Coco Chanel once said that “the best things in life are free. The second best things are very, very expensive.” Imagine my delight while reading through the local free press in beautiful Lake Wakatipu, near Queenstown, New Zealand, when I came across the headline “Free Camper Vans”.
It was a small advert that turned out to have a huge impact on my stay. After a brief phone call, I was booked to pick up my free two-berth Mercedes camper van. People fly into Auckland in the far north, drive the length of the two islands, then leave their vehicles in places such as Queenstown and fly home. This often leaves a glut of motorhomes in rental car parks that need to be relocated back to Auckland.
The details are different with every hire company; however, the basics remain. If you are flexible, you are going to have a well-equipped motorhome or camper van for a fraction of the usual cost, which ranges from £170-£300 per day. The journey was something I’ll never forget – five days and 1,200 miles of clear roads, priceless views, winery lunches and waking up each day to ocean and lake views.
WHO NEEDS HOTELS?
Forgo the luxury of a hotel room, I hear you exclaim. Yes, go for it. The camper van holiday is like nothing else. You will never have so many strangers approach you and start conversations – wherever you choose to travel. The older VW-type campers really draw attention.
Packing should be approached with a strictly minimal view. Consider using carrier bags to carry clothing rather than travel luggage – they can be stowed away in all sorts of nooks and crannies. Remember that shops (and washing machines) are available in most places that you are likely to visit. You do not have to take everything for the entire holiday with you. Supplies for the next day or so will be more than adequate.
If you don’t think that you are likely to use something, don’t take it. Have an outline plan, but be willing to deviate from your itinerary – you never know where you will end up. Above all, stop watching the clock (and maybe the calendar). Enjoy the journey and its diverse experiences. You will realise that the hotel room can’t compete.
Kevin Shade, Herts
AWAY FROM IT ALL
My recommendation would be the Isle of Wight. We have been taking the children for a few years now and will continue going ourselves once they have flown the nest. Last year we hired Oliver, a very handsome red camper van. I did beg for Penelope, a lovely shade of baby pink, but living with three men meant I was never going to get my own way. Life goes slowly on the Isle of Wight. I feel relaxed and the real world seems a million miles away.
Sarah Bates, Norfolk
I live the camper van dream with my 40-year-old bay window VW, aka the Pashwag. We have travelled thousands of miles and shared many an adventure. The most memorable was a few years ago when I drove around the coast of Scotland in June, a trip of 2,000 miles. I explored the remote wilderness of the Scottish Highlands – the only traffic jams being highland cattle or sheep on the road.
I used local tourist information offices to find good campsites but also experienced the delights of free camping: waking early, sliding open the side door, running across pure white sand and skinny dipping in the freezing North Atlantic, followed by hot tea and a fry-up in the camper. Ditch the satnav and hi-tech gadgets, and keep plans flexible so you can simply follow the open road.
Sarah Owens, by email
For an out-of-the-ordinary camper van holiday, I would drive across Romania. I’d start in Arad, then drive across through Deva (where there is an ancient citadel on a hill in the middle of the town). Then I’d cross the Transylvanian Alps to Brasov. These are strikingly clean, beautiful and dramatic. Then up to Cluj, across to Iasi and back.
Romania is full of friendly people, Communist-era austerity and new optimism. You will meet people who are eager to offer hospitality and, with some planning, will find plenty of campsites and hookup points. And these days hardly anyone is a vampire.
Martin White, Birmingham