Romance of the open road ... grey nomads have got it made.

Romance of the open road ... grey nomads have got it made. Photo: Andrew Watson/Lonely Planet

I've decided what I want to be when I grow up. I came to this decision at a campsite in northern NSW. I had a campervan, I had a girlfriend, I had a gas stove I couldn't quite get to grips with and I had a revelation.

Grey nomads have got it made.

I used to think they were a bit mad, chucking in their home lives and grandkids to bumble their way around the world in varying states of road-borne luxury. Now, however, I think they're absolute heroes. This thought occurred to me at about midnight as I was stretching across a couple of thin pillows balanced on wooden planks, staring up at my campervan roof, trying to use Jedi mind tricks to make the mosquitoes go away.

Road trips do funny things to you. Just like the way you'll probably end up in a physically different place to that which you intended, so, too, can it change your way of thinking about things.

There's romance in that wide-open road but there's also vast potential for breakdowns, both romantic and mechanical. You're cooped up for days on end in a space the size of a study with one person whose sense of direction is just as questionable as your own.

There are boundless opportunities for argument - what music to put on, how fast to go, where to stop for fuel, where to stop for the night, where you're supposed to be going in the first place.

My road trip was up the east coast, from Sydney to Woodford in Queensland. It wasn't one of those long, leisurely road trips but was a mad dash to make it to a music festival and back without any bosses or close relatives realising

I was gone.

Still, I got a taste of the grey-nomad life and I liked what I saw. It has to be the ultimate freedom; selling up everything you own and just cruising around the countryside, stopping where you see fit, chatting to other people doing the same thing, sharing a few drinks after a long day behind the wheel. That's my idea of a good time at any age. Road-tripping's always had a special place in every traveller's heart; from the great explorers who set out on horseback, to Jack Kerouac's drug-fuelled adventures in the '50s, to every person with a driver's licence and an adventurous spirit these days.

It's a great feeling when you jump in front of the wheel at the start of the day, good music on the radio, a whole continent's worth of bitumen in front of you. The only downside is having to pump fuel into those gas-guzzling campervans every couple of hundred kilometres.

Much as I plan one day to do the Great Australian Road Trip, there's nothing here, in my opinion, that can compete with a European adventure on four wheels.

That's a continent made for the road trip. Anywhere that can combine super-fast autobahns with super-cheap campsites has to be a winner.

Plus, everything over there is so compact - it's like a Lego version of the world. Drive 10 hours in Australia and where are you? Still in Australia. You're probably still in NSW, unless you're Mark Webber.

Drive 10 hours in Europe, however, and you've had breakfast in France, lunch in Belgium, dinner in the Netherlands and you're parking for the night in Germany. Four countries, four languages - and one tank of fuel.

For not-so-grey nomads, Europe is the place to be. Every campsite is a party, every service station a reunion. The same people keep popping up all over the place. The crazy Kiwi you met at the Running of the Bulls will invariably make an appearance at Oktoberfest. The South Africans from Antibes will wind up pulling into a Dubrovnik campsite at the same time as you.

Back in Australia, things are a little more sedate but no less enjoyable. After all, if it's open road you're after, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better place than here.

And you still get the real joy of road-tripping: the unexpected.

I used to work on a tour bus in Europe and our theme song among the crew was always Powderfinger's These Days.

We'd all sing along to the chorus: "These days turned out nothing like I had planned."

They never do - and that's the fun of it.

You wind up in places you never expected, doing things you had no idea you'd be doing that morning.

And the next morning, it's the same thing. Get behind the wheel, point it at the open road and see what happens.

The grey nomads have got it made. I can't wait.

Read Ben Groundwater's column each week in the Sun Herald.

bengroundwater@gmail.com