by Karen Davies | May 29, 2022 | Featured Post, Travel Blog, UK
At Motoroaming HQ we are finally coming to the end of our first official Schengen Sentence. After 84 days in Europe through the winter 2021/22, we returned to the UK to tread water until we were able to step back into the Zone. The period from 21st February until the end of May has taught us so much about how navigate this ‘sentence’ (said of course tongue in cheek). Such have been our revelations during this time that we wanted to share our lessons about how to make the most of this period, based on our experiences.
Irrespective of your views of Brexit, we have it, fair and square; now we must navigate it positively in a way that meets all our travel needs and personal requirements. There’s no doubting for those of us who have been used to roaming freely across Europe, navigating the Schengen has had an impact on all our travels.
As with all aspects of life, how we deal with our challenges is driven by the mindset we adopt when managing these changes. We can moan all we like, although these new rules are here to stay and so if we ‘bend with the wind’ we can learn a new way of travelling that creates a ‘new normal’.
We have talked to so many people over the last six months and there’s no doubting that the prospect of coming back to the UK for long periods is faced with a dose of dread. As a result we have found many like-minded souls trying to string out their stay in Europe for as long as possible. Often we saw people choosing to bomb it back to the nearest ferry to maximise their time, some having issues with breakdowns that took them to the edge of their allowance, placing all manner of stress on their lives.
It’s worth adding at this point that we all adopt our own strategies for making the most of our travel time, especially if we are full-time; so there is no judgement being made here. We are, after all, all doing our best with what we have available to us. There is no right or wrong way – just our own way.
As I reflect back to our return in February, I remember we stepped upon our English shores with heavy hearts. We knew that, for at least the next 90 days, we would need to manage our time in the UK otherwise it could feel as long as a winter’s night. We knew instantly that exploring ways to make this period productive and deal with our itchy feet would be a really constructive conversation to have. So having now experienced our first Schengen Sentence, we wanted to share our thoughts, reflections and tips, given we are all in the same boat.
10 Tips for Navigating our Schengen Sentence
1. Hold back some of your 90 days
When we started talking about our approach to the Schengen Shuffle, we decided our strategy would be not to use all our 90 days. We wanted to have a buffer to make allowance for any unexpected events. So we choose to save some days in case we break down (which we have a tendency to do) or we needed to get back in hurry. And bizarrely this strategy has really helped us navigate our Schengen Sentence, albeit by default.
This year we ended up having 6 days spare from our winter trip. This enabled us to use these days for a surprise visit to Paris for my mum’s 80th Birthday. Whilst we considered ourselves lucky to have had these extra days, in fact it will now form the basis of our travel strategy catering for our UK lay-over. That break away to foreign shores was great to give us a bit of a European fix, which has proved to be a priceless lesson. Whether it is a City-break for a long weekend or a quick week in the sun somewhere, having enough days to facilitate that break away that could be a god-send during our time back in the UK.
2. Book things up ahead of your return to the UK
Psychologists and Life Coaches agree that to have something to look forward to every 13 weeks is important for our well-being. I think for us wanderlusters, we need something more frequently than that.
Whilst we were in Portugal, three weeks before our winter trip ended, we began making plans for our 90 days sentence in our homeland. Those plans included a surprise Birthday trip to see my bestie on the Isle of Man, family gatherings to reconnect with loved ones and even practical appointments like Motorhome service, MOT and Dentists. We also took the opportunity to do different things to mark events such as Mother’s Day and Birthdays. This certainly made our time back in the UK more wholesome rather than simply ‘sitting out our time’ before our pass to freedom was released. It gave us a purpose, made life more pleasurable and allowed us to do things that added value to our lives. After all life is just too damned short.
