Celebrating Birthdays whilst travelling

Celebrating Birthdays whilst travelling

Celebrating Birthdays whilst travelling

 

Celebrating Birthdays whilst travelling or living on the road can be a tricky affair. Buying the right gift that you can keep a surprise, no room for parties, not being close to friends and family.  It’s a big conundrum that has vexed me since we left UK in March 2016.

Yet choosing a nomad life or even just spending a lot of time on the road means that life becomes a whole lot simpler. You find yourself thrust into an existence where your needs are few and your desires for material things dwindle with the speed of a gazelle.

A streamlined life with a back-pack, camper or boat may take on the look of a minimalist hermit, although the truth is that we really don’t need much to be happy. We are conditioned by the commercial marketeers that we need the latest leather sofa or car with go-faster stripes to define ourselves, yet we know in our hearts that it isn’t true.

Our stuff may well be decluttered, recycled or stored whilst our wanderlust takes over the reigns of our chariot, although our habits take a little longer to be reshaped. We are programmed to celebrate Birthdays, Anniversaries, Christmas, New Year with the gusto and flamboyance of a Royal Wedding. We go to town decorating our homes, buying gifts that no one in their right minds would purchase any other time of the year, bake cakes, write cards and generally set out to spoil the people around us in order to make them feel special.

Yet is love buying the latest gadget, the trendiest outfit or the most adrenalin filled experience? No with a capital N. This is what we have come to learn, although it is not the truth. And it is what life on the road is teaching me.  Life and gifts are so much more than purchases we make to bring happiness. Although I’ll not lie, breaking that materialistic bubble is tough when it comes to Birthdays. Even four years on, for me celebrating birthdays whilst travelling is a hard one to overcome.

Deep within me I love to make those I love feel happy – it’s an engrained pattern deep in my DNA;  a people pleasing trait. In turn, I feel more worthy when others acknowledge my Birthday. I’m not proud of this flaw and it is something that I am constantly working on  –  although there we go, this is my truth.

And it is these legacies that have me recoiling when it comes to celebrating my loved one’s anniversaries. Strangely I have overcome the whole Christmas thing as we’ve not sent cards or bought presents for over 12 years. So my habit has changed over time. And I hope the same will happen soon when it comes to Birthdays.

So as I sit here pondering on this non-Birthday Birthday phenomina for Myles 53 celebration, I thought it might be helpful to work this one through for those Life on the Roaders who, like me struggle to know how to approach it. I’ll be honest though, this is still work in progress, so I am no means cured from the society norms that have carved their patterns into my psyche.

 

10 Ways to celebrate without consumerism

 

 

1. Celebrate with a home-cooked meal 

As they say, ‘The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.’ Lots of people enjoy showing their love through the food they cook.  It’s so lovely to be able to design a menu of food that would make their hearts sing.  Ask if you had to design a ‘last meal’ what would it be.

 

2. Spoil them with breakfast in bed

I always enjoy the whole breakfast in bed gesture and whilst wholly impractical, it’s the thought that counts.  Going to extra effort on a special day is so much more meaningful than pile of presents that satisfy only our own desire to please.

 

3. Wake up to an appropriate song

“If music be the food of love, play on.” Shakespeare

For our Birthday’s we always have a song playing – often it’s Stevie Wonder’s ‘Happy Birthday’. What a fabulous way to start the day. Music has such a great vibe to it.

 

4. Create a personalised collage or gif and post to Social Media

I love putting collages together with my favourite pictures of times spent together.  Using an app like canva.com you can come up with some great designs that share  so much more than a present can ever do. The thought that goes into creating, building and designing something is worth its weight in gold.

 

5. Make a video from friends sending Birthday greetings

For Myles’ 50th Birthday, I asked friends and family (many of whom he hadn’t spoken to for a long while) to put together a 2 minute video sending him their Birthday greetings. I then put all those together into a video with music and made this his main ‘present’. It stunned him into silence and he still plays it three years on!

 

6. Celebrate with a meal out 

It’s always fun to be with people you love and being able to share the celebration with special people makes the day more meaningful. So if you’re in a place where you can share with loved ones, find a way to celebrate together. We are often stationery in a campsite on Myles’ Birthday, so we have the chance to be with friends or visiting family who are with us for the Christmas period. Otherwise we might delay a celebration so we can be with fellow travellers who we want to rendezvous with.

 

7. Buy a local tipple or tasty bite

If buying a gift still feels important, then look for a special tipple or traditional food from the country you are travelling in. It might make a nice change to try something cultural that they wouldn’t normally have throughout the year, that feels like a treat.

 

8. Send an ecard

If like us, whilst on your travels, having cards that cover every eventuality is impractical, then you always make one or send an e-Card. Increasingly saving resources is important so an e-card is a lovely way of celebrating that special day.

 

9. Kiss, hug and squeeze just a little bit more than normal

Special days come each morning we wake up, although when it’s a Birthday or Anniversary, then the most priceless gift is your time and affection. When we recondition our beliefs to realise that buying a present isn’t the only way we can show our love, then the options are endless. Take more time to spoil your loved one with even more hugs and kisses.

 

10. Do what they want to do and not what you think they would like

I remember last year’s Birthday for Myles; I asked him what he wanted to do with his day. His needs were simple – just a walk along the beach. Whilst it didn’t feel ‘enough’ for me to acknowledge his special day, it was a perfect for him. And that’s what really mattered.  Sometimes the most simple pleasures have the most meaningful impact.

 

Celebrating Birthdays whilst travelling is just one of the many things that require a shift in thinking and a change of habits. Finding a different and more simple way of showing someone you love them is so important. After all, moving away from the traditions of the Matrix was what motivated us to live an alternative life in the first place. So as we evolve our behaviours, we continue to find more simple ways to give gifts, show love and acknowledge important dates without the commercialism that we have grown up with. For inspiration on creative gifts whilst on the road, read my post by clicking here.

How do you celebrate whilst travelling? Would love to hear how you approach this tricky conundrum.

And I’ll leave you with one final thought thanks to Henry T. Ford….

