2 Month European Road-trip in our van (with our dog!): Travel Diary
If you’re a regular reader here, you’ll know that in spring I bought a van with the goal to go traveling around Europe with my fiancée and our pet dog, Alfie. Fast-forward eight months later, and we’ve just arrived back home after an epic 2 month road-trip! It’s been a crazy adventure and there’s so much to write about.
Here’s our trip in a nutshell: 6,150 kilometers, 920,692~ steps between the 2 of us, 9 countries, 15 cities, 10 towns, 24 areas of natural beauty, 17 lakes, 3 summits, over 48,000ft altitude gain (4,265ft of which was a toboggan run!), 19 bucket list items, 2 roadside assistance breakdowns, 1 gas leak that resulted in the van catching fire. Still with me!?
Our route is slightly different to what we planned… the idea was to chase the sunshine, starting in France and working our way through Portugal and Spain. The goal was to end up in Milan, Italy by the end of November because I’m talking at a conference for work. We had some pins on a map of where we wanted to go but not much of a route. We wanted to find places along the way and make it up as we went along because that’s the beauty of having a van.
Almost immediately after we arrived in France, we decided to dip into Belgium to grab some chocolate waffles next thing we knew, we completely ended up changing our route. We never made it to Spain but instead we toured the Alps, and it was the best decision we could have made. We had a suitcase full of vest tops and shorts, and no hiking gear which was frustrating, but we got by (and I never go anywhere without my Sorel snow boots and Berghaus GORE-TEX® shell anyway, so I was slightly prepared!). It was so fun waking up each day and having no idea where we’d be going next, and just exploring wherever we wanted.
I’m currently in the process of writing posts about the trip but there’s so much to write and never enough hours on the day! Keep an eye out of the upcoming posts though:
Must-Have #Vanlife Apps To Download Now
Why We Came Home from Our Roadtrip Early
FAQ: Traveling Europe for 2 Months in a Van with a Dog
Things Nobody Tells You About #vanlife
This post details the places that we visited during our road-trip and over the coming months I’ll continue to update it and link to new posts about specific areas we went to. I’ve broken it down to particular places on our bucket list (castles, lakes etc) or listed it by town/city if we explored more than just that specific spot. I’m still writing about some of the locations but I’m 50% of the way there!
1. London, England 🇬🇧
2. Canterbury, england 🇬🇧
3. Dunkirk, France 🇫🇷
We got the ferry over from Dover to Calais then drove directly to Dunkirk. This trip was the first time I’d driven on the right-hand side of the road, and I knew I was going to have to get used to it soon because we would be covering thousands of miles. We made sure the van adhere to EU regulations (stickers on our headlights, first aid kit at the ready etc), but there wasn’t anything to prepare me for driving on the correct side of the road or going the right way around the roundabout. Surprisingly, we settled into it almost immediately with no major disasters. Once we arrived and parked up, we spent the afternoon strolling up and down Dunkirk beach, reading the info signs about the evacuation of Allied soldiers during World War II, which was really interesting. It’s definitely worth the short drive from the ferry port 👌
4. ghent, belgium
As I mentioned above, almost immediately after we arrived in France we decided to dip into Belgium to grab some chocolate waffles next thing we knew, we completely ended up changing our route. Ghent is a little city in North-west Belgium, famous for medieval architecture such as the 12th-century Gravensteen castle. It’s a popular city that’s been on our bucket list for a while because we’ve heard a lot of good things, and it’s clear to see why! This place is gorgeous, as is the rest of the places we visited in Belgium. My fiancée Sam even said it was perhaps his favourite place on our entire trip, which is quite a statement (the waffles were phenomenal, too!). I would 100% recommend Ghent for a couple of days to soak up the atmosphere in the city centre, enjoy some chocolate and the architecture.
5. Brussels, Belgium
Brussels hasn’t ever really appealed to me, although I was excited to see the Atomium. As soon as we drove into Brussels (we didn’t know about Low Emission Zones at this point…), my perception of Brussels changed – this place is buzzing. There’s something going on in every corner of the city and the architecture will make your jaw drop to the ground. If we do get a LEZ fine for driving through the city, it’ll be worth every penny. Oops!
