Best Backpacking Trips You Can Do Without Flying!

3 Awesome Overlanding Trips That You Probably Haven’t Considered.

The border from Zambia to Zimbabwe, just a few minutes walk past the offical crossing

Over the past few years, I have tried to travel more sustainably and reduce my carbon footprint. To do this I have been travelling the world using less aircrafts and travelling more by foot, bus, train and shared car. I find this way much more enjoyable and authentic anyway, as you get to interact more with locals and experience real, local life.

On the train from Greece To Macedonia

Here are three of my absolute favourite overloading trips possible with no airplanes. I took these trips with my travel partner (and husband) Eric in the past few years. Backpacking and overlanding travel is my passion, so if you have any questions please comment below and I will get back to you.

Some of these trips are a bit more off the beaten path too, which means that it is great for supporting local communities. You won't find many large, Western chains of hotels, restaurants, transport companies etc. You can stay in home-stays, eat in locally run restaurants and travel in share taxis with the locals.

A wonderful family we met in the mountains of Tajikistan who let us camp on their land.

I have listed my top three, and ranked them in order of what I feel are the difficulty levels of travel. When I say difficulty, this refers to things like ease of getting from A to B, crossing borders, obtaining visa, safety issues, accommodation, and all the things you have to deal with every day on the road.

Border crossing at Rwanda.

 

Region: Eastern Europe

Route: Estonia to Italy

Length: 3.5 months

Difficulty: Easy to travel for new travellers.

The beautiful old town in Krakow, Poland.

I bet a high percentage of you reading this have travelled to Europe at some point and know how easy it is to travel in Western Europe, but it’s very touristy and also pretty expensive. If you are looking for European travel, consider Eastern Europe. It's absolutely beautiful, it’s easy to travel, lots of it is untouched by tourism, and the best part; it is a lot cheaper than Western Europe.

Budva, Montenegro - A cheaper alternate to Croatia.

We flew from London to Estonia and took buses all the way down to Turkey then back through to Italy. The buses varied, but most of the route you can find comfortable and safe coaches, with recliner chairs, sometimes even wifi and hot drinks. Travel doesn't get much easier than this. Oh, and the food is incredible. So much delicious food with lots of variety between countries. For vegetarians and vegans, you can get by just fine.

I fell in love with some of the fascinating and stunning countries here, but Albania was my highlight and I rank it as my favourite European country to visit for travel. I bet when you think of Albania, you don’t think of pristine beaches with turquoise water surrounded by lush green mountains. Well that's exactly what I think of when I remember my time there. It’s also a very cheap country to visit, with friendly locals.

Amazing Albania - The beaches were incredible.

Bosnia and Herzegovina was also a very memorable place for me. It is full with so much history (some very sad, but it’s something we should all learn about), and so much impressive, historic architecture. The old towns of Montenegro and Bosnia definitely give Western Europe a run for it’s money if you ask me.

Views of Kotor at sunset - Worth the hike!

Here are a few of my top things to do across Eastern Europe:

  • Livadhi Beach in Albania.

  • Meeting the friendly and welcoming locals in the beautiful little town of Prizren, Kosovo.

  • Majestic old town Kotor, Montenegro and climbing to the top of the mountain for the panoramic view.

  • Pink lake in Burgas, Bulgaria.

  • Road Trip driving through the mountainous areas of Slovenia.

  • The charming little town of Mostar in Bosnia.

The quaint town of Pzizren, Kosovo.

We visited the following countries in this order:

  1. Estonia

  2. Latvia

  3. Lithuania

  4. Poland

  5. Slovakia

  6. Hungary

  7. Romania

  8. Moldova

  9. Transnitstra - Have you ever even heard of this break away republic?

  10. Ukraine

  11. Bulgaria

  12. Turkey

  13. Greece

  14. Macedonia

  15. Serbia

  16. Kosovo

  17. Albania

  18. Montenegro

  19. Bosnia and Herzegovina

  20. Croatia

  21. Slovenia

  22. Italy

The charming streets of Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Region: Central Asia and Caucasus

Route: Turkey to Kyrgyzstan!

