Vanlife…The Reality behind the Image!

It seems the vanlife way of living, travelling and working has become the ideological dream, an aspiration for a new way of life!

Thousands of filtered images, portraying life from a van as an idyllic world, filled with beautiful people, posing with their perfectly decorated vans, surrounded by the most incredible scenery in exotic parking locations!

It’s enough to tempt even the most unlikely candidates of vanlife to start searching for that dream van!

The Vanlife Reality……Welcome to the Real World behind the glossy image!

Well, the real vanlife although often idyllic, isn’t always without its problems and I’m beginning to wonder, if some of the posts, blogs, fabulous pics and declarations of expert guidance, are actually all a bit of an exaggeration of the reality!

The simplicity of parking up and happily sleeping soundly under the stars is made to sound blissful, but for both those old time experts or new folk, it does still come with moments that are slightly annoying, awkward or just irritating!

Sometimes it can involve actually hooking up to electric occasionally or taking a good powerful long shower at a campsite and definitely stopping to empty the contents of the waste tanks on a regular basis! Then there’s the toilet emptying, the odd long search for fresh water or problems with control panels, heating or just glitches that no one can prepare you for.

It’s easy to read about the ease of living from a van, lapping up those good vibes, the thought of just parking up where you like, without a care in the world, whilst freshly ground coffee brews in the coffee mug!

What isn’t always mentioned are the times of driving for hours and failing to find a place where you can park for the night, or simply getting cold feet about a place you’ve thought was fine, when suddenly in the depths of night, it doesn’t seem so inviting!

No wonder there’s such a growing world of “wannabes”, to add to the “newbies” and us “oldies”, after all, why wouldn’t you want to see the world from behind the wheel of a van?

Vanlife4x4
A Sunset Parking Spot with Our New Zealand Self-Build Van

Well, this got me thinking back to a time on one of our own road trips, (the location shall remain anonymous to avoid the guess who!!).

We, by chance met a high profile Instagram vanlifer, whose beautiful van complete with photographs of its even more perfect owners, were just stunningly enticing to the admiring followers. Always parked in isolated and fascinatingly idyllic settings, in the most perfect vanlife arrangements.

But on our encounter, the owners and the van weren’t parked up where you’d expect at all. No, there was no exotic location or romantic setting, whilst watching the sun rise from the rear doors of their van!

Far from it, in fact, this Instagram sensation with enough followers to fill a small town back where we come from, were actually parked up on a campsite…..yes, shock horror, I can hear you now spitting out your cornflakes!

Whilst Nigel jumped at the chance to engage in conversation, or really, hoped to get a bit of insight into how they had amassed such a colossal following, along came a tow truck to whisk the star of the show (that’s the van!) off to the nearest garage!

All was not well, with the not so shiny looking star, which we hadn’t even really given a second glance to in the non-filtered real world!

With not one useful tip, from the unwilling to divulge, tight-lipped owners, on how we too, could become an Instagram sensation, the conversation was instead, one of declaration of all the things that had gone wrong with the van and how much the wretched thing had cost to repair!!

So, as Nigel retreated back to our van, tail between his legs, the only good piece of advice taken from the encounter, was to never buy anything older than us!

Dare I say it, but even the owners of the van looked a little more worse for wear in real life! Sharing the campsite washroom over the course of a few days, I couldn’t help but notice wrinkles and grey hair!! Crikey, I know, can you imagine, if you didn’t spit out the cornflakes earlier, you certainly will be now!

Of course, we know all too well, that the behind the scenes reality of those amazing pics, lies an often endless line of snaps that are not good enough to use and well rehearsed settings that come with a line of props to rival an A-list movie set!

That’s not to mention the equipment, drones, cameras, editing, catching the right lighting, that fab sunset and dressing the van, the people and the contents! Wow, it seems a little bit too much like hard work!

It’s no surprise that #vanlife can become a bit of a shock to those unprepared for life on the road and living out of a van.

Ok, so yes, of course, there are some incredible places to park up, but it’s not all fabulous scenery, birds serenading you in the mornings and waves lashing against the crisp white sands.

In this world of mobile Apps, the chances are, that those secret spots of a few years ago are now out there on a minute by minute basis for everyone to know about and share. With the crazy vanlife trend growing bigger every year, those glossy pics and glowing blog posts will just have to keep getting more and more appealing to keep the image alive and the reality a little further afield.

In the meantime, I guess we all need a bit of theatre and if that’s what it takes to get us interested in another world outside of the 9 to 5, then maybe it’s not a bad thing. For all those incredibly successful promoters of #vanlife, we salute you, you’ve done incredible and illusion or not, it’s our own imagination that decides how we see things, it’s a work of art and the gallery will be open for a long time yet!

Vanlife
Lovely Lakeside Parking in our self-build van

The Rise Of The Panel Van Conversion

How things have changed within in a few years!

Vanlife
Enjoying the freedom of our Self-Build New Zealand panel van

When we made the decision to sell our big A-Class Carthago motorhome in favour of a small panel van conversion, the choice of vans on the market in the UK, was few and far between, so much so that we headed out to Germany on our search for a new panel van.

Well that was 5 years ago and the difference between then and now, seems to tell a very different story! From what we’re seeing out and about, it appears that us consumers, are buying very differently, to what has been a market dominated by the giants of the Coachbuilt and A-Class motorhomes.

This was never more apparent than our visit in the Autumn to the NEC show. Having been heavily involved in the world of motorhomes for over 15 years, both as a hobby and being one of the early UK Motorhome Hire businesses to set up, we lived and breathed motorhomes! We even started an accessory side, set up a storage facility and had a motorhome stopover at our base in North Wales.

We’d been to each NEC Caravan and Motorhome Show since as far back as we can remember and bought all our vans and previous caravans at a show! Having finished our business back in 2016 to pursue a life of travel, by campervan, the visits to the NEC show, are now purely recreational and the October motorhome show, was very different to all those past shows put together. I’m sure we’re not the only ones to have realised that it was dominated by panel van conversions! But why this big change?

We think the change actually started around the end of 2015, when the number of people telling us they were just about to buy or had just bought a motorhome was like no other. We were no longer in the minority, on trips to Europe, we were starting to see more and more motorhomes, to the extent, that on one trip to Spain, it seemed to be overrun with them.

So, what’s happened in those 4 years since, to bring such a huge shift from motorhome ownership to panel van longing and buying? Are those 1st time buyers from a few years ago now downsizing, or is it more of a case of the social media vanlife following, bringing an ideology of perfection to the life of travel in a panel van?

Our own reasons for abandoning the Coachbuilt and A-Class models, was based on our own travels over the decades and beginning to get a little bored after so many years. We felt we’d exhausted many routes on our travels though the UK and Europe and wanted to get to more remote places. It was a desire for more adventure type travel, but still with a van, we also wanted to park more easily and freely, be able to drive up those tiny mountain lanes or narrow, winding tracks.

There was also, the hope that one day, we’d be able to ship our van overseas or overland or both, it had to be practical in so many ways, something that our previous type of motorhomes just couldn’t provide for us.

The other big appeal for us, was that a panel van is just that! It’s made in a factory for one purpose, as a van, it’s not put together separately on a chassis, where habitation joins can be prone to issues such as water ingress and parts, such as bumpers, rear lights, side skirts, the list goes on, can take months to receive (yes we speak from experience!!) and parts come with a rather large price tag!

Vanlife
There’s nothing better than opening those back doors to a view like this!

At least with a panel van, if we needed any parts, they are usually off the shelf, it’s just a matter of picking one up from the nearest dealer, at a reasonable cost, after all, vans are built for trades and business, so parts have to be readily available and cost effective.

Another factor in the mass swap to the panel van, could be due to pricing. When we first started looking to buy our first motorhome, we could get a basic Coachbuilt at the NEC for £21,000, an entry level now would be double that. More luxurious models and manufacturers run well into the £100,000+ bracket.

We saw entry level panel vans at the NEC for around £40,000, so pricing may not be too dissimilar to a basic Coachbuilt Motorhome. This must mean then, that the surge towards panel van ownership is not based on price alone, so is it more to do with size and practicalities and also maybe, appearance?

Dare I say it, but the van conversion is somehow, the one with the most sex appeal, it’s the epitome of romantic, idealist van travel, the followers of those vanlife instagram pics around the globe long to be a part of the dream. Those glossy shots of van conversions of all ages, shapes and sizes, fabulously overhauled aging models, oozing more charm and charisma than any Coachbuilt or A Class motorhome could ever dream of!

The vanlife following gives a whole new appeal to campervan travels, it’s also the flexibility with both the exterior and interior look of the van, they can be so individual and homely in a cosy cottage sort of way! No more plain old white or silver paintwork, the various colours of the spectrum adorn the metalwork, bringing such a welcoming glance to the eye.

Self-build interiors are often the work of skilled individuals, a whole new era of craftsmanship has opened up in full view of the internet world. Intricate wood panels, wood-burning stoves, corrugated sheeting, colourful tiling displays and an array of interior design techniques that would leave the most experienced designers open mouthed with amazement.

Our own La Strada Sprinter has an exterior shade of Pebble Grey, a mellow tone of warm beige with the chunky 4×4 BG Goodrich tyres adding that extra bit of spice to the already unique look. We chose a rather dramatic interior scheme of reds and silvers, a bold contemporary look, which La Strada, have such a wide choice of, this we felt would match our new adventure based travel of vanlife!

Our van conversion in New Zealand, is very different, our own self-build on a plain white LDV, yet the interior has a lake blue theme with earthy tones, which we wanted, to reflect the outdoor lifestyle that is all around. It’s a basic but practical and functional conversion and so cosy, in many ways, we prefer it to our La Strada Sprinter!

So, here I am talking about panel vans as if they were a delicious plate of food! Well, there you go, that just about sums it up, it’s the whole concept, you can be whoever you want to be, express yourself so differently and have that unique element through personnel self-build designs, which has brought the panel van conversion to a whole new group of admirers.

From the wild colour schemes of the manufacturers, if you’re buying a factory build or of course, the traditional interiors, they will never have the individual attraction of the self-build instagram conversions, but with all the other benefits of easier flexibility in parking, accessibility to more difficult places, less problems on the habitation side and more cost effective maintenance, the appeal is huge.

But, there’s one thing for sure, it’s only with a panel van that you can wake up in the morning and swing open those back doors to some of the best parking spot views across the globe….. yes, it’s the epitome of vanlife travel, the famed shots of instagram, the creation of millions of vanlife followers, the result of millions of vanlife instagramers, one of the reasons for the biggest surge in panel van wannabe ownership ever and one reason why we just love panel van vanlife so much!!

Vanlife
Home is definitely where you park it with a panel van
Our La Strada Sprinter Panel Van

We hope you join us soon on the vanlife panel van circuit of travel wherever you may!

Our Van

Our Top 9 Off Grid Essentials To Consider When Buying or Building A Van

New Zealand Bound

A beautiful country, a perfect destination for camper travel and currently the home of both our Sons! This could mean only one thing……a trip down under, the search for a van and the chance meeting of the most incredible people, bringing our self-build van dream to life!

Vanlife New Zealand
When there’s no better place to be, just enjoy what’s around you

Sitting under the shade of a large pine tree to protect me from the searing sun of a New Zealand Summer, my thoughts are drawn to all those European Summer’s we’ve spent touring the fabulous regions through France, which are just so brilliant for camper travels.

So, out came the notepad and pen, ready to include my top picks from French travels, one of the most versatile and diverse of countries, when I suddenly realise that I have way too many favourites to include in just one generalised blog piece!

Perhaps, I’m just too enthusiastic about sharing my love of camper destinations, but with so many incredibly beautiful places in one country, I begin to get stuck with where to start!

As with all the best laid plans, before I know it, my mind has wondered and with that I start writing. Not about France, but about where I am right now. After a year of big decisions, that include some very big changes.

With one Son moving to New Zealand, after receiving a job offer here and our other Son moving here to embark on an 18 month training programme, we suddenly found ourselves separated for the first time ever.

We decided to look on this, not as a negative but a truly positive twist of fate and an opportunity for us to make some further big changes for ourselves. So, on our return from accompanying our first Son to NZ, back in March last year, we set the wheels in motion.

First things first, was to put the family house for sale and start the hunt for a tiny base back home in Wales. We no longer had need for several empty rooms that still needed cleaning and those bigger bills that still had to be paid and besides all that, we didn’t want to be there much ourselves either…..who needs a big house when there’s such a big world out there to explore!

So, the house sold and the week before Christmas, saw us exchange and complete (on the same day!!) with a very busy self-move into our new tiny house. Fast forward to Christmas Day, with the best Christmas present ever, a flight to New Zealand, a reunion with our boys and an adventure, in this incredible part of the world.

Vanlife
Taking a break from the search for the right van in New Zealand

That’s where we are right now, about to begin on a lazy tour around New Zealand but first, Nigel has been busy converting our newly bought van, into a very basic, but practical and functional camper. So whilst he’s off sourcing parts and fitments and busy fixing things together, I’m back at base indulging in a bit of blog writing!

Base, by the way, was our 2-man tent, that we brought from back home in preparation for some overnight hikes, but also finding another good use, pitched up at a campground in the middle of the North Island. That was until a few days ago, when we caught up with the most incredibly talented guy, that we’d had a chance meeting with last year (more of that later).

