There are many ways to explore and experience all that Europe has to offer. From oversized cruise ships docked at every port, to the humble rail pass, public buses, flight and with your own transport. There are also a multitude of varying budgets to cater for your preferred style of travel and Europe is well and truly on the ‘beaten path’, so you’re guaranteed a certain standard and at times, decrease in customer service levels. However you travel, Europe is awash with a rich and flavoured history which has survived World Wars, internal conflicts, genocide and mass exodus. Some of the history is so terrible we choose to forget, whilst some drive travellers to Europe from all around the globe.
You will notice a lack of photos, that is because this trip was done pre-digital!!!
Being from New Zealand it has become somewhat indoctrinated in us to buy a camper-van and drive around Europe, weaving our own path as the dust settles from the herd before. Together with two awesome mates and another we met on Gumtree the night before who turned out to be a quirky to say the least, we departed London without chartering our course. To be fair, we were incredibly lucky as the first person we asked at a petrol station was going to Dover and he led us the entire way to the Calais ferry – that my friends is called divine intervention!
European Campervan Road Trip
We purchased a Bedford camper-van for GBP1600 which ran on petrol as opposed to Diesel (this would prove to be very costly) and slept two on the bottom and two up top. The first 3 letters of the licence plate were ORU and this promptly became its name, a badge it wore proudly. A loyal van but I suspect it had seen a lot of European toll roads in the past and reliability wasn’t its middle name – but we loved it and promptly called it home, refilling gas and water bottles.
The wonderful thing about travelling in a camper-van is you have the freedom to free-camp anywhere with the exception of when a shower is needed, and the ability to stop driving whenever you feel the need. We parked in a multitude of places including cliff tops where we woke to coastal vistas and a set of stairs leading down to ocean showers, supermarket car parks to be woken up by early morning shoppers and unknowingly the red light district in Seville which lead to a funny incident with a prostitute called Lola (not the kind you’re thinking of). The weather was excellent and each night stop offered a different experience, foreign language and different beer to try.
We cooked on board so everything stank but we were 23 years old and not hard to please. Each night we cooked dinners which catered for two carnivores, a vegetarian and a vegan (tough crowd). Surviving on baby-bell cheese, spaghetti and tomatoes we weaved our way from country to country, raiding corn fields and vineyards for fresh fruit and vegetables to avoid the dreaded scurvy (only joking); supplementing our diet with local spirits.
There are two paths to drive in Europe; one is the toll roads which come with a charge, not a huge cost but it soon adds up and the back roads which reveal the intricate bones of the country. The latter uses a lot more petrol but in my opinion is one of those things you just need to accept when your home is a camper-van – just build it into the budget. I unfortunately did not.
Our tape deck (yes folks that’s right, we travelled with cassette tapes) was fed with sparse musical rations. Laurie thankfully, was the only one to realise that long drive day’s required filling with the sweet sounds of drum and guitar riffs. She burnt a dub mix compilation and a New Zealand band called Salmonella Dub. We managed to buy the best of The Police and Bob Marley at a petrol station but even after a few weeks we knew every word, chord change and guitar ballad as if we had written the music ourselves. Any advice I can offer is to arm yourself with an array of delicious musical gems before you feel the open road through your hair, although I imagine these days with iPods it is outdated advice.
Road TripAit Ben Haddouh, Morocco[/caption]
There are so many incredible aspects about travelling through Europe in a camper-van, or anywhere for that matter. I guess it comes down to flexibility and freedom. The classic Road Trip made famous by Jack Kerouac inspires a romantic and reckless tour which builds character and memories with your best mates. Sure it can be tough at times, but the rewards outnumber anything which could be viewed as a negative.
I remember France as a beautiful country, one with tiny towns oozing character and with the people receptive to poor travellers. Driving over the Pyrenees Mountains from Andorra after stocking up on a drum of cheap petrol, we pulled over to a late night mechanics after an unfortunate petrol leak in the back of the van (we were smoking in the van at the time). This man welcomed me in to wash our plates and cutlery and made what conversation he could (more than me). Spain had a laid back vibe with ornate pastel buildings and an afternoon siesta which we could never quite master when needing a supermarket shop. Portugal had the most incredible beaches, surrounded by towering mountains and seas of electrical wind turbines. Morocco was an exceptional experience, but not one our van did well with. It is sprawling and framed by two mountain ranges which are incredible, sadly ORU wasn’t impressed. The weather was extremely hot and these old style van radiators are no match. We literally pushed our van onto the ferry from Spain to Morocco as would not start and I think we were all surprised when it turned over in Tangiers.
You go where you want, when you want. You can drive the toll roads or down quaint beautiful narrow lanes. We met a man in Morocco at a petrol station who gave us directions to a stunning waterfall called Cascades d’Ouzoud, devoid of tourism and stunning beyond belief apart from a group of cheeky monkeys who threw stones at us from the trees. It is these fateful meetings which leave your path ultimately unchartered and make ‘The Road Trip’ such a great experience.
SAVE EXPENSIVE HOTEL COSTS
You are self-sufficient with a cooker, bed, curtains, sleeping bag, and water and can virtually park where you want. Of course you need to pay for fuel costs and some of these roads can be treacherous (driving into the centre of Paris is never a good idea) but costs are split between as many people as you can fit. We picked up another traveller mid-way which brought our costs down further.
We found when there were issues (which there definitely were) the mechanics had worked on similar vans before (standard engine) so it wasn’t too costly and parts not an issue.
You essentially buy your food from supermarkets and cook it yourself. Purchase yourself some collapsible deck chairs which makes for eating outdoors and drinking until late in the warm summers air a treasure.
When you’re sick of the van, take your tent and camp out on a beach. This reminds me of a funny story in the Algarve, Portugal. We took bottles of vodka down to the beach, built a fire against a rock which seemed to heat up and shoot out at rapid speed, slivers of heated rock. After a long night drinking my mates went back to the campsite, whilst I had taken my tent to camp on the beach. I remember falling before crawling into my tent and after surfacing in the morning, walked up the hill to strange looks from my mates. My face was covered in scratches with only the vodka to blame and a vague memory of having sand and pebbles in my mouth. Good times!
Often we parked outside of the centre, making use of the public transport system which connected us with the pulse of the city, but offered safety having parked away from thieves.
One thing I will say is travel only with good friends, or people who share similar interests. You are in the van for long periods and need to get along. Keep an open mind and accept the close proximity of your living space. The road trip is an exceptional experience and any drama should be left at home. The man we met on Gumtree wasn’t the best idea but that is the beauty of hindsight.
Here is a shopping list before leaving town. Sure, you can buy as you go but why not pack right and travel well:
– Deck chairs
– Spare gas bottle
– Water storage (and treatment if you are going further afield than Europe)
– Warm sleeping bag
– Locks for the doors (vans are a great target for thieves)
– Plastic glasses and plates
– Cooking pans, pot, cutlery
– Spare plastic bags for rubbish
– Big budget
– A sense of humour, adventure and a willingness to get into mischief
I will leave you with a quote that sums up every travel experience for me, but also from a man who made one of the greatest road trip experiences and inspired so many, Jack Kerouac.
“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars”!