Covid-19 Our Journey through the chaos – Part 1

Covid-19 Our Journey through the chaos – Part 1

 

Like each person on earth – our reflections of 2020 will be less about a “clarity or sharpness of vision” and more about how we navigated the Demon of Death – the Covid-19 virus. However positive we may be, the journey each of has and is taking will have a huge impact on the shape of our year, the outcome of which is still uncertain. Although we will find our new normal and this is only temporary. This series of blogs documents our personal journey through the virus crisis and shares our coping strategies and insights at the various stages of the chaos. 

 

Part 1 – Fleeing the Tsunami

 

As we danced in our little Moroccan bubble, we observed from the safety of our African adventure a world that seemed, for just a moment, to be going quite insane. And each day the rhythm of our life beat in tune to the desert drums, to the camels’ sultry pace and the crazy pace of chaos that seems to work in Morocco. There was, in truth, very little focus on the virus as our explorations were filling us with joy and happiness, far removed from the grip of a demon killer.

When the security of that bubble encasing you bursts, there’s a moment of waking up. A realisation that actually there is something bigger going on; something that over-rides the media’s frenzy and the encircling conspiracy theories that awash our social media. There was a truth that we had to face because its shadow was peaking through our window.

As we landed on Spanish soil, we crashed to the floor of that truth, with a ceiling that was sinking. 

There’s nothing like a drama that brushes against your skin, making its presence felt with the stench of its stale odour to bring you down to earth. The onset of the sore throat was where fear overtook every cell of my body. Ignorance is one thing, even denial can be forgiven, although that moment where you wake up and acknowledge that this crisis is personal is poignant. The fever came next and then the cough – although my research told me that this wasn’t our Covid-19 demon – it was something else. May be it was camel flu, although it felt like a stark warning to open my eyes to the reality sweeping the globe. In a heart-beat life went from high adventure to high alert, added to with a sprinkling of primal fear. All the ingredients for a dish served with mortality.

Then my mum called to say that a friend she had been in contact with had the suspected symptoms and so self-isolation was imperative for her. And with an underlying immune deficiency disorder, emotions ran high as the tide ebbed and flowed around our bobbing boat upon the ocean of uncertainty.

The pace of life took a different gear from that moment on. The leisurely meander of the last month soon feeling like an all-too-distant memory as reality grabbed us by the throat and started to squeeze, ever so gently. And as our breath shortened and became shallow, our mind began to construct images from which nightmares are made and our primal instincts took over our usually calm personas.

My mum says that 

“Every decision you make is the right one, because you made it”. 

Yet it is indecision that is the thief of happiness. Anxiety and uncertainty jostle for position as they compete on the playground of concern as we battled our way through options, consequences and impacts. And yet there is somewhere deep in side the heart, perhaps even in the gut where the answer lurks, ready to present itself as soon as we emerge from our denial and avoidance.

A choice made, a conclusion drawn and action applied – we were off! In what felt like a race northwards, we had to get back to the UK to support and protect our loved ones. Whilst our return was only 3 weeks early, the decision to travel swiftly back to UK felt like an exodus from a safe haven into a forest of danger.

As borders closed and countries locked down, we ran a gauntlet with our tyres turning as fast as they could without harm. Morocco closed, Spain locked down, France a state of emergency. It was as if a tsunami was coursing its way towards us preparing to consume us if we didn’t stay one step ahead.

As we reflect on our 1000 miles in 3 days, our teamwork brought us to our sanctuary with speed, safety and efficiency. We felt as if we were running, escaping an inevitability that would shape how the drama would unfold for us and those we loved. Being stranded and not being close to family who were at risk was untenable and, driven by an adrenalin-fuelled desire to be in our ‘home country’, our return was secured.

Despite our decision to leave UK shores for European adventures in 2016, there’s nothing like the familiarity of home at a time of crisis to help you feel safe and drawn into the bosom of your motherland.

And so as we boarded the ferry, our sighs of relief were palpable and the strain from that last week evident in the furrows of our brows and the deepness of our breath. Now at last we could rest in our 14 day quarantine, knowing that we could find security in the UK and cast our own protective net around us and our family. For now we could allow the relief to wash over us like the warmth of a bath, the bubbles offering strange comfort as it lapped against our skin. For now this was home. For now we were safe. For now we could recharge our batteries and begin an effort to support others.

Virus 0 – The Motoroamers 1

 

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Life on the Road – Top tips from the experts

Life on the Road – Top tips from the experts

When every day is a school day, then let the teachers appear.

After leaving UK soil in March 2016, we have travelled over 50,000 miles and visited 23 countries and provinces, which has expanded both our minds and bodies, thanks to the cultural diversity we have witnessed. With experience, miles and time under our belts, we finally feel like we have amassed enough exposure to this full-time life on the road to share our insights with a degree of authenticity. 

And so we have created this brand new series Life on the Road, which encompasses our observations, lessons and experiences, to which we add a dose of wisdom. Whether you come to the RV/Motorhome/Camper life as full-timers, long-timers or newbies, we hope that this series of blogs will help inform, influence and provide food for thought. Whilst we don’t consider ourselves experts, we do have some experience to share.

That said, we are never complaisant. We have come to appreciate that every day is a school day and no matter how many months we have been travelling, knowledge sometimes comes from the hardest lessons and biggest challenges. And we’ve had plenty.

 

​Top Tips from the Experts

I love collective noun names like a gaggle of geese, a drove of donkeys or a school of fish. I wonder what the collective term is for a group of motorhomes or campers? Perhaps we need to make one up. One thing is for sure; there is one hell of a lot of us. Some full-time, some long-term, others are gap-year travellers. And we all bring a heap load of unique perspectives to the table. And this is our inspiration for this first in our new Life on the Road series. 

Whilst I hesitate to call anyone an expert, as it has a ring of elitism about it, it does allow us to use it as a turn of phrase for those who have gathered a basket full of experiences and knowledge. And so in this blog, we have brought together a diverse group of people who we have been privileged to meet in our time on the road, from all walks of life and from across the globe.  They have all been travelling for a period of time and generated their own personal philosophies about what travelling looks and feels like to them. We have invited 10 of them them to share their Top Tips for how they live a meaningful, safe and memorable life on the road. Check out these fabulous ideas from our Top Team of Travellers.

 

Karen and Myles from The Motoroamers

After 50000 miles and 23 countries, Karen and Myles have taken to full-time life in their motorhome Scoobie like ducks to water. Leaving UK in March 2016 they left behind their traditional life for a gap-year around Europe, and are still going they loved it so much. Working as they go, they write about their travel inspirations and their real life challenges and joys, bringing a genuine, entertaining and honest look at life on the road.

For inspirational, informative and entertaining blogs and videos check them out over on their website; Motoroaming, join their Facebook community or follow them on Instagram.

Don’t let fears rule your life
Our fears play such a noisy and destructive role in our lives and it is easy to be swept along with them. Through my work as a coach, I have helped others rationalise fearful thoughts and reframed my own. This is so important for planning and managing life on the road.  Whilst a degree of fear can keep you alert in real danger, more often our fears are irrational and simply False Expectations Appearing Real. So look at your fears objectively and identify how real they are. Are they just thoughts holding you back or genuine concerns based on real and tangible evidence? Once you are clear, then you can take appropriate action rather than giving into knee-jerk reactions.  For more info on help limit your fears click here.

Learn to Let Go!
Letting go has been a big part of our lives on the road. Firstly letting go of stuff in our house that I thought defined me. Letting go of the idea that there were things I must have, when in fact they were things I just wanted rather than really needed – and there is a big difference. And letting go of expectations as they only create disappointment. Life in our van is so much simpler than it was and our needs significantly less. So be ready for a new mindset that has you living a less cluttered life and one that focuses on what you need to make you happy.

Life on the Road is not a Dream Life it is Real Life
We feel so privileged to be living the life we do, although we worked hard to create it with passive income streams to support our day-to-day expenses. It was a choice to live this way and each day we are grateful. Although beneath the pretty pictures and funny videos is real life. A life that has challenges with banks, tenants, agents and tax departments. And challenges with the van; tyres blow, radiators leak, bikes get stolen and you have rows. Staying mindful that things will go wrong and this is just a different way of living –  yes one that is full of incredible moments, although still one that is framed by reality. So recognise problems just as they are – problems. Issues to be resolved together. Challenges that all have solutions and that, once implemented allows you to return to the joy travelling gives you.

