Toll roads are to be avoided. They’re costly and dull, and definitely not the route of choice for a couple of slow travellers. Or so we thought before embarking on our drive north through Spain and France on our way back to England.
The day we left Burgos we spent hours sorting, packing and figuring out the Chinese puzzle that is our roof box and car boot combined, but by midday we were on the road to Bergerac. A few hours later than we had hoped, but according to Google Maps we were looking at a journey time of seven hours if we took the non-toll roads.
The tricky thing about avoiding toll roads is that many more signs point to them than to alternate routes. Which is how we found ourselves heading north on the A1. Oh well, we shrugged, it looks like a good road. About an hour later we were eleven euros lighter but quite happy as the numerous tunnels took us more smoothly through the mountains than the non-toll road would have done.
It all began to go awry on the Basque coastline between France and Spain.
Initially we felt quite pleased with ourselves as we managed to avoid being sucked in to the toll road. But very quickly we hit stop-and-go traffic and crawled along for more than two hours, covering a stretch that, distance-wise, might only have taken half an hour. As a result, we didn’t pull into Bergerac until 9.30 that evening. Ordinarily this would have been okay but our CouchSurfing hosts had gone out to dinner and all we could do was wait for them to return.
We walked into town and back a couple of times. Hung around in the street for a while. Began to feel the creep of tiredness after a long day. Walked around the neighbourhood. Felt the tiredness deepen. Considered going back into town. Spent time saying hello to a cat in the next door garden. Felt the tiredness turn into exhaustion. Paced up and down. Walked back to the car and pulled out the sleeping bag to keep ourselves warm as it approached 1.00 a.m.
Just as we were hunkering down to keep warm, a car turned into the street and pulled up alongside. Our hosts had returned home. And they were puzzled to see us hanging out in the car.
It transpired that we’d missed an email saying the door was unlocked and we could let ourselves in, make ourselves at home and tuck ourselves up in bed. We could barely believe that we’d spent more than three hours passing the time when we could’ve simply opened the door and walked in, but since we had no remaining credit on our Spanish SIM cards we hadn’t checked in since stopping by a McDonald’s earlier in the afternoon. Not, I stress, for the food, but because they’re a good source of free WiFi. All you need to do is accept the terms and conditions.
Alternatively, we could have taken the toll road.
Mufidah Kassalias is a writer, photographer and slow traveller. A digital nomad, she’s also co-founder of Creative Thunder, helping creative individuals and small businesses to fire up their online presence and prowess. To get a free copy of the inspiring Creative Thunder Manifesto, click here.