 

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

 

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Strategies for Planning your Road-Trips

Strategies for Planning your Road-Trips

Our Life on the Road series comes as we glide into a period where we finally feel experienced enough to share our insights. Having left UK shores at the beginning of March 2016, we have 50,000 miles under our belt and lessons galore that have expanded our minds. Whilst we don’t ever consider ourselves experts, we have built up a wealth of knowledge about life in a motorhome that we are passionate to share. Whether you are long-timers, full-timers, weekend warriors or new timers, there will be something in here for everyone. 

This latest blog in the series focuses on planning strategies for your next road-trip. Thanks for the overwhelming vote from our Facebook community this was bar far the most popular blog request. And so, read on if you would like some practical tips for making your next road-trip an adventure and not a nightmare. Enter into our world where we share how we plan for and prepare for the countries we visit and get a sneak preview of how we do things in Motoroaming HQ. This is especially relevant as we begin our research for our month-long adventure to Morocco in 2020. 

 

How to make your next road-trip an adventure and not a nightmare.

Travelling is such a personal affair. From the transport we choose, the accommodation we select to be home and the philosophy we hold when it comes to places we want to visit. So I enter this blog with a degree of caution as our approach may not suit everyone. That said, we offer our loose strategies in the hope that it might offer some inspiration.

Before I launch into my 10 Road-Trip Planning Strategies, here are some thoughts about how be a confident travel planner which makes the art of travel so much smoother. 

 

The Art of Travel – The Skills of a Travel Planner

 

To Plan or Not to Plan, that is the question

Back in my corporate days as a Leadership Development Consultant, planning and preparation were key to my business. Without it, my reputation would have sunk as low as the dipping sun. So having an organised mind became part of my raison d’être. Those skills have remained with me ever since. Although I have to say that my insatiable, almost obsessive need to have precision plans has faded enormously since we hit the road.

Before we left UK, I bought maps, spent a fortune on Guide Books and invested heavily in highlighter pens and post-it notes. I was determined that our supposed gap-year travelling around Europe in our Pilote motorhome would be as co-ordinated as a war-time battle strategy.  The only danger with this mindset is that whilst you have a vision, a checklist and a route-map they can become far too rigid. Perish the thought that there’s a road-block to take you off course. Or may be a Point of Interest offered by a fellow traveller that you are curious to see. 

So yes plan, research and mentally have yourself geared up for the journey ahead, although then let go of that plan. Leave enough space for a change of route, a longer stay and revisions along the way. These are what make your trip into an adventure. 

Adopt a Travel Philosophy

Surely just pack up and go right? You’ve spent six months planning, now the wanderlust, itchy feet are urging you to travel. Although part of the planning process that has served us well is having a travel philosophy. What does this actually mean?  

Give thought to things like:

  • Do you want to blast it or do more of a slow-travel?
  • What sort of campers are you? Wild, campsites, Aires or a mixture of both?
  • How many hours or miles do you want to travel each day?
  • Are you motorway lovers to reach your destination or do you prefer to meander around the countryside and explore?
  • What type of traveller are you? A reach your destination and chill type? A curious explorer? An adrenalin junky? A fitness lover?

These questions help you to discover the type of traveller you are or want to be. Whilst the answers may be uncovered the more you travel, giving some thought to it before you head off will influence your plans. If you are travelling with family or a partner, discuss this together and accommodate everyones’ needs.

 

Be Inspired by Others

It’s easy to develop a mind-set of ‘I’ll do it alone and I’ll learn along the way.’ And there’s nothing wrong with that type of exploration. Although these days there are so many people who are travelling and writing about their experiences, that they are an amazing resource. I used to have a skewed attitude that to learn from others was somehow a weakness and almost lazy. As if I was cheating. Learning from my own experiences, I thought would be far more life-changing. And that is true to a degree. Although when others have the voice of wisdom and insight it would be crazy not to dip into this. Travel can be exhausting so making our trip the most meaningful and fulfilling, when life is so short, is really important. Not only that other people’s knowledge can save you money, stress, time and expensive mistakes. So be willing to read blogs, ask questions and cherry pick from other people’s experiences. 

 

Be a Responsible Traveller

When we make time for planning a road-trip, it allows us to think about the planet. It gives us the space to ponder on how to minimise our carbon foot-print – especially if we are travelling in a diesel guzzling camper/Motorhome.  Whilst the miles we travel may not be a conscientious choice for the earth, the way we choose to live can be. So when planning a trip, explore ways to be responsible travellers in our country destination, and indeed those we travel through to reach it. For example when we travel through a country where animal welfare is poor, we take cat and dog food rations. If our research tells us about irresponsible littering, we take refuse bags so we can clean up rubbish as we go. We also consider the use of our refuse and find ways to limit the amount of plastics we travel with.

Sometimes when we are already on the road, getting ethical resources can be harder than when we are in our home country. So plan for ways to look after the planet. Look at whether products like Norwex or ECover can make your trip easier and cleaner and think about purchasing products like this before you leave home.

 

10 Planning Strategies

 

1. Good old fashioned research  – Checklist of Considerations

Once you have selected your country of choice then the exciting part begins. Although it can be such a minefield of information to gather. Using a checklist like this one, can help bring together all the questions that are running through your head. Whilst the follow set of strategies might be more technology based, there’s nothing, in my mind, that can replace just getting a list and running through all the things you need to think about. At the time of writing, we are planning a trip to Morocco for a month, so I used this as a basis for the strategies I used and hence how the checklist came to be. I realised how many of these questions I ask naturally when  we visit a new place. So having them all in one place certainly makes the planning phase so much easier.  So arm yourself with the checklist and then get jiggy with Google and begin answering the questions you have about your chosen destination. Click the image to download your free copy.

 

2. Pinterest

Social Media channels are a huge resource for planning our trips and Pinterest is one of my go-to channels. Whilst these platforms have their downsides and feed obsessive habits if not managed, if you know how to use them, they are a gold-mine of information.  

Pinterest might be a relatively new kid on the block in Social Media terms, it is one of the best places to search amongst the thousands of travellers who write blogs about their experiences. With a simple search of your chosen destination, you  will be presented with literally hundreds of posts that will highlight a diverse range of aspects of the country you are about to visit. From food, culture and ‘best bits’ to road-trip itineraries – Pinterest has it all. When we visited Sweden I did a search for alternative visits to Stockholm, which influenced a completely unique city experience in the summer of 2019. 