 

Julie and Jay from Our Tour

Julie and Jason opted to leave their jobs in 2011 to travel Europe in an aged Hymer B544 motorhome called Dave. Two years later they reluctantly returned home, heads full of memories, enthused for life, the burnout of previous years a thing of the past. Implementing lessons from folks they met on the road, they ploughed their energy into getting financially-free. Only two years later they were again free, and have been enjoying life both on and off the road since. 

Feel the freedom of continental motorhome touring at our travel blog: Our Tour

Appreciate the wonderful world we live in
Travelling exposed us directly to people, places and landscapes without the over-dramatic filters applied by the media. The result was we got to see with fresh eyes, which lifted our spirits and drove us forwards in life. Our feeling is this happens to most people who choose to cut the ties with home, if only temporarily and the results are priceless

“Momento Mori, Tempus Fugit”.
Nope, they didn’t teach us Latin at  our comprehensive school in Nottingham, but we’ve come across this phrase since, and it’s a  powerful one. It means, ‘Remember death, time flies.” Seriously there are 100 reasons not to change your life, not to take that leap into the unknown. But we’ve met  a number of people loving their life out on the road, who now longer breath the air on this Earth.  And thankfully none of those 1000 reason were enough to stop them achieving their dream before they died. We  hope they’re not enough to stop you either.

Travel lessons will be many
We chose to live  and travel in a motorhome, learning a ton of lessons as we went. Like many  long-term motorhome travellers, we wrote a blog as we travelled, sharing both the good and not-so-good sides of motorhome life (the former massively  outweighing the latter). As the years passed, the blog posts became  so many, information was hard to find and  update. So  we pulled the key lessons together into a book “The Motorhome Touring  Handbook.” That book contains all the practical advice we can muster. 

 

Roger and Anna – Bo i Husbil

Anna & Roger from Sweden have lived full-time in their motorhome, called FrankieBoy, as digital nomads since April 2018. They have chosen this life-style because they can, because they are curious and wanted to try it. Through this life of travel they experience more in life than ever before. Essential for them is to spend more time together and to enjoy the daylight. They love change and personal development, and they love to explore what ever comes to mind. 

Here is their travel blog and Instagram: Boihusbil and Roger on Wheels 

Embrace Change
No matter what lifestyle you live, changes happen and it is easier to embrace that change than fight them. The difference we noticed is that in this lifestyle, the changes come more often and are often unexpected. Because we often change country, city and surroundings, the changes are something that needs to be embraced. An example for us is that we were all set to wild camp although we have realised that we like campsites and well-organized aires. We are struck by how many changes are happening all the time and it is a lesson we are happy to share, because they can be difficult for someone who is not driven by and likes changes, as we do.

 

Stay a bit longer occasionally
Before we started our tour down in Europe last autumn, we thought that we would travel and experience here and there, just keep on moving all the time. We had of course scheduled time to work in between, since we are digital nomads, but no plans for standing still. However fun and wonderful our lifestyle is, there are clearly limitations. So when we came to the Spanish Mediterranean coast in October 2018, after a month on the road, we understood that it’s nice and necessary to stand still sometimes too!
 

The eagerness to do and see new things can sometimes cause us to leave a place too soon. We know today, after approx 600 nights as full-timers, that we don’t need to stress about our decisions and we have no hurry. Staying for another day can sometimes give us completely different reflections and better decisions.

Let everyday life take its time
Throughout our lives, it has been about working for affordability. All the ‘must do’s have demanded that the most essential things in life need to go faster. More money needs to be earned and time for our own needs have fallen away. Time for cooking, washing, social life for example has been minimised to almost zero. Now that we have let that go, we are in even greater harmony than we thought was possible. Cooking for several hours or hand washing clothes are big factors to our satisfaction. Slowly strolling around the food market or in the store to find exactly what attracts us. Not controlled by anything but desire. Campsites/aires that require us to collect water in a jug and empty the gray water with buckets, feels good. Not only do we automatically get the body moving, we also meet other people who do the same thing. Conversations occur and we have time to stop and talk, gain new insights and extend our social life.

 

Kathryn from Wandering Bird

Kathryn quit her job as an air traffic controller to travel Europe in a motorhome with her bewildered husband and over-excited puppy. Since March 2018, they have visited 20+ countries and driven over 60,000 miles. Kathryn loves sharing stories of their travels, but she is passionate about helping others change their lives and find their own freedom, whether that means quitting your job to travel, taking a sabbatical or squeezing adventures into whatever time you have.

You can follow their adventures on Instagram, Facebook or find more travel tips & advice on their award-winning travel blog Wandering-bird

DO IT
If you are considering getting out of the ‘rat-race’ and living life on your own terms, do it. Life is short and tomorrow is promised to no-one. There will never be the ‘perfect time’ and you will never feel 100% ready. But do it anyway. As soon as you can sustain yourself in whatever way you choose, then go for it. Yes, you will be scared. Yes, there will be unforeseen problems to deal with. But you will NEVER EVER regret stepping outside your comfort zone and having more adventures in your life.

Have an emergency fund
Twice in the past 18 months we’ve had essential expenses which we hadn’t budgeted for while travelling Europe with a motorhome. One was maintenance needed on our vehicle with an engine issue, but the biggest unforeseen event was when my husband flew back to the UK for a few days to work… and ended up in hospital with a severe kidney infection. I am so grateful that we worked that extra time to build up an emergency fund which allowed me to find dog-care for Mac, secure the motorhome somewhere safe, book the next flight from the nearest airport and fly back to the UK.

Learn to slow down
This has been the HARDEST thing for me… which is probably why I started a travel blog! But if the reason you want to change your lifestyle is to get a better life balance, then you need to learn to slow down. It’s ok to spend days ‘doing nothing’, lazing by the beach or curled up with a book while it pours down outside. Not every day has to be an ‘adventure’ or have something amazing happen. This whole lifestyle is an adventure in itself, so don’t burn yourself out trying to fit everything in at once. 

 

Sarah and Tabitha from Veedubadventures

Sarah is the face behind Veedubadventures & Mohobo, the online store for quirky motorhome gifts. Tabitha is her teenager daughter, navigator and first mate. Always a keen traveller, taking trips across Canada to Chile by motorcycle, when Sarah hit 50 they set off on a year-long adventure in their trusty 21 year old motorhome, Eileen. Together they are true adventurers who seriously carpe the hell out of every diem.

To follow their adventures check out their blog Veedubadventures and their Facebook page. Click here for Mohobo gifts.

Warning:  Full Time Family Travel Can Permanently Alter Your Perspective!

When The Motoroamers asked if I’d like to guest blog in their Life on The Road series I was excited and daunted in equal measure. Although working out how I could extract just THREE tips from an epic year on the road with Tabitha my, then, ten year old daughter felt the same as the prospect of condensing a 4 bedroom London house and life into a 6m Campervan. 

It’s NEVER too early to start
Prepare yourself, your family and your environment. Dream BIG!  The possibilities really are endless and this is the time to go hard or don’t leave home! Choose your new rolling home early, it can sometimes take a while to get a 2nd hand vehicle mechanically sound.  There might be modifications you want to make for it to feel like home. Start thinning out possessions as early as you can, mentally if not physically at the very least.  Categorise everything you own and be ruthless.

Get the kids motivated by putting their sales cash into their own Trip Fund – Tabitha paid for her own ice-creams for the first 3 months from what she sold! And, talking of kids, getting them onboard, with what is essentially your dream, is imperative. The wheels can literally fall off if the whole gang aren’t up for the adventure. It’s a BIG upheaval for everyone, even the most intrepid explorer is not always going to love the sacrifices being made.  Much loved toys, precious teddies and best friends will all have to be left behind.

Do return to the the plan and dream regularly but don’t over egg it so everyone is fed up with hearing about it!
Do ask for their input on where to go, what to take, how to learn – even the smallest of humans can contribute here.
Don’t try to plan and control every tiny detail.
Do plan ways for maintaining friendships.
Don’t rely on technology like video calling for this.  Postcards, letters, blogs are great and if the kids are in school, get their class to track your route.  

