Women v Men and The Chores of Vanlife

Sprinter Campervan
Sharing the driving in our Sprinter Campervan

When it comes to us women and the way in which we participate in the glorious world of vanlife chores, there seems to be a bit of a gender chore gap between us and our male partners!

Ok, so the lid on the can of worms has just been lifted!! But, before we all get a little flustered at the thought of this, not so quite equality based observation, spiraling off into the stratosphere. In words more at home to an episode of “Through the Keyhole”……let’s just look at the evidence!

So, what exactly are we looking at here? It’s not just those dirty jobs, yes you know which ones those are! From those toilet emptying duties, to the awful task in some vans, of practically crawling underneath to open the waste outlet, whilst quickly darting out of the way to avoid getting a soaking in dirty washing water! Have these Motorhome manufacturers ever had to empty their own waste tanks?!

Leaving waste products aside, it’s also the more leisurely side of vanlife, typically, the driving and those other little incidentals that all need attending to. Such as getting out the awning for some desperate shade or putting it away, for that matter, leveling up on those rather clumsy looking ramps, or in our case the more economical but equally effective product….wood!!

Not to mention, if your Motorhome or van has a garage……well, how often do you see a woman messing around with all the bits and bobs in there?! I take one look in our garage and immediately turn the other way for a sharp exit!

While I’m at it, what about changing those gas bottles? Blimey, now we are getting a bit close to home, surely?!

There just seems to be certain jobs on the road that the men in our lives automatically take charge over. Quite frankly, I’m definitely happy for Nige to carry on and do the dirty work for me. But am I the exception to the rule, or are other women out there taking charge in this equally liberal world? Are any female Motorhome and vanlife hobbyists taking over and doing the typical, male only jobs of the past, now themselves?

Now, you may think I’m being harsh here on us women and the female exploits, when it comes to mucking-in on the mucky stuff. But, the facts are there for all to see, we’ve covered a staggering distance of around 150,000 miles on our travels in a Motorhome or Campervan over many years. We’ve used countless Aires, Stellplatz’s, Sosta’s and campsites and travelled too many routes to mention in one blog piece.

In all those years, the amount of times we’ve seen women driving the Motorhome or emptying the cassette toilet, whilst their male partner occupies the passenger seat, is really rare!

I say hat’s off to those women who go it alone, we’ve seen a few of those and they are fab, but in a male/female couple relationship, it does usually see the male at the helm for those big Motorhome chores, including the more leisurely scene and what vanlife and campervan’s are all about and that’s the actual driving!

I love driving, don’t you? Isn’t this why’s we do this in the first place? I’m really hoping the answer is yes here, or else I’m not quite sure why you’re reading this blog! Here’s the crunch, the reason I don’t drive as much as Nige, yes it’s that I’m quite happy to leave it to him, especially in years gone by when we had some pretty big Motorhome’s, I remember, not being able to get the handbrake off on one van with my tiny hands!

For us though, in the days before google maps and using our phones as navigation devices (yes all that’s fairly recent, since the onset of no roaming charges on our mobile contracts), I was always better in the role of navigator than Nige, (don’t tell him that!!), I would sort out directions, paper maps, sat nav co-ordinates and route-finding, giving instructions as we went.

The difference is that Nige loves driving, whilst I like driving! Having said that, in certain places and now that navigation is such a breeze through technology, I certainly love to take to the wheel.

Confession time though!! One thing I’ve never done and have no intention of doing at any time soon, unless I have to, is emptying the cassette toilet!!! While Nige is still keen to carry on the role of loo content disposer, he’s welcome to it! But in reverse role, it’s me who cleans the loo inside the van, so we both have our fair share of crap jobs to do (pardon the pun!).

Aire dump
Nigel doing the dirty work at the toilet dump!

On the plus side, I most definitely do help with any uneven ground, I’ll happily position the pieces of sawn off wood under our chunky Sprinter tyres!

We do also share the water filling up chores, although it does tend to turn into a joint exercise at some point! One stands near the tap to do a quick turn off, whilst the other makes sure the end of our hose, keeps from falling to the ground.

Then there’s the waste emptying, our Carthago had the luxury of internal valves to release the contents from the tanks, this was just great for both of us. We do still muck in on our Sprinter waste, with the valve under the van, it’s a sort of whoever gets to it first type of approach!

Gas bottles have always been a job for Nige, although nowadays, we rarely use gas with our diesel system, in times past, we’ve had some pretty big bottles, too heavy for me to shift and so it was over to Nige and his bigger muscles! When it comes to the awning, hubby is taller, so he does the harder to reach bits, whilst the rest we share together, to avoid the whole thing flopping onto the side of the van.

One big male dominance does seem to be the satellite dish! A man does love fiddling with his signal, it’s one of the first things to make an appearance and it never seems to be the women who make the first move to get that TV picture perfect!

We don’t have a TV, so it’s not something that’s on our list of chores, but it’s quite comical watching those that have and how it takes up so much of their time, almost enjoyable, a bit like a new toy!

When it comes to inside the van, call us stereotypical, but I love to make it homely, the bedding, cushions, most of the supplies are all down to me, this is my domain on behalf of both of us and it has to be just so!

I guess, so long as we’re happy in our Motorhome and vanlife roles, then it doesn’t really matter who does what, it’s all about the sharing, enjoying and getting the jobs done.

That leaves us all with the best possible outcome…..the purpose of life on the road, exploring and learning as we go and having more time to see the most amazing new places and experience the surroundings of the next destination.

Here’s to men and women vanlifer’s everywhere, cheers to chores, whatever they may be!!

Vanlife
Sharing the driving seat in our New Zealand self-build

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Catch of The Day NZ Style!

Fishing trip New Zealand
New Zealand road trip
Leaving the harbour at Tairua on board Charleen!

There is no mistaking the fact, that very often on our travels, the best possible experiences and memories, come from those unplanned, most unexpected and unlikely of situations.

But above all, it’s the people we meet, that can be the most inspiring, generous and overwhelmingly humble to us strangers. Coming from all walks of life, rich, poor and anything in between, they share their incredible stories.

Often it’s a lifetime of tales, those happy to talk about experiences, that leave us even more immensely grateful, to be in their company and hear about their remarkable lives.

It remind’s us, that despite all the bad in the world, there is so much more to the human spirit. People can have the most incredible lives, but this, is not necessarily related to grandeur or wealth. It’s actually a more deep-rooted richness, coming from within, from their hard work, strong ambition and dedication to family and friends and their surroundings.

There is no mistaking, that those people who live in the most incredibly beautiful places, where life is so much more about living and where the skies are blue rather than grey, do seem to have the brightest of attitudes and seem most blessed with gratitude for the land they call home.

We were just lucky enough to come across two of the most kind-hearted people on our road trip through New Zealand. It was a chance meeting, an out of the blue moment that resulted in one of the most memorable day’s of our travelling lives!

It all started in the most normal kind of way, as these things do! Having spent the night on a Freedom Camp area in Tairua, on the North Island’s Coromandel Peninsula and we’d woken early to a chill in the air. As the sun rose, the surrounding bush shaded our campervan from the heat of the Summer sun.

Not one’s to sit and wait for warmth through the windows, we started the engine and drove just a short distance, following the beautiful estuary route to a sunny spot alongside a harbour.

As we parked up beside a picnic bench, overlooking the water, Nigel began the process of preparing the breakfast, whilst I admired the views from the bench (crafty I know!).

Suddenly, an old 4×4 drove up, parked next to us and out popped a petit looking guy, with weathered appearance. His terrific white long beard caught my eye, followed by his country looking wide brimmed hat, chequered shirt and jeans, all that was missing was a pair of cowboy boots and we’d have mistaken him for a Texan!

We made our friendly exchanges of “Good morning” before he approached me, to enquire in a rather disapproving tone, as to whether we’d wild camped there for the night!

I explained that, we’d just arrived in search of the warmth from the sun, leaving the shade of the Freedom Camp up the road. He gladly told us, he was pleased to hear that, as he and the locals don’t like the campervan’s parking up where they shouldn’t!

Feeling relieved that we hadn’t upset him and the locals, we got chatting, mainly about the Stingray in the harbour. Before we knew it, he invited us to join him on his mates boat for a few hours of fishing! Just as the invitation was gratefully excepted, along came his mate, in his own ageing 4×4, parking up too alongside, ready for a day on the boat.

As we were left contemplating, what had we done? What on earth was the boat like? Who were these guys? All we could really think about was finishing our Weetabix and tea which was still on the side, hoping that a bit of food inside us would be better than an empty stomach out at sea!

With an exchange of pleasantries and names, we were then formally introduced to 80 year old Ray, and Dave the owner and skipper! We asked if we could possibly just eat our breakfast, to which they replied “sure, follow the path round the corner to Charlene when you’re ready”!

Charlene, was the name of Dave’s trusty fishing boat, obscured from our view by a deluxe apartment complex. As we quickly munched our way through the breakfast cereal, we could only imagine the type of boat we were about to board! Worst of all, what if there was no toilet…..yikes, perish that thought!!

As Ray and Dave disappeared around a sharp corner, along the harbour path, we were left contemplating the sight of the boat! Thinking back to my childhood years and my own experience on my Dad’s small fishing boat, brought a moment of dread……we’d spent all our time leaning over the side as the sea sickness got hold! Not only that, but it was always rough seas back in Welsh water, freezing cold off the shore and there was a never ending engine problem, which meant that we usually had to get a tow back in off a passing vessel!

Not to be easily deterred, we packed a small rucksack and got ready for the big reveal! Heading off down the path, as we neared the corner to where our view of Charlene first appeared, we needn’t have worried, we couldn’t believe our eyes! Wow!! Charlene was just incredible!! This was no toy dinghy or small hobby boat, this was the real deal, proudly taking centre stage moored up on the harbour, with Ray giving us a wave to greet us on board!

New Zealand Fishing Trip
Our fishing boat Charleen and new pal Ray

As we climbed on board, Ray gave us a quick tour of the boat as Dave welcomed us to join him from the driving seat on the top deck. I needn’t have worried about a toilet either! Complete with spotless shower room, kitchen, large lounge and bedroom areas, as well as upper and lower open deck areas, Charlene was incredible.

With the engines in action, the weather now scorching and sea flat calm, Dave guided Charlene out from the Tairua harbour towards the open sea. The water was crystal clear and no sooner had we set off, than the fish came into sight. Shoals of fish leaped from the surface in abundance, making patterns on the flat calm surface where they gathered.

The radar displayed large shoals on the sea bed too, the amount of fish out here in New Zealand is truly incredible. With a big women’s fishing competition coming up that weekend, Dave was testing the water’s for a good place for his wife to fish. She too loved fishing and regularly joined him on the boat with the family, a real big outdoor event out in NZ.

Fishing trip New Zealand
Nigel and our Skipper, Dave at the helm

Ray organised the rods, with a selection of over 60 on board, he wasn’t short of choice! Placing them in the rod holders built into the boat, he set about slicing up the bait, from some huge fish caught the day before, which were waiting in the icy freezer.

True Kiwi’s, both were so generous, down to earth and had plenty of tales to tell. Dave, a retired pig farmer had given up farming of his 40,000 pigs, sold the farm and house and now lived in a small batch near the sea. Content on looking after his family and sharing the good things in life with those around him, he took Ray out on the boat several times a week, a true friend and companion.

New Zealand road trip
Boarding the fishing boat at Tairua

Keeping an eye on the radar for fish deep below us, whilst watching out for dancing fish on the surface of the water, we soon found our spot to drop anchor!

As we lowered the fishing line from the reel of the rods, the first bites began in earnest! No sooner had we dropped a line, than we had a fish, we could actually see them with the naked eye deep in the water too, it was incredible!

Reeling in fish after fish, I needed all my strength with the weight of the catch on the end of the line. Determined to do it myself, my arms had their work cut out, using muscles that I didn’t know I had!

As the fish came into sight through the deep blue colour of the sea, I used all my will to bring it to the surface, these were no little tiddlers! As more fish took the bait on the other rods, our freshly caught fish appeared…..Snapper, Golden Snapper, Kahawai, were soon all on board!

Ray helped in measuring the catch, a chart on the side of the boat detailed the legal measurements for the fish and how many could be kept of each species. Anything under the size limit was put back in the water, whilst the larger fish were filleted ready to take back to the campervan for tea that night.

