4 weeks, 5000 kilometers, 9 countries, thousands of litres of Diesel, 1 car spew, a few crazy drivers, lots of GPS navigation malfunctions, 1 day of the “silent treatment” (Carl’s fault entirely of course!!!), 11 campgrounds, countless car singing sessions, smiles, laughs and plenty of ice cream…. This is the complete rundown of our European road trip so far. Living the dream right??? Well most of the time!!!
Our 7 seater Citroen wagon affectionately named “Quasi” is so far serving us well. We fit like a glove and everything and everyone has a spot. With our six 7kg backpacks stacked in the back, a bag or 2 of food and a few accumulated balls, beach toys and towels we are pretty much at the limited of what can fit. Skateboards, scooters and extra toys are high on the kids wishlist every time we go near a shopping mall but our standard answer of “we are collecting memories, not things” always applies. They are always slightly disappointed with this answer but soon forget about it and start requesting ice cream and lollies instead.
Our initial ideal route had to be changed considerably when trying to find reasonably priced accommodation in certain places became impossible. Although it is not yet peak summer holiday time here in Europe, it is still incredibly busy and accommodation prices are creeping up higher and higher. Not ideal when your a family of 6 on a tight budget. After getting great advice from friends back home in NZ we decided that we would try and stay at Eurocamp campgrounds for a large portion of our roadie. Eurocamp is a company which offers family accommodation in the form of cabins and fully set up tents and they have parks all through Europe. Now, we are regular campers back home in NZ and have been to some great campgrounds with playgrounds, beaches and the odd pool. BUT we were not expecting this when we decided to camp around Europe. These campgrounds are insane and most offer better facilities than our entire town at home. Huge pool complexes, water slides, soccer fields, splash parks, bars, restaurants and supermarkets are the norm, as well as fantastic kids clubs where our kids have enjoyed baking, painting, bonfires, games, sports and shows. It would be very easy to spend up to 2 weeks in one of these campgrounds and you wouldn’t have to leave the grounds once. We generally get a 2 bedroom cabin which has 2 sets of bunks and a queen bed. A complete kitchen with everything you need and our own bathroom and deck. We have also used a safari tent which is all set up with 6 beds, fridge/freezer, complete kitchen set up and outdoor living area. Unbelievably great value as you get use of all the campground facilities including the kids club and sometimes even free WIFI. One of our campsites in Amsterdam even had a complete theme park attached to it. “Go and have a quick roller coaster ride while I get dinner ready kids”!!! We never pay anymore than $100NZ a night and sometimes as low as $60NZ a night. The prices vary depending on length of stay, day of the week and time of the year. Once the European school holidays start next month it will be impossible to get any accommodation at these places but luckily I have booked some places in advance.
So we started our roadie 4 weeks ago in Paris. Picking up a left hand drive vehicle and getting used to driving on the right side of the road straight out of Charles De Gaulle airport in central Paris was once again a very quick learning curve. Not knowing our direction and unsure how to work the cars GPS added to our scene of adventure and fun!!! Nevertheless we found our Eurocamp 30 minutes out of Paris and its amazing how fast our little Quasi was already looking a lot like our family wagon at home. Biscuit crumbs, broken chips, dirty tissues, sand and dirt appeared out of nowhere and within hours our beautiful brand new car had been given the 4 kid treatment and was already looking, shall we say, “homely”. Considering ourselves public transport pros we decided to get the bus/train combo from our campground into Paris central. We used this strategy in Rome and Amsterdam as well having decided that we didn’t want to take Quasi into the huge city centers and pay our entire daily budget on parking.
