Excerpts From the Book

Table of Contents
Chapter 1 (excerpt) How To Get Rolling: Acquiring a Van or Motorhome Abroad
Chapter 2 Prep Talk: How to Plan the Best Trip
Chapter 3 Roads and Driving: Getting Around is Easy and Fun
Chapter 4 (excerpt) Sleeping in the Best Places: Nightly Homesites
Chapter 5 Country-by-Country Tips and Campsites – A Personal Sampler of Our Favorites
Chapter 6 Staying Connected: Email and Web
Chapter 7 “Where Do You … Uh …?”
Chapter 8 Language: Easier Than You Think
Chapter 9 Money: Handling It Wisely
Chapter 10 (excerpt) Bringing the Kids (But Maybe Not the Dog)
Chapter 11 Keeping Safe and Healthy
Chapter 12 Cooking On Wheels: Healthy, Cheap and Fun
Chapter 13 Food Shopping Adventures: Another Facet of Europe


What a concept! Just jumping into a van or motorhome and driving around Europe, as if you were at home! You can’t just do that, can you?

After all, everybody knows that European travel isn’t this easy. You can’t just go there and see what happens—you need itineraries, schedules, reservations. Right?

Wrong. With your own wheels, you have total flexibility. You can change your mind whenever a more interesting option appears. As examples, once we went to Europe with the general intention of driving down the boot of Italy, but it turned out to be a summer of record-breaking heat. So we went to Scandinavia instead, where everyone was delighted with the unaccustomed warmth. On another trip we were driving in Germany one afternoon when we were struck with a powerful desire to have dinner in France. So we turned west, crossed the Rhine into Alsace, and had one of the most delicious meals of our lives in Strasbourg that evening.

Another thing everybody knows is that travel means hassling with luggage, check-out times at hotels, and train and bus schedules. In a camper or motorhome you unpack only once, into the many handy cupboards and closets. Checkout time is whenever you feel like leaving—and it might not be until day after tomorrow. And you can spend your time seeing the wonders of Europe—not waiting on the platforms of endless train stations.

That same “everybody” suspects that driving in Europe is a nightmare of bad roads and wild drivers.

Again, “everybody” is dead wrong. Most European roads and motorways are state of the art. European drivers must pass rigorous tests before they get their licenses and are usually quite skilled. The vans and motorhome's there are as easy to drive as cars. Big city traffic can be heavy and confusing, as at home, but you can avoid this problem easily by staying at a campground on the edge of town and riding the metro, tram or bus into the urban center.

Everybody also is convinced that camping means roughing it. They probably have memories of sleeping on the cold ground on scouting trips. But a van or motorhome is a clean, comfortable little house on wheels, not a drafty tent. European campgrounds are not wilderness outposts; they are pleasant resorts with stores, cafes, and other civilized amenities.

And, finally, everybody really knows that a trip to Europe, especially with the family, costs a fortune, right? Wrong once again. While it’s true that most European hotels make you rent two rooms or pay extra to squeeze your kids into your room, you can pay as much or as little for a van or motorhome as your pocket and your thirst for luxury dictate. We’ll tell you where to find a wide range of vehicles you can rent or buy, from American-style motorhome's to that good old standby, the VW camper. For trips of three months or more, you’ll save by purchasing a vehicle from a dealer offering a buy-back guarantee. Again, we’ll tell you who, where, and how. You can even make a profit if you time it right.

The first version of this book was called Cheaper Than Staying Home, because for us, in 1981, it was. We sublet our apartment and let somebody else pay the rent and the utilities, and went off on assignment to do a book about street performers in Europe.

We did our own cooking, which didn’t count as an expense, because after all, you gotta eat at home, too. We free camped behind the houses of jugglers or under the windows of guitarists, and that was okay, too, because it put us more in touch with our subjects— who soon became our friends. When we ran out of money for fuel we found a good place and just stayed there awhile until our funds recovered. Eventually we sold our old van when we went home for almost as much as we’d paid for it three months earlier.

All this was just muddling through, because we had not been able to find a single book that told us how to van-travel in Europe. So we made mistakes—lots of them. We bought a terrible old wreck from a sinister mechanic in a back alley in London, and three weeks later it threw a rod and expired on a late Saturday afternoon as we were crossing the Rhine.

