Route Planning and Navigation
“We took the road less traveled now where the hell are we?”
Tips for travelling, background info on our Africa and Americas routes and some great tips for navigating the challenges of overlanding. Read on!
For many it is simply the Cape to Cairo route, but for others it is venturing truly off the beaten track. So where to start?
A general guide when planning a route is to research other overlander’s routes. This give you a good idea of what is achievable. If none are crossing an area or entering a specific country there is probably a very good reason why; borders closed, conflict or just no road.
Learn from the experience of others! Overlanders are often more than willing to share what they’ve learned.
Tips to help you choose your route:
- Research! Do your research of places of interest you wish to visit. There is nothing more disappointing than realizing you passed by a location you would have loved to have experienced and seen. So close but so far gone now.
- Know your weather patterns. Weather isn’t just for small talk! Weather patterns can cause road closures and create conditions that make roads impassable (specifically rain or snow conditions). Rainy or snowy seasons only become a real problem if it makes roads absolutely impassable.
- Expect the unexpected at borders. Not all countries that share a border have a border crossing open for travelers. Borders can be closed suddenly during coups, unrest and conflicts or disease outbreaks. It is best to plan to be at border crossings early in the day. Our shortest border crossing was 10 minutes and our longest 3 days.
- Get familiar with roads in relation to your vehicle. Researching accessibility, bridges, landmines, roads is especially important in countries which have known many years of war and conflict where infrastructure has all but been destroyed. Generally larger vehicles are more limited when traveling through narrow streets, over narrow bridges, ledges, across pontoon ferries etc.
- Know your fuel stops. Generally fuel is available in most major centers and towns. Issues also include power and the ability to pump the fuel in locations where there are frequent power failures.
- Prepare for off-roading. You (and your vehicle) should be familiar with your degree of off-roading capabilities. Just because the map shows there is a road does not mean it is actually drivable.
- Research Visa requirements in advance. Angola is notoriously a difficult visa to obtain and there is no guarantee that one will be granted. Be prepared to ship or drive around countries you cannot get visas for.
- Allow yourself time; much more than you think. Travel is slow in developing countries it can take days to cover a few kilometers. Be prepared (in time and money) to wait for events to resolve themselves.
- Budget! Do your research and know your costs. Be prepared for overages and unexpected costs.
Travels Across the Africa Continent.
Cape to Cairo is one of the most celebrated overland routes on the planet.
We lived in Africa for 30 years and have completed 3 overland journeys on the continent. Africa offers immense landscapes, diverse cultures and unimaginable wildlife. Africa will change the way you view yourself and the world. The main route for overlanders in across East Africa, which is an easier route and there are more resources for travelers than West Africa.
We traveled through:
- South Africa
- Namibia, Zambia
- Democratic Republic of Congo
- Burkina Faso
- Nigeria and Cameroon
Travels Across the American Continents
Living in Canada we explored the North America with our sons before setting off as empty nesters to drive from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina. We covered 65,000 km and were on the road for eighteen months. What an amazing adventure; magnificent landscapes, birds and wildlife, cultures and people.
Traveling from Alaska to Argentina offers either challenges, or ease. It depends on the route you choose. You can stay on tarred roads or head off the beaten track.
Are We There Yet? Navigating with Maps
“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will lead you there”- Unknown
There are several sources for maps, especially since the introduction of GPS maps and route tracking. Choose your routes beforehand, but also make sure that you have maps, backup maps and another map just to be sure.
Navigating across Africa can be a great challenge, especially if you head off the main overland routes. Unlike the Americas where you are virtually guaranteed that any map you purchase is current and reliable, using an African map can be in itself a new adventure.
Africa Navigation and Maps range from cartoon like schematic tourist maps all the way to highly detailed and accurate topographic maps created by defense and past colonial government mapping agencies.
No overlander should go to Africa without Tracks4Africa.
Tracks 4 Africa is the best digital navigation aid especially for East Africa Their digitized data is available online from their website and is extremely affordable, highly accurate and packed full of interesting and useful information. It is especially valuable in many of the game parks where the unmarked trails are all digitized, so you can focus on game viewing instead of keeping track of your location.
Tips for Finding Maps for Africa
It is advisable to purchase a few different maps of the countries you intend to visit since each map will have different information. Village and roads have come and gone over the years and translations of places/towns/villages etc vary from map to map. It is easier to actually purchase many of these maps in Canada or your home country.
Don’t rely on buying the necessary maps in Africa! They either don’t exist or are out of print. Do not under any circumstances believe the status of the road as portrayed on the map. There maybe absolutely no relationship between what conditions the road actually is in and what any particular map may have it categorized as.
There are almost no reliable city maps available, since African cities grow very fast and the street names have changed over time to reflect the historical leadership of the country. So give yourself time to get to know a city, be patient and enjoy the chaos.
Your paper maps will be used a lot so take tape for mending maps, Ziploc bag for storing maps and a light magnification map-reader.
Our Recommended Brands
ITMB Publishing (International Travel Maps and Books) located in Vancouver, Canada, has an excellent selection of maps that can be bought on-line.
Michelin has some very useful large scale maps and there are also a wide variety of country maps available.
Most overlanders make extensive use of digital navigation (GPS based) systems.
Garmin Data: Since we use the Garmin for digital tracking (276C while traveling in the cruiser, and a 60C, which is portable and therefore great for hiking) it is the only system I am familiar with.
Other brands: Magellan, Tom Tom
It is advisable to learn how to use your GPS before heading off.
For the Garmin/Mapsource combination there is a detailed set of digitized maps available only for South Africa which you can purchase from Garmin, install and is immediately ready for use. For navigation through the rest of Africa, the Garmin world map which comes installed on your Garmin is quite useful.
Customized digital mapping system
Tom developed a digitized and calibrated mapping system for all of Africa with many helpful functions such as route planning, waypoint creation, 3D viewing, and route tracking and many other useful annotating and management functions.