At the end of our ten nights traveling through Morocco by camper van, I sat down to chat about the experience with my parents. I was interested in knowing about the challenges they faced, how traveling this way might be different than, or advantageous to, traveling in other ways, what they learned from their camper van trial, and whether they’d be willing to travel by camper van again. What follows is our conversation, as close to verbatim as I could make it without an audio recorder!
Brittany: So, let’s dig right into your experience visiting Morocco in a camper van. What are some first thoughts that come to mind?
Dad: It’s definitely been an adjustment, a big leap from going from a big house to a small camper van. The adjustment is compounded by the fact that we didn’t know this particular vehicle, and it hasn’t been equipped in the way it would be if we owned it. It’s also compounded by the fact that we’re in an unfamiliar country with very different driving conditions.
Mom: Yeah, the small space has been a challenge. Moving around such a confined space I feel like we’re always getting in each other’s way. From the outside, the vehicle seems too big, but once inside, it feels way too small! There are other challenges, like the small water tank that limits our water use, the fact that you can’t plug into plumbing in campsites in Morocco – all that requires more planning.
Dad: It’s true that the daily chores are different in a camper van than in a home. Your routine involves emptying the grey water and the cassette, filling the water, etc. But I’m happy to take on those responsibilities.
Mom: And some of the inconveniences we just mentioned are particular to renting a camper van. If we owned one, we’d organize ourselves differently to make these routines easier.
Britt: Have there been any positive sides to traveling in a camper van?
Dad: Definitely. When the day is done, I have such a feeling of accomplishment because I’ve managed to live that day without so many luxuries. The simple life feels good.
Mom: I find the camper van quite comfortable, at least relative to your vehicle [Totoyaya]! I like the fact that we can cook and eat inside, for instance.
Dad: Yeah, it’s nice to have a shower and toilet, too, though I guess we didn’t really use them much. [Water use limited their shower abilities, and manually emptying the toilet cassette limited their desire to use their toilet.] It was certainly different to have bathrooms so far away, and less clean than what we’re used to at home. But adapting to these different routines wasn’t as much effort as I thought.
Mom: It’ll be even easier once we learn to flow through the routine more seamlessly, like you guys.
Britt: Yes, things definitely get easier and faster over time and you learn how to manoeuver around the other person and to time things so that you both don’t need a certain space at the same time.
Dad: Yeah, it’s all about relearning daily activities.
Mom: In the short-term it’s difficult, but I’m sure in the long-term it’s not.
Britt: Now you guys are sounding more positive about the experience!
Mom: Speaking of long-term, though, I wonder what it would feel like to travel like this long-term. Once the holiday feel of things is done, I wonder if we’d feel lonely.
Dad: We could meet people in the campsites, if you want.
Mom: I guess you meet people from all over, but all travel provides those opportunities.
Britt: I find that the beauty of traveling in a camper van is you are exactly as social as you want to be. When I traveled by backpack, I often found myself being more social than I necessarily wanted, just by sleeping in dorms or sitting alone at a restaurant… Anyway, let’s talk about some other advantages of traveling in a camper van as opposed to other methods of travel.
Mom: You can put your clothes away, prepare your own meals.
Dad: It’s a mobile “home” so it comes with all the luxuries and advantages of home but you get to move it around! You can stop and eat on the side of the road, drive down any road, sleep wherever you want.
Mom: However, I find myself less apt to move around once I’m at a campsite, maybe because the camper van is so big and difficult to manoeuver. It’d be much easier to travel in a car, I think.
Britt: But then you wouldn’t be able to have the advantages of home that dad just mentioned. When Bruno and I park at a campsite, we generally move around the area thereafter on foot, by bicycle, or by public transportation.
Dad: Yeah, I think the bikes are key. We would need bikes.
Mom: Good tip. We’ve gotten so many of them from you over the past 10 days.
Dad: We’ve been suffused with Britt and Bruno’s wisdom, haha!
Britt: Ha! What exactly have you learned from us?
Dad: We’ve learned how to make do with what we have, how to prepare yummy food quickly and with less tools and space, how to do view camper van responsibilities with a positive attitude rather than as chores, and the mental space required to live life on the road.
Mom: We’ve learned people skills, like how to deal with locals, vendors, beggars. And we’ve gotten to see what types of 2nd nature skills you two have that we would like to learn and develop.
Britt: Like what?
Mom: Like being able to do repairs. I worry so much that if something goes wrong when we’re on our own, we won’t know what to do. [They certainly knew what to do without us after their minor car accident, but I didn’t mention that in the discussion.]
Britt: Without Bruno and I, would you prefer to travel another way?
Mom: Maybe in a car.
Dad: Yeah, a car is easier, for sure.
Mom: But that’s just because it’s what we know. We couldn’t sit out at a desert campsite, like what we’re doing right now, in a car. National parks in the US couldn’t be done as easily in a car, either…
Dad: Plus, it’s far cheaper to travel in a camper van. If you own it, anyway.
