Select Page
How Finland Reduced Our Gas Consumption Part 2

How Finland Reduced Our Gas Consumption Part 2

If you missed Part 1, you can read it here How Finland Reduced Our Gas Consumption Part 1.

We limped on through Finland very mindful by now of our dwindling gas levels.  Anything and everything possible is being considered to make this last bottle see out the distance.  We just hope we don’t run out of gas before we run out of country.  Then there’s the looming thought of it’s getting colder and before long we may need heating (another gas guzzler).

One thing that helped to extend our gas consumption was a pre-planned, albeit quick, trip to St Petersburg, Russia for three days.  Betsy, however, still has to use gas to keep the freezer cold (we can’t bring ourselves to spend another €8 per night to be plugged into electricity while we’re away).   This does take some pressure off the gas consumption somewhat and as you will see below, every bit helps.

We leave Helsinki and head north.  The first stop about an hours drive is a place called Hyvinkaa where we located a business called Best Caravans.  Not only do they have caravans, but they also have the best, and I mean the best, free camping spot that we have ever come across, bar none.  Yes they have electricity (phew) and they also provide a washing machine, a dryer (rare to find this), a double shower (nice) and then, wait for it… they offer a sauna!  All this for free (provided you buy something in their shop and/or secure their loyalty card).  So after buying some toilet tabs, which are always needed, we take advantage of these facilities while plugging in to give our fridge a much needed break from sucking on the gas.

Whenever we are plugged in the kettle goes away and the electric jug comes out.  I prefer this as electric is much quicker (especially when in urgent need of a quick cuppa).

We venture further north and planned our route around two more Best Caravan franchises.  Neither, however, as fruitful as the first, but that’s okay because it’s electricity we’re mainly looking for and were incredibly thankful for.

We found a LPG supplier reasonably close to the Finland border in Sweden.  Alan phoned to ensure our information was accurate and that they did, in fact, have LPG.  They did.

So the original plan was to drive from Oulu to Sweden, get the gas, then back into Finland and up to Rovaniemi to see Santa.  That plan changed to driving to Rovaniemi first, then across into Sweden, back into Finland and head north.

In the end we drove to Rovaniemi from Oulu, thankful as we saw the Aurora Borealis for the first time ever (so exciting!), then decided that we could possibly make a run for Norway and drive all the way over to Tromso for LPG.

By now the second tank is oh so low and I’m sure we’re sucking fumes.  We have reduced the number of hot drinks we consume and look for meze type food for dinner.   So cheese on crackers with salami and relish, anything that doesn’t need gas becomes our dinner.  If we do choose to a warm dinner we make sure it’s using one pot that is watched carefully.

We never skip a nightly shower that is until now.  With gas levels at a critically low level, we opt to skip a night due to prioritisation, a cuppa is more important than smelling good.  We reduced our timed water heating to 15 minutes which was ample providing it wasn’t a hair washing night.

The temperature is due to drop like a lead balloon to just two degrees tomorrow night.  I’m keen to drive through to Tromsø in one go, but it’s over six hours.  When we are used to one or two hours at a stretch, a six-hour drive is a far cry for us to consider.  I reluctantly resign to one further night in Finland and think about all the clothes I can wear in bed to stay warm tonight.    Thankfully the heater in Betsy is very good, so it gets turned on in short bursts just to take the chill out of the air and assist with sleeping.

We park tonight at a layby and notice, surprisingly, there are several other motorhomes and some caravans parked here too.  All through northern Finland we seem to have been on our own at overnight stops, but not tonight.  I brave the bone-biting cold wind and knock on the doors of other travelers inviting them to come over later for a drink and chat.  I’m hoping the distraction will get my mind off the lack of gas and more bodies inside Betsy will help to keep the warmth in.

The other motorhomers must have wondered who this was knocking on their door on dusk.  Dressed in all the warm clothes I could find, hat covering the blonde hair, and a scarf wrapped around my neck to fight off that bitter cold, I brave my fear of shyness and knock away.  Most occupants open their doors, and some speak English.  I get some polite no thank you declines, some who don’t speak English soon shut their doors to Mrs Blobby, and those who do engage in conversation are delighted at the invitation and agree to valiantly brave the cold and come across after dinner.