Once I find an interesting article, I then pin it to my own Pinterest Boards, take notes or pin the places to Google Maps so I can come back to the information nearer the time. More on that shortly. 

For information on the boards I manage, click the image below.

3. Facebook/Instagram

Facebook is another place where a ton of experienced people can be a font of knowledge for you. Forums and Groups have a great collection of topics for discussion and I often explore these for nuggets of information about our next destination. Whilst in the process of planning Morocco, synchronistically a handful of motorhomers were visiting and posting valuable information and images that helped prepare us for our trip. So watching their videos, seeing their photos and reading their challenges has been really helpful. 

You can use Facebook as part of your research either by watching it day-to-day and hoping you catch the relevant posts. Or you can use the search facility in a specific group to pull up past posts on your chosen country. Check the images below to see how to make Facebook work in this respect. If there is a post you want follow as people in the community continue to comment, then there is a save facility which means you can access the post easily when you need it. 

Alternatively you could use Facebook to ask specific questions that are concerning you and that help you fill in any gaps that you can’t find answers to elsewhere.  What a fabulous planning tool this can be. You will often find me checking out a wild spot, a pretty town or location recommended by someone else and pinning it to my Google Map. 

Instagram is another source of visual inspiration, depending on the people you follow. Whilst it isn’t a significant planning resource, as a visual person, I do love the images and it whets my appetite. Thanks to an image of Hallstatt in Austria, we made a diversion to this picture perfect location hidden in the Alps. How lovely it was too. 

4. Ebooks and Country Guides

In the olden days before Google, we used to rely on books like Lonely Planet Guides. And whilst they have their uses for sure, they are weighty. And let’s face it, we all need to watch our weight when we travel. So I started to use eBooks dowloaded to my iPad to learn about new countries and their cultures. Whilst they don’t give me the intricate detail I might need for our love for ‘off the beaten track’, it can be really useful as a first level planning tool. These Guides are written for a certain genre of traveller, which often does not include the road-trip camper and motorhomer. Although they do give some valuable information that goes into the melting point, so they do serve a purpose. 

Again for Morocco, the books I wanted to read didn’t come in eBook versions, so had to rely one particular book that caught my eye on Amazon. So with interest I bought it and it will become an important source of research and learning. 

5. Note Taking

When I’m in a creative mode, which sometimes battles against my need for structure, I just get out my notepad and coloured pens and just mind-map. A technique I used in my corporate life serves me well as a traveller. This is especially helpful when I’ve read through my saved Pinterest articles, got the all-important information from Facebook and ticked off  my checklist through the internet. I just love to jot my highlights and main points on paper randomly. It gives all my thoughts some organisation and I can see things coming together. This is where excitement fills my belly and enthuses me to do more reading and count down the sleeps before we go. If you want to have some fun, get paper and pens and just write down randomly what you are learning. See it all coming together before your eyes. Not everything needs to be high tech. 

6. Other People’s Experiences

When we adopt an attitude of asking others about their experiences, we can learn a whole new perspective of a place. Of course we all have our own journeys and personal views, although collecting those invaluable memories will help you make your own decisions. So whether it’s through your own network of friends, your motorhome/camper fraternity or through Social Media, pick people’s brains. Learn about their highs and lows, extract advice and get their recommendations. Whilst you are unlikely to take on board all that they offer, it will give you more information from which you can make choices that suit you and your travel philosophy. 

 

7. Google Maps and Maps.me

Ok, now we’ve done some fabulous planning, we’ve scoured the internet, read until our heads hurt and our excitement is off the scale. We’ve started to organise things that we need for the trip like Green Cards or Insurance – so what next?

For me, it’s time to drill down a bit and start to explore more of the specifics. The high level planning is great, although as the trip gets nearer, having a plan about the routes you might take, the border crossings and priority places you have on your must-visit list now becomes a priority. Whilst we need to balance our plans with a degree of flexibility, having a rough route or direction feels important. It would be a bit like running a race and not having a defined starting line. It would result in chaos. 

This is where two apps come into play for me. Google Maps and Maps.me. I love Google Maps, it offers so much to the organised traveller; it’s a Sat Nav, walking guide, services search facility and Point Of Interest guide. I see it like a paper map that we might have used when we were kids, peppered with drawing pins of places we dreamt about visiting. This digital version is so much easier to manage when we’re on the road, thanks to our many devices. 

There are two ways of using Google Maps. The first is using the App on your phone to search for and then pin places that you want to visit, taking notes of why it appeals. (Don’t forget this bit as you risk having a collection of random pins that you’ve forgotten their relevance.) The second way I use Google Maps is on my Laptop to create a personalised map of a particular road-trip so that I can track both our potential and actual routes. I can upload pictures, write my thoughts, link to websites and develop it into a whole exciting interactive map for our followers. It’s awesome. Check out some of the maps we’ve created here

Maps.me I came across through a fellow motorhomer in year two of our travels and it revolutionised our journeys. As a free App and community sharing tool, it allows you to create your own pins for overnight stays, UNESCO sites, Service Stations, LPG and campsites. Most powerfully though, it enables you to share with other travellers. So you start to build up a collaborative resource amongst like-minded people. Best of all it is an off-line facility. So once you have downloaded the maps for the country of your choice, then you can use it to navigate to a place to stay, visit for the day or do a city walking tour without it costing a fortune with your data. Perfect. I love Maps.me, it’s an incredible resource and if you click the blue link you can go to the website for more information. If Maps.me is new to you, I have written a PDF guide about how to get the best from it, which is yours, for free by clicking this link here

8. Search for Sites and Park4Night websites/Apps

Given that we are now at the stage of planning a very rough route and possibly ear-marking some places to stay, it’s time  to get more detailed. Now we love wild camping, although some countries don’t allow it, frown upon it, or it is simply not appropriate. So having a bit of foresight into places to set up camp, especially somewhere like Morocco, seems appropriate.

We always find somewhere for our first two nights. Sarah from Veedubadventures lovingly calls this her ‘soft landing‘. I think this is great. We call it grounding ourselves. Arriving in a new country can initiate a stressful response with all the build up. Language challenges, ferries and a host of uncertainties all combine to potentially create a storm of anxiety and sometimes just a bit of edginess. So we always make sure we have somewhere to stay for the first two nights and have this destination in our plans ahead of time. After that we then get a sense of where we want to go next and take flight.