3. Build in a European non-Schengen or long-haul visit
We’ve talked a lot about the Schengen Shuffle and how to maximise our travel time outside of the UK. And there’s absolutely no reason why this couldn’t work in our favour during our Schengen Sentence too. So why not consider a week to Croatia whilst they finalise their Schengen membership? At the time of writing, they are a non-Schengen option and will be until 2024. So that is a very viable option that has no impact on our allowance. What about Cyprus? They too are outside of Schengen for the moment; same with Morocco, Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria. We’re not suggesting taking the van; we are saying – why not fly for a bit of a holiday? If funds allow why not go further afield for an adventure? This will certainly be on our agenda for future years as we look to take advantage of what Brexit offers.
4. Put your van in storage and have a staycation
If like us you are full-time then some of the options above might seem a bit more tricky to navigate. After all what do we do with our van? Often our insurance small print says that we are not allowed more than 48 hours away from the van, so that can add a very real complication. Our Comfort Policy though does say that we can store the van in a CaSSOA Gold standard Site, so that is what we did. We found Cadeside Storage and Campsite in Wellington, Somerset, that allows members of the Caravan and Motorhome Club to store their van safely and compliantly. So we took advantage of this and on two separate occasions stored Scoobie for just £50 per week. There is also a monthly charge if you wanted to go away for longer.
This has been revolutionary for us and will absolutely feature in future Schengen Sentence periods. It has also confirmed our need to ensure we keep up with our C&MC membership fee. This storage facility allowed us to book up an AirBnB in the Roseland Peninsula, a part of Cornwall that we don’t know and would never dream of taking Scoobie to – and it was an amazing retreat.
5. Tour the UK and Ireland
I think Brexit offers us a huge opportunity to explore our own country. And whilst we may prefer the balmy weather and cheaper lifestyle across the Channel, our homeland has some terrific sights to see. Whilst we didn’t do much exploring during this particular period, 2021 saw us explore areas that were brand new to us. Essex, what a joy that county is. Scotland – goes without saying, especially Dumfries and Galloway. And then there’s Wales with its hidden gems. Of course the weather is not guaranteed yet having seen some of the Spanish forecasts this spring, sunshine is never a banker.
As part of our 2022 advantures, we are heading over to Ireland, both north and south. Neither of these countries contribute to our Schengen allowance so we are totally free to roam here either as part of a longer road-trip or as a way to break up your Schengen Sentence. You can sail with Stena Lines from Liverpool, Holyhead or Fishguard. Or why not take the opportunity to visit the Isle of Man, sailing from Liverpool or Heysham. Whilst the ferries are not cheap, if you go for long enough, then the cost is no more than hard hitting than our diesel costs.
6. Buy a little run around car (if you don’t already have one)
Whilst I would much rather ride alongside my travel buddy in the van, having our little runaround car that we bought during Covid, has been a priceless resource for us; even though we have to travel in convoy. Finding little campsites tucked away in the countryside has allowed us to still roam and reach appointments having the car by our side. Granted this comes with additional complications when you come to return to the Schengen Zone again. Although we have found a campsite who will store the car for us for £30 per month and of course we can SORN it and don’t have to pay out for insurance whilst we are away. So we will just built it into our monthly budgeting.
7. Get your DIY jobs done
As we reflect back on our 6 years of travel, we have found that whilst on the road, we rarely have much time to do practical ‘stuff’. You know things like clean the roof, bash the carpets and fix things that have rattled and rolled on the roads through Europe. The one thing about living or travelling in a van is that there is always something to mend – or so it seems to us. It is true that our travel lifestyle means that sometimes we need to stop to do our jobs, and so having time in the UK to be still and address our little niggles has been so productive. Having access to DIY shops and places that fulfil your creativity is great and gives your van a whole new personality, ready for your next trip.
When we see that this period can serve a positive purpose, then it helps us navigate the time with a healthier mindset.
8. Start to plan your next Schengen trip
Talking about your next trip, use this homeland time to look forward; to dream, plan and organise. It keeps your wanderlust satiated and gives you something to work towards. This has certainly been true for us. Planning our next 10 months out has been a really good focus, especially given that it needs a bit more thinking through these days. I have really enjoyed finding places to visit when we head over to Ireland. Going through Pinterest and joining new Facebook groups to collect ideas keeps the excitement going. Whilst I am an advocate of being grounded in the here and now, having half an eye on the immediate future is also healthy, especially when you are trying to navigate being in a place where you might find yourself stuck.