My plan worked, we have a lovely evening meeting new and interesting people and listen to their travel tales.  The night passes quickly and the temperature inside Betsy is cozy (without the need for any gas, whoops, I mean heating).

Once the evening congregation is finished, we say goodbye to our new friends and jump into bed to stay warm.  The heater goes on briefly and we hope we are well insulated from the jaw-dropping thermometer-dropping temperatures outside.  It works.

The next day we make a run to Tromsø and oh boy are we blessed with the most glorious day.  That’s a post for another time, needless to say we arrived safe and sound, filled up with that beautiful and most precious juice, LPG, and were on our way to great food and warmth inside Betsy.

So how long did we stretch bottle number two?  Well, that’s a good question.

Let me step back to the beginning of having two fill tanks of LPG, sourced from Sweden on 7th August.  We crossed into Finland later that day and didn’t fill up again until we were in Norway on 17th September.  So that gives us a staggering 41 days of gas consumption.

The first bottle was empty by the time we left the Awesome Åland Islands on 19th August (so that bottle lasted 12 days).  Therefore we stretched, and I mean stretched thin, the second bottle to a staggering 29 days.  HOW COOL IS THAT???  Just don’t ask me to do that again, especially when the weather starts to turn cold and we are in the north of Scandinavia.

Looking back now I would not, for the life of me, have skipped Finland just due to their lack of LPG.  (I do have to ask, however, Finland why don’t you have LPG?).  Finland offers so much to see and do and it even gave us challenges that looking back now, were fun.

So if you have LPG and have discounted traveling to this part of the world because of a lack of LPG then take a leaf out of our book, put on your big boy/girl pants and grunt up.  Making our gas last for 41 days is epic and if we can do it, then so can you.  I’m throwing down the gauntlet and want you to beat our record.  I dare you….

 

How Finland Reduced Our Gas Consumption Part 1

How Finland Reduced Our Gas Consumption Part 1

For those of you who are seasoned travelers and/or have been to this part of the world in your moho, it may come as no surprise to learn that Finland does NOT have LPG.

We were aware of this fact and filled our Gaslow twin gas bottles up to the brim in Sweden before heading over.

Having lived full time in our moho, Betsy, we really hadn’t considered the need to conserve gas.  After all, it’s cheap enough to buy, it’s relatively easy to find (although Italy did give us some grief) and it lasts quite a while.

We use gas for our fridge and freezer, to heat our water for showers, for warmth when it gets cold (although this isn’t yet needed in Finland), for making tea/coffee, and of course to cook meals.

At what I would consider our usual consumption rate, we would get up to six weeks from our two bottles.  Then we started baking bread every second day and cakes on a regular basis, which took us to about a four-week cycle.

We arrived in Finland but were shocked to notice that after just twelve days, with considered usage, we were one bottle down already.  The weather has been relatively warm which could contribute to greater gas consumption for the fridge/freezer.  So what is considered usage I hear you ask?  We had just stopped baking cakes and bread but continued to cook dinner every night (we eat out infrequently).

We expected to be in Finland for another three or four weeks so it was time to get serious, look at how we were using gas and drastically cut down our usage or we were going to run out and have to make a break for the Swedish border for a refill.  Here’s what we did.

1.              Stopped all baking of yummy, non-essential food, ie bread, cakes, etc and bought bread a couple of times a week and a cake now and again instead.

2.              Purchased a low wattage (1000W) electric jug.  We have two solar panels and a large inverter, so by swapping from a stovetop gas kettle to an electric jug (when the batteries are well charged) has made a huge difference to how long we have the gas running every day.  We have reduced our tea consumption, which can’t be a bad thing.  The jug is also used for boiling water for washing the dishes, which we usually save for the morning when the sun is up so the batteries can maintain a higher charge.

3.              Monitored the hot water system for showers.  In the past, we would turn on the switch to heat the gas then forget it for half an hour or an hour before jumping into the shower and leaving it on until the second person had finished.  Now we set the timer for 20 minutes, the heater is turned off and both showers taken quickly while the water is hot.  We have found there is ample hot water for two satisfactory showers and we may experiment with reducing the heat time to 15 minutes.

