I’m back in the UK after three months travelling. As I prepared to tour, I plundered resources online, such as message boards, forums and the blogs of travellers who’d undertaken similar adventures, for advice. Particularly useful was the Our Tour blog in which the couple document their van preparations and tours. Everything went as well as it did because I was able to pick the brains of others, so in the spirit of continuing to pass on experience and assist anyone who might come across this blog, I thought I’d patch together some thoughts and information.
The tour took me through Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway and back again. Below is a map showing where I pitched up, with coordinates and a link to my blog for that day.
I used the Campercontact app to find most sites, free and paid, though in Sweden I did park up in the countryside a few times as the local right to roam rules allow. I free parked for 73 out of 105 nights and had no issues on any site in any country. I could have had more free nights, but paid for convenience in cities or to do washing. It was also good to be on mains power from time to time to give the leisure batteries a boost, although the solar panel and charging up from driving would have sufficed with careful management, even as the days got shorter and the weather greyer and colder. For a couple of periods I went for two weeks without plugging in, and even in September in Sweden, Finland and Norway I did a ten day stretch between plugging in.
You are always aware of available resources when you’re touring in a van; power in your batteries, lpg gas, water, data and capacity for waste in your toilet and waste water tank; but the spread of facilities on sites were more than adequate to deal with water and waste. Electricity was not a problem due to the solar panel. It was useful having a Power Source Pro 2100 inverter to get ‘mains equivalent’ power when on 12v battery power. I used it for charging batteries in a laptop, shaver and camera. It would run high power appliances like a kettle, toaster or hairdryer but these inevitably stress the leisure batteries.
The fridge, cooking and water heating used very little gas; I estimate about two and a half 11kg bottle of the Gaslow system I’d had installed, costing about £37 in total. I had 5gb of data on my phone contract and I supplemented that with 48gb in two 24gb ‘3’ sims in a MiFi device which I swapped around to stay within the 12gb per month limit. Using my laptop, which meant downloading webpages in full, did use more data, but I generally used my phone for browsing and blogs. I came back with 10gb on those cards, to be used within the two years since they were activated.
GiffGaff contacted me after almost two months away to tell me their fair use policy for use abroad, which is consistent with all companies, would mean they would start charging for data, calls and messages after two months. It was cheaper and easier to pick up a sim in Denmark for a few pounds. The Lebara sim I used offered 60gb to use in Denmark, and 4gb roaming for £10, which was excellent. I used that sim in my MiFi device while in Denmark and made good use of the available data to update everything. GiffGaff kept contacting me to ask why I’d stopped my monthly contract with them, which I thought was a bit bizarre as they’d advised me to get a local sim, but I put their sim in when the ferry landed in the UK and was back on my original number within a couple of minutes. Very straightforward.
Every day I was struck by how reliant I was upon my phone when I was out and about, and all the information sourced through it – web browsing, google maps to find out where I was, where I was going and how to get back to the marked location of my van, google translate, weather forecasts, managing finances, currency changes, taking pictures, blogging, data management, Strava so people would know where I was, finding pitches, and, of course, calls and messages. I could not have travelled so easily without it.
I didn’t use my phone for driving directions, having invested in a Garmin Camper 770 LMT-D SatNav with a 7″ screen, and would recommend anyone else to do the same. As the name of the device suggests, the device can be programmed with the dimensions of your vehicle with a view to avoiding roads where driving may be difficult due to road width or low bridges. It can only operate with the information it has and I was sent on a route with a low bridge on a blind corner but manage to stop in time, and sent down hairy roads when only those were available. Also, when new road layouts were being built, the device couldn’t help, but there were only a few occasions where the SatNav sent me on impossible routes. That said, to have the range of available information displayed on the large screen, including speed limits and cameras, roadworks, rest areas, fuel, campsites, and so on made focussing on driving much easier.
Travelling to new places almost every day, and focussing on where you are going next, does make remembering where you’ve been and what you’ve done very hard. Running a daily blog has allowed me to record experiences I would otherwise have quickly forgotten, difficult though that may be to believe, due to the sheer volume of new places and experiences encountered. I’d recommend at least keeping a daily diary. Reviewing the blog, as I have done since being back, has reminded me of wonderful days and events that I’d not thought of since writing them down. I didn’t intend for my blog to be read by anyone other than family and friends, but I’m glad I kept it up for my own record of what happened. If anyone else comes across this, I hope they find it helpful. If anyone has any questions, put them in a comment and I’ll be happy to reply.
I had only good experiences on my adventure and can only say that if anyone is considering touring Europe in a motorhome, to go a do it. Europe is geared up for such travel and, as I’ve said to family and friends, if I can do it, anyone can!