Like every kid growing up I learnt about lions, elephants, giraffe, hyenas and other seemingly mythical creatures that I’d never seen in real life. Maintaining my animal nerd status, with a more recent photography hobby on top of that, the less-travelled destination of Africa was high on my bucket list. Following a recommendation by a Kenyan colleague, we opted to go on an overland truck tour rather than self-drive. Going by overland truck means group travel with strangers, living out of tents, helping out with chores, while the guide and driver take care of the nitty gritty organisational work, border formalities and driving those notorious African roads. For what would be a trip of a lifetime we wanted to be able to focus on the experiences rather than logistics, so it was an easy choice. It’s also a pretty cost effective way to travel through Africa!

Choosing Absolute Africa

After a lot of research my wife and I settled on Absolute Africa as they had the best price and flexibility for choosing optional excursions. We booked in 2020, then two weeks later COVID hit and those plans were scrapped with our money refunded and gorilla trekking permit put on hold. Three years later we pulled the trigger again and had our gorilla permit transferred over. Before booking the first time we had a bunch of questions, and more when we booked the second time and the trip was getting closer. Throughout the whole process the Absolute office staff were very response, helpful and knowledgeable, which gave us a lot more faith in the trip.

While we travelled with Absolute Africa, I expect many aspects will be the same across other companies that offer similar trips. Our trip was the Absolute Safari, which was 77 days long starting in Nairobi and finishing in Cape Town. Absolute offers shorter trips and has multiple trucks on the road at the same time, so the group changes periodically as people join and leave, and the staff and actual truck may change as well. 

On our trip we had two different drivers (David and Emies), and the same guide (Peter) the whole way through. Everyone spoke excellent English and they were clearly a very experienced crew. We had a heap of respect for the drivers dealing with dodgy roads, driving long days and constantly seeming extremely chilled out even after an unexpectedly late arrival at the campsite. It’s hard to know exactly what goes on behind the scenes but the fact that we had no major inconveniences or issues suggested that our guide was keeping everything ticking along and running smoothly. He also did all the breakfast prep and cooking which not all guides do, and was hugely appreciated.

All Absolute Africa trips are group trips where everyone helps out with tasks such as cooking, cleaning and keeping the truck tidy. Living in such close proximity for a long time means the people on the truck (guide and driver included) will have the biggest impact on your experience. The sightings on game drives are also dictated by the wildlife and time of year, so one group may have an excellent time at a national park where another may find it quiet in terms of sightings. Our guide did a good job to set the scene at the initial briefing –  you get out what you put in, come in with an open mind and minimal preconceived expectations for the best experience. 

Note – All the photos on this blog entry are taken by other people or from my phone, while all the photos off my DSLR are on the photography blog entry

    Truck routine

    Travelling from Kenya to South Africa covers a lot of ground – over 12,000km – on bouncy, narrow roads, with a truck limited to 80km/hr. Scattered along the route are the many attractions and stops in the itinerary. You typically stay at a campsite or location for one night, but there are a few times that you’re in the same place for multiple nights which is always welcome! South of Lake Victoria in particular there are transit days where all you’re doing is driving with no attraction stops. Not very exciting, but it’s got to be done.

    From day one we were split into groups and rotated through chores on a daily roster. Cooking, washing up, cleaning the truck, security and a day off. Some of these were more involved than others, so it was the luck of the draw whether you had to spend a couple hours cooking after getting to a nice campsite or had a night off to relax at the bar. Over a long trip it all balances out though, and with several people in the groups the chores go faster and can be a fun time bonding with your group. 

    We were also allocated two person tents at the start of the trip, which would be our home for the next three months. They were pleasantly spacious and easy to put up, and while the sleeping mats were a bit hard for a couple nights our bodies quickly adjusted. It says a lot for the tents that many people opted to stay in them rather than upgrading their rooms at campsites, or chose to tent rather than go into a dorm! 

    Once crossing the border into a new country there were chances to get local currency out of ATMs and sometimes places (or people) to change currencies with. Local currencies were handy for buying local trinkets, drinks at the campsites, and some optional excursions where local currency was preferred over USD. We found it a lot easier to get local currency from ATMs, rather than converting USD and paying a conversion penalty whenever we entered a new country.