In the meantime, I’m sure you’re asking yourself why we’d be buying a van when, in fact, New Zealand is home to one of the biggest camper rental markets. There are so many rental companies here, offering ever possible type of camper, as well as the fact, that New Zealand really is paradise for camper travels, being so picturesque and so camper friendly.

For us, it’s dual purpose and so it’s a more economical way to buy a van. Our Son will have it most of the year where he lives and we’ll use it when we visit, so it’s a great way for us both to get the best use out of it. Renting every year for any length of time would cost a small fortune and our Son would also have been buying a vehicle anyway, so this just makes sense for us all.

With Nigel in his element, transforming our once empty LDV high roof van, I feel he may have found his post-work vocation in life and I’m sure it won’t be his first and last project. As you may have guessed by now, converting a van into a camper, wasn’t just an overnight idea! Far from it, it’s something Nigel has wanted to do back home in Wales, for several years now, to the extent where it’s become a bit of a standing joke amongst us family members.

He’s followed the vanlife movement for years, since the early days and it’s always been me who’s held him back from selling our own camper back home, in favour of a self-build project. A little harsh maybe, but in reality, we both knew that we couldn’t commit to selling our own camper and starting our own build, whilst at the time, working 7 days a week in our business.

What we didn’t want, was a half-finished van and a job that dragged on for months, that’s one thing that would have driven us crazy. If a job’s going to be done, it’s got to be done with momentum, from start to finish, in our eyes, a good project is well managed and finished promptly, something that stems from 20 years of house-building!

So, as soon as we knew we’d like a camper down in New Zealand, I relented to the proposition and encouraged him to go for it! All we had to do now, was find the right van at the right price. The search began with “Trade Me”, New Zealand’s answer to E-Bay, we checked out the lists of second hand and new vans, but realised the differences were not worth arguing over, so opted for new.

One thing was for certain, after driving round in a car we realised how beneficial a van is in comparison! Obviously, we do have cars back in Wales for our daily use, but we don’t use them for travel, so we hadn’t thought about how strange it is being so low down!

We couldn’t help but miss the elevated driving position of a van and being able to have such a good view of the scenery out the window! It also got so hot in the car, air-con on and off constantly, despite it being a large 4-door saloon, a van has such good air-flow, we couldn’t wait to get back to our comfort zone!

After this reminder of why we love van travel so much, we decided to go for a high roof, so that we could stand up and have the space that we’re used to. We found the LDV V80, the perfect option, a reasonable price, the right size and with a few essentials, such as 3 seats in the front and windows in the rear doors, it also came with a boarded and covered floor, a great help for our conversion.

With one available at an LDV main dealer in Hamilton, all we had to wait for was the end of the Christmas Holidays, so they could transport it from the storage compound at the Port in Auckland. With the deal done, payment made and the holidays over, we were ready to collect the van and begin the conversion.

Van conversion
Insulating the interior
Bed Frame Built and Made To Measure Mattress in Place
Van conversion
Building the kitchen cupboards

Fortunately for us, Hamilton is a town that has everything available that’s camper related. If you can’t find it on the shelf, someone will soon make it for you! This town has every kind of manufacturer, making every kind of product, it’s unbelievable and all available instantly it seems. The people are so willing to help and easy-going, we soon found that nothing was too much trouble.

With a fabulous country awaiting us to explore, we set to work straight away. Our only initial stumbling block was the Christmas period, when Kiwi’s take their extended break, meaning many don’t re-open until the second week of January.

On our last visit to NZ, we’d rented a camper which had a small issue with the battery. Our rental company sent us to get it sorted to a guy in Hamilton, Jason, who builds their campers for them. He was so obliging when we met him and we were so impressed with his business, that we kept in touch and decided to pay him a visit after the Christmas break.

Low and behold, Jason and Amanda and their team have been incredible, welcoming us into their world, providing so much help to us in our conversion and offering every kind of assistance.

They’ve even let us have use of their yard and a place to park up for the night, or several nights! Letting us use their “smoke room” or canteen as we’d call it and a hot shower, they’ve been so kind and accommodating to us in their hospitality. Jason’s Dad, Kim, has also been immensely helpful, going out of his way to make us welcome and charming us with an interesting array of stories from his 72 years.

We feel blessed to have met them and thank them for their complete generosity towards us. The conversion is almost ready and we feel that we have made new friends for life in these good people. A reminder of why we love travel, what’s so great about being out of the comfort zone of staying home and truly a realisation that there is still so much good in people and a spirit of kindness towards others.

Now, we just have a last few tasks to complete and we’ll be on our way, exploring the wonderful country that is New Zealand and my goodness, we can’t wait to get started!

A room with a view!

Let’s Sell Up & Hit The Road

Empty Nest…It’s Fabulous!!

Top Tips Hiring a Camper In New Zealand

France Our Top Picks Through The Regions – The Loire Valley

The Loire Valley

Who doesn’t love a fairytale castle, swathes of sunflower fields, hills of rolling vines and the charms of ancient riverside towns and villages?

Well this is The Loire Valley, home to not just one, but over 300 glorious castles, or should I say Chateaux, which surround the banks of the longest river in France, The Loire.

Running from East to West, this UNESCO listed centre section covers an area of 280km. Stretching from Sully-Sur-Loire to Chalonnes-Sur-Loire, making it the largest of its kind in France.

For us, it was a perfect location to start exploring, back in our earlier days of road trips in France. It was, in fact, here, whilst on holiday in our touring caravan, that we first noticed the French love of motorhomes and the big advantages, that swapping to one would give us.

The freedom of those French camper owners moving around at their leisure, with the holiday home in one, really appealed and made us realise that we no longer wanted to be returning each night to the same destination. It was enough to make us switch to our first Motorhome as soon as we returned to the UK!

The beauty of France in a campervan is the simplicity that it brings and the ease of the Aires system for us all. The Loire is a perfect camper destination, with plenty of picturesque places to stop the night.

With so many Chateaux, you really are spoilt for choice and with a journey time of around 5 hours from Calais, warmer Summers this little bit further South and the added bonus of magnificent cycle routes, it’s an idyllic destination. So let’s get exploring!


1. Orléans

Think Joan of Arc and imagine her riding through the ancient Orléans, liberating the town from the English back in 1429. The heroine of girl power still holds her mark on Orléans today, attracting curious tourists and making for a good excuse to visit this medieval city.

2. Chambord

If ever you were to imagine the most elaborate, opulent and stately of Chateaux, then Chambord is it! This extraordinary architectural masterpiece is just exquisite. 500 years exactly since its evolution, on the instruction of King Francois l, it’s been state owned since 1930 and was UNESCO listed in 1981.

This renaissance masterpiece also has the best looking gardens ever, recently re-developed, it’s one huge palatial playground of formal opulence.

3. Blois

A royal chateau housing an incredible 35,000 works of art and home to a staggering 17 Kings and Queens! It’s not all about the castle though, Blois itself is a pretty town of quaint old buildings, narrow streets and quirky restaurants. It was here that we had a spot of bother with a French/English conversation over a Baguette! Enough to make me enrol at French class on our return, knowing I didn’t want my future French trips blighted by my lack of language skills!

4. Amboise

A typically delightful French ambiance, with the town stretching out along the river and the wonderful Chateau d’Amboise residing above.

Leonardo da Vinci lived in the town in the last years of his life, pay a visit to the Chateau du Clos Luce to see his bedroom and fresco’s painted by his students. Look out for Troglodyte cave dwellings, it was here in Amboise that we first came across them, starting a bit of a fascination on future trips through France.

5. Tours

A big city compared to others along the Loire, but great for a day out amongst the pavement cafe’s, ancient architecture and plenty of foodie lover treats! It’s also renowned for its markets, which we’re always a bit partial to!

6. Villandry

The Chateau at Villandry is a stylish little number and was the last of the grand Chateaux to be built along the Loire, back in 1536. The gardens are spectacular, a work of art in themselves.

7. Ussé

So this really is the epitome of the fairytale castle and here’s why! It was no other, than the inspiration for the original story by Charles Perrault, of his classic Sleeping Beauty. Now occupied by the Blacas family, they open their fabulous home and gardens to the public, so we can all take a glimpse into this fairy tale world.

8. Saumur

I just love this town, it’s nestled on the Loire with an abundance of interesting shops, restaurants, nooks and crannies. It’s also home to the French National Equestrian School which has its base here, where the talents of the Cadre Noir trainers can be seen in their amazing horse displays in the Summer months.

Of course, there is a Chateau, rising above the river and town, as well Troglodyte cave dwellings on the outskirts.

9. Angers

It has a castle that in someways is more familiar in appearance to our Welsh castles than the more glamorous Loire Chateaux.

The town centre is a mix of modern shopping with a brilliant historic area, full of narrow streets, half timbered houses and interesting little shops. Angers is capital of the Anjou Provence and certainly holds true to its title.

10. Brissac

A quaint, low key town surrounded by fields of corn, vineyards and a classy little Chateau. Not the best known of the tourist hot spots, but its still as beautiful in its own right and the journey to here in Summer is just lovely.

11. Chenonceaux

Fascinating and beautiful, with a wonderful history from the Second World War, its bridge laying on the border between occupied and unoccupied France. It meant that those entering, could exit into the freedom of the unoccupied side, a rather intriguing proposition.

It’s also here, in the large car park that we first really noticed the French love of motorhomes or rather their way of doing things! Just as we were leaving to head back to our campsite, rows and rows of motorhomes were parking up for the night, enjoying al-fresco dining under the warm Summer sky. Enough to have us fully converted to their way of thinking!

Chenonceaux is one of the big Chateau tourist hot spots and sums up the Chateaux of the Loire perfectly. Opulent elegance, extravagant renaissance architecture and incredible construction that has survived beyond the passage of time.

12. Azay-Le-Rideau

A firm favorite of ours, maybe because it’s a little more low key in many ways. It’s certainly unique in its glory, built on an island, surrounded by shady gardens and Summer nights bringing lighting displays and a magical open air experience. It’s a calming, more natural ambiance and there’s also a neat little town to stroll through once your done with he castle and gardens.


Despite all the fabulous Chateaux, towns and villages, some of the more incredibly beautiful sights come in the displays of Summer blooms, fields of sunflowers, flourishing vineyards and all that fabulous wine!

It’s worth noting if your approaching from the North, stop off first a Le Mans, it’s got a great historic quarter, a fabulous river setting and its home to the famous 24 hour sports car race.

For those venturing on to other parts of France, the Loire-Atlantique region from Nantes to the Atlantic West Coast is just a little further along from Angers.

Salut and Bon Voyage!!

France – Our Top Picks Through The Regions – Normandy

Starting Off In Normandy – It’s easy to get to, full of history, rolling countryside, half-frame timber buildings and plenty of great local produce!

France is one of the best countries for camper travels. Not only is it so beautiful and diverse across the regions, but it also provides the easiest of camper facilities, with its hugely advantageous Aires de Camping Cars system.

We’ve been travelling in our camper throughout the fabulous landscapes of France for decades. It never fails to disappoint, with stunning scenery, fascinating history, fantastic food and quiet roads which really help the touring.

Although it can be a little bleak in Winter, extremely cold and almost deserted, there are still some regions open for business all year round. Here, is one of them, Normandy, in the Northern most part of France, it’s easily accessible within a few hours of Calais and full of historic importance, it also has the most wonderful cows, cider and cheese!!


Our Top Picks

1. Etretat

The main focus here is the tall white cliffs which plunge into the sea below, with an array of interesting formations, carved between the layers of rock. It’s worth a stop from Calais enroute to the more high profile tourist sights further along the coast.

2. Pont du Normandie

No visit is complete to Northern France without a drive over this impressive engineering masterpiece. The 2141m long bridge, has a height of over 50m and spans the Seine Estuary, linking the port of Le Havre to the beautiful, historic port town of Honfleur, it really is a magnificent route. There’s a visitor centre as you cross, with explanation of the construction on the bridge itself, it also has it’s own toll, so be prepared to pay

3. Honfleur

This sassy little town, has the prettiest of harbours, with historic houses, restaurants and shops surrounding the water front. There’s one huge Aire de camping cars, we’ve stayed there at peak times with probably up to 100 other vans!! There’s also a good walk, taking you up from the town centre to a view point above the harbour, the tourist office has details of the route.

4. Deauville

For the more discerning tourist!! This place is upmarket, chic and full of charisma. It’s located between Honfleur and the start of the WW2 sights and landing beaches.Think elegant with sophisticated sports such as Polo, film festivals and long stretches of sand, lined with luxurious sun loungers in Summer!

5. WW2 Historic sights and The Landing Beaches

The incredible events beginning 6th June 1944 are embedded still in the coastline of Normandy. The famous beaches of Juno, Sword, Omagh and Gold follow the coast between Caen and Sainte-Mere-Eglise. It’s compelling stuff, heart wrenching and above all unbelievably educational. Follow the marked driving routes between the sights and pick up the very informative leaflets from the tourist offices.

Despite visiting several times, we still find it difficult to comprehend the magnitude of the slaughter, sacrifice and destruction that went on here. We always come away feeling gratitude for all those who fought here and for those lost, never to return.

Although, Commenwealth war Grave commission cemeteries are scattered throughout the region, there is no more profoundly moving testament to the horrors of war, than the British Cemetry at Bayeux and the American Cemetery at Omagh Beach. The latter is one of the most remarkable of sights, where 9387 immaculately placed white crosses, mark the resting places of those fallen American soldiers. It’s a dignified reminder of the horrors of D-Day, yet heartbreaking at the same time, the carved stone wall detailing the names of those missing in action is, on it’s own, a sight that stays with you forever.

