How do you deal with fears on an overland journey? What are your possible fears before starting out, such fear of wild camping? These were subjects of interesting conversation we had with fellow overlanders Mijke and Dennis, who were on a 6-month trip from the Netherlands to Mongolia/Central Asia and back.
The four of us were camped in the parking lot of Tunduk Hostel and during our first evening, over great food at the Seoul Korean Restaurant across the road, we quickly realized what we had in common. Mijke, Dennis & I all had our degree in Hotel Management.
New to Camping
During that same conversation, a big difference came up.
“We had never camped before this trip,” Mijke said.
“What? Seriously?” I responded. As an avid outdoor person I found that hard to believe.
It’s easy to imagine the magnitude of an overland trip and how much more scary such an adventure may seem if you are new to camping. And then you go out there on a 6-month overland trip to Russia and Central Asia, wild camping in a rooftop tent. I admire that. Kudos, really!
There was a second, bigger fear, particularly for Mijke: the car breaking down. How do you deal with that, your home in wheels that is going to take you through thousands of miles of taiga in Russia, and across empty steppes and desert in Mongolia? You better trust that overland vehicle.
Dealing with Fears on Your Overland Journey
I imagine that every first-time overlander has to deal with some sort of fear, in one way or another. Whether that’s before starting out, or during the journey.
New to camping, new to traveling, new to driving a car, new to going beyond the comfort zone… (For me it was, among other things, the fear of having to eat foods I didn’t know).
And so I figured it would be interesting to share Mijke and Dennis’ story with you. Experienced overlanders may recognize themselves while it may help wannabe overlanders to see they are not the only ones who look at their exciting, upcoming adventure with that sense of trepidation as well.
I greatly admire Mijke & Dennis for what they do, coming from a world of luxury travel to buying a car, a rooftop tent (find them here) and heading out east. With their humor, common sense, and taking some practical decisions on what to bring, they have some great thoughts to share.
Let’s hear their story!
The biggest fear during the trip is ‘What if the car breaks down’.
Tell us about yourself and your journey
We are Mijke (38) and Dennis (37) and live in Haarlem. We both studied Hotel Management but ended up working in different industries than the hospitality industry. During the week we usually work long days, but when we’re off we’d love to go out for dinner, travel and spend time with our family and friends. We left Haarlem on 5 June and headed first to Scandinavia.
Scandinavia has been on our wish list for a while and it allowed us to get used to this style of traveling before we would leave the EU. So the route we planned is Norway until the North Cape, then Finland, Russia, Mongolia, Kazachstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Armenia, Georgia, Turkey and back home.
This isn’t your first time to travel but, as you said, you’ve mostly been more luxurious travelers. Why and how this change to a pretty basic overlanding lifestyle?
Indeed, we usually travel more luxurious. We love a good hotel and the comfort of it. We made a few trips to the US and Canada for a few weeks in different areas. We traveled from hotel to hotel but enjoyed the freedom of driving only in one direction and not having to return. And the freedom it gives to be able to go everywhere and stop everywhere you want.
This is where the thought started “what if we could do this for a longer period of time?” So we started looking into it and decided to go for it. And it’s indeed a pretty basic lifestyle, but if you want to travel for so many months and visit the less frequented places (and off the beaten track), we believe it’s the only way.
“38 years old and never having camped” That most certainly got my attention! And subsequently, you start camping by going in the wilds! What were/are your biggest fears and how do/did you deal with them?
Yes, this was indeed also a thing for us to get used to. We’ve been on some school camps but that’s as far as our camping experience went. That’s also why we started off in the Nordics: if we really didn’t like it, we could turn around and go home and sell everything.
So, the first nights of wild camping were not the nights we slept best. The very first night was in Norway, which feels rather ‘close to home’, but the first nights in Russia were something different “did you hear something too? Or was that just the wind?”
The biggest fear was our safety: how do you judge if a wild camp spot is safe in a country that is unfamiliar to you? But we mostly learned along the way. What helped Mijke a lot was knowing that we always had the Garmin Inreach with us, even though that means help will come within 2 days, which is a long time.
In our everyday life, we like to learn and develop ourselves which often means pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. What always helps us is to realize that no matter what, by the end of the day we sleep in our own bed at home. And that’s the thing with a trip like this: it takes a pretty long time before your tent feels like home as well. And then you still have to find that camping spot every single day.
But being out of your comfort zone is such a big part of the day and night and also means you’re developing yourself. Eventually, you do get used to it up to a certain level and it gets easier.
How would you compare the different styles of traveling (backpacking vs overlanding & luxurious vs basic)?
The way we look at it is that you could roughly say that the less you have with you (backpacking) the more freedom you have. You have fewer items to look after and can decide at any moment to leave a country, jump on a train or catch a ride. However, you’re always dependent on others.
Overlanding also comes in various stages of luxury: motorbikers think a fridge in your car is luxury while we think that being able to sit inside when it’s raining outside is luxury, whereas campervans think having a washing machine with you as some trucks have is luxury. So it comes in any form.
We really like the fact that we have our own (basic) home on wheels with us. To be able to sleep anywhere, to always have your bed with you. Backpacking is something we would therefore probably never do.
