For those days when I am at home rather than travelling in our Blue Bus, I travel in my head by reading about other people’s journeys. Not surprisingly, I particularly have a weakness for buying travel books where the author stays in a campervan or motorhome and I can live the lifestyle vicariously through the pages of someone else’s trip and maybe learn a thing or two. If you are interesting in reading some of these travel books then read on for recommendations.
Over the years, I have noticed that these campervan and motorhome travel books can be divided into two sub-categories. There are those where the campervan or motorhome is the main event; these are all about the pleasure and fun of the ‘van lifestyle. The second category is books that are about a journey where the motorhome is incidental and just a practical and affordable way to travel.
My own journey with these books started when I read Hazel Jackson’s, Europe in a Motorhome; A mid-life Gap Year Around Southern Europe as part of my planning and preparation for our own mid-life gap year. I found this an excellent and well-written book that was useful before we headed off on our own trip around Europe. Helen Jackson and her partner, bored with the nine-to-five, took their teenage son on a journey in an RV called The Beast, selling their home and possessions.
Leaving winter behind Helen Jackson slept in a different place almost every night and packed in all sorts of activities. She has her share of anecdotes about robberies and small disasters, as well as friendships and beautiful places, all told with humour and sensitivity. She gives a good sense of what such a trip would be like and although Hazel Jackson’s trip was very different from our own in a small VW campervan, it was both a useful reference and an inspiration for our own journey. This book might inspire you to take a gap year but even if it doesn’t it is a good read from beginning to end.
Falling into the second category of journeys that just happen to be in a motorhome are some of my favourites. Some are out of print but you should be able to find them second-hand.
Helena Drysdale’s Mother Tongues, Travels through tribal Europe, focuses on the author’s search for the minority languages in Europe. She travelled around in a motorhome, with her partner and children and she tells lighthearted tales about the scrapes and difficulties they experienced. To save money Helen Drysdale and her family mostly wild-camped and they had a number of interesting experiences in sometimes beautiful and sometimes dodgy areas. She certainly has a way of engaging with strangers to explore the story and she writes well. The book is also a fantastic opportunity for the reader to reflect on how the language we use everyday shapes our attitudes.
Heidi’s Alp, One Family’s search for storybook Europe by Christina Hardyment is one of my will-read-again favourite motorhome related books. Christina Hardyment is a prolific writer and in this book she travels around Europe in a campervan called Bertha with her four children for eight weeks or so. They visit sites relating to childhood stories, exploring Andersons Fairy tales, Heidi’s Alp and Pinocchio’s Italy and bringing these places to life for the children. This is a joyful & honest personal tale with interesting information about these stories. ‘Our journey was not dependent on the places we found, but on how we chose to see them,’ Christina Hardyment tells the reader. This is a charming book, the highlight of which is a night in an Alpine hayloft, reliving Heidi’s story. A great read for those of us who have never grown up, Christina Hardyment will bring back happy memories of old favourites and reveal stories you never knew.
Susie Kelly is a writer who lives in France and Travels with Tinkerbelle: 6,000 Miles around France in a Mechanical Wreck was motivated by her realisation that she had visited very little of her adopted country. With her partner and dog, she bought an elderly campervan and travelled in a circuit around France exploring the history and culture along the way. If you are looking for a guide to owning a motorhome, this isn’t the book for you, but if you are looking for ideas of places to visit in France, this is a great start.
Martin Moran, climber and mountain guide who died recently in the Nanga Devi region, had a plan to climb all the Munros (mountains over 3,000 feet in Scotland) during the winter months back in 1985. Along with his winter clothing and ice-axe, his wife and a motorhome were key to making this possible. His book The Munros in Winter is more about the difficulties of winter mountaineering than about motorhoming but the sense of comfort he found each time he returns to the motorhome shines through.
The Coast Road: A 3,000 Mile Journey Round the Edge of England by Paul Gogarty won awards when it was published in 2005. As relevant today as then, this is a journey around the English coast and an account of how those coastal communities are faring. This travel book has that liberating feeling of a road trip with a purpose and he approaches most places he visits with sensitivity and enthusiasm, although I take issue with his initial description of Morecambe as, ‘After sedate Southport and bubbling Blackpool, Morecambe looks as if it has suffered a recent terrorist attack.’ Paul Gogarty is an excellent travel writer and I forgave him this slip and learnt many things from this well-researched book. From my notes I also see that my other small criticism is that he spends more time in the south than along our northern coasts.
