Our featured members this month are Claire and Chuck (aka claire312), who are on a year-long road trip by motorhome around Europe. It's an adventure that's been five years in the making, so I was interested to catch up with them to find out more about why they wanted to do this trip, how they planned it, and how it's been so far.
Claire and Chuck.
You'd been planning this trip for five years. Wow! It must be great to finally get out there. So far, has it been worth the wait?
Claire: It took me awhile to get adjusted, but that’s looking back after 30 days of travel. We hit the ground running. When we first arrived we had so much to do to get started: buy the camper, buy some things to outfit it (sheets, pillows, blankets, some kitchen items, etc.). That took several days plus we were dealing with jet lag. While Chuck’s reaction was to sleep a lot, my reaction was to become wired. So, I spent a lot of time doing more research while he slept. It worked out. We got into the hang of things fairly quickly, learning to live together very closely 24 hours a day. The camper is great but we had a hard time finding where we had put things. It’s gotten much easier. We’re only missing a mitten, a sock and a travel towel at this point. To answer your question, it has absolutely been worth the wait. I only wish we hadn’t had to wait so long!
What originally inspired you to spend a year in Europe?
Claire: I took an art class in 8th grade. The teacher showed us slides of his trip to Florence. I was immediately inspired to go to Europe and had it as a goal from that point on. I think it’s the very interesting cultural differences and eccentricities mixed in with a sense of familiarity that I find so compelling. It’s hard to pinpoint what it was that attracted me but it’s always been there and remains.
Chuck: I have only been abroad once before for any length of time – 5 weeks in (the former) Yugoslavia and Greece. I enjoyed it so much that I knew then that I would like to return for a longer visit.
What attracted you to the idea of travelling/living in a motorhome? Have you done something similar before?
Claire: This is a really fantastic way to travel. It’s not about savings, but about lifestyle. We love the campground life, surrounded by other campers, mostly Europeans and a few Brits. No other Americans. I had done this 20 years ago for 6 months and never quite got over it. It just wasn’t long enough to see all the things I wanted to see and enjoy the lifestyle. Travelling/living in a motorhome allows us a lot of freedom. We can base ourselves in one place and bike or take public transportation or we can simply drive to where we want to go. There are thousands of campgrounds and plenty of free spots to camp as well. The campgrounds are really deluxe small resorts with very nice bathrooms, fresh bread and croissants in the mornings, beautiful settings, swimming pools, restaurant, café, and often free WiFi. It’s wonderful to just relax and hang out between sightseeing.
Chuck: I liked the idea of meeting similarly-minded people, wanting to meet other travelers living abroad, as well as experiencing what live is like for locals. I liked the idea of the convenience of having a ready-made bed to crawl into at the end of a busy day, knowing where I was going to sleep. It is also cheaper than staying in hotels, for example; but, this was primarily a life-style choice.
You have a bit of an itinerary worked out. How fixed is it? To what extent are you just working out your next step as it comes?
Claire: The itinerary was based on which countries we wanted to see, climate, and time of year, and something called the Schengen Agreement. As U.S. citizens, we are only allowed in the Schengen EU member countries for 90 days. This means we must be out of the EU for 90 days, staying in a non-member country. We planned it so we would end up in Turkey and Egypt for the 90 days out during winter. Other than that, it’s pretty loose. We do seem to be working out our next step as it comes. I try to find 2 or 3 campgrounds ahead based on areas we want to visit. We don’t really plan further than that.
Chuck: We have an over-arching itinerary for the sequence of countries and our duration in them – five weeks each in our favored countries and less time in the rest; but, we have only scheduled time in a few cities; for example – Paris (because it is Paris) and Amsterdam (largely because it was our arrival point and we needed to provision the camper). We also face the “visa” restrictions of the Schengen Agreement. This is partly driving our 2 months in Turkey and 1 month in Egypt – we wanted to visit both; but the duration is determined by the Agreement. Also, we must adjust to contingencies; for example, our camping car broke down near Le Mont St. Michel and we have been here a week; this means that we now have less time to cover most of geographical France in the rest of the allotted 5 weeks. Choices will have to be made; we don't want to sacrifice regions, so we will probably visit fewer areas or sites within each region; for example, there will be fewer Chateaux toured in the Loire Valley.
What have been some of the highlights so far?
Claire: The excitement of actually being in Europe when we arrived in Amsterdam was huge. We both loved Amsterdam and found it to be a very user-friendly city for arrival and getting around. The metro is wonderful and our first campground was a short walk to the metro. I think one of my best memories will be biking through the De Hoge Veluwe National Park to the Kröller-Müller Museum and Sculpture garden in Arnhem, Netherlands. This is a 13,000 acres park with wonderful bike paths. They even have what they call White Bikes for free use. Pick up at the start and drop off at the museum, picking up another to get back to your car. The sculptures were really fun and amazing and the museum has the second largest Van Gogh collection in the world.
Chuck: I would say that the Eiffel Tower, especially lit up at night, exceeded our expectations. Versailles was almost beyond belief – the grandeur of the surroundings and the excellent tour guide greatly increased our appreciation of this site.
In the Arnhem area, we not only walked across the notorious “Bridge too Far,” but we biked from our excellent campground to a wonderful 13,000 acre forest and visited the marvelous museum and sculpture garden, there.
What are some of the places you're most looking forward to travelling through?
- Krakow, Poland
- Berlin, Germany
- Lake Como, Italy
Chuck: I have only been abroad once before for any length of time – 5 weeks in (the former) Yugoslavia and Greece. I knew then that I would like to return for a longer visit. So, almost everything is new and exciting for me. I am especially looking forward to being in some of the provincial areas of France, Rome, Venice, Sicily, Turkey, Egypt and Scotland.
Thanks for the interview Claire and Chuck! If you'd like to read more about their travel adventures, be sure to check out their blog, European Adventures.
Check out these past interviews in the Talking Travel series:
- Talking Travel with Brendan Harding
- Talking Travel with Jennifer Johnson
- Talking Travel with Sander
- Talking Travel with Rob and Pol
- Talking Travel with Michael Johnson
- Talking Travel with Izzy and Marisa
- Talking Travel with Marlis
- Talking Travel with Gretchen
- Talking Travel with Andrew and Courtney
- Talking Travel with Purdy
- Talking Travel with Maria
- Talking Travel with Niels
- Talking Travel with Amy and Wim
- Talking Travel with Hien
- Talking Travel and HIV/AIDS in India with Dave Reidy
- Talking Travel with Utrecht