Why not go out this week and book that six-month break?

Your building society windfall could be the opportunity to do some proper travelling. Jeremy Atiyah discovers overland trips
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The Independent Travel
How about a six-month holiday with your building society windfall?

Don't believe it? If you join an overlanding trip you will. This is that form of holiday which involves climbing into the back of a truck and spending, say, 26 weeks travelling from London to Zimbabwe; or perhaps 31 weeks in a truck from London to Bali.

It may not be everyone's cup of tea but there are plenty of people out there wanting to do it, and a matching range of reputable companies (Guerba, Truck Africa, Exodus and Encounter Overland, to name but a few) willing to take them.

And if you want that building society windfall to last, you won't do any better. Truck Africa's mammoth trip all the way from the UK to Zimbabwe, crossing eighteen African countries along the way, will cost just pounds 2,300 - and that includes all food and accommodation. At less than pounds 100 a week it may well work out considerably cheaper than staying in Britain (though you'll have to work out some way to get home afterwards).

People whose minds boggle at the thought of spending 26 weeks sharing tents with a group of complete strangers may not be made for this kind of trip. People on the other hand who relish the idea of buying food and cooking dinners for 20 people over wood fires in the jungle just possibly are.

Most customers are in the 18-30 range, but older people are not necessarily discouraged from joining up. "For the long trips, we take anyone up to 45-years-old, as long as they know what they are doing," says Kay Leaning of Exodus.

So it's cheap - but is there any pleasure in it? Truck Africa Director Jo Jordan, who has spent twenty years travelling up and down Africa, says it is all down to expectations.

"People don't expect this to be a 'holiday', and the few people who fall into that trap usually drop out as soon as we hit the first difficult patch, in the deserts of Mauritania," she says. "By the time the going really gets tough, in the former Zaire, people hardly ever drop out. The shared stresses and strains of having to get across 53 log bridges in 200km really do bring people together."

And tough really means tough. It can take up to seven monotonous weeks to cross Zaire, a country which hardly contains anywhere to pitch a tent, let alone drive a truck or build a fire. Roads are quagmires and a large part of each day is spent digging other people's broken down vehicles out of the mud.

A winning point among the customers does indeed seem to be the fact that they have to work so hard for their thrills. "For me, buying food, in bulk, in the local markets and then cooking enormous dinner parties over wood fires was a life-building experience," says Sarah Davies, who once spent six months on an Exodus truck in South America. "We had to be so resourceful. One woman managed to cook perfect scones in the salt-marshes of Bolivia. I've never been scared of cooking for people since that trip."

Safety and sheer feasibility is another consideration. The hardy trucks used by overland companies - ex-military 4x4 Bedford TMs or Mercedes Benzes - are often the only vehicles which ever get through the the deserts of Mauritania or the jungles of Zaire. Anyone looking for public transport just won't find it.

Another key feature of these vehicles is their massive storage capacity: lots of water and fuel are handy when you are attempting to drive across places which may be weeks from the nearest town.

And in the wilds of deepest Africa or South America, there is certainly safety in numbers. "Travelling in a group stopped my mother having a heart-attack," says Sarah Davies. "Inevitably one or two of the other people were pretty tiresome but some of the others became my friends for life."

Finally, the health problems associated with travel - dysentery or malaria for example - are far less serious when travelling with a group. All reputable operators have a medically qualified person on board as well as quantities of medical supplies.

pounds 2,300 for a six month holiday? Not bad when you consider that a six- hour business class flight to New York would cost about the same.

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