents and includes three circumnavigations of the globe. His polar expeditions include two vehicle crossings of Antarctica and the first long-axis crossing of Greenland. @scott.a.brady

Matthew Scott
Matthew is a leading expert in automotive adventure. He has extensively explored the world's most remote places by 4WD and is considered an industry authority on overland travel. He is the only American to ever become an editor of a major Australian 4WD publication and has over 15 years of competitive auto racing experience. @mattexplore

Full Transcript:

Scott Brady:Hello and welcome to the Overland Journal podcast, I am your host Scott Brady and I am here with my co-host Matt Scott.


Matt Scott: What's going on everyone?


Scott Brady:  We are here to talk about an interesting question which is, “ what is overlanding?”


Matt Scott:What is actually overlanding?


Scott Brady: I think that now more than ever it is appropriate to talk about it. When we first started defining that back in 2006 and 2007 we spent a lot of time polling  the overlanders of the day. People have driven around the world and have crossed continents and done major expeditions to get their insights into what overlanding meant to them and from that we created our own definition from that. I think it's most important to say two things before we even get started. First off, I do not protest to know the answer completely to this question and even though I have experience, I do not as isshin myself as having all the experiences did you find this, this is as a result of lots of conversations with lots of individuals, this is not a definition that I am coming to on my own or that Matt is coming out to on his own.


Matt Scott: I have one.


Scott Brady: *laughing*  We are going to hear Matt's in just a minute. But I think about if we start from that position of knowledge, of trying to gain and understand knowledge, that's where we were when Jonathan Hanson and Graham Jackson and myself Worked together to create the definition that we had to Overland journal.com for what is overlay thing. As a result of that effort is certainly the most popular page on the interwebs about the answer to that question. Again, we're not saying we're the only definition but the important thing is to recognize the two things which is, overlanding is growing rapidly and it's changing rapidly which means that in my mind the definition does not change. The description of it may change, how people describe their activity of overlanding may change. So that's the first thing I think is that the definition doesn't really change, it doesn't get gentrified, it doesn't get reduced to something Elemental just to appeal to a larger audience. The definition is what the definition is just like any other word or any other saying, there are definitions and that's important to have because it gives us something to work from. It's also important for me at least personally to come at this from a real place of humility, recognizing that I only know a fraction of what I want to know about the subject. So what we're going to talk about today is all of the information that we've gathered and also some things that can influence the way that people Define it. Just from the start I want to make sure that any cognitive biases that I have are certainly laid out on the table by me traveling around the world and Crossing continents and doing it for months or years at a time, that can influence my view of the definition of overlanding and maybe that can make it sound too difficult or even unfortunately if it comes across the way as elitist, which is not my goal. What I want to do is try to find a balance between the two questions we can ask ourselves to Define if we are actually overlanding because it's okay to say that they were just camping for that would just be four wheeling. We're going to come at it from that perspective, when you look at just the general definition of overlanding or Overland, it was used by the Australians a long time ago. 


Matt Scott: Overlander magazine 4 by 4 going back to the 70’s,I want to say.


Scott Brady: So those things have been around for a long time and the Australians called Overland because they were going over land with their cattle, and that was really where the term took on some general use and it's been used in many forms since then. But we do need to understand those biases that can come into play which means that we need to always assess the level of skills and the level of experience of the messenger. That's going to talk about that a little bit when it comes to the industry but I'm going to talk about that specifically, if you read an article about what is overlanding or you listen to someone talk about what is overlanding, we asked,” what is their experience?”. Have they genuinely done long-distance, multi-month and multi-year travel?


