Published: 23 December 2023
I wrote this post at the end of October, whilst we were on holiday but, for various reasons, didn't post it. I added the photos and an ending almost two months later and decided to publish it.
Out of Season Road Trip
I've become quite sensitive to various discussions that have emerged on social media about motorhomes and road trips. Two themes, in particular, have caught my attention because they generate very strong views, which are often expressed with a nastiness that I don't want to be on the receiving end of.
- Motorhomes as a method of travel and touring
- Tourist routes such as the North Coast 500.
I'll explore these a little in this post, and look at the pros and cons of doing a road trip outside the main tourist season, as we just have. For context, we have just returned from a 2 week road trip of Kintyre and Islay, which was timed to coincide with our 30th wedding anniversary, but also fit the profile of 'out of season'.
The problem with motorhomes
The main aspect of motorhomes that people seem angry about, is the leaving of mess... especially the disposal of toilet waste in inappropriate places. Well, I'll be honest, that makes me angry too! I know everyone will claim this but I can honestly say that we leave every place as we find it. In some cases, we leave it cleaner than we find it, e.g. at Burrs Country Park railway station, we arrived to find litter strewn all around the platform. Neil spent a few minutes picking up most of the litter and putting it in a bin.
There is a perception that motorhomers are looking for a cheap holiday and do not benefit the local economy. Worse than that, we take from the local economy but contribute little. I think some of this relates to the concept of wild camping or overnighting in places other than campsites.
The first observation I would make, from first-hand experience, is that owning a motorhome does not equal cheap holidays! Motorhomes are expensive vehicles, both to buy and to maintain. They have to be insured, maintained, repaired, stored... all these cost a lot of money. If you're looking for a cheap holiday, don't buy a motorhome.
The second thing is why motorhomers don't always want to stay on campsites. Campsites are often in out of the way places. They can be down narrow lanes that are difficult to access and then, when you want to visit tourist attractions, you have to pack up the whole unit and find somewhere appropriate to park it. Staying on aires, car parks, etc., often makes getting there easier and then you can walk into town, visit places on foot and it's just much easier. We generally spend more money in the local area when we are not on a campsite, as it's easier to eat out and get to shops.
The problem with tourist routes
I grew up in a tourist resort, and for a time, my family owned a guest house. We depended on tourism to make a living, as many people in our town did. Even now, when I visit my hometown, and see the beach full of tourists, and queues for ice creams or fish and chips, my heart leaps for joy, as I want those businesses to have a thriving season. I know the financial challenges that come with a poor season.
The problem with some of the driving routes, such as the North Coast 500, is that they have grown in popularity, especially since Covid, and now they have more traffic than the infrastructure can support. This is where I was advised to consider travelling outside the main season. So we did.
Blocking the roads with slow vehicles
To be fair, I can totally understand this issue. Many of the tourist routes are narrow roads with lots of hills and bends. In a motorhome, it's not sensible or practical to take these at high speed. In any vehicle over 3.5 tonnes, the speed limit on these roads is lower than for cars, at 50 mph, instead of 60, but often, we're driving at nearer 40 - 45 mph, which is really frustrating if you are a local, trying to get to work or an appointment.
On our most recent holiday, we drove a lot of roads that were not built for the volume of traffic or the size of vehicles that we have today. We were both conscious that we were driving more slowly than cars and small vans. Where we could, we pulled into parking bays to allow traffic behind us to pass safely, but yes, we were probably an irritation to some road users.
The pros and cons of travelling out of season
I think the main benefit of travelling out of season is that it isn't as busy, so it's easier to book campsites, ferries and days out. Travelling during the last two weeks in October, we didn't have any problems at all with anything being fully booked.
For me, another pro has been the weather. I don't cope well with extreme heat, and at this time of year, that tends not to be an issue. That said, there is a greater risk of bad weather but we've travelled in summer and had rain and wind, so I think bad weather is always a possibility. At least in autumn and winter, I'm more likely to have protective clothing to manage days out in the rain.
When touring somewhere like Scotland, I think you get to see much more vibrant scenery when travelling in autumn. The colours on the hills and in the different places we visited are just awesome! Each season has something unique to offer, but for me, autumn travel is the best!
My next pro will bother different people to different extents. Travelling out of season means less insects. For me, it's wasps that seek to ruin my holidays. For others, especially in Scotland, it's midges and mosquitoes. We haven't had problems this holiday with either of those, which has been just wonderful!
Length of the day
Another pro - sunrise and sunset. I am typing this paragraph at 8:00 in the morning and the sun is just rising over Loch Lomond. We have watched the sun rise and set most days during our normal waking hours. We haven't had to stay up late or get up early to witness this beautiful scene. My favourite sunrises were when we were on Islay. It was amazing just looking out over the bay at a red sky.
Linked to this, is an additional benefit that it is dark when you go to bed and dark when you wake up. I find that helps me sleep better. When camping in the middle of summer, I'm often awake at 4:00 a.m. because it's too light for me to sleep.
The first negative I found when booking this holiday is that our two weeks spanned Calmac's summer/winter timetable change. We needed to book some ferries that were in the last week of the summer timetable, but were not released until very late because of maintenance schedules. Then we had some ferries in the first week of the winter timetable, and we couldn't book those until two weeks before we were due to travel. For many, that wouldn't be a big issue but when travelling with a motorhome and needing wheelchair access and assistance, booking that late certainly brought some stress with it.
Another downside that we hadn't expected, was that many things in the places we visited were closed for the winter in October. I tried to book cafes, restaurants, days out, etc., but when I contacted places, most of them shut down early in October, before our visit. We even had a couple of places that said they'd be open but then closed without even telling us, which was frustrating.
So having done an out of season roadtrip, would I recommend it? Well, it depends. If, like us, you don't like crowds, busy places, heat, insects, and traffic jams, then yes, I would definitely recommend it. We had one of our best holidays ever! The scenery was amazing! The distinct lack of tourists was very pleasant indeed.
If, however, you like the buzz of busy beaches, packed cafes, the sound of buzzing around the flowers, and sitting in the warm sunshine, then it probably isn't for you.
The only thing I would absolutely avoid in future is timing my holiday over a timetable change for Calmac Ferries. I don't need that kind of stress.