So here’s the thing. We buy a motorhome which soon becomes our pride and joy and we float on Cloud 9 dreaming of adventures and the freedom of life on the open road! We’ve done our homework, we’ve got our insurance, put security measures in place and now happy times discovering the world is surely our reward! What could possibly go wrong?
The one thing we’ve learnt from 18 months on the road is that travelling; full-time or long-time still brings its own stresses. We don’t magically escape from life’s challenges just because we’ve decided to go travelling or have a long-term holiday… there are still a whole host of issues that may need dealing with.
So how do we cope when our tyre bursts, our bikes are stolen or our brakes don’t feel right? All situations that could well happen to any one of us, at any time, in any country. And when they do, they will most likely be completely out of the blue and throw us into a potential complete frenzy. Add to the mix that we’re likely to be in a country where English is not the first language and a whole dictionary of technical words and phrases may be needed to resolve the problem. Tricky!
Is this the stuff that travellers’ nightmares are made of? Perhaps, although let’s face it, if we worried about these types of issues, we would never leave the house, let alone go travelling into new and undiscovered corners of the globe. So knowing how to cope with these challenges is an important part of the travellers’ toolkit and once mastered will see us gliding through the problems with ease and minimal stress.
Why, you might ask, am I writing this blog today?
Good question… After being in the northern reaches of Romania heading south towards Bucharest, we drove down a gravel path from a car park, only to hear a strange noise coming from the front wheel. ‘It’s ok’, I said, as if I had some sudden hidden knowledge of motor mechanics, ‘It’ll be some loose gravel got into the brakes. It’ll be fine!’ I’m not sure who I was trying to convince more with my comforting words – myself or Myles.
As Myles has some mechanical knowledge from his youth, he decided to take off the front wheels to assess the situation. His report was neither full of positivity, nor was it a message of disaster. The brake pads on both sides were almost out and in fact he was adamant that both needed replacing ‘tout de suite’ as they say in France. They were fine for our short journey to the city, although it needed immediate attention.
So we discussed the options; we either stayed put in the hope that we could get fixed at the small Fiat dealer in town, or we limped our way very slowly to Bucharest, where being a city, we would hopefully have more options and a better chance of repair. Given that it was late Saturday afternoon and nothing would be open on Sunday, we decided travelling south was our only real option. The mountainous terrain didn’t help our nerves and a five mile traffic jam added to our intensity, although we made it to our destination.
With a bit of googling, we found four Fiat garages and with a plan of action conjured up over a glass or two of something soothing, we headed for an early start before the morning’s rush hour. Of the four garages I had found, the first one had long since closed! Hope slowly stumbled… The second was in a tower block where getting the camper anywhere close to the suggested location was an impossibility… Hope was sighing now! The third was on the opposite side of a dual carriage way. So with the dexterity of a spring lamb I hopped out of the van and armed with Google Translate I found someone at the garage and asked, in my best Romanian, if they could help. And indeed they could, on 28 August. Given it was 14 August and we needed to be in Budapest by 2nd September, my hope gasped in horror.
We consoled ourselves with the compromise of buying a set of brake pads and Myles fitting them. It was doable; not our greatest outcome, although doable. As we made said purchase, in a passing conversation with a young mechanic who had spent 12 months in UK, I asked him how long brake pads would take to fit. He said no more than an hour and, unprompted said he would talk to the boss. Now this was the boss who had already said ‘no way today’. So could my hope finally have a little rally? Oh yes! And then it did a dance when the boss started to fill out the job sheet – happy days. This young chap had secured us a place on their morning’s schedule and to say we were grateful is an understatement.
And indeed within the hour the job was done and Scoobie was back on the road, fit and well once again. And with a bill of €100 plus a little tip for the mechanic who saved our bacon, we were as you can imagine, over the moon.
So what have we learnt from this challenge, probably one of our biggest in the last 18 months?
- Don’t panic. These situations are going to happen at some point. We had little notion of how long brake pads would take to wear on the camper as we only have a car as a comparison. And whilst we have travelled 19000 miles there’s no rule book that says when to be prepared. We have a figure in mind now so that’s a great lesson for us. And of course wear and tear on brake pads is dependent on so many factors including the terrain you travel and how often you use the brakes. We all drive differently although for our travel style we’ll diarise to have them checked on 37000 miles.
- We Googled dealers that were close to us and made sure that we had a number of options, not just one. Don’t assume just because they are listed on the internet that they still exist. We were glad to have had a number of alternatives to choose from.
- Keep your phone charged so that you have enough juice to keep in touch with garages, friends or each other if you need to split up to assess your options on the other side of the road. A uncharged phone is like a chocolate fire guard.
- Get the co-ordinates of the places for your Sat Nav because if you have to navigate around a city with just an address, it could be costly – for your stress levels.
- I was so grateful for Google Translate on my phone so I could communicate clearly and without anxiety. We always go into countries with conversational basics, one of which is ‘do you speak English’. That is always a good starting point. From there Google Translate and its playback facility becomes your greatest friend.
- Have a back up plan. If this third option of ours had not worked out, then we planned on going to another car manufacturer and asking for their help. They could then at least ring around their network and source a solution for us, rather than us trawling around a town or city looking for a needle in a haystack.
- Worst case scenario. If we had needed to, we could have contacted our European Breakdown Cover and asked their advice.
- Our final option was to head for a campsite where we could consider our options. Whilst not all campsite hosts speak English certainly those we have come across have been incredibly helpful and they will, most of the time bend over backwards to get you the help you need. At least you will be safe and secure at a site and you can then look for options in the cold light of day.
- And finally, take one step at a time. It’s so easy for our minds to go into overdrive and start worrying about the ‘What if’ scenarios. Although this really doesn’t add anything to the situation. We just simply dealt with what was facing us in that moment and decided to suspend any other conversations until they arose. The situation has the potential for so much stress, so don’t add to your load.
We learnt a long while ago, and it was reinforced today, that you should never loose faith when incidents like this happen. Things going wrong with the camper are inevitable at some point on your journey and in fact it’s no different to a problem arising in a house. It just needs tackling with a clear head and a strong resolve. Thankfully we managed to get things sorted out and all is well. It tested us that’s for sure, although with some teamwork, we navigated around the problem and now we are ready to continue our adventure. Problem solved!