9. Find new places to visit and some ‘go to’ stopovers
Whilst we have focused our time and location on the M5 corridor, we have also tried to mix up our ‘homes’. We’ve balanced going to CL’s that we love for their location, walks and accessibility to the motorway. Also we have relished finding new spots that are so easy to bypass keeping our sense of exploration alive.
We loved our Orchard Farm Campsite and Glamping Pods near Glastonbury for a Mother’s Day surprise; being on the Somerset Levels exploring the Nature Reserves; finding a lovely wild spot at Dunkeswell Aerodrome and enjoying Broadhembry in Devon. We have a go-to site in Hereford in the middle of the countryside at Holme Lacey and love our Golf Centre retreat at Cleveland. We have indulged ourselves in days out finding new hidey holes at Frampton on Severn and Otterton Mill down in Budleigh Salterton.
When we reflect back it’s been quite a rich set of experiences that are all too easy to miss waiting impatiently for our new 90 day allowance to begin.
Avoid places that just make you feel uncomfortable for whatever reason. It’s important to feel at home whilst we navigate this period. We’ve chosen mostly CL’s with hardstanding to avoid sinking and which enable us to manage our UK budget, which is invariably more expensive than on the continent, where we wild camp a lot more. Also it is worth keeping a mindful eye on Bank and School Holidays as advanced booking may be required. We got caught out during the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
10. Do things that make you feel good
Life is always about balance and when you find yourself in a place that feels less than appealing, it is important to nurture your physical and mental well-being. So dig deep and focus on what motivates you, makes you feel fit and healthy and that pleases you. Whether that might be finding a yoga class, doing some daily walking, eating nice meals or engaging in a hobby that you love. Or perhaps do things that you wouldn’t normally have time for when you’re out travelling. Treat yourself to meetings with friends, or making connections with people you’ve met on the road. Anything that gives you a focus, makes you feel good and inspires you. All these important little wins will help you manage any sadness you feel not being able to travel in the way you really want to.
Whist we would undoubtedly prefer to be in Europe full-time (minus the MOT of course), that is not possible right now. So this time back in the UK has been revolutionary for us and has given us a new perspective of how we can travel differently. Small adjustments to the way we manage our non-Schengen time will help make a happy life rather than one peppered with irritation and longing. Life is short and finding ways to adopt a healthy approach to our challenges is key to our happiness.
So we hope that sharing our experiences from the last three months might give you something to think about with your travels. We would also love to hear from you if you have other ideas to add to this list. How have you managed your Schengen Sentence that we can share with others? Please feel free to add comments below or comment on our Facebook Page.
Here’s to a healthy, happy and heavenly travel experiences, home and abroad.
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by Karen Davies | May 31, 2020 | Featured Post, Travel Blog
As we shut the door after our epic journey from southern Spain, the echo of Boris’ lockdown message rang in our ears. Within hours we had managed to secure our safety for the next three months at least. Relief washed over us like a cascading waterfall and the intensity of the situation was almost overwhelming.
Whilst we had little to make the house a home, we have learnt to live more simply. This is one of our biggest travel lessons. The simplicity that has graced our lives has had an immense impact on us both, although me particularly. It still shocks me to see the amount of ‘stuff’ stored in our lockup. Did we really need all those things to be happy? Well we soon learnt that happiness doesn’t lie within the fabric of a house, a bread-maker or a set of pictures. It comes from inside of us, when we align with our most important values; freedom, choice and simplicity.
As we transferred our bits and pieces from Scoobie, who sat snugly on the driveway we set out to create our comfort zone. The last three weeks had been fringed with a nervous static that, in our high alert status, neither of us had really appreciated. Combining that static with relief – wow what partnership that was. It felt like the colliding of the seas we witnessed in Grenen in Denmark last year. Neither one winning the battle, although tempestuous waters none the less.
