We had just walked out of the Grand Canyon after a 5-day backpacking trip through some of the most beautiful canyon-country in the world. Surely, whatever activity we picked to occupy our time in Flagstaff following the bucket-list hike of a lifetime would be a dud, right? Wrong. Overland Expo West would prove to be an excellent experience as a volunteer and as an attendee.
Expo West, as it is called around the event headquarters in Fort Tuthill County Park, is the premier overlanding expo event in the country.
What is overlanding? The best way that we have been able to describe overlanding to folks that ask is: it’s just like backpacking, only with a truck, van, or other off-road capable vehicle instead of your feet.
Tens of thousands of 4×4’ers, motorcycle explorers, and weird adventurers like us flock to Flagstaff, Arizona for a 3-day event full of specialized training, trip report films and presentations, and overland experiences that include a Land Rover Driving Course. On top of all of that, nearly 400 vendors from the outdoors industry swarm the county park to showcase their newest products and offer show-discounts on a lot of great gear.
Before the show can begin, volunteers and staff show up to the enormous county park as early as Sunday (Mother’s Day, mind you) to begin setting up the event. Goodie bags needed to be stuffed and booths needed to be staked out and marked to ensure that all of the exhibitors have a spot to display their newest and grandest gear. The rest of the week carries on this way to coordinate signage, parking, camping, and food vendor locations. We were amazed at the amount of man-power and resources that goes into making this event a success.
Wednesday before the event was capped off with a “Cool Ride Contest”, a sort of fan-favorite vote of a few overlanding vehicles on display in Downtown Flagstaff, followed by a pub-crawl of local breweries being served in the various outdoor stores in Flag. Wednesday was a fun night where we also met Jordan and Candice from @beoldlater. These two are traveling in their built out Delica 4×4 van from British Columbia to who knows where. They are both super talented and if you don’t already follow them, you should.
While we are on the topic of the amazing people that you can meet at events like this you should also follow Noah and Amalie (@hella_mello, @anamalie; Destined for Lateness). These two are the real deal and are traveling North America in their Toyota T-100. Another fantastic couple that we ran into at Expo West was Amie and Matt (@the_traveling_together_journal) they are seasoned overland travelers that have a great YouTube Channel documenting their travels and their interactions with other overlanders around the globe. Back to the show.
Once everything is perfect (emphasis added, nothing is perfect in large event planning), the show can begin on Friday morning. Thousands flock to the park for classes, demonstrations, and to spend their money on roof-top tents, new coolers, or recovery gear to get themselves unstuck out in the wild.
The weekend flew by as we checked attendees in at HQ, helped direct parking, and even emptied some trash cans. If it sounds like work, it’s because it is. In exchange for volunteering, however, we were given free admission to the event, all sorts of freebies, and a place to camp for a few days. It is a great deal! The majority of staff that we volunteered with were knowledgeable of their field, helpful and friendly, and most were very fun people that we were very happy to have met. A lot of them have been a part of the event for a long time, some since its inception, and it shows.
Long story short, we can’t wait to be a part of Overland Expo again! The same folks host Overland Expo East in Asheville, NC in November and we are making moves now to be a part of that event as well. We want to send a huge thank you to Cyan Samone for being one of the better volunteer coordinators that either of us has ever worked with. Cyan was always friendly, upbeat, and very informative and helpful throughout the entire week. Another huge thanks go out to Roseann Hanson for founding and directing such a fun and unique event. There is not an event like this in the country that we have found.
If you are interested in being a part of Overland Expo in any capacity, your best bet is to start at the Overland Expo Website. If you are going to be in the Flagstaff or Asheville area before, during, or after one of the Expo events, we highly encourage you to volunteer. It will be well worth your time. In the meantime between events, we will continue to scour Instagram and drool over the coverage from this year’s event until we can make it to the next one.