Overlanding vs. Off-Roading: The Differences Explained

Photo Credit – deedst4r

Overlanding and off-roading are two activities that commonly get confused with one another. And while Overlanding and off-roading do share some similarities, these activities also exhibit some significant differences.

Overlanding is when a person or group of people decide to travel to a remote destination via paved and unpaved roads. Should the destination be far enough away, an Overlanding expedition may also use air or ocean travel. Off-roading is when you take a vehicle onto unpaved terrain and drive around.

While Overlanding typically involves some type of off-roading, individuals who decide to go off-roading aren’t necessarily on an Overlanding trip. This article will examine the differences and similarities between these two activities to help you better understand how they work and what their purpose is. Let’s get started!

What Is Overlanding?

Strictly speaking, Overlanding is an activity involving on-road and off-road travel that covers a massive distance. In many cases, people may choose to go Overlanding to a remote destination that is challenging to reach via traditional travel options. Still, the joy of Overlanding is often found in the journey, not the destination itself.

In most cases, an individual chooses to go Overlanding in a personal vehicle. However, some routes may require multiple forms of transportation. The versatility of Overlanding can make it tricky to define, but we gain a better understanding by studying the ordinary expenses, destinations, and costs associated with this activity.

Common Overlanding Expenses

Several types of expenses are associated with Overlanding. Some of the most common costs and fees include:

  • Travel
  • Accommodation
  • Vehicle Maintenance
  • Clothing
  • Food
  • Survival Gear
  • Visa and Passport Fees

Should you ever decide to pursue an Overlanding adventure of your own, then you’ll need to be familiar with these expenses. Otherwise, you could find yourself caught off guard and out of funds halfway through your trip. 

That’s not a place any traveler wants to wind up, so planning is crucial. Taking the time to plan your excursion could even make you feel a little happier. One of the most vital aspects of planning is creating a budget, and the following information can help you do just that.


Travel is an unavoidable type of expense associated with Overlanding. After all, you could consider Overlanding to be a specific type of travel. And while many people opt to drive their personal vehicle when Overlanding, a car or truck isn’t the only transportation option.

Travelers participating in an overlanding excursion might use:

  • Vehicles
  • Airplanes
  • Boats
  • Their Feet
  • Bicycles
  • Motorbikes
  • Public Transportation

Because the costs of these various modes of transportation vary greatly, determining a precise expense can be challenging. However, each option presents specific advantages and disadvantages that may sway Overlanding adventurers one way or another.


If you’re going on an Overlanding journey, you might take your vehicle for the trip. Naturally, you’ll want to ensure that your car, truck, or SUV is in excellent condition before setting out. 

Ensuring that your car is in tip-top shape could mean purchasing new off-roading tires, having essential maintenance performed, or even trading in your current vehicle for a newer, more capable model. The average four-door sedan, for example, isn’t going to handle off-road conditions as easily as a Jeep Wrangler might.

While you could hire a rental car for Overlanding adventures, doing so could be pricey. If you accidentally damage your rental vehicle while off-roading to your destination, then you could end up paying a hefty repair fee. Of course, some faraway destinations may not be accessible by car.


If you’re crossing a vast ocean to enjoy some international Overlanding, you’ll likely need to take a plane. Depending on your origin and destination, a round-trip ticket could cost you anywhere from $200 to $1,200–domestic airfare averages at about $250 per round-trip pass.

Naturally, any transatlantic or transpacific Overlanding (and overseas) adventure is going to be further away than your standard one-day destination. As such, it’s far more likely that you’ll pay upwards of $500 on air travel when choosing an international trip.


Some of the most remote Overlanding routes and destinations are only accessible via private boat or ferry. If you prefer the wilder side of Overlanding, you may need to put aside funds for waterborne travel. 

Their Feet

Typically, hiking is reserved for small portions of an overlanding experience. If you’re eschewing all modes of transportation besides your own feet, you’re not Overlanding so much as hiking very, very far. 

