“Stop… stop… STOP! We’re about to roll off the cliff!” I exclaimed, standing in a mist of eerie fog as Dan attempted to bump start our van backwards down a steep, dark lane in the middle of nowhere.

It was just one of those days for us. One of those days where every single little thing that could possibly go wrong, did. But when life gives you lemons, make lemonade, right? 

Let’s take it right back to the beginning…

Awaking to the sweet melody of birds cheerfully chirping away in the near distance, the soothing sound of the bluest blue ocean rolling in and lightly lapping against the cliff edge, the crisp aroma of the freshest air circulating in and around the van as the side – door was unlatched and the comforting whistle of our little red kettle bubbling away on the stove top, I thought, yes, today is going to be a good day.

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Snuggled up in our favourite soft, fluffy blankets, we had utter difficulty crawling out of bed and actually leaving this paradise. We’d been on a road trip through Wales for nearly two weeks by now and had come across some absolutely stunning sights. But this view at Caerfai in St David’s, left us lost for words.

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By luck, we came across the empty gravel car park at the end of the narrow country lane while we were exploring St David’s on our bicycles the night before. Wedged in between two different campsites, the open space looked out over the spectacular western coastline and just so happened to be free.So we spent the night there, as you would.

But perhaps our eagerness to jump on the free opportunity, without considering the local community and nearby facilities first, just so got us into trouble with that little thing we like to call karma.

Packing up our things and heading back on to the road for a long day of driving, the first of our unfortunate string of events happened. The first lemon was thrown at us.

The car phone charger died on us (hence why I have no photos to tell the tale)

We’d just finished searching for a little Welsh town called New Quay on the GPS when the charger gave up on us and consequently, the phone battery went flat. By this point, we’d made our way north and had absolutely no clue where we were, amid a number of Welsh street signs we couldn’t understand.

The thing is, our lives kind of revolve around our smartphone. Not because we’re Facebook addicts, but because it’s our only telephone, camera, video recorder, GPS and computer (when we’re on the road). And without these things, we cannot keep travelling, so it was a big deal.

Lesson One

When on a road trip be prepared and charge the phone before setting off on a 6 hour drive to somewhere you’ve never been before!

Without spending all day dwelling on our situation, we decided to continue following the direction of the road in the hopes of finding a shower along the way. A shower along the way?

Well, it isnt quite a ‘normal’ life, travelling and sleeping in a van. To wash, we often either have to pay a small fee to use the facilities at a camp site or leisure centre, or we find the nearest motorway services, where the facilities are usually very clean and often free.

 

But this is where life threw another lemon at us…

Nobody wanted to let us take a shower

Journeying from one camp site to the next, asking if we could possibly pay to take a quick one off shower in the friendliest way possible, there was no such luck and we were getting desperate. We began to form the impression that every camp site owner had woken up on the wrong side of the bed that morning. “You won’t find anyone that will do that for you,” two of them said while shaking their heads at us.

But they were wrong.

Lesson Two

Be persistent. We were getting to the end of our patience and almost gave up when we thought we’d try our luck once more. Indicating right, Dan steered the van down a private gravel driveway with a small sign labelled, Camping – £3.50, nailed to the fence post that stood at the entrance.

As we followed the the bumpy road down through the property, which was completely empty I might add, we ended up parked outside a large wooden country style house, situated amongst pine trees and an abundance of old wrecked caravans. Searching around for someone to talk to, the owner came hobbling down with a big smile and a warm welcome.

We approached him gently, explaining our story and situation in a light hearted kind of a way, only to get a surprising response. This time, the man was more than happy that there were two random travellers down at his house wanting a shower. In fact, he was so happy that he didn’t want to charge us a penny. After fiddling around with the hot water system, he had no such luck in getting it to turn on for us. So what did he do?

Not only was he terribly sorry and almost gutted that he couldn’t offer us a free shower, he also asked where we were heading, explained how to get there and then proposed us an offer…

“If you drive down to New Quay and don’t have any luck, please come back to my house this evening, I’ll put the fire on and you can both have a bath because you can’t go forever without washing. You don’t smell too bad from this distance so you’re ok for the moment.”

So we thanked the man sincerely with grins wider than we thought possible, took note of his lovely offer and walked back to the van. Even though we still hadn’t had a shower and we were feeling a little smelly, the pure kindness of that man simply made our day that little bit better again.

Lesson Three

A smile is contagious, an act of kindness is reciprocal and if we want happiness in our own lives, the first thing we need to do is make others happy.

So off we drove, five miles down the smooth, straight road to New Quay. It was a beachside town and busy for a Monday. The caravan parks were simply designed for caravans with built in showers and we couldn’t find a parking space big enough for our five metre long mansion. With all these factors in mind, we made the decision to carry on to the next beachside town, Aberaeron, which was where the third of our unfortunate string of events took place and a third lemon came at us. Yep, we were on a roll.

The van broke down

Our time in Aberaeron didn’t actually start off all that bad. We’d found a leisure centre to finally take a shower in for a miniscule £1.75 for the both of us and we were now parked in a beach front car park, cooking chicken soup in the back and drinking hot chocolate. It wasn’t until we had to move to let somebody out, that our trusty Ford Transit van gave up on us.

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We’d been meaning to change the starter motor for some time now as it had been giving us grief since we bought it. We’d pushed it long enough so Dan grabbed his bicycle and went for a ride to find the local mechanic. With no such luck finding one, he returned slightly worried.

Turning the key over, our poor van wailed… and wailed… and wailed, catching the attention of the couple parked next to us, enjoying a light lunch and reading the paper in their somewhat fancier motorhome.

