Community Minded Travelling - Being Part Of The Motorhome Community And Supporting The Places We Stay

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Saturday 16 January 2016

Community Minded Travelling - Being Part Of The Motorhome Community And Supporting The Places We Stay

For a large part of the past 18 months we've been travelling in a motorhome, so it makes sense to say that we are part of the motorhoming community, a community that we've come to realise is both staggeringly extensive and varied. As we reflected on in a previous post, since setting off in 2014 we've seen people motorhome travelling in so many different ways that there really is no 'right' or 'wrong' way to travel at all - you have to go your own way. It might sound obvious, but as we'd never followed blogs or read other peoples stories, until we got on the road ourselves we had no idea how large the community that surrounds motorhome travelling is. But what we've also come to see is that the motorhome community can't exist in isolation either. In fact, as a relatively 'nomadic' group, the motorhome community also needs a physical community to be be part of, namely the places that motorhomes visit. Over time we've increasingly begun to realise that whenever we park our motorhome in a village or town, we are a temporary part of that community as well.

Our vision & commitment for our adventures (and therefore this blog) in the future is that we start to serve, support and recognise not only our motorhome community but also the physical communities we visit as well and celebrate the relationship between them.

Getting Out Of Our Motorhome
Motorhoming captures the benefits of so many other ways of travel. For example, we'd travelled in the past with a backpack and a tent which had allowed us to be incredibly mobile and flexible, but with very few, if any, creature comforts. At other times we'd enjoyed holidays in apartments and hotel rooms which, by comparison, came with plenty of creature comforts and luxury (often more so than at home) but with much less mobility and flexibility: if we didn't like the place we'd booked when we got there - tough. But motorhome touring has bought together the benefits of both and I think this is true  whether on a full time adventure, medium term trip or a few weeks holiday. We can still have creature comforts, carry our possessions around and generally be warm and cosy, but still move wherever and whenever we like. As a recent bumper sticker we saw on a motorhome said "Altijd thuis" - "always home". It is a beautiful way of travelling.

When we set off on our own motorhome adventure we revelled in this new lifestyle and all the personal benefits it bought us. We did the things we wanted, in the home we chose, with the comforts we enjoyed and took it all where we pleased. Yet it wasn't long until we also started noticing times that we felt a little lonely and isolated as well - like Homer was a space shuttle drifting through Europe as we looked out of the windows at passing scenery. Of course we got out from time to time for a 'space walk' (a stroll through a town or exploring hiking trails for example) but once we'd done what 'we wanted' we'd climb back in and drift off again.

However, as the months have passed and we've been fortunate to have some unexpected but life changing experiences, what we have increasingly discovered is that our own travels in a motorhome are even further enriched if we take the time to really appreciate and start engaging with the communities that are kind enough to host us, for however long or short that may be.

Changing The Way We Travel
In the past we had always planned for the future, but as we've reflected elsewhere we now feel much less dependent on long term planning. We no longer feel the need to say "I'd like to take my career in this direction one day" or "one day we'd like a bigger house/motorhome". But we don't want to just 'drift' any more either.

Another traveller we met who had visited countless places all over the world for several years said to us "there comes a time when you're travelling that you realise that although places all have unique characteristics, if you're just visiting them as a tourist you're basically just 'visiting another town', 'visiting another church', 'another supermarket, museum...etc.' and you're not getting to see, appreciate or know anything about that community or way of living".

For whatever reason, this feeling has been growing in us as well and was, in part, maybe why we struggled in the early part of our 2015 adventure to get excited.  The 'novelty' of touring from place to place had just started to wear off and as a consequence we found ourselves moving less and less. At first this was frustrating and we thought we were 'doing it wrong' or missing out, but having the opportunity arise to stay put in several different places last year, we have discovered that the more familiar with a place we become, the more we start to see things and appreciate things in a new light which also brings with it an urge to integrate in at least some small way.

Focus On Local
Encouragingly, in Britain, as in other western countries there is an increasing grass roots movement back towards local and community focused initiatives, following many years of decline and devastation due to the impact of large multinational corporations, the effects of which can be seen high streets, in local business, within communities and on the local environment.  Also, for us, having the had the opportunity to travel beyond the UK and beyond the scope of our own reality of day to day working life in the UK which we'd grown up with, we've been privileged to have seen so many more communities on mainland Europe which still have more, what some would call, old fashioned, traditional values.  This was a very welcome change for us and one that gives us great hope for the future and happiness as we've travelled and increased our passion to join in that movement and contribute.