It’s NOT all cocktails on the beach at sunset
Assuming you get lucky, the first couple of weeks up to the first month will be everything you ever dreamed it would be. The motorhome will drive like a dream, every item you couldn’t bear to leave behind will miraculously find a place, your Sat Nav will unfailing find each destination, the kids will love long driving days and emptying the toilet will be splash free and smell of roses!

Or, maybe it’ll be less utopian dream and more dystopian nightmare and you’ll wake up in a cold sweat wondering what the hell you’ve done! Hang in there! It’s going to take some adjustment moving from a house to a metal box on wheels and working out your new normal. Being together 24×7 was NOT the delight we had anticipated. So consider what I call a ‘soft landing’ to ease yourselves into it. Choose campsites if you’re not confident with free camping or using aires. Travel slowly, stop frequently, find things to do and places that interest both you and the kids. I found it took us at least a couple of days to adjust when we crossed a land border.  A new language,  potentially a new currency, certainly new foods, road signs and rules.

The end of the road
In the blink of an eye, the end of the road is suddenly in sight.  Be it one month or twelve once the end is in sight you will be astonished at how quickly the time has passed. You’ve gone from slightly terrified full time family travellers to seasoned old hands. You no longer worry about how the kids will learn without school – you’ve mastered your own family approach. Be it structured and aligned to the national curriculum or unstructured and child led you have discovered the secret: you can’t actually stop a kid, not to mention and adult, from learning. How on earth are you going to fit all that freedom and surround sound vision back into the life you had before? If you’re like us, you actually won’t…

During our time away we realised that we didn’t want to go back to a full time job or state education. I no longer wanted to work the sort of hours necessary to pay a mortgage or rent. I no longer wanted to pack Tabitha off for 8 hours a day.  More importantly Tabitha no longer wanted to be constrained by a school timetable.Finding our new normal involved me developing new income streams and us moving out of our faithful campervan and onto a narrowboat.

The ever lasting legacy of our year on the road has been the lived experience and confidence that we can pretty much make anything work. The most precious nugget of learning is that anything is possible – if you go at it slowly,  with a bit of forethought and some precision manoeuvring you can make it successfully through the smallest gap.  What a Wonderful World.

 

Ruth and Alan from Travel, Cook, Eat

Ruth and Alan are a Kiwi couple, who have been travelling through Europe full-time in their motorhome Betsy since June 2017.  In their previous lives, Ruth ran her own business and Alan was an engineer.  However after 30 months on the road, those times are now a distant memory; they can’t imagine doing anything else. They absolutely love their lives and are extremely grateful to have this opportunity to travel and share their experiences with others.

Check out their blog over at Travel, Cook Eat and their Facebook page

It’s not easy to pick out our top three pieces of advice because we are all so different regarding what’s important to us. The following gems however, have been instrumental in making our travels safe, enjoyable, and immensely fulfilling and we believe they will serve any full-time motorhomer well. 

Plan your travel but don’t over-plan your travel
When embarking on a full-time life on the road it’s so important that you take time to find and setup the motorhome which will suit you, and your lifestyle.  Research other’s blogs, maybe even hire or borrow a motorhome or two, and work out what you like and don’t like. Once you have bought your pride and joy, you may need to install some larger extras such as solar panels or an inverter, so you truly have an independent home on the road. Smaller items can be picked up as you go and once you know you really want them.

Part of planning your travel is getting your finances lined up. It’s no fun being stuck in a foreign country with a broken-down motorhome and no money to fix it.  Be realistic and have enough money for your travels, plus reasonable contingencies. You will spend more than you expect, so plan for it.  Take out suitable insurance and breakdown cover. Once you are on the road, keep track of your spending and be ready to make adjustments to keep in your budget – either spend less, earn more, or change your plans.

Once your travels start however, it’s time to dial back on the planning. Be open and flexible enough to change direction or destination, or speed up, or slow down. Some of the best experiences occur when you give them the opportunity to happen.

Slow down and smell the roses
We have met people who just love driving and don’t like spending more than a single night in one place. Most of us though will have a deeper and richer experience by spending more time in less places. We suggest allowing plenty of days in each country and a loose schedule with just a few key dates, such as MOT time. This gives you more freedom to be where you want, for as long as you want. Less miles also means lower fuel bills and less wear and tear on your motorhome, yourself, and your relationship.  

Engage the locals
Your overall travel experience is comprised of what you see, what you do, what you experience and who you meet along the way. Our most cherished memories almost always include locals we have met and who have shared with us their friendship, local highlights, and culture.  Many of these locals have actually been fellow motorhomers, whom we met far from their own homes, and then invited us to visit them in their countries. They know exactly what fellow motorhomers and usually offer parking, EHU and a washing machine.  So make the effort to talk with other motorhomers, especially those from other countries.  

Engage locals in conversation, invite them in for a coffee, and you will set yourselves up for some amazing memories and new friends. When you are full-time on the road it’s great to feel you have friends and connections all over Europe. 

 

Ian and Jill from Search for Sites

Ian and Jill have owned a motorhome for 10 years, having previously graduated through tents and a touring caravan. They are not bloggers although do run the popular campsite search facility website and mobile app Searchforsites. So are regularly out and about travelling, researching and gathering data for the website.

Check out their website over at Search for Sites and their Facebook page

Our top tips for travel have recently been upgraded since the availability of mobile data in mainland Europe has increased massively; that coupled with generous data packages from mobile providers. 

Get Connected!
We need reliable internet access every day to run our business, so we invested in a 4G roof mounted aerial with a Huawei 4G compatible mobile wifi router (Mifi) coupled with a Vodafone data sim which gives us an unrestricted 100gb of data for use in any of 40 destinations all for just £20 month – such a good deal we bought a second sim to use in our iPad. 

This enabled us to not only have internet access available 95+% of the time the quality and speed of a 4G connection was sufficient for use with streaming services such as BBC iPlayer, Netflix etc so no need any more for satellite TV or piles of DVD’s. This leads us on to our second tip:

Take the tablets!
Go large with your mobile device and get a Tablet!  The stress levels of finding stopovers are greatly reduced when browsing using a tablet over a mobile phone and using an app such as searchforsites where you can browse a much greater area makes it much easier to find that next must visit place.  Having a large screen is also a god send when using the tablet as a Sat Nav. 

Digital Banking
On previous trips we always used to take cash only which meant we would leave home with a great big bundle of euros – coupled with a  Nationwide credit card. This worked well for shorter holidays but would not be practical for longer term travel. After reading some good reviews we applied for a Starling Bank Account and Card and this has been a revelation coupled with its brilliant super simple banking app. Fee free banking plus free payments, free cash withdrawals all at near bank transfer rates.

So now whenever we visit a non euro country it is easy to get some local currency without getting ripped off with poor change rates. The app tracks all your spending by merchant and category and is updated the instant you make a payment. It has been so good we have now closed all our other accounts and have four Starling Accounts, two personal accounts, one joint account and a business account all run from the same simple app.

 

Cynthia and Stuart from Flipflops and Woolly Hats

Stuart, Cynthia and Luna, their dog, were about 30 years off retirement when they moved into their motorhome in November 2017.  They were inspired into their version of ‘vanlife’ by their love for VW campers and camping in general. They gave up their comfortable life, careers and their nice house for a life of freedom on the open road. They haven’t looked back once! They keep busy, not just with travel & exploring but also with photography, videography and writing. They love this unique lifestyle; the opportunities it gives them, the places it allows them to see, the people they meet and the friends they make.

Check out their website over at Flip-flops and Woolly Hats and their Facebook page and Instagram

Here at Flip-flops HQ, we are continually learning as we travel and live life on wheels so when Karen & Myles from Motoroaming asked us to contribute our top 3 tips, we were only too happy to contribute. The challenge would be to select the top 3 tips but we think we did it! Here goes…

Follow your Heart
No matter what your plans are, if your heart is asking you to go somewhere or do something, be flexible, do it and do it now. Now is the best time, as you may not get to the same place again or if you do, even if it is tomorrow, the place might be different. If you want to explore that lane, do it as you might not pass it on the way back. If you want to take that photo, take it as the sun might not shine tomorrow or a coach-load of tourists might be obscuring the view. If you’re thinking of filling up with fresh water, do it as the tap might be broken in the next place. The list of examples is endless but you get the idea. Following your heart will help make this lifestyle the best it can be for you as it is different for everyone. Following your heart will make your version of ‘vanlife’ authentic to you and you will enjoy it all the more for it!

