Lessons from our 1,100 mile adventure

We’ve been home from our epic adventure for a few days now and mountains of washing aside, it was a fantastic experience and probably a highlight of our family life to-date.

Why? Because we’re still talking to each other. Because ‘Dolly’ (the van) made it without a hitch; and, because unlike other holidays where I feel ready to come home, I didn’t this time. I could have carried on driving!

We were away for two weeks and travelled a total of 1,100 miles, zig-zagging across the UK in our beloved camper-van.

Our longest stint living the van-life prior to this had been three nights, so I feel like we’ve won the lottery – Because, now that we’re comfortable long distance vanners, the world’s our lobster and there’s talk of us going all continental next summer!

These are some of the things I learnt on our great big family road-trip:

  1. Stuff is unnecessary: We don’t need stuff! Our house is full of stuff. Stuff needs to be tidied away. Space for stuff needs to be cleaned. When you have limited time together, stuff becomes a burden. For two weeks we had minimal stuff. The grown-ups had a couple of books and a few bits of tech. The Squatters* had a handful of books, a big roll of paper, a box of crayons and their scooters. They didn’t complain they were bored. We didn’t find the quick morning clean-around burdensome and, there was no squabbling over stuff.
  2. Clothes can be washed: We’ve learnt a valuable camping lesson on this trip… Check out the laundry facilities or take a tube of travel wash with you. This means you’ll only need a minimal amount of clothes. We didn’t enter into this trip planning to wash anything, so we set off with enough clothes for each of us for a fortnight including big jumpers, rain coats, warm coats and headwear for all the eventualities of a British summer. We returned with two bin bags full of dirty clothes and a sack of damp bits and bobs. All this took up precious space… and space was limited!There were washing machines and dryers at each of the campsites we stayed at, with the exception of the first, so the volume we took really wasn’t necessary and only got in the way as the days passed.
  3. Scotland can sell itself: There was a lot about Scotland that stood out as being different to home, including the type of food in the pre-prepared fresh food section in the Co-Op; Sunday opening hours (there didn’t appear to be any restrictions, which was handy); and, the cost of rail travel (children travelled for free and adult tickets were really good value). The biggest difference I spotted though was how Scotland sells itself.  There were brown tourist information signs EVERYWHERE (yes, I’m shouting).  At every corner there were signs pointing us to places or things of interest. It’d be nice to see more of that at home.
  4. Sat Nav has its uses: This one hurts to admit. We took a day-trip down to Alwnick Garden, travelling from the Scottish Borders to Northumberland. The roads were totally alien to us and after a lazy morning at the campsite, time wasn’t on our side. I’ve not embraced sat nav for all the reasons I see on the news or am aware of through work… People driving onto beaches, sometimes into the sea; lorry drivers getting jammed on the tightest of corners; and, people driving to the wrong end of the country because of a typo in the address they entered into the search bar. In short I think sat nav makes people STUPID! (shouting again). But, on this day out the sat nav highlighted things of interest (mainly tucked-away castles) that we may not have spotted otherwise so, I’ll concede that used in conjunction with your own inbuilt homing pigeon instincts, it has its uses. Having said that, I was over the moon when Stu decided to embrace the road map on the return leg of our journey and took us on an adventure back to Melrose.
  5. There’s a snobbery attached to window stickers: Our Dolly isn’t a ‘thing’ to me, she’s a part of our family. I felt so proud that her little 1.4 petrol engine managed to haul us and ALL our stuff 1,100miles, all the way to Scotland and back – including negotiating the Snake Pass through the Pennines to the Peak District and the bendy roads and climbs home through mid-Wales. Because of this I decided that I’d buy a window sticker in each of the places she took us, to represent her achievements. Stickers weren’t easy to find in some of the places we went to, so we would ask if there were any stickers available. The reaction to my question was sometimes met with a recoil or a brusque “you could try the cheaper, tourist shops down the road!”. I’m not sure I understand this response, so I’ve decided to bundle these people into a mental drawer labeled ‘Boring Gits’ and have become even more committed to adorning Dolly with stickers of all the places she enables us to explore.
  6. The UK is mostly blooming beautiful: I have a habit of pointing out houses I love as I drive along, or interesting things that catch my eye.  As I’m usually the driver (because of travel sickness), it can get quite scary for my passengers! There was no keeping my arm down on this trip.  The places we drove through and the sights we saw were brilliant.I got excited at the narrow, steep alleyways of Edinburgh; squealed at the cosy-looking old stone houses along the road through the Borders; flung my arm up and pointed frantically at the re-purposed old telephone kiosk in the Peak District, now housing a life-saving community defibrillator and couldn’t get enough of the twisty streets and rooftops in Castelton. I also had the best views of Loch Lomond from on top of the SeaLife Centre at Balloch, on the ferry as we headed up the water in the shadow of Ben Lomond, the most southerly Monroe in Scotland and, most spectacularly, from within the loch itself during my (scary) swim. From every angle and at every point along our journey, there was something else to see and I can confirm that of the limited number of bits we were lucky enough to see, the UK is mostly blooming beautiful!

Following the success of 2018’s epic family adventure, we’ve decided to pop a GB sticker on Dolly, along with some of those light deflector things and brave a European road-trip next year.  We’re thinking France or Holland to start with.  So, I’m all ears for your recommendations on places to go, things to do, bits to look out for.

I’m also up for any road-trip lessons you have to share… particularly in the mould of space-saving suggestions and tasty one-pot meals (tinned curry rice and frying pan pizzas have reached the end of their road with my family!).

*Collective noun for the kids (3yrs and 6yrs).

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