Tell us about your current role – what do you do?
I’m a travel writer and author. I’ve spent a lifetime camping and write extensively on camping, caravanning and the motorhome travel sector. I’ve been a writer for more than 30 years. Some of my books include Cool Caravanning, The Camping Pocket Bible and Slow Travel: The Cotswolds.
I’m regularly to be seen out and about at campsites and on tour – at least, travel restrictions permitting.
What is Camping Road Trips: France & Germany?
It’s my latest book, published earlier this month by Bradt Guides, that includes a collection of 30 road trip camping adventures; 22 of these are through France and eight through Germany.
These road trips are some of my favourite that I have travelled over the past 20 years or so and each adventure includes practical information on routes, campsites and more. While the trips are, in the main, aimed at those camping with a tent, campervan or motorhome, many are suitable for seasoned touring caravan adventurers as well as novices alike.
For example, the road trip around the Cider Route in Normandy is a lovely experience for caravanners as it stays within a small area, can be ideal for cycling and your tourer can stay on a pitch at one campsite nearby.
What’s special about your book – what’s its USP?
All of these camping road trips were carried out either as a solo female traveller or as mother and son/daughters. I’ve been taking my three children away alone on camping travels right across Europe and beyond, pretty much since the day they were born; unfortunately my husband is rarely able to travel with us. Sometimes it’s with all three children, on other occasions, it may be one or another of the kids.
So, with these road trips, I aim to inspire others that solo female travellers and mothers can take exciting road trip adventures with their children as well as conventional family units and couples.
The book is also designed as an armchair read, so for those who can’t travel, there’s still plenty to enjoy. Many of the road trips take on a theme, such as following the course of a river or coastline, visiting gardens or sites of historical interest, or a gastronomic angle such as visiting the Dordogne and its annual strawberry festival. Other examples include tracking down British royal history in Germany, walking in the Pyrenees, or following the River Seine from source to sea.
What memories do you have of camping holidays and motorhome trips as a child?
I have always loved camping, in all its forms. As a young child, I was forever making camps and tents, until I received a ‘real’ tent for my sixth birthday. I spent many weekends caravanning – at a time when to receive water through the taps, you had to press a foot pump in the floor! And I recall my first motorhome holiday, when we hired a ‘van, and went to North Wales, seeing Snowdon for the first time. My bed was a pull-down bunk half-way up the wall; it was very primitive by comparison to the luxury of today’s caravans and motorhomes.
Latterly I spent teenage years listening to music on my overcab bed in the family motorhome. It was in the days before seatbelts and, when we were on the road, I would lie out listening to Radio One Roadshows through headphones while watching out of the front window of the overcab bed. Unthinkable these days!
What’s the best trip you’ve ever been on?
That’s a very difficult question to answer as I’ve loved so many trips for so many different reasons, including opportunities to travel with each of my children alone and therefore cherish really precious time with them individually, to trips with all three children where we’ve taken amazing adventures and laughed and laughed. I also relish the freedom of travelling alone.
We’ve had amazing times travelling through the Baltic States, Iceland, Scandinavia and Finland, eastern and southern Europe as well as beautiful trips in the UK and Ireland, and seen the most incredible scenery and had amazing experiences. So I don’t really have a favourite – that’s why I’ve had to write Camping Road Trips: France & Germany – I then get to pick 30 of my favourite road trips within these two countries!
Where would you like to go for your next tour?
That’s a difficult one. Too many places to choose from! Where I go next is usually defined by my work schedule and I’ve got plenty of camping trips lined up here in the UK and on the Continent. I love travel and researching new places; so I’m generally happy to go anywhere. But, outside Europe, I would very much like a return trip to Nova Scotia, in Canada.
What has been the impact of the pandemic?
As for everyone, there’s no doubt that the Coronavirus has slowed things up and the number of trips I would usually do. I managed to get out and about to drive in my campervan across Europe – France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Belgium – last summer. Otherwise I’ve utilised the lockdowns to write the book; it has been on the cards for many years and I’ve never had the time to get on with it!
What advice would you offer to people who are looking to start caravanning?
Decide how, why and when you’re likely to use a van, whether it’s to carry out a specific hobby or for a particular purpose such as a long-held dream to distance travel, or simply to have family weekends at campsites local to home. Determine who will be using the van most of the time. Then write a list of ‘must-haves’ and ‘would-likes’ in relation to the ‘vans essentials and your needs, and do your research well for the most suitable tourer. That way you’ll get the best match of van first time rather than making a costly mistake.
What’s on your driving playlist?
For every major road trip that the kids and I have taken, we’ve compiled a playlist. In Camping Road Trips: France & Germany, I include a compilation of some of the music we’ve listened to. Publisher Bradt Guides created an 80-track playlist based upon this, which is on Spotify.
Favourite meal or recipe while out on tour?
No one particular dish. I love to shop for local and regional produce while on tour, and sample dishes from whichever country or region we’re in. For us, that means Tartiflette in the Savoie, Tarte Flambée (Flammkuchen) in Alsace and apple strudel while in the German Alps. There’s usually a veritable feast of local cheese in the van fridge, too.
Tell us something about yourself that might surprise people!
I studied Stage Management at RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art), briefly. But I soon realised that London, long-term, was not for me and went to study English and Music at university instead. I love visiting cities, but I’m a country girl at heart!
Camping Road Trips: France & Germany is published by Bradt Guides, priced £16.99. Follow Caroline on Twitter: @CarolineMills99