Find a balance
All your time is yours now, to fill with journeys, exploring and whatever other things you enjoy doing. You may find that covering large distances in a short time may leave you feeling tired, zapped of energy or unmotivated. You may also find that staying in a single place for a longer time may leave you tired, zapped of energy or unmotivated. These opposites can have the same effect but for different reasons, so it is important you find a balance in the way you spend your time that works for you. Creating some structure to your days, continuing with your hobbies, exercise, creating (eg crafts, writing, photography etc) or even doing some work are all ways to help you find that balance and prevent you from feeling adrift on your big adventure. 

Every day is a school day
Sometimes things go wrong or are different to what we expect, maybe we have made a mistake. It can be stressful but it’s how we learn so don’t sweat it! We learn to carry the right equipment, like a multitude of watertap-connectors to deal with the myriad of different taps out there, or the right gas connectors which can differ per country. We learn that colder countries turn their taps off in winter to protect them from the frost, leaving us without water. We learn that we really should have emptied the toilet cassette at the last stop… We learn that we need a bigger coffee pot. We learn that there was a bollard at the back of that parking spot… Ouch! Things can go wrong, but they can be fixed even in a different country across a language barrier, so don’t worry if something does go wrong. It will be OK. 

 

Jenny and Jason 

Jase and Jen left Bristol in March 2018 in their T4 Volkswagen Westflia California Exclusive. Both had given up their jobs, rented out their property and with £18,000 in the bank and set out for an 18 month adventure around Europe. Their route started in France and Belgium following bike races for the early part of 2018, then they headed further into Switzerland, Austria and Germany. Winter was spent in Spain and Portugal, with a 4 week pit stop in the UK for Christmas covering the all important family catchup as well as getting the van MOT’d. After an adventure in Scandinavia, they are currently on a pit stop in UK planning their next set of adventures. 

Follow their adventures over on Twitter.

Be inspired, not restricted
There are literally hundreds of stories like ours, and believe me, we read them and learn a lot. Sometimes that was more how not to do it though. The key piece here is while time allows for a longer and perhaps broader adventure, you don’t have to have months available to have a brilliant experience. In fact, you could do far worse than picking up 1 location or idea for your next holiday. Take our experiences and make them your own. The key is finding what works for you.

Research but it isn’t everything
By all means read the guidebooks, and pour over maps, but also read between the lines. Travel is all about finding your own way and interpretation. Some of the best places we’ve been to, are those dismissed by the guidebooks. Equally, when we decided to hit Scandinavia for our final 3 months, we did so without a map or book between us. It only cost us one unnecessary toll, but in terms of unexpected experiences, it was simply knock out. Sometimes being unprepared delivers in way you don’t expect.

When wild, think Water, Waste and Washing Wild
Free or off grid camping isn’t for everyone, but it’s definitely worth a go, from a budget perspective as much as anything else. It won’t all be glamour sites either, we’ve had more than our share of car park views, but when you find your slice of heaven, they pale into the background. Just take a moment to consider your basic needs, and you will find the experience life changing.

 

Paul and Michele from Our Leap of Faith

Paul and Michele write a Travel blog called Our Leap of Faith and in 2017 they dipped out of the rat race, taking an adult gap year to potter around Europe. At the end of their trip, neither of them had any desire to return to the normal life and chasing the consumer dream, so they opted for a work-life balance, spending the summers in England working as Campsite Wardens and the winter living their dream of exploring the world.

You can follow their adventures over at Our Leap of Faith and Facebook and Twitter.

When we escape away from the humdrum of ‘Real Life’ we like to travel slow and take short hops in our motorhome from Town to Town and divert to see things that sound interesting along the way. When we were asked for our top tips on how we travel, we jumped at the chance!

Never plan too much
Well almost never, how many times have you had a plan and it’s gone array? These days we try to look at what and where we will be tomorrow. All too often in the past we had grand dreams and endless list of things to see and do, mainly from well read travel guides. Then we would get side-tracked by something small and local. Never wishing to turn off the personal touch of travel, the bigger things get bumped from the list, well onto the next time list at least. So now we travel with a rough plan of what today might hold.

It’s about the journey not the destination
Who ever said travel was about getting from A to B, needs to rethink their plans. How easy would it be these days to pop in your destination into a Sat Nav and follow it, turn by turn. Go old school and by a map and pick the roads you are going to follow based on what might happen along the way. As travellers i think that the journey is probably more important than the end destination. Often you can be going down a route and then at the next turn you see a sign or a point of interest and you have to get out and explore and so your journey takes a different route.

Live like a Local
We remember well one of saddest travel memories was arriving in Spain around Christmas time.  We met an English couple, who looked amazed that we had tackled the minefield of the Spanish butcher and bought ourselves a Rib of beef for our Christmas Day lunch, whilst they had resorted to a frozen Turkey from the ex-pat Iceland shop. Although our language skills will never run to full blown conversations, we always make the effort to learn a few key phrases. And then thanks to human nature, our few local words, plus a bit of pointing and maybe a splattering of understood English words we manage to get by and hopefully improve our skills.  he same works when we fancy a beer; we actively avoid the tourist hotspots and seek out the locals’ bar, where the drinks are better and the atmosphere authentic. You should never be afraid of going local – the experience far out-weighs the fear.

 

Sharon from Off Nomading

Sharon is a solo traveller who has long held a dream to get out on the open road in her van and live a nomad lifestyle. After leaving UK four years ago, Sharon travelled, working her way around Europe using public transport and getting involved in the Work-away Scheme, before finding a great gig in the Alps above Annecy, in France. Living and working at a skiing resort, Sharon’s love for cycling and winter landscape meant she was living one part of her dream. And then she bought a van and had it converted and in October 2019 set off on the road working digitally as she goes. Combining travel, working and housesitting, Sharon’s vision has now come to fruition.

Here are 3 things I have learned and would like to share with those thinking of setting off on this path, or who are already on it:
 
Life on the road is far more than just about the travel or a freedom lifestyle
Whether your plan is to live on the road for a matter of months, or maybe indefinitely, it will really stretch you at times. However, these challenges can also provide you with countless opportunities for incredible personal expansion and joy if you let them. It all depends on your perspective. Then if you take that a step further and consciously put yourself way outside your comfort zone on a regular basis, the rewards can be phenomenal. 
 
Such as overcoming a long-held fear, meeting someone you wouldn’t otherwise have met, having new and unexpected experiences and all kinds of amazing opportunities coming your way. 
 
Always follow your intuition
If somewhere doesn’t feel right, move! Even if it’s the middle of the night and you’re in your pyjamas. If someone doesn’t feel right, walk away. On the same score, if your intuition is guiding you somewhere listen to it. Some of the biggest mistakes I have made are because I didn’t listen to my intuition and some of the greatest blessings, because I did. 
 
 
Keep your batteries constantly charged
Keeping all of your devices charged at all times is so critical for life on the road. Plus having spare batteries AND carrying them with you. Also make sure you plenty of memory space, with spare cards. It sounds so obvious, although the amount of times I have take my camera out on a walk and the battery has run out, or the card gets full and the spares are in the van. I have a multi-way cigarette charger for when I’m driving so that I can charge multiple things at once. I also have a car charger for my drone, to ensure that it is always charged as well along with the spare batteries.  Before I set off driving anywhere, I always ask myself, ‘what needs charging today?’ Then I make sure that I have back-ups of everything with me before  leaving the van. You never know when a great opportunity might come along that you might never get again – don’t miss it!

 

 

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All Things Norway Series

All Things Norway Series

Norway – a land of dreams

 

After an epic seven weeks in Norway and a total of five months in Scandinavia during the summer of 2019, we have gathered a whole heap of information and experience. Whilst by no means a ‘completed journey’ as Norway is huge, for sure our massive journey has given us an incredible perspective of this country. From Tromso in the north, through the Lofoten Isles and across 8 of the 18 Most Scenic Routes in Norway like the Trollstigen and Geiranger Passes you will have your senses exercised with a daily workout.