Don’t miss Pegasus Bridge, Pont du Hoc, the various museums along the coast and Arromanches, where the remains of the Mulberry harbours can still be seen wedged in the sands, on low tide. These are even more poignant for us, as some of the harbours were constructed in our home of Conwy, North Wales, where The Mulberry pub now stands, bearing photos of the construction as a reminder.

The scars of war are just everywhere, look out for the gun emplacements, tanks and various signs showing details of an event that took place in a particular spot, it’s a never ending reminder of the extent of the planning and bloody aftermath that went into the D-Day landings.

6. Rouen

Most renowned for the ill-fated heroine, Joan of Arc, meeting her death here by burning her on the stake, in what was then, the English held town. It now has a charming historic centre, a reminder of the medieval past, with lovely ornate timber facades, oozing character.

7. Bayeux

The town is home to the famous Bayeux Tapestry, detailing the battle of 1066 and is UNESCO listed. It also has an excellent war museum and the British Cemetery as mentioned earlier. The tapestry is a must for all those of a similar age to myself, who endured long periods having to learn about it, for history lessons back in 1980’s secondary school! An audio guide and darkened walkways to protect the piece, ease you through the story, intricately sewn into the masterpiece.

8. La Suisse Normandie

Interestingly, this was a new one on us, until a trip back from Brittany a few years ago, when we sort of just stumbled across it! So, it’s a pretty inland area, situated around the Orne Valley, amongst rolling countryside, deep gorges and rivers. It’s great for hiking and rock climbing (not that we do much of that!) but, although, I wouldn’t compare it to the mighty dramatic scenery of Switzerland, it does make for an alternative detour for a couple of days and it’s quieter than many other parts.

Mont St Michel
Mont St Michel, The cycle path from our Aire

9. Mont Saint Michel

Who hasn’t heard or seen images of this iconic rocky peak, jutting out from the sands on the Normandy/Brittany border?! It’s a well photographed masterpiece, an awesome sight when you first set eyes upon it, on the approach and now very different in it’s surroundings from our first visit back in the day.

Gone are the days of parking up in the van on the golden sands at the base and walking over on low tide. The whole approach route has undergone vast re-development, with driving now off limits to the public. Instead, a very elaborate causeway consisting of an elevated road, allows shuttle buses to ferry the visitors across, from purpose built car and camper parking areas a good couple of miles away.

We actually stayed a few miles out on a different Aire, which was less expensive than the official camper parking. We then both walked and cycled across, rather than experience the crossing out of a bus window! The excellent cycle paths and walkways make it a really enjoyable route, however, this place gets so busy in peak season!

Daytime is horrific, the tiny alleyways on the Mont itself get rather uncomfortable, making the walkways up to the Monastery (pay to visit) on the top just a bit claustrophobic. We prefer to visit in the evening, when the bus loads of tourists have gone and you can explore the tiny streets at your leisure.

Where to stay/Park

Motorhome/Campervan parking is a breeze throughout Normandy, the usual Aire de Services de Camping Cars along with the dedicated parking are provided in most locations, so check out one of the Apps (Campercontact is excellent) or pick up a free map which should show camper parking from the tourist office.

If you want a campsite, don’t hold your breath! France has a very short season, with the exception of Ski resorts, sometimes campsites don’t actually open until May and close as early as September. If you find one open and really need it, then grab it while you can!

Weather here can be hit and miss, Summers are a bit warmer than the UK but you aren’t guaranteed the full blown sunshine and higher temperatures that you’ll get further South through France. Winter is very much like home, it can be wet, windy and miserable and also cold, having said that, it’s a good Winter destination for the WW2 history element, as it’s much quieter out of season but benefits from still having the attractions open.

Empty Nest…It’s Fabulous!!

So, the fledglings have flown the nest! It’s so strange after 25 years of: pregnancy; babies; toddlers; tantrums; first days of school; last days of school; hobbies; activities; highs and lows; girlfriends and break ups; first day at Uni; Graduation; gap years; job hunting; interviews; selections; assessments; job offers; celebrations; house hunting; flying the nest, quite literally to the other side of the world!!  

All is not lost, it’s not all doom and gloom, although it would be all too easy to wallow in our own emotions, of feeling the raw truth that our baby boys are now all grown up.  Well, fear not! Our job is done, we’ll always be there for them but let’s celebrate, hooray!!!……..now it’s time for us…..Let’s get ready for action!!

So here’s my take on what comes next for us. The build up has been evident for a few years now and I suppose every once in a while, we all have that rush of adrenaline that catapults us into a fairytale, make believe land of hopes and dreams, of complete change in our lives.

We certainly did, on a regular basis we thought of a land where our imagination could run away into a different place.  A new, magical world full of everything that were wanting to change from our crazy, full on, groundhog day that was our real life.

There’s a difference between those that dream of change, but do nothing and those that, quite by contrast, let nothing stand in their way.  The path to a better future, a happier life and a healthier mind, is probably, as little as one or two actions.  It’s certainly key that we have a positive outlook, we’ve always had this in bucket loads and loathe the negativity that so many bring upon themselves and others around them.

travel with children
Waiting to board a flight to New Zealand in 2004

The success of those who succeed, often, stems from a simple inner belief in themselves, fuelled by this positive outlook and that ultimate, brave and persistent battle to make things happen.  Persistence, Persistence, Persistence…..a favourite word of ours and one that got us to where we are today!

The strange thing is, even when we really started to question where we wanted to be in life, it was still so difficult, to actually make that first step into doing something about it.  So, in some ways, I can see why, so many people just trundle on through life without grabbing the real opportunities that we often now have.

For us, looking back, our business was doing well, we’d expanded and we were at the stepping stone to grow further.  Although, after 30 years of full on work, we were often on the 24/7 treadmill and despite being fortunate enough, to take breaks away in the van, they were never without work being included.

Those phone calls, e-mails, problems that needed sorting, it all went with the territory and always left the work place with us. In truth, the candle that burned at both ends was about to melt into a tiny little puddle of wax, broken and worn out and we were ready to throw it in the trash.

When you start to see that work is no longer an enjoyment, other cracks soon then appear.  It seemed as if the world around us had gone mad and  we were trapped in the middle, with all those sentiments silently shouting at us to stop the merry go round and get off.

Travels with the Children In our Caravan
Pitched up in France with our Caravan Back in the day!

These thoughts rumbled on for a few years and whilst our children were still in education and university, our hands were tied. The moment those constraints were lifted, our eyes and ears were focused on us, in a way that we hadn’t been able to look at before.  We had an opportunity, an empty nest was to come but we now had the goose that laid the golden egg…..we had freedom!

We’ve always been close and supportive with our boys, sharing so much fun and laughter as a family.  Some of the most memorable times together, have been whilst away on our adventures, in either a caravan or campervan, starting our travels when the boys were just a few months old.  So it came as no surprise, when they chose to have their own global ventures, as soon as adult life allowed.

Their returning tales of incredible cultural experiences in far away lands, triggered an extraordinary desire in ourselves, to follow in their footsteps and start seeing even more of the world.  After all, if our children could afford months of travels, to the various continents, that appealed to their inquisitive natures, then what on earth was preventing us from doing our own version of the extended gap year travels?

It’s funny looking back now, but our travels with small children in tow, was often, commented on by other parents as being a rather odd thing for us to want to do!  Many fellow parents, seemed to look upon holidays and travel with their children in a confined space for a week or two, as being rather too much like hard work!

I lost count of the number of times parents let me know, quite openly that they wouldn’t take their own youngsters away for “a few more years yet”! To me, even if it involved packing up the caravan for a weekend away, the shortest of time, became an education for the boys, well, actually, for all of us!

Travels with Children
Ready for take off over the Great Barrier Reef with our younger Son

Those early years taught us how to communicate together, giving the gift of patience too, from spending several hours or even a few days on road trip or long flight or both!  We entertained ourselves through games, walks, bike rides and learnt invaluable, educational lessons in history and culture, from visits to the most amazing historical sights and museums to great castles and geographical sights.

Maybe, we were fortunate back in the early to mid 90’s to be raising our boys in the pre-mobile phone era.  It’s now hard to believe, that there were no distractions from iPads, laptops and other mobile technology back in the day, yet so much is available today.

We didn’t even have an X-Box for the boys until their teenage years, when that soon got confiscated for the amount of time being spent on it.  In many ways, we were the last generation to be raising children in a tech-free environment, a blessing in disguise perhaps.

Looking back, this was a huge gift to us, we still had the full attention of our boys and they also had our full-on dedication to them. When we spoke, we had eye contact, facial expressions and body language between us.  These simple human gestures are so often lost now to the attention of the mobile screens we choose to look at. Staring down for hours a day at these clever gadgets that control the modern way of life, often without even glancing up to acknowledge or respond to what’s going on in front of us.

We’re all guilty of succumbing to some form of the latest technology and it’s an incredible advantage in so many ways.  I’d now feel lost without it, for those same mobile devices that we didn’t have back in the 90’s are now an invaluable asset to our own family life.

Our little boys are now grown men, ambitious and outgoing, but with an incredible gentle side and compassion.  These qualities have helped them start new lives on the other side of the world. We can’t imagine a day without our group FaceTime and messenger or other social media outlets.  Our conversation threads complete with photos, emoji”s, GIF’s and links to shared news stories across the world.

So, how the tide turns.  From being pleased in the knowledge that we’d missed out on the mobile era as parents of younger children, to being completely grateful to its existence now they are adults. It’s easy to look back at those good old days and think things were so much better, but we have so much now to be thankful for in our modern world.  In all honesty, I think our world is better than it ever was, there’s so much progress and so much ahead, where new inventions and discoveries will ensure that we keep moving forward.

There’s the positive outlook coming through again! For now though, it’s time to stop the moaning and just get on with it and be thankful for the opportunities available to us.  We’re living in one of the best times historically, where freedom and expansion of travel allows us to explore more than ever.  With the gift of that technology bringing a gadget for every purpose and we just love it!

Stepping back to the title of this piece, “Empty Nest” and the reminder of why I’m here today.  We’re here, in the process of a frantic house move, just a couple of weeks before Christmas and before we jet off across the other side of the world to see our amazing two boys, who are, of course now men but will always be my boys!

Travels with Children
With our older Son in Hong Kong

It’s been a stressful yet exciting few months, selling and packing up the family home, downsizing to a tiny place and all to fulfil our own goal of some well deserved “us time” and of course, immersing ourselves fully into travels of the vanlife kind.

So, we have come full circle, from our adventures with our boys being engrained in their upbringing, which in turn has developed into their own love of travel and onwards into their chosen career paths.

It makes me think, of all those negative comments from other parents back in the day.  The disapproval of travel with our babies and young children, the dread they spoke of and excuses for not travelling on a flight, or a long car journey.  For us, it was a natural part of family life and thank goodness we embraced the challenges of those early parenting years.

Travel, especially overland in a campervan is one of the best experiences, it brings out the most in our human spirit. So, here’s a Christmas toast to all those travels we enjoyed, with prams, toys, puzzles, potties and goodness knows what else in tow,  but most of all the love, laughter, excitement, knowledge and education gained, patience and memories, qualities that we all hold dear for a lifetime.

Austria tour
Seeing the Sound of Music sights around Salzburg

Campsites For A Ski Trip In A Campervan

Alpine campsites in a campervan, the perfect way to indulge in Ski season 

vanlife4x4

It’s that time of year, the snow is falling, the mountain slopes of Summer meadows are now neatly manicured, exhilarating Ski runs of Green, Blue, Red and Black, (ouch…not that I’ve ever been brave or skilled enough to try that colour!).

We’ve ventured off to the Ski slopes of the Alps, in our campervan many times over the past 13 years.  Although there are some brilliant Aires to stop at, many located at the base of Ski runs, we’ve always chosen to stay on a campsite.

Ski Season in the Alps is Just Perfect!

Why We Chose Campsites over Aires:

  • We always had our boys with us, so it was easier on a site with a family of 4.
  • We’re happy to stay put for a couple of weeks and prefer the ease of site facilities without having to move the van in possibly harsh conditions.
  • We found one resort and campsite that we just loved more than any other and for us, it’s just bliss returning to the same beautiful place.

Campsites For Ski Season

Here’s our choice of sites where we’ve either stayed or visited:


Le Grand BornandHaute Savoie, French Alps  https://en.legrandbornand.com/

An absolutely beautiful Alpine resort, very traditional and full of charm, with wooden chalets adding to the character of the town.  Artisan shops and restaurants, stunning scenery and a brilliant ski scene, it’s oozing sophistication at every corner! No concrete apartment blocks here!  It just happens to be our favourite ski resort in the Alps.

