No more running it through your head wishfully dreaming about far flung destinations late at night. You’ve set the intention to go, you’ve chosen your new home on wheels and your well on the way to meeting your saving goals. Its time for the best aspect of the whole run up to your adventure, its planning time.
Failing to do any research before you leave can cause frustration and even spell the end of your trip.
Planning a long trip in your van can be a daunting process and it can be easy to get overwhelmed trying to link up all of the destinations you want to visit. Your plan is going to depend on a number of things like the amount of time you have allocated for your trip (unless of course your planning on becoming a full timer) and your budget if your not planning on getting work while on your road. Regardless though, there are a number of things you want to consider. In this article I’ve purposely left out the necessities like insurance as ill be covering your final preparations in Part 6, the last in the series. For now, were talking fun planning.
Before we start going through the aspects of the planning stage there is one crucial thing to always keep in mind, be realistic. There’s little point in hopping on the ferry to France, then driving to Italy in time for that festival, bombing it to Norway in a mad 4 day drive to catch up with friends and then exhausting yourself and your fuel allowance in a dash to Spain to be in time for the running of the bulls. Unless you got money coming out of every orifice your going to be skint in no time, not to mention totally wiped out. You’ve got to be strategic if you want your money to last and do all the things you’ve been dreaming of. Dashing around the world here there and everywhere might sound fun but you may well end up limping the van back on the last vapours of fuel and your trip coming to an impromptu end.
EXACT PLAN OR THE ‘NO PLAN’ PLAN?
There are generally two schools of thought when it comes to planning long term trips. Some will plan down to the last detail and will be able to tell you exactly where they will be on any given date during the next three years. They will be the ones who know where each night will be spent parked up and can tell you the cost of a pint in each country they intent to visit. Others will have a rough plan, knowing certain destinations or events they want to see and then making the rest up as they go along, a little more spontaneous if you like. There maybe a little grey area in-between the two but not much. I would say I firmly fall into the second category, if I know what I’m doing tomorrow then I would consider myself very organised.
Having said that there is no right or wrong way to travel. Everyone is going to want to plan differently. Some may consider it vital to know every step and others prefer letting the road take them where it does. It is going to be up to you (or you and your travel companions) how much planning you choose to do. No matter what category you fall into, a certain amount of planning is always going to be crucial.
WHERE AM I GOING?
By now you have probably worked out the countries you want to see or the places you want to be at in time for certain events; festivals, celebrations, national holidays etc. If not, then there is your starting point. By working out at the very least a rough plan of your route means your going to arrive both in time and on budget. For example, if your planning on taking your campervan on a tour of the Outer Hebrides in Scotland then knowing when the once a week car ferry service leaves is going to be important. It can be pretty annoying turning up to realise it left yesterday and you’ve got a whole six days to spend waiting for the next one especially if you’re now forced to spend that time in a campsite that’s priced above what you wanted to spend per night. Even worse, getting there to find out the ferry doesn’t run during the season you’re there because of bad weather – that’ s never happened to me – honest.
Get yourself a good quality map covering your entire route. Marking events on the map with dates that they start and finish will allow you to plan a route around them. Be careful when it comes to driving times. Periods of long driving, especially if your a solo camper meaning you have no one to share the driving with, can be extremely tiring not to mention dangerous. You don’t have to plan every stop on the journey if you don’t wont to but knowing the distance and expected time it will take you between certain events or destinations will be useful if you don’t wont to miss out.
If you are someone who wants to plan every nights stop or know exactly before hand what attractions every town your pass through will offer then the internet will be your best friend here. Do you research and if you want to and can, then book, you might even save some cash booking in advance to certain campsites or events. However there is a lot to be said for just discovering things on your own, it will add a certain amount of adventure for sure although you may run the risk of missing out now and again.
PLANNING WHERE TO STAY OVERNIGHT
Maybe your sticking to campsites throughout your journey or maybe you’re doing it on the cheap by stealth camping in carparks or quite laybys or a combination of both. Whatever you choose your going to want to know a few things before you leave.
If you like the idea of staying at campsites or recognized overnight parking spots then its a good idea to find out what’s available in the countries you want to visit. Your find a ton of information about camping and the different sites, along with prices and availability, online by just searching for something like ‘Camping in France’ etc. There are also plenty of books and apps out there dedicated to listing all of the known campsites on this planet, including free spots. Having an idea about how much they are going to cost will help you plan your day to day budget.
