Our Guide to European Travel
Have you been daydreaming of travelling to Europe but too nervous to give it a go? A little bit of planning and preparation can go a long way to make your dream road trip become a reality. The thrill of the open road, sleeping in a different location every night, new sights and sounds. That’s what’s it’s all about. Well Europe is but a small step away, so start your planning so that you’re ready to go when the world opens back up.
First things first – planning your trip
If it’s your first trip across the channel, keep it simple. As beautiful as somewhere like southern Italy is, we’d suggest something slightly closer to home to begin with, so you can find your feet and get accustomed to travelling and camping in Europe.
For your first trip, we’d recommend Brittany in North-West France. It’s a really easy ferry ride from Portsmouth directly to St-Malo or use the Channel Tunnel / ferry to Calais and take the drive along the north French coast. With its many beautiful beaches, which its famed for, Brittany is a a great family destination. Take a look at www.brittanytourism.com for a full list of campsites and things to see and do.
Having said that, if you do want to be a bit more adventurous, Northern Spain is within easy reach for the first time European road tripper. Simply catch the ferry from Portsmouth to Bilbao. In 24 hours you feel like you’re a million miles away from good old Blighty.
The most important part – Preparing Your Camper
This might sound like an obvious thing to say, but not only is your Camper your home while you’re on holiday, it’s also your transport to and from your destination and how you’ll get around during your holiday. Basically it needs to be in tip top mechanical condition, the last thing you want while you’re trying to relax is the stress of a breakdown.
If you’re not the type of VW owner who works on their own Camper, we always recommend a specialist garage. The reasons why are simple really, they work on Campers like yours all the time. Therefore, they know which problems to look for, they know which parts fit and where to get them from. This specialist knowledge will save you money as you’re not paying your local garage extra costs in labour charges while they work out what they actually need to do to your pride and joy. Ultimately you’ll get a better overall service from a specialist garage as they’ll share the same passion you have for your Camper, and won’t just treat it like a soulless company car.
If you do work on your own Camper, spend a day checking it over a couple of weeks before you set off (not the night before!), that’ll give you time to order parts, fit them and test the Camper before you head off. A full service would be a great idea, but if you’ve done that recently and are confident that things like brakes are properly adjusted, give your VW a simple pre MOT style check, check the lights are working, fan belt is adjusted, oil and coolant levels are correct, tyres are properly inflated etc. Fixing any problems before you leave the UK will be a damn sight easier than on the side of the autobahn, at night, in the rain. Okay that’s a worse case scenario, but you know what we mean.
Do yourself a favour and take some spare parts with you. “I have no mechanical knowledge” we hear you say, “why would I take up precious space in my Camper if I can’t fix a problem myself?”. Quite simply, if you run into trouble and need mechanical assistance, the European equivalent of the AA / RAC is unlikely to carry anything that’ll fix your Camper by the side of the road. If you’ve got a fan belt or a set of points with you, you stand a good chance of being back on the road quickly. In fact, this advice is relevant to travel in the UK as well, it doesn’t cost a lot and in reality with a bit of careful packing, these parts don’t take up much space. We suggest you keep these parts in your Camper at all times.
The boring bit – Legal requirements
We’re pretty lax in the UK in terms of things you have to carry in your car. Get across the channel though and it’s a whole different ball game. Read on to make sure you’re on the right side of the law as you don’t want to get caught out. Wherever you are heading you’ll have to pass through France and the Gendarmerie love an on the spot fine, but it’s a pointless way to spend your holiday money. So forewarned is forearmed.
Documents you must carry
Valid full driver’s license
Travel insurance documents
Must be in your Camper
2 x high visibility jackets
Replacement bulb kit
Headlight beam converters
First aid kit
2x NF approved breathalysers
JK Staff’s advice
Tolls; Most European countries have toll roads or toll bridges and tunnels. Be aware of this and make sure you’ve got Euros or credit on your bank or credit cards. Check your route before you leave the UK so you can budget for these. Also, don’t forget the toll booths will be on the wrong side, unless you have a LHD Camper, in which case, happy days!
Toilets; You will have to pay for toilets in service stations, so keep some loose change on you. Also campsites don’t provide toilet roll so make sure you bring your own.
Eurotunnel vs ferry; They both have their pros and cons. Taking a ferry is cheaper, but the tunnel is much faster. The tunnel is much better if your Camper is lowered as it doesn’t have steep entry ramps, but the ferry is a more scenic way to reach the continent.
…HAVE FUN! With a Camper there’s an adventure around every corner. When it’s safe to do so, get out there and see all the amazing things Europe has to offer.