Nomadic Road Unveils a New Era of 4-Wheel Exploration for Adventurers

The sheer pandemonium of tackling places like Times Square or the Vatican can be a total sensory overload. We're living in a world where you can't escape the crowds, where every Becky and her iPhone are practically in your face—so much so that even Everest is no exception anymore, with the region often swarmed by throngs of visitors.

And even if we’re able to stumble upon a place free from the hullabaloo of humans, there's a good chance we've got a mental image of it, or worse, we've bought into what it's supposed to look like—all courtesy of the internet age and its shenanigans.

All these factors combined could give a decent explanation for why an increasing number of folks are gravitating towards the uncharted in this hyper-connected world. Consequently, a growing tribe is on the hunt for those off-the-beaten-track spots.

But let's face it—the Earth is a mammoth playground with hidden gems scattered everywhere. Exploring these on foot? Impractical. Trying to navigate it by sea? Nope, not that either. We're no Christopher Columbus.

Closing the gap is overlanding.

Overlanding, once the domain of tweed-clad explorers with their steamer trunks and later, the free-spirited wanderers tracing the "hippie trail" across Asia, has shed its fringe reputation.

No longer an exclusive club for the wealthy or those barely making ends meet, it's become a democratic pursuit. It adds up, considering that an overland expedition offers the chance to venture into places otherwise inaccessible by conventional means. You get the luxury of a self-sufficient rolling abode, a home on wheels if you will. This is all while fully immersing yourself in the unscripted magic of the journey, just as Nomadic Road would tell you.

Since 2016, Nomadic Road has been focused on uniting like-minded travellers passionate about the road, exploration, and meaningful travel experiences. “The desire to know the unknown has driven us to undertake long and dangerous journeys throughout history,” says Venky, founder of Nomadic Road. “So I decided to build on the idea of exploratory travel using automobiles.”

Over seven years, Nomadic Road has led overlanders across a spectrum of terrains that push the boundaries—from Mongolia's Gobi desert to Siberia's frozen lakes, Madagascar's lush jungles, and the challenging mountainous terrains of the Andes and Tibet. Sturdy machines like Toyota Land Cruisers, Nissan Navaras, and Ford Rangers make these remote explorations possible.

But despite the expeditions’ heavy focus on driving, not every participant is a seasoned driver. In fact, it's not even a prerequisite. Beyond being a confident driver, all one needs is the enthusiasm to learn.

Looking back on his participation in Nomadic Road's Patagonia expedition in 2018, Nikhil from the U.S. reflects, "In terms of experiences, I feel like I’ve actually become a better driver. That’s a huge thing… the fact that we’re able to drive our own car, personally navigate diverse terrains, and manage it independently is a huge deal."

However, securing rental overlanding vehicles in remote locales is anything but easy. While global road-trippers typically turn to mainstream companies like Hertz or Avis, this approach shackles your journey with several constraints. Off-roading is often a no-go, and there may be limitations on the distance you can cover.

Venky sheds light on the challenge, stating, “In Africa, the market for these vehicles is substantial, making it relatively more accessible. However, when it comes to expeditions like Lake Baikal in Siberia or the RN5 in Madagascar, there are close to no companies willing to rent vehicles in a manner that aligns with our driving aspirations.”

In these scenarios, Nomadic Road finds itself in the art of adaptation and improvisation to secure these rugged rides. Take Siberia, for example; the team engaged in personal conversations with private 4x4 owners, established contracts, and special insurance, and then hit the road with these vehicles.

Needless to say, each Nomadic Road expedition includes technical experts capable of remote fixes, a backup vehicle for breakdowns, as well as a support vehicle stocked with essential parts.

“There’s no way in hell that one can do it (overlanding expeditions) themselves. So one needs to be a part of a planned expedition,” says Arpito, recounting his successful traverse of the challenging RN5 road during Nomadic Road's 2022 Madagascar expedition.

It is, of course, possible to embark on an overland expedition by yourself. But it does demand extensive planning, abundant resources, access to the right people, tech and travel expertise, and above all, time—a resource increasingly precious in the majority of our lives.

And even so, it isn’t as easy as simply procuring the machines and hitting the road. The Nomadic Road team often sources locally available cars and requests modifications to adapt them for different terrains. In Bolivia, for instance, this might include installing off-road tires and radios, removing back seats for extra spare tires, and adding necessary equipment for expeditions.

Moreover, these modifications extend beyond mere utility. Venky emphasizes, "During an overland expedition, travellers spend more time in the car than anywhere else. Hence, it's crucial that the car feels comfortable and capable, like home."

