Mereya Campsite was created under the UNDP Project “Support to Entrepreneurship in Tourism on the Local Level in the Republic of Belarus” in partnership with the Ministry of Sports and Tourism of the Republic of Belarus, also with the participation of Dzisna Forestry and funding from the Polish Aid Programme of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland. UNDP and its partners provide support to local initiatives on tourism development in provinces of Belarus. Photo: Sergei Gapon for UNDP in Belarus.

Belarusians still find it difficult to travel due to the pandemic. But it is still possible: there are some attractive options in our country, too – the seasoned auto-tourist and Chairperson of the Belarusian Club of Caravanners and Auto-Tourists Sergey Sulzhits is convinced of it. Take campsites, for instance: on the one hand, it means recreation outdoors; on the other, it is civilized recreation, too, as all the campsites are equipped with all the necessary amenities.  We spoke, together with UNDP, to Sergey and found out how to organize one’s weekend in a campsite. And we also learnt about the differences between a motorhome and a trailer, and whether one can enjoy a comfortable rest using a tent.

“We used to go out with a trailer, in fact, every weekend”

We are meeting our hero in Mereya Campsite. It is situated in Miory District of Viciebsk Region, on Absterna lake shore – in fact, on the midway between Miory and Braslaŭ. As it was mentioned by Sergey Sulzhits, Mereya is one of the few fully outfitted campsites in the country: at the moment, this format is not sufficiently developed here, they are sooner parking lots without any particular amenities, rather than campsites.

Our hero tells us that he has been in for caravanning — traveling by motorhome — for more than ten years. This idea occurred to him on the spur of the moment: he says, it was all owing to the Discovery Channel.

— Traveling has lured me since childhood, — admits our companion. — I spent every summer in a village then, and I loved watching big lorries passing by along the nearby highway. And I kept thinking: how cool it was to be a long-haul truck driver and see different cities and countries! And, in 2009, all by chance, I watched a TV show about caravanners and their motorhomes, and it kindled my interest: I realized that it was my cup of tea.

Sergey Sulzhits

After discussing the venture with his spouse Yanina, Sergey set about searching for caravanning vehicles. It wasn’t an easy task, as it turned out: motorhomes weren’t available for sale in Belarus back then, and there were a dozen trailers maximum in the entire country.

— My requirements were very precise: I had to have a shower, the trailer had to be large and roomy, — our hero recalls with a smile. — I was lucky to find a suitable option. I was old, of course — manufactured in 1984, but it was German-made and a very high-quality assembly.

The first trip took place almost immediately after that. The couple opted for the European direction – starting in Wrocław.

— Then, we went to Dresden, Prague, from there — back to Poland, to the border town of Nidzica. It was rather impressive: two castles on the opposite sides of the river, a dam, lakes and mountains. It was too beautiful for words! Before setting off for home, we also covered Kraków and Warsaw. The trip was generally extensive, and we spent a fraction of the money it would have taken us to go for a similar travel with a tour agency.

After the Europe tour, Sergey admits, they, in fact, never went anywhere for several years — except for several getaways to the waterfront, and they spent their annual holidays abroad once a year. However, caravanning has gradually become an unfailing part of his and his wife’s schedule.

— Last year, we went out, in fact, every weekend — just to travel around the country and to campsites, — he confides. — This year, it is our second, but surely not the last trip out.

A children’s playground was outfitted in Mereya, several bicycles were procured, as well as a motor boat, fishing gear, sports equipment, tents, mats and other tourist gear.

“A motorhome is no more costly than a car”

For the past few years, the Sulzhitses have been traveling with a motorhome, instead of a trailer. And it is not just the two of them, they travel with their children: the 5-year-old Yaroslav and 3-year-old Amelia.

— It is difficult for children to travel with a trailer: they have to wear seat belts in the car (they cannot be carried in the trailer according to both the traffic code and common sense), they cannot move around, and just an hour later they get bored, — says Sergey. — Moreover, there are special support shelves on the four sides of the trailer; they are necessary to keep the trailer from swaying from side to side and breaking down. It takes a lot of time to unscrew them and put them back… And the kids must be fed, too. As a result, the parking time may extend for an hour or an hour and a half, adding to the travel time, making everyone unhappy.

