There's nothing like planning your next big road trip and the last few years have given me a real taste for the open road. Last summer saw me working to convert a van into an awesome camper for an epic three week road trip around Europe and while I've shared a few posts on where we visited, I wanted to explain the route we chose. It can be so intimidating to plan a big trip, especially when you have to think about camping spots, food, fuel and lots of other factors. But honestly, taking a road trip is one of my favourite ways to travel and it's super cost effective if you're traveling on a budget. I've taken road trips all over the world and I've found it to be one of the most fun, and affordable, ways to travel.
When it comes to traveling Europe, it's a perfect way to explore when so many countries are so easily accessible. At the time of my trip, I was living in Germany, so it seemed a perfect opportunity to take our van on an epic trip to lots of new countries and cities we had never visited before. We wanted to choose a blend of city and countryside, of lakes and mountains, to ensure we had the best possible experience. It still remains one of the best road trips I've ever done and I can't recommend the route we took enough. We ended up traveling just under 3,600km in a loop through Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, even spending a night in France along the way.
This stretch was one of my favourites but also included a lot of driving. We drove seven hours overnight from Hamburg to Saxon Switzerland National Park and arrived there for sunrise, after a kip in the van, we headed out exploring and spent a day in the park. We found a place to park up for the night and slept at the park, before spending some time hiking and exploring. Once we had seen everything, we headed to Dresden. An afternoon was a perfect amount of time to see all the sights in Dresden and to catch some afternoon sunshine before driving to Prague.
We spent a full and busy day exploring Prague and while we could have easily spent longer there, it was enough time to see the sights and enjoy the city. We spent another night at a campsite just south of the city, but enjoyed cocktails with friends who were also visiting there. The next day, we took a lazy drive to Vienna, stopping off to see some sights in the Czech countryside. Then we spent the next day walking around beautiful Vienna in the sunshine and gorging ourselves on Viennese desserts and pastries. After a lazy afternoon by the river, we hit the road and arrived late at night in Attersee where we camped out by a lake and spent much of the next day sunbathing and picnicking by the water. A slow afternoon drive to Salzburg to check out the city before heading on to Munich.
It was a packed itinerary until now, but our goal was to get to Munich where we were visiting family and had a place to stay for a few days. Cue parking up the van and heading out on bikes exploring the city of Munich from the gardens and the architecture, to the breweries and food markets. After that, we headed on our way towards the border of Germany, Austria and Switzerland where the mountain ranges stood, and we visited Zugspitze. Taking cable cars up into the mountains where there was snow at the top, but it was 30 degrees down at the base. We spent an afternoon there before camping for the night and heading the next morning to Neuschwanstein Castle – best to get here early to beat the crowds.
Leaving behind the beautiful castle, it was time to take an unplanned detour through Liechtenstein which turned out to be the best part of our trip! A tiny country and easy to road trip in a day, it's perfect to add to your itinerary. We drove to Vaduz and then through the winding mountain roads (read about our day in Liechtenstein here). Then we headed on to Zurich where we spent an afternoon walking the lakes and city, trying delicious hot chocolate and cheese fondue.
From Zurich, it was a few hours to Basel and well worth planning this charming city into your trip. Plus you can easily head over the border and into France from here, we actually spent a night in France on our trip. Just a few hours is plenty to see Basel and indulge in a few treats from the various chocolate shops around. We camped for the night at a beautiful lakeside campsite – definitely look out for these and try to book in advance as they get very booked up during the summer months. The next day, after a few hours by the lake, we drove to the Black Forest where we headed to Triberg for the waterfalls and some Black Forest Gateaux. We spent the night camping at another lovely campsite before starting our drive to Frankfurt the next day, taking a slow drive and stopping off at lakes to swim along the way. Our final day was spent driving the long stretch back up to Hamburg – this could easily be broken up by stopping along the Fairytale Road to see castles along the way.
The beauty of this road trip itinerary is that it can so easily be changed and modified to suit you. In our case, we had a fast paced journey at the beginning with lots of driving so we could spend more time relaxing in southern Germany. But you could easily spend more time in Prague and Vienna, and spend just a day or two in Munich before heading to Switzerland. You could even skip one of the countries to spend more time in the ones that you're most excited to explore.