Yet that night in March saw the flood-gates open; so often what happens when our flight and fight reactions surrender to the safety of our secure ground. No more looking over our shoulders, no more tension or uncertainty about whether we would make it back in time. We were in our own little bubble. Close enough to my mum to support her from a distance and yet in a haven of safety, the price of which is hard to estimate. In our four years on the road, we have rarely felt threatened. We’ve had a few unnerving moments, although nothing to really make our hackles rise. Yet now with this invisible enemy, the presence of which hangs in the air, we were definitely feeling a tightening of the strings. So having somewhere safe to be was really priceless. We knew intuitively that this is where we were meant to be – for however long was needed. We could ride out the storm here.
With relief making itself at home, we were free to work out how we were going to structure our lockdown experience. We developed a strategy to support mum and her partner with the things that they needed most and we set about fine tuning our daily routines. A lie in, some work, a freshly made juice and a walk at 3.00pm for an hour. Although more pressing was the urgency for some creature comforts like some cosy chairs to sit on and a fridge/freezer.
Sadly Scoobie’s slopey position meant that our fridge/freezer no longer worked, so we had to quickly resolve this before I lost all my freshly purchased provisions. To my amazement I really struggled to find anything suitable. Who would have thought that there would have been not only a lack of toilet rolls, also white goods? There wasn’t a fridge freezer to be found anywhere. So as luck would have it we were recommended an online firm that could help us. A mini fridge was secured and within 24hrs had arrived. And just in time as my freezer compartment had started to melt. Three days later, with all the excitement of a puppy, our chairs turned up in two surprisingly small boxes. As we opened the two cardboard presents, Myles first reaction was – ‘Where are the legs?’ Alas there were no legs! Oh my how we laughed, no wonder the price was so reasonable. Legs would clearly have been another £100 at least! So you can imagine how toned our leg muscles are now, as we raise ourselves from these floor level seats.
Life in Lockdown once the practical stuff had been sorted, became a life in micro. Blessed with the best spring weather since 1897, we nourished ourselves in the sunshine on Scoobie’s deckchairs and watched the starlings go about their nesting business. I never realised how their songs could replicate that of a buzzard to ward off predators although also, more disconcertedly, the sound of an ambulance. Quite what survival method that offers I’m not sure. And when I close my eyes, I can almost imagine that their song is that of a golden oriel, transporting me to the heady heights of Greece or Bulgaria.
We watched each day as the skies cleared from the fumes of airplanes and tuned into how the cacophony from the orchestral dawn chorus seemed somehow more noticeable. Spring felt like such a wonderful season to be forced to be still. Whist of course being static would not be a choice to the rolling wheels of our nomadic chariot, being in one place for long enough to watch spring unfold has been a complete blessing. To see how the blossom ruled the trees and watch their leaves slowly unfurl, given the forest’s new shapes and textures. Nature has truly been a privilege to witness from such a micro perspective. There are indeed some silver linings to the lockdown.
As the days morphed into weeks, we found our groove. Our fortnightly shopping expeditions became an art. Despite each visit delivering a drama (lost car keys, smashed wine bottles and a puncture), we managed to navigate our entry into the unsafe zone with the deftness of a gazelle. Our diving into Aldis once a fortnight had a strategy so finely tuned that Field Marshal Montgomery would have been proud. A trolley each, one for us and one for our family, we dashed through the store respecting our 2m distances reducing our shopping from a mooch to more of a Supermarket Dash feel about it.
Back in the safety of our home, we slowly saw our creativity being boosted to new heights. Thanks to Mother Nature, in our kitchen, foraged efforts have been converted into fresh and nutritious offerings; nettle soup and quiche, spinach and potato soup when we had a glut of both, dandelion massage oils, dandelion honey and elderflower cordial. With limited resources, we’ve developed a more resourceful mindset as we found baking cakes an interesting experience; no scales for weighing flour has tested us, no electric whisk to mix the batter and outside in the garden, with no edge trimmers Myles has been on his knees with scissors! Although we can always get by with a dose of ingenuity and creativity.
