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Saturday, April 9, 2016

Campervanning Through Portugal: Logistics of Life on the Road

We've just finished the most INCREDIBLE week campervanning through Portugal with Soul Campers. We've had loads of questions about our itinerary as well as the logistics of a campervan holiday and so we wanted to share our experiences on the road in order to hopefully inspire others to get out there and hit the open road on their very own campervan holiday. Portugal is such a beautiful country that is well worth adding to your bucket list if it is not already on it and our adventures in our campervan allowed us to travel far and wide and really see a fantastic, authentic side of Portugal and the wonderful Portuguese people that a lot of visitors to Portugal don't get to see.


DRIVING & NAVIGATION 
Throughout the week Dan did all the driving of our campervan, mostly because he has both driven a van before and driven in Europe. I didn't feel overly comfortable driving such a big vehicle on the opposite side of the road that I'm usually used to.

As Dan was the driver and captain (as he liked to be called), that left me with the role of navigator. Anyone who has travelled with me will tell you that my sense of direction is terrible and that I'm even worse with maps. I'd like to think that I did okay and that we safely got from A to B thanks to my map reading skills but usually it was just because Dan was paying attention to the many road signs! We'd decided not to hire a GPS as we didn't have a set plan for the week and were happy to get by in a traditional way using a map and relying on road signs! We hardly got lost and found Portugal quite easy to get around and so didn't really think that a GPS was necessary. In addition we also found some of the best places when we didn't even know where we were going! Some of our favourite destinations and really special places we found weren't even on the map and we simply found when we just followed a sign to the beach.

We found the roads to generally be very well signposted and in most part were in fairly good condition. Portugal has a combination of national and private roads and there is a fantastic road called the N125 which runs from the East to the West of the Algarve and hugs the coastline, the N125 also doesn't have any tolls unlike the "A Roads". As we were in no real hurry and wanted to be easily able to take turns to new beaches we generally sat on the N125 and only spent a very small amount of time on the motorway. Our campervan had a toll reader and so any tolls that we did go through would just simply be taken off our deposit which was simple & easy!



FREE CAMPING VS CAMPSITES 
In many parts of Portugal free camping is tolerated meaning that unless there is a sign saying you are unable to park there for the night then you should in most cases be okay to park there for the night.We free camped for four of our six nights and had the most incredible time. We spent one night in the sleepy little fishing village of Fuseta with a few other campervans and the other three nights we had beaches all to ourselves, which was an incredible experience. Earlier in the day we'd parked in what we thought was the best spot in town where there was only a few other vans around and by the time we came back from dinner there was loads of vans and it seemed a bit weird because they all seemed to know each other and none of their vans were actual campervans! So we moved over to the next car park where there was just a few campervans and it was right on the river. It was lucky we moved because the next morning when we woke up we realised the spot where we were the day before was now the location of a huge market and our little camper would have been right in the middle of it! Oops! Luckily that was our one and only near slip-up with free camping! Just be mindful that when free camping you ensure there is no signs around and that you take all your rubbish away with you, leaving no trace of your stay which will ensure it is kept spotless for future visitors and that free camping will continue to be tolerated in Portugal.

Tania and Pedro from Soul Campers gave us a fantastic map and campsite book which detailed all the campsites in Portugal! We decided to check into a campsite every third night in order to have a proper shower, fill up our water tank, charge our batteries, empty the toilet and generally just to relax in a campsite which also meant Dan could have a few drinks and enjoy himself as he didn't want to risk it whilst we were free camping incase we had to move the van during the night. We stayed in a campsite in Lagos and another in Olhao, the quality and facilities of these two campsites was completely different but both provided exactly what we required with one costing €14 and the other €10. We've been asked a lot about our itinerary and where we stayed each night so you can read all about our itinerary in detail here: Portugal Campervan Itinerary.


VAN FACILITIES
The Soul Campers campervans are incredible and we can't stop talking about how well fitted out and equipped they are! Our van slept four people, had four driving seats (the front two which could be turned around when the van was stopped), as well as a table inside and table and chairs for outside! The bed was comfortable and we rented a bedding set from Soul Campers which had two sheets, pillows, pillowcases and sleeping bags. Our van also had a small bathroom with chemical toilet and shower, and we also had an outdoor shower which we could plug into the water tank to wash of sand after being at the beach and would also be perfect for cleaning up surfboards and beach gear!

In addition we had a kitchen which had a two ring gas burner, sink and cutlery, plates, cups, glasses and saucepans etc. There was also a fridge which worked perfectly and kept all our ingredients fresh & cold! We couldn't believe how much storage space there was with little cupboards everywhere which allowed us to store our dry food and belongings. We had window shades for the front and side windows which we put up each night to turn the van into "sleep mode" and which worked fantastically and kept the van really dark even in the morning sun! The little extras were also very much appreciated which including a deck of cards, frisbee, cleaning equipment and beach and rain umbrellas! Pedro and Tania truly have thought of everything when fitting out their Soul Campers campervans and we truly couldn't think of a single thing to change or add in!