These two grounding days, if we haven’t done it already, become a playground for exploring wild camping options or nice campsites that are in and around the places we’ve pinned. And our two ‘go-to’ apps for this are SearchforSites and Park4Night. Both sites give us untold treasures when it comes to recommended places to stay. Park4Night for wild options (although can be a bit tricky for a 7.5m motorhome) and SearchforSites for good quality campsites and Aires from trusted UK comrades.  Both of these resources are excellent for planning purposes and the recently upgraded SearchforSites App gives you a much more robust route planning tool and off-line navigation if you want it.   We do though, tend to use these sites on a day to day basis rather than mapping out all our overnight stops. So much of our journey depends on the weather, road conditions and our frame of mind that booking ahead is not really an option for us.  Although our strategy might differ in Morocco as our plans unfold and we learn more about the country.

 

9. Good old fashioned Maps

Whilst technology serves us well on the whole, sometimes, just sometimes, a good old fashioned map is appropriate. We started out on our travels with a huge A5 Europe map that I had littered with post-it notes and coloured highlights. Although over time this was relegated to the footwell of the cab and fell victim to curls, frays and tears. So it made way for our Google Maps instead. That said, for Morocco the advice I have read is to get a proper, recently updated map that allows you to see the big picture and plot a route according to your highlights. There is something quite cathartic about the feel of real map and a Guide Book – and it excites me to use them again. Crazy eh? If there is enough detail in the map (go for at least 1:250,000 for detail and 1:1million for a bigger scale) then it will give you POI that may not have come up in your research so far. The Book Depository based in UK has a great range of maps – nearly 32,000 of them and is where I sourced my Morocco maps from. 

10. Now go with the flow!

The final strategy that you need for planning a great and memorable road-trip is to now let go! It may seem counter-intuitive based on everything that I’ve just said, although let go you must! It’s so easy to become too obsessed with a plan and in doing so you miss things that could be one of your greatest highlights. We also love meeting people along the way, especially locals, who will tell us about things, that take us completely off-piste. And to those people, we are so grateful. We love off the beaten track places and it’s often the locals who know about these places. So being willing to let go of the route plans and pins you have created and go with the flow a bit, is really important.

I love that I have the knowledge, route options and highlights running in the background, although there’s nothing better than going left instead of right sometimes. So be free to move beyond your plans and allow your trip to open up in ways you’d never thought possible. Trust your intuition and put your curious, explorer heads on and see what delights emerge. The beauty is that you always have the safety of the plan to come back to whenever you need it. 

 

Closing Thoughts

Eisenhower once said that ‘Plans are nothing, planning is everything.’ And he is right. Whilst going out on the road with no plans might seem really exciting and adventurous, these days that doesn’t really work as a philosophy. Travelling is an art and that art doesn’t just happen. It needs a little thought and clarity. We learnt this after our trip to Scandinavia in 2019. Without the plans and our detailed research, our trip could have been messy, expensive and far less memorable than it was. So we are happy that there is a planning queen on our team! 

Although the art of a great traveller is also to have enough courage to let go of all the plans if your intuition tells you so. The plan is just that, a plan! It is not caste in stone and, for a truly memorable experience, sometimes letting go is important. So armed with these planning strategies, we hope it has given you an insight into how we plan our life on the road.

Let us know how you get on with these techniques and whether you have any other top tips for road-trip plans.

 

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Don’t miss THE most popular post from our Life on the Road series

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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Motorhome Highlights in Norway

Motorhome Highlights in Norway

Motorhome highlights in Norway

After four months touring Scandinavia, here are our Motorhome highlights in Norway.

Simon Cowell may well have the X Factor nailed, although Norway seriously wins the Wow Factor. As the sixth largest country in Europe (although technically not in the EU) and the second longest coastline in the world, opportunity for wowing is pretty hot. In this third of our All Things Norway series, we focus our energy on sharing some of the wows we experienced on our seven week tour in 2019.  Come with us as we take you on a sensory journey that will have you reaching for the road-map.

 

Our Interactive Route Map

As we launch into what might be an overwhelming onslaught of oohs and ahhs, we thought we would initiate this blog with our Interactive Route Map. A massive map that shows every little nook and cranny we drove on, the off-the-beaten track routes we followed to avoid the masses and every single wild spot and campsite we stayed on during our seven weeks. Click below for a comprehensive and intimate peak into of every inch of our tour. 

 

I know it seems a bit crazy that in an art gallery as incredible as Norway that we only have 10 Wows. Although when, around every bend, you will have a sharp intake of breath and perhaps even have a leaky eye moment or two, then narrowing it down to 10 feels somehow appropriate. So here they are our best bits:

1. Abisko entry to Norway

After nearly five weeks in the sumptuous Sweden, climbing right up through its central spine, we entered into Norway from the Abisko National Park. After Sweden’s forested kingdom, Abisko gave us a gentle introduction to what we were about to experience. Imagine it being like the warm-up routine for a Michael Jackson concert. It’s a tough gig although someone has to do it right? 

After the plentiful border crossings we have navigated since we left England in March 2016, this is by far the most dramatic and stunning drive EVER. With glacial blue waters of the Torneträsk Lake to the magnificent mountains that interlace the valley like a group of giants lining up for a caber tossing competition. If you have the chance to enter Norway at this northern point, we highly  recommend it. 

By taking this route, you also get to experience Narvik’s World War 2 memorials. Just over the border crossing is one of Narvik’s 6 remembrance sites which, if you value enhancing your World War knowledge are worth visiting.  

Check out our gallery by clicking below.

 

2. Northern territory – Tromsø

Whilst we decided against going to Norway’s most northerly point at Nordkapp, a personal situation back in England graced us with the opportunity to explore the area around Tromsø. Troms is an area of mountain beauty and coastal brilliance as fjords weave their way up to Norway’s northern most city. This region is fabulous to explore both during the summer and winter. Summer with its Midnight Sun and the winter with its Northern Lights. Mountains still sprinkled with snow as the everlasting days slowly melts the white crystals. Fjords full of dolphins elegantly gliding in its waters and an outdoor playground that gives you a chance to hike, paraglide and cycle to your heart’s content. 

