by Ruth Murdoch | 16 June 2019 | Summary Blogs
Today, 16th June 2019, we’ve been touring Europe in our motorhome full time for two years.
Initially, I was going to write a typical post about all the things we’ve done and all the places we’ve been to.
But then I thought, is that what people would be interested in?
So… Using social media (aka a couple of the more proactive motorhome Facebook groups I belong to), I asked the questions…
“If you were to interview someone who has been living full time in a motorhome touring Europe, what questions would you have for them? What would you want to know?”
So that’s how I’ve written this blog post.
Be warned, it’s a bit long (obviously there’s lots of questions out there). And in order to give you in-depth answers, I’ve linked to some more information. So where you see orange coloured text you can click on this to delve deeper into a different blog.
If you don’t wish to read the lot, then just scroll through the table of contents for the questions you want to know the answer to.
Alternatively, save the post and read it over several sessions.
This is written from our perspective and may not be how others see the world or would respond.
Below are the questions that were asked.
Before we get going, I thought an introduction might help to set the scene.
We are a married Kiwi couple, Ruth & Alan, who decided we wanted to spend some time exploring Europe. Our initial idea was to travel for one year, then it extended to two years and now the actual end date is undefined. We will continue with this lifestyle while our health, finances, and circumstances allow.
It helps that Alan, my husband, has an Irish passport, which makes travelling through Europe easy once you understand the Schengen rules.
We wanted to keep a diary of our travels, to share with friends and family so we set about learning the art of website construction, blogging, and posting about our travels. We are yet to perfect it and “www.travel-cook-eat.com” still has a long way to go but we are getting there slowly. We love writing in a way that makes life easier for other travellers.
We have deliberately decided to not monetise our website, so you won’t be bombarded with adverts throughout our blogs.
Betsy, Our Home On Wheels
What Are The Driving Skills Like [in Europe]?
From the 26 countries we’ve visited over the last two years, the overall standard of driving has been very good.
Slovenian drivers will stop for pedestrians before you even decide you want to cross the road. It’s almost the opposite in Italy.
At present we are in Italy and I’d have to say the Italian drivers can be a little aggressive. The roads don’t help though, as they are in very poor condition and are narrow, particularly around Tuscany. We have spent more than five months in Italy during different times and my opinion of the Italian drivers hasn’t changed. I confirmed my thoughts with an Italian friend who is a courier driver and he concurs. Italian drivers, however, are not the worst.
Whilst Morocco is on a different continent, the Moroccan drivers win the prize for the worst drivers we have encountered on our travels, hands down. (But don’t let that put you off visiting Morocco).
If you want to take a look at some of our driving in Italy, you can have a laugh here.
Typical Loads In Morocco
Is Overnight Parking Readily Available?
We mainly wild camp and have more often than not found free spots to stay the night.
There are some countries, however, that don’t allow wild camping (Croatia and Slovenia) and one country where it’s not such a good idea (Morocco).
For us, wild camping just means that you are not in an official camper parking area or camping ground. This could be beside a beach, along the roadside, in the bush or even in a supermarket carpark.
In some of the Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Finland and Norway) there are laws allowing the right-of-access to wild camp providing you follow a few simple rules. These rules state you must keep 150 metres away from inhabited buildings, if you wish to stay more than two nights you must seek permission and above all else you must be considerate and thoughtful.
The best place we’ve wild camped was in Greece. We would often wake up to million dollar vistas; from crystal clear oceans of Vourvourou right outside our door, to the Greek ruins of Delphi, and the mountaintop monasteries of Meteora to name a few. It probably helped that we were there in the low season as during the summer many of our spots could be overrun with tourists and may have parking restrictions imposed.
Are There Many Campgrounds Available With Full Facilities?
There are plenty of camping grounds throughout Europe that have varying levels of facilities ranging from very basic up to virtually five-star with top-notch swimming pools, restaurants and entertainment.
If the camping grounds cater for motorhomes only then they don’t typically have cooking facilities. The industry is very seasonal in many countries and you may find in the off-season that the great majority of campgrounds are shut.
We found this particularly true in Greece and Turkey and you should research online to confirm opening dates.
On the other hand, during the busy summer season, many camping grounds are full, particularly in the popular areas, such as coastal Croatia.
