Category Archives: Our First Six Months

Synopsis posts of our travels during our first six months in Benny

Our first six months – an activity and financial synopsis

Our first six months – an activity and financial synopsis

Following on from our First six months photographic synopsis, we decided to also create an activity and financial synopsis, to record the details of our life on the road to date:

As motorhoming newbies, going full-time in our very first van was quite a scary proposition at first.  Would we enjoy it?  How would we cope with the driving?  Would our budget be sufficient, or have we made any miscalculations?  How would we get on in such close confinement every day?  The answers would only be supplied by time, patience, prudence and experimentation.

We learned not to see our day-to-day life in our van as a holiday, but as a specific lifestyle choice that brings its own trials, complications and rewards.  We gave up a lot of valued possessions, personal comforts and money to gain the time, freedom and frugality we experience on the open road.  Along the way we’ve had our share of difficulties and headaches, made some mistakes, but these normal hiccups in our new lives have been the insignificant parts of a much larger and complex jigsaw puzzle we have been building slowly and rewardingly together over these past six months.

First Six Months - Route

The above image is a rough sketch of our route, from our initial arrival in Dieppe until we arrived back in Dieppe six months later.  In these first 184 days on the road, we have:

  • Driven 7071 miles, in three countries (not including England), for an average of 38 miles per day.  ( France – 3256 miles; Spain – 2756 miles; Portugal – 1059 miles. )
  • Had our fuel costs and driving efficiency (27.1 mpg) average out to around €0.19 per mile
  • Cycled 1040 kilometres, mostly off-road, with 30 outings on our bikes
  • Walked over 500 kilometres (GPS tracked) and more urban kilometres that weren’t recorded

As mentioned previously in our80 days’ synopsis post, we tracked all money spent on the road, because we wanted to ensure this is a fully sustainable way of life for us.  We created an over-complicated multi-tab excel spreadsheet, a good sign of much too much time on our hands, that we used every day to input distances travelled and costs incurred.  We then compared what we spent our money on from month to month and from country to country, and tracked all our outgoings in specifically defined categories, as detailed below:

FOOD – Food bought from a supermarket / shop. This includes wine and beer, but not eating out
FUEL – Diesel for Benny
LPG – Propane gas for cooking, heating and running the fridge when not on sites
TRANSPORT – Tolls, vignettes, ferries, bridges, public transport & parking when not overnighting
EATING OUT – Eating and drinking out in restaurants and bars (also includes snacks and ice creams)
OVERNIGHT STAYS – Cost of sites, aires or parking overnight, where a cost applied
ENTERTAINMENT – Entry fees for museums, galleries, castles, cathedrals, attractions and other events etc..
Note: This final category also includes personal items such as clothes, shoes, laundry and other misc. items

The current ratio of our spending is as per the image below:

six month finances - including skiing

The final category, the loosely defined ‘Entertainment’, has proved to be the most problematic for us, as it became the place to dump in all costs not otherwise specified.  This category then became massively skewed by the inclusion of a week’s skiing in Serre Chevalier, as this added the equivalent cost of around six weeks of travel into just one week.  If we removed all the main costs associated with our full week of skiing, including purchasing ski chains, lift passes, ski and pole hire and the ski aire camping costs, we would instead have:

six month finances - without skiing

Our ‘by country’ cost averages worked out as:
77 days in France –   €60 / day (inc. skiing)  or €46 / day with skiing trips excluded.
75 days in Spain –     €29 / day
31 days in Portugal -€25 / day

It’s clear that by removing skiing from the equation the general theme remains, as before, that feeding ourselves is the biggest expense, followed by diesel for travel, with every other category of expenses lagging far behind.  But in general, we’re comfortable with our pace, our spending and our level of activity throughout. All is going well and looking fully sustainable going forward.

Our next long trip, beginning in a few weeks at the end of April, is east and north, for a touch of Midnight Sun. We plan to ferry to the Hook of Holland and drive through the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark before crossing to explore Sweden, Norway and Finland.  We definitely will continue to track all costs and miles, writing up posts and recording our experiences as we go, keeping active and living as we originally planned.