Tromsø is a wonderful city – and despite being compact and bijou, it’s perfect for learning about the world of Artic exploration over the centuries. 

Taking the back roads rather than the arterial E6, you wind your way around endless peninsula that hug the sides of mountains like a limpet. Places to wild camp, with Norway’s Freedom to Roam policy are  limitless, as you see quiet pull-ins for a peaceful night’s sleep. Views to take your breath away and miles of scenery that leaves you speechless. 

​Check out our gallery by clicking below.

 

3. Senja – Norway’s second largest island

Now this might sound like a secondary position although when you realise that Norway has 50,000 islands, being the second largest is not to be sneezed at. We knew nothing about Senja and had done absolutely no research. So our virginal eyes just drank in the rugged beauty that this jewel in Norway’s crown had to offer. 

Known as Norway in Miniature, Senja is a complete delight that will have you running out of adjectives. With one of Norway’s 18 Most Scenic Routes  threading itself on the western fringes of the island, this alone is good reason to visit. The Route 87 is a stunning way to take in the joys of Senja as you snake around its pathway, taking in Troll museums, staggeringly beautiful views and Viewing Platforms that leave you standing in awe. Our visit coincided with orchid season; I have never seen so many pink, purple and white blossoms lining the roads like daisies. They grow with the freedom gifted to them by this alpine-like air. Authentic fishing villages survive thanks to their community spirit as they cling to the summer’s abundance before the winter’s harsh conditions arrive. And the Ånderdalen National Park offers trekking in abundance as pathways over the mountain give you mountain goat status. Tramping through the snow-covered glaciers, you can loose yourself in an area that is as close to heaven as it is to the sea and you share it with no-one.

If you asked us to choose between the iconic Lofoten Islands and Senja, we would choose the latter with ease. Senja has all the beauty without the crowds and commerciality. Just natural beauty tucked away in a corner of Norway that is unexposed to tourists. And let’s hope it stays that way. For Senja inspirations just check out this gallery. If you’re not wow’d, then I have failed as a photographer. Check out the gallery below and let me know what you think. 

 

4. Andøya and Puffin Island

As we finally headed our way south, we decided to follow another one of Norway’s Most Scenic routes. Andøya is an odd island compared to it siblings. It has a ridge of mountains and then a plateau of flat land that, in comparison could almost be described, dare I say it as boring! Not a word you might expect to use in the same sentence as Norway, although there we go, I said it! Catching the ferry from Grylleford on Senja, we arrived at this slightly desolate island with doubts. The fishing industry at Andenes has an almost imperial feel to it with its factories waiting to welcome you. Stilted Fishermans’ huts define the town that is like the outback. I expected to see tumbleweed blowing down the deserted yet characterful colonial buildings. The Artic Terns, who have made this rich haven their home, nest in the waste ground opposite and you walk by at your peril. At least wear a hat  if you want to photograph these high pitched screechers. 

Although you come to Andøya for two reasons. One is to travel the 30 mile (51km) Scenic Route that takes you from the barren land of the north, around the mountains to the cloudberry landscape of the south. Passing by the Space Centre from where 1,2000 rockets have been launched for scientific purposes, your interested will be piqued to explore this northern facility that has been involved with NASA missions. 

The second reason is for a 158m tall island called Bleiksøya. This conical shaped isle has surfaced the water’s ceiling from deep beneath the sea on the edge of a sea abyss. This deep trench of water, so close to the land, gives rich pickings for fisherman, nature lovers and wildlife. Each working together to protect this region of abundance. As a result Andøya is THE place to come for Safari’s to get up close and personal to 80,000 puffins, sea eagles and a plethora of whales. For a mere 450NOK you can take a rib out with Sea Safari Andenes and get so close to these amazing birds and watch as the eagles swoop for their next meal. It is one of the most memorable moments of our Norway tour. 

Check out our Safari video footage.

 

5. Lofoten Isles

If researching this iconic destination doesn’t have you reaching for your route planning app, then nothing will. The marketing behind Norway’s quintessential archipelago is pitch perfect. Classic photos and dreamy descriptions will without doubt stir the excitement deep in your belly. And although I am pleased we explored the islands, our seven days was, generally speaking, an underwhelming experience. It is beautiful, with its traditional fishermens’ robus, islands connected by architecturally beautiful bridges that defy gravity and an inspiring palate of fjord colours. Although for us, with its relentless crowds (in July – what were we thinking,) and the commercial hue, coloured our experience. Too many people meant no parking for the iconic walks. Too many vehicles made narrow roads busy and difficult to navigate and an infrastructure, that for campers is solely lacking. We absolutely recommend visiting, although time it carefully to optimise your experience. For your FREE copy of our Lofoten Ebook, just click the image below.  

 

6. Engabreen Glacier – west coast

​We tend not to do too much planning when we go to a place as this just feeds our – or should I say my insatiable greed for experiencing every pin I have saved. So it wasn’t until the last moment  that we decided to take a fellow traveller’s recommendation and drive the Scenic Route Fv17 from Bodø south. Hugging the coast this road is beyond beautiful and armed with your Autopass Ferry Discount card taking the ferries that link the fingers of this rugged fjord designed coastline is an adventure all by itself. In fact so beautiful was it, that we had to turn off the road as we felt emotionally drained by the almost incessant beauty. I know, it’s a pretty good problem to have right? Although we were a bit wowed out at this point. Not before though we had visited Norway’s second largest glacier.  Did you know that Norway has around 1,600 glaciers? So second place, like Senja isn’t a bad position to hold. 

The Engabreen, an arm of Svartisen Glacier is pretty spectacular. In part because it is one of the most easily accessible glaciers in Norway and can be seen from the road. And because it is the lowest lying glacier on the European continent with its close proximity to sea-level. Parking up at the Holand Tourist Information office, a short cycle down hill brings you to a ferry that takes you across the Holandfjord to the low lying shores in front of Engabreen. A walk or cycle then gives you the option of looking lovingly at this frozen beauty from a distance, or parking up your bikes and hiking through the boulder debris. This puts you almost in spitting distance of the icy fingers that are ever inching towards to the sea. This is an incredible experience and highly recommended activity. The ferry is just 200NOK per person (£18 return) and an additional 80NOK (£8) for bicycles. 

