Spain by Automobile – 7 Reasons To Be Your Own Captain
Tuk-tuk, songthaew, government bus, night train, bemo (not to be confused with Adventure Time’s BMO), dolmus, donkey cart. There is certainly no lack of transport abroad. In parts of Southeast Asia, just offer money to a guy on the street and wham! you’ve got a private driver and tour guide for the day. For my money though, nothing touches the experience and freedom of having your own wheels, and the longer you have them the better. As you probably know from my Road Trip America posts, I’m a car sleeper and a bird-bather whenever useful. That means I drive straight up to the location I want to shoot the following sunrise, lay down, shut my eyes, and am ready to go, camera in hand, when the alarm blasts. Of course this practice leaves me without a shower, so face and hair get washed daily in the first available public sink. Luckily for me, the North of Spain provided the much preferable alternative of pristine rivers at every turn. No complaints. So, why your own wheels? Let’s make a list:
1. Go wherever you want
Let’s face it. The most popular areas to visit are not often the best, and certainly rarely the most unique experience you’ll have during your trip. They’re too busy for a good photo, only open at harsh-lit midday hours, and generally overrated. No, the best stories always start with, “I was exploring this weird alleyway when…” or “So we fell asleep tubing down the river and woke up lost in somewhere in Laos…” So how better to get lost than with your own vehicle? In Spain, my trusty Citroen Picasso took me to river cliff jumping, scattered ruined villages, and little-known national parks, to name a few.
2. Go whenever you want
How much time is wasted on dealing with transportation schedules? Waiting for trains, layover times, getting up early or staying up late. Forget it! Just hop in and hit the gas. Actually be where you want for sunsrise at sunset! And for an added bonus, tie your wet clothes to the outside of the car for quick/easy drying. Innovation!
3. Stop whenever you want
See a beautiful view? A ruined castle on a hill? A fresh roadside fruit stand? Some soon-to-be new friends cliff diving into a river? Now they are your experiences instead of quick, blurry snapshots from the dirty window of a moving bus (which is probably not taking the scenic route in the first place, anyway). Also, when your body says it’s nap time, so does your car. And besides, how else are you supposed to protect yourself while watching an electric purple lighting storm strike over the mountains, or find yourself on top of that mountain once the clouds clear, ready for your first ever (but certainly not last) photo of the Milky Way.
This one is a toss-up. It depends heavily on where you’re traveling, the cost of gas, how often you sleep in the car, tolls, route, etc. In Asia, there’s no way you’re going to break even by renting a car longterm, though a motorbike will do you quite well, and afford many of the same freedoms as long as you choose a home base to store your big bags. Which brings me to…
Bring as much as you want! When you live out of a car, you never have to carry your bags. Keep them in the trunk and you’re not a target for theft. It’s a built-in horizontal closet! No more constant packing and unpacking every other day, just set it up once and live. When your home comes with you, you’re always prepared. Sure you give up a shower, but remember, sinks, rivers and hostels are always around if you need them.
Lots of travelers are unprepared. For everything. Now you have something to offer! Meet some cool people on a beach who waited too long to plan their ticket on a now fully-booked train to the next city? Sounds like new friends along for the ride to me. Who knows, you may even end up getting stuck in the sand with them on a dune covered road. Adventure!
Sure, there’s no problem escaping from a dangerous situation or finding emergency medical attention on a bustling street in mid-day Barcelona, but cut your hand open climbing a fence into somewhere you shouldn’t on a rural farm road in the middle of nowhere (not to be confused with the Nowhere festival in Zaragoza, where medical attention is plentiful and dangerous situations are nonexistent) and you will find yourself very thankful to have transport on demand. By the way, the stitches were free and masterfully accomplished. Kudos to the European health care system.
Bottom line, as always, is travel however you can. Get out, explore, experience, turn over the unturned stones, peer down the alleyway, and fall into the rabbit hole. But if you have the ability, do it in your own car. Barring that, a motorbike and a central base can make a rather useful alternative. However you choose, take one piece of advice from my Chiang Mai trek leader, Don: “Always slowly, slowly, and smiley.”