And if Norway is on your Bucket List, then there is some planning to do beforehand. We are not great planners these days. We love to just wing it a lot of the time, although Norway is one country we needed to do a lot of thinking about, preparation and planning. And because of this we felt drawn to write a series of comprehensive blogs that detail our experiences. So many people are worried about the cost, the mileage and what they can do in the short time available. Well we have addressed all of these issues and pulled together the facts, the all-important websites you need and free to download Shopping Lists that will help you stock up on the right items before you come.

So look no further; All you need to get your Norway trip kick started is here. Check out these 3 Comprehensive Guides for:

  • Travel routes to Norway
  • Information on how to make the ferries cheaper
  • Toll Road essentials
  • How to camp when you get there
  • The essentials for driving around Norway
  • How to shop savvy for food, diesel and alcohol
  • A fully interactive map of our route, overnight stop co-ordinates
  • A list of our Wow moments and Trip Highlights

 

With these Guides, you will be informed, prepared and mindful – each with a host of practical tips and direct links to websites for further information relative to your trip parameters. Now your Norway Road Trip can go from dream to reality. Click on the three images below to get access to each of these comprehensive guides. For any more information, do drop us an email by clicking here

 

All Things Travel focuses on everything you need to do BEFORE you leave home. Preparation is the Mother of Skill as they say, and this is so true for a trip to Norway. From planning your route, buying food essentials and Ferry and Toll planning, this blog has essential information for both getting there and getting around with ease on your tyres and on your pocket. 

 

All Things Shopping helps to manage your budget whilst travelling in Norway. For sure it lives up to its reputation on expensive, just read about our ‘beer purchase experience’. Although there are ways to manage on a budget. We have included a FREE to download Pre-departure Shopping List so you load up with only the right essentials and share our Shopping Savvy tips once you are there.   

 

All Things Wow shares our Top 10 sights included in our 2019 tour of Norway. It really does seem crazy to think that there are only 10, although seriously, every day there is a wow to be had, so these our our MEGA wow’s that need to be built into your itinerary if you can.  We have our fully interactive route map included in this blog, which gives you every twist and turn in our route as well as the co-ordinates for our ‘homes’ along the way. 

 

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9 Surprises of Slovenia

9 Surprises of Slovenia

Slovenia may be a relatively new country that has emerged from the rubble of the Yugoslavia Federation although as a tourist destination it packs a serious punch. 

In June 1991, Slovenia became the first republic to make the split and become an independent sovereign state. In 2004 it entered Nato and the EU, and from this point, this gentle and endearing country has grown as a serious contender for tourists’ affections. 

Bordered by Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, Slovenia stands out amongst its neigbours. Dominated by the Julian Alps it competes admirably when it comes to winter sports, alpine scenery and dramatic gorges cut by the ice blue waters of the Soča river.  And then there are its iconic views; the unforgettable Lake Bled with its island church, the Postojna Caves with its unique underground train ride and ancient Predjama, the largest cave castle in the world. And that’s before we mention is exquisite wine producing vineyards and charming coastline along the Adriatic Sea. 

And yet it is Slovenia’s hidden gems that makes it so memorable for us and why we felt compelled to write this blog and share our little discoveries.  Follow our visual tour will give you incentive to come visit this subtle powerhouse destination and seek out the magnificence of this gentle giant, soaring its way up through the world tourist ranks. Check  out our Interactive Route Map below to see our routes, POI and overnight stopovers from our last two visits. 

Surprise 1 – Kranjska Gora

I have never thought of Slovenia as a winter sport nation and yet on its northerly fringes you will find their ski-resort Mecca. Kranjska is a charming alpine village at the foot of the Julian Alps that tower above you. With ski-slopes, ski-jumps and toboggan runs this really is a resort that is putting Slovenia on the winter sport’s map. Even during the summer, the resort is used as a training ground for countries around the world. The sporting season aside, Kranjska with its mountain range offers hikers fabulous walks that will stretch the calves and cycle rides along the old railway that takes you across the border into Italy. If a less active set up is more your scene, then you can use Kranjska as a base for exploring Lubljana, Lake Bled, the Vrsic Pass and Bovec, all reachable by bus. 

Travel Tips

  • For more bus information click here.
  • For camping stay at the Aire alongside the ski resort for €15 payable with the Easypark App
  • For a great meal go to Gostilna Viktor Pizzeria.

Check out our Gallery by clicking below.

Surprise 2 – Soca Valley

With its source deep in the throat of the Julian Alps, the Soca river with its ice blue water courses its way creatively through the valley. Carving deep crevices and gorges, the Soca Valley will delight those looking for a secret summer swim or perhaps even provide the thrill of some serious white water rafting in the spring season. The photographer in you will cry in delight as the valley navigates and snakes its way to Gulf of Trieste in Italy’s north east corner. If you toodle just down the valley to Kanal ob Soči, during steamy summer days you will see the young children jumping off the cliff into the inviting river below. It has so many different faces that driving from the Vrsic Pass following the river’s flow will give you such a great experience all on its own.

Travel Tips

  • Travel across the Vrsic Pass, route 206 from Kranjska which picks up the Soča river at Bovec. 
  • Stop off at the Russian Chapel that commemorates those Russian soldiers who died building the Pass.
  • Catch the bus if you don’t want to drive the pass in your car or camper.

Check out our Video and Photo Gallery by clicking below.

Surprise 3 – Bovec

Ljubljana and Lake Bled are obvious choices for a trip to Slovenia. And whilst they are undeniably beautiful they are tourist traps. The off-the-beaten-track alternative is to visit Bovec. This charming mountain village is nestled in the Alps and is the gateway to the Soča Valley. It can shout proudly about its own ski resort although it is its war memorials that are the greatest surprise. At the Tourist Office in the characterful old town, you can pick up a map with all the Great War references in the area. Most notable are the Ravelnik outdoor museum which you can wander around as if the war ended yesterday, almost smelling the gunshots and sweat from the men in the trenches. The War Cemetery is a sobering visit and seeing the Fortress that played an important role in the Austro-Hungarian arm of the war, will fill in your War education jigsaw. 

And if nature is your thing, then a hike to the Slap Virje waterfall will appeal to all your senses or a cycle down to the valley floor where the Soča masters its way through the rocks and pebbles. Bovec is a super place to explore. 

Travel Tips

  • There are a number of basic campsites in Bovec or the Aire at the Ski Resort has full services and facilities and a stunning backdrop. 
  • Visit the Tourist Info for a map of the War Memorials in the area.
  • Book your kayak and rafting experience from the many companies in the town.

Check out our Gallery by clicking below.

Surprise 4 – Bohinj

Lake Bled with its iconic island church and castle are understandable draws when visiting Slovenia, although for a more authentic and more intimate exploration, head 30 minutes into the mountains to Bohinj. Here you will find fewer tourists and earthy campsites that give you full permission to soak up the silence of Mother Nature. This is a true haven and a delight to visit as an alternative to Bled.

Travel Tips

  • We stayed at Camp Bohinj, which is an earthy and rustic site hidden in the forest with lakeside access. 
  • Bring your camera and your kayak.

Surprise 5 – Vintgar Gorge

Tick off Bled for sure although don’t leave without visiting the Vintgar Gorge, just under 2 miles away (3km). A bus shuttle will take you there for 5€ or you can cycle the route if you have a bit of power! Vintgar is a return trip of 3 miles (5km) and for a 10€ entrance fee you will wind your way through the deeply carved gorge on well built and safe boardwalks. The twists and turns of the river finally crescendo over the each in a spectacular waterfall making this a charming walk if you’re in the area.

Travel Tips

Surprise 6 – Postojna Caves

My surprise of the caves were two-fold. Firstly as caves go this is one of the most spectacular we have ever seen. For sheer wow, it’s a must visit. With the train that takes you deep into the mountains and then a two mile walk through chambers created by Mother Nature in an artistic masterpiece. Stalagtites dripping from the ceiling and stalagmites rising from the floor with a texture like marble. Van Gough would have, I’m sure, been proud of the artistic talent displayed down here without any single intervention by man nor beast. This is one place that absolutely needs to be experienced and the train itself that carries into the heart of the mountains is an event all of its own. Resembling a Ghost Train at a Fun Fair, you trundle through the mountains by a living gallery of underground sculptures. 

