We set out in August 2011 to spend three months driving around Europe, primarily visiting places outside the main cities such as Paris or Rome. East was our (rough) destination, where we knew life would be cheaper and warmer than the North. We ended up visiting 18 countries in the end, the start being France and the furthest point as Turkey. About two-thirds of our time was spent in South-Eastern Europe, from Croatia to Romania.
For a good few years I had wanted to travel overland across Europe by road mainly to see countryside and towns, places typically harder to reach if purely using trains and buses. I didn’t really want to go in a big motorhome/RV either, for one thing, there’s no way I could have ever afford one, or driven it. I also liked the idea of wild or stealth camping – parking outside of campgrounds in rural areas for free – which I believed was harder to do with a quite obvious looking motorhome.
It remained an unlikely dream until I met a certain someone in New Zealand in 2009, who didn’t dismiss my slightly mad idea. In both Australia and NZ there is a surprisingly large number of cars about that are converted into makeshift campervans (by professional companies as well as travellers themselves) – Jean Robert in fact owned one himself in New Zealand in 09/10. There are a few companies in the UK and France who hire out cars of this type, but for long-term rental the cost is actually ridiculous (£4,000+). What’s more, none of the companies were willing to insure us for some of the places we want to go. So we decided to buy our own people carrier and convert it ourselves.
Our mini campervan
Come early May 2011, we bought a lovely blue 1996 8-seater automatic Toyota Lucida (only 90,000 miles!!) and hideously expensive insurance. The latter was actually harder to find than the car as it seemed everything was against us – age (me, young), foreigner (him), questionable destinations (I’m looking at you, Balkan countries), time in Europe (over the usual month limit), large and powerful car.
We (well, Jean Robert really) had a few issues doing the actual conversion – the main problem being that we lived on the seafront in Brighton, a small but busy city with absolutely nowhere for us to park a vehicle. So we stored the car at my Grandmothers house, who lived 15 miles away; a good problem solver, but this inevitably meant that JR didn’t end up having much time to work on it, so really what we ended up living in for three months was really a work-in-progress!