Camping L’Escale, Le Grand Bornand – This campsite is perfect!  We just love it here, it’s ideal as you don’t have to move the campervan, everything you need is on the doorstep! It’s just a 300m walk to the town centre, there’s a ski bus from the site entrance, just a few minutes ride on the bus and you reach the chair lifts.   The site has all the facilities you need, from a charming traditional restaurant, heated shower blocks (a little dated but hey ho!), heated washing up room, heated ski boot and drying room, an indoor pool and it’s in a really lovely position surrounded by the mountains.  A real bonus, is that it does get the sun at times during the day, perfect for warming the van up! The main advantage though, is the convenience, you can pop into town as often as needed, it’s beautiful, the skiing is fab and it’s not overrun with tour operators, so it’s much more low key with a local feel.

http://www.campinglescale.com/

Camping Le Clos du Pin, Le Grand Bornand – Not quite so perfectly positioned as Camping L’Escale, but a good alternative.  It’s located just out of town and 500m to the chair lifts. Not quite so sunny and more low key in facilities but would suit for a more simple alternative.  http://www.le-clos-du-pin.com/

Campsites For Skiing
Taking a Break On The Ski Slopes

SamoensHaute Savoie, French Alps – https://winter.samoens.com/

Linked with 5 other resorts of The Grand Massif, including Flaine and Morillon, the ski slopes around Samoens will certainly keep you entertained!  It’s pretty, traditional but larger than some resorts without being spoilt.  The campsite is located on the edge of the town, 700m away,  which is one downside as it does seem like a long walk to the shops if you’re going a couple of times a day!  The chair lifts are just up the road though, which means, you can walk rather than wait for a bus. You’re then in the heart of the most fabulous ski runs, you can certainly be out all day.  Just make sure you make the last lift back from you’re ski run, you don’t want to be almost left behind like we were one day!!

Camping Le Giffre, Samoens – a good site, on the level and with some sunny pitches, make sure you ask for one though!  There’s some nice walks too and a small lake adjacent.  Facilities are good, with a boot room and heated shower blocks but no pool.   http://www.camping-samoens.com/en/index.aspx

Chatel – Portes Du Soleil, French Alps, https://en.chatel.com/

This ski area is huge, linked to Morzine, Avoriaz, Les Gets and 5 others in France and a further 4 in Switzerland.  Chatel itself is a small town, with a traditional feel, although in our opinion, it doesn’t have the unique charm of some of the other small resorts.  The campsite is located just on the edge of town, but it’s an uphill walk, which can leave you hot and bothered after a day on the slopes! 

Camping L’Oustalet , Chatel.  The campsite is excellent, with modern toilet blocks, indoor pool (it’s a bit of a trek down steps from some pitches though) and sunshine to keep the van warm.  The pitches are good, but we were located alongside a hedge, or rather parrallel to a hedge, with no space on that one side.  The big downside here is that it’s 1.5km walk uphill to the town centre, which is a nuisance we found, especially when you just want to pop in for something.  The ski bus stops outside, there’s a chair lift in the town and a separate one further out giving access to a greater selection of runs.   https://en.oustalet.com/the-campsite.html

Campsites For Skiing
Our motorhome Ski Campsite, Camping L”Escale

 La Clusaz, Haute Savoie, French Alps,  https://en.laclusaz.com/

La Clusaz is a larger town surrounded by the mountains and a bus ride away from Le Grand Bornand, one of the 4 other linked resorts of the Massif des Aravis.  The town itself is busier and has a mix of buildings, so not all quaint charm, but still a good resort without being too lively.

Camping Plan du Fernuy.  This campsite is some distance from the centre of La Clusaz, at about 1 mile away.  It’s in a nice location though, surrounded by the mountains and has a ski bus stop outside, to get you to the slopes.  It’s sunny and has an indoor pool to relax in after hitting those slopes.   http://www.plandufernuy.com/?lang=EN

Les Saisies, French Alps, https://www.lessaisies.com/

Les Saisies is a fab resort, located in the Beaufortain Massif and Aravis mountain ranges. It’s located at 1600M, with brilliant ski runs and fabulous views of Mont Blanc.  It’s low key and traditional, sunny with wide open spaces and just a really good feel about it.  

The campsite Le Grand Tetras has now closed but in it’s place is an Aire, it’s a shame to lose the campsite, but great that there still is the location for the campervan community.  It’s about a 15 minute walk to town, uphill too, so be prepared but there’s great views.  Unusually, you can actually book the Aire online, so here’s the link!  http://www.i-park.fr/index3Ipark?terminal=157

Les Deux Alpes, French Alps,  http://www.les2alpes.com/en

The famed, purpose built, big name ski resort of Les Deux Alpes, is as you’d expect it to be.  It’s an excellent ski area, huge with a lively vibe and plenty to keep you entertained.  If you want a bit more action both on and off the slopes, this place will give you bucket loads of choice!

The campsite, Le Champ Du Moulin  is located at the old village of Venosc, below Les Deux Alpes.  The Cable car, located 400m from the campsite connects you to the resort of Les Deux Alpes.  It’s a low key site in a pretty location but with few amenities in Venosc itself.  https://www.champ-du-moulin.com/en/

St.Anton, Tyrol, Austria, https://www.stantonamarlberg.com/en

There’s a real taste of luxury about campsites in Austria.  They are much more refined than their French equivalent and offer a more upmarket feel, in our opinion.

Camping Arlberg in Pettneu is no exception, it’s located on the outskirts of some of the worlds most renowned, high class ski resorts, think Lech, St.Cristoph and of course, St.Anton.  The facilities here are just superb, some pitches have their own private bathroom and boot storage, so you can open your campervan door straight into an en-suite!  There’s a ski bus from the site to the chair lifts, St.Anton being a 7 minute ride away.  It is a little bit out on a limb, but the added bonus of an adjacent wellness centre and pool are a good incentive and help to relax the aching joints after a day on the slopes!  https://www.camping-arlberg.at/en/camping.html

Zell am See – Kaprun, Austria, https://www.zellamsee-kaprun.com/en/activities/winter/skiing

Zell am See is a beautiful lakeside resort, surrounded by mountains. There’s a selection of 3 mountain ranges for skiing, with some great runs, skiing high above the lake.  There’s a good town centre, it’s more of a working town than pure tourist town and not necessarily, all cute wooden chalet territory, but nice all the same.  

Seecamp Zell am See is a well equipped campsite located on the lakeside. The ski bus stops at the campsite to take you to the chair lifts. Facilities are excellent with boot room, ski room, drying room, excellent shower blocks and there’s a feeling of space about the whole site.  It’s possible to walk to the town centre along the lake but it is about a 40 minute walk.  It’s a lovely location though, surrounded by the mountains, it’s flat too!  https://www.seecamp.at/en/camping/seecamp-services/

Panorama Camp, Zell am See is located at the lower end of the lake and on the opposite side to the main town centre.  It’s a small, low key campsite with good shower facilities and flat pitches, beautiful surroundings and 500m to the lake.  There’s cross country ski routes from just outside the site and a ski bus to take you to the chair lifts. There’s ice skating on the lake when it freezes in Winter, what more could you ask for?! The downside here, is that it is far from the town on foot.  https://www.panoramacamp.at/en

Zell am Ziller, Austria, https://www.zillertalarena.com/en/zell/winter/start_winter.html

This is a small, unspoilt town, more of a village, which is located in the Zillertal Valley.  Surrounded by mountains where you can ski over a selection of 4 mountain ranges, within beautiful scenery which they boast to be very quiet, no queuing or so they insist! There’s also a 7km natural Taboggan run, it’s open until 1am, who can’t resist giving that a go!

Campingdorf Hofer campsite is on the level, it’s a small site and quite tight for access in places if you have a large van, that is.  It’s surrounded by the open fields of the valley and surrounded by mountains.  Facilities are great and you can walk into the town centre in no time at all!  There’s a ski bus that stops at the site taking you to the chair lifts in 5 minutes.  https://www.campingdorf.at/en/

Mayrhofen, Austria, https://www.mayrhofen.at/en/winter-holiday-family/skiing-snowboarding-zillertal/

This has one of the largest ski areas in Austria.  it’s located further along the valley to Zell am Ziller and the town itself is a good size, vibrant and energetic without being tacky! The ski area boasts The Harakiri Piste, the steepest slope in Austria, there’s even a Ski Movie Run…so all a little bit different for those that want a change!

Camping Mayrhofen is a pleasant site on the edge of town.  It’s within walking distance to the centre and is in a Sunny spot too.  It’s level pitches offer an open feel and are surrounded by the stunning mountain scenery.  It offers excellent facilities and heated pool, open in Winter to relax after a day on the slopes. https://www.campingplatz-tirol.at/index.php/camping-19.html

The Ski Slopes of Le Grand Bornand

How to Prepare For Ski Season In a Campervan

Ski Resorts in a Motorhome

It’s Ski Season!

Preparing The Motorhome/Campervan For Ski Resorts of The Alps

Wow!! Just the very thought of crisp white, freshly powdered snow, gets me itching to venture off again to the fantastic ski resorts of Europe.

Nothing beats waking up to those huge snowflakes falling on the camper and realising that the van has disappeared under a foot or more of snow……how exciting!

We did our first motorhome ski trip to the Alps back in 2005, in what was then our brand new Swift Bessacarr.  It was a complete learning curve, that came with a few obstacles and surprises, but we still absolutely loved it. Despite the temperatures dropping to a very cool -17C, it didn’t put us off returning year on year!

To help make you’re motorhome/campervan Ski trip a success, here’s our tips to a stress-free trip!

 

 

Above all – Be Prepared!!

1. Snow Chains – don’t leave home without them!  All the ski areas and approach roads to them will require, usually by law, vehicles to carry on board and use snow chains.  Ensure you buy the correct tyre size for your van.

We had both snow socks and snow chains but some countries only allow the use of chains.

2.  Fresh Water tanks – External water tanks will freeze, if you want fresh running water in the van, you’ll need an internal fresh water tank.

3.  Be Warned! – On our first Ski trip back in 2005, we had a Swift Bessacarr, the fresh water tanks were located in the garage, with blown air heating and a sleeping bag covering the tanks.  Despite this, they still froze!

4.  External Fresh and Waste Water Tanks – They will still freeze, any insulation will only delay the inevitable.

5.  Waste Water – Leave open the waste drain and let the waste water drain away into a shallow rimmed bucket, which will fit below the waste outlet (a horse feed bucket is perfect).  The waste water will just drain into the bucket, ready for you to empty each day.

On our first ski trip our waste tank froze immediately and stayed like that for the duration of our stay, when we opened the sink taps, the water just gurgled back up the plug hole!

6.  Heating 

Electric Heating – Campsites don’t very often have a 16amp supply like you’d find in the UK.   This in  a nutshell means that any electric heating won’t run effectively or to the capacity that you may be used to back home.  Expect a supply of either 6 or 10amp at best.  Electric heating combined with other electric appliances, lighting etc will sometimes trip the site supply at the pitch bollard.  This will need to be switched back on, probably by taking a trip in the cold to the site office to get them to open the box to switch it back on!  Even worse, it usually trips of your neighbours electric too!

Gas Heating – It’s powerful and keeps you toasty warm but it uses a lot of gas!  It’s a different ball game to the gas hob, which keeps the gas bottles full for an eternity.  Take the maximum capacity gas bottles that your van can legally carry.  Think about buying a spare pigtail for the country you’re going to, before you travel, you can then buy a bottle in country if you need to without the worry of having no method of connecting it.  If you’re completely new to this, for information, our Calor UK bottles are not sold in Europe.

Diesel Heating – It’s powerful and lasts well.  Fill up in an Alpine region where the diesel will be a different mix, especially for Alpine conditions.

Ski Resorts in a Campervan
Our last motorhome parked up on site in the Snow, topping up the washer fluid!

 

7.  Take a long handled brush to clear snow off the van roof and windows.

8.  Take a shovel to dig out the van and build the obligatory snow man!!

9.  Carpet pieces are great to put under the van tyres, we take a few old scraps, they act as a good grip to get you off snow and mud and back on the road.

10.  If you get iced in on your pitch, the campsites have a tractor that will tow you off.

11.  Put Extra Strength windscreen wash in the windscreen filler and keep the wipers off the windscreen when you’re pitched up.

12.  Silver Screens – Pop them on when you arrive and keep them in place, just lower the top half to let in light and sunshine.

13.  Park in a Sunny spot – It will warm the van in the day and help melt the snow and ice.

14.  Electric Lead – Carefully lift it up out the snow each morning, helps to avoid freezing and also stops it getting buried under days of snow fall.

15.  If you’re van has not got flush fitting windows, try to avoid a build up of ice.  On the protruding plastic windows, melted snow freezes around them and can then break the plastic window itself.

16.  Be prepared for bad conditions even before you reach the Alps.  We were stuck in snow on the main French motorway one year, with no where to go but a service station whilst snow ploughs tried to clear one lane overnight.

Ski resorts in a motorhome
Our favourite ski resort in our Campervan, Le Grand Bornand

17.  Stock up on food and necessities beforehand.  In most ski resorts there are just small shops, so it’s difficult to carry lots back to the van and you won’t want to move the van if you can help it.  For large supermarkets, stop at a town before reaching the Alpine resorts.

18. Take a water container and funnel – This is to fill the fresh water tank by hand.  Very often any water taps on a site are switched off during Winter.  Water is usually accessed from inside a heated building, we take a cheap plastic sledge to pull the container back to the van!

19.  If you are staying on a site with a drying room for boots and clothes, there may be a lockable clasp supplied on the storage racks.  We take a padlock with us to lock the clasp and keep our equipment secure.

20.  We take warm dressing gowns to wear to the shower block, it saves taking lots of bulky clothes into a narrow cubicle, clothes falling on the floor and getting sprayed by the showers!

21.  If you’re going at Christmas, it’s worth noting that you’ll usually have the site and slopes to yourself until Boxing day.  It’s then that the locals and tourists arrive for the skiing and it won’t go quiet until the schools go back.