The beauty of a road trip is that the world is your oyster, you can chop and change your route, you can plan it out completely, you can make it up as you go along. It's up to you! We planned out a lot of our route before we went, we had names saved for campsites just in case, but we also changed a lot of our route along the way. We ended up staying at totally different campsites, we even sneakily free camped in a few spots, and we added in a few extra places along the way.
If you fancy combining the open road with a boat holiday or yacht charter, you could extend your trip and book Zizoo boat rental across several European destinations, including Croatia, Greece, Spain, France, Italy and many more. It could be the perfect way to take a break from driving, while still enjoying a relaxing holiday.
For those who work while traveling and require safe browsing whether they're on the road, or staying in hotels, I'd suggest using a virtual private network (VPN). Nobody wants their banking info or credit card numbers to get stolen by hackers when they're on holiday, so protect yourself against risk. For more information about how VPNs work and which one is the best one for you, check out this beginner's guide: https://proprivacy.com/
Have you been on a road trip around Europe? Which countries would you like to visit? What are your best road trip tips?
Vanlife has exploded across the travel scene over recent years. The phenomenon has become one of the most sought-after travel experiences for young wanderlusters. Perhaps it's the endless freedom or the return to a simpler lifestyle that appeals. Or perhaps many have just realised that living in a van can give you a way of travelling long-term on low costs – it sounds pretty appealing right? I hear it all the time, from people who have travelled a lot, to those who have barely seen outside their home town. So many have this beautiful dream of converting a vehicle into a home and of taking off and seeing the world. Whether it's driving across outback Australia, travelling across Europe or even just driving around the UK. It's a great way to see a country in a new light and to experience a level of freedom you can't even imagine.
I've always loved road trips, but I never really experienced living in a van until I met my boyfriend. He had previously spent years driving and travelling around in his own van across New Zealand and Australia. I joined him on an epic road trip just a week after we met. We travelled over 4,000km together on that trip and have since had more amazing road trips across Australia and Europe. Our most recent was a few months ago when we spent 3 weeks driving across Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and France in our newly converted Sprinter. You can read all about the plans for that trip here. It was an amazing trip and I'll be writing more about it over the coming weeks/months. But first I wanted to start off with a post about the 5 things you should focus on when planning a road trip or converting a van. It's an exciting and daunting task, but one that could pay off hugely if it gives you the freedom to travel.
SUCH an important thing to remember when planning your Vanlife travels. By investing in both of these you will make your life so much better once on the road. Consider whether you will need to weather-proof your van and need to make it suitable for winter as well as summer. You may need insulation for the colder months. Make sure you spend time on making your bed and don't just go for a cheaper/easier option. We had an old slatted bed frame donated by a neighbour which we cut to fit the wooden bed frame we built. This gave extra support and a bit of suspension so it wasn't just a hard box. We used a big section of foam and cut it to size for the mattress. Then filled our bed with pillows and warm duvets. Don't forget, no matter how warm it is during the summer, it does get chilly at night and is always better to have too many layers than not enough. We also made our bed frame removable so we could have more floor space in the van if necessary by removing the end section.
When it comes to storage, more is always better. Plan your van design around storage, it's great to build it into the frame and design so everything remains compact and tidy. There's nothing worse than living in a tiny van that is just a mess of stuff. At the end of the day you want to be able to crawl into bed without having to move everything. We created so much storage that we actually never had to store things on the bed. We had a massive section under the bed with big boxes where we stored food and cooking equipment, then along the side of the bed we had a big section for camping gear which we could also use as a bedside table. Behind the drivers' seat, we also used smaller crates stacked on top of each other which we picked up in IKEA and screwed together and into the floor. These we used for clothes, toiletries and other bits and bobs which meant we didn't have to leave things lying around for security. Plan well and you'll never find your van crowded or too small, trust me, it will change your whole vanlife experience!
Being a gal who never travels without her phone, camera, iPad/laptop and music, I need access to power to charge items and I never want to worry about running out of juice. On our Europe trip, I loved being able to practice more photography and to edit photos in the evenings. There are lots of ways to make sure vanlife doesn't mean living with your battery on red. One thing I wish I'd had when we were in Western Australia was a solar-powered battery pack. It was 40 degrees daily and constant sunshine so it would have been a great way to recharge. For our Europe trip, we invested in a power pack for the van which would recharge as we drove using power from the van's engine. We could choose when to recharge and once fully charged, it would run for days depending on how much power you used. It was expensive at around €500, but an investment for us because we knew we would be using the van long-term.
