Overland Expo West, the world’s premier overland and adventure off road show, drew 18,000 enthusiasts to Flagstaff, Arizona. I was one of them. So why does the annual event keep drawing me back? Well, first, the most extraordinary collection of overland adventure companies in the world with more than 400 expert gear vendors assemble right here in my backyard. Second, the epic off road show is the best place to get insider tips.
I’ll share what I learned, but first, what is overlanding?
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What is overlanding, you may ask?
Overlanding is a way to describe exploring by self-contained means, usually by vehicle—often with four-wheel-drive capability—or adventure motorcycle. Traditionally, the term was used for Africa safaris or exploring in Australia.
Unlike other 4WD enthusiasts—rock-crawlers or ralliers—overlanders place as much importance on the journey as the destination. Or on the activities such as hiking, nature watching, kayaking or mountain biking found along the expedition.
For overlanders, camping is a highlight as well—they enjoy innovations such as roof-top tents, 12-volt fridges and kitchen kits. State-of-the-art equipment such as compressors, winches and other recovery gear also makes overlanders self-contained.
My husband Dan and I invest in the “Overland Expo West Experience” package, which allows us to rub elbows with overlanders from all over the world during interactive driving courses, seminars and training sessions. With over 175 focused classes, there’s something for every interest, from hands-on self-defense to roundtables discussing border crossing to off-road motorcycle rides to cooking classes. We got inspired by hanging out with authors, filmmakers and other travelers, who hosted workshops and classes. In addition, we all shared stories from the road at the Happy Hours and special after-hours parties. Here’s what I discovered:
1.) UV Light Wands Really Do Sterilize Water
Just days before I took the Disinfecting Water in the Field Class, I’d been snickering with outdoors friends about others who wave a wand in dirty stream water and then pronounce it sterilized. Haw, haw, haw! Crazy New Agers!
Turns out the laugh is on us. UV sterilization is one of the best methods around because it can reduce and in some cases eliminate organic and inorganic chemicals, pesticides and herbicides. That’s in addition to getting rid of the viruses, bacteria and parasites that other filtration systems destroy.
Off-roading expert Bob Wohlers wrote the book on treating water in the field and after I spent one hour with him at Overland Expo West, my skepticism on water filtration dissolved.
2.) Spikes up on MaxTrax Recovery Boards
I’ve seen the orange or black recovery boards mounted to the sides of overland vehicles—they look like backboards to me—but I’ve never used one or seen them in action. That was until I went to the Overland driving course, which Overland Expo West experts designed to expose me to challenges I might find on my travels. Like steep side slopes that I’ve ridden in Tanzania, or low traction situations (think one or two wheels in the air) or “elephant footprints.” When I arrived on the scene driving my Toyota 4-Runner, I found a tricked-out Sprinter van with two sea kayaks on the roof high-centered on the course. I was guessing that the stuck rig was worth at least $250K and that the group of guys conferring on what to do next had similar figures swimming in their heads. “Be careful; these vans can be top-heavy,” warned one of the anxious troubleshooters. They’d positioned the MaxTrax recovery boards with the spikey side up.
“I’ve never used these boards before,” I said. “But I would have thought that you put the spikey side down—into the ground.”
“Naur,” the instructor in the Adhoc recovery class said with an Australian accent. “They lay spikes up, so the tires get a better grip.”
3.) Travel the Canadian Maritimes Early Summer to See Ice Berga and Whales
Geologist Pam Standwell recommends traveling to Newfoundland in early summer to experience icebergs and whales. She and her husband never made a reservation while living out of their overland vehicle for ten weeks—except for ferry transport.
4.) Flagstaff’s Mother Road Brewery Produces a Red Beer!
What a surprise! One of my favorite Flagstaff breweries is an Official Craft Beer Sponsor of Overland Expo. Mother Road brought out two new brews for the off road show: Upland Orange and Roy’s Red. In addition, Mother Road supports Arizona Game and Fish Department with their Conserve and Protect Golden Ale. A portion of all proceeds from the golden ale goes to protecting the state’s 800 unique wildlife species. Mother Road shared its exhibition space with AZGFD, and I was happy to contribute to our wildlife at Overland Expo West.
5.) The Left Turning Signal has a Double Meaning in Baja, California
Perhaps you already know this if you’ve been driving in Mexico. For example, when driving in Baja, if the car in front of you has its left turn light on, it could be signaling to make a left turn. Alternatively, it could be signaling that it is safe for you to pass.
It’s important to know the nuances of driving etiquette for each of the countries you plan visit with your overland vehicle. Overland Expo West or other Overland Expos throughout the country is where you go for such tips of the trade.
Overland Expo www.overlandexpo.com
6.) Embellish Travel Journals with Hand-drawn Maps, Biological Illustrations
“Our human drive combines aesthetics and science,” says Roseann Hanson, former owner of Overland Expo, who now runs Field Arts Institute. Although maps are essential to overlanders and travelers alike, I hadn’t thought of combining landscape sketches, biological illustrations and botanical art to illustrate the maps I already create in my travel journals.
7.) Preparation for the Journey Instills Confidence
When traveling solo, the more prepared you are, the more confident you’ll be. So says solo female overlander Maggie McDermut. Maggie, who also drives a Toyota, recommends that women need information and knowledge about their vehicle, backcountry skills and where they’re going. Getting information is just one reason to subscribe to my website now.
“UNSTOPPABLE Stacey” Wittig is a travel writer based in Munds Park. When she’s not traveling to Europe or Asia, she’s outdoors camping with her husband, Dan, in the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, AZ.
This list of what I learned at the Overland Expo West could go on and on. I discovered hundreds of new ideas, destinations and tips of the trade! The seven points I shared where chosen to illustrate the diversity of the classes and workshops. There REALLY IS something for everyone. I hope this article encourages you to sign up for the next Overland Expo, coming to your region of the US! Check here for schedules.
Planning a trip to Flagstaff for Overland Expo West 2022? Make sure to consult my recommendations for top lodging in Flagstaff.
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