75 days into our van life and European adventure – progress and costs

An update as we are 75 days in to our van life and approximately halfway around our first semi-planned route/adventure around Europe. Geek alert – contains data on costs and stats…

So, I finished work officially on April 6th and we set off on April 9th, leaving Britain and Brexit and renting out our house in Newcastle. I packed selected bits and bobs and guitars into a motorhome with my amazing wife Bev, and our whippets Marra and Boo. We had no specific destination or itinerary – the plan is, there is no plan – other than:

  • seeing some sights and enjoying our freedom to travel around Europe
  • living more simply and more healthily, being outdoors, eating well
  • spending more time together 
  • playing more music, writing new songs
  • ending up in Sweden at some point
  • heading back to the UK in mid August for band gigs in September

The map below shows us colouring in the map of Europe for countries we’ve passed through, and our approximate route.

Our journey so far, plotted with ‘R’ software and the ‘maps’ library

Facts and stats:

Days on the road: 75
Miles:3597
Countries:12UK, France, Belgium, Luxembourg,
Italy, Monaco, Switzerland,
Slovenia, Croatia, Austria,
Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic
Fill-ups:10
Average Fuel Efficiency: 31.5 mpg
Average fuel price: £1.20/LtrCheapest: Luxembourg
Most expensive: UK and Italy
Average cost per night:£12.27Includes 21 out of 75 nights
wild camping (free)

Costs so far:

Monthly Costs AprilMayAverage
Food, Social, Shopping£654£752£703
Diesel£417£152£285
Eurotunnel, Tolls, Ferries£190£27£109
Site Fees£350£405£378
Gas£31*£0£16
Phone/Data£40£40£40
Total£1682£1376£1530
*Not including €55 deposit for Benegas bottle in Belgium.

Ignoring the cost of the motorhome (!), there were some up front and one-off costs:

Road Tax£260
Insurance£650
Tracker subscription (lifetime)£399
Motorhome stuff (purchases/repairs)£165

Which, at this stage, suggests a crude estimated annual spend of around £18,500 for a year. Probably more, as we’d use more gas for heating in winter months. So, we’re probably on track to spend around £20,000, like these guys at followourmotorhome. I’m sure we could do better – mowgli adventures did 6 week trip in Europe and spent nothing on accommodation or site fees! (Loads of good tips on both those sites.) But it’s going fine so far. We can wild camp where we can, somewhere scenic, then have a few days at a campsite – to fill up on fresh water, empty the waste and the loo, maybe put a wash-load on. 

Lots of lessons learned about living the ‘van life’ and much more to learn I’m sure. We’ve still not worked out how to park up the van facing the right way to get some shade! One lesson we’ve learned the hard way, after 3 days of the van smelling of rotten eggs – avoid cheap diesel! If it’s too good to be true, it’s probably full of sulphur.

It took a while but we’re getting to grips with the fact that this is not just a really long holiday but a new chapter in our lives. So, for example, when we visit a tourist hotspot, we don’t expect to do all the ticketed touristy things. We’ll see the town, the landmarks, soak up the atmosphere, but maybe give most of the museums, exhibitions and attractions a miss. We’ve got the dogs to think of too, especially the old boy, Marra, who can’t walk very far these days. Mostly cook for ourselves ‘at home’ i.e. in the van or al fresco, eating out at bars or restaurants once or twice a week.  

We’ve met some really lovely people – warm, generous, open-minded and inviting, positive and encouraging. So many, but I’ll call a few out: Adi, who gave me my first gig at his fantastic bar Caffe Galeria in Piran, Slovenia; Levi, digital nomad, film-maker and sharer of Hungarian biscuits; and Gabor, who followed his own dream 10 years ago and established the amazing Sabar vineyard in the Badascony region of Hungary. Cheers, guys 🙂

It’s been tough trying to book gigs on the move, especially as our plans are so fluid. Things seemed to have slowed up lately, perhaps as the season warms up and bars already know they’ll have a good crowd whatever. Staying positive, I keep making contacts and I’m sure I could do better next time, if I actually planned in advance! I’m enjoying all the extra spare time for practising the guitar, especially my fingerpicking, and writing songs. Look out for a new song coming soon – something special, with lyrics written by Bev! – it’s called ‘Baby Oh Did Ya?’

