Nathalie van Renthergem is a founding member of the improv theatre company Inspinazie (“Inspinach”, TN). In January 2013, she and her colleagues performed the presentation of the “Vakantieparticipatie” Forum.
People will say: “But the children need to go to school!”
Nathalie: “No they don’t. It’s compulsory education, not compulsory school”.
People: “Are you going to do voluntary work during your trip?”
Nathalie: “Erh, no. As if self-development was the only reason for travelling”.
People: “With a camper van on a camping site? So crowded. No, I’d rather have a little house somewhere all to myself”.
Nathalie: “That sounds a bit elitist, don’t you think? I’ll just stick to the camping site where the kids can roam around freely and make friends”.
Nathalie went on a four-and-a-half month camper tour throughout Europe with her family. It was a carefully thought-out trip, planned two years in advance, and an unforgettable family experience. “Before you know it you only see each other around the dinner table anymore. As a family and as a couple, holidays are when we’re at our best”.
“A holiday doesn’t have to be overseas”, says Nathalie, who’s married to Marc and mom of Daan, aged 11 and 8 back at the time of the trip, and Jorik, aged 14 and 11 back then. “There were so many European countries we still hadn’t seen”.
From early April to the end of August, the family travelled through France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Czech Republic and Germany, before heading back home. “Actually, I would also like to travel around Belgium for four months at some point”.
A place to land
“Me and Marc never used to go on city trips. Or we did, but soon realised that each time, we would head out of the city. I thought about this for a long time and came to the conclusion that we just don’t like cities. The same applied on this trip, we assumed we wouldn’t visit any cities”. Eventually, the family did regularly park their camper van in suburbs, before visiting downtown. “Discovering a new city with the family is great fun! Before setting off, we would debate: ‘So how are we conquering this one? Cycling, metro, or walking?’”
“We always had a landing site in the cities we would visit. A restaurant in Milan or that little place in Sevilla where they have the best gazpacho ever. The kids are still talking about it. Those places, they’re sort of ours now”.
For Nathalie, travelling also means learning some history. “You come across so many new things. Travelling is a way of becoming aware and discovering Europe in its entirety”.
Nathalie: “For instance, in Budapest we saw this work of art by the Danube, representing all sorts of shoes. It is a symbol for the persecution and execution of Jews. They were made to remove their shoes there, before being shot into the river. Seeing this made the boys go quiet and feel distressed. How close the horror can feel when you’re standing right where it happened. Stand-still. Of their own accord, they stayed there for a long time, sitting, roaming around. That piece of artwork is really powerful: there are shoes of all sizes, so you’re bound to identify with at least one of the victims”.
No longer the travel agent
“After the trip, we realised we had learned how to organise. I used to complain about being the family’s travel agent. Not anymore. When you never go anywhere as a child, you don’t know what you want to do. But at some point after our long trip, Daan said: “I want to go to the middle of Holland. It’s our neighbouring country and they speak our language”. For Easter, the family will go to Amsterdam and the Wadden islands.
“We also went skiing recently, with the camper. But Jorik, now 14, is no longer keen on taking camper trips with all four of us. At least not in the winter. Also, he doesn’t like being away from his friends for so long anymore. I realise that these long European road trips are a thing of the past”.
Never a drop of rain
Nathalie: “Before you know it you only see each other around the dinner table anymore. Our boys are increasingly living their own lives. As a family and as a couple, the holiday time is when we’re at our best. I’m happy we took that trip at that point in our lives. And you know what? We were away for four and a half months in a camper van all over Europe and never saw a drop of rain except for the last three days. Isn’t that something?”
Want to follow in the footsteps of Nathalie and her family? Here are a few key tips:
Nathalie planned her trip two years in advance so she and her husband were able to clear their schedules. The kids were also at the ideal age. “The youngest had learned how to read and write in first grade and the oldest missed a bit of fifth grade. This meant that he could finish primary school uninterrupted the next year”.