I am reminiscing here. Back to the first time I ever spent an extended period of time abroad in 2006. It was deep winter in Ireland and it was dark and cold. I was a student at the time and my ex-partner also had a free summer planned so we were wondering what to do with ourselves and planning an escape when I got a call out of the blue to say I had inherited a little bit of money. Not much but enough to go and spend the summer in the sun. The only problem was accommodation costs and she didn’t fancy a couple of months in a tent. Looking back I still can’t think why haha.
Anyway a campervan was the plan but campervans are expensive so I hatched a plan to convert a van. I found a bargain van on Ebay and was soon in South Wales bringing my new wheels back to Ireland. At the time I would have quite happily thrown a mattress and my surfboards in the back and been ready to hit the road but again my ex had higher standards. After a bit of Googling we found a couple of shops that sold campervan parts so another chunk came out of the funds and we went on the vans first road trip around Ireland collecting parts to convert it in to a suitable palace.
If only someone would have told me how much hard work and complications this would cause! It all started on my driveway when myself and my brother cut holes in the roof for windows and vents. Spending the best part of 3 grand on a motor then cutting big holes out of it was nail biting stuff to get right. It better not rain now I said, famous last words! I spent the next couple of months calling on all my tradesman friends, borrowing tools and indoor spaces big enough to house the van. Which was big!
First we put in the windows and ventilation then ran all the electrical cable and water pipes around the van. This takes more planning than one might think. I had 2 leisure batteries powered by a split charger that would charge them whilst driving or hooked up to the mains. These batteries gave us enough power to last 2 days running light electrics and the vans electrics. For water we installed a big purpose made water tank under the back seat, this was fillable by a hose from the outside much like a petrol tank on a car. It was pumped around the van with a 12 volt marine water pump.
Then came the fun part. We insulated the whole van then constructed a frame for all the furniture and the bathroom and installed extra seats. I covered the frame with marine ply then carpet and called on my cabinet maker friend to help me finish the furniture in style.
Nearly 4000 euro and a few months later I finally had a camping plan that suited my partner’s standards. In the back was 2 sofa areas that converted in to a fairly large double bed. I got the cushions from a caravan and built this to size to fit them. Then we had a waterproofed bathroom with electric running water, a toilet and a new window. Opposite this I built a kitchen unit complete with a sink and 2 gas hobs that had a lid made of bullet proof glass. To the front of the van, over the cab was a large storage area that also pulled out in to another double bed, although this turned out to be a claustrophobic space that nobody ever slept in.
To say I was proud of myself is an understatement. It was time to hit the continent in my shiny new camper so we went to Halfords for the last bit of spending and purchased a camping table and chairs and other accessories. Including a tent which we ironically ended up spending lots of nights sleeping in and using the van as a living area.
I booked a ferry to France, funds were getting low but we could live off Fritte Baguettes and cheap wine there and I had just about enough coming in to keep us going. At this stage in the game I had only ever driven a van this size around Ireland and briefly in the UK when I collected it. Now it was time to test it out on the other side of the road and to say I was shitting myself would have been an understatement. It was something that turned out not to be worth the worry though as I was soon flying around when we drove off the ferry (and got lost instantly).
Our ferry arrived around the same time as the ferry from England. My van was an ex royal mail van and I had imported it to Ireland and put Irish registration plates on it. There was a family in the car besides us queuing to get out of the ferry port and they had the roof down on their Mercedes. In a proper middle England accent the woman laughed and said look at the paddies in the post office van to her husband. I replied with my Northern England accent saying alright love. Her husband looked mortified and we were laughing our heads off as we drove away.
We spent the next few months slowly cruising round the whole coast of France and North Spain, surfing a dossing in the sun. These days the van (and the girl) are long gone and I have been to many more countries. I have spent longer times in other countries but that trip and whole experience is still the one of the trips that I remember the most fondly! I just wish I had not lost most of the photos.
Then came van number 2 and girl number 2 a few years later but that is another story 🙂