Mobile holiday homes gaining fans among independent Greek travelers

Waking up in a camper full of people who are still sleeping is the trickiest moment of the day. «It’s a good idea for everyone to agree the night before on what time they want to get up,» suggests Ilias, an employee at the Camper club we visited to look at the camper vans. With a little practice, six people can share the space comfortably. And there’s work for everyone: cleaning, tidying, getting food and of course cooking it. Brewing coffee on a gas stove, Constantina Garavelia explains that lack of space doesn’t mean lack of enjoyment. She believes it’s a matter of experience and good will. «If you’ve had experience of camping, then the difficulties are nothing new. Basically you have to limit consumption and keep the caravan clean.» With a 120-liter tank, a chemical toilet, a waste bin and adequate fuel reserves, a caravan can be independent for several days. Constantina and her husband Stefanos have enough room in their caravan. The folding bed can be raised above the driver’s seat to reveal a small living space that seats three people comfortably. They are the first Greeks to own the new Hymer caravan, an expensive European model. But price is not their prime consideration. «With a purchase like this, every member of the family has to agree. They all have to be keen, even the children, otherwise it’s hard to enjoy it,» explained Stefanos. He and his wife did research on the vehicle and took out a bank loan to cover the cost. A camper van is like an «independent hotel,» says Giorgos Georgoudis. We meet him, his wife Aliki and their children Katerina and Alexandros as they are getting ready for their first trip in a rented camper van. «Lots of the problems that crop up on family holidays are easier to handle. A minor illness or a disappointing destination won’t ruin the entire vacation. And you can keep a rein on expenses, which is very important for families on holiday,» says Georgoudis. They are planning to tour the Peloponnese, the most popular destination in Greece for travelers with camper vans. Roaming is not the only attraction. Many caravans are installed permanently at campsites in Attica. At the Rhamnous campsite near Evia, a group of friends getting ready for the evening’s entertainment confess their summer secret. Yiannis, Vangelis, Nikos and Giorgos met here years ago and come back every summer. «We come in March and stay for long stretches until October. I leave for work in the morning in a suit and tie and come back in the afternoon to be with my friends,» says Yiannis, who works in a computer firm. As Ilias says, a camper van is a good solution for people who are short of time: «You’re equipped and ready. You can jump in and leave whenever you want. You don’t need to plan. All you need is the mood and a good map.» «And it’s a good way to meet people. You meet another traveler and you have something in common. You talk to strangers, exchange information, and you feel safe living near them,» says Constantina, who is expecting a visit soon from some German friends she met on a trip. The cost The price depends on engine size and accessories. Roller Team, Hymer and Hobby are the most popular. Roller Team’s prices range from 55,000 euros for the AutoRoller to 60-100,000 euros for the Pegasos. The Hymer T-ClassGT is available in three models (60,000-100,000 euros). Hobby sells four models in Greece (60,000-100,000 euros). Less common is the Eurocamp (45,000-65,000 euros). If you want to import a camper van, they cost less abroad but taxes and travel costs will quickly hike up the price. You can drive a camper van with an engine of up to 3.5 liters with an ordinary driving license in Greece. As some legal and practical hindrances were removed two years ago, camper vans have since become more popular in Greece. Most camper vans on Greek roads belong to foreign visitors. So far only around 500 Greeks own camper vans, and many more rent them. Last year some 170 were sold in Greece. This article first appeared in Kathimerini’s color supplement, K, on August 20, 2006.