Vehicles are equipped with charging points and backup power solutions for unexpected fuel shortages. Other considerations include amenities like air conditioning, music systems, ergonomic seats, and generous luggage storage. Dietary preferences are gathered at least a month in advance, ensuring the support vehicle is stocked well beforehand. And for those triumphant overlanding moments when all you want is to crack open a cold beer with your tribe, there are onboard freezers and refrigerators.

"It's not uncommon for us to find ourselves stranded amid hailstorms, car breakdowns, rain, or pretty much anything else,” remarks Venky. “You always have to be ready for the worst. In such situations, a capable and well-stocked car makes all the difference."

In fact, it is these tricky situations, these mishaps, that often transform into the most memorable moments for travellers. Shashank, who participated in NR's Madagascar expedition in 2022, echoes this sentiment, recalling, "(The best moment on the RN5 Madagascar) was not reaching our destination but camping in a completely unknown location, which I know the team found using a drone."

The essence of a successful overlanding journey lies in self-reliance, preparing to navigate life's unpredictable twists and turns. Luxuries like posh restaurants and uninterrupted high-speed internet have no place here, and certainty is a rare commodity. Yet, the trade-off is more than worthwhile.

Travellers gain access to corners of the world otherwise untouched, experiencing the power and magic of friendships formed along the way. There’s ample time surrounded by the raw power of Mother Nature, far away from the incessant pings of Google Maps and WhatsApp notifications. Many undergo profound personal growth, uncovering latent capabilities and even having epiphanies about different ways of living.

Natasha, also a participant in Nomadic Road's 2022 Madagascar expedition, reflects on the challenges: "The worst moment was not having control over time... because RN5 is not a very forgiving road. Lots can happen there, and it did. Cars broke down, cars wouldn't start. But I also took something positive from it, that yes! Sometimes it's good to not have control of time. It's nice to let go and go with the flow."

Another vital ingredient in the recipe for a successful overland trip is trust. It comes in two crucial forms: trust in your vehicle and trust in humankind. 

Trust in your vehicle is an unspoken pact that goes beyond the nuts and bolts; it's a reliance on its ability to navigate diverse terrains. "This is why the first two days of expeditions are always simple,” says Venky. “The focus is on simple, shorter routes on the tarmac, allowing ample time for individuals to build trust with the machine."

Reflecting on his overlanding experience, Matthijs recalls a defining moment: "It’s when your car is climbing, and you think, 'I don’t think my car can do this.' But then your car is going up, and it’s going up, and it’s going up, and then, on the top of a hill, you think, 'Okay, I’m there.'"

Venky further emphasises the importance of trust especially in the face of car breakdowns. In small countries like Iceland, a backup vehicle can be arranged in 2-3 hours. However, in locations like Zambia, things can get pretty complicated.

During the 2021 Zambia expedition, one of the cars had a breakdown. The nearest place of civilization was 89 kilometres away, and the towing vehicle had to be summoned from there. The team left the vehicle, handing over the car key to the hotel staff. They provided the coordinates, and the tow truck arrived to pick it up in the evening. "In situations like these, you need to believe in people, trust them, even if you’ve never met them before,” says Venky.

For the curious and the adventurous, overlanding unveils an exciting approach to exploring the many faces of our planet—an overwhelming part of which remains vastly unexplored to this day. In the world of overlanding, there’s harmony in uncertainty, joy in mishaps, and magic in the most unexpected moments.

Nomadic Road meticulously plans expeditions, placing the experience at the forefront. Everything else, including accommodation and comfort, takes a back seat to the primary objective. “The idea is to see how far and remote we can go into in each country,” says Venky.

Recalling Nomadic Road's 2019 Lake Baikal expedition, Venky shares the incredible experience of driving 4x4s on the frozen, magical Lake Baikal. But in remote locations like these, concepts like “accommodation” don’t exist. Luxury, in moments like these, transcends heated bedrooms or swimming pools. "We found a weather station near the lake, with two or three scientists residing,” Venky recounts. “We requested the use of their log cabins; even brought extra beds and arranged them for sleeping. In this case, luxury became a good night's sleep in a place with practically no habitation."

Overlanding expeditions serve as a poignant reminder that luxury is a relative concept, bestowing the term with an entirely new meaning. And when we redefine luxury in this perspective, there are no limits to the kind of extraordinary experiences we can experience and live.

"You cannot be a true explorer if your travel decisions centre around creature comforts," remarks Venky. "So instead of selling a tour or a travel package, we distinctly focus on creating unique experiences for seasoned travellers who seek to explore the world from a different perspective."