As mentioned, it’s illegal to wild camp in Croatia, so we chose to use camping grounds rather than risk high fines. They offered showers (some good, some not so), toilet blocks, black and grey water dumping points and electricity. We were there near the end of the high season in August 2017, and had some trouble finding a vacancy as we hadn’t booked ahead.
What is the General Cost of Travel?
Most people want to know what it costs us to travel and for this reason we reveal all our travel costs in a separate post.
In addition, below is some more in-depth information regarding some of the main expenses.
Diesel varies from country to country. The cheapest place in Europe for diesel that we have come across was Spain where it varied from between €0.98 to €1.15 (NZ$1.67 – NZ$1.96). The dearest place for diesel was Norway where we paid 16.15NOK – the equivalent to €1.65, or NZ$2.82 per litre. While writing this I spied diesel for €1.72 in Italy (NZ$2.93) – however we wouldn’t be buying any at this price as we filled up at an Auchan supermarket diesel pump recently for €1.42. We use a website (https://www.fuelflash.eu/eu/) to find Europe’s cheapest local diesel and LPG.
Tolls vary greatly and are expensive in Greece, France and Portugal. Interestingly, Portugal and Greece are both poor countries and the locals cannot afford to use the toll roads. Due to French protests, we bit the bullet and drove on their motorways. It cost us €39 to travel for three hours. Never again!
Wherever there are toll roads however, there are also alternative secondary free roads. These usually take longer (in some cases, eg Italy, it’s a lot, lot longer). These roads are less direct, not well maintained, narrower, windier, and often travel through narrow built up areas.
Nevertheless, in most cases we choose the free roads because we see much better scenery. Plus we usually have the time for a longer drive and prefer to save money (even when calculating the extra diesel costs). Most navigation systems (Google Maps, Tom Tom, Garmin, etc) have a setting for avoiding tolls roads so you can compare travel times and distance for both options.
We use the ViaMichelin app (ViaMichelin GPS, Route Planner) or website (www.ViaMichelin.com) to estimate the cost of travel and tolls. A little planning beforehand can mean that you take the most appropriate route for you that day.
Food is our biggest cost at around €90 per week (NZD $156) for the two of us. We rarely eat out and cook most meals from scratch. And because we love cooking, we tend to eat well (better than many of the restaurants we’ve visited).
Is There a Breakdown, Tow Repair Insurance Available and at What Cost?
The subject of insurances comes up often on motorhoming Facebook pages and is a hot topic among UK travellers.
To be honest, virtually every thread you read seems to have people recommending some products and disparaging others.
In most cases, owners buy breakdown insurance as an add-on to their vehicle insurance, however, they can also buy separate policies.
There are two traps that are catching some people out. Many policies limit how long you can travel for in Europe, either in a single trip or in a calendar year. Some policies also limit the size of the motorhome they will cover for breakdowns and recoveries. Make sure you are completely aware of the fine print and conditions.
It is a good idea to ask about other peoples experience on relevant Facebook pages to help make a short list of the better providers.
Betsy, our motorhome, is French registered, so we have French insurance with AXA. This includes basic breakdown insurance and roadside recovery within the annual premium of €822 (NZ$1,412) per annum. The coverage area is extensive and includes all of Europe, Morocco and Turkey.
Thankfully we haven’t had the need to call upon this.
What’s The Best Time To Travel Throughout Europe?
The great thing about Europe is that there is something for everyone.
For us, we don’t like extremes of heat or cold, or crowds of tourist (even though this is us), so we plan our travels accordingly.
During the heat of summer, you will find us in the northern countries, such as Scandinavia, or Poland (where we are heading for now).
Staying north during the winter is not so good unless your motorhome is properly winterised, with winter tyres, and double floor insulation with ‘wet’ type heating. Ours isn’t so we head south before it gets too cold and the snow sets in. Planning travel around anticipated local conditions is one of the fun challenges of being full time on the road.
We absolutely loved travelling through Norway in the autumn, where our photos are stunning with the yellow and red leaves against the snow-capped mountains and fjords in the foreground.
It is a good idea to avoid the real summer hot spots during the high season as they can be totally overrun with tourists and locals.
The shoulder months of April/May or August/September can provide great weather but a more relaxed experience. During our first winter, we went to Greece and Crete. For our second winter, we travelled to the south of Spain before taking a ferry across the Straits of Gibraltar to enjoy the winter warmth of Morocco in North Africa.
