Monday, February 26, 2024

Road trip nirvana: How to campervan around Spain like a pro

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Enjoy a successful Spanish road trip in a campervan. Photo / Getty Images

A Spanish road trip in a campervan is a bucket-list experience, but you’d be wise to consider a thing or two before pushing her into first gear, writes Alex Mitcheson.

Hitting the open road with an empty schedule in front of you and everything you need around you in the form of a motorhome is freedom exemplified. It’s independence incarnate. Playlist ready. Snacks aplenty. Worries none.

In September of last year, my partner and I embarked on a two-week road trip starting and finishing in the tourist mecca of Barcelona, Spain. On paper, two weeks in a small motorhome with a vague idea of where you’re going and out-of-office auto-replies firmly in place should sound good to anyone.

And to be doing it through one of Europe’s most electrifying and gastronomically enticing countries was merely icing on the cake — but there were interesting parts to the experience which have been mentally scribbled down for the next time: a shopping list of considerations in achieving road-trip nirvana.

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Alex Mitcheson embarked on a two-week Spanish road trip with his partner. Photo / Supplied
Alex Mitcheson embarked on a two-week Spanish road trip with his partner. Photo / Supplied

Getting used to road conditions

Only 15 minutes into our journey, I entered a roundabout and turned left. Luckily — and by the grace of some higher being, probably — there wasn’t a car in sight. We quickly scurried off at our exit with much looking around and our tail firmly between our legs. After this stark wake-up call, I was voicing the words, “turn right, give way to the left” at every roundabout for the rest of the day. It’s the sort of thing you only do once.

But jumping behind the wheel in a place where driving on the right is the status quo, you should run through scenarios like this in your head and visualise what they look like. A little practice could prevent a serious accident — and nobody wants to spill fries everywhere when you’re caught off guard at the drive-through. Later that first day, we found the motorway and joined the steady stream.

With a speed limit of 120km — and everybody displaying the inclination to exceed this threshold — we quickly found out you either keep up or get swallowed up between horns and multi-trailer trucks. All up, not an ideal place to find yourself.

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Comfort and organisation

You’ll find many mod-cons in an average motorhome, and because space is at a premium, the bed can often be an afterthought. Unfortunately, our mattress was so thin I think I’ve slept on comfier floors. Because you have the luxury of being on holiday, it can be said a couple of alcoholic libations will help in this area. Otherwise, it’s wise to check your sleeping situation before heading off into the sunset.

Out on the road, you begin to have some semblance of autonomy quickly and finding pockets and corners for all your belongings expedites settling into your new home.

I foolishly got carried away with this notion and misplaced toiletries — which I then rebought — and a book I was absorbed in for a few days before finding them all again. Beware of these mythical tucked-away cupboards vying for your belongings; there’s a chance you may not see them again.

With so many pockets and nooks for your belongings; there’s a chance you may not see them again. Photo / 123rf
With so many pockets and nooks for your belongings; there’s a chance you may not see them again. Photo / 123rf

Busy places and tight spaces

I knew we had made a mistake when the first car cut in front of us. Driving into downtown Madrid — a city with double the population of Auckland — is no easy undertaking on any given day.

Spaniards are fiery drivers. Add to this rush hour and the fact we were in a large vehicle with multiple blind spots, and I was about to undertake the scariest half an hour of driving in my life.

Cars swerving all over, narrow lanes, incomprehensible traffic lights, and electric scooters with death wish all pushed me to the limit. Somehow, we managed to navigate the melee with only one screaming match and not a single bumper altercation. The next part was parking.

By choosing to stay in the CBD, we now had to park our home on wheels in an off-street courtyard likely built hundreds of years ago for horses — not a three-and-half-tonne piece of German engineering.

To this day, I don’t understand how we managed to get in, there were numerous micro adjustments and a knocked-over pot plant, but we got there. I do, however, have a few grey hairs now as a souvenir. Not the best at parking? Practise or get somebody else to do it.

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It can be a tight squeeze driving through Spain's city streets. Photo / 123rf
It can be a tight squeeze driving through Spain’s city streets. Photo / 123rf

Toilet troubles

Whilst on the outskirts of San Sebastian, we had such an engrossing time between sightseeing, gorging ourselves on fabulous food, and swilling back superb wines, that I forgot to empty the holding tank for our onboard toilet. (I say ‘I’ because this was somehow designated as my job).

With a sizeable hangover one morning, I had no choice but to pluck up the courage and do the deed whilst other jovial European tourists milled about and nodded me their bonjours, guten tags, and hallos. Not an experience I look back on fondly, but a potent reminder never to overlook the little things.

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