Slovenia Highlights

We loved Slovenia! Not a huge country, but a huge range of sights, sounds and tastes. Here’s our favourites from a 17 day tour:

Piran

On Slovenia’s short coastline between Italy and Croatia, the old town of Piran is a maze of narrow cobbled streets, archways, snickleways and nooks with hidden squares and churches, views of the blue, blue adriatic, old statues, fountains, and cafes, bars and restaurants. I loved the way the houses are piled on top of each other, and ancient buildings covered in air conditioning units and tangles of power lines and phone wires. We climbed up to the church on the hill, to look back down on Tartini square and had a fantastic calamari and chips in ‘May 1st’ square.

Rakov Škocjan

This wild karst valley is full of wonders – hidden, misty, forested glades reached through caves, natural bridges, springs, ruined churches and forest pools and more. Although it’s not a big valley (just 6km long), we stayed 3 nights and explored a little each day. The paths of the ‘educative trail’ are mostly even and laid with wood chippings, so it was easy going even for old Marra.

Špajza, Ljubljana

For our 20th wedding anniversary, we enjoyed a couple of days in Ljubljana, joined by Bev’s bridesmaid (and sister) Fran and my best man (and brother-in-law) Dav. A highlight was a fantastic meal of Slovenian specialties and fine wines at Špajza. Great service and a cool place with lots of little dining rooms.

Zgornje Jezersko

Further north, on the Austrian border, we loved the clean air and the awesome views of the mountains. One night we ate at Vila Planinka, where Fran and Dav stayed, and the next night Bev cooked a 3 course meal for all 4 of us in the van.

View of Lake Bled from Ojstrica

It’s probably the most famous sight in Slovenia, we had to go. And it was nice! A bit of a scrabble at the top, not wheelchair friendly.

Žalec Beer Fountain

Heading east, in the direction of Hungary, Bev said, “Let’s stop at Žalec – its got a beer fountain.” OK! We didn’t know what to expect but we liked what we found. Some guys were drinking and dreamt up the idea of a beer fountain, where you can just fill your glass with lovely beer. The idea grew, and lottery funding made it a reality. You buy a glass with a microchip in the base, loaded with 6 credits. Then you just choose what you want and put the glass in the base of the fountain… Beer! There were a range of local, seasonal and specialty beers. We loved them all. And now we have 2 cool beer glasses for the van.

Live at Nostalgija, Ljubljana

I spent one rainy day looking ahead at our possible route and googling for cool bars and venues to approach for gigs. I really liked the look of Nostalgija vintage cafe bar in Ljubljana. We only had the one possible free night – the 23rd May, a Thursday. They normally have live music on Fridays and Saturdays, but agreed to a ‘Thursday Night Special’.

Cheers to Nico for putting me on! It’s a cool 50s/60s themed bar, with vintage stuff all over – old sit-under hairdryers for bar stools, a wurlitzer, old vacuum cleaners, and groceries.  I played blues from the 20s, 40s, 60s and my own songs. Really relaxed, good banter 🙂

Live at Caffe Galeria, Piran

As we were nearing Slovenia, I tried a facebook message to a bar in Piran that has live music. I’d messaged once already, in English, with a bit of a wordy intro, links to a few videos and some vague dates. No reply, but now we’d got more exact dates, I thought it worth a follow up. I used Google translate and sent a shorter message in Slovenian. Within seconds, I got about 10 replies straight back, in Slovenian. Frantically copying and pasting and translating and replying, it looked positive. At last, I had a gig!

Huge thanks (Hvala!) to Adi, the bar owner at Caffe Galeria, for taking a chance and having me on at short notice. It’s a great music bar right by the harbour. Good beer, nice crowd (locals and tourists), and top cakes too, according to Bev. I played 2 sets, a mix of my own songs and covers of vintage blues (e.g. Big Bill Broonzy, Blind Bake, B.B. King), acoustic soul (Otis Redding, Bill Withers) and well known classics (The Animals, Fleetwood Mac, Chuck Berry). Went down well. First real run out for my little BOSS acoustic amp, and it sounded great.

The next day we walked the 5km in from the campsite in Portorese to see Piran properly. What an amazing place! The old town is a maze of narrow cobbled streets – I love it. Pics to follow in our round-up of Slovenia.