Traveling helps me to gain perspective

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There is this great travel festival in Prague, called SlowTravel. It’s hosted by very popular czech website about traveling – TravelBible, who also published many books. I was invited there to do an interview. They asked me many interesting questions about how we travel and I decided to translate their article for you. Hope you’ll enjoy it!

I know you visited Marocoo, Spain and Portugal with your caravan. Any other places?

We are trying to travel across the whole Europe, step by step. We’ve been both to Portugal on the left side and Turkey on the other side of Europe and also many countries around. We still haven’t been to Greece, but we’re already planning our visit. We’ve also spent some time in Canaries, but without the caravan.

Vita Valka Family

How often do you move from one place to another?

We used to choose some final destination, drive for a few days and then spend weeks at one place. But not anymore, we’ve started to travel around more. We don’t stay at one place for more than one week, actually one week it’s a lot. More like two or three nights. It’s much more colorful like this and when we have enough of one place, we move on to another. We’re more interested in seeing more places right now, than staying in the same location.

Unlike most nomads, you have the advantage of always taking your home with you. The change isn’t as big then as if you move to another apartment …

Yes, that’s why living in a caravan is much easier. But of course we also have to take care of some technical stuff – turn off the gas, check the electricity and other stuff – but apart from that it’s a lot easier than changing apartments.

This year we tried the “stellplätze,” a lot, which are places, where you pay less than in the campsite, sometimes nothing at all, and there’s much less people. You can arrive there at midnight without having to worry that nobody’s at the reception anymore. Also you don’t plug in to their electricity supply, so you can leave faster in the morning. At least half of these places are free of charge and the others are significantly cheaper than any campsite, but of course they don’t have the same facilities and services. Typically they’re parking spaces with facilities like toilets and running water.

Art Cava Stellplatz

Why did you decided to travel with the caravan in the first place? When did you start?

It started about 4 years ago, our first trip took place in 2012. Me and my wife’ve been travelig for a very long time, we’ve started even before we got married. We see traveling as a normal part of live and the caravan idea came spontaneously with the kids. Suddenly we needed more stuff to travel – stroller, diapers and all these baby things. It’s not much fun to carry it all to the 6th floor of a hotel without any lift, so we started to think about other options. At the same time, the myth about a caravan being something very expensive and unavailable fell apart in my head. I found out that you can easily buy a cheap trailer for less than 4000 Euros.

Suddenly everything fell into place. Campsites are cheaper than hotels, so the investment in a trailer comes back in three months and after that you not only save money, but also you have much more freedom. You have to book a hotel for a specific date, so we used to plan everything ahead, but with the caravan travels can be very spontaneous. If you enjoy camp for a week, you can stay there, but you can move anytime you want. You can take advantage the fact that you take your home on the wheels with you. This year we planned the approximate route for about three months and also the final destination. The rest was free.

Did you travel this much even before you got the caravan, or did it came with the purchase?

When it comes to the time we spend traveling, it extended with the caravan. Before that we traveled by car or palne, so the trips lasted 2-3 weeks or a month, tops – and we went twice a year. Now it’s three months in the spring and then some shorter trips for the rest of the year.

In the caravan you have everything you need. Office, washing machine, refrigerator, sleeping area, “playground”, kitchen – it’s a small house, where you can live comfortably and almost unlimitedly. The only limit comes in the gas cylinders that last only for 3 months, so we have to replace them in the Czech Republic, because in each country they have a different valve, but that’s a little thing.

How do your children react to the traveling and living in the caravan?

Well, the beginnings were quite funny, as usually when you’re trying out a new idea. When we told our friends about the change, they all shook their heads in disbelief and said it’ll never work. But it turned out to be the exact opposite of what they’re expecting – my wife and kids absolutely love it. We’re outdoor all the time, on the grass, on the beach, we park wherever we want. It’s much more pleasant than staying in the city, where you need your car to enjoy a park and once you’ve had enough, you have to go back to the car in order to get back to your hotel…

This is much more relaxing. I call it “slow travel”. You don’t deal with the planes, hotels… no stress. Also we’re not the kind of travelers who are all about sightseeing. When we spend our day in a park drinking good coffee, we’re satisfied.

Awesome Stellpltatz for Boondocking in Portugal
Awesome Stellpltatz for Boondocking in Portugal

Now your kids are up to the age when they’ll have go to school. What are your plans about that?

