Taking your caravan or motorhome abroad
The culture of caravan and motorhome touring in the UK is based largely on planning and making reservations. Most touring folk prefer to book their pitch many days or weeks in advance, and with good reason. During peak season and at weekends, campsite pitches can be in short supply. Even during the winter months, a campsite may have a reduced number of pitches available.
While this culture of booking ahead is eminently understandable and necessary, it also somewhat flies in the face of the concept that caravanning and motor caravanning is the epitome of spontaneity, freedom, and flexibility.
One thing anyone can do to reduce the need to book in advance is set up their leisure vehicle for off-grid touring, thereby reducing the need to reserve a pitch with an electric hook-up. I talk about how I set up my own Airstream for off-grid touring in this video here.
Another thing you can do to recapture the spirit of unplanned adventure is to take a trip off-season and ‘wing it’. As I write, my car is packed and I’m ready to head off on a completely unplanned adventure to Belgium, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, and Croatia.
A couple of dates in the itinerary are fixed. I collect the Carado Vlow 600 Camper Van in Bavaria on Monday. A week later, I collect my travelling companion at Split Airport on the Wednesday. Five days after that, we need to be in Munich for his flight home. And two days after that, I return the camper van to Carado.
Apart from that, I have no plan at all. Zero. Nothing. Nada. Rien. Nichts.
That said, a modicum of planning will help minimise unnecessary stress. To have absolutely no idea of where you are going to park up can be a stressful experience when you’ve still found nowhere suitable and it’s getting dark. To have to wait hours for a ferry or a shuttle train, and pay the inflated last-minute prices, is also no fun. Apart from making sure the paperwork is in order for everyone travelling, your pets, and for your car or motorhome, there are only two things you need to arrange before hitting the road:
Book your ferry
Get yourself an ACSI Card
I left it until the last minute to book my Eurotunnel Crossing, but doing so through the Caravan and Motorhome Club Travel Service returned a saving of over 10% on the price of booking directly online, although of course you have to be a member of the Club to benefit from this saving. Either way, once it was all booked (adding my dog Dougal to the booking by phone afterwards) I was emailed a confirmation number which, together with passports, is all I’ll need at check-in. If you need overseas breakdown cover, you can organise this with the Club too. Fortunately my Navara is covered by Nissan’s European Roadside Assistance package. As I’m not towing (the Nissan policy doesn’t include any caravan) I can skip the additional cover this time.
PROS: Booking through the CAMC offers a considerable saving over booking direct. No surcharge for phone bookings. A terrific ‘one stop shop’ to compare the prices of different operators and routes.
CONS: You need to be a member of the Caravan and Motorhome Club. If you need to amend your booking, you need to do this directly with the CAMC, and their Travel Service is not operational at weekends.
It was Shaun and Lizzy at the popular YouTube Channel California Camping who put me on to ACSI. Shaun and Lizzy had recently taken their VW California to Slovenia for their honeymoon, and ACSI had given them the freedom they craved together with the peace of mind of having a guaranteed standard of campsite wherever they decided to pitch up. Promptly I ordered my ACSI Camping Card, together with a hefty two-part guide book detailing the 3,330 campsites in Europe where I could use said card. Rather than cart the books around with me on the trip, I decided that the Camping Card app would be a better bet as I could just look up sites nearby on my phone. This cost an extra €3.95 and was a bit of a faff to set up – it would have been easier to have chosen the package that included the app in the first place. However, I now have the freedom to pick and choose an inspected campsite along the way, and benefit from reduced fees. ACSI boasts that you only need stay four nights to make the purchase price of €16.95 (2018 price) worthwhile. Members can also buy the ACSI Camping Card from the Camping and Caravanning Club, and from the Caravan and Motorhome Club, but you’ll still need to pay for the app separately if you do.
What I love about the concept of the ACSI Camping Card is that it gives me the freedom to ‘go with the flow,’ or ‘Go with the (Carado) Vlow!’. However, I will retain the peace of mind that there will always be a decent campsite at a reduced price where I can relax at the end of the day.
PROS: Huge Europe-wide network of inspected and quality-assured campsites, reduced pitch fees of between €11 and €19, useful directory, app featuring location services.
CONS: Off-season only, some campsites have additional blackout dates, an ‘electronic only’ option is as yet not available and you need to pay for the books whether you want them or not.
Both the Camping and Caravanning Club and the Caravan and Motorhome Club have terrific web pages to help you make sure you are road legal and safe. Click on the name of your preferred Club to be taken to that page.
If you are taking your pet with you, I recently made a video about that and you can check it out by clicking here.
So that’s really it. Taking a camping trip abroad from the UK doesn’t need to be a big deal and planned to the Nth degree. Make sure your vehicle is prepared and legal, make sure your paperwork is in order as per one of the Club’s websites, book your crossing, and order your ACSI card a couple of weeks in advance.
If you’re reading this in April 2018, I hope you will join us for the journey. I’ll be vlogging twice a week on my YouTube Channel which you can join by clicking here, or you can follow my Twitter account for some daily behind-the-scenes details. I look forward to your company!