Reader Request - How is Camper Van Life?

Long time reader, many time caller Josephine asks: How is van life? Not too cold? Not too cramped for DrC's excessive gams?

First, there is no such thing as an excessive gam on a man or woman. I'm a huge fan of tall people; Tall men are sexy. This is a little bit of information about me that absolutely none of you needed or wanted. But now you can't unlearn it.

Our land yacht Dapple is a Knaus 595. This means she has a Fiat Ducato 2.8 litre,  manual transmission turbo diesel and is about 6 meters long. The bed is above the driver area. There is no headroom so sex up there is a bit of a yoga exercise. There is a central table with two 'love seats' with a long couch opposite. The kitchen is at the back crowding for space with a shower/toilet cabinet. Lots of pictures below. For those that missed it, Dapple is named for a character in Cervantes' novel Don Quixote de La Mancha. This novel has enormous relevance for our family. Dapple was the sturdy donkey ridden by Sancho Panza, Don Quixote's trusty sidekick. 'Don Quixote' of course, was the name of our catamaran.

Dapple is proving unworthy of her namesake. The fictional Dapple is the 'best horse on four feet on the highway'. Our Dapple experienced a catastrophic mechanical in Spain. Could be a design flaw but more likely when the timing belt was replaced use prior to our purchase, the mechanic overtightened and caused a stress point that failed later. We also had a shit old battery that failed us somewhere in France but frankly that was our fault. W should have replaced it easily. Dapple is easy to handle, gets reasonably good mileage, and as we are old hands with Diesel engines, we find her pretty easy to handle for maintenance. We bought her from a Dutch dealer ( who set her up for us beautifully. If you plan to do anything like what we are doing in Europe, I can recommended Harro and team. However, I have quite a bit to say about warranty rules in Holland/Europe and ways you should prepare and set your expectations wisely.

The only time Dapple was too cold was when we ran out of LPG. We use LPG to fuel our refrigerator, hot water heater, and the central heating system. LPG is proving to be our Achilles heal. Europe is fast moving from a system of tanks filled at gas stations to swapping out. It's surprisingly difficult for us to get the LPG tank filled. In fact, we went for nearly a week without any LPG because it was literally impossible to get filled in Spain with the fittings we had. I think I mentioned this before, but make sure you get this sorted before you leave. When we have LPG, Dapple is toasty and comfortable even in freezing temps outside. It is LOUD when it rains but snug and cozy warm.

Maybe it was boat life or that we are just very simple people, but for DrC and I, Dapple is big. Really really big. We have way more storage space than we need... in fact entire lockers are virtually empty. Both he and I have pretty gimpy backs so a priority was to work out an evening system where we could both comfortably stretch out and relax in a fashion that would relieve pressure in the right places. We've been able to do this relatively easily using the love seats and couch. We long since mastered cooking on two burners without an oven in a microdot of a kitchen so that isn't really a drama. I think the only thing that really cramps us is when DrC plays his guitar. He looks a bit twisted and uncomfortable. Warmer weather should address this challenge as we will be able to spread outside in the evenings. Similarly, there is no place to workout. Don't laugh. We need to do our pushups and sit-ups and Dapple just ain't got the floor room. The challenge is real. Try doing the plank on frosty ground in 5C.

One thing that we didn't expect is that we simply are not going to patronise commercial campgrounds. It's been a month, and we haven't paid for parking even once. Dapple is completely self-contained, and free camping is virtually everywhere in Europe. We just roll up to a town, find a parking lot or specially designated motor home space and park for the night. Speaking of which, I strongly recommended getting an app called park4night when campervanning in Europe. Literally worth a 100x what we paid for it. Many small towns have gone out of their way to make campers welcome with set aside facilities for dumping grey and black water, and stocking up on fresh. Many even have a few charging stations you can use for 1 to 3 euro if you're inclined. All they ask really is that you shop or eat in their towns. Not a sacrifice to parade down the Main Street of an evening, stop at a bar for a glass of vino tinto and a complimentary tapas, and then wander back to your generally very nicely kept and beautifully positioned campervan lot.

Laundry is a bit of a mission. We have to find a laundry mat, which is not always easy. And then in some countries like Spain it's INSANELY expensive. Our solution -- which is probably also something you don't want to know about me -- is to not launder. Heh. Okay, we really are taking the stinky tourist thing a bit far, I'll grant you. We shower every three or four days, we laundry every two weeks... maybe. Remember that all of our clothes were stuffed into one small corner of one suitcase, so we basically have a lot of underwear and socks and two pairs of pants each. On the up side, my hair and skin are absolutely delighted with this lack of cleanliness, and all the frizzies from the colouring I had done before I left are gone. Skin and hair smooth and silky, albeit smelly.

I like van life. DrC and I have repeatedly (and more than a little bit smugly) looked at other campers and concluded that Dapple is perfect for us. She is big enough that we don't have to make the bed/table or jam the bikes into the cabin, but she is small enough that can traverse virtually any back road or village narrows we need. She is just a bit oversized for normal parking spots in length but not in width. This opens up a lot of places to park where  a bigger camper would not fit. However, like any cramped environment, I suspect eventually this is going to get old. Ask me again in a few months.

CURRENT: Padua, Italy

LAST WEEK: The first half of the week we did a speed run from Leiria, Portugal across Spain and southern France and into Italy. We lost over two weeks due to Dapple mechanicals and had reservations for the opera in Milan and the Vatican. So much for France. Maybe next trip.

Once into Italy, we headed immediately for Milan. Through a stroke of stellar good luck, DrC was able to get the tickets changed. So we DID see the opera at La Scalla! OMFG bucket list tick. It was even a Puccini, albeit the more than a bit tepid Manon Lascaux. The tenor was great, the soprano just okay for the evening though she has an outstanding reputation. Several major boo boos with the set which just made me giggle. It allows me the moment to very haughtily walk out of the place noting, "Well I've never seen such gaffes at the San Francisco Opera." That's a moment you really want to cherish, let me tell you. Vainly, the really most memorable thing about the trip for me was that I wore a structured, simple dusty rose gown in a SIZE F*CKING TEN. I looked hot. Seriously. I haven't worn a 10 in 25 years.

From Milan, we slowed way down and only made it to the southern Lago Di Garda where we spent the evening near the very chichi area known as Sirimonte. Everything super expensive, and tourist area at the end of peninsula really felt like a Disney version of a medieval Tuscan village.

PLAN: Padua, Venice, Bologna and perhaps a walk through the coastal area called Cinque Terre.


Avoid toll roads, especially in France. Tolls are mad expensive. Basically, you'll be trading off time for money. So if you have the time, save the money. If you don't have the time, figure getting from say Nice to the Italian border is going to cost you 60 euro. Ugh.