A break of coffee and sandwiches between fishing, had us catch up on talk of our lives, therapeutic in every way! After trying out a few more spots further out to sea, the talk got on to Sharks, that’s the real kind, not the rogue trader types! Yes, they are in the water’s off New Zealand and Ray mentioned of a dog being snatched by one as it splashed in the water, off the very beach where we’d walked the day before.

Both advised not to take a dip off the boat into the tempting water, especially as sharks are attracted to the very fish that we are trying to tempt! They’d also had sharks circling the boat and know only too well, the dangers that they pose out at sea like this.

With time now nearing 2 o’clock, the day had completely flown by and we were now all ready for dry land and time to reflect on the most wonderful, unplanned day, on the incredible New Zealand sea.

We felt blessed to have met old Ray on that sunny March morning, we hope we brightened up his day a little too. It’s so good to meet new people, wherever you are in the world and whatever age you or they happen to be.

Age has no barrier, neither does anything else, it’s just so good to be enriched with people’s genuine warmth and hospitality. It’s almost rare in many aspects of life to meet people with no agenda, most expect financial reward or something in return, so to meet people with no other motive than being themselves is rather unique.

The Ray and Dave’s of this world make it a better place for all of us, as we said our goodbye’s, we thanked them for the most memorable of days. Later that night, whilst cooking our fillets on the outdoor stove, we reflected on the day we’d had. New Zealand is a special place for many reasons, but the trust and generosity of its people just sums up the laid back attitude that oozes from this part of the world.

We can’t wait to return again soon…..look out Ray, Dave and Charlene, we may see you next time!

fishing new zealand
Nigel and Ray on board Charleen

Croatia Unspoilt Magic

Campsites Croatia

Very often, we catch a snippet of information on our travels, that we can’t ignore and which goes on to inspire our future trips. This is exactly what happened in the most unexpected conversation, outside the entrance to an Austrian campsite!

If you’ve travelled through Austria, you’ll know only too well, that campsites close for a good couple of hours through lunchtime. Being British, we always forget this, thinking that everyone is at our beckon call throughout the day!

Well, as is usually the case, when we first find something a little bit annoying, it soon turns around into an act of fate! With this Austrian campsite having just closed for the owners lengthy lunch, it gave us ample opportunity to get chatting to a fellow camper, a Swedish lady, who was also waiting in the queue and who was returning from her annual Summer trip to Croatia.

Her vivid description caught our imagination….. turquoise blue waters, unrivalled tranquility, unspoilt, low key coastal towns, fabulous campsite facilities and friendly locals. “You must go and see for yourselves” she proclaimed, so for us, this was it, our next country to visit in the motorhome.

One year on and we were on our way! Having travelled through Germany, Austria and Slovenia, the blistering July heat now beat down on the van, as we approached the coast, the fabulous waters of the Adriatic came into view.

We were two and a half hours from Bled, our previous nights stop and here we were in a very long queue at the Croatian border controls at Koper, a large industrial looking town bordering Slovenia and Italy.

Not wanting to miss out on this amazing coastline, we decided to gradually work our way along the coast and see how far, our remaining few weeks would take us.

Passports shown and back on the only motorway, we took the exit a few miles further on for Umag. A quick drive around the town and following the well signed campsite signs, we pulled in at Camping Finida, 4km from the town itself.

Croatia
Croatia’s beautiful Harbour towns

By this stage, we were desperate to get parked up and cool off in the sea. The heat was intense, so we were hoping, if they had a pitch free for us, that it would be a shady one! In luck we were, only one space left in the July peak season and thank goodness, it was large, shady and just a minute or so away from the cooling waters of the Adriatic.

There is supposedly no wild camping allowed in Croatia or any type of Aire system, so campsites are really the only option. We were told that this is due to the war years of the 1990’s, when Croatia was then part of the former Yugoslavia. The devastating conflicts during this period has left the possibility of landmines still being present in some areas, so we weren’t wanting to even contemplate the risk of trundling off the beaten track!!

Although, some campsites do offer motorhome parking outside their main campsite grounds, usually around the entrance, you do still have to register and pay with the campsite reception. The Camping Card International or similar aren’t accepted, all campsites take your passport and keep these for the duration of your stay. This is so the authorities have a record of you and where you have stayed the night!

As it happened, for us, it was just too hot to opt for a campsite car park! We needed the shade that campsites offered, with their rows of mature pines and immediate access to the water. As we were to discover, the campsites are vast, some covering miles of coast and feeling more like a village, they were so big, that we didn’t feel as if we were even on a campsite!

Not knowing what to expect from a typical campsite in Croatia, we were pleasantly surprised. Immaculate, modern facilities, large pitches, cleaning continuously in the toilet blocks throughout the day and extremely friendly, English speaking staff.

Too hot to do anything but slouch by the sea, the rocky beach beckoned for the rest of the afternoon. After several water cooling sessions and showers, we hopped on our bikes and cycled into Umag for an evening meal, arriving dripping wet from the uncooled evening air.

We had a choice of waterside restaurants in the busy but charming old town. Full of character, with old stone lined streets and squares, it was a great introduction to what was to come on our trip and well worth a stop. Cycling back in the dark, perhaps wasn’t such a good idea, with little in the way of dedicated cycle paths, it was a mix of busy and not so busy roads!

The following day, came the realisation that anything to be done here, whether it be driving or sightseeing would have to be done very early on in the day! The heat was intense, so with this in mind and with the windows down, we took the road to Porec further south along the coast.

Driving was easy, simply because you just couldn’t really get lost! One road along the coast or one road inland, the bits in between seemed impassible for us in the big A-Class or else, they just disappeared to dirt tracks.

Arriving at Porec, we approached Camping Zelana Laguna with a bit of pot luck attitude. Having not booked any sites in our usual, laid back manner, we weren’t really sure how easy it would be to get a pitch in the high summer season.

What we did discover, was a pattern to follow each site, although very busy, we had no issues getting a pitch. Each site instructed us to walk around, find a pitch and report back to reception with the chosen number. Easier said than done, yes, simple in many countries, but here the sites were covering vast distances, in searing heat, it was exhausting stuff, even for us fit folk!

We then encountered the problem because of the sheer size of the sites, by the time we got back to give a pitch number, someone else had already done the same, beaten us to it and we’d have to start over! After this, we lived and learned, the only way to do it, was for one of us to stand on the free pitch that we chose, whilst the other went back to reception with the details and to check in.

Positioned beside the glorious, crystal clear waters of the Adriatic, the campsite offered everything you could need. First for us was the supermarket, for the essential beach shoes, well with a mix of rocky and pebble shoreline the norm, sea shoes were the only way to protect those feet!

Open spaces and shady pine trees gave the campsite a laid back feel and with a choice of tourist train, bus or water taxi into Porec, it couldn’t have been better placed. Once the sun disappeared for the day, we opted for the water taxi and sped off with the wind in our hair, across the water.

An array of narrow stone laid streets, pretty restaurant filled squares, pavement cafes and a true Mediterranean feel, enhanced the ambiance of the Venetian styled architecture. The basilica here is listed as UNESCO, so plenty of culture surrounds you too.

For us, the whole point of a motorhome is to use it as intended, driving on every day or two with your home comforts attached and capture that next must see place. Further down the coast, we were doing just that, approaching Rovinj with some excitement, the last time either one of us had visited, was pre-war Yugoslavia, on an annual two week family package holiday.

Here, Camping Polari, attracted our attention, another huge site with beautiful beaches, a nudist camping section took a large proportion of the site! This is common practice in Croatia, they are usually marked FKK and you do need to make sure you’re choosing a pitch off these sections of the camp site map, if you want to keep your clothes on!

By now, we had come to learn that a surcharge was added for short stays, but the amount of time varied. With this in mind and the fact that we had our son with us, who was charged as a 3rd adult, we found the camp site fees fairly expensive, averaging between £40-£50 per night.

Eating out made up for things, sometimes costing just a few pounds each. Croatia doesn’t have the Euro, so currency in the Croatian Kuna made a novel change!

With sites being immaculate, really well maintained, modern and offering such fabulous private beaches and amenities, the higher peak season prices became worthwhile in many ways. A bus from the campsite took us to the centre of Rovinj for just £1.50, only 3km away, it would have been easy enough to walk if the temperatures were lower.

Clinging to the shade of the medieval narrow streets, it became apparent that Rovinj hadn’t changed a bit in the 30 years since the last visit! Perhaps this is the appeal of Croatia, due to the war years, over development just never occurred, so it remains beautifully preserved in its somewhat natural state.

Croatia
Idyllic Rovinj

There is no high rise, densely packed hotel resorts, accommodation is low key and in harmony with the surroundings. Rovinj itself is simply perfect, with a quaint harbour, crystal clear waters and the old town rising behind. A maze of narrow, cobbled and stone streets, surrounded by tall, tightly packed Venetian style townhouses and little tunnelled alleyways lead to the water, which laps up against the backdrop of these romantic looking walls.

Venice can be reached by one of the many boat excursions along the Istrian coast, but we chose to give this a miss and save it for a separate trip.

A walk up to the church along the winding streets, brought a welcome view point across the town and the blue bay, bringing many of the small islands into view. You could spend a lot of time around Rovinj, but after a couple of days, mostly spent having to cool off on the campsite beaches, we moved on to Banjole.

Located just outside of Pula, Camping Indije, provided our first vacant sea row pitch, setting up camp on a superb large, grassy plot, just a stone’s throw away from yet another private beach. Although facilities, here at the time of our visit were dated, we weren’t complaining! With the rocky beach front overlooking a superb bay of small islands, boats galore adorned the waters. With no bus on offer, reception staff ordered a taxi for us, to take us the 5 minutes into Pula itself, costing £12.50 each way, it brought us right into the heart of this Roman town.

Croatia
The fabulous Roman Amphitheatre at Pula

Pula seemed to be a town of two contrasts, the industrial outer coastal area, consisting of a large busy port. Whilst the beautifully presented Roman amphitheater, with remarkably intact outer walls, presides majestically on the edge of the hustle and bustle of the peak season tourists, negotiating the Roman sights of the popular town.

The Roman square, boasts The Temple of Augustus, so whilst we, took a rest in one of the outdoor restaurants, we allowed ourselves to go back thousands of years and imaging the Romans walking through the Gate of Hercules alongside the imposting town walls.

At the tip of the Istrain Coast, just south of Pula, lies Medulin. A popular tourist town, due to its proximity to glorious beaches and islets and accessible only by boat. If you don’t have your own, boats can be hired both at campsites and various towns along the coast. With its calm, clear, sheltered waters, it’s a boat lovers paradise throughout the whole region.

Camping Kazela, just 10 minutes out of Medulin, was somewhat quieter than other sites on the trip so far. Superb in every way, the now usual immaculate toilet facilities, large grassy sunbathing areas, shady pitches and several small plunge pools, alongside extensive beaches, provided us with an afternoon of relaxation. This was until the heavens opened and the most horrendous storm force winds, got us diving for the awning and everything else!

Fully recovered and once the storm had passed, we took a stroll around the town. Small and with more of a modern feel and a selection of shops and restaurants, it was a nice place to spend the evening.

With Croatia consisting of over 1200 islands, it didn’t take us long before we were tempted to take a ferry crossing over to explore one! Leaving Istria behind us, we were now entering the Kvarner region, on the only inland main road to Brestova from Medulin, here, we joined the queue along the quiet approach road to the small ferry port, just north of Labin.

The Island of Cres was to be our destination, paying the £45 fee for our motorhome and 3 passengers, we had a short wait in the blistering sun, before boarding the ferry and a pleasant 30 minute sailing to Porozina on the North Western tip of the island.

A little concerned to begin with, steep, narrow and busy roads lay ahead and we were in our 4.5 tonne Carthago A Class. Fortunately, the roads soon spread out into more manageable stretches, mountainous and largely unpopulated terrain, provided a scenic journey. It’s famed for one of the world’s largest flying birds, The Eurasian Griffon Vulture, now a protected species, unfortunately, we didn’t come across one during our trip.

The views across the coastline as we approached Cres Town were stunning, we were arriving late in the afternoon, so we were lucky to find a spare pitch at Camp Kovacine, a beautiful location, hugging the clear blue waters, it was just too tempting to miss! Straight into the sea we went, the waters here were like a warm bath, coupled with a beautiful sunset, it was a superb start to our sightseeing here. Luckily, a cycle path alongside the sea, connected the campsite to Cres Town, an easy 10 minute bike ride away.