4.              After we both have showers the residual hot water is sometimes used to wash the dishes, hence making the most from the gas heated water.  Previously we would just boil the kettle for the dishes.

5.              Reduce our shower time (I know this sounds obvious, but I really like to stand under hot water and contemplate the world).  Now I contemplate it quickly when drying off.  However, our shower routine has typically been to get wet, turn the shower off, lather up with soap and shampoo, then turn the water back on, job done.  We have also noticed a reduction in our water usage as a result.

6.              The biggest step we took was to check into a camping ground for a night, which we normally only do when we absolutely have to.   It had to be done, so just for one night we bit the bullet, paid our money, and then made the most of this resource.  We arrived at 11am and set about in the kitchen cooking up meals that we could freeze or chill so we wouldn’t have to cook for a couple of weeks.  This took the rest of the day and part of the next day.  Thankfully the camping ground had a 3pm checkout time.

We made nacho mince, (2x meals); Swedish meatballs (2x meals); Caponata (yummy on bread for meze type meals), Aubergine rolls (3 x meals); Beef and Guinness pie (3 x meals); honey-soy chicken wings (1x meal); Thai Chicken Curry (2 x meals); and our famous lemon cake.  Then we had to cool everything down and pack it neatly into our fridge and freezer.  To read more click here for the full lowdown.

7.              We have a microwave oven that will allow us to heat our pre-made meals up in no time, reducing our gas consumption.  We will just use the gas for cooking up fresh vegetables for the evening meal.

8.              Of course, while we were in the camping ground we plugged into the power (to give the fridge a break from using gas) and also used the campground’s showers.  That’s something I wouldn’t usually do even if we do find ourselves in a camping ground.

9.              We turned the temperature of the fridge up (warmer) one notch so it would use less gas.  Everything is still frozen and cold as it should be so that seems okay.

 

At this stage, we don’t know how well our efforts will be rewarded, but we are hoping to stay in Finland for up to four more weeks so fingers crossed.  We believe that we have cut our usage by at least 80% which should be more than enough, but time will tell.

I will update this post when the experiment has Finnished (excuse the pun).  If you have any suggestions or recommendations please feel free to share them.  We are keen to learn from others.

To find out what happend, click on Part 2 for the Finale.

How To Safely and Successfully Wild Camp

How To Safely and Successfully Wild Camp

by Ruth Murdoch  |  August 2018  |Traveling Help

What is Wild Camping?

Also called free camping, freedom camping or wilding, wild camping means different things to different people.

In this blog I share our tips for how we wild camped successfully in 275 stopping spots during our first year of travels through sixteen European countries.  I will share with you places to dump black water (toilet), where we found water, and most importantly how we keep safe.  I will also show you how we insert two different GPS coordinates into our Garmin and share the technology we use to find great spots for where to wild camp.

For us, wilding is not about being out in the bush surrounded by bears and moose but is when we find a place to stay for the night, away from the usual options of campervan parking, Aires, and camping grounds.  We may be parked on wasteland, car parks, laybys, picnic spots, or any other area of open and preferably flat ground we can find.  We might be near the beach, in the mountains, overlooking lakes, beside a motorway, at a marina, or down a road out in the country.  Anywhere really where it is free to stay the night and suitable for parking and sleeping.  There are usually no facilities like electricity or places to dump your black or grey water in these areas, so it’s important that you are self-sufficient.  If you are lucky you might find a rubbish bin and a fresh water tap.

Pros of Wild Camping

You may ask why do we choose to wild camp as opposed to using camping grounds or camper parking areas.  Here are our reasons:

1. Cost – it’s cheaper. We are long-term motorhomers and if we were to spend €30 per night on camping grounds that would add just under €11,000 onto our costs, or 54% of our annual budget.  If the cost was just €20 it would still be a whopping €7,300 a year, which equates to 36% of our annual budget.  Last year we spent just over €700 (3% of our annual budget) on camping grounds and €585 (2.8% of our annual budget) on camper parking.  If we didn’t wild camp, we couldn’t afford to travel for as long as we want or see as much as we want.