Betsy in Norweigian Snow
Autumn In Finland
Stunning Autumn Colours Norway
Are People Hostile to Motorhomers or Friendly?
Throughout Europe the locals have been either friendly or neutral towards us.
When we engage others in conversations we nearly always receive a friendly and interested response. Part of that is probably because as Kiwis travelling Europe, we have a point of difference and people want to find out who we are and what we are doing on their side of the world.
Some countries are well set up to accommodate motorhome travelling, e.g. France and Germany have a nationwide system of ‘Aires’ or ‘Stellplatz’. These are areas set aside for motorhomes and typically provided by the local authorities. They offer water, dumping stations and even electricity for free or a small charge.
Spain and Portugal have historically been havens for motorhomes with literally thousands of places you can park for a night or ten, provided you don’t engage in ‘camping behaviour’. In recent years the local authorities and police have started cracking down on this due to the massive influx on motorhomes during the winter.
Some areas are banning motorhomes, or the police are moving motorhomes on, or in some cases, people are being heavily fined. Generally though, as long as you are respectful, don’t stay too long, don’t set out your chairs, hang out washing or show other ‘camping behaviour’ Spain and Portugal are still great places for motorhomes.
What Class of License is Needed to Hire a Motorhome?
The typical motorhome available to buy or rent has a maximum allowable laden mass of 3.5 tonnes, which is the total weight of the vehicle including the driver, passengers, fuel, and water.
A standard drivers license in Europe allows the license holder to drive a vehicle up to this maximum weight. In Australia and New Zealand the car drivers license allows up to 4.5 tonnes and 6 tonnes respectively, however, you are unlikely to be able to rent anything over 3.5 tonnes.
Many countries also require a foreign driver to have an IDP (International Drivers Permit) that is issued by an organisation in your home country, such as the Automobile Association, the Royal Automobile Club, or your local Post Office.
The IDP is used together with your national driver’s license and acts as a translation into an agreed international format.
So in summary, you should have your normal national car driver’s license and an International Drivers Permit when you hire a motorhome in Europe.
Betsy In The Sahara Desert
What Size Is Best?
There is a reason why motorhomes and campervans are made in all sizes, from under five metres to over ten metres.
We all have different preferences, needs, and ideas about what is best. For us, we believe our motorhome is sized perfectly.
Betsy, our motorhome is 7.4 metres long, 3 metres high and 2.2 metres wide and is considered a big (but not very big) motorhome. She is not so large that we can’t tuck into [two] car parks for a quiet night’s sleep while giving us room to move around. She has separated living and sleeping quarters and a decent sized separate shower and toilet (which we love).
A smaller motorhome is more manoeuvrable around tight roads and small villages and can park in [one] smaller car park.
A campervan type vehicle is narrower, which gives less space inside but is also easier to drive and park. Some campervans are deliberately set up so they don’t look like campervans. This is so they can be stealthy and sleep overnight in spots that don’t allow motorhomes to stay.
We have electric bikes so we can avoid those parking problems and explore some amazing old town centres by bike. We didn’t want to be overly cramped and haven’t regretted going bigger.
In fact, we recently drove a 6m motorhome and felt it was just too small for full time living.
The very big motorhomes can be limited in where they can drive and free camp but of course, can be really nice inside. They obviously cost more to buy, run and maintain.
In summary, you need to decide what suits your personality, the type of travelling you want to do and the places you want to visit. Another important consideration is how will you use your motorhome? Is it just for the weekend, or will you live in it full time? Then rent a couple of motorhomes before buying to see if you can cope with the size you are considering.
What Happens If Your Van Breaks Down Or Need Repairs And Is Not Usable For Days?
Most motorhomers have some type of breakdown insurance.
Depending on the insurance policy you may only have vehicle recovery or possibly a replacement vehicle or even accommodation supplied.
If the worst happens you will need to find somewhere else to stay, alternative transport if you need that and adjust your plans to suit the reality of your situation.
We have just experienced this exact situation.
Our motorhome needed some repairs, which meant that we were without her for two weeks. Our dealer generously loaned us another (6 metre) motorhome but we found this to be too small and cramped for our comfort.
We, therefore, spent this time staying in AirBnB’s throughout Tuscany, Italy and used the loan motorhome for transport only.
Had we not been given a loan vehicle we would have hired a car and still stayed in AirBnB’s.