Check out our gallery below

 

7. Atlantic Ocean Highway and Bud

I mentioned this route more out of necessity than for desire. We have always been great believers in presenting our travels as they are and not sugar coating our experiences. That does no-one any good. 

So here’s the thing! Myles had wanted to visit the Atlantic Ocean Highway since we decided to hit the road in 2016. So anticipation and expectations were high. Although we are sad to report that like a Tour de France cycle race it was over in a flash. Yet again, we found Norway’s marketing to have excelled itself and we were left seriously wanting. 

After paying the only Toll Booth fee in Norway just outside Kristiansund, we followed the Highway signs  like excited children. And we were soon there. The architectural brilliance of the bridge that writhes like a snake was there. Arching in all its magnificence. We stopped off at a couple of viewing points which allowed us to see the Highway from the northern side although it was not  the drive we anticipated. Just one bridge makes up this experience and we felt sorely let down by the 3 mile iconic drive. No thrill, no awestruck state that we were promised 

So our deflated souls floated further south into the nurturing arms of the gorgeous coastal fishing village of Bud. Now this was a wow. 20 minutes drive away we sought solace from this wonderful place that gave us authentic Norwegian life, WW2 memorials and an archipelago vibe. No disappointment here and without doubt the best bit of this underwhelming scenic highway ‘hot spot.’ Well done Bud, you get our vote. Perversely we are incredibly thankful to the Atlantic Highway, as had we not set our course for this point, we would have missed BUD.  

Check out our gallery below.

 

8. Trollstigen Pass and Geiranger fjord

After disappointment hung around us like a bad smell, we hoped that our sixth Scenic Highway route would restore our faith in Norwegian beauty. Surely the Trollstigen Pass would bring us back home to the thrill and love for travel that we have developed. And we are pleased to say that is it a big fat YES. We were surprisingly nervous about doing the trip – and not because of the road itself as after all we have driven Stelvio in our camper! Our nervousness was born out of our disappointment of the Lofoten Isles the Atlantic Ocean Highway. I am always reminded about the role disappointment has in our happiness and yet we had fallen foul of its destructive ways.

The Trollstigen was a joy. And not just because of its driving challenge. It is so much more than just a road – the whole Route 63 is a driving experience that stretches for 56 miles from Andalsnes to Langvatnet. The route takes you up through the Trollstigen switchbacks, across a ferry and then across to Geiranger, one of the most famous and longest fjord in Norway. The whole stretch is an incredible experience with plenty to see and do along the way.   

The Trollstigen was built in 1936 and has 11 switchbacks, carved up through a collection of mountain giants reaching heights of 1600m. With waterfalls and viewing points, this is just one part of the Trollstigen to Geiranger Scenic Route that will take you on a diverse driving experience over the course of 2 hours. Or, if like us you would prefer to savour both experiences with an overnight stay, then why not wild camp at a whole host of areas, sheltered by the shadows of the mountains.

The viewing platforms that overhang the valley are a must to breathe in the full perspective of this road as you see it snake up through the granite giants. Test your nerve as you look out with only fresh air beneath your feet. And then repeat the journey as you head towards Geiranger after the short ferry ride that transports you to part two of your road-trip.  A further 11 switchbacks that take you down to one of the most visited places in Norway – certainly by cruise liners. Your vehicle will complain – not in voice, although in smell. That tell-tale sign of overworked brakes will remind you that a steady pace and a cautious drive will reward you with the best experience. As you see the cruise ships in the harbour, you realise you have arrived at an iconic destination. Resisting a stop to admire the view is futile. Head for the Norsk Fjordsenter where you can climb down alongside the Storefossen and be enveloped in the thundering sound of the crashing waterfall as it makes its rendezvous with the fjord.  Salt meets snow-melt. A truly magnificent combination where Mother Nature’s forces collide in some gentle yet poignant battle. 

The views further up as you climb like a rollercoaster ride are just amazing. More snaking roads that constantly give you sneaky peaks over the fjord way below you. And the upside is that fewer tourists drive this section of the road, so your course is easier than the caravan of coaches on the northern side.  Your final destination will be at the junction with Route 15 at Langvatnet.  You will breathe a sigh, not out of relief that you made it; a sigh of complete satisfaction. A road that is a challenge for sure, although very, very doable. Having driven the Transfagarasan and Transalpin in Romania and Italy’s Stelvio Pass, we have to say that Norway’s Route 63 was much easier and far less challenging. So you have to put this on your Norway Road-trip list. And is definitely on our Wow List.

 

9. Gamle Strynefjellsvegen route 258 

I love looking a maps and searching out the off the beaten track routes. And after a restful night’s sleep and en route to rendezvous with friends, I navigated us on a back road that avoided the main road – as is my want. Little did I realised that this was yet another of Norway’s Most Scenic Routes – the Old Strynefjellsvegen.

Now this road comes with its own challenges as 75% is not tarmac, although we have driven worse major roads in Italy, if we’re honest. There is no driving fast on this road – not just because you can’t, more importantly because you won’t want to. For me this was THE most spectacular road we drove in Norway. It was like being in a completely different Universe. 

Trying to find the right words to describe this land is really tough. Again despite the weather, which was dull and overcast, this road was actually enhanced by the conditions. The grey mountains sombre in their majesty whilst the unbelievably ice-blue waters were set off against the shadows making this road all the more dramatic. It’s the same blue that we saw when we visited the Ice Hotel in Sweden. Almost from another world and a colour that seems almost impossible to create on an artist’s palette.

And then there was the rainbow. Oh wow this was just so magical. I was stunned into silence and that takes a lot. This road, in all its rawness and simplicity was beyond beautiful, for me. It had a ‘The world that time forgot’ feel to it and I half expected to see dinosaurs roaming the glaciers it was that primal. We saw no more than half a dozen vehicles on this road and I would definitely come back here to wild camp – as it was out of this world for sure. 

Check out our gallery below

 

10. Sognefjord Glacier – Jostedalsbreen National Park

Our final wow for this 2019 trip is the drive up to Sognefjord Glacier. The largest of all the ice maidens in Norway.

