Whether you seek off-road adventures on an ATV or long for dirt bike vacations, there are many ways to experience the lush, ridiculous beauty of the world from backcountry roads. How does maneuveringaround geysers in the Arctic Circle sound? What about floating between the Earth and Sky as you drive with the windows down in Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni? Or careening over the summit of Namibia’s infamous red sand dunes? If any of these rev your engine, then you gotta check out off road tours. Buckle your helmet, tighten your seatbelt, turn that GoPro on, and get ready to get off-the-beaten track and take the road less traveled.
With off road drives available across the world, from the Outback of Australia to the waterfalls of Zambia, the opportunities for adventures off road stretch out far beyond the reach of your rear view mirror.
If you want to cruise in the company of stark mountains, incredible green landscapes, and active volcanoes, check out Iceland. This country is a delightful combination of virgin landscape and all-the familiar first-world amenities that your inner comfort-junkie needs. So, if you’re itching to sign up for dirt bike adventure tours on another planet (that’s actually an island in Europe), Iceland is calling. Open that sky roof, take a gaze at the boreal lights above you, and enjoy driving on the left side of the road.
Latin America is great for those who are cool with jungle AND mountain travel, don’t mind bugs, and want to improve (or use!) their Spanish. From the rainforests and beaches of Costa Rica, to the jagged peaks of the Peruvian Andes, to southern Patagonia in Argentina, Latin America is an off-roader paradise. Take hairpin turns that would make even "The Legend" Walker Evans cringe and uncover hidden Mayan or Incan ruins (heck, you might even discover another ancient city).
One of the biggest countries in the world, with recorded history stretching back thousands of years, China is a fascinating place for extended use of your “all-wheel drive.” Drive your truck along the ancient Silk Road that connected Europe and Asia for hundreds of years, visit villages in the west that aren’t a part of the traditional travel itinerary, and chill with some monks in Tibet on your tea break post-adventures off road. There's also street food that will make your mouth water (huoguo and a baozi, please!) and the landscapes that inspired Avatar. Take your off road adventures off the pavement and onto the dirt!
Off Road Adventures Abroad
The good thing about adventure travel is that there are literally hundreds of organizations out there wanting to help you plan your trip – from dirt bike vacations to a trip to an off road adventure park and more. The bad thing is is that there aren’t very many purely off road tours out there. A possible solution is to plan your trip independently, research the current companies out there with off road adventures, and contact the ones you’re interested in to see if you can incorporate some of their activities into your plans. Many adventure travel programs can lead you to bungee jumping, cave exploring, volunteering, and more – if you’re keen to off road, make your interests known and see if they can add it to the itinerary.
It is helpful to know in advance what type of off road tours you’d like to do – this will help you zero in on program options. Want to raid, dune-bash, or drive cross-country? Prefer green-laning, mudding, rock-crawling, or rock-racing? Once you have an idea of the adventure you’re cruising towards, choosing equipment, like the right ATV (and the right ATV insurance cost!), will be more like coasting.
Tips & Advice for Off Road Trips
Off road trips aren’t the most popular, and most certainly aren’t the easiest, way to travel and find adventures abroad. But it is an excellent way to see countries your own way, on your own time. Before you make a copy of your driver’s license, here are some things to keep in mind:
- What are the driving restrictions? When you choose where you want to go, make sure to extensively research what you need to do in order to legally drive there. Age requirements, license types, insurance options. Make sure to check out the country’s embassy for further information, if you’re planning on visiting strange countries or staying for a long time.
- How dangerous are the roads and climate? Off-roading is an adventure and challenge in itself. Add in tricky weather patterns, crazy roads that go off cliffs, and potholes that are regular tire poppers, and you’ve got yourself a true travel experience. For some of the more remote places in Mongolia or Tanzania, speaking to or hiring a guide will not only be advised, but it’ll be necessary for your safety. You could have all the experience in the world, but not know what to do when you run out of gas 500 miles into the Gobi Desert and have a flat tire. Hakuna matata won’t save you here.
- Know the terrain. If you’re planning to drive on sand, gravel, riverbeds, mud, snow, or rocks, make sure your equipment is well-equipped to handle the various natural terrain. Off road tires will be your new BFF!
- Understand your vehicle. What capabilities will your truck or four-wheel drive vehicle have? What is the difference between low and high 4WD? Ensure you are aware of your vehicle’s locking differentials and traction control, and whether or not you need any special equipment to explore the untouched grounds where you’re headed.
Save more money than your budget requires you beforehand. The best part about cars is they take you to places fast, they’re fun to drive, and you’re independent of any kind of naysayer. But there’s also the fact that they consume a lot of gas (especially when you’re hopping between dirt mounds or driving donuts in some muddy jungle) and they occasionally break down. Even with a good insurance plan, bring some extra cash. You never know where you’ll end up.
Benefits & Challenges
Off road adventures are one of the best ways to get outside the touristy city, explore some incredible landscapes, and go places the typical traveler does not. It offers independence, the thrill of the road, and plenty of photo moments.
However, there are some challenges that go along with driving abroad, whether that be off road or in the downtown of a giant metropolis. Driving abroad for the first time can be a little scary. Local policemen tend to be a little more suspicious of foreign cars with foreign drivers, so research the driving rules of each country and stay under the speed limit.
Without a local guide, there’s no way for you to know where to go if you’re in a truly remote place – which is why we typically recommend finding a program or a local to tag along. GPS and maps will only take you so far accurately, but that’s just a part of the adventure. Just make sure to research and run your plans past knowledgeable natives before you head out on your own Marco Polo journey.
Take in the mountains, valleys, prairies, jungles, or deserts abroad from behind the wheel. The allure of off-road adventures is strong; follow it and it’ll take you to largely uninhabited and uncharted terrain, reserved for only the most intrepid adventure junkies.