After a shocking summer of surf at home in the UK, and a house move to pay for, we decided an end of season road trip to France and Spain was just what we needed. It wouldn’t cost too much, we could camp and cook ourselves, and drink cheap red wine, as well as score some much needed waves.
It was the first time I’d ever done a trip where I was trying to be self sufficient for more than a couple of nights. I did a bit of research online, spoke to some of my friends who’d done similar trips, carefully marked out where we wanted to go in the guidebook and map, and off we went.
Ten minutes off the ferry and I realised the guidebook and map were sitting in the same place I’d left them so I wouldn’t forget them – on the kitchen counter. Not off to a great start. After a very long drive, we arrived at a campsite near St Jean de Luz in French Basque country late at night in the middle of pouring rain. Of course I’d packed the torch and waterproofs, I just wasn’t sure where in our very tightly packed car. By the time we’d located them we were already soaked through. We eventually got the tent up and collapsed knackered onto our uninflated airbed… we discovered the nozzle on our foot pump was too small to blow it up – oops
It turned out to be an amazing trip, it did stop raining the next day, we had some great surfs, got to see the Quiky pro, ate a lot of cheese and drank a lot of red wine.
But there were a few things I wish I’d remembered and some unexpected items we found we couldn’t live without… so here’s a list so you can make sure that on your trip the only thing you need to worry about is whether you should surf before or after breakfast… or maybe both.
The obvious hardware…
- Surfboard – I have a friend who has turned up for a surf on more than one occasion having left her surfboard at home – seriously.
- Surfboard racks – decent ones that are easy to get on and off the car. We used Ocean/Earth Rap Rax on our trip and they were brilliant.
- Spare fins and leash
- In fact don’t forget your fins and leash!
- Surfboard wax
- Fin key
- Solar-res repair kit – in case you can’t find/don’t trust anyone to do it out there
- Duct tape for absolute emergencies (aside from covering up small dings, works a treat for repairing your tent, either a rip or holding together broken tent poles, fixing your air mattress etc)
- Spare key for your car that can go in the sea, or a Keypod that you can attach to your car. Much better than trying to find someone to look after your keys, one of you staying on the beach or worse, losing your car keys.
- Heavy duty washing line cord and pegs – to hang up your wetsuit and boardshorts/bikini so they can dry and don’t blow away (seriously one of the best things we took)
- Rash vest
- At least 2 Boardshorts/bikini so you don’t have to put on wet and soggy ones all the time
- Spare tent pegs – you will lose them, every day – seriously, where do they go?
- Mallet – definitely useful for that sun-baked ground
- Air mattress – comfier than roll mats
- Pump that plugs into your cigarette lighter in the car (soooo much better than a foot pump)
- Duvet and pillows – much nicer than sleeping bags
- Towels – at least 2 per person, one for the beach and a clean one for the shower (my boyfriend only brought one and kept trying to steal my clean one – grrr)
Eating and drinking…
- Camping stove
- Spare gas canisters for your camping stove – we discovered that no-one on the continent sells gas canisters that fit our stove – no one! So after five days we had no way of cooking unless we bought an entire new stove to accompany the differently sized gas canisters they sell over there – next time we’ll stock up before we go.
- Collapsible kettle – brilliant for cups of tea in the morning and after a surf, plus it takes up no room
- Normal sized plates – my cute plastic picnic plates soon lost their novelty appeal when we realised they were only big enough for children or tiny people who only like to eat one prawn at a time. They were better used as Frisbees.
- Cool bag – great for keeping things like butter and milk ok when you’re on the road
- Our rubber flexi tub thingy was brilliant! For washing out wetsuits, for transporting wet wetsuits, taking all your washing up to be washed up, hand washing laundry etc – just brilliant.
- Sunscreen – it’s usually cheaper at home, plus you can make sure you have your favourite brand rather than some random make you’ve never heard of
- After sun – ditto above
- Spare contact lenses – much easier to bring them from home than find an optician in a foreign country when you don’t know your prescription and can’t speak the language.
- Head torch – not so cool looking, but much easier when putting up your tent in the dark. And useful to find your way back to the campsite from town after a few beers when you left in the sunshine.
- A heavily loaded iPod and an iTrip or lead so you can play it in your car… you will get bored of those 5 CDs after even a few days. I won’t even talk about foreign radio stations.
- Normal three-pin plug converter that goes in your car cigarette lighter – brilliant for charging anything with a normal plug when you’re driving – saves you standing next to your phone/laptop/ipod in the toilets at the campsite while it charges.
Other hints and tips…
If you’re travelling on the continent don’t forget you’ll need a car safety kit specific to the countries you’re visiting. We found a good list here. And make sure your insurance covers you.
Both France and Spain are pretty good at signposting campsites so you can usually always find one. But at the end of September/start of October a lot of campsites in France close for the winter, which meant we spent quite a bit of time driving from campsite to campsite trying to find one that was still open. Tourist information offices were always really helpful, if they were still open by the time we arrived somewhere. So it’s good to try to arrive somewhere before it gets dark, which is when most places shut down.
Try and check out any events going on in the places you want to visit before you go. We knew we were going to Hossegor for the Quiksilver Pro and as we expected finding anywhere to stay was really tricky and most of the campsites had already closed. Some of our friends we met up with down there were wild camping in the pine forests – ok if you don’t mind not having a toilet and showers and are happy to get up really early before anyone comes to move you on.
Try to avoid cities if you’re on a budget. Or camp outside and get public transport in to the city centre. We turned up in San Sebastian during their Film Festival and the local football derby, which meant the town was packed and all the accommodation was booked out and twice as expensive. It cost more to park there for a day than it did to camp down the road in Zarautz and we spent more money in two days there than we did in the whole of the rest of the trip.
So there you have it, not a complete list of everything you’ll need to take with you but hopefully might be some help so you can concentrate on the cool stuff. Is there anything we’ve missed? What’s the one essential item you couldn’t do without for your surf roadtrip? Let us know in the comments below.
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