Cres Town, is lovely, plenty of harbour front restaurants, quaint, narrow streets and interesting little shops provide a low key, but lively atmosphere. It also attracts the big super yachts, one of which was proudly docked alongside the quay for us to admire.

Heading further South, a small bridge connects the next island Losinj to Cres. The main town, Mali Losinj is a lovely harbour town. Our campsite, Camping Cikat, was situated about a 15 minute walk away. Pitched under the shady pine trees, with a view across the sea, the location here, was again just stunning. More clear waters, large rocky sunbathing areas and a paradise for snorkelers, fish took centre stage beneath us as we swam in the crystal clear sea.

The town of Mali Losinj is the largest on all these Croatian islands, but it’s still fairly small compared to many holiday resorts. It retains a charming, rustic, appeal and pastel painted character buildings surround the bustling harbour front. It’s a great place to stroll come the evening, when the numerous harbour side restaurants and shops come alive and the boating fraternity arrive to enjoy the Summer nights under a balmy sky. An extra few nights here, would have been the icing on the cake, but to see more of these beautiful islands, we needed to move on.

Driving back up the one main road to catch our next ferry, from the very small port of Merag, just outside Cres Town, we were greeted with a fairly large queue and a wait of a couple of hours. The roll on roll off ferry took just half and hour and cost £47 for the 3 of us and the motorhome, having not booked anything before hand, we were just pleased to be able to get on board!

Disembarking at Valbriska on Krk, was easy enough, it’s one of the most easily accessible of the Islands, boasting a 1430m long bridge to the mainland at Smrika, south of Rijeka, as well as an airport.

It’s an island with a mix of flat, low lying land in the north and mountains to the south. We were heading to Krk Town and another coastal campsite attracted us, the newly renovated Camping Krk was a delight. It had the advantage of a path along the coast, taking about 20 minutes to reach the centre of Krk Town itself. As with many parts of the infrastructure here, the path wasn’t pristine, taking a route along a dusty, rocky section and through pine woods with just the odd section of paved path, it was also unlit, but this didn’t bother us as we headed off with our torches to guide us.

Croatia

Originally a Roman town and boosting the largest marina on the Adriatic, we entered through a large gateway into this unusual, charming walled town. Full of narrow streets, alleyways and squares, all bustling with the summer tourists. A cathedral blends in with the stone walls and turrets, its bell giving away its presence above the tightly packed roof lines.

Further south to the tourist hub of Baska, another coastal campsite allured us in. Taking quieter grassy pitch away from the beach, Camp Zablace, in the centre of the town, meant a couple of minutes easy walking to the main area.

The beach here was very crowded, 1.8km in length, it really drew in the tourists, but accessibility to the town, made up for the masses. The campsite lacked the finesse that our other sites had, but it was spacious, spotless and friendly. Baska, is the oldest resort on the island and probably the more rowdy of all the towns seen up to now. A fun fair blasted out music all day and into the night, with crowds along the quay, and more noise than we could cope with, it wasn’t really a place for us!

The town itself though was unspoilt, with typical Croatian facades of simple stone and the usual narrow streets, where steps of stone took us down to the restaurant lined harbour and quaint fishing boats dominated the walls of the old quay.

Our final island hop came from Krk to Rab and was also the most expensive crossing at £83 and taking one and a half hours.

Having driven back up to the port of Valbriska, the journey on the open top deck in the hot breeze, proved very relaxing. Docking outside the town of Loper, this island looked stunning from the calm waters on the boat. It has a reputation of being the most beautiful of the Kvarner Islands and it wasn’t to disappoint.

An easy drive led us south, to the famed Rab Town and Camping Padova 3 at Banjol. We couldn’t believe our luck, when we found a pitch just beside the beachfront and the mix of leisurely lunch, quick dip in the shallow, clear water was just perfect. Also, a huge bonus, was the cycle path and walk way that led from our pitch along the coast, where 30 minutes later we arrived at the fabulous, medieval centre of Rab Town.

Rab Town is full of character, nooks and crannies everywhere, narrow streets and glorious little squares, with park areas rising out above the sea. View points and flowers draping over stone ballustrading and the ever beautiful Adriatic, lapping up against the walled construction of the town peninsula, this was our favourite place on the trip.

Waterfront cafes, elegant architecture and boat trips to the gorgeous waters and unspoilt beaches around the island were available. We chose to just watch the world go by amongst the street artists and locals, selling their hand made crafts. A water taxi took us back to the campsite, the perfect way to mark the end of our island hopping venture. Stopping at several places en-route, it was a magical way to return to base.

Croatia
Beautiful Rab Town

Leaving our last night behind us, the ferry from Rab to Stinica on the mainland beckoned. Another easy roll on roll off trip for £37 across the narrow channel of water, brought us back on to the one main coast road from where we’d be heading back north to Rijeka, Croatia’s largest port overlooking the Kvarner Gulf.

This stretch of coastal road, varying in height along the route, but boasting the most impressive views across the islands, made us realise that we’d only just skimmed the surface of this beautiful, unspoilt country. Passing superb small campsites along the way, each with outstanding little bays of blue, blue waters, we knew, that the was going to be the first of many future trips to this part of Europe.

Reaching the industrial town of Rijeka, we left this stunning coastal vista behind us, as we headed inland to the Sovenian border and the journey back home.


Croatia Trip Fact File

Mileage from Calais – 2500.

Fuel £650, Tolls £200 (we had to have a GoBox for Austria, as we were over 3.5 Tonne).

Number of Nights stopped from Calais to Croatia – 5 Nights: Gravelines, Nord Pas de Calais, France; Deidshiem, Germany; Salzburg, Austria (2 nights); Lake Bled, Slovenia.

Number of nights stopped on Return – 5 nights: Lake Bohinj, Slovenia; Faaker See, Austria; Ossiacher See, Austria; Bad Aibling, Germany; Sierck Les Bains, Moselle, Germany.

Campistes in Croatia: Umag, Camping Finida £44; Porec, Camping Zelana Laguna, Bijela, £44; Rovinj, Camping Polari, £51; Pula, Camping Indije, Banjole £43; Medulin, Camping Kazela £40; Cres, Camp Kovacine, Cres Town, £39; Cres, Camping Cikat, Losinj, £46; Krk, Camping Krk, Krk Town, £41; Krk, Camp Zablace, Baska, £40; Rab, Camping Padova 3, Banjol, £47.

We were travelling with our son, who we had to pay adult prices for, time of travel was July an August.

Peak season penalties applied at all campsites for staying less than their requirement, e.g 3 night or 5 nights.

Croatia is not in the Euro, the currency is the Kuna.


Croatia
Exploring Rovinj
An idea of our route through Croatia’s Istrian and Kvarner Regions

note: this Croatia trip was taken a few years ago, in our previous A-Class Carthago motorhome.

New Zealand Planning That Trip

Auckland

We’ve just returned from our 4th trip to New Zealand and it truly is the most breathtakingly beautiful country. It just seems to have the whole package…… scenery that leaves you gasping in awe, people that are so amazingly honest, trustworthy and incredibly down to earth and the bluest of skies, thanks to that Ozone layer, which will have you reaching for the factor 50, before you’ve had time to sit down for those cornflakes in the morning!

One other slightly big bonus, unlike Australia, New Zealand is free from those killer wildlife…..no having to make weird noises in the Bush when out on those long hikes (that’s to let those snakes know you’re coming by the way!). You can safely take a swim in the ocean without having to worry about the nightmare killer jellyfish or even worse, those salties (that’s crocodiles for those Brits who are imagining a packet of salt & vinegar crisps right now!).

So, now we’ve cleared that up, let’s start at the beginning, if you’re thinking of a trip to the “Land of the Long White Cloud” then congratulations, you’re mind is pointing you in the right direction and if you take the plunge and make those dreams a reality, then you are in for a massive treat!

New Zealand
Stunning Castle Point Lighthouse

But, where to start, what’s the best route? Should you have a stopover? Where should you fly to? How do you cope with such a long flying time? Where do you pick up a rental motorhome or if you’re on longer trip, should you be thinking of buying a campervan or even converting one, which is what we have done.


Flights

Well there’s one thing for sure, if you’re British and you’re flying out of the UK, then New Zealand is going to be about the longest flight time that you’re going to have to make.

With a long-haul flight like this, I tend to think about it a little bit differently. When you know you’re in it for the long haul (pardon the pun!), you really do prepare yourself, almost in a sub-conscious manner.

It’s a bit like going on a weekend break away, you pack a small bag, a few toiletries, you know it’s only a weekend and it will fly by (oh gosh, there goes that pardoning of the pun again!) and you try and make the most of the time you’ve got!

I always say, if I could afford to go Business Class, then these long-haul flights would be an absolute pleasure. But, I’m not in that calibre and until I am (as a Mother of a Son who’s currently half-way through his Airline Pilot training, I live in hope of some freebies one day!!). In the meantime, it’s Economy or cattle class for us, which isn’t as bad as what people say. Well, that’s my humble opinion, anyway.

Choosing the Route and the Airline

Going East or West, States side or Asia? Hmmm, until this last trip, I would have said that it probably doesn’t really matter, but in all honesty, we (that’s hubby Nigel and I) did not enjoy our transit through the USA, or more specifically, Houston, Texas, more of that later!

When searching for flights, I always use a comparison site initially, such as Skyscanner. This gives an idea of prices and also has the facility to look at block weeks or months, to give you an indication of the cheapest dates, for your departure airport and destination. This is really useful, if you are flexible with dates.

Hong Kong
Views of The Hong Kong Skyline

We’re flexible when it comes to departure airport. Our closest is Manchester, but there is less choice departing from here. By the way, there are no direct flights to NZ from the UK, incase you are wondering.

We have flown from Heathrow, we find this fairly simple and the choice of flights is huge, in comparison to Manchester.

Prices also tend to be cheaper, but you do have to factor in transport costs, any overnight hotel stay and the drive down to Heathrow itself or the cost of an internal flight.

Whichever airport we choose for our departure, we often book a one-way car hire to pick up locally and drive to the airport ourselves. It’s super easy dropping off and a shuttle bus takes you straight to departures. If you book in advance, there’s usually a good deal to be had too.

Usually, we choose a route dependent on Airline and price. We like a good Airline and we like a good price even more! Just as important for us, is a flight with just one stop and a short transit between that stop and the second leg, but making sure it’s not too short!! We don’t want to be worrying about missing a connection!

This time when flying from Manchester, there was a choice of the excellent Qatar, Emirates and Singapore Airlines all with just the one stop, we chose Singapore Airlines, as it was the most reasonable for us, although this route was through Houston, USA rather than via Singapore. Qatar fly through Doha and Emirates through Dubai.

Last year, we chose to fly out of Heathrow with Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong, but booked a connecting flight from Manchester to get us to Heathrow a few hours before. We had a few nights stopover in Hong Kong before the second flight to New Zealand.

Once we establish which route and airline is the best price, I then book direct on that airlines own website, rather than through an agent or comparison site. I think I just prefer to know that I’ve booked it direct. I join the relevant club with the airline to get their flying miles too and if you fly regularly, the points on a long haul flight soon add up.

The only time I tried to book through a comparison website, the deal was too good to be true! Choosing a Singapore Airlines flight through Skyscanner, took me to an agents website to book. I was super excited at my deal, went through the whole online booking form, only to receive an e-mail a few hours later telling me the flights were unavailable! Lesson learned I feel!

New Zealand
A lazy Afternoon on Waiheke Island, Auckland

Stopover or Transit?

Booking a stopover is a great way to see somewhere new and it gives you a break between flights, this is a Multi-City flight.

Sometimes though, we just have a transit stop, this is when you land and wait to board the next flight. It could be a couple of hours or several hours, we always check these times when we book. Personally, we like a transit stop of around 3 hours, it’s enough time to stretch the legs, freshen up and get some food before boarding again.

If we choose a stopover, it’s time to collect the luggage, grab a taxi or transport and head to the hotel for a few nights, it’s great to relax and explore.

If we’re in transit only, then we may have to collect our baggage and re-check it in, as on our last flight through Houston. We found this route to New Zealand a rather tedious one. Firstly, even though we were only in transit through the USA, we still needed an e-visa, which we applied for online for a small fee.

However, we found the whole process through the airport at Houston a bit of an ordeal! We needed to go through immigration, then collect our bags, queueing in a very British fashion, staying behind the marked lines, waiting patiently to be called to a booth, by whichever official was free first.

