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An RV in Europe

My wife was looking at me over the top of our well-worn copy of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.

"No, I’m serious," I replied. "We rent an RV in Paris and drive through southern France. No hotels, rental cars, trains, planes, nothing. Just you and me and the RV."

She put the book down and folded her hands and said, "Jim, honey, I don’t think we’re RV people."

Then, after a long pause: "Okay, well give me five reasons why this RV idea will work."

At least I had a chance, so I took a breath and rolled on. "First of all we don’t have to look for a hotel, that saves us a lot of time…."

Our fifth trip to France had come about more or less by accident. We wanted to go, but who has the time with work and family matters. Then my company closed.

With the boring details of jobs out of the way, we were set to go. Except this time we wanted something different, some way to see more of the country.

Avis/Caraway is located in Rueil-Malmaison, a suburb of Paris. They wanted $50 to pick us up and drive us to the location. Checking the map I figured that taking the RER ($4.50) then a taxi ($5) I could save $40. (I don’t recommend this on weekends.)

It took us a bit to get the hang of things, but once we did we had two of the best weeks of travel we’ve ever had and all at a price that didn’t require us to check the bank account every two days. In the end we came up with nine reasons why an RV is better than any other mode of transportation:

9. You have your own bathroom.

8. You can park anywhere. If you want to see a place you can arrive early, park, and take a nap until they open.

7. No telephone, no TV, and no interruptions. We did rent a cell phone from TTC for $3 per day, which included 10 minutes of daily calling time. It came in handy when we wanted to check our phone messages at home and on occasion to get directions.

6. Food. We had our own refrigerator and stove. If we couldn’t find a place for lunch we could whip up our own. Most evenings we would open a bottle of wine, see what we had in the fridge, and relax.

5. Money. The RV cost $100 per day, the campgrounds were about $10 to $15. That was it. We bought good wine for $1.50 or $2 per bottle. In fact, everything was inexpensive. A meal at a restaurant can run $25 to $30 per person. We could live a week on that. Not only do you save money but also time. We never had to worry that it was getting close to six o’clock and we better look for a place to stay. Worst case we could just pull over and spend the night. If we got really hungry we always had something in the fridge.

4. Ice. You may laugh, but try to get ice anywhere in France. The French just don’t have it.

3. Scenery. We took the back roads whenever we could. This not only saved on tolls, it also allowed us to see things not on the normal tourist list. We would try to park somewhere for lunch or breakfast that would give a great view so we could dine and be entertained. We parked for the night overlooking the Mediterranean, the sound of the waves crashing on the beach outside our door.

2. Convenience. You can take all your stuff and never once have to pack or unpack it. Laundry service is available at most campgrounds.

1. Good company. The French love camping. Forget the campground guides. You don’t need them. Just show up in any town and they have a campground. In fact, most towns have two or three. Even Paris has campgrounds. Some are close to Metro stops so you can park the RV and take the train in. If possible, avoid the month of August when every Frenchmen is on holiday. Some campgrounds do close in the winter.

A few nights we wanted to cover a long distance, so we drove late into the night. The main highways have rest stops every 15 miles or so, with restaurants, showers—everything you would need—and they are free. We stopped in late one night and went to sleep. When we woke up the next morning we were parked in front of the ruins of an old Roman theatre.

There are, of course, a few negatives.

Driving can be demanding, especially in small towns where the streets are very narrow. We avoided driving in major cities by taking the bus or train. But during the off hours even major cities weren’t too bad.

We booked our RV over the Internet through sales@drivetravel.com in Australia. They had the best deal at the time and with the exchange rate from the U.S. we paid under $100 per day for the 14 days.

JIM FRANKLIN writes from Palm Springs, CA.