Planning the right routes, being realistic about travel time and knowing where you’re going to stay will be the secret to a fun, great escape in your classic VW Camper, says Rob Hawkins
Love them as we do, driving an air-cooled Bus is never going to be as easy as a modern family car or spanking new motorhome. Everything will take just a little longer, but you can turn that in your favour if you plan the right route as it will give you time to relax and take in the sights that would have become more of a blur in a modern Bus.
The key then when it comes to planning a long-distance getaway is to do your homework, find the best routes and be totally realistic when it comes to how far you can travel each day without denting the fun factor. Oh, and before setting off on a full-fat family holiday be sure to do a trial run weekend away first. That way you’ll have an instant ‘snag list’ of things you’ll need to do or take to make the next trip even better.
Setting the scene
Most trips start with a destination and are then formed by working out how many days it will take to get there and back home again. With this in mind, determine whether you simply want to get there as quickly as possible in your Bus or adopt a more leisurely approach. Quite often, a leisurely drive to the destination involving scenic stopovers is more enticing than on the way home when everyone simply wants to get back and into their own bed.
For modern motoring, the motorways and toll roads are often the most convenient and the quickest, but for a classic Bus they can be hard work as you mingle with trucks and cross your fingers along the smart motorways that have no hard shoulder. It can be just as quick to meander along the A- and B-roads that are often quieter. If you’ve a long way to go, do it at night so there will be even less traffic to contend with. Most sat-navs and mobile phone apps can plan a route by avoiding motorways and toll roads. Plus, any petrol stops will often be cheaper when compared to the motorways, although it’s wise to plan ahead for these anyway – especially on the Continent.
Rules of the road
Regular breaks are important for an air-cooled engine to prevent it getting too hot, and this is where a Bus has the advantage, especially if it has a kitchen in which to make hot drinks and food. French families pride themselves on taking their own lunchtime food on long journeys, but frying up an omelette and making a hot tea in a Bus wins the day.
Talking of driving abroad, make sure you know the rules of the country you are in – France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands all have slightly different rules for driving (speed and alcohol limits). Don’t risk getting an on-the-spot fine. Motoring groups such as the AA and RAC provide guidance, but also check the latest Brexit-related rules, such as not taking meat and dairy products into mainland Europe from the UK.
Where to stop
Planning your camping is just as important as your routes. Popular tourist spots may be fully reserved, so dial out the uncertainty by booking ahead. Less populated places may be empty, so you can take a relaxed approach of turning up and seeing what’s available. In France you can go one step further with Aires, which are available in many towns and villages – and there are some in the UK, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands. They are designed to attract visitors to stop over and use the local shops and restaurants (even for a lunch break), so whilst there may be a hook-up (and a fee to use it), a cold water tap and public toilets, don’t expect the same level of luxury as a campsite. Apps such as park4night.com can locate Aires and free places to stay in a number of countries, and there’s several books that list Aires in different countries. In the UK, the Campaign for Real Aires (campra.org.uk) is trying to encourage Aires, but there doesn’t appear to be any definitive websites listing all the free places to stay.There are plenty of resources for campsites, such as www.ukcampsite.co.uk, which includes reviews and contact details.
Whilst it helps to plan ahead for a long-distance trip, it’s nice sometimes to have a relaxed approach and a contingency plan. For example, you may discover your kids can only manage a few hours perched on the back seat. On a more positive note, you may find an idyllic campsite and decide to stay for longer. Keep your options open, but know your limitations!