Three months into their year-long travels in NiKi, the Elddis Encore motorhome, we caught up with Karen to find out what life is REALLY like on the road for her and David... and what advice they would give others thinking of following suite.
"It's hard to believe that three months ago to this day we were on our way to Portsmouth to catch the evening ferry to Santander to begin our year-long adventure in a motorhome, our Elddis Encore 254."
So, three months later, what has life in a motorhome been like for me?
"As we parked up to board the ferry that evening along with all the freight lorries and what seemed like every motorhome and caravan there was in the UK, it was like first day at secondary school and I really felt like the new kid at class, the beginner. How on earth we were going to cope with it all? All these people were or seemed seasoned motorhomers who knew where they were heading, why and how to cope with it all!
"All we knew was that we were heading to the south for one month and staying on a camp site there whilst we attempted to learn some Spanish. Thankfully we had already decided to change the initial plan of bolting down to the south in two days with just one overnight stop and starting school on the Monday.
"After the stress and strain of leaving long term jobs, packing homes and good-byes to our families and friends we thankfully realised that this was too much of a deal- we needed time to get to drive the van, get to know a bit more of how it all worked and just have a break to get ourselves together.
"Certainly as the ferry pulled into Santander some 3 hours late we were glad we did. Of course you can get to the south in that time and certainly in car it wouldn’t be a problem, but for two novice motorhomers …No! So, after some sound advice from a fellow passenger we made our first stop on an aire just outside Santander.
"With the rain pouring down when we arrived and through to the morning it was still lovely to wake up on a very pretty place with a lake and hills around us. ‘If all stop places are like this, happy days!’ I thought, but of course they’re not. They are all different, whether they are camp site, paid-for Aires, free Aires or just parking places.
"As we have travelled, this for me has been one of the more interesting aspects with many motorhomers choosing to ‘freedom camp’ rather than stop on camp sites. This aspect of motorhoming is really a matter of how you feel, what you choose and also what is available close to where you want to be.
"Three months on, I would still say that camp sites or the mid-way Aires, where you pay less but get some amenities are my favourite. In the online world people say that you’re not real motorhomers unless you just park up anywhere (within reason). Personally I think that’s nonsense! Your life and world in the van is the same, be it on a camp site or a road somewhere … but I prefer some electricity on tap, chairs out, perhaps a restaurant and a nice setting. Plus for me I love the people watching on camp sites- all nationalities - their habits, ways etc.
"Everyone is very different in how they operate and behave. I do feel that it’s important especially perhaps for older potential motorhomers to realise that there are many lovely campsites in Spain in the most amazing settings you don’t just have to park in bleak and perhaps uncomfortable places. It’s your choice, you have the motorhome, make your call on it. Finding campsites has been interesting and I do think that by now we have every app, book etc. that is possible to find options to stay. There is a wealth of guides out there. Some do overlap but many not and I think we have all aspects covered now!
"To begin with, especially for the cities, we were slightly despondent about placement and getting to see things, as the sites all seemed so far away. But there are always options on how to get from the campsites and Aires to the places of interest - be it cycling, walking or indeed public transport - and we now know that any of these work well. A lot of sites are situated near public transport with advice on how to make the journey and maps of the cities/towns etc."
"Driving a very big vehicle that isn’t your own and is brand new is a big learning curve. It would be nerve-wracking enough if the motorhome didn’t belong to Elddis. But everyone starts off as a ‘newbie’ and Elddis want us to share our experience and advice as first-timers with other newbies!
"When we picked up ‘NiKi’ – as we have nicknamed her - from Elddis I was insistent that I drove her away there and then, because otherwise it would have been just easy not too and that’s not fair to David … or me as I actually do like driving! With car hire on holiday I like to get the first drive done and out of the way. ‘Under my belt’, as it were.
"Driving NiKi is lovely, the motorhome drives very well and easily, but manoeuvring is a different issue especially when jumping up from my small MG. In comparison, NiKi is long and wide and the backside swings out. All of these things we have to remember, plus of course the height especially when making turns, reversing etc., plus your blind spots.
"In general we have found that most country roads here - even some of the ‘white’ ones - are drivable. It’s the small towns or even cities where not only are the roads narrower but you also have to overcome the wonderful parking here. As much as we might curse traffic wardens in the UK, there has been many a time when I wished the parking restrictions here were a lot stricter, even just down to the double parking or parking on corners. That’s when the driving becomes a challenge.
"Parking up at sites, even if I have been doing the driving, I just leave to David now. It saves the arguing! So ‘simples’ … I hop over to passenger seat or get out and wave him in, then it’s down to him!"
"Security is a question we have also been asked about often – both our personal safety and security of our living arrangement. Thus far I can truthfully say I have not felt unsafe in any way. We have, yes, lost a wallet with our cards in it, but really we should have been more aware that day and we weren’t.
"The stolen bike, whilst not our fault - it can happen anywhere – has made us more aware and security-concious, but you have to be realistic. How many locks can we carry (they are heavy)? Plus, who wants to take the seat and pedals off … again heavy, especially if taking a day in a city. Bad luck happens and we will do what we have to do to try and prevent it happening again, as unfortunately for us insurance on personal effects was not an option travelling for a year. It doesn’t exist. Insurance companies only want the short term risk or it was prohibitively expensive and still the max pay out was only about £500 once. This is an area that could and should be improved on, as the longer the travel does not mean the higher the risk.
