10 Top Tips for Motorhome Travel in Europe

After almost three awesome years travelling Europe by motorhome, we’ve picked up a few top tips which might help make your continental motorhome holiday or tour just that bit easier or more fulfilling. Here are our top 10, feel free to add any you think should have made the list into the comments section at the bottom.

1. Know Your Width

Our motorhome is 2.3m wide, which is about half a metre wider than your average car. Nope, it doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re on a narrow 50mph road, up against a cliff face, and you’ve tour coaches and lorries bearing down on you, that half a metre feels more like you’ve an entire caravan strapped to both sides. We’ve adopted a trick to help us stay in the perfect place on the road, using a couple of inch-long strips of white tape on the inside of the windscreen at the bottom. With the van positioned perfectly on the road, sit in the driver’s seat. When you look at the left hand bit of tape it should line up with the road’s centre line. Looking at the right hand tape, it should align with the line at the edge of the road. Some folks pick two ‘markers’ on the dashboard, but we’ve found using tape means you can still see these ‘markers’ when it’s night time, or you’re in a dimly lit tunnel, plus they’re easier to use in your peripheral vision, so you don’t need to look down at ’em all the time.

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2. Find Awesome Places to Stay

When we first headed out to Europe in our motorhome on holiday, we did what we’d always done in the UK, and stayed on campsites. We’ve nothing against campsites, and we still use them from time to time, but there are tons of simply fantastic places to stay which are better positioned (in towns, near beaches, against fjords, in the mountains, beside lakes) and are cheaper or free to stay in. They’re safe, have far thinner rules books, and are easy to find using resources like the Camperstop book, All the Aires and France Passion books, park4night.com database, campercontact.com database and campingcar-infos.com database. If you click on any of the locations we’ve slept in on our Google Map, you’ll find many of them aren’t campsites. With all the facilities of a motorhome, we could, if we wanted to, never, ever use a campsite as these resources also help us find service points too.

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3. Fit Refillable LPG

You might think there’s a standard gas bottle in use across Europe, or at least you can get your bottle refilled in some countries. Nah. If you take a UK Calor bottle and try and get it filled up in France, you’ll receive a stern ‘non!’ in response. In frustration you might buy a French bottle and pigtail (the hose which connects it to your regulator) and after enjoying La France, head on over to Spain, whereupon when you try to get either the UK or French bottles refilled, and you’ll be told, erm, ‘no!’. The way around all of this? Get a refillable LPG system installed, or fit it yourself like we did, and refill the bottles at thousands of LPG stations across Europe. Cheaper gas, and far more convenient if you’re away for longer than you can last out with your UK bottles. Just note there are no LPG refill stations in Finland or Morocco…

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4. Get Some Three Feel at Home Internet SIMs

Staying on t’Internet’s become an essential for many of us. Even those off-gridders who never use campsite and never hook their van up to mains electricity often want access to the web. As of the time of writing, the easiest way by far, and not that much more expensive than other less convenient options, is to get yourself some 3 Feel at Home SIMs, and a MiFi. Note that 3 don’t like you using their FaH SIMs abroad for more than 2 months a year, but if you get a few of ’em, you can simply rotate them and avoid this limitation (even their customer service chap gave us this advice!). Here’s are 6 tips for staying connected to the web, and here’s the 4G internet system we have fitted to Zagan.

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5. Park Like an Airplane

Parking a massive white box is a pain in the butt. Especially when you’ve just driven the thing for hours on unfamiliar roads. Our top tip: if you have the luxury of a travelling partner, work out some airplane-like hand signals and get them to jump out the van and guide you in. No shouting – with the engine running no-one can hear anything. No teeny weeny movements of the hands – get your entire arms in action. No ambiguous nodding of the head – a big thumbs up when you’re in place works. No ‘come, come, stop, STOP, VAN SLAPPING’, heart-attack-inducing-frantic-antics, work out a signal which shows the driver how close she is – like holding up both arms and moving them closer together until they touch at the point the van’s in the perfect spot. No smashing the top, bottom or side of the van into something which a reserving camera can’t see – your friendly reversing eyes can spot the lot.

6. Plan for Thieves

There are baddies out there. Far, far fewer than the media or forum trolls would have you believe, but thieves are a fact of life. Even if you buy a £200,000 Unimog with tiny windows and a mile-high door, thieves can get in. Our approach: we take basic precautions against thieves, but we assume one day the van might not be where we left it. So we use secure parking in cities, have a deadlock fitted to the door (Zagan only has one door, which helps with security too) and we have an alarm which came with the van. If the van does disappear, we carry our passports, credit cards, some cash, a laptop back-up (which has scanned passports, insurance details and other paperwork) and phone with emergency contact details with us.