Our first six months – a photographic synopsis

Our first six months – a photographic synopsis

Over the preceding twenty-six weeks, or more accurately 184 days, we have passed through many stunning places, towns and landscapes around Western Europe.  We have cycled, walked and swam in beautiful and varied locations, covering more ground and staying fitter than we would have during the cold, grey winters of home.  We have eaten well, enjoyed the company of many friendly people, revelled in the noise of busy cities and the solitude of high mountains or rural retreats along the way.  It’s been nearly impossible to narrow each of our adventure-packed months down to only a few choice photos, but that’s the task we set ourselves for this post, to create a quick and colourful, impressionistic overview covering many aspects and experiences in our new life to date.

September 2016 – Synopsis
Day one in France took us to Rouen to see the cathedral, then Giverny and Monet’s Garden.  From there we enjoyed cycling to Mont St. Michel and Dinan, before seeing Poitiers and visiting friends in Chateau-Gontier and Moncontour.  We then relished a few days exploring on Île de Ré.  We headed south to first see Dune de Pilat then Biarritz, before crossing into Spain and stopping at San Sebastian.  Next up were Bilbao and Santander, before we reached the Picos de Europa where we walked Fuente De and Cares Gorge.  Then we headed west along Spain’s north coast, stopping in Gijon, Cudillero and finally Navia where we spent a few relaxing days on a clifftop with our own private beach below.

September 2016 – Photographic highlights

Monets garden, GivernyExploring Monet’s Garden, Giverny, France

Avranches park - sketchingSketching in the park in Avranches, France

cycling to Mont st michelEnjoying a long rural cycle to reach Mont St. Michel, Northern France

Ile de Re sunsetBeach walking under an Île de Ré sunset, Western France

A+N Dune du PilatEnjoying the sun and sand at the Dune de Pilat, Western France

Walk 3 - lunch with a viewTrekking the mountains in the Picos de Europa, Northern Spain

Navia - (lunch overlooking bay)Cycling the rugged coast near Navia, Northern Spain

October 2016 – Synopsis
Tapia de Casariego was our next stop, where we cycled and walked portions of the Camino de Santiago, an experience we repeated from Palas del Rei.  We drove the Spanish west coast to Boiro, then on to a rural stop in O Mundil, before crossing into Portugal at Bragança.  We had long, rainy and tough cycles around Meda, Benquerenca and Idanha-a-Nova, before a more religiously influenced route took us through Tomar, Fatima and Batalha.  We reached the Atlantic and west coast of Portugal at Nazare, before following it south to Sintra and Cascais.  We visited Belem and the capital Lisbon and then spent long, lazy days in glorious sunshine at the beaches of Fonte da Telha.

October 2016 – Photographic highlights

Boiro (Az on decking)Chilling on our private decking on the beach at Boiro, Western Spain

O Mundil (skinny dipping)Skinny-dipping in the cold river at O Mundil, Spain

Monsanto (Walk up to castle)Climbing the heights at Monsanto, Eastern Portugal

Batalha (Az at cathedral)Visiting the cathedral of Batalha, Portugal

Sintra Pena Palace from High CrossWalking to Pena Palace from Sintra, Western Portugal

Fonte del Telha - beachfrontLazy days and fantastic sunsets, Fonte da Telha, Portugal

Porto Covo (N playing in the waves)Playing in the wild west coast surf, Porto Covo, Portugal

November 2016- Synopsis
We tore ourselves from Fonte da Telha to visit further beaches at Porto Covo, Lagos and Luz, before turning east to Albufeira.  Skipping the rest of Portugal, we jumped back into Spain and a fantastic city break in Seville. We loved the Via Verde cycling at Puerto Serrano and Olvera before escaping into the high mountains to see Ronda and Casares, where we encountered griffon vultures.  We skipped through the busy Costa Del Sol, preferring to be back into the rural tranquillity of El Torcal, before reaching Granada and the sublime Alhambra. We returned to beach living at Playa La Carolina before reaching Totana and the Sierra Espuna where we climbed beautiful, rugged mountains.

