In a lull in our travels as we wait for our clutch to be repaired, I thought I’d put together a few notes about fear. In particular, about the kinds of fears which might hold back UK-based motorhomers from making a trip around Europe. It’s not a ‘how to’ guide and is no replacement for your own research and preparation. Instead it’s an attempt to offer a balanced view; we’ve been ‘full-timing’ for 6 months at this point in France, Spain, Portugal and Morocco, and we’ve faced, and continue to face these fears. The feeling of fulfilment is extraordinary.
Fear 1. We may look foolish
Description: This is a nice easy one to get started with. Maybe we’ll go into the wrong lane queuing up for the ferry? Perhaps we’ll immediately take a wrong turn and find ourselves driving the wrong way when we get off the ferry? Maybe we’ll find we don’t have the right adapter to fill up with LPG, or water, or to connect to the mains supply? Maybe we’ll offend someone by accident? The list is endless, and to some extent we’ve done all of ’em.
My thoughts on facing this fear: If my fear of foolishness is realised, the only implication is a bruised ego, which hurts no-one. Almost all the time people are willing to go out of their way to help us. No-one laughs, except us, laughing at ourselves.
Fear 2. We may break down
Description: we’re in an old van. It has over 170,000km on the clock. We may easily break down and it’ll cost us a fortune, or even worse, cause an accident? What if it can’t be repaired?
My thoughts on facing this fear: our van was checked over by a trusted garage at home, so we’re confident it was safe when we set off. Any incidents we’ve had since we left (there have been a few!) we’ve had it checked over by local garages, and they’ve usually done it when we turn up for free or for a few euros. We lost a skylight, turned up at the garage in France at 4pm on a Friday afternoon, we were back on the road by 6pm! We had a tyre blowout in Spain which removed part of a wheel arch and damaged the water tank, interior and step. We found a garage who fixed it so well it’s impossible to tell it ever happened and the insurance company picked up most of the tab – after all that’s what it’s there for. In the process we met some great friends and had some awesome adventures with them.
Fear 3. We can’t speak the language
Description: I won’t be able to read instructions, buy from local shops, get help from locals when I need it, you name it. I’ll look like a fool (Fear 1) as I can’t converse.
My thoughts on facing this fear: We don’t expect people to speak English. Why should they? In most cases this is a good assumption anyway; we’re off the beaten tourist trail much of the time. In general though, people are very happy to help once they realise you’re in need. You can mime, draw, point, use Google Translate on your phone, use a book of pictures, take a photo on your phone of what you want, you name it. It can be fun, believe it or not. We also try to learn a few basic words for a country to help us get by: yes, no, thanks, hello, goodbye, how much and the numbers up to ten.
Fear 4. We may get in trouble with the police
Description: Will we get pulled over by the police who’ll find we’ve broken some rule we didn’t even know about? Will the police tell us to leave our free camping spot? Will they fine us, or ask for a bribe?
My thoughts on facing this fear: The AA’s website is a great place to check for local laws. We’ve got the warning triangles, high viz jackets, reflective board for the bike rack, replacement bulbs and even a breathaliser now (for France as of 1 July). None of this stuff costs much. We’ve not actually been pulled by the police in 6 months, although we have been asked to move from free camping spots. On both occasions the police were very polite and professional and we were happy to comply.
Fear 5. We may get robbed
Description: Will someone break into the van and steal our things, or even steal the van? Will someone mug us in the street?
My thoughts on facing this fear: I’m no expert on crime or statistics, but my guess is the chances of being in an accident (Fear 8) are far higher than this one. All the same, the risk exists, and can’t be removed; if someone wants to steal from you and you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time they will. We’ve taken some basic precautions with the van (double locks on doors and the like). Our feeling is the best precaution is to try and not be in the wrong place at the wrong time: we don’t stay in motorway rest areas, we don’t park on the street in cities, we don’t use insecure parking at tourist attractions, and we don’t walk in urban areas which feel run down, especially at night. We don’t have anything of sentimental value in our van, and very little of monetary value either – so if the worst does happen, it won’t be nice, but it’ll mainly be an inconvenience.
Fear 6. We may get lost
Description: What if we find ourselves stuck in a hideous one way system in the middle of a city?
My thoughts on facing this fear: Get a satnav with lane guidance. And a decent road map. And ideally a wife who is a great navigator. Seriously though, the great thing about being in a motorhome is you have everything you need with you. If you get lost, you’re still in your home.
Fear 7. We may get the van stuck
Description: What if we end up on a narrow street, or one with a height restriction, and can’t move forwards, with a queue of angry locals behind us? What if we end up on a narrow cobbled street which is too steep for us to drive up? What if we get the van wedged under a tree?
My thoughts on facing this fear: If you can’t tell from the description, we have done some of this stuff. We managed to get out of these situations with no real harm done, so even if you end up in them, just taking your time to get out works a treat. Ju leaps out of the van whenever I’m a bit nervous about hitting something and guides me. If you keep your eyes peeled for signs, don’t trust your satnav too much and get a good feel for the width of your van, you’ll be fine. And if you do find yourself stuck under a tree: we helped a couple in this situation, eight people sat in/hung off the back of the van with a deflated tyre to get it low enough to move out from under the offending branch.
Fear 8. We may crash
Description: What if we hit a parked car? What if we side-swipe someone on a roundabout? What if we hit a cyclist or pedestrian?
My thoughts on facing this fear: These fears apply equally to driving in the UK, but with the added issues of (a) driving on the right and (b) being on unfamilar roads with unfamiliar signs and (c) being surrounded by local drivers. My approach is to drive cautiously. I’m in a 3.1 tonne ageing motorhome. No-one expects me to be going quickly so why put additional pressure on myself? I let people pass at every opportunity, pulling over from time to time if they can’t easily overtake.
Fear 9. We may get ill
Description: What if we find ourselves ill, or have an accident? Will we be able to get treated? What if the doctor doesn’t speak English?
My thoughts on facing this fear: We’re lucky enough to be in good health and able bodied. We don’t take any medication. We have health insurance (and have read the policy wording) and our European Health Insurance Cards with us. If we get ill, we’re confident we’ll be well treated and we’re financially covered.
Fear 10. We may get scammed
Description: What if our lack of local knowledge leads to us being ripped off?
My thoughts on facing this fear: We’re pretty cautious when it comes to buying stuff or paying for services. If we have the option, we check around a few places to see how much stuff costs. We don’t buy under pressure. Having said that, everyone we meet, with very few exceptions, is honest. We try not to mistrust too much, as this leads to us missing out on closer interaction with the people we travel amongst.
Hopefully this article’s been of some interest; please feel free to comment on it below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear your thoughts! Thanks, Jason