Going Our Own Way - Finding the 'Right' Way to Travel

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Thursday 19 February 2015

Going Our Own Way - Finding the 'Right' Way to Travel

When, after a stressful and trying start to 2014, we resolved to set off on our motorhome tour of Europe we were both excited and nervous, happy and afraid. Our minds filled with questions such as where should we go? What should we do when we get there? How far can we travel? Which countries should we visit? The list of 'decisions' we felt we had to make just kept on growing. Having made the initial decision to finally 'do it', leaving our old commuter lives behind and realising our dream of an extended adventure through Europe, we wanted to make sure we got the absolute most out of the experience and finding the 'right' answers to questions like these seemed critical.

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.

Looking back now, 9 months after leaving the UK, we have been reflecting on why we felt there was a 'right' way to motorhome tour at all and where did our worrying come from in the first place?

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.

Over the past 9 months, as we have toured and experienced a different way of life our outlook has changed markedly. The pleasure we now derive from taking time to appreciate each others company, to reflect on a good book and watch the world go by is almost completely divorced from our old, stressful life back in the UK. As we have grown into our adventure it is as though it has opened our eyes to a new freedom of choice in how we live which is oceans away from idea that there is a 'right' and 'wrong' way to do things. Provided we are having fun and doing no harm to others, all of the little details are ours to choose.

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.

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