Winner of the ‘Just Back’ travel writing competition. Published in The Telegraph – 4 September 2019

What happened when I took our ugly, stress-inducing camper van to France

I’m standing looking at a hole thinking how stressful preparing for a holiday has become. I’m also remembering the laid-back, unflustered independent traveller I once was in my 20s. Somewhere between Duran Duran and Stormzy the process of travelling seems to have become a lot harder. 

We own a camper van. A large, ugly, white shoebox on wheels. Part of me hates it, another part is besotted with its toilet and tea-making facilities.  The stress started yesterday when we were preparing the van for its first trip to France, the ferry booked for seven this morning.

My husband was fiddling with the GPS while I thumbed lazily through the required paperwork. Van insurance, tick. Tax document, tick. MoT… MoT “expired”. I stared at that document for a long time. It didn’t change.

I phoned the garage and put on my best “worried, middle-aged, hormonal woman” voice. Not hard in the circumstances. “There’s one MoT slot left at 4pm. Can you bring her in?” he said. “Yes,” I whimpered. “I’ll bring her now.”

Two and a half hours later the call came that she’d passed. The man at the garage was my new best buddy – and I made a note to bring him back beer from France. Holiday preparations resumed. I gathered up bedding while my husband filled the van’s tank with water for washing-up and toilet flushing. 9pm. The van was locked.

At least it would have been, if I’d had the keys.

The hunt commenced. My husband was giving me that accusing “you lost the keys” look. The recycling bin was emptied on to the lawn. Garden, house, cars and handbag were searched four times. Nothing. Thankfully, spare keys were found. No central locking, but who cared – they were keys. 10.30pm. On the way to bed I checked the burglar alarm. It was dead. I remember thinking, “It can’t be dead” and checked it again. It was still dead. I called the 24-hour emergency electrician. He’d come the next day.

The electrician was added to my best buddy list, and I arranged for my sister to let him in. We collapsed into bed.

On the drive to the ferry this morning I could hardly believe we were on our way. We boarded with no problems. We made it to France in good time. Which is where I am now – standing looking from a hole in the side of the van to my husband and then back at the hole. 

The hole is normally covered by a lockable filler cap. A lockable filler cap that’s currently sitting on top of my car at home with a set of camper van keys hanging from it, where my husband carefully placed it as he was filling the van with water. 

Let the holiday commence.