The second surprise of the caves were the crowds. Wow, we were part of a colony of ants, or so it seemed. Despite getting there for the fist train of the day, there were hundreds of people already gathered, jostling for position at the entrance as if they were about to miss the January sales. More and more we realise that the whole ‘shoulder season’ really is diluted these days as on our misty  and murky  October visit, at least 30 coaches were already in the car park lined up  in wait for the return of their charges.

Travel tips

  • Get to the caves for the 1000am train and arrive at the entrance so that you can get as far forward on the train as a possible. This way there is less crowd management required. 
  • Booking tickets on line is not necessary – so don’t worry if it says there are no tickets available. You can purchase at the Ticket Office just before the train entrance. It costs €25.80 per person for just the caves or €35.70 for a combination ticket for the castle’s inclusion.
  • Take layers and warm clothing as it is very cool down in the belly of the caves. Also sturdy shoes are necessary as it is quite damp on the walk ways. There’s little danger of slipping, although decent footwear is appropriate.
  • And whilst you are in the area, why not drive just just over 5 miles (9km) to see the world’s largest cave Castle of Predjama. Not a huge amount of parking available, although if you go early or later in the day it is doable with a camper.

Check out our Video and Gallery by clicking below.

Surprise 7 – Ljubljana

We’re not great city people on the whole, although always visit because all sides of travel need to be explored. And we are so glad, on this occasion that we pushed past our city prejudice. Ljubljana is a clean, compact and charming city that oozes a chill-out command. With its castle views across the northern landscape to its Triple Bridge linking the medieval old town with its new suburbs, we adored this city. We only had a couple of hours here as we were meeting friends although we saw enough to be endeared to the cityscape. From that point on  we vowed to give all cities a chance because they may surprise you.

Travel Tips

  • If you are travelling in a camper, stay outside of the city and travel in by bus. We stayed 20 mins  north of the city at a pub camperstop – Gostilna Pri Kovaču (46.031321 14.604002). There is a bus right outside the pub that takes you into the city. 
  • 3-5 hours is enough to get a good feel for Ljubljana.

Check out our Video and city Gallery by clicking below.

Surprise 8 – Slovene Riviera

We have never given any thought to Slovenia’s coastline. With it giant competition either side, Croatia and Italy often seem to be far more of an attraction. Although what an incredible visit for the week it was. With Slovenia’s major port Koper at one end and Piran on the southern edge, you have a delightful coastline with nooks, crannies and rugged shoreline to play with. Harbours and street cafés, cycle and walking paths and nature reserves, this region is sublime. And Piran and Izola are just incredible medieval towns that has history and iconic Venetian beauty carved into their mortar. Back in from the coastline, the mountains are dominated by vineyards and olive groves and well worth a little diversion. It was such a delight and one place I would happily return for a bit of RnR. For our full post about the area with detailed Trip Guides, click here

Travel tips

  • Out of season is great in the Riviera, although even in October, when the weather is typically gorgeous, locals will all come out for the weekend. So bear this in mind.
  • For camping options, there is nothing at all in Piran. So we recommend staying in Izola which is halfway  between Piran and Koper and then use the cycle path that takes you from north to south effortlessly, to explore. We stayed at a Parking Area run by EasyParking and cost €11.30 per night payable with the app. Or you can pay €10 at the machine as long as you have coins. 

Check out our Gallery by clicking below.

Surprise  9 – Slovenia’s wine

Who would have thought that Slovenia would be a great wine producer. Well the vineyards may be new to the global wine stage, they are definitely worth trying. With fabulous soil and karst landscape it makes for outstanding wineries, which in the south particularly are seriously beginning to compete with established brands with their Italian neighbours. We particularly enjoyed the family run vineyard Saksida in Nova Goricia which has a fabulous selection of wines at reasonable prices.  They also offer a wonderful campsite and 5* restaurant open at weekends.

Also further south in the Slovene Riviera there is a fabulous wine tasting experience at Marezige Vinska Fontana. Up in the hills behind the coast you can, for €8 buy a glass (that you keep) and 3 tokens that allow you to choose from four wine fountains. It is home to the Refošk Wine, well known in this region.

 

Practicalities of visiting Slovenia

  • The diversity of the country is enormous and deserves plenty of time exploring. Be mindful of the season you visit. Early spring and late autumn the weather becomes unpredictable and, in the mountains you will often see plummeting temperatures and snow. This may impact on some of the mountain passes and you may need winter tyres or snow socks at the very least. 
  • The currency of Slovenia is Euro.
  • There is generally very good English spoken in the main resorts, although as with every country a few phrases of Slovene will be appreciated. Try these; Havla – thank you. Dober dan – a formal hello.  Govoriš angleško – do you speak English? Lahko dobim račun, prosim – can I have the bill please? Bye – Adijo 
  • Although travelling around the country without going on the motorways is doable, sometimes it’s just easier to hop on for a quicker journey – especially if your time is short. So you will need a vignette which you can buy at most Petrol Stations. It costs just €15 for 7 days. 
  • Take cash, as whilst credit cards are accepted, many restaurants will only take payment in cash. 
  • Download the app EasyPark so you can easily pay your parking charges for either car or camper. 
  • If you are travelling in your camper, please respect their no wild camping rules. There are plenty of campsites and Aire options and although they may be more basic than western Europe, they make perfectly good bases for exploration. 
  • If you are flying, Lubljana’s Joze Pucnik Airport is your main hub which is accessible from all over Europe, many destinations of which offer cheap fares. It is 16 miles (26km) north west of the capital so transportation will be required. A taxi to the city starts from €20.

 

Final thoughts

Slovenia is an undiscovered marvel and we realise that we haven’t even scratched the surface. Although if you love nature, outdoor life, World War History, wines, coastline and stunning mountain scenery then Slovenia will not disappoint. For a gentle nation with a diverse landscape that packs a powerful punch, Slovenia will delight and surprise in equal measure. 

 

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Tromso – Norway’s most northern city

Tromso – Norway’s most northern city

Tromsø was never an intended destination on our 2019 Summer in Scandinavia road-trip, although when circumstances  took an unexpected change, we seized the chance to visit. We do believe that every event has its purpose, however difficult they may be. After all life is never as beautifully laid out as in our visions. I guess the trick is to make sure that you see the positivity in all things and remain flexible.

So when a family bereavement back in UK reshaped our plans, we looked upon it as an opportunity. It was a chance to explore a region that was not on our agenda whilst waiting for a flight back to England. That’s what I love about travel; when you go with the flow, things unfold as they are designed to.

And so Senja, Norway’s second largest island and Tromsø, Norway’s most northern city suddenly made an appearance on the Motoroamers’ road-trip. Come with us as we embark on a mini City-tour Guide.

 

The Gateway to the Arctic

Tromsø is a vibrant city 210 miles north of the Arctic Circle and over 1100 miles north of Norway’s capital, Oslo.  And whilst it may rarely appear on people’s travel itineraries, it surely has something unique to offer. For curious travellers seeking new experiences and cultures, Tromsø has to be on the list for exciting vacation opportunities, throughout the whole year.  Keep reading to find out why!

Tromsø, nestled between mountains that, for most of the year support a covering of snow, has more of a town-like feel than a city. This fact alone is enough to have us recommending this northern destination.  With its island location, it welcomes you across its arching bridge with a charisma and intimacy that instantly feels safe and warm. This was so unexpected. Cities so often smother me with their enormity and consume my tiny presence in its giant maze of buildings. Yet Tromsø is very different to the archetypal cityscape we are used to.

Tromsø has hit the global stage a number of times in its history. First was for its Arctic position which lent itself to explorers using the city as their main hub before embarking on their often fatal expeditions. Then the fire of 1969 which all but destroyed the whole city. And with their stalwart Nordic spirit, the city resurged against its adversity in 1972, when they built the most northern University – putting Tromsø firmly on Scandinavia’s map.

Thanks to its University, this unassuming city has a youthful feel, which gives it an energy that subtly bounces off the old town’s wharf. And yet in contrast, the Arctic history, stakes its claim in making Tromsø a fascinating place to visit. With its compact and bijou feel, it will delight you with its wintery tales of Arctic explorers and the characterful wooden buildings in the old wharf surely must hold many seafaring secrets.