There are any number of motorhome travel books out there that want to tell you how funny / hopeless / quirky they are. These books are often self-published and with some of the writers you will wonder how they even made it across the Channel. Here are examples I have read:
Many people like to name their motorhomes and in How Katie pulled Boris – with an American Motorhome (RV) in Europe by Keith Mashiter not only is the RV named but also the car they towed as well. Written in a format that is more personal diary than travel literature, this couple take a large RV-type motorhome to France and Spain during autumn and winter and the book might be of interest to others contemplating a trip in a similar size vehicle. Keith gives details of road numbers, prices paid, campsites used, places they ate, attractions they visited. He gives a very clear idea of what it is like travelling in such a huge motorhome and the practical difficulties they faced because of the size of the vehicle they took. He occasionally includes small vignettes of the people they met and encounters they had with other motorhomers and campsite owners. This is not a book that gets under the skin of France and Spain, they are very clearly passing through and this is not introspective travel writing. It is clear and concise and based on their experience
Two Clots in a Camper by Steve Coppard – This book has at its heart an appealing idea; two novice campervan owners on their first long trip in France, Spain and Portugal, written in a chatty style. However, there is too much concentration on the beer, wine and food they partake in during their trip to be of any real interest as travel literature. If this is your cup of tea then give it a go.
One Steppe Beyond: Across Russia in a VW Camper by Thom Wheeler. Thom Wheeler and Jo set off in a VW bay window called Max to Estonia. There they hear about the possibility of work in Vladivostok and enterprisingly set off across Russia. Thom’s account is honest and interesting. This means that the reader is told when his relationship with Jo is tested and when they are naive in their dealings with Russians. This innocence and sense of adventure gets them through and they enjoy the kindness of strangers many times. The book doesn’t give lots of practical details about shopping, banking or driving in Russia although he does tell his reader when the roads run out and they have to take the train and when they can’t access any currency. We hear about the problems getting a visa and crossing the border and the constant checking of papers. The narrative is interspersed with facts about a place. I couldn’t help but admire their spirit, travelling across Russia in 1997 and the beauty of the landscape in many places came through the words. The book also manages to give some sense of the vastness of Russia and the spirit of the people.
Never Ask Why by Barbara Phipps This travel book isn’t quite what I expected. I assumed it would be a tale of a woman in her 50s, grieving after the death of her husband, setting off on a journey in a motorhome to heal and discover herself; the book does cover this subject area but in a surprising way. The first section is about Helen; it is two years since her husband suddenly died and she decides to take control and buys a motorhome. Helen has an open and relaxed attitude and the reader feels confident that she will enjoy travels in her van. She has an urge to get away but worries about her two sons; they both still live at home, have good jobs and are in their 20s. Strangely, for someone who seems to have a good rapport with young people from the encounters we read about, Helen struggles to communicate with those dearest to her and she doesn’t tell her son’s about her travel plans or her wish that they would move out of the family home. The novel gives a light touch to relationships and events and I found I wanted more depth to her characters to understand their actions. In the second part of the novel we are transported to a different world of drug taking and murders and for some time this appears to have no connection with the first part of the novel, until the two worlds collide. Homorously and sometimes a little clumsily, Helen tells her reader how she learnt lessons from the people she meets on her travels and this was an interesting and diverting read.
Allie Sommerville’s Uneasy Rider, Confessions of a Reluctant Traveller – This claims to be an ‘antidote-to-travel book! Allie Somerville has written a book with a collection of stories about travelling in their camper van. This is not a then-we-went-here chronological travel book, Allie has grouped incidents together under chapter headings, for example small problems with the van and money concerns. Some chapters refer to just one incident and I simultaneously cringed and smiled at the Parador chapter when they struggled through narrow Spanish streets; rather them than me. Allie Somerville looks for the humour in situations and tries to convey this in her writing, which is a difficult task. However, she does manage to transmit to her reader the delight to be found from touring in her campervan, the pleasure of meeting various fellow campers and the entertaining encounters you can have at a campsite.
Do any readers have their own favourite campervan or motorhome travel books?