MOST PEOPLE'S REACTIONS to motorhome tours run along the lines of ‘how relaxing and idyllic that must be’, rather than conjuring up excitement and trepidation.
Sometimes a quiet break is all you need. Long, relaxing walks on the beach, taking your time travelling to the next pitch, stopping off in a beautiful location for a quick cuppa and soaking up the views before you turn in for the night are all part and parcel of a summer with the motorhome, right?
Not for everyone! For the daredevils out there, your motorhome could be more than just a bed on wheels.
Motorhome or RV off-roading has been popular in the US for some years, but recently it has also caught the attention of Europeans, with several overland campervan manufacturers building the toughest, safest and often bespoke vehicles.
Above, this could be the 'Debbie Special' made by Condor Coach Motorhome Company which ran the Baja 400 and 1000 in 1969, 1970 and 1971, as well as other off-road races.
This is not a postcard-pretty holiday, but it seems a great way to explore the world. The idea is to travel off the beaten path (often on dirt tracks or no road at all) and explore a large area at a time. Think crossing continents, and add a tank-like vehicle, some mud, giant tyre ruts and spectacular scenery.
You may also get yourself into quite a few scrapes… only the truly adventurous need apply.
Clive Barker provides a comprehensive guide to exploring China, including the best ways to organise your visas, toll road payments and hiring a guide. Remembering that his advice is not very up-to-date, he still gives a good idea of the things that you need to think about. He warns of the risk of high altitude both to your vehicle and yourself, and stresses the importance of managing your trip, planning your travel and being aware of local restrictions, charges and potential problems. Practical Motorhome recommends packing an essential tool kit of anything you could need for repairs, in case you find your motorhome suffering with no mechanic in sight.
After reading all the advice on how to plan your trip the amount of time and detail is alarming. You’ll need deep pockets, a focused mind and plenty of time on your hands to find the best deals. So is there any such thing as a spontaneous adventure?
Member of The Silk Route Motor Caravanning Club, Stephen Stewart's earlier trips certainly don't make it look like a piece of cake, with many mechanical problems due to the severe conditions. However, his later trips seem to be much smoother. Wherever you are going, bear in mind that your route may have to be changed at the last minute. Often you will get to a stretch of road to find it un-useable, whether due to mud, snow or any number of reasons. Just like the roads in Britain, crashes can cause a lot of problems, especially if you take the ‘scenic’ route, which often involves narrow, unpaved roads.
Just because you choose to stay in Europe, doesn’t mean that you’ll have a pothole-free ride. Authors of ‘OurTour’ blog, Julie and Jason, have experienced the best and worst. “In Europe so far the award for the worst road surfaces must go to Southern Italy. We’re so glad our 'van is Italian as we figure it must be stress-tested for these very bad road surfaces, with huge potholes and missing bits of tarmac.” It’s not just the road surface that can turn your trip sour, though, as Morocco taught them; “The sheer number of people, donkeys, people on donkeys, camels, etc, wandering along them made them a challenge.”
Julie and Jason have a few recommendations for trips further afield without the discomfort of bumpy roads. “Switzerland and Austria tie very closely as the best roads we have been on. The vignette for Austria is cheaper, but in Switzerland they have some wonderful roads over mountain passes. But as we are watching every penny, we have to give the award to Germany as their road network is on a par with the other two, but free.”
Switzerland has some breathtaking passes, but these well-built, safer roads will cost you; you'll have to buy a Vignette (toll sticker), valid for a year, at around 40 Euros.
Mechanics on the road could be tricky, too. Many countries' roads are not kind to any vehicle, let alone a fully-loaded motorhome which was built for paved roads. You will soon learn to appreciate the UK’s roads when faced with rivers to cross and potholes like you’ve never seen before. Language barriers will often cause difficulties, too.
However, if all you want is a bit of a change from the challenges of narrow country lanes or long, blank stretches of motorway, there are other ways to spice up your tour which are less extreme.
Try travelling between adventurous locations, where you park up in an aire, Nightstop or campsite, near to an activity or unusual area that you want to challenge yourself to experience.
Many motorhome tours tend to go to places with plenty of stunning scenery, but which are relatively hospitable to travellers, such as Australia, New Zealand, the US, and many countries in Europe. There is also plenty of stunning scenery across Asia, Northern and Eastern Europe (which tend to be less visited) and North Africa. These areas tend to be quite simple to get to, although it does take time, but once you are there you can expect rugged terrain and a truly rustic experience.
Winding mountain roads, such as this stretch in Dades Gorge, Morocco, are just one potential challenge. But the views are spectacular.
So what are essential items to take with you when you are travelling further afield? An internet connection – 3G Dongle, mobile phone – it doesn’t matter which. Julie and Jason say they found this invaluable when in Tunisia, as one of the political opposition leaders was assasinated, which sparked riots and protests. Keeping up-to-date with the news kept them out of hot-spot cities. We have come up with a Practical Motorhome travel checklist of things to consider before hitting the road long term.
Why take the chance and go so far out of your comfort zone? The appeal is the freedom which a motorhome or campervan gives you to make the trip your own. You can travel at your own pace, go wherever you like, skip the parts that don’t interest you, and create an amazing adventure which will always be memorable, whether everything runs smoothly or not. Julie and Jason started out with fortnight-long tours around Europe, but changing passport rules meant that Morocco didn't seem so far away when they were in Spain. Soon, they found that France and Spain weren’t much of an adventure any more, so more challenging tours became the norm.
It seems that extreme motorhome tours may be addictive… dare we give it a try?
Are you planning a long-haul tour this year? Share your adventure stories with us, either by commenting below or visit our Facebook page and leave us a message.
25 March, 2013
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