I’ve traveled before. Embarked on a Busabout trip across Europe. Lived and studied overseas. Explored the world between the ages of 16 and 25 … But not like this. This has completely changed my views on the world and the people in it. All with my best friend (and fiancé) by my side. If packing us into a tiny van and unleashing us on European roads doesn’t make or break our relationship then I don’t know a better test before we walk down the aisle. Thankfully it has fallen into the “make” category rather than “break” and each morning as we set off in Han Solo (our van) to another unknown location I have a deeper appreciation for the open road and my travel partner.
Alex and Trav Lac de Sainte Croix – Gorges du Verdo, France
Let’s go back to the beginning… The inspiration to travel Europe in a van came from my parents. Listening to all their stories from a year long venture in the 80s in a VW Combie and turning page after page of amazing photos. The freedom to choose our own path and see things we might not see otherwise encouraged us to buckle down and save. After almost 2 years in the making we set off to Barcelona to begin our 112 days abroad. With a map, a backpack each and the desired countries to visit we were ready.
Han Solo enjoying the view in Portugal
Our first night in the van is one for the books. It was 38 degrees at 6pm and we were in the small town of Zaragoza, Spain when we got hit with a huge electrical, rain and thunder storm. Stuck inside the van (with no air vents) in a car park as it shook like mad. We were hot, sweaty and just looked at each other going “what the fuck have we gotten ourselves into.”
So let’s fast forward to the present day… we’re now over half way into our trip and I’m writing this on my iPhone (after our laptop conveniently shat itself). We sit in the beautiful town of Agropoli in the south of Italy waiting for the local pizza place to open and I flick back through my travel journal that’s captured my thoughts for the past two months. My skin is sun kissed, my hair is wind swept and salty and we’ve met some incredible people.
Inside Han Solo, the super affordable luxury suite
Where do I even begin? What stories do I tell? What locations should I share? From people watching in Barcelona to trekking the Pyrenees mountains. From indulging in traditional pinchos bars in San Sebastián to getting caught up in a street party in Porto with 300,000 people as Portugal won the Euro Cup for the first time ever. The atmosphere …. Incredible!! Each of these experiences so vast from the other yet equally thrilling. We’ve stood on the most southern point in Europe. Swam in the the very chilling Atlantic Ocean. Drank strawberry daiquiris until 4 am in Lagos. Slept in car parks, caravan parks, in the mountains, by the ocean and in beautiful forests overlooking crystal clear lakes. We even tried to sleep whilst an old Italian man sang ‘That’s Amore’ to a belly dancer until all hours of the morning. We smoked cigars in dirty bars, stood in a sunflower field, been mistaken for a Tour de France rider (no joke… They even asked for my fiancé’s photo and autograph) and danced until all hours at an open air RnB club in the south of France.
I know what you’re all thinking by now… shut up with your awesome stories of your awesome trip while we all freeze back here in Oz. It can’t all be highs right? Well not to burst my own bubble but we have had some “challenges” along the way that have now turned into hilarious stories. Apart from the usual language barriers and everyone driving like freaking maniacs with one hand on the horn at all times, a couple moments of stress stand out more than others. One morning we woke up in Cascais, Portugal to find ourselves locked inside our van (the battery died – cue panic mode and visions of running out of air). After franticly bashing on the windows to wake our camper van neighbours (who spoke no English) they were able to find jumper leads to kick-start the van and get us out. Phew! It’s bloody hot in Portugal in July and I didn’t really feel like turning into boiled ham!
Flirting with police officers, Euro Final Portugal v France
I have melted the van’s storage cabinets as I used the gas cooker inside during a storm (add that one to the bill), driven on the wrong side of the road in Nice (Whoops! My bad), been moved along from one of our free camping spots at 11pm in the middle of nowhere, had a couple shag in a car two meters away from us (we obviously were in a popular make-out spot). Now, two stomach bugs later we’re still here with big smiles on our faces and all limbs intact.
…So what’s next? We’re boarding a ferry to Sicily to continue our van adventures for another couple of weeks before handing the keys back in Rome.
From there, we’re on foot!
We’re finishing the bigger cities of Italy at the end of September and then we spend our last month relaxing in Croatia before making the the 28 hour journey back home.
Stay tuned, I’ll be full of fresh stories and equally entertaining disasters as we head into mafia land. Lock your doors!