22.  Ensure you have travel insurance and that it covers you for skiing and any other activities that you may do, think about sledging, toboggan, ice skating etc.

23.  There are some great campsites, they should have the ski bus stop regularly outside the entrance, so you shouldn’t have to worry about getting to the ski lifts.  If the ski lift is just a few minutes walk away then you’ll be expected to walk there!

Skiing in a Campervan
Enjoying the Ski Season

Finally, if you’re like us, you’ll love the whole snow and ski experience, so have an amazing ski season and hopefully, we’ll hear, that you too will be returning year on year!

Essential Guide To Tolls in Europe

Our Top 9 Off Grid Essentials To Consider When Buying or Building A Van

 

Top 9 Places To Visit in Belgium

Bruges in Summer

Belgium in a Campervan

Are you looking for a quick hop across the channel or somewhere to spend the last day or so after a fab tour of Europe in the camper?

Belgium is so close to Calais, so if you’re short on time it’s an easy distance for a quick tour in the campervan.  Bruges is only 70 miles along the motorway, meaning you can be off the Ferry and in this brilliant little city in under 1hour 30 minutes!

We love Belgium in general,  it’s immensely underrated as a travel destination by us British but it’s such a great country to explore by motorhome.  It’s totally campervan friendly, with plenty of Aires and lots of great archietcture, incredible war time history and a really upbeat, modern vibe.

It’s also got a brilliant infrastructure with marked cycle paths everywhere as well as a great mix of walking trails.

 

Here’s our list of the top places to visit in a motorhome or campervan in Belgium:

1. Bruges 

With a brilliant Motorhome Aire within just a few minutes walk to the centre of Bruges, you can’t find much better for a city stop in all of Europe.  Not only is Bruges UNESCO World Heritage status, a statement in itself, but it’s also one of those cities that somehow just gets under your skin!

No matter how many times we Visit Bruges, we can’t help wanting to go back for more!  It’s such a great little city, easy to navigate, full of charm, character and always brimming with atmosphere.

Cobbled streets, horse-drawn carriage rides and quirky little parks all add to the ambiance.  The buildings ooze character with ornate facades edging onto the waters of the intricate canal network, where boat rides channel tourists through the maize of narrow waterways.

There’s everything to keep you entertained….from the cheeky shop window chocolate displays (yes naughty shaped chocolate is a speciality in Bruges!) to people watching, over a local beer in one of the many pavement bars or restaurants.

There are markets, fabulous squares, museums, cycle paths everywhere and if you follow the outer rim of the centre on foot or by bike, you’ll come across a selection of windmills that line the old ramparts to the city.

Bruges is just so pretty and changes with the Seasons, to make it an all year round destination.

It’s beautiful in Spring when daffodils are in abundance across the lawns.

Summer brings the mass tourists but infectious atmosphere, with queues for boat rides and full to bursting restaurants.

Autumn is quieter but the changing colours of the trees and falling leaves bring an extra special beauty to the parks and gardens.

Winter is just delightful, it can be freezing, so much so that the canals freeze over, bringing another dimension to this mesmerising city.

Motorhome Aire Bruges

2. Ghent

Larger than Bruges, Ghent doesn’t have the same intimacy but it’s a charismatic city, all the same.

What we love about Ghent is it’s modern approach mixing with its cultural charms.  There’s the beauty of the canals mixed with the historical architecture, intricate carvings on the buildings where street lined cafe’s thrive.

There’s more UNESCO here too, it’s Creative City of Music status, is one of only 4 cities to have achieved this. It mixes the arts with a shopping scene to attract the more individual, creative types. There are really great food shops, flea markets and health focused cafe’s, selling the most delicious fresh food, loaded with goodness!

We managed to park on the street, which is perfect for a daytime visit at 6 Euro for the day but our van is sub 6m. For Aires, check out Campercontact App although you may need to stop on the outskirts.

 

Ghent, Belgium
Boat Trips on the Canal, Ghent

3. Antwerp

This is one big, busy city! It’s very much a commercial hub with the old historic town the attraction for the tourists. It’s the second biggest city in Belgium and capital of Flanders and has a huge port, it’s bustling with energy at every corner.

There’s the mix of beautiful Flemish architecture, historic squares and hip, modern element. It’s renowned for it’s diamond quarter, the largest in the world, what’s not to love about that?! There’s the unusual elements, such as, walking through the old sewerage system, then the more original attraction of Het Steen, the 11th century castle that dominates the water front.

Overall, the busy market squares, upmarket shops and parks and gardens are an inviting addition and combined make for a great day out.

We parked up for 8.50 Euro, at an Aire on the perimeter of the city, an old campsite, Camperpark Vogelzang

The number 6 Tram from outside the Aire, took us to the city within a few minutes, we also walked the route which took us around 30 minutes.

 

4.  Veurne

A lovely small city, close to the coast and ideal for a leisurely stroll through interesting shopping streets which lead through to a lovely square with ornate buildings almost gothic in architecture.

There’s a small marina on the canal and across the road an Aire area for campervans, although spaces are small and it is on the road, it’s still great for parking and exploring the town.

Veurne Belgium

5.  Waterloo

We’ve all heard of Waterloo, even if it is through the Abba song! This town to the South of Brussels was home to one of the most famous battles in history, the Battle of Waterloo. Fought between the great Napolean and Wellington, this bloody battlefield of 1815 is now swathes of green fields and makes for a captivating visit.

Parking for the van is easy with a large parking area, the battlefield itself is on the outskirts of the town. A visitor centre leads you to the main attraction, Lion Mound, a grassy formation with a Lion statue, looking out over the battlefield.  Steep steps lead you to the summit, to gain these incredible views under the watch of the Lion.

In Waterloo town, you can visit the old headquarters of Wellington himself, now a museum, it houses lots of artefacts for those battle enthusiasts.

 

6.  Poperinge

This Flanders town was a significant stopping off post for the British during the First World War.  It escaped occupation by the German’s and was known as “Pop” to the British soldiers who were based here, where they set up hospitals and lodgings for use on the way to and from the horrors of the front line.

Today, it’s a busy town with the scars of WWI still cemented in it’s history.  It was here in the courtyard to the Town Hall, that executions took place of those so called ‘deserters’ of the war, unbelievable to imagine in our now peaceful lives.

These young men, many suffering from shell shock and savagely damaged by war, were shot at dawn, to be made examples of, for all to see.  It’s a heartbreaking and tragic reminder of what these young heroic men went through.

The Poperinge of today is a pleasant town and now it’s known as the hops capital of Belgium, so be sure to grab yourself a beer in one of the many bars!

Parking was easy on our day visit, there are Aires in the vicinity too.

7.  Ypres

In the heart of WWI historic sights, Ypres is home to the Menin Gate. It’s here that the “Last Post” is sounded by Buglers, all volunteers of the local fire brigade, it’s one of the most emotional and poignant experiences and one that we won’t forget.

Since 1929 at 8pm each night, this commerative ceremony has remembered all those who fell during the first world war, the only time that it hasn’t occurred is during four years of the second world war.

Ypres and its surrounding countryside and townships are full of World War I historic sights.  We drove to the battlefields of Hill 60 and 62, a few miles from Ypres, followed by the Hooge Crater Museum.

The Yorkshire trench and dugout in the middle of an industrial estate were found in 1992 and full excavations between 1998 and 2000 revealed the full extent of the British trench and tunnels here.  The dig unearthed the remains of 155 soldiers, only one of which was able to be identified, a true testament to the horrors of war.

Essex Farm is not far from here, the cemetery and bunker was the location of a field hospital.  It’s here that John McCrae is buried, a surgeon from Canada, he wrote the iconic poem “In Flanders Fields”.

From here we drove the same route that the soldiers had taken to Passchendaele.

There is a campsite just outside the town of Ypres and an Aire a little further out.  The CamperContact App has details.

8. Passchendaele

The scale of destruction from the muddy hell of the battle at Passchendaele can be seen at Tyne Cot Cemetery.  It holds the graves of 12,000 commonwealth war dead, rows of white graves dominating the landscape.  The glistening walls bear the names of 35,000 British men who were never found,  only their names remaining, carved into the stone as a memorial and acknowledgment of their sacrifice.

We have visited many historic sights from both WWI and WW2, all are a heroic testament to those that fought but this, being the largest in the world for Commonwealth soldiers.

The area around Passchendaele and all of Flanders is scattered with the remnants of a war which ended 100 years ago, yet where the scars of devastation are still vivid and distinctively real still.

We always say that people should visit these sights, to realise how fortunate we are today and to give thanks to our ancestors who went through the hell of these conflicts, which are beyond our imagination.

There is parking at the Memorial Museum.

Visit Flanders

9.  Coastal Belgium

The North Sea resorts between De Panne and Zeebrugge are, like many seaside towns, a little bleak in Winter but thriving in Summer. We’ve been in Winter and Spring, so we’ve probably never seen it at its best! The miles of sands and all the fun of the seaside on a warm Summer’s day would be well worth a visit.

One thing’s for sure, this stretch of coastline is surprisingly upmarket with designer stores and affluent restaurants. It’s full of recreational activities too, such as walks among marked trails along the sand dunes and it’s also perfect for getting out the bikes along the miles of Cycle Paths.

A 67km coastal tram links the towns along the coast, making it the longest in the world! So you can even just park up and hop on to save driving.

We managed to park easily off season, in all these coastal towns, for overnight stops check out the Camper Contact App

Top 9 Essential Guide Motorhome Aires France And Europe

 

Antwerp, Belgium
Antwerp, Belgium

 

 

 

 

 

Map of Our Vanlife Travels

Map of Countries Travelled by Van

Map of Vanlife4x4 Travels

Here’s a list of all the countries we’ve visited overland…..with the exceptions of Australia and New Zealand, all other countries have been in our own camper.

There’s an awful lot left to see!!

 

Map of Countries Travelled by Van
Countries Travelled By Van

Europe & Mediterranean 

🇦🇹 Austria,  🇧🇪 Belgium,  🇭🇷 Croatia,  🇫🇷 France,  🇩🇪 Germany,  🇮🇹 Italy,  🇱🇮 Liechtenstein,  🇱🇺 Luxembourg,  🇲🇨 Monaco, 🇳🇱 Netherlands,  🇸🇮 Slovenia,  🇪🇸 Spain, 🇨🇭 Switzerland

Pacific ocean 

🇦🇺 Australia, 🇳🇿 New Zealand

 

 

Let’s Sell Up & Hit The Road

Adventure Travels with Vanlife

After 30+ years work was just too much like hard work!

We’ve recently had some really big changes in our lives, stemming from a decision to try a new direction for ourselves. We thought, we’d be brave, a little courageous,  before old age sets in and the wrinkly bodies start needing more repairs and spare parts than a 1970’s Ford Cortina!

So with brain cells still active…..steady on now!  Whilst we are still perfectly capable of knowing what we’re doing, what we want to do and who we want to do it with, we have decided, to do the deed.  This, to you and I, is putting the family home for sale, downsizing to a lock up and go and finally commiting to some sort of semi-permanent or permanent life of travel in a van!

The rumblings all started a few years ago, when hubby became very restless, possibly even a bit anxious, about the world in which we now live.  We were both feeling crushed by the pressures of 30+ years of work and all the crap that those day to day dealings brought, to our otherwise content and happy lives.

We no longer had the stomach or the patience to deal with the business environment.  At times it seemed like an endless chain of pointless, petty innuendo’s, irrelevant conversations embroiled in the over indulgent hype of society’s fast-paced world of being available 24/7 and expectations of perfection.

A business world where even the smallest request, order or query could go spectacularly wrong through the channels of technology. Supposedly there to make life easier but inevitably bringing hours of misery to resolve things if they went wrong.

At the same time, it seemed our ideals were no longer the same as those around us.  The media was full of seedy corruption scandals and celebrity status, catapulted to the pillar of power. TV screens, Social media and society in general was suddenly full of over indulgent consumerism.

The pull of those big name labels and branding, looked like it was attempting to take over us and the nation.  As the greed and dishonesty rumbled on across the media headlines, the toxic mix of excessive wealth, power and greed seemed to bring clouded judgement of all the good things about our fellow humans.

We’d seen the good side of human nature and knew how good life on the road can be.

We wanted to get back to basics, we knew that people could be so generous, financially, morally and personally, there are so many that do good, often without a fanfare of admiration.  The human spirit was alive and well and we needed to re-connect with those that were there with no strings attached, happy as they are and grateful for all that’s good in life.

We’ve seen and spoken with so many amazing people over the years, all brought together with the bond of loving life in the van, where background and financial status had no focus.  It’s when we’re out on the road that we meet the most wonderful people and hear their incredible stories of chaotic lives that they used to live.

Our 6-month road trip across Australia in 2017, finally cemented the need for change, we’d seen the most amazing aspects of our raw planet.  A journey by road covering over 23,000KM, to put that into perspective, when we boarded our return flight from Sydney to Dubai, the in-flight monitor displayed a flying distance of just 11,000KM!!

We met and spoke with so many people who were all on a journey of a kind. They brought an incredible warmth, with no luxury attachments, their stories were inspirational, none of us needed accessories of materialism to add to the conversation.

Many were permanently on the road, travelling with children, alone or as a couple, age had no boundaries, young, old, anywhere in-between. They were remarkable people who were just enjoying the moment and making the most of life while they could.  Some were continuing on to other continents, adventure and the thrill of the open road had no limits.

