New campervan blew a fresh wind to our travels. After one autumn dinner with inspiring American travel families we have finally switched to a van. The length of our home on wheels shrunk from bold 12 metres to 6 metres. And we returned to Turkey, Thasos & explored Halkidiki for the spring. It was mind blowing.
Constant change is the only sure thing in life. After several years travelling with a caravan, then a short experience with roof top tent, we have bought a black panel van. Big enough to fit in a family, small enough to enter a city without worries from getting out. In a constant search for a perfect vehicle, this one option sounded like it might be the final one. And after 3 months in Greece & Turkey, it really is. Let’s see why.
We have left Prague in the end of February 2019, after my guest talk about family slow travel at a local WordPress Camp and a short meet-up with likeminded people: Tomas & Lucy from happycamper.cz, and Martin & Lenka from nomadem.cz. It was freezing back then.
Best way to Greece
We have been to Greece in 2017 with our caravan and travelled all around the country. This year we wanted to see mainly Halkidiki, as friends and locals told us that it is a must see. To get there from Czechia or basically from Europe, you have two choices. First is via Croatia and Albania, entering Greece in the North West corner, and the second via Hungary, Serbia and Macedonia which might not be as nice, but is much faster. Serbia and Macedonia is a one day highway trip easily, so if you want to pour your feet to the greek sea quick, the mainland option is recommended.
The ideal spot for the first night in Greece is Zampetas Camper Stop. Two brothers and their team, dedicated to help campers to stay for free, use shower, water & even electricity for free in their repair shop and camping store near Thessaloniki. We have tried to bribe them, but the only way to spend money here is to buy stuff, say toilet capsules or such.
- Travelled distance: 7,600 km (less than usual)
- 95 Nights total
- Boondocking: 72 nights (free)
- Paid Camping: 19 nights (€12 to €22 per night)
- AirBnB: 4 nights (approx. €35 per night)
- Fuel consumption: 8,5 litres per 100 km (33 MPG) – that’s awesome!
- Fiat starter life-span: 6,000 km – that’s a little less awesome.
- Fuel & tolls roughly: €1,000 total
- Campsites & AirBnBs: €400 total
Articles Finished on the Road (in Czech):
- Cestování s rodinou, digitální nomádství, peníze, práce a vzdělávání dětí
- Digitální hippies — život, rodina a práce v dodávce
Searching for Zen Happiness — Again
You might know our motivation already. We like warm weather (like Nomadic Fanatic), we search for an ultimate freedom, ultimate slow travel flow and we experiment with vehicles (like Mali Mish), look for empowering locations and work-life setup. Last year in Spain was pretty much it, and with the new van we only added another layer of independence and work & schooling comfort to it. A little costly, yes, but also a solid option for travel addicts like us. We’ve already proven the idea, so why not upgrade.
Turkey for a Few Weeks
We’ve visited Turkey just briefly. And when we left back to Greece, we realised that next time we need to spend more time in such a beautiful (& dirt cheap) country with so many things to show.
Istambul — Meeting with Mali Mish family for a few days was quick. We talked a little about Europe and travel options. They went to Cappadocia and we went south.
Eceabat (other side of ferry to Çanakkale) — A little harbour town brought the biggest surprise. Mesut, owner of the Boomerang bar on the edge of the town, who’s also hosting travellers just by the way & for free (for a beer together). We were also greeted by The Grossfather an owner of a near-by hotel who was so nice o us. And our girls. He ordered a taxi to bring sweets to them, just for fun! While he and his driver was enjoying the evening. How crazy is that? Thank you Mesut, thank you guys & girls, if you happen to read this.
We have also visited Troy and spend a few days in a nice sleepy beach town Behram which was just opening for the season. No swimming or paddleboarding yet, but the weather was nice already. So we did some work and homeschooling in a peaceful location, having a personal chef right there (as we were the only restaurant guest).
I have talked to many restaurant owners along the way. The best being Blue Senses in Sarti where we loved all the food and the team. It was magical. We were often the only guest, so it was easy to discuss the financial situation Greece is in. It sounded like there is not much fun businesswise, as the crisis lasts for over 10 years now, but still most turist-ish locations allow its owners to work from June to September, or May to October, to generate enough cash to survive winters.