2. Wild camping spots are found everywhere if you know how and where to look.  So you can travel and stay where you want, not just where there are suitable camping grounds nearby.

3. Peace, Quiet and Privacy.  We rate this very highly.  When wilding, if there are noisy neighbours then just leave and find a quieter place.  There are usually no dogs barking, kids screaming, or people sitting outside late at night talking loudly.  Certainly, we have come across some spots that are noisier than others and that is where a good set of earplugs comes in handy.  Although on the subject of earplugs we are careful when we use these as at times we want to hear if there is anyone else around us.

4. Space.  Unlike the few camping grounds we’ve visited, when wilding we are not crammed into a small pitch with neighbours sandwiched close enough beside us so we can hear them change their mind.  Often there is just us in the places we find and if there are others around they are usually a respectful distance from us.

5. Location.  By far one of the great advantages of wilding.  We find that camping grounds are often located outside the city centre or away from the attractions and are unlikely to have much of a view.  We have had stunning views, unobstructed ocean vistas, and mountain top outlooks.  Just look at some of the photos to see what we are talking about.

View From Betsy’s Door, Bali Beach, Greece

Sunset on Aland Islands, taken from bedroom window

Aland Islands, Finland

Parking on a live volcano, Mt Etna, Sicily

Corinth, Greece

Betsy alone on top of the world, Meteora, Greece

6. No public transport needed.  When wilding we can often locate ourselves near a port or marina and then take a short walk or cycle into the city centre.

7.  No check-in or check out-times.  I like to stay up late and work*, which means I tend to sleep in later in the morning.  Therefore having a time when I have to check out doesn’t suit my lifestyle.  You don’t have this issue when wilding.
*My work consists of writing travel blogs, so it’s a far cry to call it ‘work’.  Lol.

Cons of Wild Camping

It wouldn’t be fair to only give one side of the story.  It is important to acknowledge that there is a price to pay for wilding and here I show the other side of this lifestyle.

1. Security would have to be the number one issue on people’s mind when wild camping, especially when you are parked alone at night in an unknown area in a foreign country.  To date we have not experienced any frightening situations that would have us reconsider our choice of having so many wild nights.

Safety for us is a top priority and over the last year, we have developed principles and procedures which have given us the confidence to wild camp in most of the countries we have visited.  I share these with you later in this article however, nothing is foolproof and everyone needs to make their own choices about where to stay and what feels ‘safe’ for them.

2. There is no guarantee of finding a suitable location to park for the night.  At least with a campground, you can book ahead of time to be sure of and secure your spot.

3. It takes time to do some of the basic things that are easy at a camping ground including finding and filling with water and dumping grey and black water and doing the laundry.

4. Unlike wilding where there is no electricity available (unless you are very lucky).  At a camping ground you will have the opportunity for electrical hook up, usually referred to as EHU. This gives peace of mind when it comes to switching on lights or charging up the laptop computer without worrying about your batteries or whether there is enough sun for your solar panels.

5. While wild camping is tolerated in most countries, typically you are not allowed to exhibit ‘camping behaviour’. This includes setting up chairs, winding out awnings or hanging out the washing.  You can normally get away with some of this in more secluded spots.  We save up our washing until we are parked somewhere we feel comfortable to hang up the clothesline.  Or else, you can always find a Laundromat but this is the last resort for us as it’s not only expensive but often difficult to reach in the city centre with a 7.5m moho.

6. In a camping ground, you don’t have to actually check around for signs to see whether or not you are in fact allowed to stay in the area.

Technology to Help with Wilding

1. Park4Night.  This is the free mobile application and website which is our go-to source for places to park. The app looks like this:

We have found this to be an invaluable tool and have contributed back to this app on numerous occasions by finding and listing new sites and posting comments on existing sites.  I recommend if you use this app that you should contribute back to it with as much information as you can give (including photos) as it improves the app for all who use it now and in the future.

1. Search For Sites is similar to Park4Night, although the website is free, the app is paid.  Again we use this on the few occasions where a suitable spot isn’t obvious or available on Park4Night.

2. Campercontact is another app and website that people rate highly, however, we do not often refer to this – not because there is anything wrong with it but just because we use the other tools first and they usually have all we need.  The paid version of this is required to get the full details on sites.

