We are a Fam with a Van!

IMG_3449This post first appeared in my friend Kristin’s blog Simple Family Travel after I gushed profusely about our first camping experience in our rented Mercedes Benz Marco Polo camper van.  The gushing was getting way out of hand so I finally took to pen and paper to fully describe my amazement and joy with camping.

In Europe, camping is really a thing.  I don’t know many who have not done it, and I’m finding loads of people who do it regularly.

Who knew?

The thing about this that is so surreal to me, still, is that I am a total hotel snob who abhors public swimming pools, and seriously–a four star hotel is roughing it to me.  Therefore due to my excessively expensive taste we haven’t done much hotel-ing lately.  Since having my second child, we decided that I’d quit corporate life (and subsequently five-star hotels for awhile), and be a stay at home mom while developing my consultancy career.  In other words, we just need to lay low for awhile.

I hate laying low.

The nomad that I am cannot sit still.  I’m an explorer by nature and love to get away.  Laying low sucks.  So the answer to that had to be a bit on the creative side with our restricted budget.  After discussing it with my friend Kristin who is an avid camper, I saw the soluiton–why not try “glamping?”  This term, obviously, combines the two words glamour and camping to describe upscale campsites which cater to people like me who want to get away, want the kids to have fun while they drink good wine and don’t get dirty.  Yeah.  That’s what I wanted.

We took a four day weekend to test out a vehicle and drove to a campsite in Italy. Needless to say, it was a blast.  Glamping checked all the boxes for me, my husband, and our kids.  It all started right here, with this idea to rent a Marco Polo, and see whether we liked the vehicle.  It was supposed to be about the vehicle (bought one) but never would we have dreamed that it would have kicked off our glamping obsession.

Dear Glampers, I have two purposes for this blog.  The first is that I am a body in motion, and I love to write.  This checks off a creative box for me–a place to put my writing and photos.

But secondly, and because I know you don’t really care about my creative needs, this blog has been born to encourage you to get out and glamp while giving you great ideas about where to go in Europe.  I’ll review campsites across Europe and provide tips that I’ve learned about our Marco Polo and setting up camp and little ideas that I’ve come across along the way to make glamping all the more enjoyable.

If you’re a newbie and just wondering how to start, I’ll help you to get there.  If you’re a seasoned camper I’ll give you info on the campsites we’ve visited .  Comments are naturally always welcome and appreciated.  Let’s share our knowledge!!!

So come along, have a look at our first camping experience EVER in our rented Marco Polo camper van, and see why we became a Fam with a Van.


The 2016 Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo

Ticks all the boxes. Even those you didn’t know you had.

The time is quickly approaching that we’ll need a new vehicle. With two kids and a healthy appetite for travel, my husband and I decided to road test the new Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo last week over the long weekend.  The idea was actually to test whether or not we wanted the Mercedes Benz V Klasse (V Class for those outside of the German speaking regions) because it’s the same chassis as the Marco Polo.  Whatever a chassis is.

In other words, if we liked how the Marco Polo drove, we’d like the V Klasse.  And why not take advantage of the stove and fridge and cool sleeping thingy that pops up at the same time?  Hey, y’all, let’s go camping!

We wanted to rough it, without really roughing it.

When I initially brought the idea up to Hubs, he looked at me like I was crazy.   I get that. I’m the gal who hasn’t camped since Girl Scouts, and who is known to sleep with her clothes ON in the event that the hotel feels a little smarmy to me. But this was somehow different. The value proposition is clear: take your own home with you, along with all its creature comforts (and clean sheets and fluffy pillows), park somewhere, and be one with nature. Without really rouging it. That was the part that most appealed to me.

“We don’t need a kitchen in our new car, “ Hubs suggested. “If we try this thing out, it will be for the ride and the performance of the vehicle.”

I agreed. After all, who needs a kitchen in their every day vehicle? They make drive-thrus for that, right?

So we set off, electric espresso machine in hand, along with goose down duvets, a gourmet cheese platter, and a lovely selection of French wines, because we were now off to the Land Without Drive-thrus.

It was difficult to get me to give up the wheel.

I was the first driver. Man did this thing feel good. I’m a petite thing, not a centimeter over 154—and the visibility from the driver’s seat of the Marco Polo was amazing. I easily judged distances all around the car and had a clear view out the rear. The back-up camera had better resolution than my new iPad. And the seats were super comfy. Comfy enough for a 10-hour drive—and I drove about 8 hours of that. No tailbone pain that I usually get when the drive starts to push 2 hours.

“Do I get a turn?” Hubs asked.

“Yes, of course,” I lied. “Let’s just wait until we need fuel.” Which we didn’t. For a long time. The fuel economy was nothing short of amazing, and we averaged an impressive 6.5l/100km throughout the trip. With air conditioning, even.

