Felix Agel: Truck Camping Through Europe
Felix Agel takes us boondocking through France, Spain, Greece, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, and Germany in an Adventurer 810WS truck camper he bought sight unseen.
For most of us, a multi-month trip across the continental United States, Canada, Alaska, and Mexico would be more than enough to satisfy our wildest truck camping dreams. But what about Europe and the other five continents? How far can a truck camper go?
We have already discovered passionate truck camping explorers living in Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. Today we're exited to introduce Felix Agel to Truck Camper Magazine and add the countries of France, Spain, Greece, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, and Germany to our growing list of truck camping possibilities.
TCM: Did you go camping as a kid?
Felix: It was in the 1960s, the time of the economic miracle in Germany, when my family got into camping. Campsites were sprouting up like mushrooms all over Europe and our holiday adventures were spent tent camping in Austria, Italy, and France.
My father was a practical thinking person and constructed a luxury foldable caravan. His caravan worked by flapping down the four upper walls of the caravan, which was very tricky. One of our first travels in his caravan was to the Netherlands. We camped at the beach on the North Sea. During the night, a little hurricane came through and a strong blast tore away the roof of the caravan. The four walls flapped down like a house of cards. We were shocked!
After that, father improved his foldable mechanism and the construction improvements made the caravan very stable. My parents later changed to an old VW camper bus.
Pictured Above: Felix's Knaus Traveler X - two piece molded fiberglass camper
TCM: How did you get into truck camping?
Felix: That's an adventurous story. As a student of geology, I was fascinated by all photos and reports about deserts. One day I decided to discover the greatest desert of the world, the Sahara. It was great luck that, with the help of my father, I was able to buy a very scruffy 4x4 truck. The truck was something similar to the Mercedes Unimog; a 13,000 pound heavy Hanomag AL28. It took me about one year to restore the old Hanomag.
For three months in 1979, a friend and I crossed the Sahara. I was twenty-two years old. That trip brought me to the Hoggar mountains in southern Algerie, which are about 3,400 meters high. It was summer and the temperatures were incredible! That was a real adventure. Our provisions were 240 bottles of German beer, Coca Cola, seventy tins of ravioli, and fifty gallons of fresh water.
A year later, I went on another Sahara expedition. This time the target was the Tassili mountains in eastern Algerie. This area is very famous for the 20,000 year old caveman rock paintings. I will always remember when the gearing of my Hanomag broke and I had to repair it in the wild landscape when it was 122 Fahrenheit. That’s hot!
After these unforgettable journeys, I used my Hanomag truck for three more years. Then I changed to Volkswagen camper buses. With my Spanish wife, Maria, we discovered Europe and Northern Africa. When our first daughter, Felicia, was born, the VW bus became too small for our family.
In 1997, I bought a Mitsubishi L200 with a huge truck camper on it. In 1997, there wasn’t a truck camper forum for help so I had to learn all the bad experiences myself. For example, the gearing was too weak and broke. I had to strengthen the gearing. The springs were also weak and needed strengthening. The same happened with the shock absorbers.
TCM: What kind of truck camper do you own now?
Felix: In 2004, I tinkered with the idea of purchasing an American truck with a comfortable truck camper on it. We wanted more living space and not a tin of asparagus, as we have two kids now. At the end of 2004, we made the decision to buy a Chevy Silverado 2500HD and an Adventurer 810WS. I was not happy with the Chevy because it was in bad condition. So, in 2006, I bought a Dodge Ram Cummins 2500 on eBay. Now, I am absolutely happy.
TCM: What made you want a truck camper?
Felix: I was fascinated by the idea of traveling the world on top of four wheels without a long trailer. In Europe, we don’t have huge vehicles like you do in the new world. In Europe, the city streets are not as wide, the parking areas are not as large, and often the infrastructure is much smaller. Our cities and villages were planned and constructed 100 or 200 years ago. With our truck camper, it is barely possible to move through these narrow lanes.
On the other side, you can reach calm and lonely places in the landscape with a truck camper. Some of these are abandoned places can only be reached with a 4x4. Neither a motorhome nor a trailer could get to these places. The main advantage is to leave the camper and drive only with the truck. You are independent and most flexible!
TCM: How did you purchase your Adventurer truck camper?
Felix: That’s another adventure. It was at the end of 2004. I was spending my nights on the internet investigating suitable offers for truck campers. That was hard work but, thanks to the unlimited possibilities of the internet, I found interesting offers. Then I talked to the vendors by phone and, in many cases, received more detailed photos of the campers.
My problem was that most truck campers were on the west coast of the United States and Canada. The harbors for the shipping lines are on the east coast. Finally, I made contact with some guys in Halifax where I found a 2002 Duramax in Quebec. Special thanks to the very pleasant Bob Curtis, former salesman for Fraserway in Halifax, I found a fine one year old Adventurer 810WS in the best condition.
Bob helped me in merging the Duramax and the camper and brought it to the Halifax harbor. In Bremen harbor, in Germany, I picked up my gigantic purchase two weeks later, which I had never seen before. Yes, it was a risky undertaking, but thanks to a reliable person at the other side of the ocean, it was successful.