Note that all of the tools above also give information on campsites, paid camper parking areas and camper service areas.  Some are better in some regions than others so it is best to have access to all three.

3. Google Maps has been fantastic when the other apps above haven’t come through for us.  For example, when touring around the Aland Islands between Sweden and Finland there were no sites listed on one particular island, so we looked at Google Maps to find a suitable looking place, e.g. a clearing, a church car park, or a marina.  If we find any good new spots then we add them to Park4Night for other travelers to use.

4. Garmin GPS.  This beats Google Maps for navigating hands down as it’s quicker and gives information on when to turn further ahead of time.  If you have used Google Maps as a GPS you would have found that it can be slow to refresh your location and give directions.  The Garmin doesn’t rely on the internet which is quite often hit and miss in some of the locations where we’ve been traveling.  There are other great GPS’s on the market, which others swear by, however, we have only had Garmins so can only comment on them.  Our Garmin is the Camper model which usually directs us away from low bridges and super-narrow streets.

I’ve included two videos below to show how we easily program the GPS coordinates into our Garmin. The reason there are two videos is that you may come across different formats of coordinates. One will look like this: 60.1234 20.1234 (typical of the format from Park4Night) and the other will be in degrees, minutes and seconds which will look something like this N 60° 12.34′ 56″ E 20° 12.34′ 56″ or some variation thereof, i.e. sometimes the N for north is at the end of the numbers. You could also have N (north), or S (south), and W (west) or E (east). Each combination will give you either a N or S and an E or W.

5. Converting GPS Coordinates.  It is also possible to convert the coordinates from one to another by using this tool found online: https://www.fcc.gov/media/radio/dms-decimal

6. Maps.me is another app that many people use.  This again doesn’t require an internet connection to use and the navigation works well provided you have downloaded the map base for the region you are traveling in.

 

Successful Setup For Wilding

I am going to share our tips for how we have set ourselves up for wildling and what we’ve learnt along the way.

The additional items we have to set our Motorhome up for successful wilding included two solar panels, extra leisure battery, large 1500W inverter, portable washing machine and two good quality water containers (22 litres in total).  We also have electric bikes, which make life easier when it comes to hunting and collecting fresh water.  For a full inventory on what is in Betsy, click here.

Water Container are Invaluable

Washing Machine

Alarms

For added security, we have a good alarm system with internal movement sensors as well as sensors on the windows, cab doors, habitation doors and garage doors.  The alarm can be set on ‘sleep mode’ that lets us move inside without setting it off.  We had an extra alarm siren fitted inside the habitation area which is extremely loud and uncomfortable to be present when it is sounding.  Our alarm fob, which sits beside the bed at night, has a panic button that allows us to set off the alarm manually.

Another thing that we did was to get some stickers made up that said ‘Alarm’ and have a picture of a bell. They are UV resistant and some were made to be on the outside, and some on the inside of the glass.  Each window has a sticker as does our accommodation door and garage doors.

Alarm Stickers are UV Resistant

Extra security is provided by dead locks on the habitation and garage doors and a tie-down that we use to strap the cab doors together (in case someone broke the glass or locks and tried to open the door).

 

Safety When Wilding

For us, safety usually starts before we leave the current parking spot.  We know that many people love to fly by the seat of their pants and just drive until they find somewhere that looks good to stay at.  We prefer to have a bit of a plan for the day’s travel and research potential parking spots around our destination using something like Park4Night.  We read the reviews for each spot, note if anyone has had issues with security or break-ins, and may reject a spot or increase our security measures accordingly.  Using locations from Park4Night often means that there will be other moho’s in the same spot, which adds to the security and social interests of a location.  We will check Google Maps to get as much information about the spots as we can and to also scout around for other possibilities.  We will normally have at least two potential places programmed into the GPS with some idea about where else we could go if those don’t pan out.  Having a plan gives us peace of mind which we like.  Others prefer more excitement and the feeling of the unknown.  Everyone is different.

Listen to your gut.  We have a rule in our Moho that even if one of us has a bad feeling about a spot or a concern for safety, no matter the reason, we don’t question it but move on.  What’s interesting is that if one of us voices a concern, quite often the other person was thinking something similar.  Communication is important here so don’t let your desire to park and sleep override the need for safety.