Still, some terrain may require you to exit your vehicle and get to walking. Other areas may be unfriendly to automobiles, necessitating some foot traffic. However, if you’re traveling through an urban area during your Overlanding trip and you can’t drive, but you hate walking, you could rent a bicycle. 


As with walking, only the briefest moments of an Overlanding excursion will consist of bicycling. Motorbikes, or motorcycles, are a far more common mode of Overlanding transportation. This trend is partly due to the motorbike’s superior mileage and partly thanks to the vehicle’s’ maneuverability.


While your standard sedan might not be able to hack traversing mountainous passes, a motorbike can squeeze through tight spaces and carefully accelerate past and around dangerous boulders. Travelers can use their own adventure motorcycle, or they could rent one.

Should you choose to rent a motorcycle, you’ll need to prove that you’re licensed to operate one. You may also need to show proof of and maintain some form of driver’s insurance. Still, a motorbike might not be the ultimate answer. You can’t camp inside of a motorcycle.

If you’re choosing a multi-day Overlanding route within the same continent, it may be worthwhile to invest in an off-roading vehicle with plenty of interior living space. That way, you’ll always have a form of shelter during your travels, even if some plans go awry.

Public Transportation

Finally, there’s public transportation. This form of travel is somewhat rare for Overlanding enthusiasts. However, those committed to experiencing the most unique and challenging Overlanding experiences may need to fall back on local public transportation from time to time. 

The costs associated with this transportation method vary significantly from area to area. The best way to determine actual expenses is to research your route and destination. Not only will this preliminary research help you figure out your travel costs, but you’ll also be able to start considering your accommodation situation.


Unlike off-roading excursions, there are very few Overlanding routes that take a day or less to complete. As such, participants will need to consider accommodation and shelter during their travels. Some of the most common forms of Overlanding accommodation include:

  • Vehicle
  • Campgrounds
  • Hostels
  • Hotels
  • Guest Housing

To choose the best option (or combination of options), you’ll need to consider your route, your budget, your mode of transportation, and your preferences. After all, you might not need to save up for campground fees if you’re planning on sleeping off-road in your vehicle.

Alternatively, if you’re traveling on paved roads for quite a ways before departing the asphalt for wilder routes, a hotel or bed-and-breakfast could be the safest and most legal sleep arrangement. 


Sleeping inside of your vehicle is permissible in some areas but entirely illegal in others. Generally, it’s perfectly fine to sleep in your car when using an approved and prepaid campground. 

It’s also acceptable to shelter in your car when off-road and within a dispersed camping area. Still, both of these options rely on camping locations. As such, it might be better to reserve yourself to making some campground reservations.


Reserved camping spots can range anywhere from $20 to $80 per night. Dispersed camping and primitive camping areas are typically free to camp in, though visitors may be expected to pay a campground or park entrance fee. 

Additionally, some primitive camping areas may be inaccessible via car, even an off-road one. Because some campgrounds receive reservation bookings several months in advance, it’s often better to plan your route and lodgings precisely long before your travel date arrives. 

This practice ensures that Overlanding explorers always have some form of shelter during their travels. Of course, there are still hotels.


Overlanding enthusiasts rarely use hotels while on a journey. That’s because hotels often defeat part of the purpose of an Overlanding trip: Toughing things out in rough conditions. 

Still, some stretches of your route might not come near campground areas. In this case, a hotel room or hostel booking could be the safest and smartest option.

Guest Housing

Sometimes, it helps to know a guy (or gal). While guest housing is a broad term, in this instance, it means free or discounted lodging with a permanent resident of a foreign land. 

Let’s say, for example, that you decide to go Overlanding throughout Africa. If you know someone in Cairo and someone in Cape Town, you may be able to lodge with them for a few days without spending any money!

Naturally, this type of accommodation is highly variable. Additionally, it’s crucial that travelers only stay with trustworthy individuals. Deciding to stay with a stranger you’ve been speaking with online could end disastrously, so always use your best judgment and a heaping side of caution.