Although on the shadow side, seeing my mum struggle with her self-isolating was heart-breaking. The whole mental health issue is going to have the biggest impact, second to the tragedy of the deaths, of course. And this inspired me to focus on supporting like-minded souls who were struggling with lockdowns in Europe and back on home turf. So my Lockdown routines focused on putting my energy into creating some useful resources to ease people’s boredom, stay healthy and fit and connected. It’s always good to have somewhere to put your energy – more time on that meant less time thinking about the future.
So many people have asked us, as nomads for the last four years, how we are feeling being grounded. And interestingly another thing that travel has taught us is to live in the moment. This practical strategy has served us well during lockdown, given that it would be so easy for us to lament over our road trip to Turkey planned for May this year. There is little point thinking ahead to what may or may not be; as things are changing so quickly. The media is doing its best to add fear, uncertainty and doubt, although we don’t subscribe to their mass hysteria. We choose instead to accept graciously where we are; feel grateful for the home we have and focus on doing positive things during this period of stillness. We are determined to travel again, whenever it is safe to do so and we will don our travel shoes to tread upon new soil. Our desire to explore still beats like a well-oiled heart. Although for now, we are safe, secure and still and this is how it is.
Coming next; managing the Bubble Burst as we move into easing measures of lockdown.
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by Karen Davies | Dec 7, 2019 | Featured Post, Life on the Road Series, Travel Blog
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
by Karen Davies | Mar 25, 2019 | Featured Post, Interactive maps, Portugal, Travel Blog
Come to Portugal and immerse yourself in so much more than golden sand between your toes. Whilst the beaches entice any sun seeker, Portugal cries out to be heard on the historical stage. A saunter inland will open up a history lesson that will give your Portuguese experience a depth and context that will not disappoint. And it is the Alentejos region’s capital Évora that offers our classroom today… Come on in and check out our highlights of this ancient capital steeped in Roman and Gothic ghosts.
Where to find Évora
Évora is one of those places that whilst is built up on the outside, offers a compact and charming presence on the inside, sheltering its Roman ruins, cobbled streets and ample churches by protective city walls. Évora sets the scene for battle, conquests and supremacy which vibrate in its very foundations. And such is its importance that it has earned itself UNESCO status and is a member of the Most Ancient European Towns network according to Wikipedia.
No more than 2 hours away from Lisbon, Évora is in easy reach, albeit probably not in a day trip. We headed east from the coast at Comporta for a bit of a beach break and found some amazing off-the-beaten track routes through rural Portugal. Surrounded by landscape littered with ancient megaliths, Évora has a real tale to tell going back 5000 years!
The Roman’s took charge of Évora in 57BC where baths and much of the city walls remain as a testimony to this period. Nearly 600 years later the Moors conquered Évora and they ruled for over 400 years until the Portuguese took charge in 1166. Much of Portugal under the reign of King Alfonso was released from Moorish rule and its identity today is significantly shaped by this epoch. Since then Évora has endured more battles and each time it seems that this small town has been a stalwart standing the test of time and war.
With Évora’s colourful past, each building knits together a visual storyboard to entertain its visitor and these are the magnets that draw thousands of tourists each year. We took our bicycles in to the city, which is not to be recommended as the streets are steep, cobbled and a lot of them are one-way making it difficult to reach places. So we suggest using the map below to do a self-guided tour. Click on the map for an Interactive Tour of Évora.