Although before we talk about that, let me tempt you with the approach road to Sognefjord, which is magnificent in itself. The 724 Route up through the Oldevatnet valley to Briksdalen, with iconic and moody mountain views will take your breath away. Although this no-through road is a little narrow, there are passing places as you navigate the plethora of coaches that bomb up and down this idyllic valley.

And as you hug the edge of the fjord, with its crystal clear waters, the sight ahead is captivating. The sharp lines of the mountain edges pierce the sky whilst it cradles the blue-white glacier which draws you towards it as if on autopilot. 

There’s both a campsite at Briksdalen and plenty of parking areas for day visitors. At 250NOK per night for a camper plus two people (which equates to around £26), you have unbridled access to this giant of all glaciers. There’s a fabulous walk for about 1.5 miles which whilst marginally uphill, can be mastered thanks to the tourist tram. If walking isn’t great for you or you have a disability, then for a mere 230NOK (£20) return or 115NOK one way (£11) the Troll’s Tram takes your weary bones closer to the glacier viewing point so that you too can enjoy its glacial glory. Otherwise the walk is a sensory delight. First up you have the Kleivafossen waterfall, which full of glacial melt thunders over the edge releasing 100 litres of water per second. Can you imagine the sound? It’s so loud you can not talk nor hear your heart beat. And whether it is a rainy day or sunny, it matters not a jot, as you will get wet as the spray from this thunderous beast unleashes its full power to the rocks below. It’s Norway’s version of Niagra Falls and you can stand right in front of it and get a free and pure shower. 

The glacier, some 10 minutes on, is not quite touchable, although certainly is spitting distance. And if you listen clearly, perhaps you can hear the sound as it creaks and groans with its miniscule movement. It’s a magnificent moment that somehow is difficult to capture in words alone and is a place that I could have stayed for hours just sat quietly in the heart of Mother Nature’s storybook and art gallery. This is most definitely a Norway WOW factor and must go on your list to visit.

 

Practical Tips for Norway Exploration

Before we leave you, I feel it is important to share our tips for making Norway a memorable experience, for all the right reasons. With its distance and expense many people are put off venturing to this northern land, although with the right strategy, it is more than doable. 

  1. As you plan for your trip, be clear what time you have available and what is achievable. If you only have a short time for your visit, then stick to the southern and central regions. The distances, both to get to and around Norway are vast and so being realistic is important.
  2. Access to Norway depends a great deal on the time you have. If you have an unlimited length of time, then accessing the northern regions is well worth the travel time, entering at Abisko. If time is limited then a ferry from Denmark makes Norway more accessible. For more information on routes to Norway check out our comprehensive All Things Travel blog here.
  3. Ferries are a major lifeline for Norway and avoiding them is futile. So you will need to consider an Autopass Ferry Discount Card. This will save you up to 50% on your ferries which is not to be sneezed at.
  4. Toll roads are everywhere and the system is quite complicated as each toll road is owned by a different company. There is only one Toll Booth, the rest are payable electronically. So you will need to register with EPC or Autopass who collect the toll fees. Registration is easy, although your notification for payment will take approximately 2 months to come through, so don’t be alarmed.
  5. Think carefully about the time of year you visit. Norway has a short summer season from June to September. Whilst it does offer you long days and the Midnight sun up above the Artic Circle, it is the major tourist season. From the beginning of July for six weeks, the local schools are on holiday so beware of the crowds at tourist hotspots.
  6. Any time from September to May the weather will be unpredictable – and we’re talking snow here. In 2019 the weather closed in early with snow in many areas mid September. So if you are travelling with your camper/RV or a car, it will need to have winter tyres, snow chains or snow socks.
  7. Norway’s summers are an interesting beast. Whilst it has been known to have heatwaves like in 2018, the weather patterns are generally not quite so hot and sunny. It can be cold, murky and inclement although if you get clear days, the scenery is absolutely magnificent. So come with the right mindset – this is not a beach-hot destination.
  8. Norway has a reputation for being expensive. Our experience was a pleasant surprise. Whilst certainly one of the most expensive countries we have been to, it wasn’t as bad as we expected. And there are ways around food expenses – check out our All things Shopping blog here where we share some tip shopping tips to keep your bills low.
  9. If travelling by camper and you want to bring some supplies with you (especially alcohol) be careful about Customs checks on the southern borders and ferry ports from Denmark. They are known to strip search incoming vans. So either ration your drinking to the EU Duty Free limits, take the Sweden route at Svinesundbrua or pay Norway’s extortionate prices. 

 

From its northern territories to the heart of the central glacier giants, Norway will tease you like a tantalising temptress and will leave you wanting more. And more we shall demand, on another spellbinding trip in the next five years. Until then, we leave you with the images and story that makes Norway such a unique European experience, filling you with an expectation of a sensory explosion should you make your way to this magnificent land.

 

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Our two other blogs in the All Things Norway Series

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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Travel’s Lessons – Joys and Shadows

Travel’s Lessons – Joys and Shadows

The effects of traumatic events last much longer than the headlines

Travel is the greatest educator, inspirer and leveller. There is nothing I have experienced in my fifty years on planet Earth that has given me so much in such little time.

Travel is like a bag of Pick and Mix sweets that someone might select for you; so many different varieties from the melty fudge candy and sweet marshmallow to the dreaded coffee-centred chocolate and chewy toffee crunch that threatens to break your teeth.

After a year of magnificent travel experiences which gifted us exploration in five new European countries, our wanderlust has been satisfied beyond expectation. From the far west of Portugal’s beautiful beaches that caressed our faces with salty breezes, to the charm of Denmark’s surprising hidden depths. Sweden’s sumptuous authentic character had us engaged in a love affair of extreme passion and Norway’s majestic masterpiece blew our tiny little minds. And what of Czechia with its plethora of castles and softly curvaceous landscape?

Amongst our exploratory joys, we have hit travel walls, suffered from blogging burn out and harboured physical injuries. We have navigated a return to UK from Europe’s most northerly junction for a family funeral and had battles with tennants who are not paying their rent. I say this not out of any need for sympathy, just by way of offering a balanced perspective of this life on the road, seen as the dream and yet just the glorious mixture that is life.

