As a former military driver with an HGV2 licence (now lapsed), I have driven on some of the best and worst roads in the world so felt confident about driving a 7m motorhome around Europe. However it has been decades since I have got behind the wheel of a lorry and certainly felt a bit nervous driving home from picking Buzz up from Southdowns Motorhomes, especially one worth 10’s of thousands of pounds that belongs to someone else, so it was a steady drive home.
Our first weekend away in the UK helped settle the nerves and allowed me to get used to the width, length and feel of how it drives so much so that by the time we reached France I felt comfortable driving Buzz. Also as part of this whole experience I decided to change the way I drive, I have always been a quick driver who having spent years on the road believed that speed limits were there to be reached as time was always of the essence. Now time is not the issue but relaxing and enjoying the experience is and with that in mind I have slowed down and changed my whole ethos behind the wheel. Apart from a couple of occasions on motorways I have not driven Buzz over 55mph (90kmh) in fact 50 on the continent. The reality is in a motorhome over 3500kgs the maximum speed in most countries is 80kmh anyway and also it helps our budget – more speed = more fuel = more money and every ml of diesel counts.
Driving a motorhome on mainland Europe is on the whole pretty simple as soon as you get used to the fact you’re going to attract a queue and when climbing mountains with numerous hairpin bends it is going to be slow going. You just can’t push a 7m long 3m wide box through the bends at anything other than slow so relax and enjoy the view.
As chief passenger and initially very reluctant driver here’s my point of view. When we first collected Buzz and got in the cab to drive away it felt like we were sitting in a bus. It seemed so big, so long and so wide I couldn’t imagine ever getting behind the wheel. My usual mode of transport is a Toyota Yaris so I’m used to quite a small car and a 7m motorhome is several times the size in every possible aspect! Before coming to Europe we had a 4 day trip in the UK travelling to Bath, Cheddar Gorge and Beachy Head and then home again and I happily sat back in the passenger seat being driven by my very capable chauffeur. A few weeks later we arrived in France and immediately the roads seemed wider and easier to navigate, giving me my first thoughts that actually I might manage to have a go. As it turned out, it was still about 3 more weeks before I had my first attempt, driving around an empty supermarket car park on a Sunday afternoon. Unsurprisingly this was absolutely fine and I had no problems at all but I was not actually on the road, not having to deal with oncoming traffic and just meandering around doing my own thing. Still, pleased with myself I decided that was enough for my first go and that I should quit while ahead.
The next occasion happened when we parked overnight in a football stadium in Novara. Getting up in the morning and seeing the car park still empty I decided to have another go and enjoyed driving around practising corners, lining up the side and middle of the dashboard with lines on the ground and starting to get used to manoeuvering. I got in and out a few times checking my positioning and coming up with my own set of mental markers that I could remember and that I was happy with and could refer to once out on the road. I also realised that the wing mirrors each have 2 sets of mirrors and the lower, smaller set makes it really easy to check your positioning. Moving out of the car park Julian drove because although I felt I would be fine driving on a wide straight road I was still unsure about smaller town roads and when you’re going somewhere you’ve never been before you have no idea what is coming up – one of my main worries really.
Later on that day we were travelling along nicely on a long straight road and Julian suddenly said ‘why don’t you drive?’. I happened to have my trainers on, rather than flip flops so didn’t have any excuse and the road had been really easy for quite a while so we swapped places and set off again. It sounds strange but actually being a passenger for a few weeks really helped me get a feel for the van. Unlike the first week when everything seemed huge, I had already got used to the size of the vehicle, the feel of the gear changes, the sounds of the engine and the speeds along the straight, round corners, up and down hills so although I was now in the driver’s seat I felt much more comfortable than I imagined I would have. I drove along with a smile on my face because it was so much easier than I had feared and I suddenly didn’t feel nervous at all. If the road got narrower or a lorry came in the opposite direction I just slowed down to a comfortable speed and took my time and it was fine. Eventually we did come into a town and there were a few turnings and tight spots but again, taking it slowly it wasn’t a problem.
Julian is still definitely the main driver and I still need to do more and I will but I’ve made a start and very pleased to know that I can do it and don’t have to be so anxious any more. If you were also a nervous newbie but now confident behind the wheel let me know how you did it, or if you’re just like me and need a bit of encouragement, get in touch, we can share the experience!