Published: 20 October 2022
I'm going to write this post over three days. I'm beginning it at home, as I load up and get ready to set off on a solo motorhome trip. It's not the first time I've done this but I started thinking about this post earlier in the week. I was watching Wandering Bird doing a live YouTube session and I asked a question about solo motorhoming as a female, as Kat, who runs the channel, has recently done a fair bit of this. Rather carelessly, I also mentioned that I'm a wheelchair user and that swayed the whole solo motorhoming discussion away from what I expected. So I thought I'd write a post about how I make the most of my solo trips.
So this post is going to be my tips and advice... how I manage a solo trip as a disabled female... how I stay safe... how I do things in a way that works for me. The thing with disabilities is that everyone is different. So this is just what works for me.
Good planning is essential for me whether travelling alone or not. The difference when travelling alone, is that if I have to go and buy something I've forgotten, I've got to pack up by myself, make my way to a shopping place and find parking by myself and then actually shop and carry it back to the motorhome by myself. It's not impossible but I don't need that stress when I'm away, so I need to avoid forgetting anything.
Here are my planning tips:
- Use a holiday planning app for longer trips. I like Wanderlog . It has a phone app and a web version and it allows you to plan the whole trip, accommodation, travel, days out, etc all in one place.
- Use an app for your packing checklist so you can make sure you don't forget anything. I like Google Keep - screenshot after this list.
- Make sure you've got things to help you stay safe. Any accident is going to be more complicated when you're on your own. I take:
- Head torch
- Lit collar for Liggy (my dog)
- Puncture repair kit for my chairs
- First aid kit for humans and dogs.
At this point, I'm on site and it's still day one. And I forgot something! I intended to make a sandwich for lunch and bring it with me but I totally forgot... and that leads nicely onto my next tip. I always have a couple of pots of instant porridge, a bag of cashew nuts and plenty of bottled water on board. That is just in case I get delayed, plans change, and I suddenly need something to eat. So lunch today was apple and cinnamon instant porridge.
Choosing a site
I'll be honest, if I'm travelling alone, I tend to stick with either club sites or private sites that I already know quite well. That's partly to do with the facilities but also a bit of a safety thing. I wouldn't rule out staying at a BritStop or wild camping but I would be very careful about where it was.
For me, the big difference between travelling with Neil and solo is that I have to do everything myself, and (for those familiar with spoon theory) I have limited spoons. Filling up with water, emptying the toilet, walking Liggy three or four times a day... that all consumes my limited supply of energy and stamina. So I look for sites where all that is easy and I can minimise tasks. I know that most Caravan and Motorhome club sites have excellent accessible toilet and shower facilities. This means, with Liggy's help, I can have a proper shower without using water and gas in the van. This means I can usually go three days without needing to top up on water.
We both enjoy driving but traditionally, Neil drives and I navigate. That's more to do with the difference in our navigational skills than driving skills. Driving as solo motorhomers has some challenges, the biggest being the lack of a navigator. New vans probably come with a built in satnav but ours is a bit older. Even the bluetooth isn't that great!
A while ago, Wandering Bird did a video about the Tom Tom Go Camper Max satnav. I'll be honest, when I looked at the price, I almost dismissed the idea... but then I remembered the stress we have when trying to use my phone with Google Maps. I don't know if it's the overhang of the cab or what, but we keep losing signal and the signal easily drifts from the road we're on, to a nearby housing estate. So we decided to treat ourselves. Possibly the best decision we could have made. It is fantastic! You can put in the dimensions of your motorhome and it will avoid low bridges, narrow entrances and the like.
I would suggest that if you are travelling solo, a decent satnav is a must! I also recommend previewing the destination and any tricky parts of the route on Google Street View. I find it helpful, when going somewhere for the first time, to know what it's going to look like and whether the lanes do anything unusual, or even just what landmarks to keep an eye open for.
Choosing a pitch
I've got this wrong more times than I'd like to admit. Today, I got lucky and I remembered the things that matter. I like a flat pitch where I don't need chocks. I can do chocks by myself but it is really hard and hurts my back, so much better if I don't need them. I also prefer to use my 10m electric cable rather than the 25m one. The longer cable is just too heavy for me and again, pulls on my back. The hook-up is on the door side of the van, so that means checking that there's an electric point on the same side and quite close.
What most people think I need but I don't, is to be near the facilities. If I shower onsite, I know Liggy will need a poo on the way there. If it's too close, she doesn't get chance or I can't find a bin. It's much easier to be on the other side of the site.
If I could have any wish granted, it would be that sites provide a couple of tarmac pitches so that I don't have to wheel myself over gravel. Gravel really is the most difficult surface to negotiate in a wheelchair! I hate the stuff! In the following photo, I can see my wheel marks in the gravel. It shows how deep I sink. At least most sites have concrete roads around, though not all. That is definitely another factor when choosing a site though. I won't book a solo trip on an all gravel site.
Think what you like but I live by my checklists. I have three of them blu-tacked to the wall just inside the door. One is for before leaving home, one for arrival on site and one for packing up to leave site. They work like pilot checklists do. I go through each item and check that I've done it. Very occasionally, we've rushed and missed something out... and then a cupboard or drawer has opened just as we pull away or we realise the skylight is open. It's not always possible to stop and sort it. With two people, the passenger can quickly sort any emergency but solo... stuffed! The answer - follow the checklist!
Apart from being attacked or having something stolen, my biggest fear is popping outside and the door accidentally locking behind me, possibly leaving Liggy stuck inside and me with no way back in. This would really ruin my trip and could have safety and health implications too. So it's not a big thing, but I try to always keep the keys in my pocket and never leave the van, even for a few seconds without them.
It's beginning to get dark. I've put the blinds in the cab windows and I'm just thinking about taking Liggy for her evening walk. After dark, walks on my own are basically doing laps of the campsite. There's no guarantee that someone won't attack me but there are lots of people around and caravans and motorhomes aren't exactly soundproof. If something happened, I have a strong chance of summoning help. I mean this is where I am staying at the moment, and it's busy enough that someone would come and help, if I screamed.
Avoiding accidents or getting hurt
The more realistic dangers, are things like catching a front castor on some dodgy paving and throwing myself out of my wheelchair or running over Liggy's paw - she's black and sites can get quite dark! So I'm aiming to be as visible as possible - both me and her. I'll wear a head torch and she has a lit collar. That way I can see the ground in front of me and I can see Liggy easily. It's also easier to pick up her poo if I can actually see it. I usually walk her on her face collar too, because that helps her to feel where I'm going and follow me better.
I'm lucky, I quite like my own company. I'm an introvert and really enjoy having time alone to recharge and spend time relaxing, processing stuff and praying. I do generally take my laptop with me and I use it quite a lot (especially if I'm blogging) but I also take colouring books, sketch books, a decent set of pencils, a book to read, and my journal. I try to engage in creative activity, take time away from my screen and generally do things I don't have time for at home. On one of my recent solo trips, I decided to learn how to sketch eyes. I used videos and how-to blogs and was actually really pleased with my efforts.
Depending where I'm staying, I also usually take a decent camera and monopod, my binoculars and Liggy's frisbee and ball. On this trip, I knew I was going to be working and that our only trip off site was to meet my team for the day, but normally I would be going hiking and for fun days out. My tremor means that taking photos with my phone results in blurry pics, so I prefer a big camera. I also quite like bird-watching, which is where my binoculars come in handy.