Exploring Europe with a camper

An acquaintance asked for advice because he wants to explore Europe with a camper for a several years. That is why I decided to write down my experiences that I have gained with our motorhomes over the past decades.

  • First, there is the choice of whether you want to be a traveller or a tourist.
  • Second, it is important what financial options you have.
  • Third, there is a choice between comfort and flexibility.
  • Fourth, there is a choice between DIY or production model.
  • Fifth, it is important to realize that the appearance of the camper or motorhome gives guests the first impression about you, which means that you will be approached with many prejudices.
  • Sixth, keep in contact with the world (and family) by a mobile phone (also useful for App’s like Campercontact)
  • Seventh, Don’t forget to consider an anti-burglary system.
  • And last but least, don’t forget that the goal is to “discover” Europe by putting aside all your prejudices …
Our first “vacation” transport, with our two young daughters (Zeeland).
“exploring” the Netherlands on foot, backpacking (Pieterpad).
“exploring” Europe with our first camper (Sweden).

We started from scratch. We weren’t big-money owners, so we refurbished an old cargo bike and started to explore Zeeland. We received too much attention at the campsites. The other camping guests walked around the campsite in the evening and took unashamed pictures of our cargo bike and the small tent. Some said aloud to each other that they had “pity” for our young children … Only in the so-called “green campsites” we were accepted as “normal” people.

As soon as the girls were able to walk well, we started backpacking in the Netherlands. We adjusted the daily walking distance to the ability of the children. The Netherlands is so densely populated that it is always possible to camp at campsites; wild camping is not necessary / allowed. Despite the hardship, the children still often think back to those holidays!

The history of our holidays more or less determined what kind of camper we bought, when we had collected some savings for it. A small flexible camper with a reliable engine and as cheap as possible. My hobby would be travelling with (and not tinkering with) campers, so it became an old converted and reliable Mercedes 270D in which the four of us could sleep comfortably, together with our dog.

Thanks to the previous holiday experiences, we were able to make a more conscious choice from the many options. Be aware that this is not always possible, remember the quote:

  • “Experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it.”

We are travellers, rarely spend 2 nights in the same place, walk a lot with our dog, talk to people, admire villages and old buildings, immerse ourselves in local history, visit shops, often get lost and then immediately change our plan, do not look for a suitable overnight place until an hour before sunset, avoid official motorhome pitches and campsites, ….. all with the adage of the following quotes:

  • “If we end up serving our plans, instead of them serving us, then we’ve kinda lost the plot.”
  • Tourists see the world, travelers experience it”.
  • As with all travelers, I’ve seen more than I remember, and remember more than I’ve seen.
  • It is indeed more worthwhile taking the road less traveled. You are sure to suffer, hurt, curse and get frustrated. But in the end you’ll always come out the other end with more than a tale. You’ll have a spot in your memory that will always take your breath away every time you revisit it.”

The big disadvantage of a built-in model (which is next to your house all year round) is that the weather influences on the steel bodywork have an enormous negative influence. After a few years, a lot of welding was needed to make the Mercedes built-in camper drive safely. That is why we bought a second-hand semi-integrated camper based on a Mitsubishi L300.

The model of the camper area was more suitable for us because the children were now teenagers and needed more sleeping space. Despite its width, the model was also ideal for parking in busy towns and for driving through dense forest roads … The big disadvantage of the Mitsubishi L300’s narrow track was that it felt like you were driving a swaying boat.

Due to a collision on the highway in France, the Mitsubishi L300 was total loss. Fortunately, the camper part remained intact. I bought a third hand Mercedes 100D and had the camper part transferred at former Sonnemans Motorhomes in Waalre.

The engine that Mercedes used in these models was indestructible and could also be resolved by non-technicians in the event of problems. Too bad they are very polluting. We have traversed large parts of Sweden, Germany, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, France and Northern Spain and it turned out that we felt most at home in the rugged Spanish Pyrenees. As long as it doesn’t resemble the flat Flanders in any way, I feel “on vacation”. In particular, how the Spanish population and government deal with their beautiful natural areas also demands admiration and respect.

It goes without saying that as a traveler you only leave your footprints, even though everyone must gradually realize that the motorhome emits a lot of exhaust fumes which do not do the climate any good (only for holiday fun).
We have been in many beautiful places, but always there was somewhere some shit with toilet paper in the bushes which was from ordinary day trippers who do not have a camper with a toilet.

I have never felt unwanted with this relatively small camper. Everyone thought it was disarming and funny when they saw all the band names. We were often greeted by strangers (probably because they were a fan of one of the bands).

As a traveller you immediately notice the difference in prejudices the local population has, when you get out of this pleasant and funny camper compared to how they react when you get out a white brand new factory camper. It’s the diffence between a traveller and a tourist.

But after years, the steel cabin of this semi-integrated also turned out to be so corroded that in my opinion too much had to be renovated. I decided to give the camper as a gift to a colleague and buy another camper.

Because we were older and did not like converting the camper furnishings into the sleeping situation every evening, I went looking for a more comfortable interior with a fixed bed and a more spacious layout. I found a used “Roller Team” that fulfilled that idea, based on a Ford Transit.

With hindsight, this purchase was a wrong one. During the last 9 years we have had many problems with the motor part and the size of the camper prevented us from driving on the desired small roads. The comfort in the camper area is ideal, but as a traveller you mainly sit and relax outside …

I decided to make the white camper/motorhome look a bit less like an aggressive vehicle with which tourists normally invade the beautiful areas of Europe. So I thought: Let me not write the names of bands, but refer to them by means of lyrics … curious if people recognize only the lyrics and can add a name to it.

before
work in progress …

It is a matter of balance: Whether you have comfort in the camper, but then travelling with the motorhome is difficult; or travelling is easy and comfortable, but then the camping area is spartan.

We started as travellers, but now we’re older we’re becoming more like tourists.

DIY-guys seem to be able to make everything cheaper and even better … but when I make or fix something myself … I always worry at times when I don’t want to. Then I lie awake at night during a rainstorm to listen if the falling drops are falling in the camper or outside the camper … asking myself  “did I use the correct sealant on the roof seams?” That’s why I always carry a lot of my tools around half of Europe in the camper …

You can only worry about something you know about … With a ready-made camper and an expensive insurance for assistance on the road, you will not be bothered by that.

  • “never travel without duct tape”

And it has been proven to me … the best and most efficient surveillance of a motorhome is a German Shepherd!

It is always easy to have something on your phone with which you can search for potentially nice camper pitches and where you can at least find where there is a camper servicestation (for water tap and discharge from the toilet and waste water tank).

I use the paid App from Campercontact (about 6 euros / year) .

Published by wim harwig

too old to die young, but still making love and not war

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