Unbelievably we have just started month 7 of our round-EU tour, and we still have 18 countries to go.
When we started on this journey we were confident that we could visit every one of the 28 countries in the EU (technically the UK is still a member) in a year.
Now, with only six months left, we are beginning to wonder if we might have to do it in two phases. Now wouldn’t that be a shame.
As we head for Portugal today, we have been looking back at some of the lessons we have learned after half a year on the road.
Everyone is different, we love cities; we don’t ride bikes; we are happy to pay for a decent hot shower, and we prefer our compact, classic Hymer to any of the larger, more glamorous (and budget-busting) motorhomes on the market.
And we, mostly, like our own company.
But even if you are the complete opposite to us, we hope you will find some of our tips useful if you’re planning an extended motorhome trip.
1. Don’t panic. Things will go wrong. All the time. We crashed our van within three hours of leaving home; we have had a leaking fresh water tank, a leaking boiler (twice), and we currently have a leaking toilet. Our brakes failed in Sicily, cue the Mafia jokes. We have broken two rear bumper caps, and one of the gas burners on our three-burner hob gave up the ghost in week two. But everything is fixable, either with duct tape (as our five-year-old grandson sagely told me before we left home: “Granny, duct tape fixes everything) or by paying experts, which leads nicely to tip two.
2. Have a contingency fund. You will always, always spend more than you budgeted for, particularly on running repairs. And you never know when you will need to book a villa in Cyprus or a hotel in Marseille. Seriously. We have done both. The first was for a New Year holiday with our grandchildren (their mum and dad came too); the second was because, after six months of campsite showers, I NEEDED a rose-scented bath. We carry a credit card for such emergencies.
3. Go mobile. We live online: In June roaming charges in the EU disappear, so in anticipation network providers such as Three offer really good value roaming packages. You can do almost everything you need to on a decent smartphone, including read a book, take pictures, listen to Radio 4, find a campsite and Skype home. We have a digital WeSwap account for our day to day living expenses. We load it every month from our main bank account. It is just like having a salary we joke, as we count down the days to our next pay day. I even did my Christmas shopping on my phone, from a farm steading in Greece. Google Translate means you can always communicate, whether you’re in Romania or Rome. And motorhome Facebook forums will become your best friend, speaking of which…
4. Join a motorhome Facebook forum. We found these three months into our journey, and wish we had discovered them earlier. We have had really great advice from members, from how to fix a sinking plug-hole (Sugru) to where to stay in Italy. And only yesterday experienced travelers Our Tour, were stranded in Morocco with an engine that wouldn’t work. Sage online advice had them moving again, within minutes.
5. Travel light. I like collecting stuff, whether it is crime novels or handbags. But our van is smaller than our son’s man-shed, so we have had to be very disciplined about what we carry, and buy en route. Our entertainment is all digital (see tip 3), except for a couple of cookbooks and some drawing materials I sneaked on board. We wear mostly t-shirts and trousers, adding or taking off layers as the weather dictates, but a word of warning here: make sure your clothes can be tumble-dried, particularly if you are travelling in the colder months. Early in the trip, I ruined two of Nigel’s Fred Perry polo-shirts by drying them in a municipal laundry in a small German town. Our souvenir shopping is restricted to postcards, though we do have a rather large pottery dish lurking in the back of the wardrobe, gifted to us by the owner of a campsite in Sicily.
6. Have fun. Of course there will be moments when you wonder why on earth you have blown all your life savings/retirement fund/inheritance to live in a tin shed for months on end. But there is nothing quite like waking up on a Saturday morning, turning to your partner and asking: “What are we doing today?, and he responds, not with a grim “supermarket shopping”, but with a cheery, “I think we’ll go to Portugal”.
Some of the stuff we have found really useful
WeSwap: money on the move, with no hidden charges.
Three: Check out the Feel at Home roaming deals
Classic Hymer FB group: for Hymer vans older than 1998
Motorhome and Campervans Touring EU: if you’re travelling or planning a European trip
Hymer Owners Group: for any age of van, from a classic to brand new
Lonely Planet: great resource for sightseeing and lots more
ACSI: worth investing in the discount card for campsite deals
Camperstop Europe: a great guide to cheap pitches/stops
Instagram: keep all your photos from your phone on this easy to share site – here’s ours
Other folk on the road: Here’s just a few of great blogs out there