We’ve never camped before. How difficult would this be to set up?

When we got to camp, set up was a breeze. Hubs opened the roof deck to expose the bed up top, and we gained an airy space that made a huge difference as we moved around the cabin to set up lunch. He connected us to the electric supply, placed the thermal shades on the windscreen and driver and passenger windows and we were ready to rock and roll.

It was now time to see how cold the refrigerator kept our food, and if that gas stove really did work.

Yes to everything.

We were able to cook a beautiful lunch easily on the gas stove, and there was even a handy little fold out table that gave me some extra counter space where I could do prep and set out our little buffet. The family voted for breakfast for lunch—and so I fried up some bacon, did some soft boiled and fried eggs, and even made some toast in the toaster that I am sure everyone takes with them when they go camping.


Cooking up the obligatory English cooked breakfast

I was concerned about the cabin having horrible stale food odors after preparing a meal, but my concerns were unfounded. There’s adequate (more than adequate) ventilation with the sliding door open, the side window open and the glass hatch open. No smells remained after our lunch, and nothing was detectable the next day. I even gave our camping neighbors a little quiz when they came out to check out our super cool vehicle—and no, they couldn’t smell anything either.

In addition to a wonderful 2 burner cooker, there’s a fridge as I had mentioned and a sink connected to an onboard water tank. Since we were at a serviced “glamping” site, we didn’t need to touch the sink, but boy were the fridge and cooker wonderful.

There is a place for everything. Even a fifth passenger.

The downside to the 2016 Marco Polo is that there are only 2 seats in the rear for a total of four seats in the vehicle. However, in the new 2017 models, you can now order a 5th seat* that would come in very handy in our every day life. That seat is removable, which you’d need to do in order to take advantage of the kitchen and the lower bed.

Speaking of beds, it’s kind of magical the way the rear seats move forward and then lie flat to create a roomy bed for two people. Our only complaint was that the bed was quite hard, but I understand that you can also get a lovely topper as an add-on to make it softer. Put that on the list.

In the rear of the vehicle under the bed, accessible from the rear tailgate, is more storage for a table and chairs, a portable gas grill, your electric cables, and so much more. We stuck in beach towels, an extra gas canister, and a beach ball. And a toaster, espresso machine, and kettle. Don’t tell anyone.

The upper bed was amazing. I was shocked to find out how comfortable it was—and with two zip-down flaps on either side of the pop-up, we enjoyed a nice mosquito-free breeze every evening.


My little guy, loving that top bunk.

Storage was well thought out and more than adequate. No need for suitcases or bags—there are cubbyholes galore in which to hang clothes and store folded clothes along with the other items you’ll need. The cabinets under the sink and stovetop were perfect. They held a service for six along with storage for staples such as condiments, seasoning, oil, coffee, and tea. Everything we needed for our trip was easily stored within the space provided.

Every day was a bit of a new adventure as we learned our way around the vehicle. We found new space and cleverly placed hooks, storage ledges, and USB ports in very convenient places.

When night rolled around, we pulled down the shades located on each window in the rear to create a nice dark cabin. We slept remarkably well, and awoke the next morning refreshed. I fired up the kettle and then the espresso machine and we had tea and coffee outside of our cabin in the fresh seaside air. Bliss.

How necessary is that kitchen?

Do you really need a vehicle with a kitchen? We didn’t think so, but it ticked a box for us that we didn’t realize we had until we used it. Everything was at hand for the kids, and the convenience factor was a big plus. I can easily see using the fridge during the summer months when I have to run errands after doing the grocery shopping. No need to worry about that meat going bad.

Most importantly, by having a kitchen you don’t really give anything up. Above and beyond the convenience and luxury of having a built-in kitchen when camping, this vehicle is a well-planned, luxurious, convenient, every day family vehicle, too. There is a load of storage space, and Mercedes-Benz was able to pack off of this into a van that stands under 2 meters, and that fits in a normal parking space at the mall. It’s easy to maneuver and park, and has a tight turning radius.

The Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo is an easy to drive luxury vehicle disguised as a camper van. There is simply no way to beat the combination of luxury camping facilities with a practical every day vehicle. You’ll enjoy driving the Marco Polo during the week to run errands, and you’ll be waiting by the door, camping box in hand when the weekend rolls around. Trust me.

For the active family who enjoys traveling and exploring, and who want the ability to get away at the last minute, but who still want a practical yet luxurious vehicle to get the job done during the week, the Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo ticks all the boxes.

Even those you didn’t know you had.

*In Switzerland, at least, you can actually get an optional bench seat which clicks right into the existing rails which in effect gives you two additional seats (for a total of 6 seats in the vehicle).  Or you can special order the single seat but in doing so you need to add the 3rd rail into the floor of the vehicle.  See your dealer for details.