One of the beautiful things about having a van, is that you can go pretty much anywhere in it, whenever you fancy. My partner Andy and I have been to 14 different countries in our DIY campervan over the course of 2 years. With the van being our only vehicle, we have covered alpine passes in several mountain ranges, a number of capital cities across Europe, driven through abandoned mines, villages containing nothing but a single house, and many, many trips in to our beautiful national parks.
We are spoiled for choice when it comes to options on where to go in a van, and there are plenty of fantastic trips, journeys and adventures out there that just scream ‘come and drive me!’. Here are some of the already established routes that makes us want to just pack up and drive into the sunset.
North Coast 500 (https://www.northcoast500.com/)
Close to home and packed full of stunning scenery, quiet beaches and cute seaside villages, the NC500 is a well-known driving route whose popularity has boomed in recent years.
Mongol Rally (http://www.theadventurists.com/mongol-rally)
The big one. The all-in. The real deal. From the U.K. to Mongolia and as much as you can fit in between. The Mongol Rally doesn’t just have to be done as part of an organised charity rally (though it’s pretty awesome if you do!). There’s nothing stopping you from attempting rallies like this one outside of the season, on your own terms.
Monte Carlo or Bust (https://www.bustrallies.com/black-forest-gateau)
‘Bust’ rallies are a brilliant long-weekender. The idea is to pick a large city in mainland Europe, and drive there in whatever adventurous fashion you can manage along the way. Often a short and sweet version of the longer rallies like the Mongol Rally above, ‘bust’ rallies are a more affordable version, or for those who don’t have quite so much time on their hands.
Continental Overlands e.g. New Zealand and Australia, Africa, and of course America
These are the classics. The ones that many dream to do but few actually go and do. But why? With a van, your accommodation is already sorted, and if you’re hiring a lot of big rental companies will let you hire from one airport and drop off at another one (albeit for a fee). Some people have even been known to buy a van, do the trip and then sell it again at the end of it. There are always ways and means.
But you don’t just have to stick to well established routes to get you started on your first long distance journey. Our first trip consisted of a 5 week, 6000 mile, 9 country epic around the middle of mainland Europe.
We had a start and an end point (the U.K.), and a date in the middle where we had arranged to meet friends (in Hungary). What happened in between those things was something which happily worked itself out along the way – meaning, we didn’t really have a plan, we just knew we had to be in Hungary on a certain date. This meant that we could go as slow or as fast on any particular day as we wanted, stop where we wanted when we wanted to, and if we wanted to spend more time in a place, we could. So we just wandered and explored the places that were of interest to us in the van, taking each day as it came. This trip format isn’t for everyone and can be quite daunting or stressful for some, but for us it was something that we enjoyed so much that we decided to make a tradition out of it. Our second big trip was of the same format, except this time we were meeting some friends in Portugal, turning a Friday night drive into a 3 week, 4000 mile, 3 country culture immersion.
Of course, we do have a few resources which help direct us on where we might light to visit, that we return to time and time again. We make full use of the online encyclopaedia of unusual places that is Atlas Obscura (https://www.atlasobscura.com/). This way we can find some really cool and often totally unique sights, but often without the crowds or the price tag. We are also big fans of UNESCO sites, so maps like the National Geographic Adventure Map (they do one for most countries around the world and can be bought online), aim to highlight all the best bits and must-sees of a country, which is always useful to know and ensures that we don’t miss anything spectacular on our way passed.
The other thing of course, as the rallies mentioned above will have alluded to, is that long-distance road trips aren’t just for campervans. During our recent NC500 trip, we travelled with friends whose accommodation was a trusty two-man tent that they would pitch every single night, without a hitch. We have even helped some of our friends – who loved the idea of a van, but didn’t want the size – to convert a Ford Fiesta into a camping car, by building a fold-up sleeping platform in the boot!
By embracing the idea of freedom, going back to basics, and forcing ourselves to be laidback about any outcomes or situations that may arise, we are able to get so much more out of what can be perceived as just a ‘long drive’. Not only do our road trips still tend to work out cheaper (and better for the environment) than if we had planned a more traditional holiday, but we tend to get to see, do and experience so much more as well.
Perhaps it’s time to hit the road!