The Fear: Going Nomadland As Leisure Van Man

The trip started, as they all must, in D’dorf. Weather forecast for the trip indicated some rain but for the next ten days we were expecting Indian summer weather from Italy to Bavaria. Indian summer we got.

Our trip began in the early afternoon on a Thursday. Since we prefer to drive in daylight, we were able to put in about five hundred kilometres before nightfall. We spent the night at one of Germany’s, what looks like, a makeshift camp site in the town of Gutenau, Baden Württemberg. These campsites are for those on the road who need a quick overnight stay, with out camping luxury. These no-frills spots are usually available near Autobahns or small towns. There are no bathroom facilities, no electricity and no reception. You park, pay, and you’re on your own. I’ll go ahead and worst-assume these things have sprung up over the years due to campsite supply and demand, all of which have been exasperated by a Covid camping boom here in #Eurowasteland. And so. People who own a bit of land to spare, like farmers, simply cordon-off an area of their property and make it available to vans and mobile homes for the quick overnighter. I think we paid nine Euros for the night.

The next morning we continued to Italy, crossing Switzerland. We made it to our destination just before noon. And what a destination! If you ever have the chance to camp on the side of a mountain, literally parked on a terrace cutout of that mountain, with the most spectacular view of Lake Maggiore, I highly recommended it. We weren’t sure how long we were gonna stay but the view turned out to be worth four nights. A small harbour town was a quick, albeit strenuous (very steep mountain roads) e-bike ride away where we were able to enjoy all-things Italian.

A few worst-thoughts on mountain side, terrace-view camping–as the pic above doesn’t do it much justice. We stayed in the municipality of Oggebio, which is in Piedmont, Italy. According to locals, the town built the campsite for self-promotion. The site is managed by a mother son team of proprietors.

Upon entering Lake Maggiore you cross from Switzerland to Italy. You then drive about twenty kilometres on a windy, narrow highway that circles the entirety of Lake Maggiore. When you got to Oggebio you leave the mini, chaotic highway (full of chaotic Italians battling with German, Swiss, Austrian, etc. motorhomes) and drive up a very thin (one car) steep incline to the campsite. The site is first-come, first-serve. If it’s full you can park outside in a small parking lot where you can wait for an available spot. Luckily we arrived early and there were a few open spaces. During our four days there, though, we were approached by several people asking how long we planned to stay. The small parking lot just outside the campsite was always full of campers waiting for a spot. Btw, no trailer campers allowed or tents. The facility does have two small bathrooms with showers and some sinks for dishwashing. It also has electricity and fresh water at each spot. It’s not a campsite for anything long term. But then there’s the view.

Each of the twelve camping spots in Oggebio is big enough for a small motor home or, as in our case, the VW Wundervan. The spots are narrow which means most of the motor homes couldn’t extend their awnings and larger motor homes can’t turn around when exiting. Needless to say there were a few struggling drivers backing their vehicles out of the site. There are two rows for campers. The front row is the one with THE VIEW. That doesn’t mean the back row was out of luck, though. Each of these camping spots has its own terrace. The back row has a terrace above the spot behind their parked camper. The front row has it in front and below the camper. Each terrace is beautifully walled with mountain stone bricks and wood fencing. The only blemish here is the ugly and steep ladder stairs to access the terraces. We were on the front row (facing the lake) and we never used the lower terrace. Who ever designed this place did it with gusto. Unfortunately there was no way to take a decent picture of the campsite because you can’t see it from anywhere as it’s hidden by vegetation from below or the town of Oggebia from the top. Nonetheless it looks like it was carved out of the lower quarter of the Oggebio mountain side. That means a walk up to the little town centre is gonna test your cardio. With that in mind, we used our e-bikes for a bit of sight-seeing but I would think twice about returning there with bikes. Oggebbio is ALL about the view of Lake Maggiore.

This whole trip was planned around my better-half going to Greece for a few days for work. The idear was to do a long weekend in Italy together and then drive her to Munich where she’d catch a flight to Athens. After I dropped her off I spent three nights with Beckett, the killer pug, on Schliersee, Bavaria, about an hour south of Munich, just before Austria. Although nothing like Lake Maggiore, this place has its own magic. I was surrounded by luscious green forests, high hills (pre-Alps Bavaria???) and was parked in front of the cutest little lake. The thing about this campsite isn’t just the view and all-things Bavarian though. When I checked-in the receptionist ask me if I was gonna stay through the weekend. When I inquired why he was asking, for he new my reservation was for Wednesday to Friday, he pointed out the window at my van and said that there is a Bulli1 meet-up this weekend. Oh, I thought. That motivates. When he said that there were a few spots available and he’d gladly reserve one for me, I immediately texted my better-half in Athens. And so. Looks like I’m gonna drive to Munich airport on Friday, pick up my better-half, and we’re gonna spend the weekend at our first Bulli-treff in Bavaria before heading home. We’ll see if that’s worth a worst-post.

One last thought. Since May I’ve become a van man. Seriously. Never in my life did I think I’d be into van-life. Of course, as this is a life-style choice above and beyond vehicular mobility, I’d associate it more with vehicular utility. Our van is not only our only vehicle but it’s also a traveling home. But before I get deep into splitting worst-writer hairs and ill-defining my life of leisure, let me just worst-add that I don’t need a car anymore. Now. That’s not saying that we shouldn’t have a vehicle–or in this case a van. The thing is, having purchased and now experienced a mini mobile home I feel as though I’ve subverted the entire debate about saving the world and getting a car out of my life. And don’t worry my friendly tree-huggers. If I could I would have bought an all-electric van. But that’s not gonna be on the cards for quite a while.

And with that in worst-mind, you know what’s been creeping into my brain ever since this van life started? Remember that movie Nomadland? Yeah. I do. Here’s a worst-thought or three on it. As much as I enjoy driving around #Eurowasteland and not having to depend on hotels or flights or rental cars, I’m wondering, when it all comes to an end–due to Putin’s nonsense, nuclear war in #Eurowasteland, Capitalists culling humanity of useless eaters (like worst-writer)… Oh wait. Capitalists have already done that. #Nomatter. My creeping thought is worst-thus: will I also end up like Fern (Frances McDormand) in Nomadland? Have I now sealed my fate as a downtrodden, marginalised, discarded serf? Is this new life choice my last as I approach retirement age? If so… Oh well. At least I won’t have to $hit in a bucket like Fern did.

Rant and van on, baby.

-T


  1. ”Bulli” is German colloquial for VW’s line of Vans ↩︎