After one year, I sold the Duramax and made a good buy on eBay; a 2003 Dodge Ram 2500 Laramie Cummins from Dallas, Texas. It was also in the best condition. I picked up my truck in Dallas and transported it to the vessel. Two weeks later, it was here in Germany.
TCM: Did you have to make any modifications to your truck and camper to make it legal in Germany?
Felix: To make an American truck legal in Germany or Europe, it’s a long and expensive trudge. First, you need a homologation (government approval) for the engine. That’s the most expensive part. Then you have to modify turn signals as they must have orange color in Europe. Then you have to present the camper truck at the TÜV, German Association for Technical. A problem is the speed limit is fifty miles per hour for all vehicles over 7,700 pounds. To bypass this restriction you need two official declarations; the truck without camper, and truck with camper on it. This declaration is hard to receive.
TCM: Could someone fly into Germany and rent a truck camper?
Felix: Truck campers are not very popular in European Union. There are not many camper manufacturers here. Due to the small market, there are only a few dealerships where you can hire truck campers. I only know of two car rental places that offer campers for hire.
TCM: What do you like to do when you go out truck camping?
Felix: Generally, we want to discover new and unknown sites. We are very interested in culture and architecture and like to visit other cities and villages. We also like nature and landscapes and enjoy hiking. Photography is my great hobby so I spend a lot of time in making photographs of landscapes. My wife is an exceptionally good cook and enjoys buying regional food and preparing it in our camper. A good wine must never lack! If we go winter camping in the Alps, the kids enjoy skiing. The parents prefer hiking in the snowy mountains with the support of huge snowshoes.
TCM: What’s it like to truck camp in Germany?
Felix: Here in Germany you can find truck camps everywhere. But you shouldn’t compare these camps with those in which you are accustomed. The lots are smaller and often the campers are standing side-by-side close together. The campgrounds are well prepared, many of them with sanitary installations, fresh water, and disposal of wastes. Some of them are subject to charges and you pay a few bucks.
One of the highlights are the many truck camps along the world famous wine rivers including the Rhine, Moselle, Main, and Ahr. The valleys are very narrow, so there are not too many places to camp. On the other side is the collective experience of camper life: talking, BBQing, drinking beer, and laughing. Like on www.rv.net, we are a community of truck camper enthusiasts and throughout the year we gather in different locations of Germany and spend our weekends together.
TCM: What are some of the most amazing places that you would recommend others go to as they travel through Germany?
Felix: As I mentioned above, I recommend the German wine valleys. Everybody knows the world famous Oktoberfest in Munich. But if you glance at the calendar of the German wine villages you can celebrate a wine festival nearly every weekend throughout the year. The festivals are fantastic with good wine, good BBQ, and local specialties like tarte flambee, stuffed pig's stomach, German sausage, and grilled knuckle.
TCM: Where have you explored with your truck camper?
Felix: We have been to France, Spain, Greece, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, and Germany. There are differences between the countries concerning campgrounds and permissions to boondock. In the Netherlands, boondocking is strictly forbidden, but in France, Germany, Norway, and Sweden, there is no problem. In Spain, and in many other countries, it is tolerated.
TCM: Do you see many truck campers in Germany?
Felix: No. In Germany, truck campers count among the exotics. It’s like a family. If you see a truck camper on the highway you beckon to him/her. The most famous camper manufacturers in Europe are Bimobil, Nordstar, and Tischer, which are mainly built for Japanese pickup trucks. There are a couple of small manufacturers which specialize in 4x4-truck campers including Excab and Geocar.
TCM: What unexpected challenges have you faced on your truck camping adventures?
Felix: I remember two challenges. My manual gearing broke in Spain and I passed the 1200 miles with an absolute minimum of shifting. We were thinking that the pinions would blow up in our faces, but we just managed it.
The other challenge happens every year when we go to our winter campground in the Alps. On the way there we have to scale a snowy mountain pass. That’s quite dangerous because every moment the steep road can be blocked by masses of snow.
In the winter, we stay at a campground for two weeks with about seventy other mobilehome campers. There are only a few other truck campers. One highlight of that experience are the parties in our camper together with our kids Felicia and Gerrit. We have loud music, a good dinner, dancing, and at midnight we display the fireworks together with the other camper friends.
TCM: Where is the most interesting place you have camped?
Felix: We prefer boondocking, so every place in the landscape is attractive for us. The most impressive locations are on top of the steep vertical-walled cliffs of the Normandy coast in northern France. We sit inside or outside of the camper, enjoy a glass of good red wine, and look at the gorgeous sunset. That is one of the great moments we are looking for.
TCM: What’s next for you in your truck camping future?
Felix: For a long time we have been planning an excursion through the eastern part of Germany. We want to visit the beautiful ancient cities of Dresden and Leipzig. Furthermore, we will hike the famous Elbsandstein-Gebirge, a fascinating mountainous landscape.
TCM: Thank you for the interview, Felix. Some day we'll have to come truck camp with you in Europe!
|FELIX AGEL'S TRUCK CAMPER RIG|
|Truck: 2003 Dodge Ram 2500, Crew Cab, single rear wheel, short bed, 4x4, diesel, Laramie|
|Camper: 2004 Adventurer 810WS|
|Tie-downs and Turnbuckles: Torklift Fastguns|
|Suspension Enhancements: Air Bags, KYB Monomax, SwayBar|