2011 Trip Wrap Up – Lessons learnt, wins, losses
2011 trip wrap up
I always like to do a wrap up after each trip to describe the lessons I learnt and pitfalls from each trip.
So, here are the things I learnt from my 2011 trip.
Note, many of the campervan-related tips I will cover in the next VeloNomad ebook, Campervanning through France. Make sure you're signed up to the VeloNomad Mailing List to ensure you get access to the launch discount – all VeloNomad products always launch to the mailing list at a discount.
Campervans are expensive
Whilst some people might think campervanning lets you save money on accommodation and food, the reality is much different.
Campervans are very expensive to hire: count on spending around AUD$6600 (around 4000 Euro) for 30 days hire.
Additionally you'll end up camping a lot, so bank on spending around 15 Euro per person per day (PPPD) on camping.
Although many campers have cooking facilities, unless you're very disciplined, it becomes all too easy just to eat out, which might add another 30 Euro PPPD to the bill.
It all starts adding up.
I'll be doing a full cost comparison in the forthcoming, Campervanning Through France guide.
We drove too much
Another pitfall to any trip, which I also fell prey to in 2009, is too much driving. Whilst it's understandable you want to see as much of France as you can, it's probably better to pick a few key spots and do day trips from there.
Along with the extra cost in doing lots of driving – particularly with regard to tolls and fuel – is the lost time. That is a lot of time you could have been exploring little towns, having some awesome meals and doing some riding.
Campervans – Hard to Explore
Having a campervan can prevent you from exploring. Once you get encamped, it can be a pain to decamp and go enjoy the countryside, unless you want to ride everywhere. This is not practical if you want to go check something out a long distance away (think 80km or so), or where you don't want to walk around a tourist area or site in lycra.
It becomes doubly difficult if you get settled in a small, busy town – sometimes it's too easy to “not be bothered” with packing everything up and leaving the town and coming back again.
Campervans – Hard Work in Small Towns
Many towns are not campervan-friendly. There is a decided lack of parking for campervans with many carparks actually preventing campervan access (to stop people staying there overnight presumably, which is fair enough).
We found many towns on the Costa Brava coast had no parking so we couldn't stop to check them out, which was a big disappointment as there are some very pretty towns in that area.
Simply navigating or passing through these small towns is also highly stressful and dicey, with lots of tight streets and dodgy driving by other people. Be prepared to have the utmost patience.
Campervan Take-Home Point
Be really sure you want to campervan. Don't get me wrong, it's great fun and has its upsides, but also has some potential downsides.
GPS Bookmarking – Can be Inaccurate
Although our Garmin GPS was a big help on this trip, don't rely on its GPS bookmarking. We bookmarked the campervan depot when we arrived, and when we were headed back, we relied on it, and it put us in central Paris (we were meant to be 50km away on its outskirts). You can read about that stuff up here.
Lesson: use street address based bookmarking.
High end bikes don't belong in campervans (or on trips)
My Look 586 went along on this trip, which was in hindsight, very foolish. It got knocked around in the campervan.
On reflection, my tip is to take a “travel” or lower end bike. In addition to the risk of it being damaged in transit (see reader Damien's poor bike below)
Catalunya, Cadques and the Costa Brava
Cadaques, L'Escala, the Costa Brava – Catalunya in general – were just awesome and the surprise packet of the trip for us.
Awesome food, awesome weather, awesome riding, very cheap. Definitely worth a look. The links above show you how much fun we had.
Ventoux – Les Cingles
The Ventoux 3 Peat (“Les Cingles”) was a win for me. I've wanted to do it 3 times in a day for a couple of years and I managed to knock it over. Hard work but super fun. You can check out the How to do LEs Cingles post I wrote.
Lake Geneva, Alpes and Pyrenees
I love the Alpes, Pyrenees and Lake Geneva. Super fun, great riding, awesome weather.
Here are some other inside tips and insights, in no order of importance.
- Do your research on where you want to go – is a campervan or car/hotel a more cost effective and practical solution. Here are a couple of other posts on this topic: car/hotel versus camper, how I planned the 2011 trip case study
- Use street address based bookmarking in GPS units
- I have said it before but I will say it again – get to TDF vantage points EARLY. If it's a HC climb in a big mountains stage, get there early the day before.
- Don't take your high end race bike
- Take a cigarette lighter apaptor for your iPhone, iPad or phone
- iPads and tablets with 3G: the ultimate device? Tethering in France is a drag which makes blogging (which I need) an utter pain in the bum. The iPad or a tablet with 3G is a great compromise – blogging-friendly, Google Maps, email, banking, good for movies on the plane – it's almost the perfect travel device.
- Orange in france a breeze; learn more on the VeloNomad my prepaid 3G in France page
- 3G in Spain: Vodafone is tricky (read more about how to jury-rig unlimited Vodafone 3G on your smartphone) into the Vodafone. Movistar is a real drag, so don't bother (until they have more generous plans.
- Speak some of the local language; seriously. Get started here, and here.
- Always travel with a good dancer.
- Campervan – bring directions from the airport to the camper depot in native language (e.g. French) and a map, for the cab driver.
- Avoid peak season.
- A TV tuner for your laptop or a camper with a TV is a must for the TDF.
- Hiring a camper with bike storage is a MUST; either get a bike rack or internal storage.
- Bring 2 bike locks per bike.
- Bring your own food on the plane; tuna cans, nuts, avocado, some chopped vegies, Clif Bars. Avoid spicey, starchy, carbohydrate-laded processed food like the plague.
- French tolls on the Autoroutes: stick to the “t” queues. You'll always be taking a ticket, paying for one, or paying just for access. Don't PANIC.
- Get to campgrounds early; more on this in the forthcoming VeloNomad Guide to Campervanning in France.
- Avoiding camping outside of camp grounds if you're on or around the Med Coast, big cities or south of Spain. Try and stay in camp grounds only. The Alpes, Pyrenees and other parts of France ok.
- Get cash out at the airport on arrival or take some with you – not all taxis take credit cards.
The spots below are awesome for riding and general touristy-related stuff. They won't let you down.
- Val D'Aran – a valley in the French/Spanish Pyrenees. Close to the Portillon, Aspet, Aspin, Peyresourde and many more.
- Bedoin; the Ventoux, warm, sunny, relaxing. Heaven.
These climbs are just crazy. Get amongst it!
- Cluses -> Megeve – near Chamonix and a lovely climb. Find it on the route des Hautes Alpes.
- Col du Glandon from the Maurienne valley – added bonus of the Col du Madeleine nearby.
- Col du Galibier from the Bourg d'Oisans side – hugely epic ride.
Campgrounds that are Awesome
We found these campgrounds were pretty awesome. Note my tip above about getting there early!
- Camping Vieille Eglise – right near Lake Geneva/Lac Leman, awesome spot.
- Val D'Aran, just up the road from Bossost, on the river.
- Col Porteur in Bourg D'Oisans (book ahead)
- Camping L'Escala in L'Escala – center of town, quiet, awesome facilities, not cheap though.
- Tulette – good transit stop, municipal camping at the pool and very cheap.
- Cadaques – Cadaques in Spain, just down from the French border, on the Mediterranean. We had an awesome time. Good climbing, amazing weather, food and scenery.
- Camping Pastory in Bedoin – just out of town.
- Camping Vaison Romaine – book ahead. Very busy, very old Roman town.
- Camping Savigny-Les-Beanue – an awesome part of France, and great camping ground.
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