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We have been travelling now for four and a half months. It has been challenging and rewarding in equal measures. We have learnt a lot—from vehicle maintenance to ancient history and being a part of a massive social experiment without realising.
We have stayed on a mountain top, on a beach, in a woodland, on sites, and wild camped. On the whole, our experience has been a positive one and we have very much enjoyed our travel. It has been life changing.
Sadly, we have had some occasions where we were not made to feel welcome. These incidents are very few and far in between, and where possible, we always try to resolve things by education rather than tantrums. I wish I could say that these people had nothing to worry about; however, we have witnessed firsthand motor homers emptying their grey water straight onto a car park floor. We have seen multiple pictures of people emptying their toilet cassettes in hedges or over sea walls. For those of you who are unaware, some of the chemicals include formaldehyde. Most commonly known for its use in a mortuary, this known cancer-causing chemical is also found in glues and fungicides. Tipped out with the remaining chunks of human waste, these chemicals are left in a toxic soup to contaminate the area. From plants and animals to your child or even you, if you don’t see it when walking on the beach in your flip flops.
There is no need for it. Okay, so maybe it is more convenient for you to tip your dirty washing up water over the local councils "Best in Bloom" award winning flower displays, but wouldn’t it be more responsible to find a drain? Or keep it in a grey water tank until you can safely dispose of it? Maybe you will have to drive out of your way to find a campsite to empty your toilet, but we checked with lots of campsites and all but one said that there wouldn’t be any problems with someone calling ahead and making a donation or quite honestly, an acceptable fee to just use the facilities if they didn’t want to stay overnight. Some also offer the use of water refills, laundry, and a hot shower. This should be a normal part of your trip planning along with finding fuel and shopping for food.
We have often visited wild camping spots and found them to be full of rubbish. The locals commented that it’s the younger kids that sometimes sneak out for a smoke. Not wanting to risk anyone thinking it was our rubbish, we have cleared the area as safely as we could and left the area gleaming (two and a half black sacks that we responsibly disposed of). Sadly, we are seeing more and more incidents of some campers and motor homes (and all other forms of transportation in between, including hikers) not being so responsible. From unpacking all of their belongings on the road side to not moving out of a church car park, where they had been welcome to stay for free but asked to move for a funeral the next day. Needless to say, this offer has now been retracted by the church. Don’t get me wrong, this happens on motorways too—and I am not implying that it is all the travelling adventure seekers that are responsible—takeaway bags, pop bottles, tin cans; however, for us to continue having adventures as we would like to, tomorrow needs to see a change. Cameras have the motorways, us adventurers have the quieter spots to look after.
More and more restrictions are being placed on those with camper vans and motorhomes etc. as to where they can park. We struggled in many a location; for example, Cambridge—where most car parks have a height barrier—including their park and ride scheme which only had two out of five with barriers that could be raised for a large vehicle. Although we found that out just by calling the park and ride direct to ask, we were welcomed but encouraged to use a different entrance. Many appropriately sizes spaces were provided especially for camper vans and motor homers. It was cheaper than parking in the town too, and safer as it was protected by CCTV. Perhaps we all need to call more locations and try to encourage businesses to cater for our vans in a way that is responsible and in line with what should be an environmental code of conduct.
More signs are popping up in popular car parks stating no overnighting allowed, and people are having rude messages left on their windscreens in the morning, possibly by locals who are not happy with having their view blocked to or their countryside ruined by the minority. Sadly, we feel this is only going to get worst over the coming years.
It is important that we all come together, including local residents, and forge a way that we can all be responsible, all be educated, and all have mutual respect. We all get to enjoy the views, shop local, and contribute to the local economy. Rather than fight against what many fear is happening (irresponsible, entitled people damaging our good nature), let us find a way that we can all help each other.
From conservation if you feel active, to just having respect and picking up that piece of litter if safe to do so. Let's show the locals that we care about their community—isn’t that why we are visiting it? We take photos of how it looked when we arrived and how we left it. We can show the minority what we all actually do quietly, but now be loud and proud. We have to take those pictures. It’s not always the visitors that are creating the mess, it is possibly the locals we don’t know and it doesn’t matter—just pick it up or do something to leave it a better condition for the next person to enjoy. We have seen, in some places, people leaving Tupperware boxes full of dog poo bags and a note to take some if you have forgotten. Perhaps just letting the local council know if you spot the bins are full or if a light is out in the toilets? It doesn’t have to be a big thing, but let's try to do one thing that ensures we leave a location better than when we found it. Why not see if there is a volunteer conservation day that you could join. Meet up with people who can tell you other local places you may like to visit that you are not aware of! The hidden gems!
We pull up in a responsible designated parking area and because others see a mess all around us, the stigma of being a van dweller attaches itself to us in a negative way—no matter if we are staying for an hour or an afternoon. Only we can change it. We need to set the standard that when people see us they think great! They are going to leave our area looking respected, not worrying about chemical toilet soup, and let's be honest—no one likes lumpy soup. We don’t all need to carry a yard brush, a lawn mower, or pair of secateurs. It doesn’t have to take more than five minutes of your time.
Speak to local councils and ask them about spaces for your Moho or camper vans. We want to visit, we want to contribute to their economy, but if they can’t provide adequate spaces, then we can’t—however, be responsible. There needs to be some negotiation in a non-aggressive and peaceful way that doesn’t get personal or lay blame at anyone’s door. We have been places before where there isn’t an adequate parking bay to fit our overhang. This has lead us to driving around and parking on residential streets where the inhabitants then can't park. Businesses and councils need to understand that just a couple of longer bays will encourage responsible parking and money being spent in their stores. Again, this is where we need to enforce that the responsible way to act in these bays is to park up and purchase, not put your deck chairs out and take liberties—after all, other motor-homers/camper vans will likely want to park there when you leave!
Being a responsible van dweller/motor-homer/choosing your vehicle means respecting others. From noise pollution, littering, and parking inappropriately. It means respecting nature and not treating it like a public toilet, private garden, or disco. Do not damage any of the landscape, do not scare the animals, and please don’t feed the ducks bread as it gives them constipation. I once accidentally dropped a whole loaf in its plastic bag into a duck pond and haven’t stopped feeling guilty ever since. I was 11.
Work with each other to set the example we want to be seen for, a caring and gentle bunch who travel to places to admire its beauty. A bunch of people that want to help conserve it and do not cause any bother. A bunch of people who will call others in their own community out for being disrespectful.
Hopefully the general public will learn to assign a more positive label rather than thinking we are just a bunch of freeloaders.