New Zealand
Relaxing in this Stunning Coastal setting

I was summoned to an official, followed by Nigel to a different official a little further along. As I got waved through after a short questioning on where I was going and why, poor Nigel was questioned over why he was flying to New Zealand through the unusual route of the USA, why did he book that flight, who was he flying with, at this point he thought does the official mean Singapore Airlines, or my wife?!!

When he declared “my wife”, the official then asked where I was and why I wasn’t with him! Luckily, by this time I was waving to him, like an overly excited tourist, willing him to hurry up so I could get my suitcase and a strong Americano, with my favourite hot milk on the side!

Nige then had his passport stamped, but was sternly told to in future, bring his wife with him to the desk! Well, being the rather independent woman that I am, I do find this rather offensive to think that I should be attached to my husband in this way…….Or as I told the official on the return journey, after 30+ years together it’s rather nice to have a few minutes in line by myself, after a 13 hour flight!!

Which New Zealand Airport?

New Zealand, is two islands, known as The North Island and The South Island.

The capital, Wellington is in the South of the North Island, however, Auckland, which is more centre of the North Island is the larger International airport of the two and the more popular destination.

The main international airport for the South Island is Christchurch.

So how to decide where to fly to? Well, in actual fact, that’s not so difficult as the choice is almost made for you.

Firstly, if you’re wanting to book a motorhome hire in New Zealand on arrival, the main depot’s for the majority of motorhome hire companies is Auckland and Christchurch. Although Jucy rentals have a depot next to Wellington airport, they are in the minority.

Campervan Hire New Zealand
Travellers Autobarn Rental Campervan

Auckland is a great central place to start a trip, it’s the main hub for international flights, so the choice of Airlines, flight times and subsequently getting the best pricing is good. All the major motorhome hire companies have a base on the outskirts of the airport, so if you are collecting a campervan, then it’s an easy location for this.

If you’re thinking of buying a campervan or converting a van, which is what we have done, then Auckland is really well situated with just about anything and everything available and it’s the largest urban area in New Zealand. It’s also within good driving distances of many of the major tourist areas and large cities, such as Hamilton, which is where we sourced and converted our van.

A flight into Christchurch is great for touring the South Island, especially if you’re short on time, but once you’re outside of the city, the areas become more remote and distances long, but with scenery that is just amazing. There are motorhome rental companies based at Christchurch too, ideal if you want to tour the South Island independently of the North.

New Zealand has a maze of internal flights, small airports and connections between, it’s standard practice to take a flight between places, which makes it easy to link between airports if needed.

Auckland has a good transport network from outside the airport terminal, you’ll find buses, taxi’s, mini-buses and shuttle services, all readily available at a reasonable cost.

Coping with a Long Flight

I always find the best way to deal with the thought of flying for near on 24 hours is to not think about it!!

If I really do start to dwell on how long I’ve got to be sat there for, I make a point of breaking the journey into segments in my mind. A little bit like watching a film, you have the beginning, where you’re getting into what it’s all about, the middle, which is the gripping full blown story and the end, where it all comes to a mighty conclusion!

I always take my own neck pillow, my Beats headphones, which block out noise from the cabin and an eye mask (such a lovely sight!).

I also try and book an aisle and a window seat, where there’s a free seat between, in the hope that we won’t get a solo traveller in-between. I always ask at the gate if any upgrades are available or if they can assist with any better seating, it’s always worth asking, as on our last flight we got offered a row of seats with extra leg room at no extra cost, which was great.

If you haven’t taken a really long flight in a while, you’ll be surprised at how much better aircraft is now than it used to be. The cabin is quieter, air flow better, mood lighting makes it more relaxing and generally, I think leg room is really good. There’s also fantastic entertainment systems, all the latest movies, music, TV programmes, box-sets, games, you name it, there’s plenty to keep you amused.

When I’m not eating or drinking, yes the cabin crew, are always feeding you one or the other, I find myself watching a film or putting on the eye mask, some soothing music through the headphones and before I know it, I’ve drifted off for a few hours, usually waking up just in time for the next meal serving!!

Some airlines provide eye masks, compression socks, toothpaste and toothbrushes, as well as plenty of snacks available either through the monitor in your seat or by stretching your legs and making your way to the galley.

If you’ve only ever taken a short haul flight, you will notice the difference in the long haul experience.

Buying, Renting or Converting a Campervan

This is a difficult one and it all depends on how much time you’re going to spend in New Zealand and how big your budget is. If you’re thinking of converting a van, then, of course, you also have to be organised, capable and allow the time to do the conversion.

Hiring a motorhome is expensive, but, it’s your transport and accommodation in one, it’s also your cafe and gateway to some amazing locations to stop the night or take a picnic! The worry of things going wrong is left to the hire company, there’s no unexpected repairs or parts to have to pay for and you can just hand it back when your finished without the hassle of trying to sell it on.

If you’re planning on spending a good chunk of time in NZ, it may be worth investing in buying a campervan or converting an empty van.

Self-Build Campervan
Our LDV V80 Self-Build

Here’s the deal:

  • The e-bay equivalent in New Zealand is Trade Me, this is where you’ll find all new and used stuff for sale. Garages list their stock on here too, so it’s a one-stop site to search for everything from private sales to new vehicles. https://www.trademe.co.nz/
  • Campervans, conversions, motorhomes, whichever you’re looking for, they hold their value, so even old vehicles can be pricey. Both old and new is more expensive than buying the same in the UK.
  • We couldn’t find any second hand campervans suitable for sale at the time of our search, we found them to be extremely expensive, really old and not particularly inviting looking.
  • We may have been unlucky, but the other inconvenience is the prospect of having to drive to various parts of the country to view. Distances can be quite long and journey times longer, there is no motorway system in NZ, although some areas have Highway’s, these aren’t like the UK version of a 3-lane motorway!
  • We had hired a car for a couple of weeks to help with our search for a campervan, this was invaluable, we ended up basing our search around Hamilton, where you can buy or source just about anything.
  • If you can afford to buy a brand new motorhome, then there are several dealers in the North Island but expect to pay higher prices than the UK or Europe for the same van. New Zealand import many UK and European models and also have their own brands.
  • The actual buying process is very straight forward, but without a New Zealand bank account you’ll have to transfer the funds from the UK. We used a UK Foreign Currency Exchange company to make the transaction, this way the exchange rates are more competitive than a standard UK bank.
New Zealand campervan
Nigel Building our Self-Build Campervan
  • We chose to buy a new LDV V80 high roof van, 5m in length and converted it ourselves into a campervan. This way, we were able to use new fittings, as well as getting the layout that we wanted.
  • Once we’d done the deal with the main dealer, we were able to collect the van within a few days. In New Zealand there is no annual vehicle road tax but you do have to pay a tax based on KM if it’s a diesel engine. This we do every 2000KM, at a cost of around $140, it comes as a card that you display on the windscreen, fill out the form in the Post Office where you can buy the KM over the counter.
  • We bought insurance online, unlike the UK, we didn’t have to buy insurance and show it to the dealer before driving off. Although, we did buy fully comprehensive insurance for our own peace of mind.
  • For us, it was worth buying a van, as our Son is living in New Zealand, so the van is based with him for most of the year. It’s also a perfect size for every day driving and fit’s into a normal parking space.
  • Self-Build’s aren’t for everyone! This is something Nigel had wanted to do for a long time, so for us, it provided a great opportunity to fulfil his dreams of building a campervan.
  • Whatever you’re looking at, ensure it’s “Self-Contained” and has the correct documents to prove it. If you want to make use of the extensive Freedom Camping facilities in New Zealand, there is no doubt that you must be classed as “Self-Contained”.
New Zealand
Our LDV Self-Build Campervan
  • This basically means that you have on-board fresh and waste tanks, with proper drainage for the waste and the relevant hose to dispose of the water. There must be a toilet that is fixed during driving and both water and toilet must have enough capacity for the number of people that you want certification for, enough for 3 days supply. You also must have enough space around you to use the toilet. The rules changed recently, to stop the huge wave of small people carrier size vehicles, small vans and cars from using the Freedom Camping areas. In the past, they were able to obtain self-containment just by showing they had a portaloo and some water carriers, when in reality, they would never be able to use the portaloo, which has resulted in a large number of complaints from locals, witnessing the bushes being used as a toilet etc. Those that have already obtained a Self-Containment will be able to use it until the date of expiry (they last a few years), but will not be able to re-apply after this time under the new rules.
  • When we finished our van, we had to take it to an authorised person who checked our equipment to ensure it met the standards for Self-Containment. He then issued us with a certificate and logged our van on the database using our number plate and detailing the facilities on board. We have Self-Containment for 3 people, the actual sticker to display on the rear of the van was sent in the post within a few days.
  • A list of authorised officers and further information on Self-Containment is available on the New Zealand Motor Caravaners Association website https://www.nzmca.org.nz/
New Zealand
Wellington, New Zealand’s Capital

Holland and The Bulb Fields

Dutch Bulb Fields

The Netherlands

It’s something we’d wanted to do for a long time, the Dutch Bulb Fields, but we’d never managed to get round to actually going there. Our first trip to Holland back in our touring caravan days had been a bit of a revelation! Come on, let’s face it, you never really hear of that many British folk, heading to that neck of the woods for their Summer holidays, but we loved it and always said we’d return.

The bulb fields of the Netherlands, are of course, world famous! Sprouting out of the earth each year, somewhere between late March and May (weather and bulb type depending), these amazing blooms of multi-coloured hyacinths, daffodils, crocus and Tulips and many other blooming lovely flowers are the epitome of Springtime Europe.

So heading off for a few weeks to catch the best of the blooms had us arriving in Abbenes, 7km from the world famous Keukenhof (that’s the world’s largest flower garden) just in time to catch the height of the displays, during the 2nd week of April.

Bulb fields
Exploring Fields of Blooms

The Netherlands is pretty campervan friendly, but they don’t have as good an Aire system as France or Germany. However, they do have lots of private camper-stops and we plodded over to Het Groene Hart, a perfect little small-holding type place, situated right next to the cycle paths (that’s not too unusual!) and complete with toilets, showers and electric, perfect!

Holland is definitely one of those countries, where you are really having to literally get on your bike! Luckily for us, although we don’t have a bike carrier on our La Strada (that’s our campervan!), we do, very conveniently have our two folding Brompton Bikes. It’s at times like this, that they come into their own, as, no sooner had we got the van parked, we were off out exploring.

Cycle heaven, it is! Off we peddled, firstly to Kaag, a pretty village where we hopped on a boat to cross a canal to a peaceful little island, all for 1 Euro each….bargain! A quick cycle round, back on the boat and onwards then to Sassenheim and Noordwijk, which is actually on the coast!

Yes, before we knew it, our little Brompton wheels had covered a staggering 26 miles, we just couldn’t get enough! It helped when those first bulb fields came into view, Hyacinths of lilac, pinks and whites, we could smell the scent before were set eyes upon them, it was like being in a florist shop!

So, this is how it is, if you want to see the bulb fields. Yes, you can see the masses of flowers over quite a large area, 5000 acres of it, they are just planted in fields, as crops would be. Each field will grow a different variety, colour or mix, so the smells and vibrancy of the displays are just beautiful. There’s a driving route for the Bulb Fields, it’s signposted and easy to follow.

The route takes you through Noordoostpolder, but to get the most out of the season, it’s best to take to the bikes and make use of the Dutch cycle path systems, which are everywhere, easy to navigate and flat. This way, you can take your time and get up close and personnel with your favourite blooms.

It’s also possible to walk, but it’s vast areas, so those feet soon get tired. Then, there’s the campervan, driving is an option too, but somehow, you don’t seem to get the same intimate feel that you do when you’re out in the open air for hours on end!

Now, for our visit to the big tourist draw….that’s The Kukenhof! It’s popular, there are coach loads of visitors, car parks full to the brim and flowers like you’ve never seen before….it’s just blooming marvellous!

It’s basically gardens, greenhouses, lakes, cafe’s, shops, filled with bulbs, to give us visitors a jolly good day out! It costs to get in, it was 16 Euro per adult on our visit in 2017 but worth it for the experience. We parked up easily enough despite the crowds, wrapped up in the chilly winds, we took our time meandering though the various pathways and displays.

Personally though, were aren’t really ones for the tourist routes, so, if I’m honest, we were just as happy milling around the rainbow coloured fields surrounding the area. Driving on to Lisse, we had planned on a walk through the bulbs, but Sunday traffic jams prevented us from getting close enough.