The school is, of course, a big challenge that awaits us very soon. Magdalenka applied for an alternative school and she starts in september. My plan is to wait 7 months to see how it’s going. Then we’ll leave and she’ll learn at a distance, or it’s not gonna work and we’ll be able to leave in the summer. But summer has one big drawback – it’s full of people who couldn’t go anywhere the whole year and then they need to have fun. Off-season travels are much quieter.

How does the education work with Czech legislation? Is it easy to teach children remotely?

Elementary school is a little looser, the children have to be examined twice a year. If they have the expected knowledge, they can continue. There are even some schools that teach over Skype. The middle school is a bit more complicated because children have to be physically present at school.

Then you’ve got a few more years …

Yes. We chose an alternative school that started a few years ago and I assume that it will be more flexible than a state school and a also their approach should be more individual.

Boondocking in France

Can you describe one of your regular days, when you’re not moving from one place to another?

Sure, I’ll be happy to deny the misguided image from Facebook – that we spend most of our time chilling and we’re only working for couple hours a day! (laughter) I’d say it’s 60% working and 40% pleasure, if the work isn’t even more. The week days are are classic – I get up at seven or eight and start working at nine. When it turns out well, I finish at four, when not, I work until 10pm. When we travel a lot and the work loads up, I work until I can’t keep my eyes open anymore. Fortunately, I work by getting my assignment, then processing it and surrendering it. There is no need to be online every day and one day less or more doesn’t change anything.

Working while Standing
Working while Standing

Do you have any routine that helps you get back to work after the transfer? I know it myself – it takes me a while to get back to the work rhythm, to do as much as I’m used to…

Exactly, I call it “laboratory working conditions”. Of course there is some approach I use, so the work is as easy as possible. After the arrival, I set up a desk, computer, accessories, and also usually put on my headphones. They cover my whole ears, because when the kids are feeling playful, it can get really crazy. I drink matcha or coffee, play some electronic music to get into the rhythm, and the work is then done relatively smoothly.

Of course it doesn’t work when you are on your feet for a whole day and in the evening you decide to catch up with the work. After walking in a city or physically demanding day, I usually don’t do anything and leave it for the morning. Of course there are still some things that can take me by surprise. I used to panick when the internet wasn’t working smoothly, but it doesn’t throw me off balance anymore. I know that there’s some solution to everything.

So what do you do when you need to communicate? I assume WiFi in the campsites probably isn’t very stable.

I used to have problem, when I was talking through skype with more people at the same time, it was a nightmare. When I came to the campsite expecting a call, I was completely panicking, if it’s gonna work. Even today, when I expect an important call, I like to have some pubs with wi-fi around as a backup. Of course I have a data sim card with a payment of 1 € per 100 MB of internet data across whole EU (Spanish Mundo), which is another backup that can save me, but nowadays I can also call the person on the cellphone. Thanks to the new EU roaming rules, a half-hour call isn’t that expensive.

Caravan Office Setup
“An office”

Can you describe what stuff do you take on the road?

The caravan’s payload is 300kg and the car can take another 800kg. But I’ve noticed that we are able to get along with the minimul load. Of course we take a lot of cloths, washing machine, Voltage transformer for the caravan and a solar panel. On a sunny day, I can stop in a parking lot, use my external monitor and computer and work the whole day. When the weather is rainy, the power doesn’t last for more than three days.

You described many good tips in the article navolnenoze.cz (odkaz?). Can you think of anything else that makes your life on the road easier? Perhabs something related to work?

Essential is a good headset. I was looking for a good one for a long time and until now I wasn’t satisfied. But now I use Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro, the version with a microphone. Then there is an external keyboard and monitor – things I wouldn’t put in a hand luggage, but I can have them here. The caravan is great, I can take even bigger things.

Then there are mainly stuff for specialists – we have a different caravan than in the beginning and we now have a separate shower. Before that we used have the toilet and shower in one. Thanks to the fridge with a freezer we can buy grocery in stock. Those are details that are more interesting for people who also travel with a caravan. There’s also great app Campercontact – databaze of camp and parking sites. And also wifimap.io – app with the wi-fi passwords, which you can also use offline, if you save the locations first.

You’ve mentioned the benefits of a caravan over a camper van. Can you please elaborate on that?

I still don’t understand the fuss about camper vans. Most of the purchases used to be trailers and caravans, back then camper vans almost didn’t exist. When we started, it was about 50/50 and now I believe its 30/70, caravans are retreating. I can’t say why – probably because everything is speeding up, so a camper van is more compact solution. You can drive it at speed of 130km per hour on the higway, and it’s usually equipped better than caravan. But you can also equip your caravan with a solar panel and water tanks. Our caravan is basically equipped as a camper van and I really don’t understad why they’re so popular. I’ve met a French guys who were too afraid to reverse with a caravan, so they prefer a camper van.