Making the most of our time in Tuscany, Italy we indulged in some truffle hunting.
What Happens If You Any Health Issues?
Life and health issues still happen, especially when travelling long term and it is certainly more difficult to get medical treatment when you are in a foreign country.
If you are a European citizen, you will have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) which gives access to state-funded medical treatment while travelling in Europe.
Other countries have reciprocal agreements with some European states to treat each other’s citizens. It is wise to make yourself aware of any that may assist you (see also the next question).
We have both been sick at different times.
We’ve had to find doctors, get blood tests taken, find specialists, and even had a recent experience in a public hospital. Luckily there has been nothing serious so far and we hope it stays that way.
For us, to return home to New Zealand for medical reasons (relating to our health) would be a huge blow so we try to stay as healthy as possible and avoid risky activities.
We have the time and flexibility to just stay put if we need some recovery or downtime.
Luckily, we can and do both drive which is fortunate should one of us sustain a physical injury like a broken leg.
Preparation and planning are important.
Take all the medication with you that you expect to need as well as any relevant medical records. Find out about how you can get repeat prescriptions filled if necessary or stock up.
Also it’s not a bad idea to bring doctors scripts with you as you may get them filled, depending on which country you are in. Have any dental checks and work completed before you leave home.
I’m asthmatic and needed some Ventolin. I walked into a pharmacy in France with my empty inhaler and they [reluctantly] replaced it with a new one for about €5 (less than NZ$9).
We hope to look this good by the time we finish travelling!
What Insurance Can Be Put In Place To Cover Health Issues?
When we visited a hospital recently we were pleased to learn that Australia has a bilateral health agreement with Italy.
That meant that I could be treated free of cost as I had the required documents due to having lived in Australia for many years.
Our health insurance with QBE from Australia covered us for the first two years. It wasn’t cheap but gave us comprehensive cover (which we haven’t had to claim on, fortunately).
After two years, our options were to find alternative cover or self-insure. The insurance cover we are considering is called World Nomads. It’s not as good as our original insurance, which means that we have a certain amount of self-insurance but on the positive side it was significantly cheaper.
Best, Worst And Funniest Stories
Our best story would have to be the time when we saw the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) in Norway.
We arrived into Norway on 17th September 2018 and were told it’s far too early in the winter season to see the lights.
Not only did we see the lights that night for several hours, but earlier in the evening we witnessed a rare and stunning sunset that is only possible two or three days of the year (weather permitting). To see more photos or read the whole story click here.
The worst story would have to be the time when I got locked in a toilet in Greece. It was the most frightening thing that has happened to me on our travels. Here’s the story.
The Worst thing that happened to us both was getting stuck in a snowstorm driving in Norway. We had full sunshine in the morning, and by 6pm we were in serious trouble. Here’s the full story.
How Do You Budget Your Money?
We use an app that’s loaded on my iPhone called MoneyWiz to record every expense (both cash and card purchases).
We don’t leave the shop until the expense is recorded. With this app, we can quickly see our spending for the month, both overall and individual categories. It also handles different currencies easily (eg Morocco, Russia, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Croatia, Turkey, etc).
Knowing what countries are cost-effective helps too, as we can plan to stay in those places to compensate for other times when we travel to more expensive countries.
Turkey, Morocco, and Greece are low-cost places to spend the winter months.
We are heading up to Hungary, Poland, and Czechia this summer and we understand these countries are cost effective.
Having said that, we don’t shy away from the more expensive countries, such as Norway.
We did plan our trip and made sure to stock up on supplies in the neighbouring cheaper country of Germany.
Do You Work While Travelling?
Alan has been working remotely part-time while we’ve been away, however that has now stopped. We spent eight years planning this trip and saved up hard to ensure we would have enough money.
While at home we would sacrifice going out and spending money on the weekends, while we watched our friends socialising, eating, drinking and going on holidays. Our business in Australia was teaching people how to value their money and spend on what’s important to them.
We denied ourselves for years and even now we are careful about where our money is spent. We don’t eat out often but thankfully we like cooking and attend cooking lessons in different countries.
We do spend money on experiences; for example, we hired a yacht in Greece and went sailing for a week.
We are currently exploring options to earn money and supplement our savings while staying on the road longer.
This little fella was working hard planning for his winter
How Has It Changed You?
It’s true what they say about travelling. It will change you.