Levels of Community
We have increasingly begun to see ourselves as member of three different communities, which we want to make a commitment to engaging with and participating in as we travel. It may not be practical to do this everywhere we go, but by bringing awareness to the fact that we are part of these communities and not isolated in our white plastic box, we change our mindset so that we can try and reduce our own impact and also enhance our own experience.
  1. Places we visit / host communities - Whether we're passing through or staying a while in a place we'd like to make a commitment to supporting that host community, whether that be buying locally, supporting local events, recycling, eating locally, getting to know local people etc.
  2. Fellow motorhomes we meet - Many experiences have taught us the importance of making an effort to get out of our motorhome and be part of the motorhome community currently on the road that we encounter. We want to commit to saying hello, passing on tourist brochures we no longer need, sharing suggestions we've come across and offering help when needed etc. As recent experiences have shown we'd like to commit to doing this more regardless of the nationality indicated on the number plate.
  3. The wider motorhome community - The more we've motorhomed and kept this blog, plus meeting others with their own blog or suggesting forums to us, we also recognise that we are part of a much larger community of people who enjoy and travel, for however long, in a motorhome. We want to share our own experiences and lessons we've learned from our mistakes with that community and signpost others to the places we've learned from. 
Benefits To Travelling With A Focus On Communities
In addition to feeling like this is a more respectful and sustainable way of travelling, we've also experienced a lot of practical benefits as well, such as:
  • It can save money - it's too hard to capture all the different ways we've found this to be true and have seen it in our own budget, but we will start to write about them in later articles. 
  • An enhanced experience of a place such as receiving invitations and recommendations which we would have missed or that just weren't accessible to 'tourists'. 
  • Finding help in unexpected places and restoring our 'faith in other people' - whether fellow motorhomers or individuals within a place we've had several times when the kindness of others has shaped our journey during challenging times (flat batteries, broken devices, someone to talk to etc.)
  • Social Interactions - For us, at least, some parts of touring in a motorhome on a longer trip have left us feeling very isolated and separate, which can distort our view of things but which has been corrected by some wonderful, fun social interactions whether that be just stood on a motorhome aire chatting, evenings sharing stories over drink, playing games or sometimes even teaming up and participating in travel activities (like hiking or visiting a town) together. 
  • Forming friendships with like minded people - Although we don't expect to keep contact with everyone we talk to there are plenty of people we've had wonderful conversations with and even when it isn't possible to keep in touch, it doesn't diminish the camaraderie and happiness that the friendship, however short, provides. Some relationships last a moment, some last a 'season', some last a lifetime.  
  • Not being treated as a stranger all the time - we find it nice when people start say hello, whether in shop we visit regularly, a market stallholder or fellow motorhomers on an aire. 

We don't want to come across as naive idealists. We accept that we are still tourists and that we don't live permanently in any of these communities. One day there may come a time when we don't own a motorhome anymore and no matter where we are based while we do have a motorhome we will move on at some point.

We realise that there are good and bad sides to tourism.  For instance, some people see tourism as a good thing that brings money, creates jobs and facilitates exchanges of culture. Others see the negative sides such as the clash of cultures, lack of respect and negative impacts on what had been 'natural' or 'traditional' beforehand. There are countless examples of both the good and the bad throughout the world.

We've lived in very popular tourist destinations in the UK (Oxford, Durham, Cambridge) and there were clashes between tourists and locals. Sometimes, because of a lack of communication, a shared language or the idea that tourists are just passing through (an us and them mentality), tourists can be seen by locals as burdens, messy, takers, as having a lack of respect for cultural heritage, changing what was beautiful beforehand or at the very least 'wallets on legs'. On the flip side, locals might be seen by the tourists as 'rip-off merchants', grouchy, unhelpful or some even seen as a threat to personal safety.

It's sad that both sides have some truth in them sometimes, but by realising this it also suggests a way to move forward and this is another reason why we have a strong urge to respect, communicate and participate more with the communities we are part of. We find it sad that we see evidence of and hear stories of communities closing down access for motorhomes but we have also seen behaviours that would justify communities doing so. In Europe, motorhoming is a wonderful way to travel and we want to respect the kindness and generosity of the communities that welcome us.

The Motorhome Adventurers Blog
In the past 18 months this blog was our diary for us, friends, family and people that we met along the way. We will still continue to keep some record of our own activities, but we feel that being part of a motorhome community it is the mistakes and lessons that we've learnt that might also be of benefit to others considering giving motorhoming a try, whether for short holidays or for longer trips. Or maybe, as we've seen with our own travels, something on this blog might be of help to others already on the road. Barely a week goes by that we don't bump into a motorhome traveller with some new and simple, but well thought out, insight that makes motorhome life that much easier and we just say "wow, how did we not think of that?"

We don't know how long we will travel for in a motorhome, but while we are we're going to continue this blog, but the focus on our diary and our activities is going to be reduced. We're still going to keep a diary, but we want to focus more on sharing things such as practical tips on motorhome life that we have either learnt the hard way or picked up from other travellers, but also share our thoughts on our own approach to motorhome travelling as an alternative to a tourist that takes their home with them.

It's not just about what we can get out of motorhoming that we want to write about, but what motorhoming allows us to 'give' as a member of a community as well for mutual benefit. 

As has been the case right from the outset, we've made very few plans. We've spent very little time getting our motorhome ready or making detailed route plans, instead we have always let the people we've met along the way or the places that we visit guide and inspire our next steps so we really welcome any feedback, suggestions or ideas from anyone and everyone. So please get in touch :-)

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