Economically, it’s also not better. You can buy a caravan for 100-700 thousand CZK (4000-27000 Euros), but the highest price is a real luxury, while the camper vans start at one milion CZK (39000 Euros) and the prices go even higher. I don’t feel like there are as many advantages, when you compare it to the extra money you have to spend. Also you have to pay an extra insurance for another car, the insurance for the caravan is much cheaper. We can leave the caravan at the campsite and drive with our car to visit the nature around. For us as a family, it’s definitely a better solution.

I can imagine a retired or childless couple having a camper van and not using campsites as much. They may stop in a forest, which is much more unapproachable for us. For now, I’m happy with the way things are and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. In future, if the girls won’t be interested in traveling with us anymore, a camper van might be a solution.

Bessacarr Cameo
The interior of the current caravan

Many people are rebuilding trucks into camper vans. Do you also plan doing something like that?

Not my own reconstruction, it comes with a lot of paperwork. You buy a truck which isn’t certificated as a camper van and you cannot just build anything you want inside – unless you have the paper fot it. I know a few guys who do that. I don’t have the guts to do it, but I can imagine buying a camper van or paying someone to rebuild it for me.

It wouldn’t work with the kids though – there really is a less space and the isolation is thinner, plus more. We can put hundreds of kilos into the car and some more into the caravan. But if it’s gonna be only two of us in the future, the van would be great. You can drive into the city, park in the parking lot for regular cars and you can sleep there, because the van doesn’t say if it’s meant for living or not. There’re of course some restrictions, but a camper van is exluded from that, because it’s basically just a regular car.

Can you compare the fuel consumption?

When you have an alcove campervan, which means the additional sleeping space is located above the driver’s cab, it’s aerodynamicly bad and the consumption of such a camper can be comparable to a caravan. In our case its 10-11 litres per 100km, a rebuilt van can take 8-9 l, campers without alcove alike. You save some money for the consumption of a camper van, but the acquisition price is so much higher. Overall, it’s not cheaper. Also almost everyone has a regular car at home. So we just bought the trailer for less than 8000 Euros, and that was it. It made sense for us both financially and also for our kind of traveling.

Valor Chocolate factory
Valor Chocolate factory with free tours

On the journey, do you ever get the feeling that you just want to quit everything and go back to the comfort of a hotel?

Maybe it’ll come some day, but now it’s the other way around. It’s not only that we want to travel more, but we try new things. At the beginning we visited Croatia, because it’s nor far from home, then Italy, later on Turkey… We used to think that it’s dangerous in there, we didn’t know what to expect of the Arabic culture, because we’ve never been there. But it turned out to be great.

Marocco was even more challenging, especially when it comes to the cleanliness and hygienic habits, but there were roads and campsites, so it was manageable. This year we tried staying in the “stellplätze” more and we really enjoyed it, because before we were always worried about missing the opening hours of the receptions in the campsites. Now we go where we go. When we see something we want to do, we go and do it – and the stress is gone. We can merge more with the journey.

Parking at the beach in Spain

What do you enjoy the most? Or what keeps you going?

Everyday challenges. We’re always in foreign places and have to deal with different stuff than at home. When we’re in the Czech republic, I wake up, go upstairs, turn on the computer, I know there’s running water, the lights can be turned on, electricity is working… In short, comfort. But when traveling, we’re always in different places – we care about the safety, if we have enough supplies, new people… It’s more demanding because we have to concentrate and solve the things right away, but it’s much more intense and interesting. It helps me to rise above in the ordinary situations and not to be stressed by trivialities.

What’s your solution to the housekeeping, when you’re gone for several months?

We have a family and friends, who water our plants, look after the mail and other stuff. They can open our mail, so when some bill comes, we can deal with it on a phone.

Have you ever considered the option of a short-term rental?

I did, but we live in a countryside and it’s not very attractive location for travelers. I also thought about couchsurfing, but me and my wife feel like it’s our home and we only let the friends in. Maybe it will change in the future. I love getting to know new people and I can imagine couchsurfing or Airbnb can bring the wanderlust mood into our home for the rest of the year. But for now we are happy with the way things are. I have an apartment in Prague, I had to deal with the change of lodger at a distance once and I didn’t feel like the money was worth all the affort and administration.

Original article in Czech was published at TravelBible.

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