Matt Scott: I think that is so important because when I look at what is overlanding and I have this conversation, it is the kind of conversation that most over live Travelers end up getting to after 4.25 beers. But what I've noticed is that people who have traveled internationally and vehicles prompted come to the same conclusion as to why overlanding is a lot sooner than people who have not traveled internationally and vehicles. When I have conversations with Dan Greck or Brian Door  or any of these guys who are my friends, and we're hanging out and we're just chatting, the conversation lasts about 5 minutes until we move on and say that overlanding is travel. I think that if you haven't really experienced that international travel Community, it may just mean something drastically different to you. It's such a subjective and internal definition because it's cool right now come overlanding is cool. You see some random French couple that’s driving in a Citroen deux chevaux or something down the Pan-American Highway. This is where it separates, I'm going to look at it and say, “ look at that Overland Traveler!Look at that person traveling, look at that.” Whereas somebody here maybe in the United States like maybe a newer Overlander that hasn't had the experience of traveling overseas might just. Even recognize that as an Overlander because they're not in a Tacoma that has big tires, doesn't have suspension, it doesn't have this and that. I think it's important to realize that overlanding is an activity, it is something that you do, it's not something that you build. Or own. Everything that makes me an Overlander and everything that makes Scott and Overlander can't be purchased, with the vehicles we drive. I love vehicles and I'm a vehicle enthusiast but the vehicle enthusiasts inside of me are different than the Overlander inside of me. The Overlander wants to travel, it wants to experience cultures, the Overlander wants to see the world and maybe I just don't know what part of me wants to lift the truck and do all of these modifications to them, is that overlanding? I don't know if that is even the essential part of it. I don't know if that is the defining characteristic.


Scott Brady: It's the Jeep wave of overlanding. I recognize that within myself when I had traveled less, I tended to do more vehicle modifications. If you work far more modified and far more complex when I had not travelled a lot because I think I was planning for the eventualities that I didn't know would or wouldn't exist so I think I over-prepared like the boy scout would do, and also there's a degree of being honest with ourselves of one sometimes the vehicle is our Jeep wave, I've got a snorkel and I've got this and that that defines me as an over later. I don't know that there's anything wrong with that, as long as people are honest about it. We've talked a lot on this podcast of needs versus wants, Matt's really good about relying on that. I think if you just say,” I really want something that looks like school and I don't actually have a lot of time to travel yet because I'm right in the middle of a startup and I'll be lucky if I get to go for a weekend.” I respect that because the person is being really honest where we start to get concerned is where someone goes to a local Campground for a night and they say that they're overlanding, just say I'm going car camping with my family. I go camping in Prescott National Forest all the time and I would never call it over Landing, I would just say that I'm excited to go camping. I'm going to go car camping this weekend and set up a tent, make a fire, make some s'mores, and I'm just going to call it what it is. If I go out driving a technical Trail for a day I don't say that I'm over Landing, I say I'm four-wheeling just because that's actually what I'm doing. It may be in my overlanding vehicle that I'm doing that but I think it's just really important to call it what it is.


Matt Scott: You can have an Overland vehicle, you can have your North American speck defender 110 that is iconic. You're going to have the Tacoma that is the Practical, whatever you drive it doesn't actually matter. You can go car camping out of an Overland vehicle, you can go road tripping out of an Overland vehicle, you can go rock climbing, in some regards you can go four-wheeling. Just because you're driving out of something with a roof tent, a snorkel, something that has Overlanding modifications to it, what you're doing has to be called that. I think that's an important thing. I don't know how many Overland influencers that I'm friends with that haven't even left the country and they're scared too. They won't go to Mexico with me and I tell them, “I will take you to Baja, let’s do something.” And I actually have to say, what is the validity of calling yourself an Overlander if you're not interested in trouble? I think that’s where I was goin with that, is if the goal for you isn’t travel, if the goal for you isn’t conquering specific trails, if you’re an overlander it is trave;


Scott Brady: It really is, and that was kind of the definition that we came to, Jonathan did and Graham Jackson and myself over a decade.


Matt Scott: Let’s just read that, so two definitions are one in the same, so the first one is, “Vehicle dependent adventure travel.” That’s so simple, it’s broad enough but it’s simple enough. The thorough definition  is,” vehicle supported self-reliant Adventure travel typically exploring remote locations and interacting with other cultures” that is a big part of overlanding.