 

A Compact and Bijou City Visit

Unlike many more Southern European cities, after a couple of hours, you will have got the measure of Tromsø. Even the cruise ships only dock for a short while. Although there are plenty of highlights to enjoy during this time, so don’t underestimate it appeal. 

 

1. Tromsø’s Bridges  – Major City Landmark

Tromsø, built on the eastern edge of the island of Tromsøya, survives thanks to its bridges and tunnels. Now these bridges are not your typical structures – nothing straight and boring here! Oh no, the city of Tromsø has a duo of arching structures that seem to glide high above the fjord as if in some grand gesture to the Sea Gods. Driving these 2km (1.2 mile) bridges is, on its own, an experience as you feel yourself drawn into the city centre with an entrance fit for a king on his chariot. 

The Tromsø Bridge (Tromsøbrua in Norwegian) to the east is 3,399ft cantilever construction that back in 1960 when it was opened, was the first of its kind in Norway. It was also regarded as the longest bridge in Northern Europe at the time. 

If you park in Tromsdalen to the east, walking across the bridge is a great experience, as you get a real sense of city’s perspective and its fjord position. Although be warned, read the signs carefully – as the north side of the bridge is for cyclists and the south for pedestrians. Mix them up at your peril and be prepared for a Norwegian onslaught of exasperation from the passing two-wheelers.

Click the image below for our Gallery

 

2. Tromsø’s Special Roundabouts

Am I mad? Roundabouts, surely these are nothing worthy for your visit! Well when you experience these roundabouts deep beneath the surface of the earth, in tunnels, then you might choose to reconsider. It’s the most bizarre thing to experience and is definitely worth checking out if you can. Check out our short video below.

 

 

3. Tromso’s Arctic Cathedral – Ishavskatedralen

Cathedrals are often a tourist magnet in any city because of their grandeur and history. Tromsø may, once again surprise you. Whilst there is the official Cathedral in the old town square, which was rebuilt after the fire of 1969, it is the magnificent structure across the water that draws your eye. The iconic Tromsdalen church, known lovingly as the Arctic Cathedral is a pinnacle of engineering mastery. This triangular construction is something to behold and interestingly, despite its nickname, is not officially a cathedral. Built in 1965, the Arctic Cathedral is seen as the Sydney Opera House of Norway, such is the magnificence of its design.  

 

4. Tromso’s Old Harbour Wharf

Tromsø superficially, looks a bit commercial with its ports, ships and fish factories. Yet once you enter the sentrum, you immediately get a feel for its historical dominance of 19th century Arctic explorations. A memorial to Roald Amundsen, the man most famous for beating Scott to the North Pole, signals the gateway to understanding Tromsø’s Polar significance.

The Polar Museum explains how its northerly position became so central to expeditions heading north to conquer the icy kingdom of the Pole. And how the sea played, and still does even today, a vital role in their survival in this extreme part of the world.

And then you turn the corner to the inner harbour. Along the wharf, you find an array of seafaring vessels standing on parade, gleaming in the mid-summer sun. And it begins to dawn on you what life must be like in the grip of winter’s hold. Whilst a visit in June/July proffers 24hours of daylight, winter brings a different personality. -4° and darkness for most of the day. Knee deep snow and perhaps just a faint blue hew as the sun’s rays barely reach the horizon. And in a blink of an eye, a community’s lifestyle shifts from flourishing to survival amidst the extreme conditions.

The wooden harbour buildings still stand firm with more than a few tales of sailors’ woes hidden inside their walls. Now bars and restaurants, throbbing with cruise-liner visitors, sell a range of food, some of which is way beyond our western palette tolerances.

Click the image below for our Gallery

 

5. Tromso’s Cable Car – Fjellheisen

Although we didn’t take the Cable Car on this visit, it is said to be one of the best ways to view the city, especially during either the Northern Light display or the Midnight Sun. What a spectacle either of these would be from such a lofty position. Built in 1961, the two cable cars, named Polar Bear and Seal will lift you 421m into the sky to give you an exhilarating view.

You can find it by walking over the eastern bridge towards the Arctic Cathedral. The ride is just 4 minutes, is open from 1000 to 2300 (and until 0100 during the Midnight sun period) and runs every 30 minutes. It costs 250Nok per person or if you feel energetic, walk down and only pay 150Nok. Find out more details and schedules by clicking here.

 

6. Tromsø’s Old Town

Tromsø is so much more than a winter retreat. Albeit the winter activities give this Arctic destination supremacy, there’s something about Tromsø’s charm that needs to be appreciated by daylight.

The old town took its early steps back in 1800s and was seriously influenced by its rich sea merchants who graced the town with their wealth. With bountiful pockets, Tromsø’s style took an international twist, modelled on the Empire architectural design of their Southern European cousins in Greece and Italy. Grand columns and doorway designs have a definite Romanesque flavour to them.

Alongside this, there’s an eclectic mix of colonial-style buildings that give Tromsø such a lovely atmosphere, where you half expect elegant couples dressed in their finery to promenade along the dockside. And yet paradoxically these charming wooden buildings have had to yield to the modern constructions that shadow their beauty. Yet somehow this city of contrasts works. That blend of commerciality and old era heritage living side by side, making their collective identity fuse seamlessly.

The high street, if that’s what you call it, softly travels through the old town with classy boutiques and shops selling reindeer hide and winter attire. There’s no high end marketing taking centre stage in this city, unlike its Lofoten cousin not too many miles away. Just a timeless trundle into the present day.

In the main square you will see the world’s smallest bar and a statue to honour the old Norwegian King. It is here that the old Town Hall stands in the shadow of its contemporary replacement, the wood clearly giving way to the more robust fortified glass that reflects a whole new lifeblood for this throbbing northern community. 

Click the image below for our Gallery

 

What to do around Tromsø

Tromsø is most certainly a winter hub, more at home with huskies and the Northern Lights. Although don’t let a summer visit pass you by. These addition activities will turn your visit into a real adventure;

  • Just 15 minutes drive away you have the mountains of Skrolkets with great hiking. Keep your eyes open for moose and eagles.
  • Take a Rib on a Sea Safari see the whales and puffins.
  • For an extended tour, you are not far from the beauty of Senja and its Norway in Miniature status. With WW2 museums, trolls and one of Norway’s 18 most scenic routes, you could easily while away three or four days.
  • The world’s most northerly Botanical Gardens, just south of Tromsø.
  • Watch the Midnight Sun from mid-May to mid-July.
  • And why not consider an extended trip to the Lofoten Islands? With its easy access by road within a 6 hour journey, or a short flight from Tromsø domestic airport, seeing these iconic islands is a doable option. For more information on visiting the Lofotens, click here.
  • Why not take a City Walking Tour that will give you an intimate insight to an intimate city? For 3 hours be taken on a journey through the historical pathways of Tromsø and feel the spirit of the city. 

 

Practicalities for visiting Tromsø

With its northerly location, you could be forgiven for ignoring the draw of this Nordic beauty. Although with an airport, excellent cruising options and solid road infrastructure, Tromsø is a very real destination these days.  Here are some options for getting to, staying in and getting around Tromsø and its neighbourhood.

 

Getting there….

With the main arterial E6 route that connects the northerly and southerly points in Norway, visiting the upper reaches of Norway is so much easier. Granted it will take you a while and the road is not a motorway as we know them in UK/EU although it is doable – if you have the time. Equally if you have made the epic journey to Nordkapp and Alta, then the E6 south will bring you to Tromsø in 6 hours. All too often we hear of people by-passing Tromsø for the lure of the Lofotens, so we would really encourage you staying around this beautiful Troms region for a while before heading south.

We arrived in Norway from Sweden via the E10 at Abisko, so getting to Tromsø was actually quite an easy drive, albeit we took the scenic route through the fjords. 

Alternatively you could take one of over 100 direct flights a week from Norway’s Oslo, Gardermoen Airport to Tromsø. I can certainly vouch for this flight. I took an SAS flight and arrived in Oslo in less than 2 hours.

The Hurtigruten Cruise is arguably the most scenic route to take, although you need to have time on your side. This historical cargo vessel that would steam along the Norwegian coastline is, these days more of a travel experience than a cargo route. From Bergen to Kirkenes, the Hurtigruten Cruise is not the cheapest way to visit Tromsø, although will certainly give your Norwegian bucket list a great big fat tick! 