Mom: I don’t necessarily agree. It depends on the camper van’s size, its fuel economy, whether you can find cheap hotel deals like you can often get in the US.
Britt: I agree with dad, actually. Can you imagine always having to search for cheap hotel deals? What if you don’t find them? Plus, you can lessen your camper van costs by traveling fewer kilometers and doing free camping (wild camping, parking lots) to even out your costs. By car, you have to eat at restaurants all the time, which is far more expensive than cooking yourself.
Mom: Yeah, I just don’t know yet about living long-term in a camper van.
Britt: Fair enough. What about you, dad?
Dad: I’m totally looking forward to having a camper van and traveling through North America. I’m going to do it. It’s fun, you have freedom, no schedule. The real beauty is that each day can be different, you’re constantly experiencing something new, how life is elsewhere. I love it.
Britt: What has been your favorite part of the whole experience?
Dad: Being 2 feet apart from you guys. Waking up in the camper and getting our little healthy breakfast ready.
Mom: Sharing this experience with my daughter and her hubby.
Dad: I love the feeling of crawling into bed at the end of the evening, tired and satisfied. I’m definitely more active in a camper van than at home!
Britt: So, any final thoughts on traveling by camper van?
Mom: Before, I was curious about traveling in a camper van, but I wasn’t obsessed with the idea like your father. My curiosity was mixed with concern. Now, after 10 days it hasn’t been long enough to make an assessment, but the experience definitely hasn’t turned me off. I’ve enjoyed it, especially because my daughter and her hubby have been here to guide us. If I did it again, though, I wouldn’t travel with one in another third world country. There’s enough culture shock as it is without adding the challenges of adjusting to camper van travel.
Britt: So would you travel anywhere else by camper van again, mom?
Mom: Yes, I would. And I’d recommend the experience to others, and encourage anyone curious about traveling in a camper van to rent one first, because it’s a great way to get a taste of the experience. But, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing so in Africa if it’s your first time on the continent and you’ll be traveling alone.
Dad: Agreed. Totally. Next time, we’re doing to the camper van in North America, unless of course, Britt and Bruno are with us!
After this interview, mom and dad headed north for another 9 nights of camper van traveling without their guides. Their time went by without a hitch, and I’m really proud of them! I took the opportunity to ask them a few more questions:
Britt: What was it like to travel just the two of you as compared to with Bruno and I?
Dad: Following is so much easier than leading – we did not have to plan our routing or where we would stay that evening, you mostly handled the meals. We had only to ‘go with the flow’ while we travelled with you guys. One big difference was certainly quieter evenings; playing games with you guys and our spirited discussions were definitely missed. I always enjoy being by ourselves and this time was no different for me but I would prefer an arrangement where we could have re-joined you guys after 3 or 4 days. I think this would be an ideal way to travel alternating time alone with time together.
Mom: I think dad’s idea of meeting up after 3 or 4 days is appealing because I found I was lonely at that point and wanted the company. Of course that is ‘me’ and not necessarily a need for everyone. One plus of not following all the time was not needing to have four people in agreement about the plan.
Dad: We tried to pattern our days after your example – short travel times and arriving at our campsite early to have the opportunity to enjoy the day. Dinners were later than at home, generally followed by a game, and then early to bed for me while your mom tried to journal a bit. Evenings would also include setting rough plans for the next day’s events.
Mom: Having a mobile internet setup like the one you have [which includes a 3G modem and a signal booster] would have been helpful in the evenings. Without it, as was much more challenging to do research, find a location such as the place to fill the propane gas tank, even tending to business items such as banking. Also when two people in a couple have very different bed times it would come in handy to get some of the above things done during those long evenings. I didn’t want to only read all the time.
Britt: So it sounds as though, overall, you enjoyed the experience more with us than on your own. I suppose only time will tell whether that would be a temporary feeling or whether you’d get to like traveling independently.
Dad: It was great to do a small trip like this first, a dress rehearsal, so to speak. It can provide the opportunity to equip your camper the way you want and also get you ready mentally.
Britt: Great advice for those thinking of traveling by camper van. Any other tips?
Mom: Make sure to have a few essential tools because there will always be little repairs (bed screw loose causing bed to make noise when driving, difficulty changing propane tank, etc). Having a GPS could also help reduce stress, as we had difficulty navigating a few times without you.
Dad: Travel slowly, do your homework on where to go/what to do and get off the national highways if you are able. Talk to the locals; get their ideas on what to see and do as well as where to eat. In developing countries, buy things you need when you see them because you never know if you’ll find them later. Get to the campground early and before dark (this is a must). Don’t try to drive long distances if you can avoid it; allow yourself plenty of time to get to your destination to reduce stress.
Britt: Wow, that was a wealth of helpful tips! You sure did learn a lot from your three-week camper van adventure in Morocco!