Looking for a more budget fix – why not invest in some really good portable power packs? I was sent the Juice Extreme, a fast charge power bank which is designed for life on-the-go and works perfect for road trips. It stores 2.5 full charges for an iPhone 8, Samsung S8 or Android phone and is great for a day of exploring a new city. It proved a lifesaver for me when exploring Vienna and Prague this summer, or for long afternoons of driving and needing a quick boost for directions. With a strong rubber coating, it's dust and waterproof which is great for travellers like me who love the beach, and it even protects against impact damage. Finally, it has a tiny LED torch which is handy when you're trying to find your camp spot in the dark! Retailing at £24.99, it's a great investment and I never leave home without it in my handbag.
One benefit of living in a van is that you can prepare all your meals yourself and don't have to waste money on eating out. It's worth stocking up before you travel on basics like pasta, rice, beans, and breakfast items like muesli. Having a good basic store of these things mean no matter where you are. Or even if you break down in the middle of nowhere, you won't go hungry. The same applies for things like water and toilet roll, it's worth getting a tank of water with a tap for your van. We never travel without one and it means we have lots of water for cooking/drinking. Going prepared will also mean that you don't get caught out with expensive shops. In Western Australia, shopping was expensive so we always waited until the bigger towns to pick up essentials at larger supermarkets. Likewise, in Switzerland, we avoided the shops altogether because of the extra expense. Instead we stocked up beforehand in Austria.
Insurance is an obvious one, but be sure that yours is comprehensive, covers all your drivers and third party damage. Also be sure you know what your breakdown cover includes so if the worst happens, you know what to do and who to call for the best support. Always make sure you take the vehicle for a service or do all appropriate checks before a big trip. Read this post for a list of top checks to perform. When it comes to permits, be sure to check if you are driving through several countries, which permits are required. For example, when we were driving through Austria and Switzerland. We had to get special permits from petrol stations along the road but they were tricky to get. Be prepared, it's always better to do a little vanlife research before you travel, than to get a huge fine when you return home.
For us, this was a huge part of making the van our own. We were so proud of the building work and the bed frame. But it was the decorating that really got us excited and started to make it a home. I wanted it to be as cosy as possible, our own little cave to escape into. We visited some of the vintage and Indian shops here in the city, where we picked up some great Vanlife decorations. I found a colourful chakra tapestry which we used to cover the roof of the van. With some huge black pashminas to add some great little storage pockets and tassles hanging down by the windows. My boyfriend picked out some Nepalese flags for a little travel inspiration and some more colour, and we picked up lots of fairy lights from IKEA and Primark to make it cosy. And I picked up a few extra pillows with nomad-style prints to make it extra comfy. I still love everything about our van. It's a colourful mish-mash of our personalities and the places we've been, it tells a story. And even better, we had so many compliments on our epic ride as we travelled around Europe. I already can't wait for the next vanlife experience!
Have you converted a van – how was your vanlife experience? Have you always dreamed of travelling in a van across the country?
For road trippers, car checks are a vital part of ensuring your vehicle survives the trip. And yet they can often be the one bit of preparation that is forgotten. Eager to get on the road, many are quick to head out without looking under the hood. But if there's one thing I've learned from over five years of solo travel and vanlife, it's to always be prepared. Travel is a learning curve and the best way to become a good traveller is to learn quickly from your mistakes. That means wising up when things go wrong and seeing what you could have done to prevent it.
We've all had our fair share of travel calamities and I've definitely had quite a few when it comes to road trips. But the most important thing is to keep your sense of humour when these things happen. Accept that things can always go wrong and you can only be so prepared. The more you can adapt and pick up skills you can use the next time you travel – the better. So because I know I'm just as guilty of doing this. I wanted to share this post on the simple car checks you can do before a road trip.
Driving Australia's West Coast with a group of travellers, from Perth to Darwin. It was no small road trip with over 4,000km to cover. My friend had taken her car for a service and check-up before the trip to ensure it was safe. But the garage must have forgotten to screw on one of the bolts for the wheel. We were driving along the highway when she noticed something was wrong. Then suddenly the wheel fell off and the whole car was lop-sided. Thankfully they had been pulling over to park at the time so no-one was hurt. But it could have been very dangerous, and it was expensive to get towed and fixed.