Good general principals to follow include:

  • Avoid using leveling chocks if possible, as you may need to drive away in the middle of the night.  We have a cheap set of small chocks which we would be happy to leave behind for the sake of our safety.
  • We generally park out of sight of main roads and public areas wherever we can.
  • If possible, we like to park where there are one or more other motorhomes as there is definitely safety in numbers.
  • Have a backup for where you might go is important if you have to move in a hurry, e.g. park at a service station for the night.
  • Ensure you know the phone numbers for police and other emergency services. Have these written down or in your phone.  The main number throughout Europe is 112.
  • Limit the alcohol consumption so the driver is not over the limit should he/she have to drive.  It’s important to know the different alcohol limits in each country (some countries have a low or zero blood alcohol level limit)
  • Park your motorhome so it is facing forward and has a clear unrestricted exit, preferably having open space in front of you rather than a single track.  Pre-plan what you might do if your Plan A exit is blocked.
  • Beware of parking on grass if there is any rain forecast as you may get stuck in the mud.

Preparing the Cabin for Sleeping

Every night before going to bed we have a routine called ‘preparing the cabin’. Here’s what we do.

1. Make sure everything outside is put away at night – chairs, awning, doormat etc, and the garage doors are locked and dead-bolted.

2. Turn the front seats forward into the driving position.

3. Ensure the keys and alarm fob are beside the bed for easy access.

4. Put the computers, wallet and valuables (passports, documents and drivers licenses) in the locked safe. (Most of this stuff tends to stay there in any case, but if we’ve had them out for some reason we make sure they are returned before hitting the hay.)

5. Push all buttons to cupboards and drawers in to secure them.

6. Secure the TV and shower doors (or anything else that would typically be secured before driving away).

7. Ensure the dishes are either washed and put away, or at least stacked so if we have to drive off quickly they’re not going to crash into a thousand pieces across the cabin floor.

8. Draw the curtains around the front windows but we avoid putting up the reflective/insulating screens as these are slower to remove and can cause a lot of condensation on the inside of the windscreen especially in colder weather.

9. Remove the GPS and dash cam from the windscreen but have them handy should we need to take off quickly.

10. Set the alarm on sleep mode.

There are always going to be places where you feel 100% safe and other places that feel less comfortable.  When we are in those places we take some extra precautions to make it harder for anyone to break in.  We lock the external deadlock on the habitation door then run a tie down between the front cab door handles.

 

Leaving the Moho Unattended in Wild Spots

Here are a few tips about what we do when leaving Betsy alone in a remote location.

1. Our first tip is don’t do it. The first choice is always to re-park somewhere more public.

2. If for some reason we are going to leave Betsy unattended, then we ensure that the area ‘feels’ safe to leave.  If we have any hesitations then we will simply drive to another car park, e.g. supermarket parking area.

3. The fabric strap that we use at night may not be sufficient if someone breaks a window, because they could reach through and cut the strap.  Therefore we have a secondary system – a  light chain that we thread around our door handles and secure with a combination padlock.  The door handles have Velcro around them to protect the plastic from the metal scratching them.

Whilst nothing is full proof, this system will give an opportunist burglar a bigger headache.  If someone is prepared they may be carrying bolt cutters which would make short work of this.  Our intention is to slow the burglars down and have them look for a softer target.

4. We put our TV under the pillows so it’s out of sight and not obvious from a quick look around inside the vehicle.

5. The speaker system goes into the safe, as does the remote for the TV.

6. All our important documents and devices are put into the safe including extra credit cards, passports, driver’s licenses, computers, tablet, kindles, etc.  Whilst this seems obvious, we have heard about people leaving these in a cupboard and them being stolen.

7. We remove our GPS and dash camera including brackets and cables from the windscreen and these are also put into the safe.

8. Important medicines are also kept in our safe, particularly things that need a prescription to replace and are not used on a daily basis.

