by Deborah Rogers –
Vancouver Island is paradise for camping. You can choose between simple and shady provincial campgrounds, and the many private campgrounds ranging in size and facilities. We all have friends who have RVs or tent trailers, but I’ve never camped in anything other than a tent. This includes many childhood camping holidays in Europe, mainly France, and very many happy trips all over Vancouver Island, Interior B.C. and down into Washington and Oregon. Sometimes on those trips, as I try and stretch out the kinks in my back from another night on the ground, I have campervan envy. Those compact little homes on wheels – neatly equipped with bed, kitchen, table and seating – look like a wonderful upgrade to our basic family tent. For my “Day Out” for our travel issue, I wanted to try renting an RV.
There are plenty of places close to home where you could pick up a camper for a week, but it just so happened that I was heading back to Europe this summer – a perfect opportunity for an adventure on four wheels!
We arranged our camper rental through Indie Campers, entirely online, and so we waited at the arranged pick-up spot, on the train line outside Paris, with a little trepidation, just in case things didn’t turn out to be as we expected. It was a scorching hot day and it had been hard work manoeuvring our pile of bags on and off the train, so we were amused when a camper van turned up and out tumbled a couple with an even bigger pile of luggage! “Good trip?”, “Amazing” – they had travelled right across Europe from Paris all the way to Croatia, and were now heading home to Oz.
As with all rental vehicles, it’s really important to inspect before you drive away. These vans are rented by drivers from around the world, and they had a few dings and scratches to show for it. We photographed all the marks in the paintwork, and hoped we wouldn’t be adding any! Our host gave us a tour of all the gadgets and gizmos. Our van had running water, fridge and a shower, but it was when she showed us how the the front seats rotate and the table folds out that I suddenly got a real burst of excitement! This would be our home for the next three weeks, close quarters true, but with lots of nifty storage spots I knew we would be very comfortable.
Here’s a top tip: request a GPS navigation unit (with English setting); this takes a lot of the worry out of driving away into a strange land. Things to remember: the different speed limits across Europe, the importance of adding the correct kind of gas (diesel for us), not mixing up the gas cap with the opening to add water to the large storage tank, and, the height of the van. It’s quite a bit taller than a car, and many French supermarkets, parking lots and gas stations have height barriers.
Our first destination was a four-and-a-half hour drive to the south, which gave us plenty of time to adjust to the cabin and learn how to work the stereo. The countryside changed as we rolled down the péage (a higher-speed highway where you pay a toll charge), and the temperature gauge on the dash climbed to 34!
The French love to camp (faire de camping), and once the schools have finished at the start of July campsites rapidly fill up with families escaping city heat. We pre-booked our sites because we knew we wanted to stay on some large family-friendly sites with a swimming pool and bar. If you’re a more spontaneous type you could travel around the country with this type of van and stay almost anywhere. You’d be most comfortable with an electric hookup, but you could get by at the most basic of campsites, of which there are thousands.
Hot and still a little jet-lagged, we rolled up to our first campsite at six in the evening. Unlike a tent, there’s almost no set up with a camper van: just plug in to the hookup, pull out the camp chairs and table from the back, and voilà – ready for a cold drink.
There were two double beds in our van, stacked on top of each other, but we had brought a small tent too which the kids were happy to set up for themselves. After dinner as it started to get dark, it was fun to make up the little bed and stash all our belongings in the lockers and compartments. It is cozy, maybe better suited to slightly cooler weather, but we were exhausted and it was no problem to get to sleep.
A huge thunderstorm blew through during the night. Lightning, then thunder then torrential rain. I was very grateful for our sturdy machine. A rap at the door brought one of the tent’s occupants in to join us too, so we got to try out both the beds in the end!
It’s wonderful when something that you plan and think about for so long turns out exactly, or even better, than you had ever imagined. If you’ve always wondered what it’s like to camp in an RV, my advice is to give it a try. Sleeping under canvas will never have the same allure now I’ve tried camping on four wheels. Vive l’adventure!