Meeting Miles McFlattery, Our Campervan
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Our year spent backpacking through South East Asia was incredible and we loved every minute, but for Tai, the constant change in his surroundings was difficult. Admittedly, we were moving every 2 to 4 days – new towns, new restaurants, new sights – with very little in the way of familiarity or consistency. So with this in mind and ready to plan our next trip, I decided that a campervan would be an excellent option. It would offer Tai a consistent “home”, we wouldn’t have to pack bags every few days and it would be such fun to have our own wheels.
The next decision was, where to go. Europe was the obvious choice, but on the South African Rand, this could be costly. Friends had posted a photo of Ksamil beach in Albania on Facebook and it had stuck with me as a destination I wanted to see. So why not the Balkans? They were beautiful, not to mention super cheap countries! And so a plan started taking shape.
The first thing was finding a campervan. Renting one was exorbitant, not to mention issues with crossing borders and the final decider, you can’t take hire cars into Albania. So renting was out of the question. I needed to buy a campervan, but this came with its own set of issues. The cheapest campervans were in Germany and the Netherlands, but I am not an EU member, so am not allowed to register or insure a vehicle in Europe. I could get one in England as you only need a physical address to register a vehicle, but then it would be a left-hand drive vehicle and Europe is right-hand drive, which would just add to the difficulty of driving a big vehicle on narrow roads, with crazy drivers.
I spent hours and hours trawling Facebook, signing up to every motorhome group I could find and asking for assistance wherever I could. Finally, I hit gold! I was put in touch with Donna from Turner Cars and Campers. She knew the difficulties us foreigners had so she was willing to register and insure the campervan in her name, while I drove it. How fabulous!
I told her our requirements and stressed the need for a reliable vehicle, being that it was just Tai and me. She sent me some options with a couple of photos and just like that, I was the new owner of a rather old campervan that would become home for the next 6 months!
Very proudly we named the campervan Miles McFlattery, coz flattery will get you everywhere!
Our first introduction to Miles was devastating! He was dirty and smelly, the table was moldy and there was stuff everywhere. I couldn’t even find a place to put my backpack down! There were two huge long nylon bags on the one long bench. These were filled with a tent that fixed to the outside of Miles and outdoor flooring. Great for long-term camping, but I knew we would be moving to quickly to bother putting it up. There were folding chairs on the front seat, a crate with road maps and travel guides – I have a Google and Google Maps for that thanks! – a shopping basket on wheels, 3 step ladders and a huge grey tarpaulin, which I later figured out was to cover the bicycles. It was overwhelming and all I could think was “what have I done”! I’d spent all this money, flown across the world and how on earth were we going to survive in this horrid van for 6 whole months? I wanted to cry!
Donna’s lodger was supposed to be showing me how everything worked, but he kept shrugging and saying “I didn’t build it”, which wasn’t much help. Bear in mind that never before in my life had I stepped foot inside a campervan, so I had no clue about what the campervan could do, what it should do and most importantly, what ours wasn’t doing!
Yes, Miles was under warranty for a month, but we only had 6 days in the Netherlands before setting off across Europe and we had a full agenda of things to do and people to see in the Netherlands. With my heart in my mouth, we set off the next day. Just a short trip to Amsterdam, where a friend, Monya, was coming to join us. We spent 2 nights in a campsite with electric hookup and everything seemed to be working fine. Amidst lots of laughter, more nervous giggling from me, I started feeling better about the situation.
From Amsterdam, we headed down to the tulips at Keukenhof where we were doing our first “wild camping”. Wild camping is not finding a deserted spot to camp in, but rather finding safe places where it is free to park. This time we were alongside a canal about 3km from Keukenhof. There must have been at least 30 other campervans there so we felt quite safe. The downside to wild camping meant we weren’t hooked up to electricity, so we learned the hard way about what works on the battery and what doesn’t. We also realized that there were a great many things not actually working, the most important of which was that the tap in the bathroom was leaking pretty badly, so it was a fretful evening.
Besides the things not working, I had already had a bit of an accident in Miles! As we were leaving the campsite in Amsterdam, I had driven too close to a hedge to let another campervan past and had smashed the side-mirror on the passenger side. Oh, my shattered nerves!
The next morning, we headed back to Utrecht to where we had collected the van, to see if they could get things sorted. We didn’t make much headway as new parts needed to be ordered and they didn’t have the right equipment to fix things, but they did try. It didn’t help that the next day was one of their biggest public holidays – Kings Day – so everything was closed and the day after that was Saturday and we needed to leave on Sunday.
So off we set North to our dear Dutch friends, where we would spend our last 2 nights in the Netherlands. Marc was very concerned at the state of the van so spent the morning driving from one place to the next trying to find a replacement side-mirror. It took seven stops, but we finally got lucky and €100 later I had a new mirror! I also threw out a bunch of things from the van, bought 12volt adapters to charge our phones and exchanged the big folding chairs for 2 small folding camping chairs. We had left the huge tent and outdoor flooring and a few other things back in Utrecht, so finally had all the seats clear, I had scrubbed the insides so everything was clean and smelling nice and Miles was starting to feel much more homely.
Donna was going to courier the tap part to Ljubliana in Slovenia where we would hopefully find someone to repair our taps and shower. Currently, there was no running water, but we survived Cape Town’s drought, so we’re used to washing in buckets!!
Feeling much better about our situation and the state of Miles, we were finally off on our big adventure across Europe!