Covid-19: remembering our first trip

‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’

Our past was spent regularly travelling in a campervan around Europe. Now housebound and country-bound in the Coronavirus crisis of 2020, it is an escape to drift away into memories of a grand adventure of discovery.

In 2011 we headed out on our first three month road trip, travelling five thousand miles in 90 days, visiting twelve countries and crossing the Adriatic Sea to Eastern Europe.

A rough map of 2011 route

Our goal was to drive to Albania. We travelled with a road atlas for the countries not yet mapped on the sat nav, a single chunky mobile phone for texting and making calls and wrote long emails home, posting them from internet cafes as Wi-Fi was not widely available.

Life on a long road trip was new to us. We learned by intuition and mistakes, how to travel well and enjoyably, and established the routines that are now second nature.

Planning routes and driving them, finding somewhere safe to stay, sourcing water, electricity and fuel, buying travel permits and paying road taxes, shopping for food and cooking it, were all new and daily challenges – especially in those countries where we did not speak even a little of the language.

We learned quickly that a smile would get us a long way and how open and interested people were in us, as we were in them.

Wide eyed and impressionable, our younger selves have gifted us memories of mountainous landscapes and azure seas, ramshackle and Renaissance towns, glamorous resorts and sweeping coastlines.

We visited crumbling palaces and ruined settlements, gleaming mosques and graceful churches, bustling markets and road side stalls, traditionally farmed countryside and rushing green rivers, Roman sites and Medieval centres.

An endless, breezy and dusty summer of different and colourful scenes sampled with wine, cheeses, seafood and herbs in the West and beer, meats, spices and paprika in the East.

And so, with a meagre budget of just £35 a day for food, fuel, attractions and accommodation, we set off from damp and dreary Dover on Thursday 28th April, 2011 on a Seafrance ferry to begin our European adventure…

The first night away, near Calais, at the start of the 2011 trip