Adventures in vans
I’ve just returned from an incredible adventure - touring around Spain and France with my family in a motorhome for 3 weeks.
Motorhomes aren’t new to me. I grew up in a van family - it was our livelihood and our lifestyle. The story goes that as a young, newly married couple, my Mum sent my Dad off with all the money to book a holiday and he came back with a campervan. With (a little) reluctance they set off to France in their wee van and were hooked - the rest is history.
One van became 2 that they hired out when not using and eventually a whole fleet of motorhomes and a business that supported our family for 30 years.
They retired the year of the pandemic - which would have been their busiest year ever had they opened, but I’m quite glad they missed some of the craziness that was motorhoming in 2020.
Cheggs and I first met over conversations about vans, and I believe his excuse to phone me up for the first time was something to do with the gas in my fridge. Our early arguments revolved around which of our vans to take on weekends away (mine with comfy seats and mod cons, his stealth surf mobile with more cred at the beach).
We have travelled to Europe as a couple, and with 3 month old Sandy and the dog to Brittany in 2014. That trip was quite possibly the reason we left it another 8 years - picture wet dog, crying baby, tired breastfeeding mother all confined to a van during a pretty wet French autumn - and then getting stuck there when he dog’s passport was rejected and dog was required to quarantine before they’d let us home.
So we’re no strangers to vans - but this was the first, long-awaited, full-family European motorhome adventure. And to be honest I was a little nervous - how would we get on? Would be drive each other mad? What would we do? How would we balance Cheggs’ desire to hang at the beach with my insatiable need to see everything cultural within a 100 mile radius whilst drinking Aperol spritz in the sunset?
We had a vague plan - we knew when our ferry was and when it was coming back, and where we might like to go (Spanish and French Basque region, Pyrenees, Dordogne / Lot area, Atlantic Coast) - but after the Hebridean summer we’ve just had, sunshine and warmth was a huge priority and we were completely willing to drive all the way to Southern Portugal if that’s what it took to get our Vitamin D.
Luckily, the weather was on our side. We had 3 weeks of warm and dry, mainly sunny weather, and for that I could not be more thankful. We spent days at the beach, in the mountains, exploring rivers and waterfalls. We managed to use all of the toys we took with us - surfboards, SUPs, bikes, and playing card games.
The trip was an adventure but we all had to do a bit of preparation to get the best out of it … And I mean mental and emotional preparation as well as the packing and crazy list making that went on.
Here are the top 3 things that I think helped us make it an incredible experience for the whole family.
- Managing expectations
This is a big one for me. The insta van community are brilliant at showing the highlights - the vans parked amidst a panorama of mountains or looking out over a sunset, kids always happy and wholesome, parents relaxed and chilled, vans cosy and tidy.
Of course it doesn’t always work like that so being realistic about campsite life (being parked in between other vans, no sea view, grumpy kids who steal your phone to spend hours on Minecraft, arguments about who is going to walk to the toilet block to do the dishes, sand EVERYWHERE and of course, the joy that is chemical toilets).
- Ask for what you want!
As much as I love nature and wilderness, I also enjoy a trip into a city, a wander round markets and shops, people watching over a glass of Rose and eating out. Let’s just say Cheggs and the boys aren’t so keen on this side of things.
In the past I’ve compromised to the point of just leaving these things out and then feeling resentful. And I know Cheggs has done the same. But we’ve both learned to voice our needs - when one of us needed time, or wanted to experience something, we would do whatever we could to make it possible.
Particular alone time highlights for me was walking to the bottom of the falls of Gavernie (knowing the boys wouldn’t make the trek) and standing amidst the mountains under the spray of the waterfall, and a particularly pleasant evening sipping the aforementioned Rose wine looking out over the sunset surf at Biarritz.
- Finally, it’s up to you whether it’s an ordeal or an adventure.
I read this somewhere just before we left and I can’t tell you how many times I revisited this idea over the trip. Definitely the time I decided to direct us off the motorways and take the scenic route across a narrow mountain pass in a 7.6 motorhome, driving along clifftop roads, squeezing up tiny streets and not finding a single campsite open - definitely an adventure. And of course, the time Cheggs had us all paddle 4km upstream for lunch in a nearby town, only to find there was a forest cliff and busy road then a 1km walk to get to said town and we’d already missed lunch - definitely an adventure.
We chose to laugh in these moments. There was that split second of blame, anger, frustration - and then we consciously chose adventure mode and it worked.
We had lunch by the river - biscuits, chewy sweets and a can of Diet Coke. We didn’t make it to the town but the boys had an amazing time paddling and swimming in the river Lot.
And the night we couldn’t find a campsite we parked up in the most beautiful spot genuinely surrounded 360 by mountains.
The highlights from my trip were small moments, often insignificant. Playing cards with the boys for hours, swimming out to a diving board in St Jean de Luz to work on my dive, building sandcastles, and enjoying the wine.
Battling my demons to paddle out for a sunrise surf. We were camped on the beach, there were baby waves, my board was ready, the sun was coming up. On holiday there are just less excuses. Who cares that I didn’t catch any waves!
Hiking amidst the Pyrenees amidst as the leaves turned orange and golden and whenever the breeze blew we were surrounded by thousands of golden leaves
The 4 of us cooried up in the back of the van watching the most awe inspiring lightning storm that lit up the whole vineyard whilst the thunder seemed to physically shake the van, followed by a beautiful sunrise over the Autumn vines.
Will we do it again? Absolutely. We’re already planning our next adventure!