And in this mixture of all sorts, we’ve learnt to travel to please ourselves, to rest when we need it and to increasingly find our stillness within a life dominated by movement. We have become aware of travel’s infectious magnetism that fuels our desires and entices us to do more. Yet we are more mindful of heeding our inner-selves’ need for reflection and stillness rather than feeding our insatiable and needy egos. 

In ego’s midst, our hunger paled into insignificance this week, as travel revealed its true face beyond the mask of pretty vistas and cascading waterfalls. A humbling lesson that teaches us about life – beyond the dream of ticking one country off at a time. A peek into the shadows of reality – a perspective of people’s lives that may pique the interest of the world’s media for a nanosecond then fades into global obscurity. A glimpse into real life, one breath at a time.

On 24t August 2016, a small village in Lazio, Italy became the epicentre for a 6.2 magnitude earthquake; tectonic plates rubbing together in a frenzied attack beneath the surface of the earth. Amatrice surrendered to the full force of Mother Nature’s wrath and surrounding regions within a 50 mile radius suffered a matching fate. At 3.36am clocks stopped, cars halted and life was held in suspended animation as earth took over the reigns. Homes crumbled, around 300 lives were lost and 4000 people were made instantly homeless. Within a heart-beat the future fell apart from that moment in time. Italy was in mourning.

Communities rallied to rescue and salvage, whilst red zones warned of impending doom. Homes razed to the floor with rubble and exposed wires the only evidence of their postal address.  Quintessential regions of Italy stripped of their identity in the blink of an eye.

And how cruel fate is, that just three months later, a second 6.5 magnitude quake shook the area with additional force, attempting to battle with the communities’ resolve; a secondary blow to assert domination over our fragile lives. This was the largest seismic event in over thirty years. Oct 30th 2016, we felt the ripples of the 6.40am earth rumblings 100 miles west on the Tuscany coast, above Rome. little did we know the story that preloaded this chapter in Italy’s fragile tale.

In some bizarre twist of fortune, no one died. Perversely, thanks to the impact of August’s quake, many people in vulnerable property had already been made homeless and saved from a more traumatic conclusion. Yet the impact of this second shake of Mother Nature’s dice had actually a more severe affect on the hope that still lingered from August. Whole villages devastated by the twin quake effect, communities looking like war zones and road links severed leaving farms and towns isolated from each other.

Our brush with this drama initiated when we felt the disconcerting rumbles in our camper. Everyone rushing out to seek answers to the mysterious movement of the earth. Even the Italians were bemused. And then the local news uncovered the truth about this massive giant beneath the earth that had made its presence felt.

It wasn’t until our fourth visit to Italy to meet up with friends affected by the quake themselves in the Marche region, just north of the epicentre, that the full picture became clear. Buildings shored up with struts and barriers. Homes impounded and still uninhabitable. Lives transgressed into flight and fight, a far cry from the luxurious destination of blissful happiness often promoted by the glossy magazines.

As our explorations took us around the beauty of the Sibillini National Park, our eyes were opened and hearts severely tugged at. We drove around villages south of the region that would have looked more at home in a war zone than the stunning countryside of Italy’s Apennine beauty hotspot. This backbone mountain range is where we find our earth tremor answers and yet to look at them, you would struggle to see how history played out.

Yet the villages soon made up for the gaps in the story. Our path constantly affected by road closures even now, three years on. Houses that look like a giant has ripped off their walls in a fit of spite, demolished walls looking like an archeological dig and restaurant signs indicating how life used to be.

On our journey painted with frustration, as one road closure after another diverted our route, irritation washing our egos, we drove to our home for the night. An idyllic spot in the foothills of Monte Vittore surrounded by a kaleidoscope of autumnal colours. Yet the stark reality was to reveal in the morning light as I visited Pretare, one of the devastated villages. To wander around this once thriving community, now just a ghost town, was sobering. A wreath still in place honouring the Great War paradoxically made me think about the battle with nature that we all face in different ways. Why oh why we battle against each other when there is tragedy enough from the natural world is beyond me.

I spoke to a lady with the help of my friend Google, who hadn’t been evacuated from her home. She was the only resident left in this ghost town. So whilst on the one hand may be you could class her as lucky; the reality is that she lives life in isolation, without a community and with the suspense of what another tremor might do to her home. The gentle smile on her traumatised face did not hide her sadness that her village would never be rebuilt – there was a strange acceptance to her fate.

Homes here show how that earthquake moment must have struck, as precarious ceiling beams, becoming balancing acts for chairs, suitcases and personal possessions. All left behind in the salvation for life. Cupboards torn apart from their walls revealing crockery and bathroom taps still sitting on tiled splashbacks as if it was the most normal thing in the world.

In our gallery below, I have chosen to distort the pictures out of respect for those whose homes I have captured.

And yet, something incredible has been born from the tragic events of 2016. Evidence of how communities have rallied to support their people. New homes have been built for the locals, once homeless, now safe. Identical prefab-style bungalows in small estates offer protection and hope. Wooden huts for businesses have been constructed to make sure livelihoods can continue and the needs of the locals still served. Tree-lined avenues and parks now holding makeshift sheds for Pizzerias and Post offices give a glimpse into the life that carries on, in spite of the rubble.

Animals were rescued by kind souls like our friends who, despite their red zone property, poured their energy into rescuing the vulnerable and keeping their B&B accommodation going. Communities are pulling together and are determined to promote that Le Marche is still very much open for business. They are ready to welcome lovers of nature, wilderness and spectacular mountain scenery. Le Marche is one of the most beautiful regions of Italy, that surpasses the iconic landscape of Tuscany. Yet it fights for its survival and preservation of dignity and history.

After our time spent exploring this magnificent region, with its historic landmarks, hilltop villages and mountain spectacle, we have been served up with a dose of humility. An important journey that has given us a glimpse into life on the edge. A life that, three years after the tragedy, the media is no longer interested in and yet people still struggle to survive, making the best of all that they have.

Check out our Gallery of how Le Marche looks, compelling visitors to come!

What a humbling experience travel revealed to us. A poignant reminder that life is fragile, often precarious and never static. Whilst a dream lifestyle travelling the world, may well look catwalk perfect, if you just open your heart to see beyond the facade, travel has an amazing story to reveal. And more importantly it will take you on a journey of more than miles, it takes you on a profound journey into yourself and will change you forever.

 

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