Scott Brady: I think that either definition is okay, the one that is a little more thorough I think helps provide some additional context and that's where the concern around saying something like, “ vehicle dependent travel” and making that just be a definition, I think that can be descriptive but it's actually not a definition because it can't be used out of contacts. for example, I've been saying “  vehicle dependent travel” since 2009, but I would never use it as a way to purely Define overlanding in it of itself because it needs to be within the context of overlanding, so that's why I like to say, “ vehicle dependent Adventure travel” because if it's just vehicle dependent travel maybe you're just doing a road trip to go see your grandma. There's nothing wrong with a road trip but  call it a little road trip. I think it's really important to have context and make the definition as thorough as possible. The definition we tend to use we have been using since 2009 is, “ vehicle supported travel” and I think that works. It's worked well for us and our listeners, we would love your feedback if you feel it needs to be something different, we would love to continue to a value and incorporate that core of Travelers but, in our conversations with Dan Greck and Graeme Bell and Tom Shepard and Chris Scott and all these luminaries of the industry, that was kind of what we came to as the most efficient definition of overlanding. Which I think leads to a couple questions, Matt and I talked about this and kind of worked it out because some of the things are, now that I know the definition how do I know that I am actually overlanding? I think it's helpful to ask the right questions. So, the first question is, “ am I traveling remote?” With am I getting days away potentially by vehicle where the consequences of the vehicle stopping and working or if you get stuck in you need to walk out, you're starting to get remote, you don't have cell phone coverage and you can't see.


Matt Scott: There's a difference between the skeleton Coast and where we were about a month or two ago, Moab  is a town that's in the middle of nowhere but it is a town, there are Services there, hell's revenge is not overlanding.


Scott Brady: But you can from Moab, you can start heading towards Canyon Land and you can get super remote *inaudible* you can get days away from help.


Matt Scott: It's like Moab but without people.


Scott Brady: So in that case, and my mind you're absolutely overlanding. So the next question is, “ am I experiencing a culture unique from my own?” So one of these questions can be independent, so that means that you may not be a remote but you're in another country and you're experiencing a new culture, if you're experiencing a new culture and you're traveling by vehicle, then I would say that qualifies as overlanding. What do you think about that Matt?


Matt Scott: I travel Overland for culture and for food. That's pretty much it, I love going to really remote places but I kind of like to connect taco shells by the most rugged ways possible.


Scott Brady: The next question is, “ am I visiting and under Explorer door under documented region?” And lots of cool ways to incorporate overlanding into your local area. A great example of this is the guys who have done a lot of traveling in Vermont, it's really hard to get remote in Vermont, it's really hard to experience a new culture but you can find a new trail that connects together, and you can do research, and go to the library, you can patch these Trails together to create something that is a genuine journey of new experiences and is under explored or maybe under documented. If that's the way to also incorporate overlanding into an area that's more local. The next question is, the last one is ,” am I traveling self-supported in unfamiliar territories for multiple days, weeks, months, years?” For example, you may not be remote at all, you may be traveling for 10 years with your family, but you're traveling in a new place. So you don't really leave asphalt roads for the most part. But you've been traveling around the world for years so you've added the element of time, and you've added the element of unfamiliarity and you're fully self-supported. That starts to also qualify for the definition of overlanding, will post these of course in the show notes about those are great ways to say, “ am I over landing on the Strip? can I answer any one of these questions as a definitive yes?” then most likely you are. We are framing this and a helpful way, we're not trying to say that we know it all because I do not know at all I know only a fraction of what I hope to know. But these are an ideas that help frame the concept of, “ am I actually overlanding?”


Matt Scott: In a lot of ways it's almost similar to the difference between a vacation and traveling. Travel to me is more in-depth, it's more meaningful, it's more of a quest, more of a search. Vacation to me is more Margaritas on the beach. It's hard to really try this definition down because it is designed to be inclusive and travelers are very accepting people so nobody wants to go to somebody’s  face and say, “You’re not an overlander!”


Scott Brady: It's really important, we don't want anybody to take that away from this conversation, it's literally just a conversation that helps provide some framework. I remember when I first started traveling in my vehicle I would call things that I was doing Expeditions and in hindsight I realize I was completely incorrect. I came from a place of ignorance, I came from a place of not having done really long, really remote travel to know the difference. So that is one of the definitions that we will cover today, which is vehicle dependent Expedition. Take all of the pieces of overlanding and then add a purpose to it or when Tom Shepard was the first person to cross the Sahara, those are Expedition, these are first, these are major undertakings, this is travel with a purpose or a scientific endeavor. So it's okay to not call your trip and Expedition, I learned that the hard way myself, I made that mistake and called things that I did on Expeditions when they weren't. And now I don't do that, in fact I would say that I probably only done two real Expeditions in my whole life.