When attending school as a teenager I was not at all interested in history. That’s changed now and I love learning about what happened to the people in the countries we have visited. I like learning about the different battles the countries had, the rise and fall of empires, who took them over, how the people used to live and what life, in general, was like.
It makes me sad to see beautiful countries spoilt by rubbish. As Kiwis we were brought up with the slogan “Be A Tidy Kiwi”. That meant that littering was a big no, no.
We find ourselves wanting to leave the countries, towns, and parking spots in a better condition than we found them. That often means removing rubbish the locals have left behind. We hate seeing rubbish left lying around, particularly when there are rubbish bins available within easy walking distances.
Alan (and I) collecting rubbish left over from other campers in Greece
What’s The Scariest Thing About Travelling Full Time?
The fact that we may not want to stop and we could find ourselves nomadic for many years to come.
The thought that something might come along and stop us travelling forever, before we are ready to stop is scary.
The concept that we might have to return to the real world one day and have ‘normal’ lives and jobs is downright petrifying.
We are often asked about how safe we feel wild camping in Europe and is it scary? We have a routine to ensure that we are as safe as possible, which you can read about it by clicking here.
What On Earth Will We Do After Brexit?
Since we are from New Zealand, Brexit doesn’t affect us. And as Alan has an Irish passport, we both travel freely together throughout Europe as mentioned earlier.
On that note, Alan spent months researching the legalities of Schengen and has put together a comprehensive blog that includes correspondence to the different embassies and the actual documentation that we travel under. For Kiwis and Australians travelling to Europe this is worth a read.
Even if you are from the UK, you might find this blog well worth reading. You could even find that there are some loopholes that allow you to travel long-term in Europe post Brexit.
The Schengen Countries (click to enlarge)
Are You Satisfied With Your Motorhome? What Attributes / Accessories Do You Wish You Had? What Could You Do Without? What Gear Is Necessary?
I expect that what we think is necessary, others might think of as a luxury or totally unimportant.
However, we believe we have the perfect setup for our long-term travel and have thought long and hard about what we believe we should carry or have on board. For example, we wouldn’t be without our solar panels.
We are self-confessed power hungry travellers. We need power for our laptop computers, phones, electric toothbrushes, TV, blender and other appliances. So making the decision to install two solar panels, a large inverter, and an extra leisure battery came quite easy.
Other things we wouldn’t be without are our electric bikes. Given Betsy’s size, we cannot always park near the city or town centre, so we find a parking spot outside and use the bikes to explore. That way we get some exercise and have easy freedom of movement to sightsee.
The only item that we thought we needed but don’t have is a gas oven. This was supposed to be installed but for various reasons that never happened. It’s a long story, however, we have ended up with an Omnia stovetop oven and thankfully it’s lightweight, easy to store, and can do about 90% of what a full sized, heavy and expensive gas oven does.
We purchased a microwave/convection oven at the beginning of our travels because the oven we ordered hadn’t been installed. We only ditched it about six weeks ago after lumping its weight around for nearly two years. The occasional use didn’t justify the weight and space it took up.
Oh and I nearly forgot. One thing we had fitted was an external gas point so we could BBQ outside. After having used the BBQ once only, we gave it away. I don’t know why we thought this was necessary because we never BBQ’d at home (I hope I’m not going to lose my Kiwi citizenship by admitting to this fact).
If you would like to know how we have achieved the perfect set-up, have a read of our blog.
Our Omnia Oven
Do I Miss A Bath?
One of the all-time luxuries for me is to have a bath and yes I do miss this.
Therefore if we are staying with friends who have a bath we will ask to use it.
Or if we are planning a stay in an AirBnB or a hotel, a bath is the first criteria we look for.
Our hotel in Russia only had two rooms available with a bath and we requested and were given one of these.
Likewise, when staying in Tuscany recently, all of the AirBnB’s we stayed in had a bath.
Sometimes big sacrifices need to be made to enjoy the bigger picture. This is one.
Why Did You Leave Me Behind?
I’m happy to share the secrets of how anyone can have the same lifestyle as we do. In fact, it’s not a secret at all, it’s dedication and hard work. It starts out by having a desire to want something different in life. And wanting it badly enough that you will sacrifice the here and now for something in your future. We call it delayed gratification.
Interestingly it is, in fact, cheaper for us to live on the road than to live in our home back in New Zealand. True story.