An ex-boyfriend was driving up the West Coast to meet me in his van so we could drive the rest of the way together. But spookily, around the same area where the wheel fell off for my friend, his van suddenly broke down. He was stuck on the highway with the engine billowing black smoke. Now only did he have to get towed back to the town. But he ended up having to trade his van for a car! We still finished the road trip and loved that car.
I planned a road trip across Bulgaria with some friends and we had just picked up the hire car, parking it on the street. We went to get a bite to eat and returned five minutes later to see our vehicle was clamped. Luckily the fine wasn't too bad but we did end up wasting a lot of time.
Read: 15 reasons you should road trip across Bulgaria
This one was hilarious but a total pain in the arse. I had just spent a weekend in Brighton with an ex-boyfriend and we were on our way home. It was a hot day, and we had the top down in his convertible as we cruised down the M25. We couldn't hear the noise at first but after a while we noticed the grinding, scraping sound of metal and we had to pull over. When I looked under the car, the entire exhaust had fallen down and was dragging under the car. It was a mess, a long wait for recovery, very expensive and still three hours from home on a bank holiday. Not ideal.
So how can you prevent this from happening on your next road trip? Be smart, be organised and follow this checklist I've created. It features all the things you should check on your vehicle before any long journey. Spend a bit of time doing this before each trip. It could save you hours of standing by a windy motorway waiting for the AA man to show up after his Sunday roast.
Car checks don't all have to be done by you. Get a second opinion if you don't know enough about cars. Schedule regular check-ups for your car or van. Make sure you get any concerns looked at. Don't like the sound of that noise? Have it checked before you go.
Top up the fuel, the oil and even things like brake fluid and window washing liquid. Make sure your brake pads are still okay. Check the tyres have enough tread and if they need topping up.
You'd be amazed how many people are driving on the roads without insurance. So make sure you have a comprehensive insurance that covers you for all situations. This includes third party damage, and if you're doing any off-roading or parking in unusual spots.
Don't leave your lights on! This can run the battery down very quickly so be careful to check the inside lights when loading or unloading the car. If you leave the doors or windows open because of the heat then turn all lights off. Always make sure the engine is fully off and don't let your battery run down.
Check the rubber for any bulges or tears, drive carefully and avoid broken glass. Also, make sure the tread is still within the legal requirement. If you're planning on off-roading, be sure your tyres can handle it! Pack chains if you're driving in the snow.
Always pack for emergencies. On long trips it is smart to pack a torch, first-aid kit, blanket and some basic tools. Plus water and extra snacks in case you get stuck somewhere. Whether you break down, crash or simply get stuck in a mega traffic jam, it's always good to have supplies.
If you're planning a long trip, it can be helpful to have a navigation system. Don't just rely on your phone unless you're sure you'll have coverage everywhere. Garmin are good if you're looking at getting a Sat-Nav. But it does help to keep a back-up map in the car in case of emergencies.
Extra weight of overpacking places extra strain on the vehicle and can use a lot more fuel. Pack smart and find ways to reduce the amount you take. If you're road tripping long-term and have a roof rack full of stuff - arrange it carefully to be as streamlined as possible. Trust me, it makes a HUGE difference to how much fuel you consume.
Be smart about your travel times. Avoid hitting traffic or rush hour and you could save a lot of fuel and wasted time. Travelling late at night or early in the morning is great, open roads and not a soul in sight.
Here’s the deal if your car isn’t up to par then you’re either going to have to get it fixed up (which can potentially cost a lot of money) or you should sell it and upgrade to something better. IF you happen to take the route of selling your car one option to consider is Junk That Car, they state that they typically pay $500 or more in cash for junk cars. So, if you are thinking of selling it could be a smart choice.
Most importantly, once all the checks are done. Relax and really enjoy every second of your trip! Make it the trip of a lifetime. Even if things do go wrong, it isn't the end of the world. It just means another funny story to tell afterwards. The most important thing you can pack when things do go wrong is perspective. Take a deep breath, take care of it and then sit back until you're on your way again.
What was your worst road trip experience? Can you think of any other important car checks before a road trip? What was the best road trip you ever did?