<iframe src="https://www.google.com/maps/d/embed?mid=1DCBqM7L-503pI6HIzGynvlkslu4MmrsY&hl=en" width="640" height="480"></iframe>
Évora’s 7 Highlights
The Roman Empire is known for its engineering prowess and the aqueduct is one of their legacies still visible today. And Évora’s aqueduct is a great example of their genius. We were lucky enough to be able to park alongside this magnificent and ancient symbol and just a two minute stroll through the city gates, and you can walk the length of the structure to its origin (38.57596, -7.91292). What is lovely to note is how the houses are built into the arches. There are examples of this throughout the town; modern supporting ancient, what an interesting symbiosis. (38.57147, -7.90975)
2. Praça do Giraldo
Évora’s beating heart can be found in the Giraldo Square. Not really square, more of an oblong, although characterful none the less. It is here that you will find the Tourist Information office which we suggest is your next station stop for a map. A useful phrase is Posso ter uma mapa por favor? Can I have a map please? (38.57063, -7.90941)
From here you can look up towards the regal Saint Antonio church, which has so much personality yet is dressed in simplicity compared to the Gothic architecture that frames the Square’s edges. Giraldo invites you to stop for a coffee and people watch or may be indulge in a Portuguese Nater, especially good if you have a sweet tooth.
3. Roman Temple and Cathedral
Perhaps one of Évora’s most famous landmarks are her Roman ruins. (38.57259, -7.90729). The temple known as the Diana Temple is in the heart of the museum quarter and somehow conveys a robustness about the Roman Empire. It has itself so much history with its identity changing throughout the centuries. Its role has evolved from being part of the castle, an abattoir and a log store. The ruins are in a remarkable condition and with the backdrop of the Cathedral and the little park, it’s a lovely area to hang out for a bit. Do check out the view from the edge of the gardens, overlooking Évora’s rooftops and to the city’s exterior.
4. Town Hall and Roman baths
This old palace is now home to the political hub of the town and its area. This is a magnificent Square bordered by a church and financial buildings. Entry into the Town Hall is permitted for free, as are the Roman baths, which we wish we had visited. (38.57228, -7.90963)
5. Chapel of Bones
Aside the Roman ruins, Évora’s other significant draw is the Capela dos Ossos – Chapel of Bones. (38.56873, -7.90884) For a €5pp entry ticket you can get access to this most eery and yet fascinating place of worship and meditation. This tiny 16th chapel in the grounds of the Church of St Francis is a thought-provoking visit. Built by monks as a solution to the growing number of cemeteries around the town; they interned the bones and in a bid to honour the dead, decided to put them on display within the structure of this building. 5,000 corpses today form the fabric of the chapel; bones and skulls don the walls, the pillars and the architrave. It is the most bizarre form of art; art that holds a message for its viewer, prompting them to think beyond the visual display in front of them – the transitory nature of life. The Chapel makes you reflect on the journey of life and how we rush through the days without pause for the moment. It’s a sobering visit.
6. Church of St Francis
Whilst dropping in to pay your respects to the bones, you may be forgiven for feeling so overwhelmed that you miss the Church of St Francis, which is the main body of this area. It sits on the roots of a church dating back to 1200’s. Its Gothic design is impressive and as you walk into the longest nave of any Portuguese church, its gilting will wow you. There’s gold everywhere. It really does deserve a short visit.
7. Cycle/Walk around the city walls
After the reflections from the Chapel of Bones, heading to the gardens just beneath the church brings your mind back to the beauty of the world. (38.56734, -7.91001). There were lots of repairs going on when we visited, although I imagine it is full of splendour in the summer months. With its bandstand and peacocks, it’s a lovely place to wander. And from here you can access part of the upper walk around the walls, feeling the past beneath your feet. And then continuing your route on the lower level, you can trace your steps back to the beginning of your walking tour and end up at the aqueduct once more.
Évora – our conclusions
If you love history, culture and context, then Évora will be a great place to visit. If you need a break from the coast, Évora will satisfy your need for curiosity – just for a day. Its cobbled streets are not just atmospheric, they are a piece of history’s jigsaw that will leave you understanding just a little more about Portugal. It will leave you richer for standing in the footprints of our ancestors before we head back to the inevitable draw of the western sunsets and crashing waves. We highly recommend this little detour in your Portugal tour.
