When does one decide to start travelling in a camper-van?
Personally I started travelling in the summers when I was 18, I took ferries, buses, planes initially to known areas, cities and music festivals.When I was about 21 years old together with some friends I finally got to rent a camper-van, no hesitation to say it was great, that feeling of driving through borders to unknown places is one of a kind.I promised myself that the best investment to follow my passion of adventure and filmmaking was to buy a camper-van and a few years later while at University I managed to do it.This is the way I prefer travelling and I think always will, while I know that others prefer to go backpacking and hitchhiking I never been into it so will leave it up to someone else to write a blog about alternative ways of travelling .
I’m going to concentrate on my experiences travelling around in a Van.
After buying my Iveco Daily I went off on my first journey with around Eastern Europe. I soon realized there where many things I needed to change. When I first bought it the inside was very basic with four folding camp beds, a wardrobe, a fridge and a small kitchen. Most of this was handmade by the previous owners, but obviously they weren’t using it as a mobile home as I am.
So after travelling around East Europe and France I decided to take half a year to refurbish and carry out repairs.
Before leaving for seasonal jobs in France at the end of May 2016, I renovated my van by adding and constructing a double bed, a small single one for guests (that converted into 2 sofas ) a table , sink, and four wooden chests to store various equipment.
As I’m quite tall I couldn’t build a bed that used the width of the van, and making a fixed bed using the length would mean giving up on a lot of valuable space, so I decided to make an adjustable bed.
Obviously I added some security measures, you can never be to sure leaving your camper parked while you go out to explore surrounding areas. I included three different locks: one for my side slide door where I added an external lock, on the back doors I put internal locks and on the side window I installed an L system lock.
Windows on camper vans are usually quite easy to break into so I would advise anyone to take extra precautions on security.
When I got the van the electrical system wasn’t installed well so I decided to modify it drastically.
I had a lot of help from a friend. If you,like me, aren’t very familiar with electrical systems doing it by yourself can be extremely difficult.
First of all we took out the lights bulbs and substituted them with LED strip lights, this economizes the consumption drastically and at the same time illuminates the camper nicely.
We managed to put a 12V motor in the kitchen hood which added extra light for the cooking area.
The next step was making the sink function better. I had previously made the plan for my sink in a way it wouldn’t be difficult to install the water pump.
After installing two 100 amp batteries and the inverter I realized that charging everything using only the motor’s charge wasn’t enough, so I decided to install a 250 watt solar panel.
The final result was a real transformation. After a whole year having to ration the electricity and needing to charge my equipment in McDonalds, I now have sufficient electricity for all my necessities, including charging my laptop.
During trips I ended up getting some essential material and accessories to make the journeys cosy and safer:
A fire extinguisher.
I got myself a small extinguisher and placed it under the passengers seat, I think it’s best to have it in the front cabin rather in the living space, especially near the cooking area.
When I first got my van there were no curtains.
Privacy is always very important so not only did I add curtains to the windows, I also put one at the front that could screen off the driver’s cabin area from the living quarters.
Shoe place, coat hangers and mat.
Working outdoors in vineyards or just simply living in a rainy area can sometimes get messy when living in a camper van. Mud, water and filth is not what you want around your “house”, so what I did was add a coat hanger, shoe storage (in this case on the floor below the hangers) and a shoe mat. This has helped me keep my van clean and dry.
Natural cleaning products
Although I have made a sink that is able to collect the water I have used, sometimes when travelling I might need to dump this directly to the ground.
Only do this if you have natural based products, for example Marsiglia soap or anything that doesn’t contain harmful chemicals.
Object holder pockets.
Having an object holder close-by to your bed is always very useful. I put a pocket holder on each side of the bed. Before resorting to this I would wake up realizing my phone had fallen to the ground.
First Aid kit.
No need to say why this is important, anything can happen while travelling.
Take all you think necessary for your First Aid Kit.
I would also recommend taking Oxygenated Water and disinfectant, this will be useful for any type of cut and will help avoid infection.