We have a big, good quality, and heavy-duty safe which is bolted and screwed down to the Moho.  Some pretty specialised wrecking equipment would be needed to rip it out and they would then need to carry a very awkward and heavy (16kg) safe somewhere they could take their time to break into. That’s unlikely to happen easily or without someone noticing, we hope.   By that time our credit cards would all be stopped and our passports reported.  We have electronic copies of our passports and credit card information stored up in the cloud as well as recorded and in the safe .

The most anyone could hope to find inside our motorhome is food, clothes, a microwave and the odd bottle of wine. If they are desperate for that, then they are welcome to it.

 

Being Moved On – Whoops

In our first year of motorhoming we spent 275 nights wild camping including stopping at car parks, beaches, on top of mountains, in marinas, on the side of the road or tucked away somewhere else out of sight.  Few of these places are specifically signposted as allowing overnighting by motorhomes. Therefore there is always the risk of falling foul of some local regulations, or parking in an unauthorised location and being confronted by someone in authority.  Of these 275, we have been moved on three times by officials.

The first was in Gallipoli where we were inadvertently staying on a national park.  At 8.00pm a security guard came around and asked us to leave, and gave us until 10pm to do so.

The second was in a supermarket car park in Naples where security were going to lock the gates for the night and suggested we went to a motorway service area close by.  Whilst we did that and were okay, we would not usually stay in such places as they are not considered generally the safest overnight place for motorhomes.  On that note, the Motorway Aires in France have a particularly bad reputation among the motorhoming community and should be avoided– just read the many posts on forums about people being broken into.

The third place we were moved on from was in Amsterdam where we had parked in a designated bus parking area within a larger car park.  We had been hoping some cars would leave on so we could take their place but were moved on before this could happen – it was worth a crack and we then found a nice quiet residential street for the evening.

It is important to note that anyone official will not bang on your door at 1am and yell in a drunken holler for you to move (as happened to us in Denmark).  We stay quiet and trust they will just go away but be ready to move quickly if the situation looks as if it may be threatening.  In the Denmark case, there were eight other moho’s beside us  so we didn’t feel in any danger and after waking everyone, he left.

Our number one rule for night time is…

“DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR TO ANYONE!!!”

Should you have a bang on the door from someone who is persistent and you want to respond then talk through the closed window. They will still be able to hear you. But under no circumstances should you open your door at night and definitely do not leave your vehicle at night.

One fellow camper told us a story of when he had someone bang on his door. He yelled back in his strongest, angriest voice ‘for goodness sake (ok, he wasn’t quite that polite) why can’t everyone leave me alone’.  He said this puts people on the back foot immediately because they think you are angry, already been disturbed, and may be a danger to them.

If for any reason you have a need to knock on the door of another motorhome during the night, make sure you announce yourself and what you want.  We had someone banging and banging one night, and of course, we ignored him.  He eventually spoke in English (we were in Italy) to share valid information.  Had the chap announced himself and said something like “hi there, I’m John from Australia and I just wanted to let you know our motorhome has been broken into tonight”, we would have answered him (through the windows) a lot earlier.

 

Water, Toilet, Electricity and Rubbish

Here are five practical matters that full-time wild campers need to manage as a result of not being on campsites regularly.

1. Fresh Water.  For us, we can go four or five days on our 100-litre tank, plus back up water containers.  However, we normally start keeping an eye out for water supplies after two days.  Whenever you have the chance, top up your tanks.  Some countries have been easier than others, for example, in Greece it was relatively easy to find water as there were many public taps, however south of Italy, in Sicily we really had to hunt as most of the public water taps had been disconnected.  France, Germany and Sweden were easy and by using one of our apps we generally found a service point at an Aire or Stelplatz.  Usually these are free but sometimes a token charge is made.  Most cemeteries have water taps you can use to fill containers and many service stations have a tap you can connect a hose to.  A big tip here is to always taste the water before putting it in your tank, especially if (as we do), you drink water straight from the tank (we have an in-line filter after the pump).  Some of the water is highly chlorinated or just doesn’t taste good.  We always make sure that we have a 12 litre container of known good water in the garage, for drinking and making tea/coffee, just in case we end up with a tank of tainted water as has happened three times.

