Are you getting ready to attend Overland Expo for the first time? Overland Expo West is right around the corner, with the Pacific Northwest, Mountain West, and East events not far behind. We’ll be at West this year. It’ll be our sixth Overland Expo and fifth as instructors (we’ll list our sessions at the end of this article). If you want to make the most of your time and investment, but aren’t sure where to start, then these tips are for you.
1/ Have a plan
If you take nothing else away from this article, then absorb the importance of having a plan. The largest of the Overland Expo events, West will have 30,000-40,000 attendees, more than 400 exhibitors, and nearly 200 classes. This event is big. Without a plan, you’ll be swept away with the tide and won’t be able to make the most of the weekend.
2/ Use the app
Your best planning friend is the official Overland Expo app. Download it right now for Apple or Android.
After making your account, use the app to do the following:
- Review the instruction schedule, which includes roundtables, classes, demos, and more. The classes you have access to depend on your ticket type (General Admission vs. Overland Experience). But even General Admission has access to a dizzying number of classes.
- Create your schedule. The app allows you to select the sessions you want to attend, then lists them in a quick-access schedule.
- Browse the exhibitor list. Make a list of the specific booths you want to visit, preferably in order of priority. You’ll thank me later.
3/ Know that classes are everything
Our first Overland Expo was East 2018. In the five months leading up to that Expo, we:
- discovered the word overlanding
- decided we wanted to drive around the world
- thought it would be a good idea to take a two-month tour of interior Mexico to see if we liked overlanding (yes, #2 and #3 happened in this order)
- turned our rock-crawling Wrangler into a FrankenJeep by adding a roof top tent and fridge
- spent exactly four nights in the roof top tent before attending our first Overland Expo
To say we were green would be an understatement. But Overland Expo was exactly what we needed. With our General Admission tickets, we attended the classes that could help us most at that stage in our lives. Eric went to the “Borders, Checkpoints & Bribes” panel to assuage his safety concerns. We both got starry-eyed during the Mexico & Central America roundtable, as we listened to people talk about the trip we were about to take. They were our heroes!
Say it with me: the classes are everything at Overland Expo. There is no other place where you have access to so much instruction and inspiration related to overlanding.
You will never regret any hour you spend in a class, roundtable, or demo, instead of wandering aimlessly through the exhibitor area. Trust me. Try it.
4/ Camping? Be ready for anything
Back to our first Expo, which took place in North Carolina in October.
First it rained. Then the ground froze. And as the ground thawed, we had to make a decision about what to do with a one-year-old considering the mud almost went up to his waist. Result? Caspian spent the weekend in the baby carrier.
That wasn’t the only Overland Expo that ended up with the affectionate name of “Mud Fest.” But it was our first Mud Fest and we considered it a trial by fire. Since we were brand new to this style of camping, we were pretty proud of how we handled the whole thing. We told each other, “If we can get through this, then we can get through anything!”
All that to say you’ll want to be ready for just about anything if you’re camping on-site. There could be high winds, heavy rains, or even snow. By considering the possibilities, you’ll be able to enjoy the weekend even if the weather sucks.
Really, this applies to all attendees, even the ones who aren’t camping.
5/ Allow extra time for walking
As I mentioned, this is a big event. A big event that requires a huge facility to accommodate it. First-time attendees may have a difficult time imagining the sheer scale of the grounds.
You’ll want to allow time for walking between scheduled sessions. And depending on where you’re camping, it may be a big hike to get between your vehicle and the event activities. So keep that in mind if you’re a parent with little ones who nap during the day. And make sure you don’t accidentally leave something behind at your vehicle–you probably won’t want to walk back just to get it.
6/ Plan on no cell coverage
We’ve been out of the country since 2021, so I’m not sure how much things have changed. But typically, cell phones do not work well at Overland Expo. There are just too many people trying to use their phones, which clogs the network and essentially renders phones useless.
So if you’re trying to coordinate with friends or family members, agree ahead of time where you’ll meet. There is a chance you won’t be able to communicate by phone after you split up.
7/ Have fun after dark
The classes during the day are awesome, but the social bonds that form at the end of the day offer the most fulfillment. Whether it’s at the official bar and food truck area or, better yet (because it’s easier to hear each other), at informal campground gatherings, after dark is the best time to reconnect with friends, bump into people you’ve been wanting to chat with, and trade ideas inspired by the days’ sessions.
At Overland Expo, Eric always enjoys a cigar with a specific friend. It’s a tradition they’ve had going since they met at Overland Expo five years ago. At my last Overland Expo West, after Caspian was asleep, I found myself sharing a picnic blanket with some of my overlanding heroes. It was so surreal and I’ll never forget it.
8/ Take a nice shower before you go
I have never taken a shower at Overland Expo. Rumor has it there are showers for campers, and I even saw a shower building on the map once or twice, but you may decide to forego the experience like I usually do. Frankly, it’s often cold and that makes showers not fun. Plus, there are so many better things you could do with that time!
9/ Consider your food plan
You’ll have to decide what you want to do about food. I vacillate. In the past when I’ve meal planned for every lunch and dinner, I’ve found we don’t use a lot of it. We’re always so busy that we tend to grab lunch at The Oasis food truck park. The food is relatively expensive, but usually pretty good. Another option is to pack easy picnic food and bring it with you to eat between classes.
If you’re planning to cook, just take into account the distance between the activities and your vehicle. It could be far, but this isn’t as big a deal at dinnertime once you’ve wrapped up classes for the day.
It’ll be different for everyone. You can look at the schedule and decide for yourself.
10/ Open your heart for a life-changing experience
Overland Expo will be what you make of it. If you don’t plan, then it’s easy to spend the entire time browsing products you probably don’t need and feeling bummed about what you can’t afford. This is my personal, strongly-held opinion based on experience.
But on the other hand, Overland Expo could change your life. It only takes one class or panel to hear from a person who has traveled ground you want to travel. These sessions are the heart of Expo because experience is the heart of overlanding (not stuff).
We are happy to be a resource for you as you prepare to experience Overland Expo for the first time. Leave a comment if you have any questions.
Our instructing schedule for West 2023
If you’re attending West 2023, then please come visit us in the DIY Showcase, or pop into one of our instructional sessions:
- Walk-around tour of our 2014 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon / Friday, 11-11:50 a.m. in the Showcase and DIY Vehicle Area
- Top Tips for Overlanding as a Family Roundtable / Friday, 3 p.m. in the Kids Adventure Area
- MAIN SESSION / Driving the Pan-American: What You Should Know / Saturday, 10-10:50 a.m. in the Around the World Pavilion
- Experts Panel: Overlanding as Women / Saturday, 1-1:50 p.m. at the Roundtable Pavilion
- Regional Q&A: South America / Sunday, 1-1:50 p.m. at the Roundtable Pavilion
We’d love to meet you in person before we fly back to Ecuador to continue our drive through South America.
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