Check out the fascinating stories of other overlanders:
‘Fear’ was a word that came up quite a bit in our conversations. Apart from the (wild) camping we just talked about, what other fears rummaged through your head and how have you dealt with them?
The biggest fear during the trip is “what if the car breaks down”. We bought the car two years before we left on this trip and it for sure lacked some maintenance with the old owner we learned along the way.
During one short vacation trip, the car completely stopped working on the highway. We had some other issues later as well.
But after quite some hours spent in the garage, over time, the owner of the garage assured us it’s in a way better state now. Still, it takes quite some time to get that trust in the car. Additionally, you start driving roads (or better said off-road) that you haven’t done before. As a result, it took a long time to be still aware of the risk, however, not to have it first of mind all the time.
Also, bringing something to call for help in very remote areas (like the Garmin Inreach we brought), helps to ease the mind.
Other than that, we traveled the first weeks in Mongolia together with another overlander which was also nice. It’s nice knowing you’re with two cars in case of problems. Along the way, we learned that help is often pretty close as well. Since there’s no support system for things like that as we have in the west, people look out for each other. Something we really appreciated and think we can learn from in the west.
What has been the most essential item each of you brought this journey? And the stupidest?
Mijke -> The most essential item is the Garmin Inreach: besides the ease of mind also the maps were super helpful navigating our way through Mongolia. It has both a compass and elevation lines to see the height of mountains, making sure you can see if you can cross or not. Stupidest, for sure, is the Ukele and book how to learn to play it. I had this romantic idea that you had plenty of time at night but it turned out you’re busy enough with other stuff or people you meet and you really don’t feel like learning to play an instrument at those moments.
Dennis -> The most essential item the smartphone. Handy apps for planning the routes, looking up good places to stay, sights to visit, listening to music and to stay in touch with home. The least essential item a tripod toilet seat. Beforehand we figured that would be nice, but in reality we used it maybe twice. You don’t need it and it’s more of a hassle to set up every time.
After years of ambitious careers with long working hours, it must be quite a change to be together 24/7. How have you been doing as a couple?
Before we went on this trip, we had a lot of question marks since everything was new. The only thing we never doubted was if we would be able to do this together or not. We’ve been together for more than 13 years now, so you know each other pretty well.
We were able to travel by car for 4 weeks, so we never doubted that it wouldn’t work for 6 months. Of course you have some bickering every now and then, but you also have that at home. So the most important thing is to keep talking to each other.
You both quit your jobs for this journey. Any worries about finding a job after your return?
No, we both don’t have the slightest worry of finding a job. We’re in a luxury position because in our professions, at least in the Netherlands, there are more vacancies than people and we have both a pretty strong network.
It’s also not the first time that I, Mijke, quit before having a new job. I strongly believe that quitting a job is a different decision than finding a new job, so I’d like to separate those decisions in general. Besides that, if you want to work you can work. It might not be your dream job, but that can come later.
We both wanted to travel in absolute freedom, you never know what a trip like this does to you. You might decide to turn your life around and do things differently. Quitting your job gives you that freedom.
What is the toughest situation you’ve found yourself in on the road thus far? And how did you deal with it?
Physically tough was the moment we were stuck in a mix of mud and cow manure in Mongolia. The car didn’t move at all when hitting the gas and only sank deeper into a vacuum. The additional challenge was that Mijke was suffering from food poisoning that day so barely had any energy. We didn’t get it out ourselves and the sun was setting. But luckily there was a local family not that far from us that helped us.
We’re happy to have learned that we don’t really panic in these situations, we stayed rather calm.
Mentally tough is when you’re a bit skeptic about a part of the traveling that’s coming up. For me, Mijke, that was the Ak-Baital pass (4655m) in Tajikistan. I feared the car wouldn’t make it that high with less oxygen. And for a while that thought was troubling me. When taking a few passes in Kyrgyzstan at 3800m that slowly eased the mind a little. But it was still a happy moment when we were standing on that Ak-Baital pass and our car had no problem at all reaching this point. That was the moment where I really started believing in what our car can do.
What has surprised you most on this journey?
What surprised us most is the kindness of people you meet along the way.
You hear so much in the news and we’re so focussed on ourselves in the west. That together forms a picture in your head before you leave. But when traveling through these countries people were so kind. Even if you don’t speak the same language, they help you. Or stop and give things like honey. We even had times where we weren’t allowed to pay for services as other guests paid it for us.
It’s really heartwarming how many nice people there are on this planet. And in the west we have a lot to learn from this. (when is the last time you invited a stranger over to join for lunch?)
Based on your experiences now, what do you think? Another overland journey in the future?
Yes, we’ll probably do another overland journey in the future again. We have learned a lot about our preferences during this trip, so we’ll probably change the setup a bit.
Especially the facts that we would love to be able to sleep comfortably in the car (when needed) and to be able to sit in the car would probably mean we’ll have to change cars by then.
But the feeling of freedom, the waking up in beautiful nature in remote areas and to be able to go where you want is something we truly enjoyed.
Tips, Suggestions, Feedback?
Were you new to camping when you started your overland trip? Or did your overland journey force you out of your comfort zone in other ways? We’d love to hear about them. Please share in the comment section below!
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