Expedition Overland, the ground-breaking video series also known as X Overland, just did a big thing. In a blog article called “What Is Overlanding?” the team took a stance on overlanding I haven’t seen before. I believe Expedition Overland’s definition of overlanding is courageous and bears discussion, whether you agree or not.
If you haven’t already, please take a moment to read the original article. I consider it required reading for anyone who calls themself an overlander or aspires to overland:
“What Is Overlanding?” by Expedition Overland
Why does this matter?
I think this article is important for two reasons:
- If words are not defined, then they lose their meaning. Overlanding has a long and rich history that should impact our understanding of modern-day overlanding.
- The overlanding community has mushroomed over the past few years. There are many new members who are looking for thought leadership and education. If no one is willing to define overlanding and model its values, then the community that is currently strong and defined will dissolve into goop.
Why should we pay attention?
While Expedition Overland is a newer entity, founded in 2010, it’s part of a larger legacy of overlanding. Founder Clay Croft was part of Expeditions 7, the first team to drive the same 4×4 vehicle on all seven continents. And in its own right, Expedition Overland has arguably become the most recognizable name in overlanding today, due to its popular video content on YouTube and now Amazon Prime.
Expedition Overland has the authority to make a strong statement about overlanding. And though it isn’t sitting right with many people right now, we should at least listen and consider.
Given how controversial this overlanding definition is, I’m afraid the conversation may be coming too late.
So what’s the controversy?
To simplify, opponents of Expedition Overland’s definition say it is exclusionary. They say the definition is too strict and leaves too many people out. The word I keep hearing over and over is “elitist.”
I’ve heard this term thrown around many times when it comes to overlanding. The reason the word is so powerful is its negative connotation: this person is gatekeeping because they think they’re better than you and don’t want to associate with you. Wow, that’s a strong thing to assume about another human being.
Because “elitist” provokes such a gut response, I’ve disliked it. I’ve defended overlanders and organizations from the term because it’s felt like an undeserved character assault.
But the conversation around this article has changed my mind. Here is the dictionary definition of “elite:”
a select group that is superior in terms of ability or qualities to the rest of a group or society.Oxford Languages
Yikes, “superior.” Another loaded word in our society.
But listen. Elite doesn’t mean the person themself is intrinsically superior to another person. We’re talking specifically about ability and qualities. These are acknowledgements we make every day. They’re just statements of fact. People can be superior at public speaking, closing deals, maneuvering around an Excel spreadsheet.
And of course, superior ability is discussed ad nauseam every day in the world of sports. There are entire TV channels devoted to this kind of analysis.
So maybe it’s time to acknowledge that the word “elite” does have a place in overlanding, just like other extreme activities. It has nothing to do with one person being better than another, or parts of the community refusing to mix with other parts. It’s simply an acknowledgement that overlanding requires developed skill, and some people are farther down that road than others.
What do you think?
Have you read Expedition Overland’s full article? What do you think about it? Feel free to share in a comment.
I recently wrote an article about Expeditions 7, which was published on Expedition Portal. That journey began a decade ago this month, and I wanted to acknowledge its importance in overlanding history and relevance to us today. I closed my article with this:
Another 10 years from now, when we celebrate the 20th anniversary of Expedition 7’s beginning, I want to recognize the community I cherish. For that to happen, all of us who consider ourselves part of that community have a responsibility to pour our hard-earned wisdom into the deep well of experience carved by overlanding pioneers. We must keep the well uncovered and accessible for coming generations of land travelers. That is how we maintain the legacy and identity of overlanding, equipping others to achieve their own firsts that will stand forever.-Brittany Highland, “Marking the 10-Year Anniversary of Expeditions 7”
In publishing “What Is Overlanding?” Expedition Overland shared hard-earned wisdom from a deep well of experience. That deserves respect and discussion. I hope the overlanding community will come out stronger for it.
I have read the article/definition. Interestingly they have a Facebook group that are always writing about “Overlanding”. Few of the members of that group would meet the definition of overlander. The vast majority do remote camping in their state or the USA. Most of those on a vacation of a couple of weeks.
John and Mandi
This debate has been around almost as long as should I drive a diesel or a petrol based vehicle. Most of us, at least those of us who either read Overland Journal or started our trips before ‘overlanding’ blew up in the US, have always subscribed to the Overland Journal definition. The truth is, you officially become an overlander the moment you realize you have left the term in the dust on some nature forsaken road so long ago you can’t remember the country…let alone the town. It’s just a moniker, one that isn’t important, and one nobody should let get in the way of any personal connection. If we had to try and reduce what long term multi-country travel is, quite simply, it’s about the people. In our travels we have never met anyone who would be easily described as an overlander that would say it any different. In the beginning many of us would romanticize about the freedom, the technical difficulty, the trials and tribulations, but ultimately we all end up exactly where Christopher McCandless did: “Happiness is only real when shared.”
John and Mandi, thank you for reading and for your thoughtful response. When Eric and I hit our pillows at night and reflect on the day, our conversation almost always drifts to observations about the people we met and how our lives were impacted…how grateful we were that our five-year-old could witness the strength and generosity of the people around us.