Vehicle Maintenance

Many individuals who decide to go Overlanding also choose to use their own vehicle. Naturally, those without off-road cars might opt to rent a vehicle, but this rarely seems to happen. 

Consequently, one of the primary expenses associated with Overlanding is vehicle maintenance. Not only do Overlanding enthusiasts tend to put thousands of miles on their car per journey, but they also tend to drive across unpaved terrain that’s riddled with dangers.

It’s not uncommon for Overlanding journeys to take an unpleasant turn due to unexpected car issues, so you’ll want to maintain your vehicle throughout the year. More specifically, it’s vital to have your car inspected immediately before and after an Overlanding excursion.

If possible, try to ensure that you’re performing weekly and monthly vehicle inspections. These don’t necessarily need to be professional inspections. Learning what to look for can help you accomplish this task from the comfort of home. It could also help save a little money on a trip to the mechanic.


Beginner-level Overlanding routes may take anywhere from one day to three days to complete. While this type of adventure doesn’t often require that you bring a whole suitcase full of clothing, you will need at least one change of clothing.

Longer excursions will necessitate more apparel, especially if you’re traveling through many different types of environments. An excellent example of an Overlanding route requiring multiple outfits is the Trans-Siberian Railway. 

This journey typically takes a month or more to finish, so it’s crucial to have a few clean changes of underwear and a few dozen warm sweaters and jackets. Naturally, trousers, socks, rain gear, and headwear are also recommended clothing articles.  

But clothing alone does not make the trip. You likely won’t make it very far without food and water, so it’s essential to consider those types of costs.


Because plenty of Overlanding trips occur over multiple days, it’s often a great idea to pack shelf-stable snacks and meals. Clean, fresh drinking water is also a huge plus, though travelers may be able to subsist off local water sources, especially with a portable water filter.

Food costs for an Overlanding adventure typically range from $20 to $50 per person per day. Location, trip duration, and caloric intake needs will help you determine the right amount of foodstuffs to bring along. 

Survival Gear

When overlanding routes necessitate a little camping, you’ll want to make sure you have all of that camping gear on hand. Tents, sleeping bags, flashlights, and folding chairs are only a few items that are bound to come in handy while you’re out in the great outdoors. 

Even if you’re planning on camping inside of your car, you may want to bring an assortment of survival gear. You’ll never know when you might need that bit of Swedish FireSteel or that camping hatchet. Be sure to review the camping gear essentials before you leave home!

Visa and Passport Fees

If your Overlanding excursion requires you to cross international borders, you may need to pay a visa fee or renew your passport. If you don’t currently have a passport, then now is the time to begin saving for one. 

Passport books cost a total of $145 (application and execution). Passport cards are slightly less expensive at $65. You could also have both forms of identification for $175. Visa fees vary from country to country, so be sure to look into your destination’s visa fees before booking a flight.

Popular Overlanding Destinations

Now that you’re familiar with the types of expenses associated with Overlanding, we can explore some of the most popular Overlanding destinations in North America and the world. These routes are treasured for their aesthetics, challenges, and remote location. 

Additionally, the following overlanding adventures are relatively diverse in terms of weather and travel time. This diversity allows travelers to experience various series of landscapes, cultures, and cuisine as they go. Which of the following options calls out to you? 

North America

International travel can become an expensive affair. But if you’re determined to stay within North America while Overlanding, you have plenty of options. Some of the most commonly revered Overlanding routes and destinations in North America include:

  • Smoky Mountain Highway
  • Mojave Road
  • Rubicon Trail
  • Trans-America Trail
  • Trans-Canada Adventure Trail (TCAT)

Some trails, like the Smoky Mountain Highway, are best-suited for beginners. Like California’s Rubicon Trail, others are more challenging and may require some experience to tackle safely. 

More, such as the Trans-Canada Adventure Trail (TCAT), are solely reserved for expert-level Overlanding enthusiasts. And once you’ve tackled the most challenging North American routes, you can turn your eyes to the rest of the world.

International Destinations

North America isn’t the only place with Overlanding routes. If you’re feeling that traveler’s tug at the soles of your feet, you may want to consider investing in an international overlanding adventure

Not only will such a journey be memorable, but you’re bound to experience several diverse cultures, languages, and landscapes. A handful of the most popular international destinations and routes for Overlanding enthusiasts includes: 

  • Pan-American Highway
  • Gibraltar-North Cape Route
  • Trans-Sahara Highway
  • Cairo to Capetown Route
  • The Silk Road

You may have already heard of some of these options. The Silk Road, in particular, is a vital part of human history and civilization. And the Pan-American Highway is somewhat notorious, and not always for the most pleasant reasons. Caution is crucial, no matter where you go!

What Is Off-Roading?

Off-roading is any type of driving that occurs on unpaved terrains. Taking a car to a vehicle-friendly beach and doing doughnuts in the dunes is a form of off-roading. 

Driving your pick-up truck out into the swamp after heavy rainfall and kicking up buckets of mud is also a form of off-roading. So long as you’re operating a vehicle on an unpaved surface (such as dirt, stone, or snow), you’re off-roading.

Common Off-Roading Expenses

Before you can experience the bliss and freedom of off-roading, you must first invest a decent chunk of cash into the endeavor. Off-roading without an off-roading vehicle, for example, is hiking. 

Some of the most common examples of off-roading expenses are:

  • Off-Roading Vehicle Purchase or Rental
  • Vehicle Maintenance
  • Vehicle Insurance
  • Entry Fees
  • Fuel
  • Survival Gear

Being prepared is the key to success for so many ventures, including off-roading. The last thing any off-roading adventurer wants to face down is an empty fuel tank or a lack of spares tires.

Consulting against this brief expense list can help even the most experienced off-roaders stay on top of their expenses. Of course, we’ll begin our review by examining off-roading vehicles and their associated costs. 

Off-Roading Vehicle Purchase or Rental

Your casual commuting car isn’t going to cut it when it comes to off-roading. If you’re thinking of taking that sedan out in the woods for some muddy fun, you may want to think again. Vehicles that don’t have enough traction, suspension, or power can fail to travel through soft sands or muddy fields.

Die-hard off-roading enthusiasts may opt to purchase a particular vehicle specifically for off-roading activities and excursions. The best off-roading vehicles vary, though Jeep-brand cars and 4×4 pick-up trucks tend to be popular.

Vehicle Maintenance

Not all terrains are gentle on vehicles. In fact, most types of unpaved terrain can be quite punishing on a car. Sand is gently corrosive and abrasive, as is salty sea air. 

Any type of water can eventually lead to mold, mildew, or rust, and pebbles and rocks that fly out beneath your car tires can bounce back up and wreak havoc. If you’re into off-roading, you’re probably also familiar with vehicle maintenance and repair.

Vehicle Insurance

When you own a car, you almost always need car insurance as well. If you’re using your vehicle for off-roading purposes and everyday commuting, you might not need to add this expense to the total. 

However, if you own and maintain a vehicle that is solely used for off-roading, go ahead and add your annual insurance expense to your overall off-roading costs. Once you’ve done that, you can begin to consider park entrance fees.

Park Entry Fees

Many national parks and campgrounds charge an entry fee. This cost isn’t often exorbitant–It may be as little as $1 or as much as $15. Still, if you’re budgeting for an off-roading adventure, you’ll want to ensure that you’ve brought enough cash along with you.

Many park entrances do not accept debit, credit, or check payments. Should you forget to stop by your bank before leaving home, you may end up needing to turn around after arriving at your destination. That’s a frustrating experience that wastes time, energy, and gasoline, so be sure to have the right sum of dollar bills before you head out.


Off-roading requires a vehicle, and that vehicle requires a consistent supply of fuel to continue operating. While you likely already budget for gasoline, it’s vital to add a few tanks onto your budget sheet to account for the fuel spent during off-roading.

