Once we arrived on the continent with our campervan we very quickly learnt there were a few things we hadn’t quite thought through. The most pressing of which was where to park up and sleep, as it was about 11pm, and we had just completed a journey that felt exactly like The Amazing Race, with very little sleep.
The point of our campervan journey was to save both transport and accomodation costs, as well as see a whole bunch of places. But the difficulty is planning where exactly to stop when you settle in for the night. There are plenty of campsites available, but when searching around online for locations and prices, some of them seemed to be even more expensive than staying in a hostel. Not ideal.
Our first concern was safety, so we thought we would find somewhere close to public facilities and well lit, but also subtle enough so people won’t be able to spot that there were two girls sleeping in the van. We found a carpark near the shops, and there was an open subway there (also ideal for a nearby bathroom). However, the subway closed shortly after and all that were pubs. Drunk old men stumbling around? No thanks. So we were back to square one on the safety front and instead decided to follow the signs to the camping ground. (Called a ‘Camping’ in French). Once there, there was no office or anything, so we found ourselves a spot, confused as to how we were meant to pay. Eventually we spotted a sign that said someone comes around in the morning. However, we were on the road before we managed to find the person we were supposed to pay, so that was a win I guess…
The second problem we encountered was storage. As our campervan was actually a converted Toyota Previa, it was very compact. Accurately described by Spaceships UK as “The swiss army knife of campervans” there were compartments galore, but barely enough space to store everything. Our plan of including a third friend quickly had to be scrapped, and first on the agenda after a night’s sleep was stopping off at the nearest equivalent we could find to The Warehouse or IKEA to get some cheap plastic boxes. Living out of this bad boy for 5 weeks would definitely require some serious organisation! Luckily it was actually really comfortable to sleep in.
On the plus side, it came with some excellent gadgets – a little fridge, picnic table/chairs and awnings, a DVD player, and probably the thing that made our lives most do-able was a power adapter so we could charge our laptops and phones whilst driving. We even considered purchasing a low voltage hair straightener to go with.
Next issue: bathrooms. It quickly dawned on us that we were going to have to think ahead about every time we would need to go to the toilet. East enough when you are on the highway or in the centre of a city, but an important consideration when you stop for the night! As well as making toilet plans, not knowing for sure when/where your next shower would be was just the strangest sensation. Turns out our plan of not making plans might need a bit of revision. After we departed Calais in the morning, our next destination was Dunkirk. First stop was stocking up on groceries and storage, the next was Dunkirk’s Olympic Swimming Pool for showers!
The final problem, which proved to be the most crucial, was the exterior of the van itself. The bloody thing was bright orange! Could you be more conspicuous? To add insult to injury, there were stickers on it that said “Traveller’s Adventures.” Sadly we had been falsely assured by the rental company that ‘no-one can really tell its a campervan, so you can just park anywhere to sleep.’ Worst advice ever. But more on that dilemma later…