The Mumbler family were lucky enough to borrow a campervan this summer (thanks to very kind grandparents!) and we embarked on a 3 week tour of some of western Europe. It really was the holiday of a lifetime, but inevitably we got a few bits wrong and so if you’re lucky enough to be planning a similar trip yourselves one day, then here are my top tips to help you out…
1) Don’t assume that it’s a cheap holiday. Yes, you can keep costs down by self catering in the van on an evening, making packed lunches on travelling days etc, however all of the other costs do add up. Campsite pitch fees in Europe during the school hols can be quite steep. In one place (albeit near Saint Tropez) the pitch fees were a jaw dropping €90 per night! Yes, I said €90 per night- for (in effect) a patch of earth! Needless to say we didn’t stay there too long… Most campsites in August were between €35-50 per night depending on location & facilities but times that by 14 or 21 nights and it soon adds up. Then you’ve got your petrol and ferry crossing, road tolls, you get the picture.
2) “Vignette” this is the road tax that you have to pay in Switzerland (and in Austria I believe although we didn’t go there) You buy it in the form of a sticker that you pop on your windscreen and it cost us €40 (2017) It runs for 14 months from 1st December each year and is non-transferable. It’s not worth chancing it without one as the fine is hefty.
Swiss flag selfie!
3) Pack lightly. Inevitably we took far too much stuff. The kids wore a quarter of what I took and every campsite other than the smallest ones had great washing facilities. Maybe 3-4 sets of shorts & t-shirts per person and 1 smarter outfit (for the obligatory kids disco) would have been fine.
4) Following on from that, don’t bring anything white. Not only are the campsites fairly sandy & dusty when you get to southern Europe, (and the kids will be out and about mucking around) when you are doing a wash on a campsite, you want to be able to chuck a load all in together, without worrying about separating whites from coloured.
5) Ditto go for coloured towels & bedding. I don’t want to give away all of my family secrets about how feral we get when camping, but let’s say that my normal hygiene/ washing routine was left in England. Take dark towels & bedding– it hides a multitude of sins.
6) While I’m on with the housework, take the biggest clothes airer that you can fit. You end up with tonnes of damp towels and swimming cozzies each day plus any washing. Size matters here ladies.
Note to self- I spend far too much time worrying about laundry. I’m such a mum…
The kids had to the tricky on-site manoeuvres for us… (Just KIDDING!)
7) If you’re going in August then pre-plan your route and probably book ahead. Campsites are busy. I’d love to believe that I’m still the “free-spirited-laisez-faire-sleep-wherever” Euro traveller, that I was when I went inter-railing aged 19 however I’d be lying. Now a totally conventional, fairly sensible mum-of-two who wants to know where she’ll be sleeping the following night. I want an electric hook up, a fairly decent loo block, a hot shower and a bar. These are the non negotiables.
8) Speaking of which, have low expectations of the sanitary facilities in Italy and France and you might not be as horrified as I was (yes, apologies that I’ve simultaneously offended 2 nations and made sweeping generalisations, but I can only speak as I find) The loo’s in Italy were the hole-in-the-ground/ odd-looking-shower-tray type with an accompanying hose pipe and no loo roll. In France, they seem to think that loo seats are optional and for every ‘clean’ loo I found 4 other grotty ones. Enough about that. Despite the loos I still loved both France & Italy.
9) Take the kids some form of digital entertainment. Yes, I know- I KNOW. We are supposed to be enjoying each others company, viewing the gorgeous sights in Europe on travelling days, spending time in the great outdoors. Blah blah blah. Whatever. The fact is, kids think long journeys are boring and even on the most fun campsites they want some downtime too. For my girls that means watching a bit of crap KidsTube or playing a bit of minecraft and I’m cool with that. Limiting it to the long journeys or the odd half hour here and there is not the end of the world. Don’t feel guilty about it.
10) Ditto don’t feel guilty if you get an unexpected free WIFI hotspot and you and your partner spend a “romantic” half hour glued to your i-phones in blissful silence. 3 weeks on the road in exclusively each others company is intense and involuntary digital exile (due to crap 4G) is a toughy. Embrace the tech. After all holiday isn’t a holiday these days unless it’s an instaholiday. #familyfun #makingmemories #justkidding #dontdothis #dontbeaninstagramdick #youllhavenofriends
Stange monk-type man at the bizarre “Pow Wow” festival in France
11) Buy an audiobook. This has been our saving grace for the long journeys. We ummed and ahhed about getting some sort of dark thriller and forcing the kids to wear headphones the whole time but we figured that this was a risky option. No one wants their 6 year old exposed to “Hannibal.” Instead we settled on the Harry Potter books. Somehow our family has totally missed out on this phenomenon over the past decade and so we are all gladly feasting on the series as we trot across Europe read by the lovely voice of Stephen Fry.
12) Try and get off the campsites. It is very tempting to just move from one site to the next without really seeing the local sites; especially when you’re in a motorhome as you can’t easily pack up for a days outing in the car. Don’t become a campsite slug! Yes, the pool and the bar is very alluring but if you don’t get off site then you’re missing out. Take bikes if you can (or hire them) and make use of local transport. Busses and trains are remarkably cheap and easy to use. Taxis not so cheap (as we learnt to our cost- €20 for a 7km trip!) Anyhow, without venturing out we would have missed the weird and wonderful “festival powwow” in the Alsace region of France complete with a full tepee village, western frontiers men and the worlds crap-ist horseshow (2 hours watching horseriders play hoopla on cones; I think that I was missing something…) We wouldn’t have found the gorgeous beaches in the south of France and we wouldn’t have seen the cows with bells round their necks in Switzerland.
13) Take tonnes and tonnes of pictures and videos. Yes, a holiday in a fairly tiny confined space can be “trying” at times but trust me, the minute you get back home you’ll feel the wanderlust again. The photos will help ease the pain. I could pretend that I actually got round to ordering prints/ doing a photo book but let’s keep it real. Scrolling through your phone to view is just perfect…