Sergey with his spouse Yanina and two children: Yaroslav and Amelia.

There are no such problems in a motorhome, notes Sergey. If the road quality permits, you can do all you want inside that kind of vehicle — play tabletop games, read, watch cartoons, eat, lie down.

— The kids simply cannot get enough of the motorhome. They like such trips even better than we do, as they can always find an occupation to their liking. Me too, when I travel by motorhome, rest even more than at home, — laughs our companion.

Sergey admits that a motorhome is an expensive purchase: a 20-year-old vehicle costs at least 25 thousand dollars on average, and the newer it is, the more expensive it gets. However, a motorhome is no more costly than a car in all other aspects.

— The average fuel consumption on a highway is 12 litres per 100 kilometres, — he provides an example. — It is not that much: we spent about 700 dollars on fuel last year, taken the number of trips we made. Maintenance, vehicle inspection, insurance — the rates are the same as for a regular motor vehicle. And if something breaks in the vehicle, fixing it is not a problem: there are no rare or complex parts in it. Yes, it is more difficult with the accommodation module: spare parts are still not available here. However, they can be ordered at affordable prices from China, Germany or Russia.

Another motorhome advantage is that it has everything needed for a comfortable life: sleeping berths, a toilet, a shower, an oven, a freezer, a gas range and even a hot water boiler. Thus, you can travel in it wherever you want — event to remote woodlands.

— The equipment is fed from a gas bottle, — recounts Sergey. — A bottle like that usually lasts for about two months on average. It costs about 15 roubles, so it turns out quite economical.

Before the pandemic, Sergey and his family managed to travel around Europe with his motorhome. Now, the spouses are riding around their own country — and, according to them, there are plenty of fascinating routes in Belarus.

— One of the most memorable things is the Aŭgustoŭski Canal: we were there a few years ago, in autumn, — Yanina shares her memories. — The place is incredibly beautiful and impressive. We made a stop in the Hrodna fortress – a kind of fortification structures: though only a few people know about them, they are definitely worth visiting.

— We also discovered the Blue Lakes behind Narač, — adds Sergey. — It was as if I visited three countries in one trip. When we cycled along Narač, it felt like I was in the Crimea: all those Soviet-style low-rise buildings looked very familiar. Then, we made a stop at the village of Kamarova — its architecture and atmosphere reminded me of the Czech Republic. And at the Blue Lakes, I felt as if I were in the German mountains. See, how nice it is in our country? You only have to think over the route ahead of time: to find something of interest when you ride along highways is quite difficult.

Mereya has everything needed for a comfortable rest: power and water supply, bathrooms, gazebos, parking lots for motorhomes and fire rings. By the summer, the campsite administration promises to outfit gaming and sports zones.

“A kid would rather opt for a tent”

To those, who are not prepared to go to the expense of buying a motorhome, Sergey advises to try venturing out with tents. However, winter, as it was this year, is too cold, and spring will be too early. There was no one in the campsite with a tent, when we arrived there. According to the hero, the best time for a trip like that is from May through September, when the weather is warm and more stable.

— Those who are new to tents, should better go to a campsite, rather than to the woods. There are all amenities there, same as in a motorhome – a shower, toilet, power supply, — our companion clarifies the tip. — The area is equipped with conveniences. There are some disadvantages there, as well, of course — you have to pay the campsite parking fee; besides, it can be quite noisy there during the season, if many people come there. But they adhere to the proper European rules in Mereya; if they are followed, everyone will have quite a comfortable rest.

The Mereya tent spots are located right on the lake shore. One can learn more about the campsite in the review clip made by Sergey Sulzhits.

To see whether this option suits you, Sergey recommends giving it a try. The hero believes that it will be good for all — even for families with children.

— If you ask a child whether he would like to sleep in a motorhome or in a tent, he would sooner opt for the tent, — the expert is certain about it — Because for them, it is like a tiny house — lots of fun, and it’s very fascinating.

Sergey mentions that one had better buy the simplest tent without any extra options such as thermal and moisture protection: such special effects are not needed in our mild climate during the spring/summer season. A single-room tent will also do for a novice.

