2 girls, an old car, one sofa bed.... and a whole lot of adventure!

Europe road trip in a van


The Real Life Eurotrip – tips and tales from the road.

For some reason I always looked at Europe as a bit of a cop out on holiday terms; for those afraid of flying, unable to take lots of time off work or just for those seeking comfort in being close enough to home. I’d spent four summers working in the South of France and had countless family holidays as a child in Europe and yet still I heavily underestimated its potential.
There it was, the familiar unsettledness of having spent a few months at home and needing to get back out into the big bad world away from my sheltered and rural Scottish upbringing. A good friend, Steph, was finishing a contract on a cruise ship around the time I’d said I was going to leave my job, so the planning commenced. For weeks we threw around great ideas of adventures in tropical climates until a grandparent from each of our families had both fallen ill. Suddenly we were the ones seeking a trip to Europe for comfort in knowing we’d be close enough to home. My dad was overjoyed in the idea, he’d been nostalgic about his teenage Euro-trip back in the 80s and desperate to see his old car have one more real adventure.
Tip One: You don’t need a fancy #insta-ready campervan.

Our vehicle of choice (or more realistically, of no choice) was a 13yr old, brutally sun faded and dirty Renault Kangoo. A car so uncool that when my parents first purchased it back in 2004, my brother and I were so ashamed to be seen in it we genuinely used to wear disguises inside so our friends wouldn’t recognise us.  
The Kangoo since then had suffered an unlucky 13 years of abuse from the family. It really was as marketed- an all-purpose vehicle. It had tolerated family outings, camping trips, festivals, vomiting babies, vomiting children, vomiting drunkards. It was a family car, a dog and children’s playpen, a workman’s van, a home removals van, a boat and bike transporter. The Kangoo had done and seen it all.
The conversion of the car was cheap and strangely effortless. I took out the back seats and scrubbed it clean. I taped insulation foil over the rear windows for heat protection and privacy. Next, I bought an old wooden sofabed for a fiver, chopped it to fit and threw it in in the back using some old metal boxes as a base (and storage). For the final touch I hung a hammock from the ceiling for extra storage space. The whole ordeal cost £10 and took about a day to complete. Maybe we were lucky… or maybe we just had low standards, but this initial set-up lasted up for the entire 4 months!
Tip Two: Planning – you don’t need to do as much as you think.
Our initial plan was simple, we starred a few places on google maps we really wanted to go and then joined the dots to form a route. This was only done as far as Italy, and to be honest after that finished the journey was at its most entertaining. Yes, plan rough timescales and locations, but have as little as possible set in stone. This allows for wild card days and takes the stress out of the longer drives.
Get a sim card with plenty EU data- not needing to search for WIFI and being able to have your co-pilot research on the move allows you to live a little more when you’re not in the car. 3 mobile on Pay-as-you-go is a great if you don’t know where to start.
Download PARK4NIGHT. This app is the single best bit of tech we had with us. Honestly, I think it was sent by the road trip gods. On a map it shows places to park that other users have programmed in, often with reviews, size guidelines and pictures. It saved us so many hours of scanning maps and driving from place to place avoiding dodgy parking spots. It’s also great for meet fellow comrades on the road!

Tip Three - Embrace the simple life!

As you settle into the lifestyle of living out a car, life takes a different pace.
I’d wake up early most mornings and go for a swim in the river or sea whilst Steph spread out and sleep as she seemed to be immune to the insufferable heat in the back of the car. Our days were spent lying on beaches, hiking mountains, wandering around quaint little villages, swimming in the sea and in waterfalls before driving on to the next place, just living a simple existence and doing as we pleased.
Dropping your standards helps you feel less disgusting. Buying eco-friendly soap and washing in rivers or the sea was our approach to staying clean, but you could easily find showers along the way or buy a solar shower. We quit washing our hair with dreams of it “self-cleansing” (this I wouldn’t recommend), a long and greasy ordeal that frankly, had no benefits other than not having to feel bad that our hair looked horrible- because it always did now, oh and now seeing the horrified looks on peoples’ faces when we tell them. We achieved expert level at the noble art of wild weeing and primal poops- with code words and secret signals, refined techniques and helpful tools.
We enjoyed cooking elaborate meals on our stove out the back of the car even if this meant eating half cooked paella after the gas ran out. 
Living nearly every waking moment outdoors except at night when we retreated to the shelter of our trusty old Kangoo.
Tip Four – Keep in touch.

Sometimes, I feel like constantly posting on social media both annoys your friends back home and changes your travel motives (suddenly we found ourselves going places just so we could say we’d been or taking ridiculous photos that didn’t reflect us or what we were all about), but posting online does have its perks!  Quickly we realised just how many friends we had abroad and once they had seen our travel movements online we were suddenly talking to people we’d completely lost contact with. From German exchange students, family friends, old colleagues from years ago and just random people we’d met on our previous adventures.  These were the friendly faces to reminisce with, people to stop us going completely insane from just hanging about with each other and a nice reminder of how small the world can be.
Give people a message, it doesn’t matter if you haven’t spoken in years.
Tip Five - Become a Yes Man (or Woman).

Learning to say yes. Learning to follow our gut instincts, to take risks and say yes to people really led to some of our favourite memories from the holiday. I could write a book on some of the weird situations we were in but for now I’ll stick to the real brief highlights. We went to a rock and blues gig with a 60-year-old man we had met at a cocktail party (in a very rural village in Asturias, Spain,) at a bar owned by a man who was a sound technician for the Rolling Stones back in the day. Toured a Cider Brewery in another old man’s cellar, drank wine and ate tapas then salsa danced with his old friends and his dog Dante.
Raced on the back of superbikes through the bad lands of Bosnia in the middle of the night with a local biker gang. Met with a traditional Scottish band and watched them perform at a Celtic festival in Italy and taught a random bunch Celtic Italians to ceilidh dance in 30-degree heat. In eastern Slovakia we drove for a good hour up dirt tracks into the most heavily bear populated woods in Europe and tried to stay the night, with high hopes of meeting some bears, only to actually meet a wonky eyed, crazy haired shouting man with a hunting rifle in total darkness and a thunder storm, who subsequently chased us right back out that forest. During the World Body Paint Championships, we got painted as zombies by makeup artists and a special effects team then ran down the street in some sort of weird parade. Whilst stuck in a 3-hour long queue at border control we partied with the locals, drank shots whilst having a sing-along to The Proclaimers, and then got a lift on the back of a Harley to buy more beer. None of these situations were in our original plan, most of these wonderful events all started the same way - a look exchanged between us, a look that said ‘F*** it, why not!’
My final thoughts?

Do I still think Europe is a cop out for a holiday? Absolutely not! There are beaches that rival most tropical islands, vast mountain ranges, striking varieties of landscapes, so many cultures living closely together, a strangely high number of countries who think sausage is the best food ever, and amazing welcoming people with amazing stories.
If you’re considering a Euro-trip, just do it. Feel the freedom of the open road and the sun burning you through the open car window as your hair blows in the breeze. Watch every sunset for months. Go on a weird and wonderful adventure.
Sophie x
We hope you're as inspried as we are from reading Sophie's blog. Not sure about you but we're already scouting Gumtree for our next cheap mobile home! For more of her adventures check out Sophie's Instagram at theriskyadventurer   Happy Road tripping everyone! 
If you need any tips and advice email us at freedom@yugenexplore.com