In the middle of the pandemic – while stuck in the Netherlands – we got a beautiful present sent by mail: an overland guidebook of Kyrgyzstan. It got us itching to get back on the road, but it took another couple of months before we could return to Central Asia, and even longer to be able to cross into Kyrgyzstan.
We are overlanders who always travel with guidebooks. I try to find something in English as well as in Dutch, because, interestingly enough, they may focus on very different aspects of a country. In Central Asia we have much loved the Bradt Guides, arguably one of the best guidebook companies (but that’s for another blog post).
However, as any overlander knows, the regular guidebooks are focused on backpack travel, hopping around the world – or a country – in a bus or train. Large parts of these books don’t serve the overlanding community.
There have been a few initiatives in terms of overland travel guides, but – as far as I know – they are all in German or French. And so we were thrilled to receive this beautiful Kyrgyzstan Overland Guidebook. It’s exactly what overlanders are looking for. In short:
- A selection of the best trails
- GPS waypoints
- Aerial images, giving an overview of the trails
- Great photos
- They offer additional information, e.g. on how to contribute to local communities and outdoor adventure opportunities (hiking/horseback riding)
Kyrgyzstan is book #2. They previously published an overland guidebook on Ladakh and #3 will be published this spring, on Georgia (in the Caucasus, not the USA…).
Who are the people behind this book? We were lucky enough to meet Victor and spent a couple of evenings gorging on Korean food in Bishkek (the capital of Bishkek). His enthusiasm is contagious and so it’s with great pleasure to share an interview with them here.
1. Tell us a bit about who you are and where overland travels have taken you
Hi, we’re Olivia & Victor! We are both authors, photographers and publishers, but above all we are whole-hearted, adventurous humans passionate about travelling off the beaten track. Adventure, human connection, nature: that’s our vibe!
But it wasn’t always like this. Just three years ago, we were living a conventional life in France: Victor as an engineer and Olivia as a vet. Against the advice of our relatives, we left a cushy, well-paid job that wasn’t fulfilling us to live our dream : bring together other passionate travellers like us, and to let others discover what you will never see represented in the mainstream media.
In recent years, our travels have taken us to Central Asia, the Middle East and the Caucasus.
2. What is OunTravela about
OunTravela is the union of our passion for overland travel. We wanted to create the travel tool that didn’t exist and that met our needs as overland travellers: a practical, interesting and inspiring guide book. OunTravela is our publishing house, but it is much more than that.
It is a community of travellers and a travel philosophy.
Do you know the movie Avatar? When he was younger, Victor was a big fan of the film, so much that he used to speak the na’vi language with his best friend. OunTravela means “to go in the opposite direction” so it perfectly represents our vision and philosophy of travel. To get out of the flow and the classic tourist circuit to discover the underrated wonders and forgotten paths of our world.
3. What lies at the core of overlanding for you?
In our opinion, the core of overland travel is taking your time, exploring and creating human connection.
By travelling for a long period of time and being autonomous, it is easier to explore remote areas by benefiting from a privileged relationship with the local population.
The notion of time is very important if you want to immerse yourself and live at the rhythm of a country and experience a totally different culture. The longer you stay, the more time you will have to explore what the country has to offer.
Check it out: The Landcruising Adventure Comforters Collection
4. What inspired you to start publishing Overlanding Guidebooks?
To be honest, we have never liked using classic travel guide books like Lonely Planet. Our travel philosophy is mostly based on improvisation and exploration. We like to spend time discovering a country and its unexplored treasures. Then one day we had the idea to create a book that could help other travellers with the same philosophy.
5. Any anecdotes to share in challenges you ran into when working on one of your books
The biggest challenge we faced this year was to carry out our plans despite the pandemic. In May 2021 we were ready and excited as ever to discover and explore Tajikistan with our Landcruiser that we had stored for the winter in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. We shipped a new roof tent, solar panels and other equipment from France. We were ready for a beautiful expedition of several months.
One month passed, then two, then three and despite our best efforts, we could not find a way to cross the common border between these two countries. We thought of going through Uzbekistan but at that time we were still not sure about the Uzbek-Tajik border. Within a few days we decided to leave everything here and start over in a new destination: Georgia. Only one week after this decision, we were owners of a Mitsubishi Pajero 2 and two trail bikes (Yamaha 660 XTZ Tenere and Royal Enfield Himalayan) bought in Tbilisi, capital of Georgia.
How lucky we were to end up in this amazing country. It was the best decision ever!
6. How do you decide for which country/region you’ll make a guidebook?
The destinations we promote are not very well known and largely underrated. We look for destinations with wide open spaces, where it is possible to explore and create an authentic connection with the local population. We take care to choose places where it is safe to camp in the wild.
We also aim to promote rural tourism and the development of nature-friendly outdoor activities such as horse riding, trekking and climbing.
7. Ladakh and Kyrgyzstan are for sale. When can we expect overland guidebook #3: Georgia (Caucasus)?
It’s quite funny because our first two books were published in 2020, the year of the pandemic! But that didn’t stop us from believing in our project and putting all our energy into it. EXPLORE LADAKH and EXPLORE KYRGYZSTAN are available on our online shop in English and French.
After more than 4 months of exploration in the country, we have just returned to France and are already working on the book EXPLORE GEORGIA. We hope to publish the book in May 2022 before the summer!
And so many books are to come : Mongolia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Namibia, etc.
UPDATE January 2023: Explore Georgia is now for sale. Find it here.
8. What makes your overland travel guides stand out from other guidebooks?
Designed like roadbooks, and illustrated with a multitude of maps and photos, our overland guidebooks are both tools and guides for independent travellers who wish to discover, understand, and explore a new destination. We offer in our guidebooks a selection of small, unexplored trails, to discover by van, 4×4, bike or motorcycle.
Our books are not standard tourist guides. They have been designed for travellers searching for adventure and authentic experiences. Instead of classical stops and by-the-book itineraries, we offer our readers an original format allowing them to create their trip by themselves. With a perfect knowledge of the terrain, they can improvise their way, guided by what they fancy or who they meet, fully independently.
9. What tip(s) would you like to give to overlanders when planning and/or going on their overland trip?
Travel planning should not just be about listing the must-sees, but about understanding the terrain you are going to explore, in terms of geography, culture and history. This is something we tend to neglect when we are younger, and yet it is what will allow you to have a better understanding of what is around you, to respect it and to enjoy it.
That’s why we’ve tried to make the chapters about culture and environment in our books more accessible and enjoyable to read.
Our second piece of advice is to trust your intuition and allow yourself some improvisation. These are for us the best ingredients for a successful trip.
10. Do you have books to suggest to overlanders that may inspire them on their travels?
We are big fans of photography and love to discover the documentary work of great travellers or reporters such as Matthieu Paley, Roland and Sabrina Michaud, Kares Leroy and others more known as Sebastiao Salgado or Steve Mc Curry.
11. Where can readers follow you?
All images: @Oun Travela
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