Since mastering the GPS we have found driving through Europe to be relativity easy. Huge motorways take you from city to city or country to country. No border crossings (except Switzerland and Croatia which aren’t part of the EU), just a small road sign that indicates you are in another country. The EU makes things extremely easy for tourists. Being able to move freely from country to country without having to change money or worry about visas is fantastic. So far we have driven north from Paris to Normandy then stopping in Belgium for a lunch of waffles and chocolate we drove on to The Netherlands. Not being able to find accommodation in Berlin we changed our route and drove south to Brussels and into Luxembourg. We then crossed into Germany just south of Frankfurt. Deciding to head straight down into Italy we did a monster driving day where we spent about 9 hours in the car. No idea why but we decided to firstly drive 1 hour out of our way to see the worlds biggest cuckoo clock…. Big mistake!!! Why, when already facing a huge drive we would decide to take a big detour, I have no idea. We laugh about it now… kind of!!!
After being “wowed” by the cuckoo clock we spent the day driving through the whole of Switzerland from north to south, through Zurich and along the side of the Switz Alps. Now this did actually “WOW” us and we stopped for a hour or so to skim stones in a lake and take numerous selfies with the beauty of Mother Nature. Finally making it to our Eurocamp in Lake Garda in Northern Italy about 9pm that night we celebrated with pizza and gelato and vowed never to spend that long in the car again. Although you may think this sounds like an absolute blast with family car dance offs and hilarious games of eye spy, let me assure you that its not like the movies. Whinging, fighting, crying for food, spilling water and more fighting was the general theme for the day. ARRRR….fun times!!! After Lake Garda we stopped for a few days in Tuscany and then it was onto Rome. Having already booked an airbnb house in Croatia we were on a tight time frame and only spent 5 nights in Rome. Another big car day (only 6 hours, so not too long) took us from Rome to an overnight stay near Venice before heading through Slovenia and onto Croatia. Only overnighting in Venice didn’t give us the time to go into the center but we are planning to return there shortly. On average we spent about 3 hours driving from place to place. I try to limit it to 5 hours tops with the odd big day if needed. I remember back in NZ when we headed up to Auckland from our home in Papamoa which was a 3 hour drive. It was a big event and I would prepare for days on end. I would load the car up with snacks, drinks, a toy box, books and more snacks. Ha, how this makes me laugh now. A 3 hour trip is now about the equivalent to a 20 min drive up the road. It requires no preparation and the kids don’t even blink an eye. Its no big deal and will be over before we know it. The fact that we did some huge 15 hour bus trips in Asia probably helps with this too.
4 weeks in and my worry that Europe would completely blow our budget has disappeared. Driving days where we have big expenses such as diesel and road tolls are then off set by days in the campgrounds where we just explore the local area. Being able to shop at discount supermarkets and self cater in our cabin saves us heaps of money. Road tolls are an unavoidable evil of European Roadies. After 4 weeks our road toll expenses equal close to 160 Euro which is about $250NZ. Knowing this would be the case I have included a tolls section in our overall budget but it still doesn’t make it any easier when you roll up to the window and 21 Euro flashes up on the screen. Too much pizza and gelato in Italy has blown both the budget and my waistline but fortunalty we did France, Luxembourg and Germany under budget so its all evening out. The waistline is another story though!!!
So we are now here in our very own airbnb house in Croatia for the next month. Purposely getting a home base in north Croatia right on the border with Slovenia is going to give us the ability to do day trips or overnight trips up to Slovenia, Hungary and possibly even Prague in the Czech Republic. No we don’t have a huge pool complex, kids club or even a splash park but we have our very own house in a small village in gorgeous Croatia with the beach down the hill and the local market up the road. We have the ability to explore as much or as little as we want and to the kids disgust, we can catch up on some much needed schoolwork. Its time for us to take it slow for a while and just enjoy having our own space. As always, we need to do some onward travel research and unfortunately the time has come where we need to start thinking about the tail end of this big adventure and making plans to squeeze in as many more “bucket list” items as possible. We are still not sure how or when this crazy trip will end but we can be sure that the last half of it is going to be just as much fun as the first half.
European roadie, 4 weeks in and loving it!!!! (Most of the time) xxx