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Motorhome Holiday Europe: A Beginners Experience

By way of introduction, my wife and I are a mid-sixties retired couple from South Africa who decided on a 31 day motor home holiday in Europe. We chose this duration and option of travel for primarily the following reasons:

  • Not knowing if we would like touring in a Motorhome
  • Affordability due to our unfavourable exchange rate
  • The convenience of traveling around in comfort
  • Having the flexibility to come and go as we liked
  • The saving of 18% Vat on the rental as we exceeded 31 days which is the minimum hire period for this concession in Germany.
  • Having never entertained anything of this nature before, to say that we were somewhat apprehensive about the whole adventure is an understatement. Driving into the unknown, on the wrong side of the road for us, in a considerably larger vehicle than what we were ever used to, made up for most of the anxiety. Never were we more mistaken however, as the following story of what turned out to be a most unique adventure will reveal, and which we think could be of interest to others like ourselves who are maybe contemplating doing the same, but need a nudge.

    Hiring your Motorhome:

    It all starts here and one is really spoilt for choices. We used Eric & Doug Bredesen and Freik from Ideamerge for our booking and found them to be very efficient, helpful and obliging with our enquiries. … Responses were prompt and concise and we will have no hesitation in using Ideamerge again. We chose the DRM D2 due to its layout as it is ostensibly designed for two people, albeit that it could also sleep four, as the dinette area table drops down to form another bed if need be. We liked this feature rather than having a second double bed over our heads over the driving area and which can also cancel out the large sunroof and skylight during the day, if not permanently. Overhead beds also restrict headroom in what is already a somewhat cramped environment. Simply put, your choice of Motorhome should be balanced between what is practical and comfortable for your needs. It is pointless hiring a large motorhome designed for a family when there are only two of you. All you are then doing is lugging a pile of extra beds etc around which hardly increases your living area but rather the running cost. We started out limiting the length of our van to 6mts and ended up with the DRM D2 at 7mts. It could have been longer as there is really no difference between driving a vehicle of 7 or 7.5 or even maybe 8mts. Once you get the hang of it, it’s easy, but you need to exercise care all of the time. Make sure however that your drivers license qualifies you to drive the larger vehicles beyond 3500kg in weight if choosing the bigger or heavier vehicles. Note however that some campsites charge a higher fee for 7mt plus campers. Our primary specifics were a larger fridge & freezer, a functional separate shower and practical kitchen space, lots of lockers and a comfortable dinette or internal lounging area. We also wanted to avoid having to ladder in and out of bed as we are maybe not as agile as we used to be. The D2 did it for us perfectly. The DRM vehicles are slightly more expensive than e.g the McRent units, but there is a considerable difference in the quality of the vehicles from what we could see. What we really appreciated about the DRM D2 was that its climate control systems were fully automatic. It also automatically converts to gas, battery or 220v power as required, so there was nothing to do really but drive and enjoy it. It might also be so that most other vehicles have the same features. Our vehicle was virtually brand new on pick up as it would seem they all are, as DRM change their entire fleet of 900 vehicles virtually every 6 months they tell us. They also guarantee you a current year model. Ours, like we would assume all are, was a pleasure to drive and had great features. 5 star interior and sexy LED light systems, with instant piping hot water to round off what was a very nice and comfortable home away from home. It is also noteworthy that the DRM hand over on collection at the depot in Munich was extremely thorough and professional. A useful tip here is to video the technical parts of the handover with your phone or iPad so that you can refer back to it when you get stuck. There is a lot to absorb in a short space of time at the handover. They also equip you with emergency and personal contact numbers should one need to talk to them. All in, we were delighted with our vehicles comfort, performance and features and would most certainly hire it again via the same process and people. Maybe even a larger one!

    Planning your trip:

