Our Greek #vanlife tragedy: be warned it isn’t pretty

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Every time I have to look at these photographs I get another punch in my stomach

We have all made mistakes, haven’t we?  Or are you one of those perfect people that never make them?  Well, we are not perfect and we made a big and costly mistake while we were in Greece and boy have we paid for it.  We were relaxed, we were loving Greece, we were happy and then in just a few minutes, after a moment of inattention, we were thrown in to despair.

I need to get the confession over with … we left the ‘van on a [gentle] slope with the handbrake fully on but what we forgot to do was leave it in gear [it really wasn’t that sort of slope].  The ‘van stayed put for ten minutes and then we watched our much loved campervan and our travelling home roll gently down the slope.  We ran after it, we grabbed the handles but if you have ever tried to stop something that weighs over three tonnes from moving you will know how pointless [and possibly dangerous] that was.  The ‘van stopped when it hit a wall and the photograph above shows that the Renault came off much worse than the wall [that didn’t even have a scratch].

Fortunately, no one was hurt and we have insurance and European breakdown.  Unluckily we were in Greece, as far as we could get from home, and fixing a Renault this far from France proved to be a tough call and our insurance company advised that repatriating the ‘van for fixing in the UK was the best option.  We had to make the difficult decision to leave our ‘van all by itself, waiting for a breakdown lorry to arrive from the UK and to take it the long journey home.

We were just five weeks in to a planned thirteen week trip around southern Europe and every ‘van owner will understand how devastated we were.  We were homeless, we felt lost without the ‘van, dazed after the shock of ‘the incident’ and had only ourselves to blame.  Nevertheless we were physically fine and as our breakdown paid for a hire car, we decided to salvage a little more from the trip.  We spent a few days in Greece visiting Meteora [see the next instalment] when we found that a road trip in a car bears no resemblance to a campervan trip.  The breakdown organised a flight date that suited us.

Getting the ‘van back to the UK took two weeks on the back of a lorry but we could ring the company carrying the repatriation out and check where our lovely blue bus was.  Our ‘van is now in a garage in the UK and the good news is that the insurance company have authorised the repairs.  But the repair is massive and expensive, needs specialist equipment and it will be at least four weeks until we are back on the road.

That one moment of inattention has cost us about eight weeks of camping in the sun, caused many sleepless nights as I relive the horror of it in my nightmares and taught us an important lesson.  We will never leave the ‘van in neutral again, even on what seems to be level ground.

For two travellers who use their ‘van all year and have never gone much more than a fortnight without sleeping in our cosy camper, being without a campervan is harder to bear than a non-campervan owner can even guess.  Without the ‘van I feel lost and as if some part of me is missing, I feel I am living in the wrong life and wonder if in another universe there is a version of me still tootling around southern Europe in an intact campervan.  Although grateful no one was hurt, I am heavyhearted and I gaze with yearning every time we pass any kind of motorhome and I want to stop the owners and tell them, we have a ‘van too, honest.  So if you see us out and about give us some sympathy.

Postscript – I can’t praise enough the service we received from our insurers Safeguard and breakdown, AA, which is included with our Safeguard cover.  We had a named person while the repair was ongoing and were kept up-to-date on progress as our van was repatriated and repaired.  This was an expensive repair but we never felt that they wanted to save money and we were able to discuss the damage in detail and the repair with their engineer.

Author: Back on the Road Again Blog

I write two blogs, one about my travels in our campervan and living well and frugally and the second about the stories behind the people commemorated in memorial benches.

31 thoughts on “Our Greek #vanlife tragedy: be warned it isn’t pretty”

  1. I totally feel your pain. My engine seized last year and had to be taken out, shipped off to be repaired and sent back. All in all it was off the road for 5 weeks. Luckily I wasn’t touring at the time so I stayed at a friends for the period until I got it back.
    It really is a wrench and not many can comprehend how gut wrenching it is and how sad life seems when you’re not on the road.
    I always leave mine in gear and sometimes turn the wheels to the appropriate direction when parking on slopes, but you’re dead right, mistakes happen and everyone is susceptible.
    Where did you stay in the meantime?


  2. Oh Carol – I have just read this. What can I say. I know how much you love your van, and travelling. This hiatus will be painful, but it is just that – a break in the road, not a dead end. I will finish with the tortured analogies there. Thinking of you. Susan


    1. Hi Susan. Thank you and thank you for making me laugh, it is just what I need and I will stop wallowing in self-pity! I know we will be back on the road in no time and we have years of travelling ahead of us, I just need to hang on to this when the darkness seeps in.
      Good wishes and I keep following your fun travels.


  3. Hi Gary. Thank you for getting in touch, it really helps to hear from other campers who understand how it feels. You are right, life off the road feels sad. We were born to be travellers and currently I feel trapped in the wrong life.
    I’m glad to hear you always leave your van in gear, I would hate this to happen to anyone else and hope by posting this it might help others remember this simple safety precaution.
    With good wishes


  4. Remember metal can be repaired. Sometimes the human body can’t so TG nobody was physically injured. A lesson for us all. Hope it comes back soon.


  5. A hard lesson, and very stressful. Your insurance sounds really good, who is it with as we’re going to Europe in our van soon and need to get sorted out. Cheers, Amanda


    1. Hi Amanda.
      Thank you for getting in touch and for understanding what a toll this has taken on me.
      Yes, our insurance has been very good. We use Safeguard, they provide joint insurance and European breakdown that allows you to be away from the UK for up to 12 months. The breakdown is delivered by the AA who were very professional and helpful. You never know what is going to happen so I would recommend taking the hit and paying for something reliable. Safeguard are part of the Allianz group and we have been dealing with them through the claim. We have a named person we can talk to for updates which is great.
      Good wishes


  6. I know how you feel. We were lucky enough to be in our van when the handbrake didn’t do its job. I managed to leap up and grab it, but not before we’d rolled off the flat surface we were on and into some trees. Fortunately we got away with a cracked light cluster and a few dints, but it does make you feel daft.
    Enjoy exploring a different way for a while, book into a place with a bath, go places you wouldn’t want to take the van. It will be back before you know it and you will be back on the road soon.
    Ju x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your sympathy and thanks for putting a positive spin on things. We have been ‘ticking’ off some Wainwrights in the Lakes where parking is limited and a bit more problematic in our ‘van so we are trying to keep looking on the bright side.
      Good wishes for your travels.


  7. Oh, your poor van!
    Still, as others have mentioned, thank goodness no one was injured and it’s certainly a trip you’ll remember forever.
    I stupidly knocked the poptop off of my old vw campervan leaving a car park about five years ago and friends still tease me about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, I am soaking up all this sympathy and thanks for making me smile with the tale about your pop top. It is great to have friends to keep your feet on the ground and remind you of your failings isn’t it?:) We certainly won’t forget our trip to Greece and we are trying to hang on to the good memories and banish the bad bits.


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