Richard and Nicky Markow-Austwick and Monty, their Hungarian Vizsla dog, have just returned from two and a half years touring Europe in their McLouis motorhome. To share their experiences to help others contemplating similar expeditions they are publishing their story in five parts on this site.
My husband Richard, our Hungarian Vizsla, Monty and I have been fortunate enough to spend almost half of the last two years travelling around Europe. We’ve driven nearly 32,000 miles, visited 19 countries and stayed in almost 200 campsites. So far we’ve made 4 trips, starting in July 2010 with a 3 month trip, 4 months in 2011, 4 months starting in March this year and finally a month in Ireland in September.
It all began in March 2010 when my husband, at 54, had the opportunity to take early voluntary retirement. I was 49, working full time and our only daughter, Emily was in her last year at school and had announced that she intended taking a gap year to travel before she went off to university. So after some discussion, we decided that I take a career break and we would buy a campervan and travel around Europe for a while. This was something we’d thought about before but didn’t really think it would ever come to fruition.
In a nutshell, we now work in the winter and travel in the summer. I don’t deny that we haven’t had our share of luck in achieving this lifestyle. We don’t have a bottomless pit of cash but are able to do what we want through a bit of planning. We saved money over the years to help our daughter through university so don’t have to worry on that score and my husband has been lucky enough to get contract work through the winter months which has given us sufficient money to both fund our trips and pay the usual household bills.
So, having made the decision to buy a campervan, I stopped off at a small motorhome dealer in the Cotswolds one afternoon and saw a McLouis Glen for sale. I guess we bought it on a bit of a whim really, knowing nothing about motorhomes and what they had to offer. The McLouis had an over cab bed and a long bench seat and on that we made our decision or rather Monty made it for us! We wanted to sleep away from him and let him have his own space. So we paid the £20,000 asking price and the van was ours and the rest is history.
I’m not going to recommend places to visit and things to see and do because, as they say, ones man’s meat is another man’s gravy! What appeals to us probably won’t appeal to you but I would like to share some of the practicalities of making a long trip on a budget and perhaps help you avoid some of the mistakes we made. If, however, you have a bottomless pit of cash to spend on your trip some of my tips won’t be any help at all!
The World’s Your Oyster But Where To Go?
Croatia: Lake Plitvice. A stunning lake although very 'tourisy' and busy. Crystal clear blue water teeming with large fish and spectacular waterfalls.
We start by making a list of places we’ve always wanted to visit, places we’ve read about, relatives to visit and places we want to revisit and start to rough out our itinerary based on getting as many of those in as the time will allow. We reckon on driving about 150 miles in a day and allowing at least two nights to visit a town.
Krk Island in Croatia, reached via a toll bridge from the mainland. The southernmost areas are the most scenic with pleasant beaches and interesting limestone rock formations.
Take into account the time of year you’re going and look at what the weather may be doing. Believe me, traipsing around a city in 40 degree heat is not a pleasure. You need to take the temperature into account even more if you’re taking your dog. Dragging them around through crowds of tourists in a city in the heat is no fun for them or you and neither is leaving them to fry in your motorhome a good idea.
Duga Resa in the north near the Slovenian border. An attractive rural spot away from the more 'touristy' coast and near the city of Karlovac where the most popular beer in Croatia is brewed.
Preparing Yourself and Your Van
Set yourself a budget. We do four separate ones, fuel, spending money, ferries and campsites.
Work this out using your rough itinerary and calculating the miles using either a sat nav or a route planner. You can map out using camp sites or from a road map use distances between towns.
When you have calculated your mileage you can now find out the cost and for this you need two elements the miles per gallon that your van delivers (or miles per litre if you’re rather younger than we are!) and the cost per litre in each country (which you’ll need to convert to gallons, 4.54 litres per gallon. You can find this information on the AA website.
Sounds complicated but it’s really not as long as you don’t get hung up on the detail – it’s just meant to get you a rough cost and mileage.
For us this covers everything bar camp site costs and fuel. We budget £25 per day and although this doesn’t sound like enough it’s been sufficient for us. Don’t plan on eating out every night on this though as it won’t stretch that far. We tend to treat ourselves to a meal out once a week or so but have fallen into the daily coffee and cake routine which is most definitely not too hard on the pocket but is not too good on the waistline!
Based on our itinerary we budget for £200 per one way ferry journey.
We split our sites between Aires (free of charge), camping cheques sites and what we call luxury, which is basically anything that doesn’t fit into the first two categories. Get yourself a few good camp site books, French Aires, Camping Cheque Directory (free when you order cheques) or use websites such as Eurocampings and map out where you might stay using your itinerary.
When choosing a camp site book make sure that each entry has a proper postal address and GPS co-ordinates. Having both is best as although we tend to use the GPS there has been several occasions when they have been wrong and have sometimes taken us miles from where we needed to be.
We budget £25 a night for ‘luxury’ which is a bit on the generous side for two people and dog but builds in a bit of leeway.
Good tip for buying camping cheques is to buy them in euros, using your prepaid euro card, (use www.campingcheque.fr and have the automatic translation on if you don’t speak French) as its much better value for money. Based on this years’ exchange rate each costs about £12.84 instead of the £13.95 if you bought them in sterling. We did this for the first time this year and it worked out really well, the cheques and site book arrived, to my surprise only a few days after placing the order.
Next week: Preparing Your Motorhome.