In December 2017, we returned to the UK, the trip had changed us, we had seen the best of people, of nature and most importantly, we’d spent 6 months together in the smallest of spaces and were still happiest in each others company!  We’d laughed and cried, enjoyed the weirdest moments and seen the most thrilling wildlife, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to return to a so called normal life back in the UK.

Living in a tiny van, yes it was the smallest space possible! No luxury RV status, just a simple Toyota Hi-Ace, with not even a loo to boast about!  It made us realise that, in fact, a house seemed unimportant, almost irrelevant. Living long-term in a van made us appreciate the simple necessities of life…happiness, love, other people, a good nature, laughter, a sense of humour, wildlife and the wilderness that we can have around us.

It’s time to move on, downsize and de-clutter, put an end to pointless stuff!

The materialistic stuff now seems rather pointless, of course, we need money for life on the road and there is no mistaking that it is costly in some ways.  So we have to financially support our choices but fortunately, through years of hard work and very careful spending habits, we now have the financial ability to achieve this.

Since returning from Australia, we’ve hardly been home, spending an unexpected couple of months in New Zealand, assisting in our Son’s house move and combining it, of course with an inevitable camper trip! Then it was a a couple of months touring Italy, where we  would have stayed had it not been for our decision to sell the house, bringing our trip to a reluctant close!

Hubby, would quite happily live in a van full stop, or a cave, for that matter! I, however, am not so keen on living in a holed out rock, but I do get the ethos of a simpler, more rounded way of life, which means a compromise along the way here.  We’ve always had a van, so we aren’t needing to buy a motorhome or camper or convert a vehicle back here, it’s all ready for the next big trip and we can’t wait to get going.

So, instead of no house, it’s a downsize move for us, a tiny house, enabling us to still have a base for times of need and for the simple necessities of being a resident of somewhere in the world.  It’s therapeutic, clearing out all the wasteful clutter of life and it’s a refreshing process to become minimalist. It’s not only the house we’re clearing but also the mind, it’s such a liberating feeling.

What is also clear, is that when we’re not away, we just want to be away, we can’t get used to life in a house and being in one place.  It feels almost wasteful, that we’ve had so many rooms, so much furniture and other useless stuff.  We feel that we’re addicted to life on the road, unable to rest until we get that next fix of vanlife and travel.

There are so many places we haven’t seen yet, we have a large map of the world on our living room wall, pins marking the locations of countries that we’ve been to. The gold coloured metal dots are barely visible,  we haven’t even scraped the surface, it puts it completely into perspective! How big the world is, how small we are and how much land there is to cover in such a small space of time!

It’s exciting times ahead, we’re wired for adventure, propelled into the next chapter of our van world with more gusto than ever. On that note, I’d best get going and start preparations for that next amazing episode in our lives!

 

Vanlife Travel in our campervan
Vanlife adventures in our La Strada Campervan

 

The Race To Retirement

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Show Time

Mercedes Sprinter campervan

October is a big month in the calendar, it’s the start of a new season and we’re not talking about fashion!  This is the time of year when the manufacturers of anything remotely camper related, take to the road to promote their offerings for the following year at the biggest UK show, The Motorhome and Caravan Show at the NEC, Birmingham.

As I write, those halls of the NEC will be full of the latest van models from across the UK and Europe.  We’ve bought every caravan, motorhome and camper that we’ve ever owned from the NEC show….we just love a good show!!! That’s excluding our current van, bought from the Stuttgart Show in Germany!

We definitely enjoy a day at a show, even if we’re not buying. We’ve been to quite a few over the past 20 years and for us, we’ve found there is no better place to seal that deal!

So, let’s get to grips with what we’ve found best for getting the most out of the show experience and coming away with that dream van!

Before A Show

  • We research lots, with so much choice out there, just turning up at a show can be overwhelming.
  • Blogs or other online resources are ideal and magazines, especially in the early years when we knew less, such as Practical Motorhome Magazine.
  • If we were planning a self-build, we’d find a show is a good way to get ideas of layouts, fitments and technology.
  • Budget is key for us on deciding a base vehicle and the size, layout and actual habitation manufacturer.
  • We establish a short-list of vans suitable for us, thinking about where and who will be using it and what for, this was particularly important when we had our hire business. Also, UK only, hot or cold climates or both, shipping worldwide, short trips, full-time or somewhere in-between, these are all considerations.
  • Thinking about what suits us best, for example, is making a bed up every night what we really want or is a fixed bed better.  What about storage for skies, bikes, kayaks, golf bags etc..the list goes on!
  • There’s the functional elements, such as heating options, water tanks, battery sizes, insulation, weights and payloads.  If over 3.5 tonne, is the driver licence of the driver covered etc….homework is key!
  • Some smaller vans can be as functional as larger ones, it’s often getting the model, layout and storage options correct that make a difference.
  • Off-grid or campsites, self-sufficient or plugging in every couple of days, what most appeals, will determine the fitments needed to sustain the camper lifestyle that’s trying to be achieved.
  • Shows are a great way for us to see everything under the one roof, saving time and money travelling to individual dealerships.

At The Show

  • We pick up a show guide on arrival and head for the area that best suits us.  These shows can be huge and it’s easy to end up in the wrong hall.
  • We like to have more than one day at a show to absorb everything.
  • We Look at everything that’s on our shortlist, if we haven’t done a shortlist we start doing one and use the show as homework rather than commit to it as the place to buy, especially if we’re short on time.
  • We Look and look again, we don’t feel pressurised and certainly don’t feel as if we’re wasting the sales persons time.
  • We go away, take a coffee break, pause and re-think, reading again any checklist of requirements, checking we haven’t forgotten a vital point.
  • We ask lots of questions and if the sales team don’t know the answer or if we are in doubt of the reply, we ask again or ask them to find out for us.
  • We check lead times and add on from what we’ve been told as manufacturers can go over.
  • Browsing at our leisure, if we don’t want to be pestered we just blend in with the crowds until we’re ready to make contact.
  • Sales staff are there to sell, we’re a little cautious on them being experts on all the vans they are selling or the wider industry! They may also be from dealerships across the country and just on a particular stand for the show.
  • The actual manufacturer may have staff present, so may be from Europe, for example, if a non-UK manufacturer. This can be very useful as they tend to be very knowledgable about their own product.
  • Show offers are usually pretty good and are there to tempt people into buying during the show itself. They probably won’t be available once the dealers go back to their dealerships.  However, we don’t rush into a decision just because we’ll get a TV and an an awning thrown in! Instead we ask if they’ll keep an offer available for us post show and if so for how long.
  • We ask exactly what’s standard, the show model may be full of extra’s and £’s over the basic van.
  • We’re not afraid to haggle, at least we know we’ve tried even if it doesn’t work!
  • We carefully look at build quality both exterior and interior of fitments, furniture, everywhere!
  • When choosing colour schemes, think practically, is that light cream seating practical, is it a colour that we really like and can live with?
  • If we’re ready to do that deal, we just check on where the dealer is located, are we prepared to collect from anywhere in the country or do we have a maximum distance in mind.
  • Finally, if there isn’t the right van at the right price for us, we’re prepared to walk away, thinking of it as a homework exercise in preparation for next time or for when we’re ready.

Enjoy the Show!

 

Motorhome Show
Stuttgart Show

 

Top Tips Hiring a Camper In New Zealand

Campervan Hire New Zealand

We love New Zealand, so much so, we’ve embarked on 3 separate Campervan tours across the North and South Islands. In our opinion, combining your transport with your bed for the night, amongst the surreal scenery that Maori call Aotearoa or “The Land of the Long White Cloud”, is just the best experience and certainly the most incredible way to get the most from this extraordinary country.

New Zealand is around the same size as the UK but with a tiny population of just 4.6 million compared to our huge 66 million, so there’s lots of open space, few people and miles of road to yourself.  It’s no wonder that when you take to the road in New Zealand it seems that every other vehicle is a motorhome! So here’s our warts and all take, on what to expect when renting that ideal camper in New Zealand!

Britz Campervan Rental
A Britz Camper Enjoying New Zealand’s Stunning Beaches. Picture @bradwignall

How to Find a Campervan Hire Company in New Zealand

Firstly, hires are known as rentals and campers will be described as either a campervan, camper or motorhome.

Generally, size will be determined by Berth rather than a van type, usually ranging from 2-6 Berth.  That means they sleep 2-6 people but may not mean the same number of seatbelts! So do check the seatbelt to Berth ratio, you don’t want to be turning up with 5 people and only 2 seatbelts!

Remember that a 2 berth camper doesn’t necessarily mean it’s small and a 5 berth doesn’t always mean that it’s large…..confusing yes but don’t panic!!

Ok, so in simple terms, you can get a Toyota Hi-Ace (think small!) that has 5 seatbelts and sleeps 5 people. Similarly, you can rent a Mercedes Sprinter long wheelbase that sleeps 2 people with only 2 seatbelts but size wise, this is far bigger than the Hi-Ace!!

With the above in mind, if you’re unsure, check the vehicle dimensions and look at the layout plans and any YouTube video that the company or previous hirers may have produced.

A Google search, will produce a load of rental companies, many being agency or comparison sites, click on them and they’ll bring up a selection of rental companies throughout NZ.

We prefer to look directly at the rental companies own websites.  We feel it gives a better idea of what they can provide and if they would be the type of company we’d want to hire from, not forgetting that they may have a deal or better price booking direct.

There are several rental companies that dominate the market but many more smaller operators.

Here’s our list of the most familiar rental companies across NZ:

For those who don’t mind blowing the Budget – Small to Large Campers

Britz

Maui

Wilderness

Apollo

What they offer:

Campers to suit everyone from individuals and couples to families, specialising in newer models and lower mileage. They may even have a new fleet each season, check before you book on age and mileage.

If you want a big camper, these are the main companies to look at, the larger campers will come with hot water, heating and a shower room, as well as lots of other comforts, smaller campers will generally have cold water only and no shower room, so it will mean using the kitchen sink for washing and a stowaway Porta-loo for that emergency night-time dash!!

Of course, the downside is, that the more large and newer the camper, the more expensive it will be to rent, also, the rental company will possibly be more fussy when you return it and you’ll feel more obliged to totally look after it!

Price Savvy – Small Campers and People Carrier Campers

Travellers Autobarn

Jucy

Spaceships

Travellers Autobarn New Zealand Campervan Hire
Beachside Lunch New Zealand Style

What they offer:

Geared for couples, singletons or friends. They may be older vehicles or higher mileage, although you could be lucky and get a newer model, especially if they’ve just introduced a new layout to the fleet.

Fuss-free, functional and easy to manoeuvre due to the compact sizes. They’ll be generally equipped with cold water only, a porta-potty for night time and some vans will be crouch height only – If you want to stand up make sure you get a Hi-Top type!

Expect bright colours to attract that youthfulness in you! Check before booking on what age vehicle you’ll be allocated, or ask if it’s possible to book one of their latest vans.

We have used Travellers Autobarn for a 5 week tour of New Zealand in March and April 2018 and previously over 5 months on a road trip across Australia in 2017. We found them fab, vans that are easy to use, basic but strong and reliable and genuinely easy going to deal with as a company.

They were also very reasonable to rent for our periods of rental and really helpful and approachable throughout. We even had our adult Son’s accompany us at various times. The Toyota Hi-Ace Kuga model that we rented has 3 seats in the cab and a spare sleeping area in the Hi-Top section, just perfect!

 

Travellers Autobarn Camper Rental New Zealand
Our beauty spot parking at Lake Tarawera

 

The Budget Brigade

Wicked

Happy Campers

Mighty

What they offer:

Exactly what it says on the tin!! Attracting the young rental market and backpackers, these small campers, cars and people carriers are definitely easy to spot. Some covered in graffiti artwork, you’ll get noticed and it covers a multitude of sins under all that paint!!

Super basic, our Son hired one from Wicked, he was horrified at first sight at what he was going to be living in for his 10-day trip but completely loved it!!

If budget brigade is all you can afford, batten down the hatches and get used to it, you’ll soon adjust and have a sense of sheer accomplishment at the end!!

How Clean & Tidy Should We Expect A Camper?

Now we’re super fussy!  When we’ve hired a camper we’ve cleaned it before emptying our bags and filling the cupboards with the food shop! Maybe that’s just us being too OTT but you may want to do the same, we like to buy anti-bacterial wipes at the supermarket and give the van a good wipe over. Although standards are very good, they may not be up to your expectations so be flexible and expect a little spring clean!  Oh do check under the seats before you drive off, we had the last occupiers bedding scrunched up there and we know that’s not unique to our rental company!!

Do You Need to Book?

Don’t underestimate the current popularity of camper rentals in NZ, book well ahead to get the right van for you at the right price, unless you’re flexible, it’s unlikely you’ll get a last minute availability for the exact dates and van type you need.

Peak season is December to March, if you’re touring during this period we’d definitely recommend booking as soon as possible. Off-peak is much quieter but still popular, remember that unlike many destinations around the world, New Zealand is one of those countries where touring by Camper is so the done thing, they are everywhere and most people seem to want to rent one even if they’ve never emptied a porta-loo before in their lives!!

Is renting a camper a cheap way to travel?

Renting a Camper isn’t necessarily cheap. Unless you’re really friendly with someone that’s going to be touring with you and you don’t mind sharing a very small space together, e.g 2 or 3 couples sharing a 6 berth and the cost between you.

