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Overlanding as a Way of Life

Overlanding as a Way of Life


When Life is Adventure and Adventure is Life

Graeme, Luisa, Jessica and Keelan Bell have traveled the world in their Defender 130 for over 10 years. This is a perspective on overlanding and the mindset of adventure based on their global adventures as a family. (Hint: You don’t need a fully built out rig and expedition time in Africa to be an overlander.)


By Graeme Bell
Photos by Luisa Bell

My brother used to own a long red surfboard. It was ancient, dented and heavy but it floated and bore a rider. We made a frame on my BMX to carry the old board and almost daily would ride our bikes down to North Beach in Durban, South Africa and take turns riding the Indian ocean waves. I was eleven and it took every ounce of strength to get through the breakers to the backline where I would wait my turn to catch a wave. The older surfers tolerated me because my determination had earned a spot in the lineup, they teased me about my old, red boat and gave me tips – how to duck dive and when to paddle into a wave.

Surfing is a way of life for many coastal dwellers as all you really need is a surfboard, perhaps a wetsuit, and an ocean. It is an incredibly healthy lifestyle which not only provides exercise and adrenaline but also fulfills a need. It is a drug of sorts and it is highly addictive once you have paid the price of time, effort and perseverance. Overlanding is similar in many ways. There are professional surfers and there are professional overlanders, both belong to a loosely connected tribe, there are weekend warriors and the perpetual planners and the shapers and vehicle builders. There are men, women, children and people with disabilities, there are rich and poor, soul searches, adrenaline junkies, wannabes and gurus.

But overlanders have an advantage over surfers – we are not bound by the ocean. We are free to travel the planet in every direction, limited only by our daring, resources and geo-political bureaucracy.

Overlanding as a way of life is not the reserve of the hard-core, live-on-the-road extremist, it is a lifestyle which is achievable by anyone with a passion for the outdoors and a set of wheels.

Overlanding as a way of life is not the reserve of the hard-core, live-on-the-road extremist, it is a lifestyle which is achievable by anyone with a passion for the outdoors and a set of wheels. Surfers are still surfers when the sea is flat, as are overlanders when the real world demands attention. You read your favourite overland magazines and follow members of the tribe on social media, plan your next journey, refine and maintain your gear, work on your vehicle and go to sleep dreaming of the open road. It is the daily dose of the dream which keeps the spark alive until you can head out into the open.

Finding Balance Between Adventures

Here is an excellent example – I have a friend who drove around the world in a Toyota Land Cruiser camper, that was six years ago but that vehicle is still his daily driver, he owns no other vehicle. He drives that old camper every day, to work and back, I know that he can afford a new Volvo or BMW sedan but driving the camper every day reminds him of all the countries he has taken his family to, all the adventures they had and all the amazing sights they saw through that windscreen. The plaque on the door to his office reads Dr. Gareth but as soon as he leaves the practice and climbs into his faithful camper he is no longer a health care professional, he is an overlander.

Jessica Bell in Alaska 2015
Jessica Bell in Alaska 2015

Epic Overland Rig Not Required

We (the Bell family) have chosen overlanding as a way of life in every sense. We live on the road, but we are the exception, not the rule. The “what is overlanding” debate has been exhausted, we prefer to define it as vehicle dependant travel. Dictionary.com defines the word overland as “to travel a long distance over land”. A surfer is still a surfer even when he is not in the ocean, it is his identity and his state of mind, it is how he regards himself while he sits behind his desk or works in his garage. Likewise an overlander is someone who is passionate about exploring over land, they dream of it when not actually doing it, they read the books and watch the videos and wrench on their vehicles until the day comes when all the hard work and passion pays off, everything falls into place and the open road beckons.


Graeme Bell is a full-time overlander and author of three books – We Will Be Free, Travel the Planet Overland and Overlanding the Americas – La Lucha. He is traveling the planet with his wife Luisa and two children  in a Land Rover Defender 130 (affectionately known as Mafuta). To date, the Bell family and Mafuta have over a period of 10 years toured Southern and East Africa, circumnavigated South America, and driven from Argentina to Alaska before touring the US from coast to coast and overlanding from the United Kingdom to Asia Minor. In December 2016 the family transformed their Defender from a standard double cab into a camper with through access, a pop-top, and sleeping for four in anticipation of their next adventure – a loop around Africa. You can follow their journey on Patreon.

Graeme’s written work can be found here:

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Follow the adventure on YouTube:
A2A Expedition – YouTube


Co-Founder and Lead Editor of Overland Bound. Can often be found behind the camera during trips.

Adventure seeker. Dog wrangler. Writer. Partner in crime to Michael.  Lover of nature and all things outdoors. Here's to forging down new trails, connecting with others, and the unapologetic pursuit happiness! #outfitandexplore


  1. Awesome highlight of how overlanding manifests itself differently for different people! Most people we meet on the road tell us “do it while your young and dont have kids”, so I love hearing of full-time overlanders who do it with a family. They don’t understand how this can be a lifestyle, not just a temporary ‘roadtrip’. Thanks for sharing!

  2. thank you for your site. I am humbled by the amount of information and have already applied information from two of your articles to prepare the Tacoma for a six month trip to Colorado for my son who will be a ski instructor in very cold conditions.

  3. We have known Graeme and Luisa online for a few years now however during our Mongolia Trip we met up with them in person in Turkey.

    They were visiting our friends Overland Anatolia in Turkey to get some work done in their Landy. They had heard about Overland Anatolia from a friend of ours on our Morocco Trip the previous year who we had sent to Overland Anatolia when they needed help in Turkey and they in turn had passed on the details to Graeme and Luisahen they were headed east.The long distance overland community is very small in comparison to the likes of Overland Bound community but we are all connected by a shared experience.

    So it was great to actually meet-up with A2A. We spent the first night camped outside the garage on an industrial estate (this is quite common for long distance overlanders) as we helped out with their repairs. The next night we all camped and bbq’d in the car park at the home of Overland Anatolia and the third night we headed to a remote beach and pitched up for a great A2A braai.

    Great people with great children living a life many of us can only dream about, overcoming many obstacles as they go.

  4. I loved the article.  Well articulated, relevant and relatable analogies.  I was saddened when I reached the end because I wanted more.  LoL.

    Some of his books are absolutely fascinating. I suggest reading a couple if you ever get a chance.

  5. Our family has been taking 2 one month trips for over a decade.  We always spent one month on a road trip through other states and another visiting a foreign country of two.  Even though we were living in an amazing place with endless recreational activities (Tahoe), the highlights of the year have always been on our road trips.  Whenever we returned "home", we felt something was always missing. 

    One day, a friend introduced me to overlanding.   After dong some research, I came across the Bell family's stories.  I read all of Grahams's books and found a ton of inspiration in their pages.  It was literally the Bell family's story that gave us the final push to get rid of everything and hit the road full time.  My wife and I always planned to travel the world full time when we retired, but the Bell family was the first to show us that it was possible to do it with the whole family.  There are many others doing the same thing, but if it hadn't been for them, I'm not sure how long it would have taken us to muster up the courage to leave it all behind.  If you are on the fence about doing something similar, I highly recommend their books.