Living on the road is still something quite new to us; we are learning every day. Lessons we love; learning from others around us and following in footsteps of fellow van friends. One thing that made us a little different to many other van lifers our age... we didn’t have a camper van or a conversion; we had a motorhome.
Our favourite thing about van life was finding new places to explore and finding amazing things to see and do. Discovering new cultures and experiences is what travelling is all about right... but when you’re new to the country and area where do you start?
The best way for us was simply learning from everyone else! Filled up from dinner, we would sit and search through blogs and Instagram pages of fellow young people living life on the road. Often getting into contact with people to ask for recommendations and ideas, but in a bigger and older van, sometimes places we found were not best for us; there are just a few minor things we have to consider differently from our fellow van lifers.
So what did we have to consider differently....?
Maybe a weird one or self-explanatory to people who are hot on geography (not us), but the first thing we really needed to consider was the country itself. A little straight to the point... but what we mean is, don’t visit Andorra for example, when your van can’t easily drive up mountains... like we did!😳 Knowing your surroundings is a massive help and can get you out of some squeaky bum moments.
Our van was 3.5 tonne, so not heavy at all, but due to the age and only having a 1.9 diesel engine; hills/mountainous areas were a struggle. Northern Spain wasn't great; loads of the roads were long, steep hills... driving in 2nd gear for 5km is not fun! Although we do love being up in the mountains, so we went, but picked wisely.
Road conditions mattered a fair bit when being in a larger van; something we didn’t really think about before our trip. Again, it was good to bare in mind what landscape is around the region we visited. We’re not city people and like to visit less ‘tourist’ focused places to see the real area; and we also didn’t drive on any toll roads. In most countries this was fine, as roads were well maintained like back in the UK. But in some, they quite clearly don’t have a local pot hole police moaning to the council! 😂
Often any road other than a motorway feels like you’re driving over a million Lego pieces; which doesn’t make a pleasant drive. Sticking to main roads is best if this could be a problem for your van. In Spain and Portugal there’s also significantly less purpose built Aires, especially ones that are free. There’s much more freedom to wild camp though, which was great. But this meant they might have a crazy excess road!
You can find the most beautiful places when wild camping, but we always made sure the access road is suitable for us. If there was a place we really wanted to visit, but weren’t sure of the access, we would find a safe place to park and walked the road to make sure we were happy to drive down. There’s been times when we just risked it for the most beautiful stays, but like we're all told... pick your battles. There’s no point getting stressed out when there’s always going to be somewhere else just as good!
Now us Brits love to hunt for a little bit of sunshine... just as long as it’s not too hot; because we’ll moan about that. 👍 But travelling Europe, whatever the time of year, sunshine is not always on the menu. Give us sun, rain, snow, hail, thunder, lightning... anything but wind!
Wind honestly was the worst thing ever in our van. Knowing the weather conditions of where we were going was really important. We had far too many sleepless nights because of the wind swaying us about; it’s was not nice at all and at times quite scary. Crossing bridges can be an awful experience too, if it’s windy; and France loves a completely open road... stopping the wind from pulling you on to the other side of the road was not ideal.
We always made sure we knew a week in advance the weather predictions of where we were or where we were travelling too; making different travelling decisions if needed. Sometimes the best thing to do is just avoid it. Also, getting a good weather or wind app before you start travelling is a great help, it will tell you the exact direction of the wind and you can park the van to avoid it a little. Parking with the wind hitting the front or back we found was best for us.
Safe and happy travels...
Tyler and Jess x