Overland travel: My favourite camping locations
Overland travel is a great way to see the world and really experience off the beaten path places and also means you get to stay in some pretty unique locations. Whether you do your overland travel independently or in a group this type of travel requires an open mind and a great degree of flexibility.
Your overland journey may be one where you live off of a truck for weeks or even months, and there will be long, (some very long) drive days, plus you’ll be with people from different countries who you’ve never met before. It can and will be challenging, but rewarding as you get to go to places the ‘fly-in, fly-out’ tourist will never see or experience.
One aspect of overland travel is where and how you stay over night – you won’t always get to stay in a luxury hotel – on the occasion you do – make the most of it!
Instead you’ll experience a mixture of accommodation.
There will of course be the usual budget hotels and hostels and perhaps B&B’s depending on the part of the world your visiting. If you’re lucky there will be opportunities for a ‘home stay’ with a local family. These are usually a wonderful experience and you get a real insight into the people of the country you’re visiting this way.
Then there is camping…
Camping can mean staying in an organised camp like you might do at home, but I’m talking about the type of camping where you go off road where ever you like (usually away from people and the road), make camp, pitch your tent, make a fire (or use your gas cookers) and spend the night under the stars – sometimes just in a sleeping bag or on a blanket!
A few years ago I’d never been camping – I didn’t even know how to put up a tent!
Then I spent 5 months travelling overland on a truck from Xian, China to Khartoum in Sudan. I was in charge of the tent locker for that whole journey and boy do I miss camping now.
So, I thought I’d share a few photographs of my most memorable, most picturesque, most random, most disastrous, and scariest camping experiences. Plus the thing I love most about camping…
White Desert (Sahara el Beyda – Farafra), Egypt
I’ve camped in a few memorable spots, so it is hard to choose just one – high on my list are; camping at Krak des Chavaliers in Syria, spending nights in the desert whilst crossing the Taklamakan Desert in China’s Xinjiang province, a night camping at the Roman ruins of Palmyra or sleeping on the western end of the Great Wall of China in Jaiyuguan.
However, if I had to choose one I’d say a night in the beautiful and surreal landscape of the White Desert (Sahara el Beyda) in Egypt.
The White Desert is near Farafra in the Western Desert between the oases of Dakhla and Bahariya. The desert is full of wonderfully shaped chalk rock formations formed by erosion and is a place I’ll never forget!
Impromptu roadside camp site (China – Kyrgyzstan border crossing via Torugart Pass)
Crossing the border from China into Kyrgyzstan via the Torugart Pass in the Tian Shan mountain range can be time consuming and a bit of a chore as most of the time the crossing is closed to everyone except people from Kyrgyzstan or China. It was the middle of the night when we crossed and we couldn’t make camp until we’d got through all the border posts. This meant making camp at the first flat ground we could find that looked suitable to pitch our tents.
Pitching a tent in the dark is a bit of a struggle – isn’t the head torch a wonderful invention!
We didn’t really know where we’d pitched our tents until first light and it turned out to be a sort of truck stop for the long distance lorry drivers to get a bit of sleep after the border crossing. It was difficult to sleep as it was cold and there was the odd truck rattling by in the early hours.
There were a couple of shacks – presumably people making a bit of money off the lorry drivers… the family in one of them looked pretty surprised to have woken up to find us camping right next to the road outside there shack!
One of the most beautiful and picturesque places I’ve camped was in Kyrgyzstan again, this time at a place called Jeti-Ögüz in the Issyk-Kul region of Kygyzstan.
This beautiful valley is part of the Terskei Ala-Too mountain range not far from the southern shore of Issyk-Kul lake – like much of Kyrgyzstan it is an area of outstanding natural beauty. We had tried to drive the truck up to came on a high plateau, but were unable to cross a bridge further up from where we made came by the river. It was too dangerous for the heavy truck.
Our camp was in a lovely spot by the river with the red rock formation known as the “7 bulls” in the distance.
Strangely the most picturesque also became the most disastrous on the second night. The weather changed during the second day at Jeti-Ögüz and heavy rain fell all afternoon and during the night. Our tents were soaked through to the point where we had to leave and go back to a hotel in Karakol and dry out.
Unknown location, eastern Turkey
There was one other camping experience worth mentioning here… not really disastrous, but a little scary.
After crossing the border from Iran into Turkey we had spent one night in Doğubayazıt, then we were on the road again. The next night we had to camp and we found a beautiful place away from the main road, set up camp, built a fire and began to cook up a curry. Whilst setting up an empty minibus drove past, then some time later it returned, but this time headed straight for us and it was full. When it pulled up the side slid open and a bout 10 men jumped out with rifles and machine guns!!
There was a moment there where I think a few of us were thinking “this isn’t going to go well”, but it turns out they were local Kurdish farmers and we were on their land. They simply wanted to find out who we were and why we we there… phew!
It had been a funny couple of nights as only the night before on the Iranian side of the border I’d been woken up by someone banging on the truck and the sound of tents being unzipped… no one seemed to be getting up and the noises were coming closer to my tent. I was sharing and remember laying there thinking… “if I just ignore it, Neil will deal with it” bearing in mind the guns from earlier. Then our zipper was unzipped and a hand came in grabbing at our feet!
Eventually Niel had the balls to go outside. It turned out that they just wanted to say hello and give use some walnuts and apples!!!
THING I LOVE MOST ABOUT CAMPING
For me it is the camaraderie and the friendships you make – you become almost like a family and the one thing that brings everyone together is the camp fire.
It is fun to create and maintain, it gives you warmth when it is cold, you can cook and have hot tea or coffee with breakfast on those cold mornings. It gives light where there is none and it brings everyone together to share stories and to bond.
Oh, one last thing…
I’ll leave you with a little tip (though it’s only in jest).
If you end up sharing a tent and your buddy is notorious for not getting up when they should and you need to move on… take the tent down with them still in it – they soon learn!
Here are some more camping pictures: