This isn’t the first time I’ve taken a campervan and travelled around. A few years back, I hired a white Dodge Town and Country, drove it to Home Depot, bought $100 of wood, nails and a hammer and built a frame that sat in the back of the van. After investing in a $20 blow up mattress, some plumbing pipes, a few zip ties and $5 of fabric, I had my very own makeshift “Campervan of Courage” to drive across the USA. It scared the bejesus out of me and I was travelling with someone, too. Regardless, traveling across the USA is tough and 50% of the time I felt unsafe, but I chose different ways to stay safe and keep my adventure on budget.
That was my American experience and this time, it was vastly different. First up, I was travelling solo. And second, I hired a Wicked campervan to drive around Ireland.
Wicked campervans are pretty popular in Australia – they’re kinda like a shell of a vehicle to keep the rain off of you plus an engine. When I picked up the van the guy was like… oh, dont worry if you scratch or hit something… as long as it comes back in one piece you’re ok.
I feel safe travelling Ireland because I’ve travelled this magic little island extensively so I figured it was no big deal to hire a van – I could just roll up anywhere and sleep. Nope. That’s not how it works here and I found it much harder to pull off this fete.
First up, this campervan that I hired is a moving billboard. It’s got “Fang Face” plastered on the side in bright and colourful spray paint. Whilst driving down the roads in Ireland, I have witness people stop dead in their tracks with a dropped jaw just to stare at the van. I even had one old guy whilst at Belfast Castle take a stealth picture of the van as I was getting into it. I only knew he did it because he had his iPhone flash sound on.
This makes it difficult to park the thing on random roads meaning… if I’m driving down the road and find a nice looking street, I cant just pull up and pull my drapes. Everyone on that street is gonna know that Fang Face has arrived and they may call the cops. Whilst this is pretty rare, I dont want to draw attention to myself and take any risks because it’s not totally legal.
Ireland does not have the “Freedom to Roam” laws in place like Switzerland and Scotland. Also, mainland Europe is pretty cruisy. They kinda just dont really care. If you want to pull over and sleep on the side of the road for a snooze, you can… but Ireland is different.
The other day, I actually heard a story on Irish radio about a doctor who pulled a massive shift and instead of driving home from hospital, he stopped off the side of the road for a snooze because he was tired and DIDN’T WANT TO DIE. The cops came by and tapped on his window and slapped him with a fine that cost a few hundred.
So, with all these facts in mind, I was really aware of what I should and shouldn’t do.
The first day, I collected the van and headed north. I felt a bit weary camping in the van for the night because you know… first night jitters. But, as luck would have it, I actually felt really uncomfortable in the hostel I booked. I was supposed to stay in a ten bed cramped hostel. Normally this is not a problem but some random creepy guy in the dorm was hanging out in the room and said that all the other beds were occupied by guys.
I went downstairs to the reception and after waiting for 15 minutes, nobody arrived… so I said “fuck it” and decided to sleep in the van. I went upstairs, grabbed my backpack and set up camp on the three wrestling mats in the back of Fang Face. I pulled the drapes and literally camped in the car park that night.
I actually did this before whilst in the Grand Canyon. I rocked up hoping to find a campsite for the night, and they were all booked out. There was NOWHERE for me to go, so I drove to the swanky hotel’s car park and pulled the blinds closed. I felt super safe and nobody knew I was there because I left around 6am.
The next day of my Irish adventure, I did a google search for National Parks or something similar. I found one online that looked like it would be perfect, so I tried my luck and made my way up there in the sideways rain. When I arrived, it was heaven! I felt safe and there were also camp showers. I also found the most prive and brilliant SAFE place to park my van, watched some Netflix and had the BEST sleep. This was a special case because as I am writing this article, that was kinda like the last time I spent in the van.
The plan was to always switch it up between the van and hostels and I think that’s pretty clever because I dont think it’s too smart to camp on the streets of any major cities regardless of whatever country you’re. So, after finding some pretty prime parking right out front my hostel in Belfast, I enjoyed two nights in a real bed.
I continued on my adventure expecting to switch it up a bit between hostel and the van. I did little searches online so I knew places were available but it was always harder than it seemed. For example, I was extremely lucky to find a campsite near the Gobbins. The manager was leaving for the night just as I was arriving. He was kind enough to let me stay for the evening and I didnt have to worry.
So, I guess my issues to sum this all up, I’ve been a bit stressed finding places to simply pull up for a snooze in Ireland.
If you’re looking to caravan around Ireland or even any country, I sugggest the following: get an unmarked small van. Don’t decide to hire anything that looks like an actual camper that your grandparents would drive – just get a plain looking van. Ireland also has a lot of height restrictions, too, and if your van doesn’t look like a van, it’s a dead giveaway that you’ve got a camper and probably wont fit under the bar.
Do a little bit of research of the country you’re going to be caravanning around. Places like New Zealand are great for campervans. You can just pull up and snooze and everyone is pretty cool with it. Australia isn’t that bad, either. If you’re on the road in the outback, you can stop at any rest stop for a snooze. You can even go head and pitch a tent and nobody will bother you. In the USA, they have National and State parks which are frickin AMZING. It’s so easy to camp around the USA and a lot of the state parks have incredible showers. Plus, they’re relatively cheap.
Also, in the USA, it’s totally ok to stay at a WalMart car park. Places like WalMart understand that when grey nomads rock up in their carpark for the evening, there’s less chance someone is gonna ram the door and steal their stuff. But, you cant do this in Ireland. It’s a big no no.
So what did I gain from this. If you’re in Ireland, hire a car. It costs the same as a van, is smaller and well.. you’re gonna get a hell of a lot less attention. All around, it’s a better deal. But, if you decide on a place like Scotland or mainland Europe, a campervan is totally the way for you to go.
An Aussie girl gone walkabout in the great big world!