Crazy Travel Challenges

August 11, 2008


Travel and the open road is an adventure and things do not always go right, but sometimes the challenges make for the biggest laughs and good stories later on. I have a wise friend who says, "If you are going to laugh later, you might as well laugh as it happens" and we do try to keep that in mind when we are in challenging territory, but I can not say we are always successful.

We did laugh when we ended up in the middle of the main square one night when we were hopelessly lost in a tiny ancient town that had way too many one way streets ( Vianna do Castela). Well, Mozart and I did most of the laughing at first as poor DaVinci had been driving all day. It is always a bit of a nightmare when we end up still driving when night falls and all the more so in the middle of an ancient town. We try to avoid that and high mountains at all costs, but unfortunately we have had more than our share. The very worst is when one is dealing with high mountain roads while being lost in the dark.Sometimes it seems the GPS likes to bring us in via the hardest route possible.

Vianna do Castela was particularly frustrating. It had a very complicated and convoluted turn onto a very old bridge that must have confused the GPS, so we kept going over and over the same roads as there were so many one way streets without any where to turn around. Plus, they were having some kind of festival, so the crowds were all out and traffic was bad. In trying to escape this nightmare, the GPS landed us right in the middle of the main square next to the fountain in an area not made for cars. I had to jump out and get a picture! It was too weird to be believed.

I am not sure that it captures the insanity of that night and how surreal it was to be in that spot with a motor home, but it will be a moment that we will never forget. It really is agony, being in what feels like a huge, high overhead,  loud ( diesel is so loud!) vehicle inching your way through tiny medieval streets, not knowing what is ahead or how one will escape. Add pitch black darkness, fatigue from driving all day and old eyes that do not see that good at night and it is a divine comedy! You would think doing this once would be enough, but sad to say, we have ended up in this kind of nightmare more than we would like to admit. We always say never again, but along comes another one.

We are always out of our element which is one of the things that makes travel so exciting and keeps us living in the "now" which we really love, but sometimes it is a gauntlet that taxes us to the core. Even easy things like getting groceries or even finding a bathroom can be a challenge while traveling in a foreign country. We have been through so many now that we have gained a lot of strength and greater trust, but it is interesting how the worst ones sometimes come up to "test", right when one is tired and not in the mood for a challenge.

Sometimes it seems we just have to learn the hard way. Do you know what happens when you manage to not get your automatic ticket when you enter a toll road in Europe? DaVinci had to learn that one the hard way, when he somehow got distracted on a long driving day in a new country and forgot to pick up a ticket on a Portugal highway. He realized his mistake quickly, but traffic was pouring through, so there seemed to be no way to undo this vital error.

He managed to pull over to the far side (crossing several lanes), but still was not sure what to do or how to solve the problem and of course there was no one around to ask, even if we did know how to speak the language. The toll roads in Portugal were very expensive and DaVinci,, in particular, does not like to make expensive mistakes as he is extremely cost conscious. We know that in some countries if you lose your ticket you have to pay the fee for the entire toll road.

Meanwhile, having had two close adult  relatives that were killed by cars hitting them ( my brother and DaVinci's mother), I was not comfortable at all with DaVinci out there running around with cars zipping by at great speed. I felt we were in enough danger just being at the side of the road and our whole camper would sway as the big trucks zoomed by.

Nevertheless, DaVinci felt it was the only solution, so he ran back to the machine to see if he could get a ticket, but alas that did not work. DaVinci is very athletic, so I have great confidence in his abilities, but I still did not like it, so I just prayed as that seemed to be the only thing I could do. We believe in the power of prayer and do a lot of praying on this journey which we feel has helped us. A lot of our journey is cushy and even luxurious, but trust me, this is still a big adventure and we are frequently reminded about that and the precipitous edge that we have chosen to live on as a family. I suppose we all live on that precipitous edge, but we just happen to be a little more aware of it with this lifestyle.  Prayer is sometimes all that we have... and faith.

Once again, out of the blue, our prayer is answered. One of those "kind strangers"  or guardian angels stops , this time a man in a semi truck who speaks no English ( but surmises the problem), goes more than out of his way to try and help us. DaVinci outside amid the traffic (and Mozart and I, inside the RV) try to understand what he is trying to communicate over and over with sign language and foreign words. The truck driver holds up traffic and eventually pulls over and finally, we think we understand that he is saying something about going under the road and where to do that.

DaVinci returns to our RV, only to leave once more to find this tunnel. I wait for what feels like forever, while DaVinci locates some stairs and runs through a dark, loud narrow tunnel that runs under the road. We feel a little like we have been transported to the twilight zone , but it turns out that there is actually a human in a hidden away office and soon our problem is solved.

  Thus, if you ever forget to pick up a ticket in a foreign land, now you know what to do and so do we! It was quite a thrill at the time and we did laugh and feel relieved when we had surmounted this odd challenge. Toll booths in every land can frequently be a challenge ( often it is not clear as to where to even get the ticket or if a lane will fit a tall motorhome), but this one topped them all, so we sometimes joke as we approach them to "not forget to get the ticket"! By the way, I took the pictures from different toll booths later that day as I had a feeling we would write about this one. The hidden stairs are much easier to find once you have used them.

We have endless little challenges like this on an almost daily basis. We get quite comfy once the RV is parked, but every time we move it ( or whatever transportation mode we happen to be taking) into brand new territory or yet another country or continent, we are on a road to and through the unknown and there is always a certain amount of anxiety and frequent challenges to meet and conquer. It is part of what we love about this lifestyle that keeps us on our toes and makes us feel more alive, but it is also a big part of what makes this lifestyle such an adventure into the unknown and just a little bit crazy at times.



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Yikes! I am the family driver in England (as a proud holder of a UK license), and my husband handles the rest of the world.

When we enter unknown medieval towns with scary hills and bewildering one-way systems, I usually just hide under the dashboard.

I literally cannot imagine navigating these places in an RV. Not without anti-anxiety meds anyway...


Oh wow! Just driving around suburbia in my Mom Car at night stresses me out. I can't even begin to imagine an RV in a ancient town in pitch black!!!!!

Glad everything ended up safe though :)

CanCan (Mom Most Traveled)

I would still be lost!


Thanks for being open and honest regarding your travels. I love a good adventure!

My husband (Justin) and I leave on September 30th to backpack to various countries around the world for a year or so. We will also be taking to the "mobile lifestyle" just slightly different.

As we have been planning for our adventure we have been updating a blog. We would love to have other opinions, ideas, encouragement, advice, helpful tips, and more left as comments.



Thanks for being open and honest regarding your travels. I love a good adventure!

My husband (Justin) and I leave on September 30th to backpack to various countries around the world for a year or so. We will also be taking to the "mobile lifestyle" just slightly different.

As we have been planning for our adventure we have been updating a blog. We would love to have other opinions, ideas, encouragement, advice, helpful tips, and more left as comments.



Good luck with your travels Natalie!! I was also born & raised in Michigan! ;)

Try to give it more than a year if you can, slow travel allows you to immerse more deeply. A year goes by so quickly.

I would love those things as comments too! ;) Blogging while traveling can be a challenge, but I am sure you will be strengthened by all your challenges.

Travel mercies to you both!


I absolutely love reading about your travels. I'm Portuguese so I've a small correction to make, its the name of that beautiful city in Minho is Viana do Castelo not Vianna do Castela


ofromdamo- Thanks so much for your kind words & so appreciate you correcting me!

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