Wheel changing kit.
I bought myself a wheel changing kit before my first trip out of Italy, I have never had to use it until now, but someday I might be stranded in the middle of nowhere with a flat tire with no mechanic around.
Here are other essentials that you need to have with you:
You can never have too many torches! We have two headband torches , a pocket torch and two solar ones.
When your out in the wilderness at night no light whatsoever you will need as much light as possible.
At the beginning there was no toilet and sadly because of the size of my bed I could not make a separate room for the toilet. So I bought a portable on; these are easy to find on websites such as Amazon.
This is always necessary: on hot days to get some shade, on rainy days to put on the ground under you vans awning or to cover and protect equipment from the rain.
A fan with low consumption is a must in hot climates. We keep it close to the bed enabling us to easily turn it on on hot mornings and get a bit of extra sleep. However, this is only for transport equipped with solar panels.
Another essential in cold weather; many campers already have heaters installed but I needed to buy myself a mini heater fuelled with propane gas cans. These might not be the cheapest option but if you don’t need a big heater these are ideal.
Bring lots of different kind of rope. I can’t even make a list of how many times a box full of rope helped me out, from tying the dogs in desperate moments to making covers with tarpaulin.
Table, chairs ecc.
Obviously on a hot sunny day who wouldn’t chill and eat outside the van?
As matter of fact I rarely eat inside unless it’s really bad weather and obviously the best way to socialize is to spend as much time possible in the open air.
I got myself a Black and Decker rechargeable 24V mini hoover and it’s great, when using only a broom you never get rid of everything so this can make life so much easier.These are quite cheap, I got mine on Amazon which cost around 20 Euros..
Of course don’t forget to always bring a lot of water with you!Drinking water is very important. On some occasions it has happened that I ran low especially in France where most supermarkets are closed on Sunday and I regretted not buying that extra crate.Sometimes water in certain places can be good to drink from houses or fountains, this all depends on where you are, I would advice anyone to ask around if the water is drinkable or not before trying.But good or not to drink always fill up to the max with water at every opportunity.
10 Frequently Asked Questions.
How do I call friends or home from another country?
At the start of the journet a person always leaves a country with his or her phone number but this can be very expensive. Of course if you travel from country to country for short periods keeping your own mobile number might be the best solution, but if you intend staying in a country for at least a month you should consider getting a SIM card from the country your in. Though the EU have now introdeced new regulations regarding reduced roaming charges.
A good start could be Lyca or Lebara, which are able to be call between users free if the Sim card has credit, and also have cheap tariff for calling your home town.
Another solution is getting a Sim card with a mobile offer. If you have a smart-phone this is especially the case, in some countries you can spend 15 to 20 Euros for offers that include free calls in the country you are in and 3G to contact home, overall this can prove to be much cheaper.
Should I have my Van checked up before leaving?
Each time I depart for a very long period I always have my van checked out. On my first holiday I didn’t really care so much about having an experienced mechanic checking out my van and it proved to be a big mistake.
On one occasion my brakes gave out and a few times I had to change the wheels. Not only is it very expensive to have your vehicle repaired abroad, but it can also be very dangerous: brakes and tyres are always a must check before leaving.
Also if you buy your motor second hand it’s always best to change the motor oil before a long trip.
What do I do if I break down?
This is a very important question. During our travels one of our Vans broke down on the Highway in Austria heading for Slovakia. After making a lot of phone calls to mechanics and insurances, we had two options, pay over 1000 Euros to take the van back to Vienna, or tow it all the way to Slovakia.
One thing I have learned is, get an insurance that can help you out abroad. On my new insurance I am covered, for one occasion to request free transportation to the nearest mechanic. One might not seem much, but it can really save you a huge expence.
If you should break down in a main city the best thing to do is contact your home countries Embassy, they are usually very helpful.
What should I remember when on route?
First of all remember to take good care of your vehicle, keep it neat and tidy inside but mostly take care of the mechanics.
