You may or may not have seen, I’ve become a bit of a fan of a road trip of late. Since we bought a camper van last year, it’s allowed us to tootle round the UK and beyond, exploring parts of the world we’d never even considered. Tuscany last year, France, Andorra and Spain this year, New Year in Scotland, and that’s before all the endless weekends away in various places across the UK.
For me, the best thing about road trips is that you can wake up in one place and end up going to bed in a completely different one. The mountains in the morning, the beach that evening. France one day, Spain the next. The opportunities are endless and just there for the taking.
We might be coming towards the end of summer (or it feels like that thanks to the departure of the famous 2018 heatwave) but you’ve still got plenty of time to pack your stuff and head off on a road trip, whether it’s in a van, taking a tent, or using something like AirBnB. In fact, you’re likely to miss school holidays and the resulting chaos, still have some nice weather, and enjoy that feeling of being on hols when everyone else is back and suffering from holiday blues.
Each road trip we do we learn a bit more. It’s a hell of a lot of fun but beach holiday it is not and requires a certain amount of planning and practical stuff. To that end, I thought I might share a few of the tips we’ve picked up in case you’re tempted to do a road trip but don’t really know where to start. Most of these are about outlook because how you view your road trip, your expectations and how you handle the bumps in the road (practical and metaphorical) is a big part of it. I’ve popped some practical tips in at the end (because Mr M said they were lacking) and you can find plenty more on Google.
And of course, there are no rules – that’s the whole point – so look forward to finding your own way…
Have a rough route in mind
If you don’t do this, I’ll guarantee you won’t get far. Not because there’s anything wrong with spontaneity, but because the freedom of road-tripping can be a double-edged sword. The majority of places will woo you and you’ll be tempted to stay, so before you know it you’ll be a week into your holiday and only a few miles in because you’ve stopped at each lovely-looking place.
If you’ve got a rough route in mind, you can vary it of course, but at least you’ve got a bit of a target.
Use all the apps on offer to make life easier
Once upon a time you might have had to just call in to a campsite on spec, or find a B&B or hotel. Nowadays, you can pretty much do everything online. We use a whole load of different apps to plan our trips, and while we’re on the road too. From Google Maps to get us to where we’re aiming for to places that list campsites and ‘aires’.
They’re not the be-all-and-end-all and sometimes it’s wonderful to just happen upon somewhere and pitch up, but if you’re not 100% confident and want to have an idea of what to expect then there’s plenty of help out there. A few we found are searchforsites.co.uk, ACSI and Park4Night but there are loads more.
Plan, but don’t plan too much
I’m a planner. I love an itinerary, lists, timetables. But the joy of road-tripping is that you can change that plan at the drop of a hat. I know I said above that a rough route is good, but when certain things crop up that can interfere with your plans – like weather, for example – it’s handy to be able to vary your plans.
On our most recent road trip we’d planned to travel down the west coast of France to Spain then through the Pyrenees to Andorra and the French Mediterranean coast. But when the weather appeared to be offering nothing but rain on our route, we simply changed it and did everything the other way round, heading to the Med for some sun and getting to San Sebastian after most of the rain had cleared. Simples.
The first time we ‘wild camped’ was by the side of a loch in Scotland on a dark, windy night in January. I spent the first hour being terrified that we would get killed in our sleep. About an hour later I revelled in the peace and quiet, the coziness as we cooked a curry in the van and snuggled up with a glass of wine. That continued to the morning when we woke to amazing views and not another soul to be seen. Be brave – it comes with rewards.
You don’t need as much luggage as you think
Each time we go away I pack less and less, and still come back without having worn half the clothes, used half the stuff or read half the books I took with me. The thing is, most of us tend to be having far too much of an adventure to worry about straightening our hair, changing our outfit or catching up on all the things you have been meaning to read. I mean, if they’ve been on your ‘to read’ pile for two years, you’re unlikely to choose the time you’re visiting places you’ve never seen before to pick them up, right?
There’s a reason why people like backpacking, narrow boating, and road tripping – because it’s quite liberating to have the bare minimum. So embrace it. Everything will still be there waiting for you when you get back home. Plus, it means less washing…
Don’t be too keen to move on too quickly
This is one we still haven’t got quite right. Of course, road tripping is all about moving. That’s the beauty of it. But sometimes you can be too swept up in moving that you forget to stop and smell the proverbial roses. We made that mistake in Scotland and ended up creating four-hour journeys each day which, in the height of winter, left us with about an hour of daylight to enjoy each new place before we had to hunker down for the night.
Our European road trip was slightly better this summer, but despite loving each destination – planned and unplanned – that we stopped in, we ended up wishing that perhaps we’d stayed in some of them for a little longer. It’s all a learning curve, but make sure you give yourself time to really enjoy a place, especially if it’s somewhere you might not get back to for a while.
The fun is in the journey
The beauty of a road trip is the fact that the destination(s) is just a part of it. Every place you go is part of the fun. While motorway stops at home feel like a drag, struggling to decide between a Burger King or a KFC, fighting your way to the toilets and dreading a return to the inevitable traffic jam. On a road trip you’ll inevitably be somewhere that somehow looks different from home. Whether it’s a French aire offering all manner of carb-filled delights for your journey sustenance or an epic mountain view as you eat your sarnie, it’s all part of the adventure. Take it all in!
A few practical tips
Because Mr M says I shouldn’t just include lots of: ‘Yay, have loads of fun’ tips and should actually include something useful (his words, not mine):-
- Tolls vs back roads – If you’re pricing up your trip, make sure you factor in tolls when abroad. They soon add up. You can avoid them, but obviously it’ll add time. It’s up to you to decide whether you put time or cost first.
- Wild camping – If you’re wild camping but only have limited facilities with you (ie no loo or shower) you probably want to alternate staying somewhere with those facilities with your ‘wild’ nights. That way you won’t be stuck for a week without a shower or toilet.
- Pets – if you’re taking your pet make sure you read up on what you need to do. It’s all fairly simple, but worth checking the guidance and making sure you’re prepared.
- Be adventurous but don’t be stupid – yes, it sounds like something your mum would say, but you hear all sorts of horror stories about people being robbed or getting themselves into strife. Just be a bit mindful of safety when you’re being all intrepid.
And there you have it. Not an exhaustive list, obviously, but hopefully a few little hints and tips that might help you if you’re tempted to do a road trip but feeling a bit daunted.
Are you a fan of a road trip? Tell me about yours in the comments and any tips I’ve missed!