The good news though, it’s both your transport and accommodation rolled into one, it’s also you’re cafe and restaurant! Soooo handy, to pull over next to some magnificent beach, pop the kettle on or fire up the barbecue and enjoy the moment!

It’s also super convenient, all you’re clothes, outdoor gear, food and necessities tucked away for the duration of your stay going from place to place with you, no having to pack and unpack those suitcases each night.

 

Freedom Camping New Zealand
3rd From Left our Freedom Parking Spot for Campers at Rotorua

Where Do You Pick Up From/Drop Off?

Auckland for the North Island and Christchurch for the South Island are the two main pick up/drop off locations for rental companies. There aren’t many who provide other locations, Jucy do have a base in Wellington, the capital, which is situated at the South of the North Island and Queenstown, the adventure capital of the South Island.

You can pick up and drop off at different locations but this will generally cost you more, it’s handy though. For example, you could arrive in Auckland, collect a camper and travel the North Island before venturing on the ferry from Wellington, across the Cook Strait to Picton in the South Island. Where you could then drop off at Christchurch and catch a flight home from there, instead of having to make the journey back up to Auckland or vice-versa!

What about Extra Costs?

  • A Security bond On collection a credit card is needed which is swiped for a pre-authorisation of a set amount, usually around $3000 but this can vary. It’s for instances when the camper is brought back damaged or if it wasn’t returned at all! If the camper came back with damage, the insurance excess and/or damage repair amount would be taken off this to cover the rental company expenses.
  • Insurance Excess/Bond ReductionsMost rental companies will offer an option to reduce these amounts, for example, they may offer a fee of say, $20 per day to reduce the bond to possibly half or $30 per day to reduce it to zero. So, for example, if a bond was $3000, by paying an extra $20 per day, it may reduce to $1500. They’ll still want to swipe your credit card on collection too. Check what’s available with the rental company and what risks there are, so you don’t get caught out, oh and check the figures of course, remember these are just examples!!
  • Important – DO always read the individual rental company terms & conditions before booking and double check what you’d be liable for in the event of any damage or an accident. Usually, there are some areas of the camper that ARE NOT covered regardless, such as damage to an Over-cab/Roof or driving onto a beach and getting stuck in the sand……again read what’s excluded, there may be some weird and wonderful exclusions and it’s impossible to take a guess.
  • EquipmentMany rental companies charge extra for bits & pieces that you may think would be included as standard. Items such as: Outdoor table & chairs; Sat Nav; Portable Heater; BBQ; USB Cables…………all just some things that may be available to add on to the basic price. If you’re booking direct it’s always worth asking if they’ll throw bits in though for free!
  • Extra DriversUsually only 1 driver is included in the rental price, however, if you book direct and if it’s for a long rental period, it’s worth asking if they’ll throw an extra driver option in for free, after all if you don’t ask you won’t get! Otherwise, if you want more than one driver and if you have to pay, it will usually be an extra charge on a daily rate.
  • Unlimited KMIt’s usual for rentals to be unlimited KM but do check before you drive off into the sunset!
  • A Different Drop off to Pick Upexpect an extra charge for this, although it may be calculated in the initial quotation price.

 

Campervan Rental New Zealand
Enjoying the Freedom of the Open Road

Are There Hirer/Driver Age Restrictions?

Yes! If you’re under 25 years of age or over 70, then either you may not be able to hire at all, or there may be additional costs or restrictions to what camper type you can rent or both! It’s a case of checking with the rental companies. In some instances, with the budget rentals in particular, they may offer rentals to under 21’s.

What If You Have Convictions Or Points On Your Licence?

Be honest about what you have, ask what the implications are, if any and don’t try to hide it! Each rental company will tell you what they allow so be open and ask.

Does New Zealand Allow Wild Camping?

Sort of! New Zealand is a great wild and open country to explore, it’s all about nature, scenery and the phenomenal natural beauty that just seems to be around every corner. To immerse yourself within the glorious surroundings, the authorities do offer a form of wild camping, similar to a French Aire system.

This is known as Freedom Camping and to park up overnight at a designated area, the camper must be certified as “Self-Contained”, they’ll be a sticker on the back window to confirm this. It ensures that there is an onboard waste tank, fresh water tank and a toilet, so that the occupants are not using the outdoors as a loo and are taking their waste away with them etc.

All Freedom Camping areas will be marked with a sign and will display any restrictions or notices about the parking. Parking is usually permitted for up to a set period, e.g 24/48 hours, the sign will tell you exactly how long.

Parking is often free to use but also can be charged, especially in a city or popular tourist location.

Actual Wild Camping is tolerated in some areas but be sure to clear up after you – Leave NO trace and don’t overstay your welcome, in other words, arrive late, leave early and don’t be in one place for more than 24 hours!!

Freedom Camping New Zealand
A Freedom Camping Area In the Wellington Area Where We Stayed

Where Do You Empty The Waste/Toilet?

New Zealand is great, similar to many parts of Europe, it offers emptying facilities outside of campgrounds.

Look for the signs in or around main towns to identify a camper service area, here you can empty the waste and toilet and fill up the fresh water. Most facilities don’t have a drive over drain like Europe, instead, they use a long waste pipe which will be rolled up in the camper, this you attach to the waste outlet on the van and put into the dedicated waste drain provided at the camper service area.

Of course, if you are staying on a campground then they will have a similar area to do the chores!

What Campgrounds are on offer?

New Zealand has a wide variety of campgrounds on offer, they can be very basic with just nature to admire or full of facilities from jumping pillows to thermal pools.

Most larger sites have a camp kitchen, these are a great area to cook up the evening meal, relax and get chatting to fellow cooks and travellers.

Many campgrounds are dated compared to Europe but it’s NZ and that’s all part of the enjoyment. If you want the best on offer, in terms of modern amenities, the Top 10 Holiday Parks are a group of campsites with more facilities and often completely refurbished toilet blocks, camp kitchen areas etc. If you’re touring around, using a few sites, it’s more economical to buy the membership card for around $50 which then gives a 10% discount off site fees and it’s also valid for 2 years, just incase you make a second trip!

If back to nature is more your thing, you can’t go wrong with the fabulous environments offered by the Department of Conservation Campsites providing a selection of beautiful locations across New Zealand.

There’s a wealth of choice from small private campgrounds to larger chains, not forgetting Kiwi Holiday Parks who also have a network of sites across the country and similarly to the Top 10 Parks, they offer a discount card purchase.

The main thing is, if you’re touring during peak season and don’t want a disappointment of ‘No Vacancy’ then book ahead.

A pitch in New Zealand is called a “Site”, with a choice of “Powered Site”, that’s a pitch with electric to us Brits or Non Powered, that’s no electric!!

Most will have BBQ areas and a laundry, sometimes you’ll need a $1 coin for a shower (gives around 3minutes).

Campsites New Zealand
Our Campsite pitch next to the waters at Lake Taupo

Are Campgrounds Reasonably Priced?

Staying at a campsite during Peak Season can get expensive. On our visit in March/April 2017, we paid between $35 and $65 per night for 2 people and this was off peak during some of this trip. The average price that we paid was $46 per night.

We try to do a mix of freedom camping and sites, then budget further when on a site by alternating between a powered and non-powered site. In a rental camper, the chances are you’ll have to hook up to a powered site every couple of days to keep the charge on the leisure battery.

Campsite pricing includes 2 people and the site for the camper. Electric will be extra and a shower may be extra again in the form of a coin operated timer outside the shower door….yes, you need to plan this part carefully, to avoid trying to conceal your modesty whilst wedged between the shower door and the coin machine!! Although it may only be $1 per shower, if there are a few of you in your family these soon add up over the length of the trip!

Which Side Of The Road do You Drive on In New Zealand?

Here’s the good bit, it’s the same as here in the UK, one of the few countries to drive on the left, so no need to adjust to driving on a different side of the road for us Brits.

Travellers Autobarn Campervans
Driving through Beautiful Scenery in Our Travellers Autobarn Camper Rental

What are The Roads Like?

Quiet, country roads cover large areas of the country. It’s busy around the cities but otherwise, driving is easy and stress-free. Distances are fairly long because of the lack of motorways or dual carriageways, so it can take some time to do a relatively short journey compared to driving in the UK or Europe.

There shouldn’t be much in the way of traffic jams though, in many areas it will be just you and the wildlife for company!

New Zealand Touring Map

What about Fuel Prices?

Reasonable but it is increasing, unleaded is between around $2.15 and  $2.48 per litre depending on where you fill up.

Does New Zealand Have Toll Roads?

Yes, there are 3 and all in the North Island.  Tolls cost between $1.50 and $2.50, pay by phone or online, we always do this as soon as we stop incase we forget!  You don’t want the rental company to receive a fine, they’ll bill you and add on an admin fee!

  • The Northern Gateway
  • The Tauranga Eastern Link
  • The Takitmu Drive

How To Find Campgrounds or Freedom Camping Spots

The rental company will usually provide you with an App.  The Travellers Autobarn App that we used is superb. You can download it on their Wi-Fi on pick up and it then provides you with everything you could possibly need to know!  Search for campgrounds, freedom camping spots, toilets and laundry to name a few, there’s pricing, reviews and daily offers from campgrounds, super easy and super efficient!  Just make sure you’re phone sim allows roaming in NZ, speaking of which this leads to our next point!

 

Campervan hire New Zealand Travellers Autobarn
Like Father Like Son!! Enjoying a D.O.C Campground in the rental camper

Mobile Phone Sim – UK  or NZ?

We can use our usual UK mobile data abroad in many countries, which includes New Zealand at no extra cost.  This is vital if you want to be online on tour without the need for Wi-Fi.  We use ‘Three” and find their network really excellent when we travel, we have one mobile on a £12 per month, 4GB allowance and the other on a £14 per month 12GB data plan.  We also take an iPad and buy a Sim only from “Three” to take with us, they have various size GB available in store which last different time lengths, we currently have a 24GB which lasts 2 years from the date you start using it (unless you use the data sooner!).

Of Course, you can buy a Sim in NZ.

Double check on phone calls & texts too, there may be limits on what you can use abroad.

Do remember to check on other countries you land at en-route to NZ, for example, we can’t use ours in Dubai, so if you’ve checked for NZ and it’s fine to use, it doesn’t always follow for where you may stop before and after you get there!  It can cost a fortune so don’t make the mistake.

Where Do we Put the Suitcases?

We use fold away adventure type travel gear instead of traditional bulky suitcases…..yes you have to think of everything and a hold-all type bag is great. We have ones with the added convenience of integrated wheels, so we can pull them along for the airport and then fold them away for storage inside their own carry bag when not in use…….here’s the link to the super easy Eagle Creek Wheeled Carrier .

If you opt for a bag instead of a suitcase, these fit easily under a seat in the camper. We have seen suitcases on the pitch outside a rental camper at night time, not ideal, but if you have to take a big suitcase just think about where it’s going to be stored!

Is It A Camper-Friendly Country?

New Zealand is super camper-friendly, far more so than the UK and equal to the big camper loving nations in Europe such as France, Italy, Germany etc.

It’s an outdoor lovers paradise and New Zealander’s welcome the camper world with open arms, appreciating also, that camper is a very big part of the economy and the tourist industry.

It also seems that the camper is a big part of New Zealand life for those that live there, after all, what better way is there to get into the heart of this wonderful down to earth country than behind the wheel of their very own holiday home on wheels.

New Zealand Freedom Camping
This is Our Campervan on the Right, Freedom Parking Again!

Do You Feel Safe In New Zealand?

New Zealand is a very safe country with little in the way of violent crime.  We have always felt extremely safe there, but like anywhere we visit we always recommend taking correct, sensible precautions and don’t let you’re guard down just because you’re travelling.

It’s always advisable to keep any valuables out of sight, don’t leave anything on display to attract attention and always lock the camper doors & windows.  As with anywhere, when you park up, look around you, if you don’t feel right about where you are, move on!

How Would We Sum Up New Zealand By Camper?

It’s easy, fun to do amongst the most fabulous scenery with easy-going locals and you’ll sure to feel part of one big camper-touring community! Camper’s are everywhere, Freedom camping spots can be full to the brim by the end of each day, campsites are a hive of activity for those wanting a proper place to pitch up, relax, enjoy the space and facilities of the amenities and get chatting to those fellow travellers.

If you’ve never set foot in a camper before, you’ll wonder why on earth you’ve waited this long, New Zealand is just the most relaxed place to try it out and you’ll certainly have that seed planted to want to do it all over again!!

 

Here’s A Tour of Our Travellers Autobarn Rental Van!!

Our 12-Step Guide To Buying A Vehicle in Australia

So you want to embark on that epic road trip across the vast continent that we all know and love as Australia? In 2017 we did just that, setting out from Sydney on a 6 month, 23,000km overland adventure that we can only describe as sensational and more importantly life-changing in so many ways.

To get the wheels in motion, there was just one obstacle, we needed, a vehicle! Although we could have shipped our own perfectly adequate 4×4 off road Sprinter from the UK to Sydney, we chose not to (big mistake, that’s for a separate blog post!).

Instead, we chose to buy a van on arrival, do a quick conversion to a camper and drive off into the sunset…..sounds easy enough? It didn’t quite end up as we’d intended, if you have a read of our Buying a Van in Australia blog piece you’ll get the bigger picture!

For those determined to buy that perfect set of wheels here’s our all important 12-Step Quick Guide to Buying a Vehicle in Australia!

