We were in need of an adventure and a break from our everyday routines so we set off for Europe in our self-converted camper.
We finished converting a full-time live in motorhome for Dee’s sister Jess and her partner Freddy last year and in June they packed up and set off on the adventure of a lifetime, travelling all across Europe for an open-ended trip.
Of course as soon as we heard about their plans we started dreaming about how amazing it would be to travel with them so after finishing up a few more campervan conversions we set a date to join them…then cancelled it and rescheduled it several times before eventually booking our ferry!
The sense of excitement and adventure we got from travelling in our van two years ago was a huge thrill but the thought of travelling in a group with Jess & Freddy is something we’ve always dreamed of doing.
By the time we joined Jess & Freddy they had already covered parts of the Netherlands, Germany & Denmark. We spent a while discussing the best route for us to take with them …this time our travels were limited to one month so we wanted to make the absolute most of it.
We didn’t want to spend too much time driving as we wanted to have as much quality time together as possible, but we also wanted to explore some new places. When we travelled in 2016 we only saw a few towns across central Europe as we were there in the winter and it was too cold to really get out and wander around. We knew we wanted to visit some cities together, try and see some live music, visit historical sites and art galleries and spend some time out in nature, hiking, wild swimming and cycling.
We decided we would meet up in Berlin – a place we’ve all loved since we first visited in 2016, then make our way towards the Czech Republic and Austria, ending up in Slovenia.
We were itching to meet up with Jess & Freddy as quickly as possible so took the ferry from Dover to Calais and whizzed through a few towns on the way to Berlin.
We didn’t travel too far on our first day abroad as we wanted to give ourselves time to settle in to being on the road again. Even though we live in our van full-time in the UK we both felt a bit anxious about leaving the comforts of our workshop where we have unlimited water, the option to plug the van in if we’re running low on electric & a portaloo to empty our toilet whenever we need to. Breaking away from all these things and venturing into the unknown can feel a bit scary but it’s also what draws us to travelling – being shaken out of our normal routines makes us more present and alert to each moment. It makes us appreciate things we take for granted every day and gives us new exciting experiences.
We feel like we learnt so much from our travels in 2016 when we spent nine months on the road in our van, it made us more open and confident, more accepting of circumstances beyond our control, more willing to push ourselves and go out of our comfort zones.
We decided to start with a comfortable 3 and a half hour drive to Eindhoven in the south of the Netherlands. We mainly used Park4Night, iOverlander, FurgoVWMap & Caramaps to find parking spots. We find these apps all really useful as they give details on the facilities at each spot, costs and reviews so you can check how recently they’ve been used. In our whole month away we only had to pay for a couple of nights camping – every other spot we stayed at was free.
Arriving at our first parking spot for the night in Eindhoven we felt a little on edge, it was getting late and we hadn’t eaten but were tired and ready for bed. We pulled into the car park and were dismayed to find it was beside a busy noisy basketball court.
We think of our van as a safe space where we can lock the doors and feel protected, which is important when you need to be able to live, eat and sleep in all types of locations, but we also find it can sometimes hold us back from exploring. It can be easy to shut yourself away from your surroundings which can make the world outside seem like a scarier place. Your imagination can start to spin inaccurate presumptions about the noises outside, people hanging around etc. To deal with this we always try to go for a walk when we arrive at a new spot. We find that breaking out of our ‘safe space’ even if only for a short 10 minute walk really helps put us at ease – more often than not all the things we imagined to be threatening or scary are completely mundane and every day.
We went for a walk and found the basketball court was part of a lovely park where people were walking their dogs and the noise soon died down as the basketball games finished.
Simon has a love for old trucks so after having had a good night’s sleep we couldn’t resist a visit to Eindhoven’s DAF museum. We spent hours looking around all the different trucks, some that had completed the Dakar rally and achieved unbelievable speeds of over 100mph! We saw the Dutch Royal Family’s very own coach and even got to try out sitting in the plush cab of a new lorry!
From Eindhoven we drove into Germany and found a beautiful quiet parking spot in the woods on iOverlander. Here we got to do one of our favourite simple pleasures of travelling – eat breakfast outside. There’s something so relaxing about being able to sit outside first thing in the morning and enjoy being in a new place, taking your time and starting the day slowly. We always appreciate being able to sit outside the van with the door open, not hiding ourselves away as we often have to do in the UK.
We decided to make one last stop on our way to Berlin and visit Goslar, a small medieval town in the Harz mountains. We walked to the top of the town for the view from the Prince’s Palace and loved looking around the pretty fairy tale houses with beautiful wooden shingle details decorating the walls and roofs.
From here it was about a three hour drive to Berlin, with a quick stop off at a TUV Nord garage to get our emissions sticker – a requirement for all vehicles across many German towns and cities. You can apply for the sticker to be posted out to you ahead of your trip but you can also visit any of their garages and purchase the sticker there and then. There is more info, a map of garages and a link to their free app which shows you all the emissions zones here. In German, the sticker is called an ‘umweltplakette’.
If you’re interested to find out more about our travels in Germany and beyond, check back on our blog or subscribe to receive updates.
Thanks for reading!
3 thoughts on “Our van life summer escape across Germany, Austria & France”
Hi Dee and Simon
Auntie Jo here!
Thank you for the very interesting account of your latest trip. It was interesting to hear about your concerns as well as your positive experiences. Having travelled around Europe in 1981 in a bespoke camper van (we didn’t build it ourselves) I understand the fears as well as the joys of discovering new places and meeting different people and cultures.
Your cousins Marcus and Daniel, Dee, were 11 and 8 years old and we attempted to educate them by joining WES World Education Service. Of course, lessons didn’t amount to anything but what they gained from the trip were experiences they would probably not have again from the same perspective but memories to enrich their knowledge of other cultures and languages.
Reading your accounts of your travels awakens the feeling of anticipation when going from place to place and absorbs me. It was also heartwarming to hear that you met up with Jess and her partner. Meeting up with close ones and sharing experiences is so exciting and fulfilling.
Your pictures are lovely especially of Goslar a place I’ve not heard of. The information involving the law on emissions is interesting and will help others planning to take off the way you have done.
I think what you’re doing is fantastic. Well done! The van looks great. Lots of luck and love. looking forward to the next instalment.
Thank you for such a lovely encouraging message. It’s interesting to hear Marcus & Daniel traveled with you as kids, sounds like it was an invaluable experience for them. I certainly think there is much to be learned outside of the classroom and travelling can teach us so much at any age, that’s fantastic. Yes it was really special getting to travel with Jess & Freddy, we will cherish the memories made and really hope to do it again one day…we are all interested in visiting Scandinavia next! Thank you 🙂 Goslar was very photogenic, think I got quite carried away taking photos there!
Hope you are doing well. Lots of love xxx
Hi Dee and Simon
Thanks for your response. I will look forward to hearing about your experiences in Scandinavia. Hope you have the warm clothes!
We’re all well thank you.
Take care now. Maybe you might fancy touring the Cotswolds some day?
Lots of love
Jo and all