    Our mission was to experience the diversity of some of Europe in the time available, so we chose a proposed routing between pick up and drop off from Munich which took in visits to Austria, Italy, Switzerland and Germany. France and Belgium were also part of our original planning but we never got close due to time constraints. We firstly researched campsites in the areas we would be visiting, and programmed their locations as with other sights or places of interest along our route into our GPS device which is a simple 'not negotiable' must have. To entertain a trip like this with only road maps is frankly stupid and will probably be costly and definitely very frustrating. Incorrect turns that put you into confined or restricted areas or onto toll roads make U turns time consuming and costly. Even with our GPS we got it wrong on occasions. Sometimes mistakes were somewhat entertaining, and other times down right nerve wracking! One U turn we made cost us €9 through a toll gate in Italy and promptly €6 through the same toll gate on the opposite side of the road. No refunds! We also generally programmed the GPS to keep us off the beaten track and to mostly avoid toll and main roads. This turned out to be a good idea as we saw the country side, experienced mountain passes and views that took your breath away, passed through the most interesting villages and in general really got to see places you would never normally see on any commercial tour. Literally every corner was a new and fascinating experience, so much so that we would often come across unique locations and stop for the day or night, exactly as anticipated would be the case in our mobile home and hence us nowhere near completing our intended route. Our anxieties about being left out on the side of the road without a place to park or stay-over were also soon dispelled as there are multiple parking opportunities in all areas and directions. We also noticed RV's parked in dedicated Aires or simply in open areas, parking lots or even truck stops for that matter. Being from South Africa, we by nature are more vigilant security wise so preferred using the camp sites. There are obviously considerable savings in not using the camp sites which are no problem as the vehicle is fully stand alone with its own power and personal facilities? At some point however one needs to drain the grey and black water (the portable cassette wc) and top up the water tank, services that are provided without fail at all the parks we stayed at. We planned our trip during the 'shoulder season' which ends in early July so the rates etc were lower and there was no need to book at camp sites. Over the 31 nights we only came across one campsite that was full and found in fact a better alternative 10kms further. Also get to know the road ordinance issues of the various countries you will pass through insofar as vignettes are concerned in particular (a compulsory permit allowing the use of the roads which you purchase at filling stations prior to entering a country) Also check on the toll fees so you at least know what you’re in for if you don’t go the rural route.

    Making the trip:

    As alluded to, we decided to travel off the autobahns, major roads and the like, in order to savour the country side. This was the best decision we could have made. Using the highways is certainly faster but is that really what it is all about? Certainly not in our case. Speed restrictions limit driving speed to between 30, 50 and 70 Kph in most cases with occasional step ups to 90 Kph and rarely beyond that. We restricted actual travel time to a max of maybe three hours in a day, but still found ourselves only arriving at camp sites in the late afternoons due to the stop-start nature of taking everything in along the way. We once read of a couple doing 14,000 km in three weeks. Positive madness! Part of the adventure is taking it all in at a relaxed pace, with the pleasure of campsite parking and setup with the awning out, table and chairs at the ready for that cold refreshment and maybe even a barbecue in camps where permitted.

    As South Africans we love to braai (barbecue) so used most opportunities. We started without a barbecue and ended up with two (a small Weber and a normal metal unit) retrieved from the disposal areas of campsites. We were informed that many campers dispose of what they cannot take home with them, as was the case with us and that it was a good policy to take a peek at the disposal areas for what has been discarded by others that could be useful to you. It certainly worked for us.

    Insofar as the campsites were concerned, we mostly stayed in the better rated sites while also spending the odd night in Aires, as all we needed was a stopover for the night on our way to a destination. The issue of where you stay is important and depending on how long you plan to be there should determine the nature of the site. For one or two night stop overs we avoided the huge 'family' type camp sites that had all of the amenities for kids etc. and we rather opted for the smaller more exclusive parks where you aren't paying for facilities you will not use. Virtually all of our sites visited offered free Wi-Fi, electricity and showers, charged laundry and drying facilities with all of the other vehicle service basics included. The ablution facilities varied from 5 star to two star and more than sufficed for our needs. Some sites also provided full kitchen facilities including microwaves and dishwashers. We also very quickly learned that prior to entering the park, it was good idea to take a walk around to identify where you will park. Important things to consider here were site levels, wind direction, proximity to the ablutions, noise generating activities as in pubs, Wi-Fi coverage, the water and chemical toilet disposal area and so on. As we were on a sightseeing tour, we chose camp grounds that offered the best in views, with as convenient an access to places of interest, transportation and shops as was practical. To this end we mention a few camp sites in particular that were head and shoulders above the rest either in facilities or position and which we would highly recommend if you are in the area:

  • "Camping Platz am Rhine’ Rudesheim. This well established and maintained homely campground is right on the Rhine River with its five star facilities and unreal views and proximity to the passing cruise boats and river traffic. A 900mt riverside walk into the village reveals all of its historic splendours, cafes and restaurants. The one hour approximate drive from the village along the river takes in the historic Viking castles all the way to Koblenz and must rank as one of the most scenic historic drives in the world. A simple must do. Spending a few days here is well worth it.
  • "Camping Bavaria" in Riva Del Garda on Lake Garda in Italy. The camp site is situated directly off the main village street, a few hundred meters from a large shopping centre at one end, and literally 100mts away from the banks of Lake Garda and all of its mountain splendours at the other. The campsite has a dedicated gate access to the lawns of the lake area and bustling lakeside activities which include a variety of boat and bicycle hire in particular. The activities and cycle path routes were endless. We also arrived at this camp site from Innsbruck via the Passo di Penne`s mountain pass which views were simply breath taking. Roads are narrow with sharp twists and turns but it makes for a spectacular drive. It is noteworthy that this Bolzano/Trento valley route offers fantastic mountain pass drive options, none the least being the Brenner Pass.
  • "Camping Klausner-" in Hallstatt Austria. A boutique campsite we stumbled upon by accident with the most amazing views, feel good facilities and great drives, including a cable way in nearby Dachstein which takes to the peak of Salzkammergut and its amazing five viewing platforms and ice cave.
  • Camping Jungfrau. A campsite in a very picturesque valley and village, completely surrounded by the most stunning waterfalls with interesting day drive options and sights. The facilities were also 5 star
  • Camping Les Barrats. Situated on the fringe of the quaintest little town called Chamonix in the shadow of the mighty Mont Blanc and the imposing Les Bossons glacier. The views are spectacular as is the area. There is also plenty to see and do here.
  • "Camping Platz Munchen: Thalkirchen GmbH" in Munich south east. We mention this municipal campsite as it is the perfect first or last day stopover if your pick up is Munich. Here you can spread out and get organised or cleaned up after your tour in a nice environment with shops and public transport virtually on your doorstep.
  • The do's and must have's