Matt Scott: For me, calling myself an expedition leader or calling the trip that you're doing an expedition, that's pretty serious, that's supposed to carry some weight with it. When I was at Explorer the event I tried to do to every year in London,  I was talking to Shannon and we came to this idea that if it's not something that could end up in their archives, if there is no scientific report, if there's no scientific paper being published from it, there's no academic reason for the trip, it's not an expedition. Exploration, being the first person to cross Antarctica or whatever, that happens. Surely that ended up in the archives of the world geographical Society, some kind of University or higher learning establishment. Use that as an example, that's my personal rule. If you're not proving something for the first time or you're not doing something for the first time or you're not doing scientific or educational research, it's probably not an expedition. 


Scott Brady:and that's just okay. I recognize the Allure of it because I made the same mistake myself. I recognize the Allure and at the time I will say when I did my first trip through Copper Canyon and there were no GPS tracks, it sure felt like an expedition to me. It felt terrifying and unfamiliar, and it felt like I was Conquering the world when in a way I was really just conquering my own fears and that doesn't make it an expedition but it sure felt like it to me all the time.


Matt Scott: And I think that the goal here isn't to be arrogant and say what you're doing, I think it's about properly classifying things. So that those terms have a meeting. I'll kind of get into the Overland industry right now, one, we now have an Overland industry which is really cool, it used to be a few guys and now it's a thing. You have car companies that are actively recognizing, when I see overlanding companies talking about overlanding at the king of the hammer I'm like, what? There's two thousand 5th wheel RVs within a mile of you and this is Motor Sport. King of the Hammers is amazing, rock crawling is, the things that these guys are able to make their vehicles do through engineering, through design in the largest part through the skill of the driver, that's cool! We're not saying that it is not. It's amazing but it's not overlanding. The suspension kit from three weeks ago had the name rock crawler on it but it now has an over landing kit on it. I think that consumers need to demand better from some of these companies. Overlanding is long distance, overlanding is about being self-sufficient, it's not about putting things in your vehicle that need to be rebuilt 5 to 10,000 miles or items that have very short service intervals. These people don't have the experience to know overlanding is, it goes back to that thing that you're talkin about.


Scott Brady: I think the consumer can be a part of the solution and that is by, when you called to order that suspension just say, “ hey, I've got a couple questions for you guys. Your engineers, have they done any long-distance trips? Have they traveled in the vehicles loaded to gross vehicle weight? Have the vehicle's been tested at gross vehicle weight not unloaded? Have the people that have designed it travelled themselves? What are some of the limitations or considerations around it?” and there are people that have that experience and it's really easy to find. Just spending a little bit of time looking at the CV’s of people who own the companies will really give you an idea of who has the experience and who doesn't, and I think that's important in the same way as it's important to think about the information that you read, who's writing it, what's their experience, if the author is Dan Greck then you can take it to the bank. If the byline is someone who is driving tutor Cars 3 weeks ago then you may want to question what they're saying.


Matt Scott: If you can scroll back far enough on their Instagram to figure out when this person was a WRX enthusiast, or whatever it may be, and maybe that's not firsthand information. Anybody can go read some stuff on the internet and then just repeat it. How many of these people are actually presenting first-hand information that you really learned? I think that's an important thing as well.


Scott Brady: And starting with organizations like the Overland Expo that all of their trainers and people that produce content for them are very experienced folks. We talked a little bit about Byron Door and Dan Greck and  Graeme Bell and Chris Scott and Tom Shephard, and Lois Price is another great example. people who have earned their stripes by actually doing it, that's what we want to get our information from and that's also what we want to challenge manufacturers in the industry to do is to produce products as a result of experience. There's a couple other words and terms that I think add to it, Matt why don't you run us down those things?


Matt Scott: Freestyle starts with four-wheel drive Terrain, I used to run a magazine in Australia, I spent a lot of time there, overlanding in Australia means you're out of Australia. An Overlander there, you're sending your vehicle somewhere, you don't hear people say, “ I'm going to do an Overlanding trip against the stock route.” The term that is used there is four wheel drive to rain. I think it is so important and so decisive and very honest, I wish more people would use it. So what is off-roading? It's a recreational sport using 4 wheel drive. Is this the local 4 wheel drive show that you're doing, is this your local Club, they're going off-roading. It's great, it's super fun. Let's go off-roading this weekend. Car camping, that can be a minivan on a picnic table at Yellowstone, as much as that can be what I'm going to do this weekend out of my Overland vehicle, I'm going to go car camping.


