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Why European travel by car is a bad idea

Updated on September 27, 2016

Europe by car. Bad idea.

I travelled right across Europe when I was a child, for the holiday of a lifetime. The problem is, I have only a few impressions only of the entire month-long trip.

And, none of them are good.

Let me put you in the picture, I was seven years old, and had never been abroad before. My excitable parents had purchased an old Land Rover, and kitted out the back to incorporate two long black benches. They were lined with some sort of vinyl-type material that gave off a pungent plastic scent when warm, which mingled unpleasantly with the fuel fumes leaking into the back of the car.

They also developed this gluey capacity which meant that hot, bare legs welded to the bench, and had to be peeled off inch by excruciating inch.

There were no windows in the back of the Land Rover. And so it was, my brother and I sat, lay, or whinged in the back of the car across the entire breadth of Europe. It was relentlessly sunny, which added to the overall fuel/vinyl scents to create a vivid mix of smells which for ever after have been etched into my mind as being synonymous with Europe.

We passed through France, in a daze of heat and bumps, me and my brother being jostled into the corners of the Land Rover every time we travelled through a new region. The car acted a little like a generator, absorbing the sun’s rays from what was apparently, looking back, the most idyllic summer in history. Periodically, we’d tumble from the back of the car to admire some view or another, or shack up in a rustic B&B for the evening before setting off to cross a border into another country.

The Eiffel Tower. Not visible from a windowless 4x4

It's impressive, but not when you can't see it.
It's impressive, but not when you can't see it.

The beauty of Europe (bypassed)

France, Spain, Italy, Germany – I remember these places, because they all smelled the same. Worse, in those days, the sanitary habits of Europe overall were slightly different to those in Blighty. Namely, bathrooms were equipped with little more than a hole in the floor, and two bumpy areas for placement of feet. I didn’t understand them. And so, I didn’t use them. And so, I have every slight hump and curve on the road across Europe etched into my memory with the fervour and fear of a little girl with crossed legs, terrified of falling into the weird pits which other countries seemed to imagine could be used as bathrooms.

And so, my memories of travelling around Europe for the holiday of a lifetime are summed up in three sensations: The smell of hot fuel; the relentless heat beating down on a hot metal roof; the sensation of peeling myself off a black vinyl seat, to venture into a dank room, with a porcelain hole.

I’m forty now, and I’ve had many successful forays to Europe with work, or for pleasure. That said, nothing for me and my family can beat a safe sojourn across the English countryside, preferably by train. I know I should be grateful for the awesome experience my lovely parents tried to provide, but I have to admit that as a mother myself now, I’ve pledged to my children that any European holiday will be done by air.

I have, however, got a Land Rover as my vehicle of choice. I guess old habits die hard!


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