WHEN wanderlust took hold, Sally and Mel Harrison, from Darlington, decided to take early retirement and hit the open road in their motorhome. Two years on, they tell Jenny Needham what they have seen and learned along the way

The Northern Echo:

Sally watching the sunset over Zakynthos

Where are you now?

AS I write this, we are sitting on a beach in Kalo Nero, in southern Greece, where we are wild camping on a beach. As we drink our morning coffee and have breakfast we are watching the fishing boats go past, listening to the sound of the Ionian Sea. It is approaching 9.15am and the temperature is already reaching 26C. Plans for the day, erm ... well, we never really make any.

Why do you love motorhoming?

IT'S about the freedom of the open road and being in control of our destiny. We love being able to stop off and park up when we want, moving on when we have had enough.

We usually don’t stop in one spot for longer than four or five days, and we try not to travel more than 40 or 50 miles a day.

We love waking up to a different view every morning. One day our backyard might be a beach, the next a forest and the next a mountain view. Our biggest problem is deciding which taverna or café has the best views.

The plan is to see as much as we can and embrace each country’s culture at a nice leisurely pace.

Have you always had wanderlust?

YES, we’ve always had the travel bug. We had been thinking for a while about buying a motorhome when we retired, but you hear of so many people waiting to do things in their later years, then getting ill.

So we tightened our belts and saved hard and in 2010 we took the plunge and bought our first motorhome – a 2005 Swift Sundance called Hilda. We started off travelling across to the Lake District at weekends to get a feel for it, but it wasn’t long before we ventured across the water to France, Spain, Germany, Austria and Luxembourg.

By this time, we were totally hooked on the idea of doing this full time.

In 2014, we upgraded and bought a new four-berth Sun Living Lido (Adria) called Sonny and started thinking seriously about taking off for a year.

In December 2016, just after Christmas, the dream came true. We packed all our worldly goods into a 20ft container, rented out our house and off we went, down through England, then off to France, Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar, Morocco, Andorra, Italy, Sicily, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany and the Netherlands. Phew!

We didn’t have a set route. We just travelled and stopped where the mood took us. We enjoyed sunny days for 90 per cent of the 11 months we were away, although sometimes it was too hot. Temperatures reached over 40C in early July in Sicily.

In year one we drove 12,897 miles (20,635.2 kilometres) at a total cost of 16,717.90 euros (£14,926.70), that’s 50.81 euros (£45.37) a day.

In our second year on the road, we visited Belgium, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece.

What have you seen along the way?

SOME amazing things and some great people. The craziest drivers have got to be the Italians, followed by Romanians, then possibly the Greeks. They seem to have no respect for the road, the drivers on it or themselves.

We try to stay off motorways and drive the roads less travelled. We have driven on some steep and bendy mountain roads, including the Transylvanian Highway (Top Gear’s Best Driving Road in the World), the Tizi n’Tichka pass over the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and the Olympus Mountains in Greece.

We try to learn a little bit of language of every country we visit, even though most will try to speak English. Sally also learnt the Cyrillic alphabet to read the road signs in the Balkans and Greece.

What essentials would you suggest people take with them?

THERE are quite a lot of things that you need to be on the road for a year.

  • Motorhome – you can see photos of our motorhome and equipment and our blog, motorhomersontour.blogspot.com
  • Satnav – You do need a good motorhome satnav, where you can put your vehicle measurements in so it doesn’t take you down narrow streets. They don’t always work, though, as we found out in Italy. We got off lightly with a scrape.
  • Bike/scooter – Another mode of transport on the back of your motorhome is fairly essential. We started off with bikes, upgraded to electric ones, and now have a Piaggio 125cc scooter to enable us to park up outside towns and cities and then ride in.
  • Wi-Fi – Internet is important for us, so we can keep in touch with friends and family and do the blog. We have a motorhome Mi-Fi, enabling us to have Wi-Fi wherever we go. You can buy sim cards for it before you go away. If we are going to be in one country for some time, it is cheaper to buy a local sim from their phone shop.
  • Solar panel – We have one 120 watt panel on the roof to charge up our leisure batteries. We also have an inverter, which enables us to have 220 volts from our leisure batteries.
  • LPG – We have two large LPG bottles which can be filled at most fuel stations abroad (other than Morocco). A solar panel, LPG gas and the inverter all help to make us self-sufficient so we don’t need to go on campsites for electric hook-ups.
  • Phones – Good phones for storage of apps – certain ones are handy for motorhomers.
  • Kindles – Good to download books and information on countries (such as the Rough Guides), saving you a lot of storage space.

What other tips do you have?

YOU do need to be conscious that space is tight and things can rattle a lot. We use large fluffy socks to put glasses, mugs, etc in, and where possible we buy plastic and melamine plates.

The supermarket Lidl is in nearly every country. Morocco was the only place we didn’t use a supermarket as fresh fruit and veg, meat and fish can be bought in little shops along the road or in the Souks.

Did you have any mishaps on your journeys?

Serbia: we had a near-miss when the steering shaft went. We got ripped off to the tune of £3,000, but at least we were alive to tell the tale.

Greece: we endured a 6.8 earthquake the night it hit Zakynthos. We were parked up just across from the island on Glyfa Beach.

Spain: the fridge broke, a nightmare when the temperatures are reaching 30 degrees.

Croatia: we had a tussle with a toilet block leaving a campsite, causing more than £4,000-worth of damage. Thank goodness for motorhome insurance.

You have to be prepared for things going wrong. A motorhome is your home, but it’s not a house and things are more fragile. We have learned not to panic (well, not too much) and try to think rationally about how we are going to get the parts replaced or repaired. In most countries you can find motorhome repair shops.

What’s next on the agenda?

WHO knows what year three will bring, but we hope to visit Scandinavia and beyond. We try to think of us as not being on a permanent holiday and stick to a weekly budget. However, to sum it up, every day is like a Saturday. It’s all an adventure, one that comes with a breathtaking views.

Would we do it all again? You bet we would.To anybody who is thinking of doing it, take that "gap year" and do it sooner, rather than later.

Note: When Sally and Mel wrote their postcard from Greece, they spoke of how they were planning to catch a ferry from Patras over to Ancona in Italy with a view to spending Christmas in Milan and New Year in Paris before coming back to Darlington to see family and friends, before heading off again.

Their blog reveals they made to Italy but just before Christmas, they awoke one morning in Mondavio to find eight inches of snow had fallen overnight. They wrote: "We had planned to set off this morning towards Milan but as we are snowed in (and it continues to fall as we write) we may be here a while. It is a lovely friendly place to be so we are not complaining!

Top 3 countries

Morocco, Portugal (not the Algarve, too touristy) and Greece. All three are very much geared up for motorhomes, and there are some beautiful natural areas that allow you to wild camp, and are cheap and friendly

Favourite moment

Sleeping out underneath the stars in the Sahara Desert – just us, our Berber guide, two camels and a tent.