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by Karen Davies | Sep 30, 2017 | Travel Blog
Little did we know how Zagreb would surprise and delight us.
After a brief sojourn in Hungary, we met up with friends who had Croatia on their itinerary, which suited us perfectly. Now I’ve heard so much about this country for its coastline and stunning islands, although never actually visited myself. So perhaps you could forgive me for not knowing the capital city of this former Yugoslavian state.
One of the many things I love about travel is how it broadens not only my soul, it expands my mind and teaches me so many things I didn’t know about culture, countries and their traditions. So my Croatian education was about to begin with a little dalliance into its capital city, Zagreb.
Unfortunately due to weather conditions in the area, our visit was only too brief; with floods, cyclones and torrential rain, lengthening our trip in Croatia didn’t seem like the greatest of ideas. So Zagreb became a pit-stop for us and a short excursion into the city was on the cards. Little did we know how it would surprise and delight us.
In this 24hr Guide to Zagreb, we share our heart-warming experiences of this vibrant, fresh and intriguing capital that is understated and simply not on enough people’s travel itineraries.
Zagreb’s eclectic mix
Let me create a visual jigsaw that we can fuse together for a Zagreb masterpiece! Imagine an eclectic mix of parks and greenery, rivers, ancient buildings, modern architecture, state of the art tram system, café culture, historical legends, outdoor market, mountain backdrops and you pretty much have the key components of Zagreb. Add to that a mixture of youthful exuberance from its student population, almost as many bicycles as Amsterdam, colourful roofs and a whole host of museums to see, you can start to feel its essence and vibe.
Zagreb was only made Croatia’s capital in 1945, although the city itself actually dates back to Roman times. Through its turbulent history Zagreb has made it to the leaderboard of Croatian cities and is today the seat of the country’s parliament. So don’t be surprised if during your time visiting the city you see a caravan of State Police escorting some nobility or dignitaries through the streets.
The first thing that captures your attention as you enter the city is its clean, smog-free highways, lined with trees, the Sava river, luscious parks and statues and fountains. No wall-to-wall traffic jams or hooting cars, just a gentle throb of trams and vehicles sedately going about their business with the mindset of a township rather than a capital city. It already feels like a great place to be and you’ve not even hit the main centre yet. What a refreshing introduction that is.
Walking past the impressive looking railway station, you almost feel as if you have entered through an invisible gateway that sucks you into the heart of the city. Highways are replaced by gardens, monuments and Austro-Hungarian designed museums and the cars have been swapped for trams that effortlessly glide through the capital’s streets.
Magnetised towards the old town and the history that it harbours, the walk through the tenderly cared for gardens make you forget that you’re in a major city and you instantly feel a relaxed air washing over you. How perfectly this prepares you for the buzz of the central plaza.
Ban Jelačić Square has you aghast with its neck-craning hotels and traditional buildings that somehow seem to blend so well and you feel caught up in indecision as you consider which way to turn. The traditional brown tourist signposts don’t really offer any help, as they reveal a plethora of attractions to check out, you are seriously spoilt for choice. Whether you love museums, art, music or history, this compact city has it all. Iliac Street is your main shopping avenue, which is strewn with a whole range of boutiques and branded shops. If you love shopping, this is the street for you.
Although for your 24hrs in Zagreb, to get an all-round feel for this wonderful city, why not get a panoramic perspective. You have two options:
The Observation Tower is on the main Plaza and costs €8 each to climb to Floor 16 of a modern office block. Or you can go walk 500m further down the road and take the charming vernacular which is thought to be the smallest in Europe. This, or the steps if you feel fit, will take you up to the old town known as Gradec where you get get lost in the Museum of Broken Relationships, the Museum of Torture and the 13th Century Fortress – Lotrščak Tower. For €2 you get to climb this ancient tower, built to guard the southern gate of the Gradec old town and see the old cannon, which to this day is still fired to mark midday.