Length: 4 months Difficulty: A bit more off the beaten path, less comfort but still a safe place to travel.

Trying to find a bed on the train from Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan

Central Asia is an absolute delight for anyone who loves culture.

Our senses came alive in every way throughout Central Asia with the constant change of sights, smells and tastes.

It certainly is a safe part of the world to travel, and there are also pretty reliable trains through many of the countries. From the quirky city of Tbilisi in Georgia to hiking snow capped mountains in Kyrgyzstan you will never get bored in this part of the World. The landscapes I encountered here were magnificent and endless, if you are into hiking and nature put the Stans on your list.

Breathtaking views at Ala - Kul, Krgysztsan

I would say the more challenging parts of Central Asia would firstly be the language barrier because you won’t find many English speakers. They all speak Russian though so just download offline Russian on Google Translate and you'll get by (it helps massively if you can learn to read the Cyrillic alphabet too).

You won't find English menus many places.

Secondly, the food may be tricky if you are vegetarian or vegan in the Central Asian countries. The food was ok, but as The Lonely Planet puts it, “You don’t travel to Central Asia for the food”. Stock up on yummy Georgian dumplings (khinkali) and khachapuri while you can because one you hit the Stans, it’s not so great. In saying this, before we arrived we read horror stories about the food, but once we arrived it was fine. It is a lot of noodle soup mostly, but it kept us going.

We were invited to have lunch with this family in Dohuk, Iraqi Kurdistan - Food in Iraq was delicious.

Here are a few of my highlights from these countries:

  • Having a dance party with locals in the Fann Mountains in Tajikistan.

  • 3 day hike up to Ala-Kul In Kyrgyzstan.

  • Walking around the ancient towns and mosques in Uzbekistan.

  • Having endless tea with the most hospitable people I have ever encountered in Iraqi Kurdistan.

  • Travelling on a cargo ship over the Caspian sea from Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan.

  • Exploring and taking photos in the quirky city of Tbilisi, Georgia.

The vibrant colours are everywhere in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

Here is a list of the countries we visited on this trip, in the order we passed through them.

  1. Turkey

  2. Iraq (Kurdistan)

  3. Turkey (travelled back through)

  4. Georgia

  5. Armenia

  6. Azerbaijan

  7. Kazakhstan

  8. Uzbekistan

  9. Tajikistan

  10. Kyrgyzstan

The photogenic city Tbilisi is the capital of Georgia

Region: Northern to Southern Africa

Route: Cairo To Cape Town (Egypt to South Africa)

Length: 6 months

Difficulty: More challenging for those more adventurous travellers.

Riding in a pick up truck in Malawi. Two travel days are never the same on the continent of Africa!

This one admittedly was often more tiring and challenging getting from A to B but it was absolutely the most rewarding. If you are happy to travel a bit rough and are looking for a more off the beaten path overlanding route where you will feel vibrant raw culture and meet the friendly locals daily - then this is a great route for you.

The cutest and friendliest kids in Uganda.

This is my favourite and most memorable trip I have done because it was so unique compared to any other. Some countries are easier to travel than others. For example, Egypt has a great train system that can take you from the very North in Alexandria, through all the must-see attractions down to Aswan in the South where you can get your Sudanese visa then cross the border. Where as, Ethiopia definitely requires more patience. Our experience here was an average speed of 15km an hour, people vomiting next to us, no windows to be opened (due to superstitions about the wind), many broken down buses and only 'toilet stops' on the side of the road.

On safari in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia.

You will also need to consider visas more in Africa and research each country before you begin your trip. Most countries on this itinerary have a visa on arrival for many passports, you just get it at the border for a reasonable fee. Some need more planning for longer stays and multiple entry (Ethiopia for us).

Not your average bike ride in Hells' Gate, Kenya with zebras, giraffe, buffalo and more!

