Africa Overland Tours

The Secret Overland Tour Operators Don’t Want You to Know

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I worked for two different overland tour operators for more than three years. It was a fantastic period and one for which I am grateful. I was also lucky enough to have some really amazing passengers on these trips which can make all the difference.

But what is the one thing that makes the most difference?

Well, at one time, it was me – the overland tour leader.

Working for Overland Tour Operators

You see, the leader of an Africa overland tour is the most important factor. True, you can have a poor leader and a good group or trip. But for a truly memorable experience – you need an exceptional leader.

I led some really fantastic overland tours in Africa. On each of these trips, many things went wrong, but I went above and beyond to make them right. There were fun people on board and I was “friends”with most of the group – something that can actually work against a tour leader.

However, I also led some dreadful overland tours in Africa. Sometimes the group was a little unappreciative or whatever but mostly, I failed to do my job. That is to say; it was my job to hold things together and I failed miserably. It was part of my role to bring the group together and keep everyone enthused but in truth, I checked out.

Confessions of an Overland Tour Leader

Two trips come to mind when I think of the above. On one of them, there were certain individuals who really gave me a hard time. They undermined me at times but for the most part, they sought to assassinate my character in private. I could never tell the group about such matters but in the end, these individuals got the better of me.

In short, I started to feel a deep resentment and stopped doing my job. If somebody needed advice or questioned what I had to say, I lashed out in some way. It may have been passive aggressive but that’s the worst. When this happens once or twice, I find that most people have made up their mind that you are an a$$ and that’s it – trip over.

Unfortunately, the second trip was just as bad but this time, the problem was lack of moral. I was terribly unhappy with the working conditions. In fact, I was continuously placed in awful situations and as a result, I suffered from exhaustion and a very serious bout of depression. I felt like my company did not care. And I stopped doing my job.

I regret this so much. I wish that I had the maturity and resolve to push through these issues and lead the trips with more professionalism. I am also deeply sorry for the relationships that were fractured along the way. There were some fantastic people on these trips but they never got to experience the real me – a solid overland tour leader.

Also, the overland tour operators are not really the problem. The issue lies with the tour leaders they pick to run their trips.

Overland Tour operators in Africa

The Secret Overland Tour Operators Don’t Want You to Know

Anyway, this is what tour operators don’t want you to know – that the tour leader will usually decide the enjoyment of your trip.

You can have a good trip with good people but honestly, it just won’t compare to what it could have been with a solid overland tour leader.

And why don’t they want you to know?

Because overland tour leaders are not paid very well. Also, many tour leaders are not experienced and not the best at dealing with people. I find this is especially true in Africa, where many tour operators are okay with terrible crew leading their trips – as long as they get the money, right?

But what does this mean to you?

Well, my advice is to choose your overland tour operator wisely. Pick a company who actively demonstrates that they care for people. And if you ever see your tour leader having a bad time, pull them aside and ask if they are okay – it almost never happens.

Please feel free to get in touch if you would like me to help you choose the right/best tour for your trip to Africa!

PS. You might be interested in my post about choosing the best overland tour in Africa.

PPS. Thank you to the readers who have kindly bought me a “cup of coffee” as a means of appreciation for the above advice!

Derek Cullen is an experienced overland tour leader in Africa. He is best known for cycling across Africa and writing about travel in Africa for many online media publications. If you would like advice or information for your trip to Africa, you can speak with him directly through the LiveChat box!


  1. Mike potter

    October 22, 2018 at 10:43 pm

    Derek thanks for your well thought out insights.Looking to do up to 24 day overland with my daughter 22 me 57 leaving late October early December,your guidance much appreciated

    • Derek Cullen

      October 23, 2018 at 12:18 am

      Hi Mike,

      Great to hear from you and many thanks for the kind words!

      Also, it’s fantastic that you are headed to Africa with your daughter – these are such special and fun trips to experience together.

      Let me ask you a couple of questions so that I can better direct you:

      1. Do you have any particular countries/attractions in mind? ie. MUST you see somewhere specific in Africa?
      2. Do you want a super budget trip with no frills or a nice mix of comfort and adventure?
      3. Is wildlife the most important aspect on this trip?

      Thanks Mike!

  2. Anna Braybrooke

    January 2, 2020 at 11:34 am

    Hi Derek,
    Thanks for your write up, it shades a new light on things. I am writing on behalf of my husband who will be 54 at the end of January and not aware that i am making enquiry about him working with an overland or a travel company because we did 6 years overlanding trip in Africa (Cape to Cairo then on to John ‘o’ Groat in Scotland to finish the trip) and since we did that he has not being happy and go back to doing it again and I thought it would be a good idea if he his working with an overland company by then seeing and going back to Africa .
    please what advice can you give in such situation.
    Many thanks

    • Derek Cullen

      February 11, 2020 at 1:23 pm

      Hi Anna, sorry but i really don’t understand what you are asking in this post? When you say six years overlonding, do you mean independently or as a tour leader/operator. The truth is, each of these experiences is entirely different and the vast majority of those who try tour leading want to quit within the first month or two.

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