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All the way to Barcelona in a VW Campervan hire. How to plan a campervan road trip
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How to plan a campervan road trip

How to Plan a Campervan Road Trip.

Thinking of planning a campervan road trip, but don’t know where to start? Don’t despair, we are going to share some of our top tips for how we plan a campervan road trip.

During Easter 2018, we took our first extended European tour. You can read about our adventure here. We learnt a lot and discovered many useful online tools while setting out to plan a campervan road trip. We thought it would be useful to share.

We learned three golden nuggets of advice. Your first draft will be way over ambitious. Plan to be flexible. If you’re heading to Europe, consider your Channel crossing carefully.

The first lesson we learnt while we started to plan a campervan road trip. Your first draft is always over ambitious.

RoutePerfect was an amazing discovery. This online route planner isn’t a dedicated tool purely to plan a campervan road trip, but it really helps you get your head around staging your journey relatively quickly.

To tailor your experience you are invited to add details.

How long your road trip will be?

When you are going to travel?

Who’s traveling with you?

What is the focus of the trip? Romantic. Friends. Family. Solo.

You can also filter your search further using a handy slider bar. It then offers you unexpected destinations en route, which are not too challenging to drive in a day. This final aspect of the tool is the perfect reality check for the distances you plan to travel. Yes, it is physically possible to travel down to Salamanca, through Portugal and across to Andalusia. Before journeying back up the Mediterranean Coast and home. But do you have time to stop?

RoutePerfect does have its limitations however. It likes to work out linear routes. If you want to create a loop then you need to be patient. Input too many destinations at once and it tends to freeze. I experimented with putting my start and finish point in first, the algorithms will give you a random route. As you add more destinations and length of stays, the route suggestions become more relevant. It also uses wikipedia to give you background information on your destinations.

As our road trip was going to be in Europe, I quickly learned that it was best to start from the ferry terminals in France. This avoided irrelevant suggestions like London.

Just like google maps or a satnav, Routeperfect seems to connect stages via the fastest roads, rather than the most scenic. We wanted to be able to meander, so another level of research became necessary.

Twitter was a mine of information and signposted us to some amazing travel blogs. The lovely thing about twitter is you can chat to the bloggers who are usually more than happy to talk about their travel experiences.

Don’t discount old school guide books and good road maps. Lonely Planet’s “Spain & Portugals Best Road Trips  proved to be excellent inspiration. Pouring over a good detailed road map can give you a good overview of the land you are thinking of covering and can reveal more interesting and scenic routes.

Don’t overbook campsites.

Our second piece of advice when you plan a camper van road trip has to be, plan to be flexible. This applies whether you are thinking of a few days away or an extended tour of Europe.

Don’t book places to stay in advance if you can help it.

Unless you’re traveling in the school summer holidays or busy bank holidays, don’t make the mistake of booking too many campsites in advance. It’s beneficial not to restrict your options. You get so much more flexibility. Follow the weather, stay on longer if you find a little slice of paradise, or make a quick escape if it’s not.

Having worked out several possible routes, we quickly decided the only advance bookings we were going to make was our transport across the Channel. Our rational: We wanted the freedom to follow the sun. To stay longer if we found somewhere wonderful. Get out quickly if it’s the pits. Try somewhere unexpected on a chance recommendation.

Our next digital discovery made this decision so much easier. 

The Camper Contact App made choosing campsites on the hoof so easy. Type in your destination and the map zooms in showing you most, if not all camping options in the area including free Aires throughout France. Zoom out or move the map along to see neighbouring options. A quick click gives you access to all important customer reviews, links to websites, contact details and directions via google maps.

Luckily France has an amazing network of Aires to choose from. These are over-night stop-over spots for motorhomes and campervans. They vary greatly. Some are free, others charge. They are found in villages, towns and rural locations across France. Some have facilities others are just designated parking spaces. Do your research and make your choice carefully. Camper Contact is perfect for this, but there are other websites and publications. The rule of thumb is stay away from motorway Aires. They are amazing for a rest break during the day, they are quiet and spotlessly clean. But at night, it is all too easy for criminals to zip in and zip out. They quickly cover multiple stopovers along popular stretches of motorway looking for lone victims. Many villages and towns have safe spots quite often outside the local police station.

When considering suitable campsites and motorhome stopovers, our VW California Ocean Campers offer amazing flexibility. The vans appliances, lighting etc all are powered from its two huge leisure batteries. So long as you don’t need to plug in a hair dryer, you’re free from being tied to mains electrics. Ok so we don’t have a toilet or shower built in, but it’s small footprint allows us to access places larger motorhomes cannot reach. There isn’t a country lane too narrow to investigate or a city car park height restriction too low to contemplate. We were happy to forego a daily shower every now and then and took our collapsible eco toilet for occasions when location, location, location outweighed facilities, facilities, facilities.

Crossing into Mainland Europe

When you plan a campervan road trip, think carefully about your channel crossing. If you are traveling from the West Country, there are quite a few options to consider. The first being your destination. Second being how long you have to travel. If you are heading to Spain or Portugal, have less than a month and your travel dates are non negotiable, you need to do your research thoroughly.

The Eurotunnel is always worth keeping in mind. Its cheap, quick and plentiful. Meaning there is always a train to suit your timetable morning, noon or night. But you do clock up the miles driving all the way to Kent and then back through France. It’s fine if you have plenty of time to meander your way to Spain.

When you plan a campervan road trip from the westcountry, we are well served by ferry terminals. Portsmouth, Pool and Plymouth are all easily accessible. The 24 hour ferry to Santander or Bilbao comes to mind first. Heading out from either Portsmouth or Plymouth this ferry gets you straight into Northern Spain. Of course it does chop out a huge amount of driving, delivering you fresh and ready to start your road trip in Spain. But the route across the Bay of Biscay is a notoriously rough crossing. You are also limited as to when you can travel and it is the most expensive rout too.

There are sailings to five French ferry ports to look at, each sailing at different times, days and speeds. After extensively looking though all options we plumbed for an overnight crossing from Portsmouth to Caen. It wasn’t too expensive. It sailed the evening our boy finished school. Most importantly it landed in France at a very respectable 7.30am. Even with a couple of overnight stops and city visits we were by the Mediterranean before the first Santander crossing, available in our time frame landed in Northern Spain.

On our return we opted for the long drive to Calais as the Eurotunnel offered us the latest possible crossing back to the UK on the Sunday evening before school the next morning.