Instead we headed North, out to the coast and the National Park Zuid-Kennermerland. This vast sand dune park had us back on the Brompton’s along more excellent cycle paths, a great place for our picnic and our daily excercise!

A quick drive over to the promenade to catch a look at Zandvoort, had us tempted out the van for a bit of a walk, before parking up for the night at a campsite just outside Haarlam. Always hyperactive, it was back on the bikes after some food, along the easy 3km cycle route to the centre of Haarlem. A pretty nice, bustling town on a canal with town squares full of coffee shops and pavement bars.

We had tried to park in the centre with the campervan, but our British bank cards weren’t accepted at the parking meters and neither was good, old fashioned cash! Something that seemed to be a bit of a pattern here.

Leaving the Bulb fields behind, Amsterdam came calling! Now there is a camper stop here, but as we pulled up at the locked gate, so did several other people! As the attendant came over to ask each van how long they’d like to stay, our own response of “not sure yet” didn’t go down too well, so we, hot footed out of there, to Camping Vliegenbos up the road.

At €26 per night, without electric (they had no pitches available with power), it wasn’t too bad a price. From here it’s 10 minutes max on your bike to the FREE ferry crossing which leads you to Amsterdam Central Station in just a few minutes. There are ferries running all day right through to midnight if needed.

Camping Vliegenbos is one of those that attracts the young backpackers. Now, this is Amsterdam, anything goes and you soon know about it at 3am, when the young mob are still chanting, singing and smoking their recently bought Amsterdam specials!

That aside, it’s a good base and Amsterdam is fab! We used our Brompton’s to navigate the city, saving time and feet ache, but it’s a free for all on the cycling streets of Amsterdam, an experience in itself!

If you haven’t been, Amsterdam is quite a place, it’s got charm in bucket loads, it’s different, very liberal and full of gorgeous character houses which line the canals.

There is, of course, the seedy side of town, the Red Light district, which is what it is. Then there’s the coffee shops, the smoke filled clouds of non-conventional tabacco drifting in a haze through the streets! Arty types are everywhere, bringing a youthful mix and a brilliant choice of vintage clothes with fabulous quirky stores.

If you want Anne Frank Haus museum, then book first, the queues are huge, we’ve been on a previous visit, so gave it a miss this time but it’s a unique experience in itself. There are other museums, Van Gogh is one, but we chose to just wander around the food halls, markets and intricate alleyways, the kind of back street side of the city.

Zaanse Schans was next on our tour, this place is a popular stop for the day trippers and you can see why! It’s not only a lovely village but it’s also home to several beautiful windmills, housing various trades from clog makers to cheese producers, spices, shops and museums. There’s a parking fee for motorhomes of €10, possibly a bit steep but it’s convenient and the place is rather lovely.

We stopped the night at Volendam at the Marina, a rather common practice in The Netherlands and a really good use of space for the motorhome folk. Volendam is a busy seaside town, lots of tourist were milling around the traditional style buildings in the centre of town, a nice atmosphere with plenty of little shops and cafe’s.

It’s also a great place to cycle from to reach Edam, around 3km away. There was a bit of a headwind, so we took a bit longer! Edam is a nice small town, famous for the Cheese, but also a pretty place with canals and ornate buildings. Perfect for a quick nibble on the famous stuff before moving on to our next stop, Alkmaar.

Holland
Edam Cheese

A Park & Ride at Alkmaar was our handy parking spot and as usual on this trip, out came the Brompton’s and off we cycled for around 2km to the busy town centre. Lot’s of small shops, giving an individual feel mingled with more canals and nice architecture.

Driving on after a bit of an exploration on foot, we decided to stop the night at Hoorn. Here we found another marina that welcomed the motorhome’s, Jachthaven Grashaven, Hoorn and also provided us with use of their facilities….hot showers (1Euro), waste emptying, electric and toilets, all for 15 Euro per night, a very welcome addition.

The following morning we walked into Hoorn from the Marina, another typically Dutch character town. Getting around in Holland is rather easy, everything is well sign-posted, so walking, cycling and driving is rather simplified.

After leaving Hoorn, we took a drive out to Enkuizen and Medemblik, then over to the coast to Callantsoog before parking up for the night at the Marina Willemsoord in Den Helder. This old naval base is now a mix of shops and restaurants and has motorhome parking for 13.50 Euro per night including use of a the really excellent facilities. A contemporay shower and toilet area along with motorhome dump and electric (1 Euro for 2 hours) and free wi-fi.

From Den Helder, it was time to cross over the 30km long straight road across the sea to Kornwerderzand, through Bolsward and on to Sloten. This small pretty little village was where we had lunch, next to a marina, of course, where else in Holland!

Holland
Crossing the sea!

Next up was the most stunning, if not a little tourist ridden of places, Giethoorn. An area of National Park, small narrow, canals and our stop for the night alongside a larger canal at a private campers top, Camperpaats Haamstede.

This quirky little camperstop at 13 Euro per night included use of very good showers and toilets and a very eccentric indoor information room! Here, you could sit in an old barn type building, where the owners had provided log burners, sofa’s and a range of rather unique artefacts scattered around to add to the feeling of being in some sort of abandoned forest hut…just up our street!

Next morning, we braved the cold wind and cycled across the canal and into the hub of mini canals, tiny arched bridges, beautiful cottage style buildings and rather a lot of tourists (although quieter than peak season apparently). This is Giethoorn, we’d never heard of the place before, but since our trip, lots of people, mainly Dutch folk that we’ve met on our travels, have certainly mentioned it to us!

It’s swarmed by coach loads of day-trippers, so be warned, go off-season or arrive early or late if you’re there during Summer. There’s not much passing space on those little bridges, so you’d soon get frustrated and those idyllic instagram shots would probably have a few unknown’s glaring down your lens!

Never ones to follow like sheep, we were keen to get out out the coach drop off zones of Giethoorn and explore the wider countryside on our bikes. So, 30km later, through the pretty Spring landscapes surrounding Giethoorn itself, we’d well and truly immersed ourselves into the quieter areas.

Full of pretty fields of crops, stalls selling local jams, hedgerows where nesting Tits flew out around us, farmers gathering crops by hand, stopped to give us a nod, as we cycled past. An added adventure, of a small river crossing at Jonen, had us boarding a barge for 3 Euro, always good to have something a little different and unexpected, we felt like something out of an Enid Blyton book!

Well and truly shattered after our day of peddling, we headed on to Arnhem and a camperstop out of the centre at Latham and the yacht club camperstop for 15 Euro, along with the usual showers (50c), toilets and dump station. It was a pretty spot, overlooking a lake, better than staying in Arnhem itself, which had a rather uninviting looking motorhome Aire by the river.

Taking a walk through Veluwe National Park on a well marked forest trail was a nice detour, mainly because we like a forest walk but also we had the great pleasure of witnessing a wild Stag run right our in front of us! We always say, we never know what we’ll see on a walk, usually it’s the wildlife that is the best surprise!

Arnhem itself, is incredibly interesting. If you don’t already know, it’s famous due to the battle of September 1944 which was then brought to to cinema world in the epic Holywood film, A Bridge Too Far. We parked up after driving over the the bridge before following a marked trail of commemorative points of interest through the town.

We find war history incredibly interesting, perhaps due to it being the era that our parents were born in and that of our grandparents who lived and fought through it. Arnhem has an excellent museum, located at Oostereek, in a beautiful mansion type property, which was headquarters of the allies during the war and now displays the most interesting of information, all about the battle, known as Operation Market Garden. It is apparently closed at present for major renovation works and isn’t due to re-open until the end of 2021.

From here, we walked through the grounds, which was the actual battlefield. It’s now a beautiful area of woodland, where marked footpaths take you through to various landmarks, past deer parks and pretty ponds. It’s always amazing how something so lovely can be born from such devastation.

Arnhem also has a really good town centre, some good shopping and plenty of cafe culture. For us though, it was time to head back into Belgium for our last few days before catching the Calais ferry back to Dover. Until next time Holland!

France 16 Must See Places to Visit

We’ve covered all regions of France in our various motorhome’s, over the past couple of decades. For us, it’s a little bit like playing a favourite song on repeat….it’s comforting and familiar, it lifts your spirits and no matter how often you hear it, it still leaves you wanting more!

Although we love all of France and it’s motorhome friendly Aire system, there are some places that have left a lasting impression. It’s those unique “WOW” factor moments when your eyes catch that first glance, the most awesome sight, that unique, special element that almost takes your breath away!

It’s our Top Must See places to visit on a motorhome trip to France!

1. The Postman’s Palace – The correct title is actually “Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval” – It’s a palace like no other, you probably won’t have seen one like it before and you’re unlikely to ever see anything like it again! It’s the result of the eccentric imagination of Ferdinand Cheval, a local postman who went about his daily rounds a little differently to your average postie, collecting stones along the way. With them, over 33 years, he built this ingenious, elaborate, almost stage set masterpiece, it would look more at home on a Hollywood film set rather in the middle of the French countryside!


2. Moustiers-Sainte-Marie – If you picture the most prettiest of French villages, perch it high into the side of a cliff face, add the the ancient footings of a Medieval past and surround it with the glories of a Provencial countryside. This is Moustier, exquisite, magical and the when you first catch eyes upon the tiered stone dwellings as they cling to the rock face, it has you instantly drawn in. Explore it deeper and the tiny alleyways, dreamy views and all that heat from the Summer sun, leaves you happily hypnotised in a French fancy!


3. Annecy and its Lake – Think snow capped mountains of the Alps, throw in one of the cleanest lakes in Europe, and finish with a delightful whipped cream topping, of one of the most charming Medieval, canal-lined towns. It oozes character in every corner, floral covered bridges criss-cross canals, narrow streets lead to quirky antique markets, whilst the blue, blue Lake is level playing as one of the most scenic locations in Europe…..It’s a dreamy spot alright!



4. Lac de Sainte Croix – A little further along the road from Moustiers-Sainte-Marie and you catch sight upon the brilliant blue lake of Sainte Croix. It’s WOW factor all the way, as you cross towards the Gorge du Verdon, where the blue waters meander into the narrow chasms of the high gorge walls. In the heat of a hot Summer, the water is too tempting to miss, swim, take a picnic or hire a pedalo, whichever you choose, it’s just divine!


5. Pont du Gard – You’ve got to give it to the Romans, they really did build things well! If you’ve not seen this yet, ask yourself why not?! This place is just awesome, in the most fascinating kind of way. How on earth did they build these impeccable structures 2000 years ago, hauling colossal blocks of stone to build this 160ft mega structure of an aqueduct? It was in use for around 500 years…..imagine that! Carrying water to Nimes along a stretch of over 30 miles….Amazing!!


6. Aigues-Mortes – The first time we entered this walled town, surrounded by the salt marshes on the edge of The Camargue, we couldn’t quite believe our luck at what we’d found! It was a hot, bustling July evening, with atmosphere pounding off the enclosed walls and streets filled with restaurants spilling out onto the cobbles, we were hooked! This once busy port is now a few miles from the sea, but still holds all it’s charm in the salty Mediterranean air.


7. Arles – With it’s Van Gogh connection, incredible Roman ruins and all the charms of a Provence town, Arles is just a treat! It has one of our favourite Arena’s (that’s the Roman kind!), incredibly intact, somehow it’s position is a little more intimate than some of the other Roman Arena’s that we’ve visited. With the Rhone river passing through, intricate streets and so much history, this place is pretty neat!


8. Eze – This little gem of a village perched high above the Cote d’Azur, is oozing character, class and charm at every angle. It’s tiny, with a maize of narrow alleyways, stunning views flowing out across to the Med and some very upmarket accommodation to tempt you out of the campervan! It’s a great place to explore when the sun goes down, on a balmy Summer evening, be warned, you won’t want to leave!


9. Pont d’Arc – The Ardèche river weaves its way through the Gorges de l’Ardéche, where canoeing, rafting and all things water related can be done here. We love the natural limestone arch that spans the waters of the river, a perfect viewpoint from the road above, enables you to look down over the river and arch. This whole area is a natural paradise and in Summer it’s just wonderful.


10. Hyères – Both the old historic town and the coastal splendour of the peninsula inlets, that lead from it are just beautiful. A coastal walkway through shaded pines, lead to some incredible little rocky bays and crystal clear blue and green waters of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s a great place to be, just out of season when the crowds have gone and you can find a whole inlet just for you!