On the other hand, coffee shops were everywhere, and drinking coffee becomes new smoking. So in cities like Thessaloniki, you can hardly see a 20-30y old person without a paper cup with a straw. And you can hardly find a bar with a free chair. My impression was that people sit and drink coffee all day, with a little delays here and there. Just joking 🙂
After Turkey, we visited the Thasos island, close to Kavala city. As we have a friend there, it was a must see for us. Ferry ride was around €40 one way for the family and our van. We had a pretty windy weather on the way back, so girls had fun holding tight to chairs when we went from one side to another, on the waves. Thasos is a beautiful island, and I could write a lot about it. But let’s try to be quick here.
As everywhere in Greece, people are nice, coffee is great (the best was in Καφεόδεντρο) and beach locations awesome. We have found many water taps around the main and only road, so getting water was more than easy. We have met a few Czech citizens as well here. Even that I consider czechs as rather stay at home (compared to people from Germany, Netherlands, Denmark or France), here it was pretty surprising.
The highlight of the visit was definitely meeting daddy Pit, and having a nice greek dinner. Where girls found a dancing place in the bar and in a few minutes entertained the whole bar by dancing on greek traditional music.
And then we also visited Castro village and Theologos village, towns on the top of Thasos hills, located in the centre of the island. Both having it’s own vibe and magic.
The plan for each day was kind of the same → work, teach kids, jump to the sea, have lunch & dinner. Repeat. Sometimes we blended in some sights or grocery shopping. But mostly we just enjoyed the moments. It was a lot of fun. And it was the slowest travel scheme we did so far — during 2 months on the peninsula, we made some 800 km of driving, that’s some 13 km per day. Insanely low number & insanely relaxing.
And. Halkidiki was without a doubt the nicest part of Greece we’ve been to. Almost everywhere was either a nice beach, nice town, nice bar or everything combined. It felt like being on the island, that slow & detached from the city rush it was. Each of the fingers has a unique spirit.
The leftmost finger Kassandra is in my eyes the most modern, most developed. It’s hosting the nicest town such as Afytos, Pefkohori or Siviri. And if you are looking for a solid hotel & a nice beach, this is the place to be. Basically if you’re the average Joe, this finger will make you the happiest.
The middle finger Sithonia is a hippie place all around. Full of nature, large beaches without almost any distractions. On Park4Night, this finger offers the widest range of boondocking spots. There are exceptions, such as Sarti, Porto Koufos (with a great Porto Marina restaurant) or Kalamistri, but you will feel the nature winning here. If you’d like to be alone, or if you’d like to show a finger to all the civilisation, this is the right choice.
The rightmost finger with mount Athos is a special one. Foreigners are only allowed to freely enter the top part, but then it’s a sacred place with monasteries and only men are allowed to enter, and upon prior reservation (6+ months in advance). So if you’re into religions, this might be a place to go, spend days, weeks or months in isolation or with locals (mostly monks). No roads. No cars.
Top Halkidiki Boondocking Spots
This time we really were out there. Every time we found a new beach location, it was better then the last one. So we had to force ourselves to go to the next one. To only find out that it was better than the previous one. It’s pretty hard to pick the best spots, but the ones which were most magical in our memory are these five.
Disclaimer — We travelled Halikidiki in May to June, therefor off season, when most campsites were closed. The July & August situation might be way different. Such as Police forcing you to leave these spots and go to a campsite.
- Afytos — the nicest town in Halkidiki, no doubt. Where we found a beautiful AirBnB flat that had a washing machine and was close to road so that we could plug in the van to recharge (it was a rainy week back then). And this place was managed by Nikos & Tavia, the best host I have ever seen. You must live in his apartment if you’re around. You can also get €36 discount at AriBnB with our invitation. There was a nice boondocking spot at the beach, but in the season it might be packed.
- Stonero Surf Club at Volvi lake — where our little ones lost one of their toys in the grass. And the owners found it & brought it to Thessaloniki so we can have it back. This is also a family run restaurant (Try pulled pork burger!) and place to meet windsurfers and kiters often.
- Azapiko Beach — A huge beach with a fresh water source in the middle at a small hill. Here we mostly enjoyed silent workspace, with sheeps or goats disturbing the sound of waves. And here we also met with Mali Mish & Bodes Well for one night.
