Ok. I’m not going to write chapter and verse on how to take a campervan abroad even though many have suggested I should. I’m not qualified, and experts would only butt in and tell me I’ve got it all wrong.
However, there are a few things I wish we’d known before plunging into life on the road that might be of use to those who are misguided and starry-eyed enough to take it up. So here goes.
Pack all your underwear in separate bags, e.g. his ‘n hers.
Each bag should contain other bags containing different categories of undies. e.g. socks in one, pants in another (quite obvious really).
If you choose bags relevant to yourself and partner, this also helps instant identification.
For instance – I love shoes, clothes and books, so NEXT or Waterstones bags are great for my stuff, whereas my OH is more of a tools and compact disc person, so any B & Q or HMV wrapper is just perfect for his.
This bit of organisation enables a quick getaway in the morning if need be… it also avoids your precious under-garments being tipped out onto the floor by your travelling companion in his rush to get clean stuff to take over to the showers, before the Germans grab all the cubicles and hot water.
(This tip was handed to us by friends who took three young children to France in a hired van and spent much of their time sweeping up inside it.)
Even though it may use up valuable space, take a fold-up table and chairs set. This will enable you to take most of your meals outside (weather permitting) avoiding all the Baguette crumbs messing up the floor inside the van. You will also be helping to feed the local wild-life.
If your set-up doesn’t have an awning, then get one. Apart from anything else, having a sheltered outside space makes your camper van feel so much bigger.
Many sites have no shade, and even if they do, it won’t cover you for all of the day. The thought of sitting outside eating and soaking up the sun may be appealing during January in the UK, but the terrible heat of Spain is rather wearing if you get too much of it.
An awning is also handy for sheltering from the rain – though if it gets too windy, use a tying-down kit (available from all good caravanning equipment places or study one they have for sale and make your own). This in itself though may not be adequate if a real hoolie starts, (please see chapter ‘We’ve got a problem’) so roll the whole thing up in that case. If you were a nautical type, you wouldn’t put your boat sails up in a hurricane. An awning is very similar, so be warned.
The awning is the best part of your kit (apart from the on-board toilet if you have one) so take good care it.
Also remember to wind it in before you leave a site...
(This one is useful once you’ve embarked on your adventure)
Make a list of all the things on the van you need to check before leaving a site.
If you do make one, it also helps to look at it. Failing to do this will mean that before you’ve gone 100 yards, you will have to stop and anchor something down, turn off something or put up with a lot of clonking from things that should have been seen to while on terra firma.
As time wears on, you will have a list as long as you arm.
Before you leave home, do some research.
We didn’t have them when we first set off, but the Internet and Sat-Nav, now make it simple to find where campsites are. Get the REAL location of a site, rather than head for a town and drive round in circles trying to find it. Take it from me, this doesn’t help relations with your travelling companion, so try to have as much info as you can.
The centre of Spain is particularly devoid of places to overnight officially, so either avoid it or know where you’re heading. Even though you may stick to the coast, seeing a sign for a campsite might not necessarily mean it will be easy to find, so have the address and if the worst comes to the worst, ask a local (but as mentioned in my chapter, ‘On How to Find’, not a group of ladies out for their evening paseo).
Oh and if you remember to take a compass, make sure it points to the North...
Take a screwdriver.
In fact, take a tool kit, string, super-glue and duct tape.
Handy too are those thick stretchy rope things with a hook on both ends, though I’m not sure of the technical term for them. (Bungies?) These have multiple uses and I can’t recommend them too highly.
This tip will help ensure you are not left without things to eat or drink when the least excuse causes everywhere to batten down the hatches.
Try to obtain a list of Saint’s days or other Jours Feriés especiallyif you intend to travel through France, Switzerland or any other predominantly Catholic country.
Local elections will have the same impact, that is, everywhere will be shut. Religious places like the Vatican museums are even worse, and doors are firmly closed to Jo Public for every kind of holy day you can think of plus many you can’t.
In France there is usually a local Boulangerie open no matter what, the French cannot be without their baguettes for a day, but elsewhere cannot be guaranteed.
Obviously take a language dictionary or two, but don’t rely on them too much.
Letting a local point to the word they mean can cause confusion. (See chapter “No Woman, No Cry”)
Friday afternoons and evenings are popular times for the local population of nearby towns and cities to flock to campsites within a reasonable driving distance for a long weekend break. You will have to arrive before midday if you want to guarantee a pitch.
If you are within several hours drive from the Benelux countries, the same applies. The worst sites for this are those on the Swiss / Italian border, where you may have to compete with dozens of mainly Dutch caravans for a place. They are fierce competitors so be warned!
If you decide that this is not the life for you and sell your campervan, I you could spend the money on a crossing to New York on the Queen Mary 2. No more map-reading, no more dodgy campsites with dodgy showers. You’ll never again hanker after life on the road… but what great memories…