— The larger the tent, the more complicated is its assembly, — comments the hero. — Besides, a two- or three-room tent makes no sense: you are not likely to have the same fellow travellers each time, and you will have to share it somehow. In my view, you don’t need any unwanted difficulties: you’d better buy several smaller tents — one per family or couple.

By the way, you do not have to buy a tent: as a rule, you can rent it in the campsite. For example, this service costs only five roubles a day in Mereya. They are also ready to rent out other tourist equipment: bicycles (five roubles for two hours), barbeque grills (five roubles a day), catamarans (eight roubles an hour), and fishing tackle (ten roubles a day). The rent of the entire Mereya Campsite with all the equipment you may need will cost you 120 roubles. In that case, it will be just for your company to enjoy rest in the campsite, and you will be able to both use all motorhome and tent spots and receive all tourist equipment that you may need.

According to Sergey, you’d better learn ahead how to pitch a tent  

— It is not enough to read instructions, you also need to watch a few video clips, — he adds. — You may even try to put one up at home to make sure that you are not at a loss on the site. By the way, you’d better pitch your tent on the ground, which is as flat as possible, in a shady place. You’d also need to learn how to make a fire and buy some fire-starting tablets. Take an air mattress with you: it takes up little space, and the relief does not matter much, if you have it with you — you will be sleeping snugly even on pine cones. Of course, you can settle on the “Spartan” option — a thick gym mat. It is not as convenient though.

Besides, a seasoned traveller’s must-have list includes water, food, personal hygiene items, a basic first-aid kit, sleeping bags, pillows, folding chairs and tables, flashlights, mosquito repellents, thermal bags (better – portable fridges, where you can store perishable foods) and a portable stove with a gas bottle.

— A gas stove is the coolest option for travel: you don’t have to look for firewood, think about charcoal and making a fire, — emphasizes Sergey. — All the rest are optional: take what you think you need. We, as such, take the least number of things and we place focus on food: we try to avoid fast food and take regular items — meat, eggs, milk, snacks, yogurts, cereals, pasta and canned meat. Also, we have a large cooking pot, and we like cooking pilaf in it.

You don’t need to worry about forgetting something: experience shows that you can do well for several says without things that you have left at home. If not, you can always buy it on your way to the campsite, or simply on the spot.

“The most difficult thing is to choose where to go”

So, you have made up your mind to head to a campsite — with a tent or by motorhome. What’s next?

— You need to pick where to go, — smiles Sergey. — For me, it is the most difficult part: when you have been to many places, finding something new takes a long time. Of course, there are some websites with ready-to-use routes, but I find it more fun to map it out myself.

If you have not found traveling companions among your family and friends, you may look for them on Belarusian caravanner forums. By the way, there you can find a traveling companion and get a few cool tips from seasoned travellers.

The next step is planning your way. This is, according to Sergey, the novice’s softest spot.

— It only a seemingly simple thing to ride 250 km. However, if you are going by motorhome or with a trailer, you need to factor in their manoeuvrability and dimensions. Add to it road closures due to repairs, road accidents, settlements along the road — it all affects the journey time. You shouldn’t expect to ride at top speed. I, for one, assume an average speed of 50 km/h, and whenever my GPS tells me that the road is going to take me three hours, I add two on top. The journey is not a race, you don’t need to haste.

You’d better make financial provisions before heading out. The hero recommends having a stash of cash with you just in case: anything can happen during the journey. The only thing left after that is to examine the weather forecast in order to decide, what things you are bringing with you, to pack up a bag with the most essential items — and you are ready to go.

— Even if it seems to you that such a type of recreation is not designed for you, you should try it at least once, — the caravanner is sure about it. — You will never know whether you like it or not before giving it a try. I am sure that everyone may find something to his or her liking both in tents and in caravanning. Just follow your heart and march on.

Partner of the publication:

The project “Support to Entrepreneurship in Tourism on the Local Level in the Republic of Belarus” is implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in partnership with the Ministry of Sports and Tourism of the Republic of Belarus and funded by the Polish Aid Programme of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland.

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