11. The Chateaux of The Loire – I’m including this as a group, simply because I can’t really choose between them but love so many! It’s a fascinating region filled with enough Fairytale magic to last a lifetime! It’s also got extra magic along the route, who can forget the mighty Loire River that follows you through the landscapes.


12. St.Tropez – It’s one of the most famous of all French resorts, but is it full of hype and shallow celebrity super yachts? Or is there really a little more to this international hot spot? If you get beyond the day trippers, the flashy image and superstar appeal, then you can see a very different side to this charming harbour town. It’s full of character at it’s core, with the added advantage of some superb beaches and a really nice coastal walkway through it’s more natural surroundings. We have to say, we really like it here and there’s always the people watching to keep you entertained too!


13. The D-Day Landing Beaches – Never has anything been so heart-wrenching than our first tour of the Normandy Landings. It’s the most compelling of sights, incredibly fascinating, being such a recent part of our history. So many reminders are still on show today, not forgetting the emotional rollercoaster, that this part of France takes you through, from the enormity of the sacrifices made.


14. The Battlefields of The Somme – The blood bath that was the Somme is forever engrained in the history of those nations whose Men were lost to the horrors of war. Trench warfare, the innocence of those so young, some just 15 years of age, signing up for a cause they could never envisage would be so horrific. Driving through this region brings home to you the savage losses, where war graves are commonplace and where the earth beneath still holds the resting place of so many.


15. Le Grand Bornand – This is our most favourite place in the French Alps, come Winter or Summer, it’s full of Alpine charm, excellent skiing, hiking and traditional quaint wooden chalets to add to the ambiance. It’s a sleepy sort of place, with not too much going on other than the occasional sound of cattle bells from the grazing cows, who, by the way, must be thanked for the fabulous cheeses produced here! If concrete is your preference, then it’s not for you, but if you like the church bells waking you at dawn and the sweet smell cooking on the open log burning fire, then you’ll just love this place too!


16. Carcassonne – It’s the citadel that everyone’s heard about, it’s big, touristy and can get very hot inside those walls, but hey ho, it’s one of those tick box towns that you just have to do! Full of interest, a maze of busy streets where you can’t help get cosy with the crowd in the hot summer months! It’s UNESCO and medieval, totally intriguing and utterly irresistible!

If you need more inspiration, here’s a few to add to this list of Must See Places to visit in France:

  • Avignon – the Pont d’Avignon, Palais des Papes (Pope’s Palace) and bustling Summer street life.
  • Burgundy – Following the Wine Route through the vineyards from Dijon to Beaune.
  • Alsace – Colmar, Mulhouse & Wine Routes.
  • St Paul de Vence, a favourite of Winston Churchill and his paintings of the medieval town.
  • The Dordogne – Sarlat, Beynac, La Roque-Gageac, Perigueux, Rocamadour.
  • Canal du Midi – From Toulouse to Séte, following the canal to the Mediterranean, don’t miss the locks at Béziers!
  • The Camargue – Full of life, it’s all about the locals, the traditions, the sea and the wild horses and bull-fighting territory.
  • The Pink Granite Coast, Brittany – from Plestin-Les-Gréves to Louannec.
  • Cassis – Incredibly charming fishing port with Les Calanques, intricate narrow inlets of limestone cliffs which flow into the sea.
  • Cannes, Nice and Monaco – All worth the effort, follow the jet-set into the world of the high life Billionaire lifestyles of the rich and famous.
  • Antibes and Cap Ferrat – Drive the luxurious Cap, stop at Antibes for a wonder, good shops, beaches and cafe culture.
  • Chamonix – The Aiguille du Midi cable car, not for the faint-hearted! Views of Mont Blanc and the Mer de Glace glacier railway.
  • Nimes – Roman ampitheater, Maison Carrée and Tour Magne.
  • Glanum at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence – A fascinating Roman colony.
  • Oradour-Sur-Glane – The tragic destruction by SS Panzer, of the village and 642 inhabitants in June 1944, has been left as a memorial in its destroyed state since that day.
  • Carnac – The home to around 3000 megaliths!

14 Facts The Most Annoying Thing About Neighbours!

It’s the one thing you can’t avoid, when a campervan pulls in alongside that peaceful parking spot, out come the owners, bearing a striking resemblance to Clark Griswold’s cousin Eddie, in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (yes, remember that scene with the RV and the contents of the toilet?!). The shenanigans begin to unwind and all you can do in a very British fashion, is sit back with gritted teeth, whilst you contemplate your next move!

It’s enough to have you grimacing over your tea and biscuits, you peer up from your book, hoping to avoid eye contact, dash indoors for any excuse to escape or hide behind the dark sunglasses even though the sun has just disappeared behind a thick black cloud!

Well it’s great to have a bit of a chat every now and then, a few pleasantries, neighbourly greetings and quick small talk on the weather (ok we’re British!!). More often than not, it’s about the van or even the smell of the sausages grilling on the barbecue.

Sometimes, though, we can’t wait to get away from the small talk or even have to move the van completely to find solace from the most annoying of neighbours, or their habits.

Yes, I think you get our drift, you’ve been there, you know all too well what we’re talking about, so without further ado, here’s our pick of the most annoying thing about those motorhome neighbours!


Vanlife
Parked up at a private Italian Sosta parking spot

1. The TV Addict, Come rain or shine, some people are just glued to it!

We don’t even have a TV….heck I know, it’s extreme, we must be odd, slightly weird, maybe we just like to meditate all day whilst humming to ourselves in an eccentric sort of head clearing way! We’ll leave that one open to the imagination!

So, why do other people think that the sound of their TV should be heard loud and clear across the parking spot, through their doors, windows and over into our space?! That’s after they’ve spent hours fiddling with the satellite receiver, resembling something from NASA HQ. In the van, out, round the van, move the lead, get the spanner out, the whirl of the dish spinning out of control on the roof (or even worse, on the ground!).

Daytime, night, morning, there’s no escape, the most boring, dull TV shows, sport, soaps, films, it seems people will just watch any old garbage and they have no regards to sharing it with everyone around them!

Then there’s night fall, blinds stay open and they resume position, sat rigid in front of the screen, but now the bright flickering lights shine straight at us, so we’re not only hearing it but seeing it too!! Time to shut our blinds, hide away and get the head phones out to dull the pain!

2. The Space Invader, there’s acres to park, but pull up right next door!

Here we go, how many times have you had this one happen?! Yes, you’ve got a great little spot, nice view, just settling down to a good read or sip of your favourite Red when along comes a “Space Invader”!

They may look like they’ve landed from another planet with the way they look around at the empty campground, Aire or camperstop and whilst you’re hoping that they choose the further most spot away from your cosy corner, what do they go and do? Yep, they only drive as close to you as they can possibly get, coming in at an angle more suited to a F1 track, as you’re left holding on to your sun chair for dear life, waiting for an impact!

Is it some sort of game, do they do this on purpose, are they secretly having a bit of a laugh, seeing how many of us they can take out in one sweep of the steering wheel?! As the handbrake goes on, the clattering begins inside as the cupboards open, the kettle goes on and we’re left looking at the side wall of a van or if we’re really unlucky, right through the side window into their van world!

3. The Generator, the worst offending object ever, have they no shame!

Oh goodness, there is nothing worse than the roaring, moaning, thumping, droning, seemingly endless noise of this dreaded machine!

You can hear them before you see them, follow the sound, ears pierced to the point of no return. That sound is in your head and you can’t get rid of it, nothing quells the vibration whirling through the air.

You think it’s the van next door, you’re just about to give the look of despair to your worried looking neighbour, when you notice the chunky box rattling outside of a van a few doors down.

Yep, they could be a million miles away, but the echo reverberates round like a bad smell. It’s the faux-pas of motorhome travel, exclusive to those who haven’t enough battery power to be off-grid, haven’t they heard of clean energy? Shouldn’t they really be hooked into power at a campsite, if they need so much power to warrant carrying the National Grid in a box with them?

Whatever, your thoughts on that one, you have to agree, they sound awful and look pretty bad outside the van. When the rest of us are trying to be discreet, it spoils the peace and quiet for us previously happy campers! So it’s a thumbs down all round!

4. The Nosey Parker, don’t they know the etiquette of Parking?

You’re all parked in a row, door left, door right, nose in, nose out, habitation door etiquette is just so important, isn’t?

You’ve seen it, everyone’s following the flow, parking nice and sensibly, so as to not park door to door with the neighbour, then along comes the spoiler who only goes and parks the wrong way! Sooooo annoying!!! Or are we just too perfectionist having to have the Feng Shui just so?

We think not! Who wants to be that friendly with the stranger neighbour? Doors flung open, deckchairs out, BBQ sizzling, right next to each other! No thank you!!

We value our privacy and other people’s, after all, you just can’t help having a nosy into their van and vice-versa, what are they doing in there, what layout have they got? What’s that big fluffy thing dangling off the bathroom door?!! Goodness knows what their saying about us!

5. The Engine Runner, Choking on Exhaust Fumes!

We’ve had the Generator, now the next best worst camper faux pas! Yep, it’s the dreaded time the engine kicks in and rumbles on and on and on to charge their leisure battery!

Please, get a solar panel, get two or find a campsite!! Anything to stop disturbing the sweet sound of birdsong whilst we gasp for air, as the exhaust fumes from their aptly located exhaust pipe, gushes out tonnes of smokey black omissions into the the side of our van!

Do they not know we are choking on their carbon monoxide riddled plumes, are they too oblivious to realise where that exhaust pipe is located?! Yes, ignorance is bliss it seems, either that, or they just don’t give a stuff!

So if you haven’t experienced this yet, we’ll fill you in on a fine example from a time several years ago on an Aire in Reims. It was a dark, wet, Winter and the Aire in Reims isn’t the most scenic, it’s basically a car park, marked bays so you’re close to your neighbour.

On went the rattling engine of our neighbours Motorhome, whirling out the most grubby looking fumes into the atmosphere beside us. Unfortunately, these fumes were finding there way into our Motorhome, then a Carthago A-Class, leaving us breathing in the dirty fuel remnants and a very nasty taste in our mouths!

To escape the unpleasantries, we hot-footed into the city, but it did make us think what would have happened if we’d been asleep, could we have succumb to carbon monoxide poisoning? Who know’s, but the offenders kept that engine rumbling on for over an hour, with no shame, just who’s brash enough to do that sort of thing?!

6. The Talker, non-stop chatter!

So, we all like a bit of a natter but some people just don’t stop!

Just the other morning we we’re woken up by a group of noisy foreign language talk, giggling and high voices at midnight, followed by a 5am encore by the same neighbours! No respect for other people and total disregard for waking up the whole row of campers just because they don’t want to sleep!

Then there’s those that just don’t stop to draw breath….talk talk talk all day, into the night, early in the morning. We end up hearing every bit of dialect, not usually that interesting to keep the ears tuned in for – we wish!

Not forgetting, the ones that just love the sound of their own voice! Yes, they have to get those vocal tones shouting out above the rest, come over to start conversation, which is usually all about them!

7. The Faffer, spends useless time doing useless stuff!

We don’t think we fall into their category, but perhaps some would disagree! We’ve all seen them, pull into a parking spot, reverse, drive forward, turn around, forward again, back, slightly over to the left then to the right….phew, this is hard work! Then, just when you think it’s all over, low and behold, they change parking spot altogether and start the whole process again.

But that’s not it, they then decide to get out the levelling ramps….crikey, out pops the director (that’s usually the woman, not sexist, just fact), up go the rev’s and Whoa…..straight over the front ramps onto the grass!!

If that’s not enough, they try for a 2nd time, half way up, the handbrake’s yanked up, the van comes to an almighty stop, and the camper now resembles The Leaning Tower of Pisa. Rather than attempt a 3rd go at the blocks, they save face and stay poised in situe, hoping the ramps hold whilst they get the stepladder out to climb into the van and everyone else looks on in amusement!

We do have to have a bit of a giggle at these sorts, why do so many people in Motorhome’s think levelling ramps are an essential part of the parking process. Do they not know that the clue is in the name? Yes, they are intended for use on uneven ground, on slopes, where there’s big dips in the terrain but not for parking up on the level!!

In fact, we find them a pain and don’t actually carry any of the purposely made manufactured ones, choosing instead to go au-naturel with a couple of pieces of wood or even a rock (don’t try this at home!!), never on level ground though, I hasten to add!

8. The Snoring Sleeper, the daytime nap, is it an age thing?

We can never understand these types, but then again, we are rather hyperactive, we do tend to think we’re a long time dead, so would rather be out and about at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, than getting cosy indoors for a couple of hours shut eye!