November 2016 – Photographic highlights

Seville (Plaza de Espana reflection)Exploring the beautiful city of Seville, Spain

Olvera (A looks out from church)Cycling and walking the pueblo blanco town of Olvera, Spain

Casares (town from castle)Exploring the town of Casares in the mountains, Spain

Casares (A and n near summit)Climbing Sierra Crestalina and seeing griffon vultures, Spain

Antequera (n in el torcal)Wandering through the amazing rock formations of El Torcal near Antequera, Spain

Granada (view from towers)Exploring the incredible Alhambra in Granada, Spain

Totana (a rest with a view)Climbing peaks in the Sierra Espuna near Totana, Spain

December 2016 – Synopsis
We met up with Nicky’s mum for five days of exploring Murcia, Cartagena and the nearby coastline from our base in Torre Pacheco.  We saw the groovy town of Castell de Gaudalest before arriving in the orange groves of Simat de la Valldigna where we enjoyed many mountain walks. We cycled around Carcaixent before an eye-opening visit to Valencia and a weather-beaten tour of Peniscola.  We briefly visited Morella and hid in the deep quiet wetlands of the Delta L’Ebre for a few days.  We visited Tarragona and  ArtCAVA then had two days in Barcelona in glorious weather, before spending Christmas by the beach in Blanes.  We visited musical Girona and Sant Feliu De Guixols to end our year.

December 2016 – Photographic highlights

Cobaticas (playing in the sea)A fantastic swim and play in the sea near Cobaticas, Spain

Simat monastery (oranges context)Exploring the monastery and orange groves of Simit de la Valldigna, Spain

Valencia (Hemisferic reflected)Walking around the grand city of Valencia, Spain

Peniscola (wild seas)Bracing , wild weather storm in the walled citadel of Pensicola, Spain

ARTCAVA (n tasting with Ramon)Having a wonderful tour and chat with Ramon from ArtCAVA, Spain

Barcelona (sangrada familia) (6)Revisiting Barcelona and the Gaudi masterpiece of the Sagrada Familia, Spain

Blanes (christmas morning on beach)Christmas day on the beach, complete with long swim, Blanes, Spain

January 2017 – Synopsis
Our year began with a beautiful coastal walk from Tamariu to Llfranc, before we headed back into France via Cadaques.  We visited Argeles-sur-Mer, then skied in Los Angles in the Pyrenees.  We saw Cathar castles in Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse, before working north through Quillan and Esperaza to Limoux, to visit friends Jan and Andy.  We saw Carcassonne and the Canal du Midi, before heading west to Lagrasse.  A visit to Narbonne was followed by windy beach walks around Gruisson.  Further city visits to Beziers and Montpellier followed, then a long-awaited reunion of Nicky with her French pen-friend in Saint-Just.  We saw Nimes and Saint-Gilles, then drove south to visit a rainy Camargue, before seeing Arles, beautiful Avignon and finishing deep into wine country at Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

January 2017 – Photographic highlights

Tamariu (forest trail)A wonderful New Year’s Day walk along the Costa Brava coast, Tamariu, Spain

Quillan (a with town behind)Overlooking the rooftops of Quillan, deep in the foothills of the Pyrenees, France

Nîmes (a on top ring of arena)Visiting the bullring and central streets of Nimes, France

Gruissan (view from castle)Braving the harsh winds to enjoy the view in Gruissan, France

Béziers (town and bridge)Climbing the heights of Beziers, southern France

Avignon (pont and river)The beautiful city of Avignon, Southern France

Chateauneuf-du-pape (wine tasting)Enjoying many wine tastings in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape region, France

February 2017 – Synopsis
We continued enjoying dégustations in Provençal villages, and a truffle market in St.Paul-Trois-Chateaux.  From the peaceful aire at Domaine des Lauribert we next went to Gap, Briançon and onwards to meet friends for skiing in Serre Chevalier.  We crossed the Col du Lautaret to Grenoble, staying at Visieu and Belley where we cycled peaceful canal routes. We visited Vongnes, enjoying wine tastings and nature walks.  We cycled around Dôle, visited Besançon and the quiet lake at Vesoul, before an architectural pilgrimage to Ronchamp cathedral.  We had a few restful days in Charmes, then a busy city visit to Nancy before arriving in Mareuil-sur-Ay in the heart of Champagne country.

February 2017 – Photographic highlights

Ronchamp (front)Our architectural pilgrimage to Le Corbusier’s chapel at Ronchamp, France

Domain de Lauribert (vines)Quiet walks through vineyards in rural wine country, France

Montbrison-sur-Lez (lavander field)Long walks through the lavender fields of Provence, France

Serre Chevalier (with friends)Skiing with friends in Serre Chevalier, France

Voseul - lakesideRestful parking overlooking the lake at sunset in Vesoul, France

Glandieu waterfallCycling to the waterfalls of Glandieu near Belley, France

Vongnes - miradorCycling and walking through the countryside around Vongnes, France