Some of the highlights from our trip to Brussels:
⭐️ The iconic steel atom sculpture, the Atomium
⭐️ The Grand Place in the market square
⭐️ The Church of Our Lady of Laeken neo-Gothic church.
6. Brugge*, Belgium
We drove straight past Brugge, waving as we went by. The week before we left for our road trip we went on a mini-cruise with my family to celebrate my dad’s 60th birthday, and Brugge was one of the stops! Honestly, I’d never thought of coming to Belgium (as I mentioned before about Brussels!) but soon fell in love with the quaint shops, beautiful architecture and tasty chocolate. We ate waffles, rode a canal boat and explored the markets. 100% worth a visit if you’re planning a route similar to this. The funny thing is, if we didn’t go on a cruise with my family just before leaving for our road-trip, we wouldn’t have thought about detouring for some chocolate, which means our route would have been so different 🦋
7. Diest, Belgium 🇧🇪
If you travel around Europe in a 20 year old van, you’ve got to expect some problems. Next thing we know we’re on the side of the motorway waiting for roadside assistance with no breakdown cover (nobody offers it for a van as old as ours!). We spent 5 days in a Hyundai garage in Belgium whilst they tried to fix it. This gave us plenty of time to explore the area and enjoy the gorgeous parks and lakes nearby. It was a beautiful town to breakdown in… We were told at one point he wouldn’t be back on the road and we’d need to tow him to the UK, then we accidentally set him on fire because of a gas leak. It’s a story for another time, but they found the problem and re-built the engine. Once we cleared the fire extinguisher powder from the van, we were back on the road feeling a little defeated an €2,000 lighter.
8. Maastricht, Netherlands
9. Eltz Castle, Germany
10. Eifel National Park 🇩🇪
11. Nürburgring, Germany
Visiting the Nürbergring had always been one of S’s dreams, after years of racing around it on Gran Turismo (a PlayStation game apparently!) So he was really excited that our German detour allowed us to take a look at the beautiful but loud 12 mile long racetrack through the German woodland. As a bit of a speed-freak myself I was secretly excited to see some Porsches and Ferraris flying around the ring! The Nordschleife circuit is so large that we could only sit at a couple of corners and watch the sponsored supercars zoom past us, but it was a moment to remember, and pretty cool considering you can watch for free! We were mildly disappointed we could take Boris around the ring but it was so fun and interesting watching all the different race cars speeding around the track.
12. Hängeseilbrücke, Germany
13. Lingenfeld, Germany
14. The Rhine, Germany
15. Hohenzollern Castle
Perched on the top of a hill, you can see it for miles off as you drive towards it, which was striking – with battlements and towers, this castle looks straight out of a storybook. You might even recognise it from the horror movie A Cure for Wellness (2016). If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a hardworking Wall Street stockbroker who attempts to find refuge in a remote mountain spa but instead gets trapped in something far more sinister. The coolest thing about going to this castle, is we had no idea it was where A Cure for Wellness was filmed, until we passed the draw bridge. From then, we ran around excitingly trying to remember shots from the movie. There’s plenty of explore here, by far one of the most interesting castles we visited on our trip, and mostly likely my favourite out of all of them.
16. Lichtenstein Castle, Germany
Less than an hours drive from Hohenzollern Castle is Lichtenstein Castle. Not to be confused with the tiny European nation of Liechtenstein, Lichtenstein Castle is located in the southwest state of Baden Wurttemberg, in Germany. Might I add, the scenery is absolutely epic, especially when the castle and blooming flowers frame the view overlooking the village of Honau. This castle is completely different to Hohenzollern – it’s far smaller and has a different presence, it’s also built right on the edge of a cliff, which is like something out of a fairytale. There are a few walks in the area that are perfect for exploring and taking the dog for a run. Lichtenstein Castle was probably one of the quietest castles we visited and it didn’t seem overly touristy, just a few magnets here and there, and a small coffee shop nearby.