Strange thing is, they don’t mind slouching it out for all to see, usually on the cab swivel seat, reclined as far back as possible, or feet up on the front lounge couch, propped up by cushions, mouth open, tissue to catch the dribbles! Which is when it begins, that loud, grunting, almost earthquake like, (yes we’ve had the shakes in New Zealand, so we know the sound!), the rhythm is rather good actually, it’s a constant tune, never sways off pitch and is enough to capture everyone’s attention.

So, whilst they are in the oblivious land of nod, we make for a sharp exit to get the ageing legs exercised and escape the thunderous groans from next doors vibrating van. Funny thing is, they wake up looking rather worse for wear, with a jaded lack of fresh air look to the complexion, totally unaware of the annoyance caused from their grunting noise levels.

9. The Double Parker’s, they want not 1 but 2 parking spaces!

They want to use the fine old Aire system or similar Motorhome parking facility so widely used across Europe, but hold on, they think they can bring not only the Motorhome but, a trailer, car, boat or whatever other towable item, that can be hitched on the back of the already very long Motorhome.

Just when space is tight enough for all those sticking to the one parking spot rules, they decide to take over 2 spaces to fit the oversized outfit, just how inconsiderate can people be! Unhitching the trailer, rolling off the tow car and parking them alongside too!

Then there’s the friends and family, insistent on getting parking spaces together, leaving a gap in between and setting out the party atmosphere on the middle parking space, where tables, chairs and awnings are now taking centre stage.

Do they not know that a camp site is more suitable for the spread yourselves out culture? Probably not and they certainly don’t seem to care, leaving other campervan owners out on the road, when the Aire is full of with the Double Parker’s of this world.

10. The Aires, Awning Alter Ego’s, there’s no room at the Inn!

It’s a hot day, the blistering sun is out, the Aire (or similar European Motorhome facility) is full to bursting, there you are trying to find a space and there they are, sitting happily under the fully extended awning, almost laughing at you as you circle the parking area in desperation.

Don’t you just love your neighbours, they can be so inconsiderate, not one inch of movement from them, no calling over to direct you to the free space dominated by their massive Awning, no they just sit it out, they’ve marked their territory and they are staying put!

Thankfully, a rather kind (usually French) camping-car gentleman or lady takes pity on us, waves us over, hops in the driver seat and makes enough space for us to squeeze in beside them, as we all make hand gestures directed at the rather smug Awning lover across the way.

Far-fetched, hardly, it’s an every day occurrence in peak season Europe, if you haven’t been yet but are venturing that way this Summer, you’ll soon know what we mean!

11. The Ones With the Yapping Dogs

They think nothing of popping out for a few hours and leaving the little fluffy cuties sat in wait in the Motorhome window.

As soon as they’ve disappeared off to the shops or wherever it is they’ve gone to, it starts, the little cuties are no more and instead, they turn into the Hounds of the Baskervilles on heat! Yap yap yap yap, it does not stop! From adorable puppy dog eyes to monster guard dogs within a couple of barks.

Gone is the yearning for a dog moment that we’d had a few moments ago and in comes the thank goodness they’re not ours thoughts as everyone starts glaring at the van. As we all start willing the quick return of the owners, obsessed with every passer by, hoping this is them returning with doggie treats and with it a return to peace and quiet.

The odd thing is, when they do make an appearance, they have no clue that the 4-legged friends, who’ve suddenly become adorable again, have been such an attraction, for all the wrong reasons! When they go off for walkies, we can all breathe a final sigh of relief!

12. The Exhibitionists, loving to show off all they’ve got!

It’s hot hot hot and that means the sight of pale flesh browning, under the bright blue skies. Out it comes, all shapes and sizes, the fit ones, the tanned and toned, the ones that haven’t seen the gym for a while and those that have never tried to increase that heart rate!

They love to bare all to anyone who’ll take a peak, happy to come for a chat over the cornflakes, as it all hangs out, good and bad, casting a great shadow over the al-fresco breakfast table.

We’ve seen it all, shiny swimwear thongs, that’s men and women, underwear, dressing gowns flapping open in the breeze, skimpy shorts where there’s more hanging out than they realise, strapless, backless, topless….when the sun comes out, so does everything else!

13. The Miserables, looking like they just don’t want to be there!

You try and be polite as you catch their eyes, Hello, Bonjour, Hola, Hi, Guten Morgen, whatever the nationality, there’s always the grumpy ones, that look like they want to be anywhere but away in their van.

So you smile a little and pretend you just haven’t been snubbed, as the awkwardness sets in, they just blank you!

You can’t believe it, how rude, did that just happen? So to make sure you haven’t just dreamt it or mistaken the moment, you try again, only to get a bit of a half, under the breath reaction back, which confirms that, hey, they just don’t wanna be friendly today!

So that’s fine, turn away and carry on with the day, but it sort of makes it all a bit uneasy, like you’ve upset them or they just don’t like the look of you, so before we get too much of a complex, we retreat to neutral territory, turn the other cheek and pretend we’re not bothered.

14. The Damn Right Rude, nothing gets in the way!

It’s strangely apt that we’ve just experienced one of these arrogant types this very day! We’ve come across this sort before, watched from a far as they march forth, ensuring nothing gets in their way!

Whether that be the need for that parking spot you’re just leisurely eyeing up or jumping the queue at the dump area. Yes, we’ve seen them and I’m sure you have too, but what’s their problem and why is there so much urgency to get ahead in-front of us patient folks, are we all just waiting in an orderly fashion for the fun of it?

We arrived at a Freedom Camping spot in New Zealand a couple of weeks ago, to a chaotic scene, Motorhome’s reversing out, others coming in, nose to nose, no room to move. As we approached the scene wondering who was doing what and assessing the situation, one elderly Kiwi couple rammed on the accelerator to pass us, shouting out as they went “don’t think you’re getting in there bitch”!!

I don’t think I’ve ever really been called “a bitch” before, well certainly not to my face, but more than that, we had no intention of parking up where they so desperately wanted for themselves let alone our desire to park amongst motorhome folk of that nature!

Fast forward a couple of weeks and we are minding our own business, emptying our waste, filling the fresh, yes the chores! Now in New Zealand, there are no drive over waste drains for the grey water like our European friends. Instead there is a floppy plastic pipe which you attach to the waste outlet and dangle it into the same drain as the loo (it’s not a good idea!).

There is no way to quicken the process, you just have to wait for it to drain, rinse out the pipe, fold it all away and the next in line can then do the same. Well, astounded were we, when low and behold, along pulls up a motorhome hire van, out jumps a British guy who grabs his cassette toilet, darts over to us, almost elbowing us out the way, takes off his cassette cap ready to empty the contents all over our waste pipe!!

Thank goodness we were alert to his presence, keeping a close eye on his movements and had enough sharpness in our step to quickly grab our waste pipe, haul it out the way and watch aghast as he arrogantly tips his slops out over the drain, us two mere mortals, stood trying not to catch a whiff of the slop, plop spilling out in front of us!

Without a moment to catch breath, he’d disappeared back to his wife, who was by now hanging out the habitation door, hurrying him along!

Yes, you can feel our annoyance, but writing about it gets it quickly off the chest! Seriously though, this is something we’ve seen happen to other people and had similar back in Europe ourselves, do people have no shame, it’s all so territorial, so last century!!


Van life
Our NZ panel van at a freedom camping spot in New Zealand

Van life
A popular Freedom Camping area in NZ, early morning when lots had just left!

Van life

Our Sprinter at an Italian Sosta, overpowered by the neighbours!


16 Must Know Facts of #vanlife

Vanlife…The Reality behind the Image!

16 Must Know Facts of #vanlife

Sprinter 4x4

So, I recently did a little blog piece about the reality of vanlife and how those glossy instagram pics and blogs are often not quite what they seem!

If you read it, you’ll know about the time that we met some, almost celebrity like Instagram Vanlifers, but all wasn’t quite so glossy in real life!!

We’ve seen and heard it all, in the now bombarded world of social media, but who really knows their stuff and which bloggers, are just piling on any old info just get an extra ad on their web page or a like on Facebook and Instagram?!!

Well, now it’s time to lift the lid on the what we know to be, the most fabulous way of travel and the nomadic lifestyle that comes with this marvellous but often glossed over illusion of #vanlife!


  1. Wild Camping, If Only It were that simple!

It’s certainly illegal in most of Britain, it’s frowned upon by locals in nearly all the countries we go to and most people who brag about doing it, arrive late and leave at sun rise to avoid getting caught in the act!!

Goodness, I know what you’re thinking and yes, that’s not our idea of fun either! We hate the thought of parking on a road or grotty car park….But that’s what some actually do, so forget the nightly beachside location, white sands or mountain backdrop…they are rare!!

Even when a country is extremely camper friendly, there are still big rules to follow, signs to obey and lots of areas where “no Motorhome”, “no camping” or “no overnight stays in vehicles” or even all three will tell you where to sling your hook!

To ignore them is to risk official warnings or even big fines. To put it simply, you can’t just park up where you like as many would have you believe.

If you’re in a country that provides specific overnight camper parking as part of their furniture (yes there are many!), these will still have rules, signs, specific areas to park and many will still have notices telling you where not to park!

They’ll always have a restriction on the number of nights you can stop, probably a few days at the most and very often it’ll be a marked parking space where you can just about open your door to get out, without banging into the side of next door!

In countries where you think it’s just ok to park up, (I’m thinking back to our own trip to Spain, where there were dozens at at time), read the local news and you’ll soon see that authorities and locals alike, just want the whole lot of wild campers banned, which, incidentally parts of Portugal (The Algarve) have just recently started introducing.

The Algarve’s aim to eradicate motorhomes “wild camping”

One last word of warning, if there is a genuine place provided for campers to park up, they aren’t always free!

Vanlife
Here we are parked at a practical but not exactly scenic Sosta parking just outside Milan

2. The Dump, getting rid of all that waste!

Even if you take your chances with a spot of wild camping, it doesn’t solve the problem of the dump! If you’re a “newbie” (excuse the term but it seems to be the trend) then this is getting rid of waste products in the van, think dirty water from dishes, showering, washing and anything else you decide to chuck down the sink!

In Britain, the only way to do this is to book into a caravan site….Blimey….that’s extreme I hear you say, but this is real life now and authorities in Britain don’t provide Motorhome dumps.

Of course, Europe is completely different, and the drive over dumps are pretty much part of the furniture in towns across the Channel. Just look on your Campercontact App or follow the standard dump signs, usually a universal bright blue with a white camper outline and away you go, release the values and let the dirty water flow!

What’s NOT the right choice and you know it, is to keep those drain valves open and just let your grey tanks empty in the countryside….this is the biggest camper faux pas, the don’t go there idea and the definitely, if you decide to chance it, don’t get caught!

Of course, we’ve seen plenty of vans doing just that, chased after by angry passers by, only then innocently denying any knowledge of the said deed!! Yeh, we know what you’re up to!!

Vanlife
Emptying the waste at the dump, all part of the chores

3. The Loo, like it or not we all have to pee & poo!

To poo or not to poo…..oh goodness, yes we really are talking dirty now!

I recently read a blog about how good it was to wild camp in Britain in a van (hmmm, not sure about that claim!!), with a tip on making sure you buried your poo away from water, so many inches deep etc….are you serious!!! Those rules do apply to people in a tent when hiking up a mountain overnight, but is this really what’s expected of us vanlife community?!

If it is, forget it, count me out, I hate the idea of having to poo in the bushes, besides, I’m not sure why you’d need to do that anyway, as most professional vanlife folk do have a portable loo, built in cassette toilet or at least wait to use the public loos!

If you’re serious about living in a van, the loo will become very well used and a vital part of your routine will be emptying it’s contents, lovely!

4. Water, it may be plentiful but it’s not necessarily accessible!

You’d think it would be so easy to get, but that’s just not the case at all. Sometimes we’ve driven miles trying to get a tap to fill up the fresh and even then we’ll get somewhere and it will display a “not for drinking” sign!

I would say to anyone to get really good sized fresh water tanks and add a couple of portable containers too and if you get an opportunity to fill up, do it, even it your tanks aren’t empty!

It’s finding a dump station in Europe or a caravan site in Britain, but for goodness sake make sure you don’t use the toilet cassette tap/hose to fill the fresh! We see people do this all the time and it’s horrible, do they not realise what people do with that dirty bit of hose pipe?!

