Pont du Gard

Our First Motorhome Trip Abroad

Well, we’ve all been there and we’re no exception, taking our first motorhome trip abroad in the early 00’s. Imagine being new to motorhome life, do you remember what that was like?

For us, reminiscing about those early days, brings back such happy memories. We wonder what we’d think of it now, if we were just starting out with vanlife travels.

Looking back at that time, we didn’t really know much about travels on the open road, let alone just how good some countries are to us motorhome folk.

Aigues Mortes
Aigues Mortes taken from what used to be an Aire

As many of you know, France for motorhome adventures is ultimately the best ever destination. More often than not, motorhomes or “le Camping Car”, as the French call them, are more than welcome right across France.

Originally, we were caravanner’s, so we were clueless on how different and easy motorhomes are in comparison. Soon, we began experiencing France from a whole new perspective, doing it just like the French and beginning a vanlife love affair to last a lifetime.

On our first trip abroad in the motorhome instead of the caravan, I’d booked campsites before we left Britain. Unbelievably, for the whole 6 weeks! Wow, why did I do that? Basically we were treating the motorhome as if we still had a caravan and we soon learnt to avoid doing that at all costs!

Aires and the freedom of just stopping where you want, when you want, wasn’t something we knew about at all.

After just a few days in France and having to reach the next campsite, we soon knew it was spoiling not just the freedom, but the fun element of motorhoming too.

It was just so restricting, passing beautiful places, yet having to keep driving, because the next campsite was waiting.

vanlife travel

It didn’t take long to realise our mistake, booking campsites in advance wasn’t for us. Next, it was time to take the bull by the horns and cancel all those sites.

So, that’s exactly what we did, phoning each campsite to cancel. Remember, there was no mobile internet, let alone a smart phone then, so everything was so less instant.

From then on, this change to our motorhome travels was to last forever. Never again, did we book anything in advance and still don’t to this day! Actually, I do tell a small white lie here, because we did usually book for skiing to the Alps at Christmas, but that’s all.

Our first motorhome trip abroad
Our early days of motorhome travel

Sometime during that first trip, we began to realise there was something different available for motorhomes.

We kept seeing strange blue signs with lots of motorhomes parking together. It wasn’t long before we knew these overnight parking places were actually Aires and we were keen to get in on the action.

One of the very first Aires we came across was on the way to the Dordogne at Bergerac. I remember driving over a bridge crossing the river, when we noticed a row of motorhomes beside the water.

Nigel, drove down towards the quay, before parking up amongst them. Wow! What was this? We were in our element, realising you could park here legitimately overnight, amongst such a beautiful setting, right next to the river.

Lac St.Croix
Lac St.Croix, Gorges du Verdon in 2006

By chance, an elderly British couple were parked next to us, on that Bergerac Aire. It was quite unusual really to come across a British van, in fact it still is sometimes!

What a stroke of luck it was, because we soon got talking and these expert motorhomers told us all about the French Aire system.

This was brilliant, not only was it invaluable information on how to travel around France, but they were really helpful in general.

Before we knew it, the lady reached into the motorhome cab for sheets of A4 paper. On it she’d typed up a list of Aires they’d found over the years and kindly handed them to us to keep. How grateful we were for our new found paper database!

Motorhome life
Our 2nd motorhome bought in 2008

The lovely elderly couple also gave some really good tips about places to see across France. Talking to other motorhomers on that trip was such an education. Simply taking it all in and listening to the hints and tips, really helped us in our quest to know everything possible about this new found adventure way of travelling.

Some of the most fabulous locations came to us from recommendations. Places such as the incredible Pont du Gard, which is still one of the most awe inspiring structures we’ve seen.

The generosity of people and their invaluable advice will always stay with us. I’m not sure if it can be reciprocated in today’s era of social media and finding out instantly about anything in the World.

I remember many years later, we were on a tour through the Alsace en-route to Austria. Still there was no smart phone technology and the only internet access was to actually go into a tourist office to find a computer.

We were staying on an Aire, when an Austrian chap got talking to us. When he knew we were heading to Austria, he marked on our Michelin map a selection of places to see. One, of these, is now a little more well known thanks to Instagram. Although back then, catching our first glimpse of The Salzkammergut Lakes, especially Hallstatt, was simply breathtaking.

Pont du Gard France
One of the first places recommended to us – The Pont du Gard

Soon we realised we had a lot to learn about motorhoming life. But we were learning and listening and loving it. People gave great advice and were keen to share their knowledge.

Goodness, those times were so free. It’s hard to comprehend the places where we could park, locations long gone from the motorhomers grasp. Wild camping was so easy, in incredible scenic places, with sometimes 100’s of others lined up. From the sands of the Mediterranean to lakes and rivers, it was just magical.

We’d never seen anything like it and we were keen for a piece of the action. As for the Aires, they were usually free or just a few Euro’s, without barriers and card payment machines. Motorhome life was simple, and that first trip taught us so much in being part of this nomadic community.

Not only was this new hobby of motorhoming exciting, but it was also a step into the unknown. The age before smart phones and instant googling, Instagram or Facebook groups.

Somehow it was such a special feeling, with only pictures in a travel guide to set a sneak preview of what lay ahead.

Back in early 00’s, not only were there no Apps to find parking places, but there wasn’t even an English book of Aires.

So, we had to rely on a French book of Aires that we’d found in a supermarket. A few years later, the first English book of Aires was going to hit the shelves in Britain. Until then, this French book, with no images was our only way to find Aires in France.

Although our first motorhome trip abroad was to France, it wasn’t our first to the country. In fact, during our caravan years, France was a firm favourite.

It was on one such trip to the Loire Valley, where we really began to think seriously about changing to a motorhome.

As crazy as it seems now, in a time where motorhomes are so popular, back then they were actually quite unusual to see. The UK was dominated by caravans, as was The Netherlands, but France and Germany always seemed to be ahead of the curve for motorhomes.

So, when we came across a German motorhome on a campsite in the Loire, suddenly the seed was planted for change.

If only, we could move on each day, finding new places and exploring more freely, of course that’s exactly what a motorhome allows.

After this trip, we put the caravan up for sale and bought our very first motorhome from Barrons in Lancashire. From then on we were hooked!

Pitched up in France with our Caravan

There are so many vivid “wow factor” moments that we remember, from turning the corner and looking up at Moustiers St.Marie, as it clings to the rock, before setting eyes upon Lac St.Croix, with the bluest water leading into the incredible Gorge du Verdon

To the very first glimpse of the Mont Blanc, the amphitheater at Arles, the bridge at Avignon or beaches of the Côte d’Azur. These incredible sights bringing us so close to the most amazing locations for the very first time.

Everywhere from St.Tropez to the D-Day landings or Carcassone to Millau’s viaduct. There were so many different landmarks, structures and phenomenal sights that took our breath away. Above all, it was thrilling, never knowing what was round the next corner – a saying we still use.

So, our first motorhome trip abroad in our motorhome was a complete success. Not only had we done a 6-week whirlwind tour round France, but we’d met the most interesting people and seen a side to the country that brought so many exciting encounters.

It gave us a chance to explore the regions and get an idea of where to return in more depth.

Best of all, we knew we’d made the right choice. Motorhomes and motorhome travel were here to stay. Not only was that first motorhome trip abroad a great success, but we couldn’t understand for years after why everyone didn’t have one!

Now of course, it almost feels like everyone does! Then again, we always knew it would catch on and we’re just happy to share the experiences with so many at last!!