 

Once there, getting around

The beauty of Tromsø’s compact nature is that you can walk around it easily. It is only if you want to explore further afield that you need to consider another mode of transport.

We found driving to and through Tromsø in our 7.5m van caused no issues at all. We found free parking on Tromsdalen, across the Tromsø Bridge which was perfectly fine for visiting the city. (69.650268 18.993843). We didn’t stay overnight although we suspect it wouldn’t be a problem. 

If you are reliant on your feet for transport, then download the Troms Mobillett App, which gives you access and discounts to the buses and ferries in the area. 

 

Staying there

We stayed at two locations with our van. The first was an amazing wild spot up in the mountains to the north west of the city. With fabulous hiking, great views and generally peace and quiet, it was nice not to be too close to the city. (69.759121 18.855957). The second spot, I readiness for my flight back to UK was at the Tromsø Lodge Campsite (69.648636 19.016156). This is a great site close to the Cable Car and cycling distance to the city, although not cheap at 400NOK per night in July. It is an ACSI site, out of season. They had one the best showers we’ve experienced in Scandinavia and great washing machine facilities. 

For other accommodation, you have so many options from Hotels, Guest Houses, Cabins and AirB&B. Check out the official Tromsø Visitors website here.

 

Closing Thoughts

Tromsø, with its mountains, Midnight Sun, Northern Lights, Winter Expeditions and general all-year round appeal, makes a visit to this northern Nordic city worthy of your time. Without the crowds of other southern European destinations, Tromsø gives you a uniquely comfortable and adventurous experience. As a centrepiece to so much more exploration in the Troms region, we highly recommend this jewel in Norway’s northern crown. Come and experience the vibe for yourself and see what you think! 

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Guest Post – Gap Year Nomads

Guest Post – Gap Year Nomads

We love meeting new people on the road and hearing what brought them to travel. When we rocked up to a wild spot on the west coast of Portugal, there was a bumble-bee coloured van sat looking across the ocean. Of course it was only polite to see if they minded us parking next to them – and then we saw they were British. And that moment was the start of a fabulous evening, sharing food stories and a few tipples. Here is Emily and Lloyd’s story of their gap year in their self-converted minibus, Flora.

 

 

Flora’s Conversion

At the beginning of 2018, Lloyd and I hatched a plan to travel the world. We looked into backpacking, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail before finally landing on travelling the world in a van. For budget reasons, and for design creativity, we chose to self-convert a van.

I work in Marketing and Lloyd works in Sales, so you could reasonably assume that we didn’t have any DIY skills. I was handy with a paintbrush and Lloyd could change a lightbulb and put up a picture. Although beyond that, everything we learnt, we found on the internet. We followed anyone and everyone on Instagram who had converted their own vans for inspiration, we read blogs for tips on the best things to use and we watched videos on Youtube on how to put it all together.

 

We had saved around £3500 to spend on a van, and we would then save the same again to fit it out. We found Flora, a 15 year old LDV Convoy Minibus on Autotrader with around 17,000 miles on the clock. With no intention of buying that day, we drove up to visit the first van to get the ball rolling, and next thing we knew, Flora was ours. We drove her away on the same day. She had 17 seats and a roof rack – and she was ours.

Initially, we were very optimistic about the conversion; we spent a weekend gutting out the 17 seats, the plastic walling, the floor, the soaking cab mat and were left with an empty husk of a van. A bright yellow empty shell. After watching videos, we had planned to spend the following weekend cleaning, rust treating and priming. That weekend stretched from 1 weekend to 4. That was a bit of a wake up call.

 

Initially, we kept the van on my mum’s driveway as there was more space than outside our 2 bedroom house in Portsmouth. However, by August, we had insulated the van using Celotex boards, expanding foam and some recycled plastic wool, which was not as far as we were planning to be. We moved the van down to Portsmouth, and whilst we both worked full-time, our evenings and weekends were spent in Wickes, B&Q and in, on or around the van.

Our house is small and we lived in chaos. We ate Heinz tomato soup and ready made pizzas to save time in the evenings so we could make the most of the light. We gave up hobbies and socialising. We worked all day, every day and it was some of the most stressful times of our somewhat short lives.

We hit a turning point in early-mid October when it finally started coming together. We had finished the main components of the build and could see a light at the end of the tunnel. I was painting, Lloyd was completing woodwork pieces. I was put on garden leave in early November which was a real blessing. We would not have been ready to leave by the deadline we had chosen if it wasn’t for that, because not only were we converting our van, we also had to jump through the hoops required to let out our house.

 

We moved out of our house on December 31st. Trying to get the final few things completed for the house was a mad dash. We had electricians ripping up floorboards on the 23rd of December and replacing the fuse board. We received our gas safety certificate and, the day we handed over the keys, we collectively let out a sigh of relief, in part because we had only just finished cleaning the house that very morning.

Lloyd worked the first week in January, whilst I cleaned, painted, carpeted and packed the van. The day before we left, Lloyd fitted the gas, the diesel heater and we had an issue with the battery which needed fixing. Then like it was nothing, we started up the engine on the 13th of January, and we left the UK for the trip of a lifetime.

 

How we are finding it so far?

We are now eight months into our trip and we still cannot stop smiling.

We live with 75L of water which lasts us 4-5 days. We rely solely on solar power to charge our phones, laptop, iPad, lights, fan and water pump. We have a 13kg bottle of gas that has lasted so far and is still lasting us. We don’t have hot water, we don’t have a shower and we don’t have a toilet. We live with less now than we ever have before but feel richer with everything else we get to experience on a daily basis.

It was a steep learning curve. 15/20L of water a day doesn’t really sound as little as it is, but as the average use of a person living in the UK currently stands at 300-370L of water a day, so it’s a noticeable adjustment. We don’t have a shower so rely on boiling water from the kettle and using the sink and a flannel or a swim in the sea. We don’t have a toilet, which has been a source of many laughs, tears and midnight drives, but now our bodies are starting to get used to it.

It sounds like a nightmare, but really, it’s not that bad. In fact, it’s just not bad. We have this inexpressible freedom to go wherever the wind blows. Choosing where to park is easy now with so many apps and websites for camper vans, caravans, and other converted vans.

 

How we afford to travel

As I said earlier, we both worked full time, during which time, we saved enough money for us to travel for a year. On a budget of maximum £1000 a month, we are currently spending around £600 a month on all our expenses, for both of us. Food, fuel, travel costs which is split about a third each way. We currently don’t earn money on the road, and we’re not sure if we ever will, so we have saved enough for us to do the things we want to do for a year.

We are very lucky that there are so many places to free camp across Europe as this has saved us vast sums of money and it also means we have been lucky enough to have some of the most beautiful places as our back garden.

 

Our route and future plans

Our journey has taken us from Dunkirk to Lake Annecy, Lake Annecy to the Etretat Cliffs, along the coastline to Mont St Michel and the Cote de Granit Rose, to Bordeaux, Biarritz and Bayonne. We have petted wild horses in the Pyrenees, had our van towed in San Sebastian, drank cider in Oviedo and hiked the Ruta del Cares in the Picos de Europa.

When we first met Karen and Myles, we were in Portugal and cannot express how beautiful this country is. From the granaries in Soajo and the Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga to the street performers in Porto, we had the most incredible time exploring Portugal in our van. We carried on through Southern Spain and up the Mediterranean coastline for an exceptional month meeting family who met us in Barcelona, the Verdon Gorge and Antibes, before heading over through Switzerland & Northern Italy, where we spent a magical evening under the Tre Cime de Lavaredo. After a quick stop in Lake Bled in Slovenia, we met friends in Austria, before finally heading through Slovakia, a completely underrated country in our opinion!
Our journey now, will take us from where we are in southern Poland, up through Lithuania, Latvia & Estonia, where we are planning to take a ferry to Helsinki. We will then drive up and over into Norway in time for the Northern Lights around September/ October time (before we get snowed out), then we will head down for the Christmas markets in Germany & Czech Republic, before returning to the UK for our MOT in December.

 

If you’d like to follow along with the rest of our journey, you can follow us on Instagram: @ourconvoyage or you can check out our blog www.ourconvoyage.com.

 

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