Our First Three-Months Motorhoming across Europe: What Did We Learn?

Our first three months motorhoming across Europe over. I thought about what we'd learnt about travelling on tarmac whilst stopped with our families in December and January. Here it is...

Generally we managed well through the few hiccups which came our way. I knew my "Jamo" was amazing, I married him, but I can’t even start to write how amazing he’d been in getting us all the useful gadgets and useful things we’d needed before going on our adventure.

1. Support each other & don’t panic when hiccups come your way: A few things happened on the road which were not so good news. First our water pump broke whilst we were very North of Norway. Second we could feel the right-hand side corner of our head cabin being really damp to the touch. This happened badly whilst in the Italian Alps, The Dolomites. During both times, even though I couldn’t help manually, I tried to calm Jamie down (and me at the same time – I played it down a lot as, too, was quite worried). I also had to leave him to it – once something bugs him he cannot get his mind off it and needs to sort it out on his own. I just had to accept it and that he’d spend hours online researching it all. During those times, I concentrated on other things: cooking, baking, buying some treats, checking where to go next, writing our blog, updating pictures.

2. Learn to be a bit of a grafter: Jamie really impressed me. He’d always say how two of his mates (Adam and Andre) were amazing at teaching themselves how to do up houses from plumbing, electricity, tiling etc. But Jamo was great at teaching himself how to sort the above problems and more. After reading blogs, searching through videos, he wasn’t phased by trying things out first before going into a motorhome place if needed (touch wood, we've never had to for the moment!). It’s something he’d always been good at – teaching himself new stuff about the latest software, gadgets etc. But he’d never been much of a manual/DIY boy since the past 12 years we’ve been together. I was amazed. He doesn’t boast nor is he overly confident, he just gets down to it. It’s really something I admire as I’m always scared to try new things without being taught by somebody – books or forums don’t do it for me.

3. Communications and internet: we’ve got one old phone (Nokia) in which Jamie’s put his English SIM in so people can still contact him and we can contact them. We both knew that we would need the internet more than anything else, but what to go for? After many researches, we went for Globalgig – we pay £20 for 1Gb internet in 40 countries. Jamie put the new SIM card he received in his phone. So we use his on the go. It’s been useful to look at Google Maps to double check our route; to find aires on motorhomes apps etc. We’ve just been six weeks in Morocco. Morocco’s not included in the 40 countries so after using a couple of three-days Moroccan 3G internet cards for 20Dh each, we bought a month one for 100Dh. Last thing, we’ve got a USB WiFi booster, which for £20 was probably one of our best buy before we set off. Most of the campsites we’ve stayed at which had the internet had not a strong reach. Having the small antenna plugged to our laptop meant that we could have full bars internet. One very last thing: we both called our mobile phone providers to drastically reduce our monthly contracts – we still needed to keep our phones.

4. Appli: the apps we’ve used the most since we’ve been on the road have been the ones to find aires/places to park: Campercontact (we both think the best) and a French one called “Aires camping car”. Offline maps apps have also been very useful; the one we’ve used is “MapsWithMe”. For example as we couldn't use our GPS in Morocco, we used the offline map of the country as our Morocco Michelin-paper map wasn't great - road numbers were often completely different, some villages and towns weren't even listed and some were named differently and the scaling didn't seem to be consistent all the way through.

5. Books: we’ve brought with us a collection of e-books and travel guides. Travel guides have been very useful – I must admit that for the moment I prefer the old fashion paper guides rather than the e-ones. I had to use the electronic version of the Lonely Planet Italy guide which I didn’t find easy to navigate nor to bookmark or make annotations. I probably just need to get the knack of it all. Reverting to the Lonely Planet paper-version guide when going to Morocco felt really good though. In terms of finding out about motorhomes stuff; Go Motorhoming and Caravanning has been our “Bible” all the way. We used it a lot at the beginning as we adventured in Norway and Finland and were wondering about the effects of cold temperatures on water pipes, gas supply etc.

6. Gas supply:  we knew before setting off that refilling our gas bottles would be difficult. We were very careful with our gas supply and kept reading “Go Motorhoming and Caravanning” and looking up “MotorhomeFacts” online.  Jamie was prepared as usual and had got an LPG refill app. But he realised that the stations listed wouldn’t refill our type of bottles so we quickly deleted it. We haven’t found an app since then. In the first three months of our travels from 20 August to 10 December 2013, we only refilled our bottles twice – on 24 September at a small shop called Autogass in Storslett in the Northern countryside of Norway (on the way to Alta) and then in Germany on 5 November. The latter was a small shop called Frankman & Sons in Goslar. We found both in a roundabout way by going and enquiring in motorhome shops – both addresses weren’t online. That’s why Jamie started looking into fitting a/or two Gaslow bottle(s) as one of their main advantages is that they can be refilled in any LPG stations. We talked a lot about it and finally agreed to fit one – for cost (one bottle with all its fittings came up to nearly £300) and see how we were going to get on with it. Luckily Jamie managed to fit it himself which saved us a lot of money (another £300). He again managed to do it himself after reading forums and watching videos.

7. Financials: right from the start I’ve been keeping a detailed spreadsheet (Excel) of all our expenses.  We were withdrawing as much as we could once a week, but still paying on card a few big transactions such as petrol or big food shopping. After a month or two in, we realised that keeping track of our financials this way wasn’t enough. When checking our account online, we had to make sure that all the transactions had gone through as some would take as long as five days to appear. After a big discussion we both agreed we needed to change our ways. We were on our way to Italy then, beginning of November. We now only pay by cash. And it has worked wonders. It feels much better and a big weight off our shoulders.

8. Insurance: finding both a motorhome and travel health insurance were both difficult. We finally chose Safeguard and Flexicover respectively. We were honest about our travelling (365 days) and also looked at insurances which could cover us for the most countries in Europe and part of North Africa & Middle East including Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey. We paid a lot of money for our 365-days motorhome insurance, but we both feel safer and happy about it. We spoke to a few other motorhomers we met en route. One couple we met told us they’d only mentioned they were travelling for 90 days at a time. We couldn’t believe it, but were happy about our decision – constantly worrying about having an accident especially when being in a country like Morocco where driving can be dangerous whether you’re avoiding lorries, donkeys or dromadories is not worth the risk nor your mental health.

9. One very last thing – Films/TV series etc: we brought with us a lot of films, documentaries, tv series and shows. So far we’ve loved watching The Mimic, Breaking Bad, Brooklyn99, Sopranos and Southland. We haven’t finished watching Sopranos yet. We love it. Travelling is definitely good for getting into long running series like this as you have a lot more time and don’t have to wait for a full week for the next episode to come out. Out of the few movies we watched in the van, Mud was the one we loved the most and probably one of our 2013’s top ten list.

That’s about it. I haven’t explained everything in full details so if you’d like to ask us more questions about preparing to setting off on your journey etc, don’t hesitate to leave a comment and we’ll happily reply and try to help as much as possible.