Some off-roading vehicles (like pick-up trucks) get notoriously little miles to the gallon. Be sure to calculate how much gas you’ll need for an off-roading excursion before setting out. You can use a handy fuel economy calculator to ensure you avoid any untimely breakdowns.

Survival Gear

As with Overlanding, passionate off-roaders may want to bring along essential camping gear and survival items. Off-roading typically doesn’t present as many potential health and safety threats as Overlanding, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a risk-free activity.

Some of the most common issues reported among off-roaders include unexpected car trouble, inclement weather, or a lack of cell phone service. If you strand yourself out in the middle of the woods but run out of gasoline, electricity, and food, you’re going to be glad that you brought your survival gear. It may mean the difference between life and death.

Popular Off-Roading Destinations

Just as with overlanding, there are several trusted and popular off-roading routes and destinations. Many of the most beloved off-roading opportunities in North America can be found in the continent’s western regions. 

But the United States, Mexico, and Canada aren’t the only places where off-roaders can find some peace of mind or daring thrills. International options, like the near-entirety of Iceland, also make for excellent off-roading opportunities. Let’s check them out!

North America

Because off-roading is often a far more short-lived experience than overlanding, the number of potential off-roading locations is nearly limitless. So long as you’re driving on land that is approved for such activity, you’re in the clear. 

Many national parks and state parks offer off-roading trails and paths for visitors. Some of the most popular North American off-roading routes include:

  • Coyote Lake Trail
  • Death Valley National Park
  • Upper Peninsula
  • Hidden Falls Adventure Park
  • Hells Revenge

Many of the United States’ most popular off-roading areas tend to lie in the Midwest and West Coast regions. Utah, California, Texas, and Colorado are a handful of states with an abundance of off-roading opportunities. 

International Destinations

While North America is a vast and environmentally diverse continent, it lacks international charm and allure. Fortunately, if you grow tired of your North American off-roading adventures, you can opt for a few international routes. 

The world’s most infamous off-roading routes and destinations make for great stories to tell friends and families back home. They also make for once-in-a-lifetime experiences that are unforgettable, remarkable, and tremendously rewarding.

But where on earth should you get busy making tracks? Travelers generally agree that the best international off-roading destinations include:

  • Iceland
  • Sahara Desert
  • Ninety Mile Beach
  • Oaxaca to Huautla de Jiménez Route
  • Makgadikgadi Pans National Park

Some of these options are particularly broad, while others are quite specific. There’s a particular reason for this: Some international off-roading destinations encompass entire regions or nations. Others are far smaller and more restricted. Both types can make for wild fun.

Overlanding vs. Off-Roading: Is One Better?

Now that you’re familiar with the concepts of both Overlanding and off-roading, it’s time to discern their primary differences and determine which might be the better activity. Both Overlanding and off-roading involved vehicle-based travel and a sense of adventure and exploration.

But Overlanding incorporates both paved and unpaved surfaces, and off-roading is primarily performed on pavement-free terrain. Deciding which of these two activities might be more rewarding can be challenging, mainly because off-roading is an essential part of Overlanding.

Still, Overlanding tends to be a slightly costlier and more time-consuming activity. Off-roading is a bit more accessible and versatile. Perhaps the best way to decide between Overlanding and Off-roading is to give them both a try. 

After all, it’s challenging to know how you truly feel about something until you’ve experienced it firsthand. Novice off-roaders and overlanding explorers may want to start with fundamental, short-term off-roading excursions before graduating to multi-day overlanding adventures.


Overlanding is an activity during which people travel to faraway remote destinations. They may use a combination of automotive, air, and sea travel to accomplish this feat. Additionally, those participating in an overlanding venture may use paved roads and unpaved trails. 

Off-roading is when an individual or group decides to take a vehicle off the pavement and onto unpaved, natural surfaces and terrains. Overlanding naturally encompasses and includes off-roading, even though off-roading is often a shorter experience than overlanding. 

The better option for you depends on your time constraints, budget, and preferences. Why not try both?


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