  • Equip yourself with up to date maps, camping guides and a good GPS whose workings you are familiar with.
  • Join one of the camping clubs/organizations that provide discount camping cards. We used ACSI but found on our routing that the ADAC card would have been more beneficial to us.
  • Take your own linen, towels & pillows if you need or prefer the comfort. While the mattress is extremely comfortable, the quality of their hire packs of these items is maybe a bit wanting.
  • Same applies to the cookware and crockery etc, so we would suggest checking out the quality of what is for hire at the pick-up depot or alternatively rather go out and buy what you need . Depending on what you buy, it normally works out cheaper than hiring so no problem in leaving it behind if need be. We also found it far cheaper to pay airline excess baggage rates for taking our home comforts with us rather than hiring potential substandard items or buying on arrival. Two additional 23/25kg bags more than catered for our personal items. Remember that essentials like toilet tissue, dishwashing liquid, laundry soap powders, cleaning materials and drying cloths and whatever else all need to be stocked before you set off, so destination one, should be a supermarket.
  • A small circular bubble levelling device placed on the kitchen counter that allows you to park and level the van which we found invaluable, rather than guessing how level you are. A small glass of water filled to near the top can also suffice but is not really ideal. You need to be level not only for sleep comfort, but equally so that doors don’t fly open as with the fridge door in particular. This highlights the importance of walking the park beforehand and choosing the correct site where the supplied wheel ramps can also at least achieve the level required. We were amazed at how many campers set up their vehicles and ridiculous angles.
  • A fold out clothes drying rack. We noticed the popularity of this item which we never had. It beats hanging clothes or wet laundry out all over place besides also looking unsightly and untidy.
  • Two sizeable plastic basins with handles for your dishwashing/wet laundry fetching and carrying from the wash up areas in campsites
  • An effective astro turf or rubber type door mat for outside to clean feet or shoes before entering the van and which can be easily cleaned.
  • A small broom, bug spray, fly swatter and a bunch of utility rags for cleaning anything and everything. A small window cleaning squeegee with a removable 300/400mm handle was also invaluable for the upper extremities of windscreen cleaning in particular.
  • A roll of soft anti-skid mat that you can cut up to place in the cupboard or locker bases to stop items shifting around. The loose and clangy items will drive you insane while travelling if not cushioned in some way.
  • Slops or rubber sandals are essential when using the showers in campsites where most in any event do not allow shoes in the shower areas
  • Bicycles or a scooter dependent on your level of fitness. The vehicles have substantial bike racks attached to the rear and some models incorporate a large door rear ‘garage’ which can accommodate a small scooter. Ad hoc bike hire along the way is an option as well.
  • Insurance

    We highlight this item for good reason. The vehicles are very expensive and equally expensive to fix. Do make sure that you are covered for any eventuality and it is a good idea to consider taking out the additional CDW excess cover with Alliance which considerably reduces what you will be liable for in the case of an accident. We stupidly bumped the rear of our van against a rock on day four of our holiday, the damage quote was near EUR1800 to fix. As we were covered by the Allianz CDW Excess protection, we were liable for the first EUR400 only. Still expensive, but less than a quarter of what it would have cost us. We strongly urge that this cover be considered no matter how competent a driver we believe ourselves to be.

    Conclusion

    In all of our years of travel, nothing comes close to the relaxed experience we had during this, our first motorhome trip. The sights, the places of interest, the intrigue, the unknown, the beauty, coupled to the relaxed life style, comfort and convenience of having your own home along with you to stop wherever and whenever you liked, simply made for a unique affordable experience to see the world like in no other way, and we cannot wait to repeat the experience again next year. Our planning is already in progress… Hats off to Ideamerge and DRM for making it all possible.

    Travel safe.

    – Alan & Moira Orchard, South Africa, July 2016