We were about to make a massive life change, invest a lot of our savings and walk away from a stable and relatively comfortable life back in the UK. The last thing we wanted to happen was to find ourselves, a few months later, somewhere on the road with regrets at missed opportunities, places we should have visited and things we might have done differently.
What exactly was the 'right' way for us to motorhome tour in Europe?
This last question, searching for the 'right' way, wasn't so much an explicit question we asked ourselves but could perhaps be better described as a feeling that nagged at us and placed unnecessary emphasis on all of the individual choices we had to make.
Deciding where to go, how long to stay there, what to do etc. are all perfectly normal and necessary choices to be made before a holiday of any length. But as complete motorhome novices we felt, for some reason, that there was an optimum route and touring style that could lead us to the 'perfect' adventure. We searched the web, read other peoples blogs and visited forums that were crammed with suggestions for motorhome destinations, routes and seemed to expound an endless list of possibilities. How were we going to decide what was right for us?
In the end, of course, we did make some decisions. We chose a motorhome ("Homer"), we said farewell and sailed to Holland before making our way due south to the mountains of Switzerland and France for an incredible summer and autumn, before meandering our way to the Spanish coast for winter. We managed to cope with the seemingly endless list of possibilities for routes by deciding not to have a detailed itinerary at all. Over time this has become an advantage for us as we've made use of tourist information and material we collect en route, plus personal recommendations from people we meet to guide our route which has worked wonderfully for us. For most of our adventure we've never had a plan that extends more than a few days or so ahead of time, allowing us to respond to new information and the ever changing weather. For example, without our fluid planning style we wouldn't have driven to Gavarnie in the heart of the French Pyrenees when we saw a week of good weather there in mid-October (our plan at the time had been to drive straight through Perpignan into Spain). This single week turned into 6 incredible weeks of cycling and hiking in the late season sunshine!
But there were also anxieties we had in addition to route and destinations. There were also decisions about lifestyle on the road.
Should we stay on campsites or aires? Which gas bottles were best? Toll roads or non-toll roads....?
These seemingly innocuous questions, which we had no experience of, evoked such strong opinions on the internet and with some people we met on tour that it reinforced the view that there was a 'right' way to do it. At times we even felt we were defending our decision to use campsites occasionally and the fact we didn't have a refillable gas system or solar panel yet.
Over time, however, as we settled into our adventure and met more and more people throughout summer we began to see that there were as many opinions and ways of touring as there were motorhomes on the road. Despite some individuals holding strong opinions and perpetuating a sense of 'right' and 'wrong', we came to realise that the only 'right' way to motorhome tour was the one that worked for us and the only way we could learn it was through trial and error. This was, in fact, one of the most fun parts of our adventure.
The origin for us, I now believe, was a consumer mindset bought about by living so long in a fast paced, high stress, commuter world of fads and fashions. In modern society we are constantly bombarded with advertising trying to influence our choices. Whether we are buying a new computer, choosing a pair of trousers or simply deciding what to watch on catchup TV, there is related advertising out there trying to catch our attention and (hopefully) guide our selection. It may be a billboard, radio message, internet pop-up or newspaper article but it is actually hard to think of consumer choice that doesn't have some sort of advertising linked to it. The implication in most advertising, of course, is that there is a 'right' choice for you and that the product being advertised is 'it'. In modern western society it seems we are encouraged to believe that maximum 'happiness' can be achieved if we only consume the right products.
Now I don't intend to spend much time in this post reflecting on how distant from that mindset we feel today or the freedom and joy that that rediscovering simple pleasures has bought us since we began our adventure. However, I do now think that any angst we felt at planning our adventure originated in a large part with a consumer way of thinking encouraged by our lives back in the UK.
The only thing that matters now, when planning our motorhome adventure, is that we go our own way. Not always knowing what that is, is precisely what makes our adventure so much fun.