Traveling Africa: Backpack, Motorbike or 4WD?

One of the logistics issues Charlie and I have come across in planning our Africa adventure is: how do we get around? We know we want to travel independent – no multi-country group tours for us – but how that’ll happen is still left to be decided.

Here are our options:


Mercedes G500 {}
Mercedes G500…a bit out of our price range… {}

The ideal option is renting or buying a 4WD somewhere in South Africa: driving ourselves would give us the ultimate freedom to go wherever we want, whenever we want. It would also mean a good chance of recovering most if not all of the money we put into the purchase when we sell it.

But even so, an expensive purchase could be enough of a dent in our budget to cost us precious traveling time. Not to mention the stress of purchasing practically sight unseen. And what if we couldn’t sell it afterwards? Renting would ease that worry, but renting can add up in costs as well, and often comes with limitations.


Suzuki Sherpa 250
I could see myself on one of these… {}

Talk about freedom. And self-sufficiency. Dirt bikes are perfect for much of Africa’s terrain and likely more capable in terms of accessibility than some 4WD cars.

“Wait, is a dirt bike considered 4WD?”

They would not only be cheaper, but we could also purchase them here and not break the bank shipping them over. They’re also the most romantic option: you can smell the earth, you’re part of the culture, open to your surroundings.

That said, being open to your surroundings isn’t always the smartest idea. In terms of safety, we’d be more likely to get separated, hurt,  or chased by animals that are into such things (just saying) – basically we’d be much more vulnerable in general. We’d also have to pare down what we bring. And I’d probably need to learn how to ride…


One of the buses from Don Det, Laos to the Cambodian border
One of the buses from Don Det, Laos to the Cambodian border

Some people (*cough* Charlie *cough*) might be against backpacking on what is often considered an essential overland trip. I can’t say I disagree, but even after the chaos of bussing around south east Asia, there’s still something that feels quaint about traveling slow and rumbling along with a big dose of local culture in a bright tin can on wheels.

But while it might be cheaper in terms of transit, even cheap hostels don’t compare with free camping under the stars, and we’d have to hire guides and attach ourselves to tours in all the safaris and parks anyway. We would also be very dependent on the schedules of the buses, and from my understanding, the buses only leave when they’re full.


Keep looking for now. One thing’s for sure: I’m going to Africa. So if we don’t manage to find a vehicle in our price range, well, I’m booking a multi-country group backpacking tour for one!

Have you guys done Africa? How’d you get around? Let me know in the comments!

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