17. Hopfen am See, Germany
Driving towards the Alps as the sun went down was magical. The sky gradients from pink to purple and the light bounced off the mountains in the distance. We pulled up next to a lake and cozied up for the night. In the morning we popped our backdoor snd was greeted with the best breakfast-view of the trip. We sat in bed with a cuppa tea and swooned over the epic scenery. Once the sun rose, luckily so did the temperature. We decided to hire a paddle boat and explored the lake. The day continued to get hotter, big regret wearing snow boots on this day! Other than going for walks, playing on the lake and enjoying the views, we didn’t do much here. It was nice after a busy and cold week to just enjoy the weather and relax. We stayed for a couple of nights o marvel at the sunsets before moving onto our next stop.
18. Neuschwanstein, Germany
Neuschwanstein Castle is the most visited castles in Germany and one of the most popular tourist destination in Europe. What’s the big deal? Well, this is the real-life palace that Disney based their castle on. We’d dreamed of visiting this castle for ages and it’s always been on our list of places to see. We naively wasn’t prepared for it to be so touristy; signs in Chinese and English, souvenir shops everywhere and €5 bottles of water. We hiked for 40 minutes to the top of a steep hill to be greeted by crowded-scaffold covered castle. The pictures we saw online didn’t even slightly resemble from the hideous building we saw. Needless to say, we quickly left Neuschwanstein Castle after leaving a 1-star review on Google, warning other travellers not to waste their time walking up the hill.
19. Plansee, Austria
I’d never been to Austria, but always swooned over their gorgeous mountains and log cabins on Instagram. Over and over again, I’d see Plansee come up on my feed. When I discovered our route was taking us near Austria I was so excited. The lake was so relaxing, and it remains one of my favourite spots on the trip. I’ve never seen water as clear as the lakes in the Alps. The water quality of Level I, which apparently means you can see 15 metres ahead of you, enabling divers to perfectly explore the world under the water surface. We actually came back here 2 days in a row because we enjoyed it so much, and we wanted to see the lake at different times on day. In the day, it’s beautiful and turquoise, but at night there’s a moody atmosphere which is magical. You can camp overnight at Plansee, but you can pull up and have dinner like we did, with a beautiful view!
20. Biberwier, Austria
Located between the Fernpass mountain pass, connecting Austria and Germany, and the Zugpsitze, Germany’s highest mountain, the small village of Biberwier lies on a steep mountain slope near the Wetterstein Mountains. In the morning we caught a cable car to middle station Marienbergbahn to do Tyrol’s longest summer toboggan run. The track is 1,300 metres long, has an altitude difference of 2,300 ft (700 m) from the top to the bottom, with 40 curves and 1 tunnel passage. It was so much fun, we wanted to do it over and over again, and it only cost €7,80!! 100% recommend coming here and doing the toboggan run, alternatively, you can hire mountain bikes and scooters to come down the mountain on. It’s was so quiet, we only saw a couple of other people, which is good considering I screamed all the way.
21. Blindsee Lake, Austria
22. Innsbruck, Austria
23. Pettnau, Austria
24. Maria am See, Austria
25. Pragser Wildsee, Italy 🇮🇹
The Pragser Wildsee, or Lake Prags, Lake Braies is a lake in the Prags Dolomites in South Tyrol, Italy. This was right at the top of places I wanted to go, so I was so happy when I found out our route passed here. Before we arrived I was aware that I was hyping up this lake more than I should, and I’d probably be let down by having high expectations. I wasn’t disappointed though, instead I was left picking my jaw up from the ground with every step we took. Never in my life have I seen water as blue as the lake at Pragser Wildsee. Everything about this place is beautiful, from the towering trees to the floating pontoons, I could spend all day here. The only downside is the fact it was slightly touristy but the views made up for it. This was undoubtably the best lake, and one of my favourite stops on the entire trip.