1. Most ads for all vehicle types are found on the website Gumtree, check out Facebook backpacker or buy and sell groups too.

2. Expect lots of walking, public transport & time wasted viewing and searching for the right vehicle for you. If you’re in Sydney like we were, it’s big and the old way of going to one place to view (think Sydney Backpacker Car Market) seems to be dwindling in favour of the many forms of Social Media.

3. Ensure the vehicle has a REGO, this is the registration document and each state is different, it’s best to buy a vehicle registered in the state where you are, otherwise it can be costly to get it transferred, e.g Sydney is NSW (New South Wales), Cairns is Queensland (QLD).

4. The vehicle needs to be free from previous owner liabilities, e.g Fines, HP etc, if buying from a dealer they should have already checked this before selling.

5. The date the next service is due should be shown on the right hand corner of the windscreen, check this to make sure it’s recent.

6. When you make the purchase, you need to take the transfer form and receipt to an RMS office to get the vehicle registered in your name, you can find the nearest office online, there are lots, so it shouldn’t be a problem to find one close to you, (they have a big red sign).

7. Ensure you take with you 2 forms of Identification, showing your full name, e.g Passport and Bank card (as long as the latter shows your full name and not initials). A UK driving license was not acceptable when we registered our van.

8. You need to have an Australian address (we used our hotel accommodation), also an Australian phone number, we got a pay as you go sim from Telstra (take a passport to get this by the way!). There must also be an address where any fines etc can be sent, this bit can be a P.O. Box, we got a P.O. Box address for $35, through an advert on the Backpacker Cars Australia FB Group

9. If you buy from a dealer, register any warranty online, our van came with a 12 month independent warranty from the dealer, as it had over 150,000 KM it came without a dealer warranty, ensure it’s serviced every 100,000km to keep it valid & get the dealer book stamped. Don’t expect this to be foolproof, a warranty may not cover items, we had work carried out and the warranty was useless for this, be realistic and expect to have to pay for any work after buying that may need doing.

10. There’s usually a basic 3rd party insurance with the REGO but don’t rely on this, instead take out a proper 3rd Party, Fire & Theft insurance policy. We used Coles (supermarket) to buy an online policy, costing $358 which included breakdown cover. We couldn’t take out fully comprehensive insurance as we aren’t Australian Citizens.

11. Toll Roads are in some cities, especially Sydney, so before you head off on the road, register online with Transurban Link, you’ll need an address, mailing address ( we used our P.O. Box) and a credit card to submit for automatic vehicle recognition payments of tolls. It’s $1.50 to set up the tag-less option, this covers you throughout Australia and you can input a start and end date so that it automatically stops when you leave the country or sell the vehicle.

12. Unlike the UK, when you take your paperwork to the RMS office, they register the vehicle instantly for you and provide you with your new registration document for you to take with you on your journey!

Australia Camper Conversions

HAPPY TRAVELS!!

Finding and Buying a Van in Australia

Travellers Autobarn Kuga Rental

Our Rollercoaster ride into the really difficult task of finding that perfect van to buy down under!

On 31st May 2017 we fastened our seatbelts ready for take off on Qantas flight QF1 from London Heathrow to Sydney as one of the lucky winners of Heathrow’s 70th Birthday short story competition.

The prize included a fabulous 5 night stay at the ParkRoyal Hotel, Darling Harbour, after which time we were on our own and ready to set out on an incredible road trip across Australia, having extended our return flights by 6 months thanks to being able to amend our prize winning return date back to the UK.

Thinking it more economical to buy an old van and do a quick conversion into a basic camper before driving off into the sunset, we got to work on sourcing that perfect vehicle.

Sourcing a Van!

This is where the hard work really began, with no wheels to do the ground work, we relied on initially walking or public transport, both proved time consuming in a large city where the vans we’d found for sale online, though Facebook groups and private ads had us venturing across various districts of Sydney.

We’d been told about a one-stop used car market for the Backpacker folk located in a multi-storey undercover car park in the Kings Cross area of Sydney and aptly known as Sydney Travellers Car Market.  On arrival, the place seemed deserted, an empty car park but with a small office area dutifully manned by a German traveller named Eric who informed us of a shortage of stock but happily offered to drive us towards Botany Bay where a campervan sales business was located which could be of assistance.

Jumping into his workhorse of a car, he explained en-route how the social media groups now selling various private vans, cars and campervans, had begun to take its toll on the previously thriving Car Market, where backpacker vehicles were known to change hands in quick succession in this undercover section of the multi-storey car park.  Happily chatting to Eric along the way, we learned he was soon venturing off on his own road trip through Australia in his own backpacker van, which is the norm for so many in this busy backpacker community.

Pulling in to a busy industrial estate at Botany Bay on the airport side of Sydney, we passed the big boy sites of Maui and Britz, full to overflowing with rental campers of all shapes and sizes.  We then arrived at the campervan rental and sales depot of Travellers Autobarn and what we’d soon come to know as the best find for us in the sequence of events to follow.

Travellers Autobarn
A typical Travellers Autobarn Campervan

With a small selection of old ex-hire campervans on offer, some displaying bold artistically enhanced graffiti graphics, the sight of which was enough to send our older blood pressure rocketing!  We instead, chose to make our excuses and obliging Eric drove us back to the Car Market where we said our farewells and wished him well on his ventures.

A few private ads took our fancy and hastily arranged viewings across town followed.  We met Mike from Boston who was at the end of his road trip across Aus, unfortunately for him, the tired looking Toyota van crammed with not so fresh smelling bedding was not for us.  Quickly dashing back across the other end of the city by train, we met with a young Slovakian couple.  By now the heavens had opened, unleashing a torrent of  torrential rain upon us, we took shelter in the back of their cramped Toyota self-build van, whist the desperate Europeans tried their best to sell the good points to us, mainly the metal fruit bowl used for washing in the morning…..yes that’s washing in not washing up in!!!

We learnt that so many youngsters do this type of trip, buy a van, a camper or basic self-build but then fail to sell in time for their flights home, leaving them no option but to move it on at rock bottom to a dealer.  Winter in Sydney has fewer vans on offer and far fewer buyers, meaning even more anxious sellers trying to get rid for the best price they could.  We were told that the Summer months are a different story, with role reversals in the fortunes of sellers compared to buyers who find little available in a market where even the worst choices are snapped up!

Changing tactic and having given more unwelcome news to the now soaking wet sellers, we decided to source camper dealers rather than any more private ads.  Next on our list was Sean at Travellers Wheels who agreed to pick us up from Central Station to view his selection of used ex-rental Toyota campervans and cars.  We had high hopes here, with online pictures looking perfectly presentable and some heavier price tags of up to $20,000, we thought we’d be falling head over heels for a shiny ex-hire model!

To be fair, the industrial unit was full of campervans but the wheels of Travellers Wheels didn’t appeal to us, as much as we willed them on to be great, we just became more frustrated at the lack of perfection available, were we just being too fussy?

Fed up with strange mould smells, worn out fitments and more stains and sticky patches than a Wetherspoons table top, we’d had enough after a week of searching and made the decision to go for the one thing left and that was to trawl the garage forecourts for an empty van.

With legs giving up the will to walk, we invested in a taxi to drive us over to Parramatta Road, a busy stretch of Sydney suburbia which is home to miles of car dealerships, rental outlets and home stores.  Endless searching proved unsuccessful, vans were not cheap, certainly not particularly clean looking and most had really high mileage.

Buying Was A Costly Mistake

Just as we were about to give up hope of ever finding a van to suit,  we stumbled upon what we thought was a perfect find for us, a 2002 Toyota Hi-Ace van, super clean and tidy despite a mileage of 360,00KM. With a price tag of $6600 and dealer warranty we’d soon have it converted to a cosy camper!

Shaking hands on a deal after a quick test drive, we paid our deposit and agreed to collect it the next morning.  Before long we were heading back to the city centre to buy an Australian Sim card from the Telstra store followed by the online purchase of 3rd Party Fire & Theft insurance from Coles supermarket.

Happily driving off the next morning with the balance paid, forms filled out and handover done, we took the keys for our soon to be converted Toyota van. A quick diversion with all our dealer paperwork took us to actually register the van at the local RMS office where the very helpful staff guided us through the process.  Using our accommodation address and a PO Box address that we’d already had set up, plus a registration fee of $30 per $1000 on the purchase price of the vehicle and needing 2 forms of I.D showing the full name of the new owner, we were ready to go.  A UK driving licence wasn’t permitted as I.D which meant a panic moment of having to log on to an online banking account, print off the details and use this as recognition of hubby’s full name!

The whole process was pretty straightforward and unlike the DVLA, the New South Wales Registration document from the RMS office was instantly printed out and the actual new vehicle registration document given to us.  The PO Box was needed in the event of any fines that could incur from driving, so as notices could be sent out.

Without further ado it was off to Bunnings DIY store for supplies to start the build of the van into a basic camper.  Investing in tools to do the job, a saw, screw drivers, hammer and all those basics that we’d usually have in our tool box back home.  Without the luxury of a workshop, the hotel car park would have to double up as our work area!  As I relaxed in the hotel pool, hubby got to work on the conversion, lining the walls with foil insulation, applying MDF boarding to the floors and using IKEA tables to form the bed base, a rattan screen finished off the rustic look to the walls and floor whilst a hand IKEA roll mattress sprung cosily across the newly formed bed base.

IKEA provided brilliant finishing touches at reasonable prices, a bed throw threaded though curtain wire for curtains, bright fabric storage pouches, loose colourful rugs for the floor and storage containers for clothes under the bed.  A portable camping stove, water containers and gas bottle, all bought from a camping store became neatly stored in the newly formed rear kitchen section, accessible from the rear tailgate door.  Before we knew it after a few days hard work, the van was transformed.

Except, we had one small problem!   We’d overlooked the fact that most ageing vehicles in Aus come with emissions to match!! Despite its 2002 year of manufacture, the smells coming from the otherwise perfect van, reminded us of the days spent travelling in the back of my parents old Morris Minors from the early 70’s! The van had little in the way of a catalytic convertor status to make the sweet smell of roses rather than the sickly aroma of a bygone era.

None the less we persevered, getting an extra service carried out ready for the off and investing in new tyres amongst other things amounting to a further $1500!! All to help ensure that our travels would run smoothly as we drove off into the sunset.  But as much as we tried, we couldn’t adapt to the van, I’d been sceptical about not being able to stand up (yes, we are of an ageing time in our lives!!) and the idea of cooking outside for 6 months was also slightly disconcerting in the early dark cool nights of Winter.

There’s only one thing to do when you make a mistake…..fix it and move on!!

The more we thought about it and tried to get along, the more we drifted apart, that’s the van and us I’m talking about and not literally the two of us! After all our efforts, we took the big decision to carry on with our trip without our purchase, instead choosing to source a rental camper for our big adventure across this vast continent.

We visited the main rental dealers, of Apollo, Britz and Maui but with only a few vans available and horrendously expensive prices for the length of time we needed, all were very quickly dismissed.  Remembering our visit with Eric to Travellers Autobarn, we returned to their depot to enquire pleadingly on what could possibly be available for us to rent for such a long period of time at any reasonable price.

Luck was on our side, thankfully parked up in their storage yard was the van that was to become our home and travelling buddy across the amazing landscapes of Aus for duration of our trip.  There was just a choice of 2 available, we climbed inside the nearest one and we were overjoyed, clean, tidy, smell free, bright and cheerful and just enough room to house the two of us, the Kuga 2-3 Berth Toyota Hi-Top Hi-Ace camper would do us just fine.

The Quotation was printed off, with a low season discounted last minute and long term rental rate of $53 per day inclusive of added protection bond, we could pick up the next day and we’d be ready to go, except for just one problem, our own van! Although we couldn’t park it in the yard at Travellers Autobarn, we could park it on the road outside, it was insured and with the New South Wales Rego, it would be fine to leave parked up until our return.

Finally, we were ready to begin our trip both happy and relieved and ready for action! We took possession of our Travellers Autobarn rental camper on the 16th June 2017, it was the best outcome in what had been a pretty stressful couple of weeks and from that moment on we never looked back.

We went on to cover an incredible 23,208KM, covering vast expanses of Australia, experiences which at times overwhelmed us, seeing, feeling and being part of the most incredible journey, both physically and mentally.  We learnt so much from the rawness of it all, the delights of meeting the most interesting individuals, seeing first hand the glories of nature and witnessing the most amazing wildlife imaginable.  Australia superseded all our previous expectations and instilled in us a desire and ambition for more adventure based travel across the globe to new shores that we’ve yet to explore.

Our own van was left safely parked up on the road outside their depot where it stayed until our return in the November, just needing a quick wash at the local car wash before selling it on within a couple of days of our return during the then busy Summer season, realising that we were, at our age, too fussy and were probably used to the rather finer things in life to adjust to the little basic van that we thought would work.

Travellers Autobarn Australia
23,208 KM later Returning our Campervan Rental back to Sydney

So all’s well that ends well, as I write today, we wouldn’t change a thing, life is after all about learning and progress, adapting and adjusting and challenging ourselves in various circumstances to better ourselves and provide inner encouragement in order to enhance our experiences of life and of those that we meet along the way.  It’s only afterwards that we look back and realise those little hiccups were there to test our resilience and make us grow stronger, happier and more ambitious for the next new challenge ahead!

Travellers Autobarn Australia Roadtrip
On the road in our Campervan across Australia

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