    Additional activities

    Scattered along the route are a few adventure hubs where the truck stays for a few nights and there are a lot of touristic/adventure activities to choose from – Jinja (Uganda), Zanzibar (Tanzania), Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) and Swakopmund (Namibia). These places target tourists so are usually more developed and westernised, and the activities are typically priced similar or more higher than western countries. At these days you can be as busy or relaxed as you like, depending on your budget and interests. We always took at least a full day to relax, catch up on chores like washing or sorting through photos, and mentally recharge. Other additional activities were typically run from the campsites, particularly if we were there for a few nights, or were additional game drives. I had  policy of doing every game drive possible as I simply wanted the most chances to have choice wildlife encounters. 

    There are a few excursions or add-on activities that stand out from the others as they’re more expensive and/or take you away from the truck for a while. These are gorilla trekking in Uganda, visiting Zanzibar in Tanzania, staying on Lake Kariba houseboats in Tanzania, and camping in the Okavango Delta in Botswana. We did all of them and regretted none of them. Other big-ticket activities were sunrise balloon safaris in Serengeti or Masai Mara which we didn’t do due to the price, but it looked incredible  and those that did do it loved it and got some amazing videos from above the plains. 

    Absolute Africa have many different trips of varying lengths. Having done the longest at 77 days it’s hard to decide which parts could be skipped. The only alternative I would consider is doing the Classic Safari (62 days) which saves some time by heading south from Kenya, rather than circling Lake Victoria through Uganda and Rwanda. This means that gorilla trekking would be off the cards, though you could organise this yourselves as some people in our group did. 

    It’s not all sunshine and leopards

    It’s easy to gloss over the less glamorous or appealing aspects of a overland trip because overall its a very positive experience.

    As you would expect, there are plenty of things that are less than ideal about living with 20-something other people you haven’t met while travelling through Africa. The early starts and long drives are tiring and uncomfortable. Taking down and setting up a wet tent without being able to dry it isn’t pleasant (though this didn’t happen often). Lots of tired people living in close proximity means people will get short and cranky with eachother, staff included. There will be people that frustrate or annoy you. Excursions won’t be quite as expected, either because of deceptive marketing or poor guides. Your 4×4 might miss a leopard sighting while the other trucks have a great view. You’ll get an upset stomach (though immodium and antibiotics work wonders).\

    All of these happened on our trip and it was nowhere near a deal breaker – it’s just an expected part of the trip. You might not have much control over whether (or when) it happens, but you can control how you respond to it. Having a support network of fellow travellers is a godsend for keeping you upbeat when you’re feeling miserable! Chocolate also helps as well.

    Packing tips

    There are a heap of blogs and articles suggesting how much gear to take so I won’t go into much detail. These are the things that are a bit more niche but were either helpful or I wished I had. 

    • Passport holder for all the documents
    • Universal charger that plugs into UK and Euro, and has lots of USB and USB-C plugs. I used the OneAdaptr and it was great. Most countries in East Africa use UK plugs. Once you get to Zimbabwe you’ll likely need type D plugs, and further south in Namibia and South Africa you might need type M plugs as well. 
    • Head torch, ideally can be charged by USB
    • Big power bank 
    • Crocs or slides 
    • Sneakers/running shoes for the occasional walk. If you’re not gorilla trekking then running shoes would be sufficient as there are very few walking activities. 
    • Sunglasses 
    • Buff to keep your face warm and dust free on colder game drives 
    • Washing line
    • Pillowcase and fitted sheet. Pillows can be bought before starting the safari.
    • Dry bags 
    • Scrubba bag for doing washing. We didn’t have one but someone else on the trip did and it looked great. 
    • We brought a heap of insect repellant and toiletries but at the supermarkets in Kenya there was a huge selection of toiletries so we didn’t need to bring a heap with us. We also used very little insect repellant, mostly opting for long pants and tops. 
    • Unwanted clothes and insect repellant were requested by locals when bartering for goods, particularly in Malawi and Victoria Falls. 
    • Photography gear – see separate photography blog entry


    Having planned and booked the trip for years before we even did it, we were worried that it wouldn’t be what we hoped for just because we didn’t know what life would be like on the truck. We shouldn’t have worried because it exceeded all expectations. This was due to a combination of having a great group of fellow travellers, experienced staff, epic wildlife encounters, realistic expectations, and just going with the flow. Before the trip ended we were already saying that we want to go back, whenever that might be!