7. Google Translate is Your Friend!

If you’re anything like us, you basically speak English and not much else. We have a smattering of French, German and Spanish, a couple of words of Greek, and zero Hungarian. With Internet access though, you can always hold an emergency conversation with Google Translate on your smart phone, translate signs and information boards, or point it at a tin of food in a supermarket and get it to tell you what on Earth it is! We’ve stood in a Spanish garage and worked through a problem like this – it’s slow going but it works.

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8. Get an Inverter

Staying connected to mains electricity costs big style in terms of, well, actual wonga, as well as the inconvenience of not being able to stay in some of the awesome places we’ve already mentioned can be found across this incredible continent. So what if you want to use your mains-powered stuff? Get an inverter, like these on Amazon. These boxes of electronic wizardry convert your 12V batteries into a mini mains power station, so you can run most of your kit, including even a hair dryer if you want (as Europebycamper.com wrote about). Just make sure you get the right one to suit you – read up a bit on how they work before you buy one.

9. Fit a SOG Unit

You may have spotted one of these little puppies before – a small box attached to the outside of a caravan or motorhome’s cassette toilet door like a limpet. What on Earth are they? They’re dead simple: a small fan which draws air from inside the cassette whenever the cassette blade is opened. Why? Smell, that’s why. Instead of having to find, buy, carry and use chemicals, SOG units just use air to stop your loo smelling. Do they work? Yes they do. We’ve had ours in use for about 10 months, and we’ve sometimes not emptied the loo for over a week (I know, I know), without being knocked out by the fumes. They’re very good – here’s how we fitted ours.

10. Stay Legal

Boring, I know, which is why I left it to last, as I figured no-one would read this far. Staying legal means you have to (a) keep your van legal in the country it’s registered in – so for UK dwellers it needs to stay under its weight limit and needs to be taxed, have an MOT and insurance all the time while you’re abroad and (b) it needs to be legal in the country you’re in. The latter one needs a bit of research for the countries you’re heading to. Speed limits, methods of paying for toll roads, types of tyre, need for warning triangles, spare lights, high vis jackets and so on all vary between countries and even between seasons. Some countries also have unexpected rules – giving way to buses in Switzerland, or to traffic driving uphill for example. The AA has good advice for compulsory equipment, and  driving abroad in general.

Oh, and don’t forget to drive on the right and enjoy!

Aurlandsfjellet, Norway
Here’s comes Zagan!

Cheers, Jay

20 Comments

  1. Great list, I agree 100% with your top ten… but would like to add one more. For us, (I suspect just like you) connection to the Internet is VERY important. Your MiFi solution using a 3 card just about guarantees to get you hooked-up in lots of European countries, (as of this month even more-http://www.three.co.uk/Discover/Phones/Feel_At_Home (32 out of 47ish) and 3Gb =£15 or 7Gb= £25 for 30 days only, sometimes we would like more, some days loads more! So I would like to add ‘a WiFi booster’ to your the list of essentials. Ours is an iboost from http://www.motorhomewifi.com, but I have read of other successful set-ups. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen people hanging around at WiFi access points (campsite reception/McD’s etc) when they could be sitting in their MoHo’s, connected up and watching Internet TV, listening to UK Radio, or surfing the web (the speed varies and will always depend on the connection host). It just gives you one more ‘Tool in the box’ for Internet connection which can make life easier when you’re planning what to do or where to go, we wouldn’t be without it. Ho, and don’t forget a cork-screw…essential! Kindest, Wayne. (just finishing off an very nice Bordeaux :-)

    • Hi Ray

      We’re still using 3 for the internet and rotating SIMs.
      The problem we had was with my (Ju) phone which had a 3 PAYG SIM for calls and texts (not data). As we have been abroad for more than two months in the year it is about to have roaming barred on it, it’s in their T&Cs. We thought we could swap the number to a new 3 SIM, but have been told that it’s the number that gets barred, so a new SIM won’t help.

      As I want to keep the same number and I’m unable to rotate the SIM to a different 3 phone SIM, I’m a bit stuck for calls and texts, but still have data so can use Skype or some other video calling system instead until we get home and get it sorted.

      Ju x

  2. Hi,

    Good tips, not too sure if it has been asked already, what do you use for satnav? have read lots of reviews with varying comments & its a bit of a mindfield!!!!!