After a while you nearly always encounter problems of one kind or another but the experience helps you get to learn how to take care of it.
Constantly check your engine water and oil, never let them run low or there might be serious consequences, always remember to keep an extra 2 litres of motor oil assigned for your type of van (if you have a diesel vehicle don’t buy oil for unleaded ones), some antifreeze for the water and general products to help with the journeys safety.
How do I stop wardrobes and cupboards from opening while driving?
Imagine your self driving on the highway and hearing the noise of your 100% Italian olive oil bottle breaking on the floor of your camper and there is nothing you can do until the next petrol station.
Has something like this ever happened to you?
All of the cupboards have magnets on them to prevent them from opening, but sometimes while on the road this isn’t enough, so I have added extra locks to prevent them from opening.
I also added one onto the fridge, I advise to put the on anything with doors.
PS. Always remember to lock them.
How do I stop bigger objects from falling?
One of the best things I added was adjustable straps to fix objects such as bikes, chairs and tables to the campers walls so they never fall not even while driving.
What should I remember when on route?
First of all remember to take care your vehicle, keep it neat and tidy inside but mostly take care of the mechanics.
After a while with your van you always encounter problems but thanks to these you get to learn how to take care of it.
Constantly check your engine water and oil, never be to low on those or there might be serious consequences, always remember to keep an extra 2 litres of motor oil assigned for your type of van (if you have a diesel vehicle don’t buy oil for unleaded ones), some antifreeze for the water and general products to help with the journeys safety.
How much will my trip cost?
This is never a sure fact. When travelling I usually start the trip with a sum to be used only for petrol and toll payments. Always try to have a full tank when leaving for a long journey, for example if you need to travel for more than 1000 km in a short period of time try filling up your vehicle on Bla Bla Car.
The best way we can estimate our travel costs is by going on www.mappy.fr
This website plans travels just like on Google Maps, but what’s particular about this is you can calculate the cost of your journey’s petrol and toll expense. Simply insert the type of vehicle you are travelling with (ex. Camping Car), the type of gasoline it runs on and the estimated price for it.
It has been very useful in the past and we always use it when curious about the distance and costs of our travel.
How do I save money while travelling?
Firstly forget eating out in restaurants. For two months we only cooked in the camper-van and that proved to be very economic especially buying food in relatively cheap supermarkets such as Lidl, Aldi, Eurospin and more, each country has its own, but sometimes in most supermarket there are many special offers on fundamental foodstuff.
Taking super routes and avoiding highways can work out cheaper, except when travelling in very hilly areas, fuel consumption can sometimes prove more expensive.
Avoid campsites and possibly park in free spaces.
Usually the main expense is fuel so try to avoid going too fast, in my van I usually cruise at around 90 Km/H which seems to be the ideal speed to save expenditure on gas.
Is it safe to park in places other than campsites?
On all my trips I’ve rarely stayed in campsites. Sometimes it was necessary when I wanted to have a nice hot shower and relax for the day.
Remember to lock the van from the inside when you sleep and always think twice on where you’re parking especially in big cities, you can never be too sure about the place you are leaving it
I never had any problems, and I have parked in various strange places, of course if you decide to stay a day or two in the same spot don’t show yourself too much if the situation isn’t right.
For example taking out chairs and tables to chill with your friends in a Supermarket parking space isn’t always the best idea.
Where can I shower?
We don’t have a shower in our van and the travellers we’ve met on route usually didn’t have a heater for warm water, so at times we really craved a hot shower.
You can usually pay campsites to have a shower but this can be expensive (around 3 euro per person).
In certain countries you can go to Red Cross centres or homeless centres where you can either shower for free or for a very small fee.
If travelling long distances taking mostly highway, the best thing would be to stop at big Auto grills or petrol stations, these usually have showers but the prices can vary from country to country.
In conclusion I would say try and think of your own personal special needs.
When making up your camper van or even buying a fitted one you will always modify it to make the living space cosy,decide your priorities and organize it around your personal needs.