- Pefkohori — An awesome remote beach (4 km from Pefkohori town) with trees and the best sand we’ve seen in Halkidiki. Later in may, they also have built a coffee booth near our van, so we had music (decent), good coffee and diesel engine sounds, telling us that season is coming.
- Sarti, Platania Beach — The best hippie spot. Not far from the town, not far from nice hiking and way nicer than the proclaimed Orange Beach near by, where it was more like a public toilet. We have also been greeted by Czech&Greek couple every other day, bringing vegetables and fruits directly here. And also, close to this place is an unusual Ghost Town.
The Van Experience
Overall the Weinsberg Camper turned out to be a great piece of gear. And awesome value for money. Small from the outside → to park in a regular passenger car spot, yet well composed inside so that we can all work, learn or sleep. No matter what others do at the same time. Sure there were some issues like screws or duck tape falling from the Fiat engine compartment, as well as loosened screws and lining around furniture in the Weinsberg living area. And also…
Starter Broke Down
Fiat is known to be the most common brand for campers in Europe. Still it is not a Toyota, so I was expecting surprises and issues sooner than with our Hilux. The one that came the soonest was a broken starter after 6k kilometres on the road. It came in slowly, first day the van started on a second try. Second day the van started after 2 hours of trying and when we arrived to Thessaloniki Fiat Service, it was saying good bye to us.
But we came to the service late, just before they closed for the day. So we needed to get out to a boondocking spot near by. To not start at all the next morning. So we took a big enough tow car to take us to the service, then slept one night in the city and got back our van in less then 24 hours. Kudos to Mikeys who took care of us! And met a few more Fiat campers coming in and out with various other issues. So yeah, it was fun!
The van really meets our needs. The only thing we need to replace is battery. Currently we have a Bosch 90 Ah 12V lead battery and it doesn’t offer enough power. A good alternative might be Lead Crystal or LiFePO technology. I wanted to get the Lead Crystal one, but nobody sells it yet in Europe. The LiFePO is same value for energy, but as it lasts longer (5,000 cycles, compared to 1,500 cycles with lead) and you can use about 80% of its rated energy (compared to lead based battery where you can use only 40% of its rated energy) the actual purchase price is a few times higher.
And I found out that Victron Energy, a great company which made our solar regulator as well as pure sine inverter, is also making LiFePO batteries (similar to this Deep Cycle battery on Amazon) that you can connect to the same mobile app to manage them.
After finding a new kid in the boondocking mobile app world, we actively used it to add spots on Thasos as well as in Halkidiki. We all love french Park4Night, but this new german app has a neat UX and its flows look pretty smooth.
On our way back home, we also visited an awesome overlander’s meetup in Slovakia. Various crazy vehicles presented their toys as well as stories. It was muddy, but there was fun. There we looked as a travel beginners with just a simple camper van.
One of the great ideas presented, was Tatra Around The World no.2 a project taking travellers to an expedition in a chosen part of the world. The project was partly sponsored by travellers at HitHit crowdsourcing platform.
My Illustrated Stickers
Our friend Tomas asked me to make a few illustrated stickers for hist Happy Camper brand and so I did a few more designs to have something to place on my car, to spread between campers and to sell if anybody likes. Our girls used this opportunity on the Overland meet-up to learn a bit about money and how they can do real business. They were lovely selling piece by piece, smiling and explaining that their father made these. I’m proud.
Trying to be a Vegan
From the time our first baby was born, we try to eat healthier. Not by force, but naturally moving from bad diet to a better one. One book, recommended to me by a doctor and a friend is called: How to not die. This is by far the best diet & health related book I’ve read. Practical, and based on facts.
Unfortunately at the time of reading it in Greece, one of our family members, passed away at age 41, leaving two kids and their mom alone. Which made it even more urgent, and actual, for anybody who would like to enhance their body health to think and pick the right ingredients to put into the body.
This book delivers comprehensive guide for newbies, and lists the best plants to use for your benefits.
And you? Do you travel with your family?
This year, we have seen way more families travelling like we do. Yay! Either with a caravan or in a van or camper. So. What about you? Do you have photos from your trips, or do you make your own DIY camper to inspire us? Please send it over!
See you on the road, or the beach → cheers!