The Popularity of Overlanding in the USA: A Trend Analysis

  • This research aimed to analyze the overlanding trend in the USA over the past 10 years based on Google Trends data.
  • The goal was to identify the origination time, peak interest times, growth percentage, seasonal nature, and regional interest patterns related to recreational overlanding.
  • Analysis of web search volume data from March 2016 to November 2023 revealed that interest in overlanding began growing steadily in late 2016, with peak interest times in mid-2020, mid-2021 and 2023.
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Overlanding, the self-reliant overland travel to remote destinations where the journey is the primary goal, has been growing in popularity over the past decade.

As of November 2023 interest has grown over 2000% compared to early 2016. Seasonality shows consistent peaks in spring and summer months.

At the state level, Western and Mountain states show distinctly higher interest than Eastern and Southern states.

The research indicates a clear upward trend in overlanding popularity across the USA over the past decade, with potential for continued growth. Geographic patterns suggest culture and terrain may influence regional differences in engagement.

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Introduction

Overlanding is a form of self-reliant overland travel to remote destinations, where the journey itself is the primary goal (Wikipedia). Using modified vehicles suited for off-road conditions, overlanders carry camping gear and supplies to enable extended travel through backcountry areas.

Overlanding has origins in expeditions across Africa, Asia, and Australia beginning in the 1950s, but more recently has grown into a recreational activity centered on adventure road trips and exploring remote wilderness.

In the USA, overlanding seems to have been gaining popularity over the past decade, based on increased media coverage and growth of consumer markets for overland vehicles and gear (overland vehicle features by Offroadium). However, no scientific literature exists documenting the growth of recreational overlanding in the USA over time. Analyzing public interest data offers one method of mapping this trend.

Google Trends provides anonymized samples of Google web search data that can quantify search volume patterns for specific topics over time and geography (5). While not a direct measure of participation levels, search activity acts as a proxy for public interest and attention. Examining Google Trends data for the search topic “overlanding” can provide perspective on how interest in this activity has changed nationally and regionally over the past decade.

Research Purpose

The purpose of this research was to analyze Google Trends data from March 2016 to November 2023 to identify key patterns related to recreational overlanding’s popularity across the USA. The specific goals were to determine:

  • Origination time of growing interest
  • Peak periods of interest
  • Total growth in search volume since origination
  • Seasonal patterns in interest
  • Regional differences in search volume

Methods

Google Trends data was downloaded for web searches related to “overlanding” in the United States from March 2016 to November 2023. The data reflects relative search volume on a scale from 1 to 100 based on the highest search period.

Monthly nationwide data was charted over time to visualize the longitudinal trend. Percentage growth from the first data point (March 2016) to the latest (November 2023) was calculated to quantify overall growth. Each year’s data was aggregated to identify annual peaks of nationwide interest. Individual months were also examined to determine which had the highest average search volume to identify seasonal patterns.

State-level data was analyzed to compare total relative search volumes from 2016 to 2023. States were ranked from highest to lowest searches, and divided into top, middle, and bottom thirds to categorize high, moderate, and low interest regions.

Results

National Longitudinal Trend

Nationwide Google searches for overlanding originated at low levels in early 2016, followed by steady growth beginning in late 2016 (Fig. 1). Search volume reached an initial peak in mid-2020, declined during the COVID-19 pandemic, then reached a new all-time high in mid-2022.

Fig. 1. As of November 2023, searches were 2138% higher compared to the March 2016 baseline.

Peak Interest Periods

Aggregating search data by year shows 2020 and 2021 had the highest nationwide search volumes, followed closely by 2022 (Fig. 2). Search interest slightly declined after pandemic years 2020 and 2021 but rebounded to new highs in 2023.

Fig. 2

Seasonal Patterns

Average monthly search volume shows distinct peaks in May through August, with the highest interest in June. November has the lowest average monthly searches, less than half of June’s peak. This indicates a strong seasonal pattern, with summer months generating significantly higher interest in overlanding.

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MonthPeak Percentage of Searches %
June79
July74
August71
May68
September66
April63
October59
March56
November37
February36
January34
December33

Regional Differences

Analysis of search volumes by state reveals dramatic regional variations (Fig. 4). Western and Mountain states show the highest interest, led by Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado. The Plains, Midwest, South, and Northeast have substantially lower search volumes, with the lowest interest in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

Fig. 4

The top ten highest interest states are all located in the West and Mountain regions. The bottom ten comprise Midwestern, Southern, and Eastern states. This indicates overlanding resonates most in Western states, likely reflecting cultural affiliations and proximity to public lands suitable for overland travel.

Top states by interest in recreational overlanding

RankStatePeak Percentage of Searches %
1Montana100
2Idaho90
3Wyoming88
4Utah88
5Colorado85
6Oregon84
7Alaska76
8Washington72
9Arizona62
10New Mexico62
11Nevada49
12California48
13Arkansas46
14Vermont43
15New Hampshire42
Montana has the highest search volume with a score of 100, while New Hampshire ranks 15th with a score of 42. This indicates Montana and other Western and Mountain states have the strongest public interest in overlanding as a recreational activity.

States with least interest in overlanding

RankStatePeak Percentage of Searches %
1New Jersey13
2District of Columbia14
3New York16
4Illinois17
5Massachusetts17
6Connecticut17
7Delaware18
8Pennsylvania18
9Maryland19
10Ohio20
11Michigan21
12Rhode Island21
13Wisconsin23
14Indiana23
15Minnesota25
New Jersey has the lowest search volume with a score of 13, while Minnesota ranks 15th lowest with a score of 25. This indicates states in the Northeast, Midwest, and Mid-Atlantic regions have the weakest public interest in overlanding as a recreational activity.

Discussion

Examination of Google Trends data provides clear evidence of a substantial upward trend in public interest related to overlanding over the past decade in the United States. Searches were minimal in early 2016 but began growing steadily by late 2016. Growth accelerated in 2018-2019, with a major peak reached in mid-2020. Despite a pandemic decline in 2020-2021, interest rebounded to hit new all-time highs in 2022.

As of November 2023, searches were over twenty times higher than early 2016 levels. This search growth mirrors the expanded media coverage and consumer markets focused on overlanding observed during this same period. The data suggest recreational overlanding graduated from a niche activity to a major trend within the span of a decade.

Seasonal patterns indicate overlanding resonates as a warm-weather summertime activity. Peak interest aligns with typical summer vacation months and comfortable overlanding weather in much of the country. Lower winter interest likely reflects challenges of overland travel in cold or inclement conditions.

Regional differences reveal overlanding’s status as a predominantly Western trend. The highest interest states cluster in the West and Mountain regions, while the lowest cluster along the East Coast and Southeast. Overlanding’s explorer ethos and requirement for wide-open backcountry likely resonate in Western states with vast public lands and off-roading traditions. Lower Eastern interest may reflect both cultural perceptions and lack of overlanding destinations.

In summary, analysis of Google Trends data demonstrates surging national interest in overlanding as a recreational activity over the past decade, establishing overlanding’s popularity trend across the USA. While participation statistics remain unknown, the public interest growth documented here supports observations that overlanding is transitioning from a niche to mainstream form of adventure road travel. Continued monitoring of search patterns in the coming years could determine whether this trend has reached its peak or continues to grow.

References

  1. Google. (2022). Google Trends help. https://support.google.com/trends/answer/4365533?hl=en
  2. Wikipedia. Overlanding. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overlanding
  3. Overland Vehicle Builds. Offroadium. https://offroadium.com/overland-builds.html
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