Scott Brady: I think Jonathan is the one that said this, but if the campground has a toilet you're probably not overlanding. That is not always true because I've been in some really remote campsites with toilets but that's managing the waste. Another good example of that is in Africa because there are animals that eat you there, when you go to a campground in the middle of the Kalahana you're actually in a fenced area and there's a little toilet. You're absolutely overlanding but the reason why they have a camper is so that you don't get eaten. Which I think qualifies as overlanding in itself, if you can get eaten.


Matt Scott: *laughing* so, Backcountry Adventure. One day or multi-day off Highway trip on an adventure bike or four-wheel drive vehicle, a Backcountry Adventure can be hiking I guess.


Scott Brady: And maybe that's kind of what you're talking about with the four-by-four terrain, maybe that's a better word for that. Maybe we'll update our definition page to reflect that.


Matt Scott: Now we can end with the Expedition word. A vehicle dependent Expedition is an organized vehicle dependent Journey with a defined purpose Often geographical or scientific in nature. That's the one I'm a big stickler on is the Expedition word. Expedition vehicle: a four-wheel drive vehicle, or Adventure motorcycle prepared for self-reliant travel over long distances through unpredictable weather And over very long to rain.


Scott Brady: So that's a cool thing, you can build an expedition vehicle and not go on an expedition, that's kind of fun. So you can incorporate that passion or that desire for Expedition travel by building a vehicle that's suitable for it, and maybe in the future you get to actually go do that and you get to maybe work with your local College. I was thinking about the trip that we did across Greenland, we had multiple points of research that occurred during that trip because we were crossing an area of parole that scientists just simply didn't have access to, so we were able to measure snow depths, reflection off of the surface which shows how much contaminants are in the surface. We took samples of the snow to determine how clean it was, Etc. We did all of these surveys and all of these tests along the way because we wanted to provide some support to scientists that would not normally be able to engage in that kind of effort.


Matt Scott: I think there's also a lot of Citizen science, open source projects where you can actually get involved in integrating science into your trips. There's a lot of meat for micro plastic Solutions and Tree Core sampling, even sighting in recording where birds are. Small things that you can be doing with a little bit of research to kind of give back.


Scott Brady:It does start to give back. I like that a lot, in fact I think Laura has done some of that.


Matt Scott: When we did some fairly remote stuff in Australia, I'm going to call it Birds stuff. I don't know how to say it, Laura likes Birds, she's a bird pepper. We've seen some really remote stuff with the birds and it's cool. It just adds something to it, overlanding doesn't probably give you the same butterflies in the stomach that it used to and there's a lot of places that you've been and seen, you've seen more than I have.


Scott Brady: I'm going to kind of summarize in my way and then Matt will add his concluding thoughts but, if you are on a vehicle  dependent trip then you are most likely Overland and, maybe ask some of those questions as a way to add some depth to that experience. If you use overlanding and it doesn't meet any of those definitions were any of those questions, I do not want anybody to think that taking away that joy or experience from you or even that definition from you. You can apply as you need to. I just feel that it is important as an industry to say what the  definition is so that it has meaning. Otherwise as this grows as rapidly as it's growing, it will be adopted in ways that are not consistent with its intention. That's the thing that we don't want, that's the reason why weren't recording this podcast today because we want for it to have a meeting, we want overlanding to have some depth behind it, so that's my thoughts.


Matt Scott: The term overlanding to somebody in the industry only has value because it's cool. The more you exploit the term, especially in a way that it could be misleading, I think that the power and the value of that term goes down, so I think that by over using this term, but integrating it into everything, if last week your company was in off-road racing suspension Specialists and all of a sudden the same product is now in Overland product, ask yourself if that's ethical. Ask yourself if that's right, have you actually developed something specific for this Market? But I do think it's important to recognize what overlanding is too frequently discussed like we're doing. If you guys have any encountering opinions or anything you'd like to say, I've had a lot of people lately that are reaching out to me on Instagram. I am Mattsexplorer  on Instagram and you areScott.a.brady.  let's have a conversation about it.


Scott Brady: Thank you all for listening. We really appreciate everyone's support in questions and continue to comment, if you like the podcast Please Subscribe and send us any comments or questions through Instagram and we will talk to you next time.


Matt Scott: See you guys.