We didn’t know how to register the vehicle or to buy insurance, so we didn’t, a fact that now makes us pale. We crossed borders without changing money and then tried to use US dollars, a fact that now makes us blush. In short, we messed up at every turn, but we had a wonderful time anyway, and because we’ve done it wrong, we can tell you how to do it right.

We had so much fun that we went back the next year, and the next, and almost all the years since, for three or more months at a time. Gradually the kinks smoothed out as we got more practiced and knowledgeable. We wrote a little book to help other people with our hard-won savvy, and our readers wrote and telephoned us by the hundreds to share their own experiences. Over the years we have upgraded our style and now travel in what would have struck us as luxury in the beginning—but we still choose a van, and we still have great adventures.

Obviously, we’re hooked on van and motorhome travel, as are many Europeans. But is it for you? There are some trade-offs for all the good things. For the advantage of flexibility you must be willing to make your own decisions, to risk surprises good and bad—we’ll tell you stories of both kinds. You must be willing to do your own driving—you’ll find tips on European traffic know-how in chapter two. For the advantage of always having a place to sleep, you must pay some attention to the techniques of living in a small space—see chapter eight for a lesson on van choreography. For the opportunity to sample the Continental lifestyle and make European friends you must be willing to try a few words of foreign languages at least occasionally—for a magic list see chapter five.

This book is a guide to the techniques of European motor travel. It applies to cars as well as campers and motorhomes. What this book is not is a destination guide. Other than mentioning a few of our favorite places, we’re not going to tell you where to go or what to see. Nor, obviously, are we going to give you lists of hotels and restaurants; you won’t need them. Nor will we waste space on fillers like climate charts. What we will tell you is everything we think you need to know to rent, buy, sell, drive, and live in a camping vehicle in Europe and have a wonderful time doing it.

So there you have it. In exchange for very little money and a willingness to think for yourself, and with the help of this book, you can discover what Europeans have known for a generation: driving, especially in a motorhome or van is the key to really experiencing the delights and wonders of the Continent, not only economically, but with ease and comfort. Read on; we’ll tell you how you too can do it.


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Renting a Van or Motorhome

Booking in Advance

If you choose to rent a camper or motorhome, you can contact some of the best dealers in Europe for 2010 yourself with the information in this chapter. We’ll tell you what’s generally available, how to order it, what to watch out for, and about how much it will cost.

We’ll Help You

Or we can save you the trouble and find you the right vehicle at the best price, using our dealer database and our familiarity with the industry, and apply our 6% Road Trip Europe Discount. Just e-mail us at shorecam@aol.com or call us at 1-800-659-5222. There’s no charge for this service, and we’ll probably save you money.

There are quite a few motorhome rental companies in the U.K. and on the Continent, and many different makes and models available. Choices range from the familiar VW Westfalia camper (called the “California” in Europe) through larger vans and motorhomes....

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Finding a Campground

Our readers tell us that this is the single most difficult challenge in campervan travel. We agree. The problem is that the major campground guides (see below), either give only the sketchiest of directions to guide you to specific camping sites or are not comprehensive. Maps showing campground locations are equally vague. So what to do? We offer a choice of two techniques from our hard-earned know-how—the first will involve you with your environment, sometimes more than you want, and the second will actually get you there with a minimum of stress, but it isn’t free and it takes a bit of technological savvy....

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The Way to Go with Kids

No doubt about it, motorhoming is the way to travel with children. They have the security of a familiar bed every night, space to play while you’re on the road, their own clean toilet, and the kind of food they’re used to. You are spared those excruciating waits in restaurants with tired, cranky little ones, hotel rooms festooned with laundry, and worries about germs in strange bathrooms. Midday naps, potty breaks, and snack times are easily accomplished at a moment’s notice. In the evening you can tuck them safely in bed and have a couple of hours of adult time in a way that you never could in a hotel....

Choosing the Right Vehicle for Kid Travel

When you choose your motorhome there are several things to bear in mind for comfort and safety when you’re traveling with children. First, be sure to get a model that is large enough. Elsewhere we’ve encouraged you to choose the smallest vehicle you can live with, for ease of driving and parking and for fuel economy. But unless your children are very young, a smaller van is going to be pretty snug for free camping or rainy days. If your kids are large and active it might be best to rent or buy a bigger motorhome to allow some wiggle room. For small children, a motorhome with a bathroom will save you from many a sudden emergency, although Europeans are pretty tolerant of outdoor peeing—at least by males....


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