Food is not bad. Nothing fancy, very repetitive but some countries have some good food. You will often get stuck with pap/ ugali/ nsima, (it is called something different in every country), or as one lady in Zimbabwe told me “You’re English, it’s the African version of mashed potato”. It's basically just maize mashed up into a substance. It's a filler and doesn't have much taste, but it does the job.

A lady buying some fish from a boat which just docked in Vilanculos, Mozambique

When I talk to people about my Cairo to Cape Town trip, usually the very first thing people ask is “Is it safe?”.

Well, for me I would say yes, providing you take precautions like you would travelling anywhere else. In the 6 months I spent on this trip, I have never had anything stolen from me...well, I had one pair of glasses pinched, but I put them down and left them and when I returned 5 minutes later they were gone (my fault). I never felt threatened, but there were a couple of times I felt a little bit uncomfortable if we got stuck somewhere after a bus broke down or something. So, you need to travel smart and be able to deal with slightly more unpredictable situations. Most accomodation we stayed in, I would rate as fine, but I know many of my friends from home wouldn't be happy taking a cold bucket shower after a full day crammed on a minibus.

The magnificent and unique Lalibela churches in Ethiopia, built into the ground.

Travel is not as easy here. Get used to long days on a minibus, sharing seats and the only toilet stop being the side of a road. If you’re ok with all this then you’ll have an experience like no other in East Africa. The other noticeable thing about transport is it is not set up for tourists. So expect to hop on and off several minibuses to get where you want (sometimes we switched up to 6 or 7 in one day). Crossing land borders will pretty much all done by foot. You generally take a bus to the last town of one country, cross the border by foot, take a taxi to the first town, and take a minivan to the next destination (or something like this). You need to be prepared to just find accomodation where ever you are when it gets dark sometimes. We had to do this a few times, but we never struggled to find somewhere to crash or something to eat.

Tracking wild mountain gorillas in Uganda was an absolute bucket list highlight

Some of my personal highlights from this trip would be:

  • Watching wild mountain gorillas in Uganda.

  • Seeing the Lalibela churches in Ethiopia.

  • Watching a pack of wild dogs fighting off vultures from their kill in Zambia.

  • Going to a local church in Uganda with a beautiful group of people we met there.

  • Camping in the Namibian Desert.

  • Walking across the border over Victoria falls between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

  • Swimming with whale sharks in Mozambique (totally natural - no feeding them like other places).

  • Camping in Kruger National Park, South Africa.

  • Meeting so many friendly locals in every country we visited. I think we could all learn something from the people we encountered daily on this continent. Everyone is always so vibrant inside and out, and people talk to each other.... even if they don’t know each other. It is common to get on a bus and just have a full blown conversation with anyone sitting near you. People say hello, and people smile at friends, neighbours and strangers.

Camping in the Namibian desert.

Here is a full list of the countries that I visited on this trip:

  1. Egypt (Usually next would be Sudan - Unfortunately we couldn't get a visa at the time on Eric’s US passport so unfortunately we had to fly over)

  2. Ethiopia

  3. Djibouti

  4. Kenya

  5. Uganda

  6. Rwanda

  7. Tanzania

  8. Malawi

  9. Zambia

  10. Zimbabwe

  11. Botswana

  12. Namibia

  13. South Africa

  14. Lesotho

  15. Eswatini

  16. Mozambique

Being dressed up In Kurdistan by a local family who invited us to have lunch with them.

I hope this has given you some inspiration for your next big trip to try some new countries that you may not hear about so often on travel blogs or Instagram. Remember, you don’t need to take months off work to do this, you can also do a couple of countries at a time.

I have also overlanded through South America, South East Asia and Western Europe but these are the ones that really stand out to me. Let me know in the comments other awesome overlanding trips you've done, I would love to hear about them! I'm always looking for inspiration for my next trip.

Written by Hannah

Founder of Hempton.

Teaching 'Heads, shoulders, knees and toes" to the kids at church in Uganda.