Our water tank lasted us more than three days at a time as we'd fill it up in each campsite. We would use it for outdoor showers and washing up after each meal. We only had to fill up our tank of fuel once in the whole week and just top it up a little on the final day. We only spent €90 on fuel which we were really happy with because we drove a LOT! The vans take diesel and we found the price of fuel to be much cheaper than the price of fuel in the UK which made us very happy! The campervan has two batteries: the car battery and an additional battery which is for lights inside the campervan and for charging our electrical goods. Each time we drove the van would charge up the battery and when we checked into a campsite we would pay the few extra euros for a electric site where we could hook up the van to electricity. 


SHOPPING & COOKING
Portugal has no shortage of supermarkets and the moment you drive into a new town (no matter how big) you'll see signs directing you to the closest supermarkets. We only ate out a few times during our stay in the campervan, with highlights being our incredible fish of the day in Fuseta and giant king prawns at Adega da Marina in Lagos! As we're travelling for over three months we wanted to use the campervan as a opportunity to cook delicious, healthy meals for ourselves as well as save a little money on eating out each day! We found Portuguese supermarkets to be very reasonably priced and were a lot cheaper than supermarkets are at home in England! We even picked up 12-15 fresh prawns for less than €2! Whilst you're driving around you'll also drive past loads of fruit and vegetable markets and stalls and we highly recommend stopping in at one of them and picking up some oranges. On our first day in Portugal at Vila Monte Farm House we were told that Portugal has the best oranges in the world and we're happy to say that after the huge amount of oranges we ate in Portugal that we'll happily attest to that fact! 

There was enough cooking equipment to be able to either cook a super simple meal as well as whip up a gourmet dinner! I still had quite a bit of work to do whilst we were in the campervan and so I was lucky that Dan enjoys cooking so much and was happy to cook a lot of the meals. Our meals ranged from spicy, vegetable pastas to healthy burgers to gourmet seafood meals with fish and prawns! I was blown away by the incredible meals that Dan was able to pull together on a gas burner stove with limited equipment and space! 


CHOOSING WHERE TO GO
We loved the fact that our campervan gave us so much freedom and that we could look at a map of Portugal and go as close or as far as we liked! We had very little plans when we actually arrived in Portugal with just a few tips from my lovely friend Lydia who lived in Portugal for a summer and some excellent tips from Tim at Fazenda Nova Country House. Tania and Pedro were also kind enough to sit down with us and go through a map of the coastline from East to West along the Algarve and also up the West Coast and mark places of interest that they thought we'd enjoy! The combination of everyone's tips helped us to create a rough itinerary and we also just took each day as it came and also found some hidden, magical places on our own! We took almost every sign to a beach from the N125 and stumbled across some incredible unspoilt, beautiful beaches that we were lucky enough to have all to ourselves! Whether you want beaches for paddling and sunbaking, beaches for surfing, countryside, small villages, historical towns, ancient ruins and castles or just a fun atmosphere, good food and wine then you are sure to find the perfect place in Portugal, it is a country that really has it all! You can read more about here about our Top 5 Places to Visit on the Algarve or 15 of the Best Places to visit in Portugal


POSITIVES
We could literally be here all day listing the positives of our campervan trip! Portugal is a country that literally blew us away and we haven't stopped talking about how incredible it was since we left, it's going to be tough to beat! We really felt that we got to know Portugal and see an authentic side of the country as well as a few of the more commercial & popular places. Our campervan really allowed us to get off the beaten track and experience traditional fishing villages, private unspoilt beaches, the beautiful countryside and so much more of Portugal than we could have ever imagined we'd see! We became extremely attached to our campervan after just a few hours, it really is like a home on wheels where you have everything you could possibly want or need within a few metres of you! The Soul Campers campervans are not only extremely well equipped but also in extremely good condition and perfectly reliable as they are less than a year old!



NEGATIVES?
For us, there was not a single negative! The worst thing that happened was we got lost a few times (thanks to my poor directional & navigational skills) and we had a few days of rain but we made the most of it and just got super cosy inside our little house on the road. If you're thinking about a campervan trip - we say DO IT! If you can't already tell we LOVED it! Sure you'll be leaving a few of your luxuries at home but you'll be surprised just how much the campers are equipped with and just how well you get on! 



Have you ever been on a campervan holiday? What did you love most about it? Or if not, have we inspired you to take off on the open road?

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