Okay, we don’t have some of the ‘things’ around us that we would have at home but it’s all a matter of choice. Imagine living rent-free, with no water or power bills. Imagine being able to go into shops and not be tempted to buy anything – because you just don’t have room to store it. Life on the road can be quite low cost.
So here’s how you can achieve this lifestyle too.
Start with a plan. Work out when you want to travel, what you’re willing to give up to get it, and then work out how much it will cost. It doesn’t matter if it takes you ten or twenty years to achieve it (providing time is on your side). What matters is that you have a goal, break the goal down into manageable pieces, and then start a plan towards achieving your goals.
Most people will give up because it’s too hard, then look at others thinking how lucky they are. Luck has nothing to do with it, plan, plan, and plan!
We have met lots of people on the road who have in fact put a plan in place and then executed it.
If you want to read a blog of someone who has a very similar story to ours, then take a read here.
What is that saying, if you can visualise it, you can achieve it!
Has It Changed Your Views About Climate Change And Recycling And Plastic Usage?
We have seen first hand how damaging plastic usage is to the environment.
We made a conscious decision to try and avoid drinking water from plastic bottles and use our water tank for all our water needs. We have reusable bags for carrying groceries so very rarely need to use plastic shopping bags.
When in Morocco recently we were thrilled to hear and see that plastic bag usage has been (largely) abolished. They need to go one step further with plastic drinking bottles as these are an eyesore.
In Scandinavia, the recycling of cans and bottles (plastic and glass) is encouraged financially. When you buy products in these containers, a deposit is added to the purchase price. People turn up with bag loads of bottles, feed them into a machine located at the entrance of each supermarket, and receive a credit for their deposits.
Sweden has one of the lowest footprints in the world in terms of its refuse. In fact, Sweden is so good at recycling that, for several years, it has imported rubbish from other countries to keep its recycling plants going. Less than one per cent of Swedish household waste has been sent to landfill since 2011.
In order to answer the question about climate change, I don’t think that travelling for just two years to only 26 countries is long enough to form an opinion about such an important issue. I will leave this one for the experts.
Rubbish is a sad fact of life, especially in Palermo, Sicily, Italy
Do You Miss A Permanent Home?
Yes and no.
We do have a permanent home in Auckland, New Zealand, which is rented out.
What I miss (apart from the bath) is having a garden where I can grow and then harvest fresh herbs, fruit and vegetables. I do know of some motorhomers who have set up small herb gardens in their vans though.
I don’t miss the maintenance, however, like mowing lawns, trimming hedges, painting houses.
There is some comfort in knowing that our house will always be there when or if we return.
The advantages of living in a mobile home seriously outweighs any desire to be in a permanent home at this stage.
Are You Happy?
In a word, YES!
We sometimes have to pinch ourselves to make sure that where we are is real. We look back on some of our photos and can’t believe we’ve been to so many wonderful places, seen so much, had lots of different experiences and met so many amazing people.
I do miss my family and friends back home and do my best to keep in touch through social media, phone calls, and I even write postcards occasionally (particularly to my elderly father who isn’t online).
Where Do You Go When You Have A Fight?
I am lucky to be travelling with my soul mate and we just don’t fight. The key to this, I believe, is due to clear communication.
That doesn’t mean we always agree with each other. Sometimes we have opposing opinions, but it doesn’t get to the point of fighting, as we know to allow space and let the other person have their own opinions that differ from ours. We accept this.
As a life coach in my previous life, I specialised in relationships and I used personality profiling and NLP techniques as tools to help couples understand themselves, as well as each other. Learning to communicate in your partner’s value system will provide a more harmonious life.
I often taught people how to identify the VAK communication style. People have a preference for how they see the world, either visual, auditory, or kinaesthetic (feeling). Understanding your partner’s style this can go a long way to improving communication.
To find out more information about this you are welcome to contact me, free of charge and I can explain more.
If you are contemplating travelling full-time with your partner and you argue a lot, disagree a lot and frequently need your own space and time, then maybe you should think again.
What Was The Inspiration / Catalyst For Travel?
Initially, the inspiration was to celebrate my 50th birthday in Venice enjoying a gondola ride with my husband. This had been an eight-year dream, one we talked about regularly. I visualised every part of that day and it turned out perfectly.