    Sean :-)

    • Hi Sean, we have a TomTom with full European maps. Being 6m and less than 3.5 tonnes, we’ve found we don’t have a pressing need for a motorhome or truck satnav. However we do also have a copy of CoPilot Caravan Navigation on our phone for when we are in places where we may have a trouble. Whichever we use, we make sure we check the route on a map first, and try not to trust the satnav 100%, especially when we’re in Italy! Cheers, Jay

  3. Jason:
    Great article
    Re your inverter could you please advise what size you use and whether that has been adequate
    Also as you have sensitive gear connected is your inverter a pure sine wave one?
    Regards Rob and Krys

    • Hi guys – we have a 300W modified sine, a Nikkai QM81. We use it to charge laptops, phones, camera, running hair clippers etc, nothing more powerful than that. We have a similar but cheaper inverter on our 2 year tour, and our laptop charger gave p the ghost after a year. On this one the laptop battery has started to play up a little – we have to remove it from time to time or the laptop just claims the battery is 100% full when it isn’t. Whether either of these issues were a direct result of using a non pure-sine inverter, we don’t know. We didn’t buy either inverted, one was a present and one came with the van. My feeling is if we were buying an inverter we’d probably get a 300W pure sine one. Also, try and find one which is reasonably quiet, some have noisy cooling fans. Cheers! Jay

  4. Great advice been reading your blog for 5 months now. Since starting reading and exploring the idea of doing something different we have sold, given up our jobs brought a motorhome got new jobs for next summer season (hopefully) and are presently on a five can site waiting for the last two weeks work notice to expire before setting off to Europe for the first adventure. Your blogs financials and everything have been a large part of us realising that we can do this. Thank you. We have even started a blog to share our whirlwind 5 months and future adventures. Never know we might bump into you on the road one day.

  5. Hi Jay, We have yet to venture into Europe but we are planning to do so soon and your blogs and advice are invaluable, thank you. I only have one issue with your 10 points above and that is your SOG. As it is a ‘blue’ job to empty the cassette it leaves me with a real problem, without the chemicals to take away the unpleasant smells I would heave throughout the whole operation and probably miss the hole so alas I will have to stick to chemicals!

    • Ah, the whiff. It’s been a good while since I emptied using chemicals, so my memory could be failing me here, but as I recall the smell on emptying is roughly equivalent with and without chemicals (the SOG manages the smell really well). Neither is particularly pleasant, but I’ve done the job maybe 200 times now, and I’ve learned to close my nostrils like a seal. :-) cheers, Jay

  6. Hi guys
    One more top tip for you is to carry a spare toilet cassette!
    I’ve found that really handy especially in the middle of the night when you find that little red light comes on and you don’t want to go traipsing round looking for a place to dump it, just swap it over and find somewhere the next day…easy, but keep it in the garage..
    Regards
    Mike
    Ps been motorhoming for 20 years and only recently discovered this one!!

  7. Hey guys, we have recently started travelling in a motorhome (love it). Your blog is inspirational – thank you! We would like an inverter but we are confused how to get them to work. We have a cigarette lighter point but it only is powered if the car battery is on. Any ideas how we get round this? We do have a USB point that runs off the leisure battery but we can’t find a lead that goes from USB to plug socket. Any advice gratefully received!

  8. We have a trip to Poland in the planning stage for Sept 2017 , we usually wild camp or use aires in France & Germany how safe is Poland ? When we travelled before by car down to Zakopane We had to pay to put the car in a gated compound when we stayed in hotels !

    • Hi Gill

      We’ve been across Poland a couple of times and have stayed in aires, paid car parks and campsites, with no issues. We didn’t do much ‘wild camping’ as such, it didn’t feel like the right thing to do to us, but the campsites and car parks weren’t expensive – the one right next to the old town of Warsaw was incredibly convenient on a hot day.

      Cheers, Jay

  9. Hi Jason.
    How do you get the MOT without going to an English port? Also I am having trouble finding insurance for the motorhome and the house.

    • Hi Graham. As far as I know the only place you can get a legal MOT test is the UK. We come back each year and get it done at home. For van insurance we use Safeguard. Cheers, Jay

  10. I am new, completely new to motorhome living and your blog is amazing, thank you. Hope i can continue to access it. It has been an inspiration.
    Linda

    • We couldn’t find a company which would insure Charlie for more than a few months abroad. So, he hasn’t been insured since we set off in 2011. We pay for all his stuff ourselves and vets are much cheaper on the continent. So far, he’s cost less than the insurance would have! Now he is getting older we are paying for his arthritis medication. However, looking at the small print, I am not sure if any companies would have covered it as it has been needed for over a year and would be an existing condition if we changed provider. There is a Facebook forum for Motorhome cats and kittens, puppies and dogs, it might be worth asking on there to see if anyone has managed to find cover if you want it.

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