If you want to try and save money and plan on just finding quite spots each night to park up then planning beforehand is just as crucial. Some countries will out right ban any form of staying overnight outside of designated areas and getting caught doing so can result in some pretty hefty fines. In saying that, I’ve lived for months at a time in forest car parks in Spain, France, Italy and Australia without problems. Its also worth noting that choosing to stay in laybys, truck stops or out-of-the-way carparks on your travels may not be as safe as it would be should you stay at a campsite. Personally speaking, in over five years of travel, a lot of that time trying to avoid staying on campsites, I’ve never had a single problem anywhere I’ve been although I’ve heard plenty of horror stories. Choosing where you stay at night is going to be a personal choice but if you rock up to a free spot and it gives you creeps then maybe its best to move on. (Check out the articles page for in depth pieces on ways to staying safe)
PLANNING AROUND YOUR BUDGET
Again, this is crucial. You don’t wont to hit the road without having an idea of what your per day budget is. Your going to need to take into account cost of fuel, campsites if you intend to stay on them and the cost of feeding yourself amongst other things. All of these will change from country to country. A lot of people I talk to will have a per day budget and then an ‘Experience’ budget. This ‘Experience’ budget is kept seprate from the planning of the day to day budget and is used when you come across an event or experience you really want to do. It could be taking a trek to see the mountain gorilla’s in Uganda or diving with Whale Sharks off the West coast of Australia. These aren’t things your be doing every day so keep them out of your daily budget.
Probably don’t go to that Michelin star restaurant you read about in your guide book to Italy unless you want to eat beans on toast for the next month
Don’t feel you have to spend your per day budget every day. There will days when you may spend nothing at all, resting up and relaxing in the mountains somewhere at a free camping spot lets say. You could roll it over to the next day or better yet, save it and treat yourself to a meal in a restaurant or add it to your ‘Experience’ budget.
EATING OUT VS EATING IN
Planning how your going to feed yourself is worth thinking about. As you will be in your camper, chances are going to be pretty good you have at the very least a stove, if not a full kitchen set up. Eating in is nearly always going to be cheaper than eating out no matter where you go, although there are a few exceptions. But having said that, experiencing local cuisine is a big part of travel so you should always budget for at least one meal out a week if you can. Probably don’t go to that Michelin star restaurant you read about in your guide book to Italy unless you want to eat beans on toast for the next month but instead ask around locally to find out which restaurants are worth a visit. (Tip: asking locals is good but following them is better. I’ve always found that the best tasting and best value places to go and have a meal are ones where the local’s eat at).
Remember your traveling, there should be no rush. If you’ve planned well, and I don’t mean planning everything if you don’t want to but planed well, then you should never be in a great hurry. Allow time between destinations to follow that sign post that caught your eye if you fancy it, you never no what you might discover.
Being forced to drive at Mach 1 speed is going to end in trouble. If your speeding and get caught it may be a bigger deal than you might think, each country will have its own laws and some can be quite harsh. Bombing it along the highways will also affect your fuel bill big time, the faster your going the more fuel your camper is going to use. On top of that rushing around means, in my mind anyway, your missing out on one of the best aspects of traveling, taking it all in. Cruising at a comfortable speed will allow you to take in the surroundings and appreciate what’s going on about you. Watching the countryside slowly turn into an urban area or the mountains give way to vast farming pastures is a real experience. I’m not advocating you stare off into space and forget about the road but dropping the kph down a bit will open up a whole new aspect of your adventure and keep your fuel budget in check.
WHAT THINGS SHOULD YOU DEFINTLEY PLAN
Whilst planning every last detail might not be for everyone, you are definitely going to want to plan some. For instance, if your trip is taking you across the seas then your going to need a boat, campervans tend not to float to well. Booking ferries in advance can be handy on two fronts. First, you will be able to find out if the ferry you want runs on the day you want and secondly you might even save some cash booking in advance. If your date for the ferry crossing isn’t set in stone, then by looking around their website you might discover certain times of the day or year that prices are lower. Generally speaking ferries that run late at night or very early in the morning will be cheaper than those in the day.
If you have your heart set attending the world famous booze up that is Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany then be sure you’re in the area when its on and not still sunning it up in the south of France. Its also important to spend the time looking into the driving laws of each of the countries your planning on traveling through as some of the requirements maybe very different to what you’re used to at home. For instance, in France it is compulsory for all vehicle’s to carry a breathalyser. if your stopped by the police and cant produce one then your earn yourself an on the spot fine of 11 Euros. You might not think 11 euros is much but I’ve fed myself for a full day on much less. In 2015 France also brought a law in that stated you cant drive with any earpiece in which includes headphones or Bluetooth devices, so no rocking out why your travel partner sleeps. A few years ago I was traveling in a convoy of three campervans through Spain and we were pulled over by the police for a random check. One of the drivers wore glasses and was given quite a stern telling off when he couldn’t produce a second pair, apparently you should always carry two sets in case one breaks.
As I said at the beginning, how much you choose to plan is going to be down to you as an individual or a group. There’s is a lot to be said for just seeing what comes along your path when you travel but failing to do any research before you leave can cause frustration and even spell the end of your trip.
Read Part 6 – Before You Go