St Mark’s Church view
Personally the Tower had a more authentic feel for me as you swapped the modern lifts of the Observation Tower for the stone steps where you feel like you are treading the same footprints as the ghosts of a bygone era. The views from here are quite incredible as you glance north towards the unique mosaic roof of St Mark’s Church and south back towards the modern skyline.
From here you are perfectly positioned to walk the streets of this medieval part of town, still beautifully intact and take in the delights of St Mark’s church. With the oldest coat of arms in the city and its Gothic feel, you can only gaze in amazement at the mosaic tiles forming the Zagreb flag.
Not more than 200m to your right you soon reach yet another gate of these ancient walls, the Stone Gate. This sacred site where local townspeople would light candles and pray is still upheld today and despite a number of fires in its history, a painting of the Virgin Mary still remains in tact.
Whilst on your brief sojourn through Zagreb, you cannot miss a walk down Tkalčićeva Street. In ancient times, the street used to be a creek which formed the basis for a thriving watermill industry of soap, paper, liquor and cloth. Sadly none of the mills remain, just a cobbled street paves the way, as you retrace the flow of water that made Zagreb such a thriving industrial centre. Today the street has a more café culture, with bistros and restaurants framed by multi-colourful facades. Listen for long enough and you may just hear the gentle sound of trickling water or is that just your beer?
Heading south on Tkalčićeva Street, you’ll be distracted not only by the amazing old buildings and street art, you’ll also be intrigued by Skalinska Street. A narrow lane that climbs steeply towards the alluring vision of the Cathedral. It is filled, wall to wall with umbrella covered tables where eager clients wait to sample Croatian fare. The buzz of this tiny lane is amazing and you feel as you walk up the tiny pavement as though you’re in a scene from Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Walk slowly and soak up the atmosphere, which is almost palpable.
Zagreb market mural
At the top of the street you suddenly emerge from the rabbit warren lane into the open air and a square that is filled with the vibrance of market stalls. Welcome to the daily Dolac Market which has been thriving since 1926. Bright red umbrellas give you the first indication of something exciting happening and then the gentle buzz of locals zipping in-between the hundreds of Farmers’ Stalls that offer you traditional and local products. This is the most popular and most visited market in Zagreb and it is unmistakable with its canvas painting backdrop of the Jalačić Square and the old town’s Cathedral. Imagine a handful of fresh figs in August plucked from the trees only that morning or the enticing appeal of home-made honeys and jams. Fresh fruit in a rainbow of colours calling to you to buy and a plethora of vegetables in every shape and size, just ready to convert you away from meat.
From the hum of the market, walking down the steps brings you back to centre stage and a turn to your right will take you towards the 11th century cathedral dedicated to the Assumption of Mary. This beautiful Roman Catholic building hosts two claims to fame; first is its height – the tallest building in Croatia and second is that the cathedral is the most monumental sacral, Gothic building south east of the Alps. It has survived Mongol invasions, Ottoman attacks and earthquakes; hence it has had to evolve in its thousand year history and still maintains its rightful lofty status amongst the city’s stunning architectural prowess, proudly rising above the city’s roof tops for all of Croatia to see. Spending time just wandering around these streets and the park will give you a chance to reflect back on lives of those who called this city home and those who defended it to the hilt. Just sit quietly to hear the echoes of their voices and the sounds of ancient times.
And of course, to round off your 24hrs in Zagreb, undoubtedly a night visit must be on the list. Although we didn’t get a chance to, you could easily imagine how these magnificent buildings, parks and fountains would light up once darkness fell. I think nighttime offers a completely different perspective on a place and an alternative vibe that goes beyond the clubs and restaurants.
Zagreb is an incredible city and unlike some of its western European cousins, it gifts to the visitor an intimate city rich in architecture, culture and colour. It appeals to every sense and seriously piques your curiosity. Whilst the coast might well calling you, take a diversion to this capital city and be enthralled by its treasure.