5. Winter, when it’s not so wonderful living the vanlife!

It’s just drab, short days, dark nights, cold, freezing, windy, wet, dull, some sun, depending where you go!

If you’re not able to sit outside for months on end, living in a van can be just miserable! It might not be what you want to hear, but hey, this is warts and all.

If you can head South to chance a bit of sun, there’s a downside, everyone else is doing the same and as most of the population are in work for the Winter, this generally means that you’ll be sharing the warm spots of Europe, i.e Spain and Portugal with lots of older retired folk or as they say in Australia, “The Grey Nomads”, who are, before I get corrected, heading North not South down under!!

As I’m no longer grey-free or full of youth myself, this isn’t too much of a hardship and as long as they have a few tales to tell, I’m quite happy to listen!

6. Hot and Cold van temperatures can be extreme!

Summer in Europe sees windows open and us two sweating buckets on top of the sheets at 3am! But then we get worried about security, so the windows are closed, we get hotter and the sleepless nights get longer!

You should have had air-con I hear you say! Well, if we wanted to be hooked up to power on a campsite every night fine, but that’s not our thing and no amount of off-grid solar and batteries would be powerful enough to run an air conditioning unit, there are more important things that need the power and who wants that bulky looking system fitted in their roof anyway?!

So at the other end of the spectrum, when it’s cold out, the heating is on, but it’s often too hot when it’s fired up and too chilly in between. Getting the right temperature is a work of art, especially during the night. There’s always a cold spot, somewhere, usually in the cab and the shower room, well, this can be next best thing to a Sauna!

Winter without heating, no chance!! A van gets icy cold, it’s heating on before turning back the duvet in the morning for us two!

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Needing the sunshade on our New Zealand van

7. Power, it’s easy if you’re paying for it to be plugged into your van!

You’ve seen the pics and the blog claims, all this “wild camping” in exotic locations, not a power lead in sight!

Reality check time!! Unless you’ve really got loaded up with solar panels, a big invertor and very big battery power you’re going to have to plug into power every couple of days.

Power is like water, it’s precious, you need to conserve it, it’s no use wanting to have more than a couple of light on for hours on end, whilst watching you’re favourite soap over the satellite TV and keep the absorber fridge (we have a compressor fridge for power reasons) well chilled whilst blasting off the air con unit!

If you want all that and more, a powered campsite is the only way to go.

8. Condensation, wet wet wet!!

If you’ve built your own van or bought a van based on Skiing in the Alps or Overlanding the world, rather than sitting on a campsite in Britain, then this hopefully won’t effect you!

I’m not talking the windscreen here, that is something that is hard not to have at some point. No, think inside the van, we’ve experienced it first hand on a past Motorhome and it’s a menace! Wet bedding, damp cupboards, wet mattress, yes, it can be soaking wet too, then comes the mould and before you know it, warped wood, things peeling away and damp smells.

The trick is to have well insulated walls, floors, double floors, a mattresses with air circulation below etc etc etc!

When it’s cooking/showering time it’s ventilate time, windows open!

Build or buy wisely and condensation shouldn’t be on your annoyance list.

9. Heating, vans get so cold!

No matter how much insulation is lining those walls, floors, ceilings, these vans will still leave you cold. Heating can get costly, so what system is used to keep you comfy is super important.

If you’re living the vanlife, you need the easy life and when it comes to keeping toasty on the road, we love Diesel heating and yes it’s from the engine, not a separate tank in case you’re too afraid to ask! It’s also a handy bonus to be able to use it while you drive….what’s not to love about that!

We’ve had lots of gas van heating and if you’ve got it, you’ll know it’s a bit of a pain! Gas bottles/tanks, need re-filling or swapping and regularly, often every few days in winter….so yes it gets costly too! Not to mention, different gas systems and fittings in different countries.

Electric, forget it, that means power supply and that has to mean a campsite or at best finding a camper stop in the country you’re in with a high enough amp to power it and that’s not easy!

OK, so you don’t mind plugging in at a campsite, but most European sites (if they are actually open at all, that’s another story!) usually only have the low amps, so that means enough for a low setting on the heating, so long as you haven’t got several other electrical favourites on at the same time!

Isn’t it all just so trial and error!

10. The Locals, not in my back yard!

Campervans wild camping, leaving litter, using the bushes as a toilet and having campfires at night, that’s everything that’s been thrown at the wild camping van community world wide!

Councils ban campervans, locals often hate the sight of them and between the two, it results in a bad name for all those who are responsible, civilised and paranoid about getting tarnished with the same brush as any bad ass vannies who overstep the mark.

Who knows what misgivings people get up to, but we’ve seen first hand the locals making just as much mess as those reported vanlife folk. So how can the leftover rubbish, excrement and litter be possibly identified to a definite individual, once all have fled the scene?

At the end of the day a Campervan, van or Motorhome, is an easy target for blame, so we have to stick to the rules, leave no trace and give none of the locals ammunition to hate us!

11. Dust, it gets everywhere!

So the heat is on, picture the scene, it’s Summer in a hot Europe or any other part of the world. The windows are down, the roof vents open, doors flung back and then a plume of dust fills the air from a gust of wind or a passing car, as it passes over the unsealed road, gravel parking spot or even parched campsite!

Suddenly the inside of the van resembles a fog filled Victorian London and when the dust has settled, you’re left with a thin layer if you’re lucky or, if you haven’t been quick enough to grab doors & windows shut, the inside of the van, from bedding to sofa, cab to kitchen are layered in a powder of red, yellow or just plain old grey!

It’s now you wish you hadn’t just spent money at the laundry washing the fresh cotton linen bedding that morning or even worse, not covered up the light cream upholstery that looked so good on display in that show van or glossy pic when you chose the colour scheme.

12. Your Husband, Wife, Partner, Travel buddy…hmmm!

Your living in a tin box, not much bigger than an average sized spare bedroom, sharing the smallest of spaces together 24/7.

You HAVE to get along in every circumstance before you set foot in a van. If you don’t, be prepared for cabin fever, bickering, arguments, differences of opinion and even more annoying, not having the same goal in mind, not enjoying the same interests and hobbies on the road and wishing you were somewhere else.

Then there’s the inhibitions! There’s not much you can hide in a small space, you hear every little noise ranging from toilet duties, snoring, farting, in fact, every bodily function to getting dressed, undressed, showering, washing.

You so have to want to be with that person and know them inside and out to get the best out of sharing the same dream.

If you need a little space and it’s been raining cats and dogs for days on end, there’s not much way of escape from each other.

In a nutshell there’s no quick getaway to friends or family for a couple of hours a day, it may be several weeks or many months with just you and your chosen on road partner, unless, you’re a solo vanlifer, when the only person you have to get on with is you!

13. You’ve used the loo, but now you’ve got to empty It!

Back to the dirty business! Something we witnessed in Spain a few years ago, really sunk to new levels of crap things to do (pardon the pun!). We couldn’t believe our eyes, but our nose felt the after effects for some weeks afterwards!

As we tucked into our egg sandwiches alongside a lovely sandy beach (surrounded by Motorhomes & vans I may add), out came a guy from a nearby motorhome. He was carrying his cassette toilet into the sand dunes in front of us, you know what’s coming, but here it is anyway….he actually did it, he emptied the contents straight into the sand, no shame, no checking to see who was looking, no digging holes….yuk, yuk, yuk!!

No wonder, the locals in many places are so keen to get rid of us all!. Not for the squeamish, but thankfully our European friends provide the Motorhome dump for doing the said deed.

So there we are at the dump, waiting patiently for the person in front to get on with the it, (why do people take so long?!) we know to expect to see half the contents of the previous person’s waste matter splattered across the toilet drain, or certainly get a down wind whiff as they pour the contents hastily down the pipe, and they hope that no one else is getting to look at what’s coming out!

I know, you just can’t help but catch a sneaky peek, as hard as you try not to look, when you think it’s all over, you suddenly notice you’ve caught sight of the contents of last nights vindaloo…..this is such a dirty business!

Back in Britain, the loo emptying is a rather more hidden affair, often out of sight behind closed doors, on a caravan site of course, is where you’ll find the rather private toilet emptying facility, doesn’t it sound so much more sophisticated!

Now there’s one big downside to this enclosed situation and unless you’re any good at holding your breath for several minutes, which we are not, then this can become all a bit overwhelming. As the aroma of freshly poured sewage quickly fills the air, you soon realise why the Europeans prefer the outdoor variety!

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Emptying our loo at an Italian dump point

14. Noise, sometimes even the bird life is enough to wake you up

If you’ve ever slept in a tent, you’ll know that sounds in the night are hard to silence! Well, sleeping in a van is loads better, but if you’re a light sleeper, those noises in the dead of night will soon have you twitching behind the curtains to check what’s going on in the wilderness.

From road noise to birds, dare I mention the cockerel! Then there’s wind, rain, hail, waves, rivers, waterfalls, trains, lorries, aircraft, farm machinery, people, animals, church bells, cattle bells (if you’ve toured Austria, you’ll be with me on this one!), sirens, the unexplained, the unidentified and the plain old unimaginable…..thinking back to the time when we we’re woken up by the town’s automated grass sprinkler system firing up in the middle of the night, unbeknown to us, we’d parked right over it!!

15. Faults…engine or habitation, outside or inside, it’s inevitable at some point

We’ve always been fortunate to own our vans from new, now you’d think that would make a huge difference in having to deal with things going wrong and yes, you are right!

But, as with all things new or old, it doesn’t always mean that it will be a fault-free experience from the start. The chances are, they’ll be something big or small that’s not working as it should and when you’ve set off from the dealer or driven off in your pride and joy self-build, it’s an absolute pain to have to sort out problems.

With the habitation side, it really, really helps if you’re handy, have past experience or have at least spent some time away in a campervan, motorhome or even a touring caravan. When a fault occurs, we always say to people to go back to basics, as 9 times out of 10 it’s something really simple that’s wrong and nothing that needs more than a bit of thinking out, elimination and common sense.

But, sometimes, it’s more than that and it’s then, that we have to be prepared to sort a problem ourselves. Thankfully Nige is handy and knowledgeable or if it’s really something that we can’t tackle, it’s a case of grabbing the bull by the horns and making off to a dealer or repairer to get looked at properly.

Even if it is something we can sort ourselves, sometimes we’ll need parts and they may be far in comparison to where we are, so it’s usually easier to just drive there and get the problem sorted rather than sit it out for weeks waiting.

Before you ask, yes we’ve had to call out roadside assistance a few times, one time we’d just arrived at an orchard in rural France, when our Fiat suddenly started wallowing out bucket loads of steam, within an hour, our Fiat Assist in the UK had arranged a local garage to come to us, the part was repaired first thing the next morning without having to move the camper.

The key is preparation and not to panic, have a spares kit on board for the basics and always have European breakdown cover, regardless of age of the van is crucial for peace of mind and avoiding expensive recovery bills.

One thing’s for sure, at some point something will go wrong, it’s how you manage it when things do go tits up that counts!

16. Showering, it’s just not the same in a van

Yes, a shower in a van is great to have and pretty essential in Europe where public showers are few and far between.

Well, forget the good old shower that you’d have in a hotel or back in your bathroom back in Britain! A van shower is functional, it’s governed by a limited supply of hot water from those small boilers which need heating up, that’s about a 30 minute wait and then, it’s a on/off process of lathering up, hosing down and hoping there’s enough hot water left to condition my hair as well.

Poor Nige is always left with the remnants of the hot water tank rather than wait another 3o minutes for the boiler to heat up!

If it’s hot outside, it gets too hot inside, so it’s time for another shower at the end, so that’s when we go al fresco!! Yep, the outdoor shower gets whipped into action for a quick hose down in the open air!


Given the good with the bad side of #vanlife, for us, it’s still the best way to see the world. We just love everything there is about it, and over the years, we’ve learnt that it’s how you deal with things that matter, seeing the best out of everything and everyone and learning from those mistakes, experiences and issues. The most important thing, is having a great sense of humour whilst laughing about the weird stuff, taking it in our stride and not taking life too seriously, just adds to the adventure!

Vanlife

A beautiful Freedom Camping Spot in New Zealand

Vanlife…The Reality behind the Image!

The Rise Of The Panel Van Conversion

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!

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Lovely Lakeside Parking in our self-build van

The Rise Of The Panel Van Conversion

Sprinter 4x4

How things have changed within in a few years!

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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!

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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 

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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
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