Another catalyst for me was to tick off a bucket list item. I’ve always wanted to learn a foreign language and knowing myself I felt I should live in a country and surround myself with that language.
While travelling we’ve been learning Italian and Spanish (and French for Alan) and have just recently decided that Spanish will be the language of choice.
We plan to spend more time in Spain so I can attend language classes and delve deeper into achieving my goal.
Do You Feel Divorced From Society And If So, How Do You Counter It, Without The Use Of Social Media?
I think our ‘society’ has shifted.
I don’t feel divorced from what others would consider as society, but have made a new society, being the motorhome community, which is very large in Europe. There is often someone you can talk with who understands your lifestyle choice. Social media is certainly a big part of this.
We also make an effort to engage in conversations with other motorhomers wherever we park. We particularly like to see those motorhomes with GB (English), NL (Netherlands) and/or D (Germany) registration plates, as we are usually guaranteed an English conversation.
Food is something that brings us together.
As mentioned we like to cook and share food with others. Occasionally I will cut up some fruit and hand around the platter for others to enjoy, or share cake or cookies. If it’s cold outside, we invite people in for a drink (usually BYO). Food is friendship.
In Finland last year we turned up at a free parking spot with about 10-12 other vehicles. It was cold and getting dark and I knocked on the door of everyone inviting them over for a drink and conversation after dinner. Not everyone came (thankfully as Betsy would have struggled) but those who came enjoyed themselves (at least we think they did).
As we don’t have English TV channels on our TV (our choice) and we can’t read local newspapers, we are often behind in hearing about world events. But guess what? It doesn’t matter. Most of the news is bad news anyway and us not knowing it isn’t going to affect anything one way or the other. If it’s important someone will let us know.
How Do Friends And Family React To Your Choice Of Van Life?
For the most part, our family tells us to enjoy it while we can.
They know how hard we worked to get this far and are encouraging of our lifestyle choice.
My parents-in-law travelled a similar route in the 1950’s and it’s fun sharing our locations with them via Skype. Sometimes my mother-in-law will pull out her diary and read paragraphs from the same location as we are in. It’s amusing when they ask if the same bar or store is still on the corner.
We know van life isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but we are sure our friends are happy for us.
What’s The Most Common Question You Get Asked?
1. How can you be retired so young? A: Planning.
2. Did you win lotto? A: No.
3. How much does it cost? A: Not as much as you expect (see our earlier answer about costs).
We Donated A Kiwi Tea Towel To The Boomerang Cafe In Turkey
If You Wash Your Underwear…How Can You Dry It On The Go, Or Outside Without Arousing Unwanted Attention?
We have our own washing machine, just a little thing we bought from Amazon, which is fantastic. And actually, my husband does all the washing and given we mainly wild camp we find spots where hanging out washing won’t be a problem. We pick our spots carefully to not offend others or attract attention from the police (hanging out the washing is seen as ‘camping behaviour’ and banned in many areas). As long as we have a water supply close by, and sun to supply power to our batteries (and dry the clothes), we can wash everything without needing a laundromat. They can be expensive in Europe.
Do You Ever Miss Sitting On A Proper Toilet?
It’s not something I’ve really thought about.
While travelling we’ve noticed the toilets throughout Europe are all different. I think I could write a book on toilets alone!
That said, it’s funny how many times when I sit on a normal toilet that I find myself reaching down as though I have to open the hatch.
The toilet in Betsy is very comfortable and the toilet space is relatively generous, so no I don’t miss a proper toilet. Thanks for asking, Andy Spencer.
How Do You Decide Where To Go?
We have a loose plan of where we want to travel.
Typically we follow the birds and travel north for the summer, thereby avoiding the sweltering summer heat, and then south for the winter trying to avoid the cold and snow. We don’t carry winter tyres or chains so this restricts our time in certain countries where there are legal obligations about chains and tyres.
We use a very good app called Park4Night to find suitable stopping points for the night. We are often attracted to the coast or lakes (we are water people) and oftentimes other travellers tell us places we should not miss.
Our travels are fairly fluid, meaning we can chop and change on a whim. We can stay longer or move on should we wish.
Where Did You Buy Your Motorhome?
We bought Betsy from a motorhome dealer in France, located not far from Paris.
She was built in Italy and we collected her, brand new, from Genola, a small town in northern Italy. Betsy has French registration, an Italian flag in the logo, and New Zealand decals on her. That confuses people but typically we will have people say bonjour to us.
