Baby on board
Rain hammered down on the windscreen as we searched desperately for a rest area to pull over in and tend to our screaming 9-month-old Paddy, who had been howling for half an hour.
It was here on this dreary motorway somewhere in Germany that we nervously wondered what the heck we had signed up for. And it was only day two.
Just a few weeks earlier my husband Ed and I purchased Big Bertha, a 3.5 tonne six-berth 2006 Ford Transit motorhome.
The idea came about because we wanted to make the most of my maternity leave while living in London with Europe on our doorstep.
A motorhome holiday seemed the perfect fit – a different view every day but the same bed for Paddy, not to mention cold drinks and the loo just a few steps away. What’s not to love?
Well, a gas leak, dodgy tyres, the occasional bout of cabin fever and the above-mentioned downpour/screaming baby situation. But this was a small price for the incredible journey that unfolded as we found our feet and embraced van life.
Jane Easton, her husband Ed and son Paddy cycle along the Danube river in Austria.
In August, we set off across the Channel from London with an ambitious route from Norway to Spain. You name it; we thought we’d go there. A few days in it dawned on us that there’s just no need to clock up the ks when you only have three months your sleeve.
So we kissed that route goodbye, escaped the motorway and meandered into the Czech Republic.
From there we moved mostly on recommendations from fellow travellers, and in the rest of that first month we covered less kilometres than we had in the first three days. Welcome to the slow life.
All set-up for the evening near Cortina, Italy.
Learning the ropes
We had a lot to learn, but fellow motorhomers (often German retirees) were only too glad to show us the tricks of the trade. And there are endless tricks: Lower one side of your awning so if it rains the water won’t collect and collapse it. Use the camping ground showers to save refilling your water tank. Do not wait until your cassette toilet is almost overflowing before you attempt to empty it…
Then there are the unwritten etiquettes that you take on as you undergo a remarkable transformation to motorhome nerd, like waving enthusiastically at every single motorhome you pass and proudly wear ghastly rubber slip-on shoes. (I resisted this for six weeks before I saw the light. It’s like walking on clouds.)
Parked up at a giant campground in Germany.
Europe is incredibly well set up for motorhoming and between our apps, maps and recommendations we were never short of options for where to park for the night.
Baby on board
Our main concern before we set off was how our highly energetic son would cope within the confines of a space smaller than our kitchen at home. How would we entertain him? What about his routine and how on earth do we baby proof a motorhome?
We needn’t have worried; he adapted with ease. We were able to put him down at night in the fixed bed at the back and still enjoy our evening around the table before retiring to our more cramped bed above the cab.
The journey came to an end last month when we limped back home to London (we blew two tyres just before the ferry crossing). We do plan to sell Bertha on, but for now she’s parked outside, trying to lure us back with her garish good looks. I have a feeling it won’t be long before we slip those rubber shoes back on over our socks and join her for another family adventure.
Top tips to becoming a motorhome pro
Find a van to suit your ne
Do your homework and view as many as possible. Do you want to be able to squeeze down the narrowest of lanes to that isolated beach, or the luxury of not having to make a bed up every night? If you bite the bullet and buy like we did, it’s a good idea to learn some basic mechanics, like we should have.
Organise your navigation
Be sure to set off with internet access or a GPS that can work offline.
Then you just need some camping apps which locate your nearest options for overnight stops. That said, you can’t beat a good old fashion fold out map on which to proudly plot your adventure. We converted a tablet into a GPS device by downloading an open source map app for $9. Don’t forget your chargers and adapters.
Think about your pitch
When arriving at camping grounds we kept falling for that isolated spot on a hill with great view, and that might suit you well. But by the end we were making a beeline for the pitches that were as flat as pancakes and close to facilities, even WiFi.
Get your timing right
Travelling just outside of peak season, we never struggled to find somewhere to pitch up and we joined a club that gave us up to 50 per cent off at 9000 camping grounds, valid from the first day of spring. But travel too late in the season and you may find campsites not offering some facilities or closing entirely.
If you can, be generous with time and flexible with your route, and you might want to consider changing plans based on weather forecasts.
Next Kiwi Traveller story:
Exploring the Tongariro National Park‘s Tawhai Falls Walk: Healing in my backyard