“You’ve got a problem there,” the moustached man called out. “Yeah, the starter motor needs replacing,” Dan called back.

It wasn’t even five minutes later before the man was at Dans window, vigorously shaking the van and running him through the steps to get it started.

“Ok, fourth gear, handbrake off, shake shake shake, neutral, handbrake on and turn the key!”

Splutter, splutter, BROOOM… And we had it going again.

“You see, I used to be a mechanic,” the man explained, “but now I travel.”

Lesson Four

There is always someone nearby who is willing to help.

Lesson Five

If the starter motor ever decides to give up on us again, use this secret mechanic hack: fourth gear, handbrake off, shake shake shake, neutral, handbrake on and turn the key. That should do the trick.

The cranberry juice

Meanwhile, during all the commotion, I was merrily cooking away at my chicken and mushroom soup in the back when I suddenly felt a cold soggyness seaping through my jeans. Then I saw it. The tipped over cranberry juice carton, leaking to the left of me. Great. It had soaked through both layers of carpet and spread out over most of our ‘lounge’ area. Another lemon.

Lesson Six

Secure all food items that have a well known tendency to leak before taking a road trip down steep, bumpy driveways and around narrow, winding bends.

Cleaning up some spilled cranberry juice wasn’t the worse thing that could have happened though, that was still to come. At least the van was going again, we had food in our stomachs and we were back on the road to Snowdonia.

Stopping by a pub that offered free WiFi in a small rural town on the way, we’d found our chance to get some work done and finally charge the phone.

Or perhaps not.

Someone switched the WiFi off on us

After ordering our drinks and sitting down on a cosy wooden table in front of the big screen while the football was on, we pulled out our things and began catching up on some work, with the permission of the staff member behind the bar.

Later, another staff member came to collect our empty cups and as we said thank you, a disgruntled, “mmm” followed. So we bought another drink in case they were unhappy about us using the internet.

Not long after, the owner of the pub came down and switched off the WiFi, leaving us lost in the middle of our work. Then he came over to our table and switched off the power at the wall. Nothing said.

Well we weren’t welcome here.

Lesson Seven

When in need of electricity and/or WiFi whilst on a road trip in the UK, don’t attempt to find it with a smile in small local pubs. Aim for bigger chains and coffee shops. They tend to keep up with the times.

Again, leaving the pub we had to do the shake shake shake procedure in order to get started. When we finally got back on the road again, it was wonderful. After roughly five hours of driving so far that day, we’d been through such amazing and varied landscapes.

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Starting off on the beach, we’d been through busy and happening seaside towns, quiet and delicate rural villages, lush, green countryside, golden barren land and now we were heading for the mountains, the deep green forests and the rest was unknown.

This was when the worst possible thing that could have happened, did.

Time had escaped us, it was already 10pm and we were feeling rather peckish to say the least. En route to the dark, dense forest of Snowdonia, we stopped by a late night convenience store in the small town of Machynlleth to grab a £3 sandwich meal deal (possibly the best thing about GB). Sat in the front seat, munching away quite happily, we began to notice a 90’s wagon style car with only one headlight working, driving backwards and forwards past us. Creepy or what?

It got to the point where we were counting how many times the car had crawled past… four… five… sixxx? And that was enough for us to get the hell out of there – but not before going through the agonising 15 minute procedure of rocking the van back and forth to get it started.

Plodding out of town, at 11 o’clock at night, on a quiet and dark deserted road leading into the forest, my eyes were fixated on the passenger wing mirror, just waiting for a car with one headlight to swing around the corner behind us. With our hearts pumping a little heavier than normal, we continued to drive for another thirty minutes. And perhaps the fact that we were feeling that little bit flustered was what lead us to think that somehow we would find an open camp site in the middle of nowhere at almost midnight. I have no idea what we were thinking?

As Dan briefly caught a glimpse of what he thought was a sign pointing down a steep dark lane to a camp site, he hit the brakes and backed it up.

So, let’s just picture this for a second –  by now, we were well within Snowdonia National Park, it was close to midnight, it was dark and foggy, our phone was switched off with no battey, we had no idea where we were, there were only a couple of old country houses down the hill, hundreds of tall, scary pine trees towered over us and to top it all off, there was a creepy abandoned bus shelter next to my door and I really didn’t like it.

Indicating right and turning off the main road and down the steep lane, we soon realised nothing was open at all. So, we attempted a three point turn, on a hill, in a five metre long van and slowly bunny hopped back up. Trying to avoid looking out my window at the abandoned bus shelter, I thought to myself, I don’t like it here, I really don’t want to be here.

Then… the unthinkable happened…

Read what happened next: The Day Everything Went Wrong For Us On Our Road Trip – Part 2 

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At one point during our nomadic journey we spent 4 months living inside an unconverted Transit van (yes, it was uncomfortabe and challenging - but in a good way, I think?). Anyway, during this road trip things went really wrong. Here's an account of the day everything decided to go wrong...

 

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Hannah is an Australian nomad and the Founding Editor of StoryV Travel & Lifestyle. After finishing her studies in Business Administration Hannah took off to Thailand with her father for a life-changing volunteer experience that shaped the way her future panned out. The day she returned home she took up 3 jobs and booked her next ticket out. 3 months later she had quit the rat race completely and was off to Thailand once more - this time, on her own. Little did she know, that solo adventure would lead her to meet the love of her life and go on to explore the rest of the world as a digital nomad. With a thirst for experiencing unfamiliar cultures in exotic destinations around the world, Hannah most enjoys chasing sunsets, lazing on tropical beaches and getting lost among a myriad of crooked buildings and small alleyways. Follow her adventures on Twitter and Facebook!