Alan speaks a little French so he converses until they realise we are English speaking.
The process we used to select and purchase a French registered vehicle without actually having a French address can be found by clicking here.
Betsy’s photo of us Wild Camping on Lemon Beach in Greece is on a 2019 calendar
Do You Miss Having A Connection With The Same People Regularly? For Example The Mail Person, The Grocery Store Clerk, Familiar Faces?
Having been away from our home country, New Zealand for ten years, we are used to not having that connection so this feels quite normal for us.
Having said that, when staying in one spot in Istanbul for four weeks we began to feel like locals and were soon recognised by the local shopkeepers.
That was a nice feeling.
We hope in future years to spend much longer spells in one spot and feel part of a local community.
The service type person I miss the most is my hairdresser. I hate having to find a new hairdresser in different countries. They do their best but it’s often hit and miss whether I get a good haircut or not. Although you know the difference between a good and bad haircut, don’t you? Two weeks!
While living in Perth, Western Australia, we didn’t really connect with our locals like folk do in English villages. I envy the English for having that special connection with their local greengrocer, etc.
Do You Miss Not Being Able To Do The Conga During New Years Celebrations With The Neighbours?
I might have to come to the UK for New Years Celebrations to experience the Conga – that’s a new one on me.
When living in New Zealand we had a street party each year on Guy Fawkes night and I was named ‘Little Lucifer’ for my interest in pyrotechnics. I miss those times for sure.
What Contingency Plans Do You Have Should…
1 – your vehicle get damaged
We would get it fixed and take temporary accommodation if necessary – we have a four-year mechanical warranty on the vehicle from Renault and insurance that will pay for accommodation while accident repairs are carried out. We had this happen recently and stayed in AirBnB’s for a couple of weeks while Betsy was getting some love and attention from the manufacturer.
2 – your partner is taken ill or dies?
We have both been sick and just stayed put until we felt better. We have travel insurance that will repatriate us to New Zealand if there is a major medical problem. We’ve talked about what would happen if one of us dies. You never really know until the time comes, but if I were the surviving partner, I would relocate back to New Zealand.
3 – the money runs out?
We have insurance to cover us for big costs that would affect our savings. We watch our money carefully and live within our means so that it doesn’t or shouldn’t run out. However, if that did happen, we would go back home and get jobs. We are both in our early fifties and are university educated with good corporate skills. Let’s hope the New Zealand economy stays strong, just in case.
How Do People “Survive” With No Fresh Water Supply?
When travelling full time and free camping in a motorhome you have to be very mindful about fresh water supplies.
You have to become very good at foraging for water and it is everywhere if you know where to look. Motorhome service points, public water taps/fountains, beach taps, service stations, friendly people or businesses, cemeteries, streams…. there are many options.
Sicily was the most difficult place to find water as most of the public fountains had been disconnected to save money (we think). One of the few times we had an issue trying to find fresh water was in a place called Aqua Dulce. This literally translates to sweet water, only there wasn’t any. We found a cemetery on the outskirts of town and topped up there.
We carry 100 litres of water in our tank, which with mindful usage, lasts for about 3-4 days. This includes a daily shower, cooking, and washing dishes. It doesn’t include laundry usage.
We carry an additional 20 litres in containers in our garage and we use a funnel to empty these into the tank. Our spare water containers can be carried on our electric bikes, and on many occasions, these have been used to ferry water back to Betsy from public water supplies which have been up to 2 km away.
The Park4Night app we use identifies many locations with available water so we look ahead and top up. French Aires always have water.
Once in Greece we asked for water from a tap located outside a Taverna and paid €5. Camping grounds have water but we haven’t yet needed them as they usually want you to stay the night (quite reasonable really) if you want to use their services.
Fortunately, the great majority of water in Europe is safe and good to drink.
However before filling our main tank we will taste the water and even make a cup of tea with it. If it passes the taste test, we fill up. The water goes through one filter before reaching the tank and there is a second filter after the water pump.
We have been caught out a few times with poor quality drinking water.
That’s all folks.
So these are the questions you’ve asked and I hope the answers have satisfied your curiosity. If you have any other questions, please feel free to leave a comment below and I will do my best to answer them.
Safe travels if you are on the road and you see us please toot or come over for a cuppa (or vino).
Please feel free to PIN and read later.