"This is our life for 12 months and therefore we are more careful with our belongings then a 2 week holiday maker. I do have jewellery with me, but not everything I own and again I have not felt at risk wearing it anywhere and for me my bracelets and rings are part of what I am! Again the risk travelling is probably the same as at home taking them off when washing your hands or something like that, not someone grabbing them off your fingers. So please if this has happened to you and I do know it does than I am sorry but in real terms it is hopefully unlikely!
"We have heard all the many horrific tales about gassing and other scams whilst driving etc. but thus far we haven’t experienced them ourselves and nor have we actually meet anyone on the road who has experienced this - thankfully they remain the tabloid headline-grabbing exception. Again the warmer months are approaching and we are going to have to have roof windows open, but again we will take as many precautions as we can to prevent any invasion of our space and home."
Storage … and Personal Space!
"Living in a small space has been great and a question often asked is ‘Does it feel like home?’ Yes it does and I can honestly say that both of us love the living in our Elddis Encore motorhome.
"The space works for us and we both really love the bed. It’s a proper mattress and is extremely comfortable. Having looked at many motorhomes when deciding to do this trip, having a fixed bed was our number one criteria- for a year we did not want the back-hurting task of taking up and putting away beds and we wanted a bed that was comfortable. We certainly have this with the Elddis Encore.
"As a bit of a non-sleeper, the bed hasn’t made me sleep any better or worse but I do just love snuggling down into it! The lounge area works a treat for us as well and we both have adopted our own side, me usually with my feet up along the sofa in a very relaxed position, with our cushions and throws. Like home, we also seem now to be getting a collection of stuff on the walls, making it really like our home back in London. We don’t - or haven’t thus far - used the captain’s chairs i.e. the driving seats that turn, but that’s only because there are only the 2 of us and the sofas work for us. I like the fact that in this model we don’t have a huge front driving area but a proper space behind for living and eating.
"Storage-wise we still do actually have some space left to fill! As we were close to our weight limit when we left then we need to watch that, but in general it’s only clothes, shoes (!!) and local craft stuff (made in China) so we should be fine. My small hanging wardrobe works well and we each have our own locker over the bed into which I can still squeeze in some more clothes should I need to!
"Food and kitchen space people might have a bit of difference on with this model. If I’m honest - and if we did do a lot more cooking - then probably the storage space isn’t as good as it might be for some. But we shop as and when we need to, using the local markets and stores wherever we can to get fresh produce. I don’t need four cans of baked beans and two jars of coffee in reserve, therefore for us it works and we have adapted the space to suit.
"We have a basket with those jars and tins etc at the foot of the bed and we use the oven space as well for storage of the spices, pasta, rice etc. There will of course be a day when we switch the oven on and forget to take it all out! The oven is a debate for many and again for us, where trying and eating local food is a huge part of the trip, we probably could get away without an oven at all and just use the hob. The electric ring is very useful, as we use this all the time when hooked up rather than the gas.
"The microwave is also used to store the plates, bowls etc and that works really well. We do use the microwave as well but again, probably like home, for warming things through. We have space under the sofa/pull out bed areas as well which, although a bit tricky to get to, does house those things that you don’t need or have to use each day, like David’s golf clubs. I would say our winter things, but we aren’t out of them entirely yet, but that type of thing.
"In this model there are many areas of storage and like at home you adapt to them and after three months we have adapted to the space so that it works for us and this is what motorhomers do, you work with the space to suit. Some things are stuffed in places in an un-ideal fashion but as long as they don’t move when travelling, that’s fine. We still have things we’re sure we brought with us but can’t find and we ‘lose’ things on a regular basis only to turn up when you have stopped looking for them, but that’s life in general isn’t it?!
"The actual logistics of operating the van i.e. water, gas filling, toilet emptying falls to David in the main, as he likes all his ‘manly’ chores - bit like men and BBQs! I could do it and I should do it, but I have my chores as well, which are, yes, generally on the whole, a bit more pleasant. But again, as in normal life, we all have our divisions of labour in the house and we do in the van.
"With a motorhome it’s more about keeping to a routine though and that one person has their own routines which work. Plus David is quite obsessive about these things and I wouldn’t do them to his extracting standards, so I keep well out! These are my excuses and I’m sticking to the!. However, one day, just for the record, I’ll do the ‘poo and wee run’!!"
Budgeting and Spending on a Year-long Trip
"Budget and money-wise we are on target more or less, but again that could change as the Summer months hit and sites become more expensive.
"However, budget and money is really your decision and is not effected by actual motorhome habits. Where, when and how you stop, shop and eat is your choice and that, too, is dependent on your budget. Obviously, one of the real benefits of a motorhome - should you choose to eat in and freedom camp - is that you can do it very cheaply indeed. But this was not our personal choice. We have the benefit of a lovely van and have been able to fund this trip for a year in the way we want (at this moment in time, anyway!).
"Same with country choice. That again is the benefit of a motorhome - you can go where you like when you like and we have enjoyed the benefit of this in recent months when the weather has turned and we have been able just to pack up and go somewhere else! We have chosen to stay in Spain as we want to enjoy the country, lifestyle and culture and we don’t want to be moving every night to a different place and driving for miles - but this really is your decision and depends on what kind of trip you like. A lot of people we have met so far on our travels do enjoy the seeing different places each day and want to be able to see as many countries and places as they can – which a motorhome makes possible.
"In general, motorhomes are all about freedom and about having the ability to have your home comforts with you but also to be able to see and experience different places. Three months on, we love it and we love our Elddis Encore and wouldn’t change it for all the Hymers in the World!!"
"PS - In answer to one last question- do we argue living in such a small space?.. Of course we do! We did before, so why should that change?!"
Follow our Grey Gappers' Iberian Adventure: http://thegreygappers.co.uk/