We can carry our water containers on our bikes and have frequently ended up cycling around an area to find a suitable tap.  We then just make a few trips to ferry 22 litres at a time back to Betsy and fill her up using a funnel which has a filter in it.

2. Black water (toilet cassette).  Getting rid of your black water can be a challenge and you need to continually plan how to manage this necessary activity.

Again using Park4Night (or other apps) provides a source of dumping spots as these will show you the service points ahead and you can use these to plan your black dumping (and usually fresh water filling and grey dumping at the same time).  Hint – you can often access the services at many of the paid camper parking locations even if you don’t stay there.

If you find an unlisted authorised dump location then please share the details on the apps so others can benefit.

Many of the motorway or main road service areas now have purpose built motorhome service points where you can take care of all these needs.

Campgrounds may also allow you to dump, usually for a nominal fee, which is much lower than spending the night there.  However be aware that fundamentally when you free camp, they miss out on business so don’t be surprised if they refuse you.

Local tourist information centres may be able to direct you to services for motorhomes.

Service stations sometimes allow you to empty your cassette into their toilets, especially if you are buying something from them.  Just ask first and leave the toilet clean.  Emptying a full cassette into a toilet without making a mess takes practice but it can be done.  We take a separate container of water in with us so we can rinse the cassette out a couple of times.

Many people carry a spare cassette just in case.  We have one, in a separate box in the garage, but so far have not had to use it.

‘Boys pee in the bushes’ is a good principle for extending the time before the cassette is full, as long as you are somewhere wild, secluded and private.

Some motorhomers we have met put a plastic bag into the loo before doing Number 2’s then remove the bag and put it in the bin.  This a more extreme way of keeping the smelly stuff out and making the cassette last longer but wouldn’t appeal to everyone.

In an emergency, some public toilets can be used however be careful to leave no mess that would give motorhomers a bad reputation.  Also be aware that many of the toilet treatment chemicals can kill the good bacteria in septic tank systems so use environmentally friendly chemicals if you might use public loos on a septic tank system.

On that subject, there is a widespread debate on what to put in your cassette to break down the solid matter and control the odours.  Just check some Facebook Groups or Motorhoming Website Forums and you will find lots of opinions and solutions that you can try out.  In our experience, after trying many different variants, the commercially available tablets still work the best and keep the smells away for the longest.

We recently came across this map which gives a lot of dumping points across much of Europe.  The details are in Swedish but the information is gold.

Camper Dumping Points

3. Grey water.  This can usually be emptied at the same service areas as you can empty your black water.  However, if we get really desperate we find a suitable gravel (unsealed) country road layby or vacant land and release the water.  For those gasping at this admission, we have a clear conscience on this as the grey water is just water, with some shampoo and soap residue.  We avoid putting food scraps down our sink.  For sure, there is some odour, however, this goes away quickly and we never let it out anywhere near other people or buildings, promise.

4. Electricity.  Whether this is a problem depends on how well set up for wild camping your Moho is, how much power you consume, as well as local factors such as the weather and time of year.  If you run out of power, you will usually need to find an Electrical Hook Up (EHU), which may be on a campsite, or paid motorhome parking.

Some campers receive all the power they need by recharging their batteries while they drive.  They will usually run everything off their 12V system and won’t have laptops, TV’s or other power hungry appliances.  Most of us will need more.

The ideal accessory needed here is one or more solar panels to recharge your leisure batteries.  The larger your solar panels and the bigger your leisure batteries, the less you will need to rely on an EHU and the more independent you will be.  However, bigger panels and batteries mean more cost and more weight.  We run with 2 x 160W (watts) solar panels and 2 x 100 Ah (amp hour) leisure batteries and that has given us enough power and storage summer and winter so far.  Note that if you intend to wild camp over the winter, the solar panel output can drop dramatically (down to less than 10% on a wintery day) so you may need to check into a campground occasionally if there is a long spell of bad weather.  Be aware of where you park.  If you want your solar panels to work efficiently then park in the sun – pretty obvious really but we kept parking in the shade to keep cooler in our early summer days and ended up running our batteries way down.

The experts tell us that your batteries lose storage capacity over time and that occasionally putting them onto an EHU restores some of this capacity.  Therefore take every opportunity you can to plug in and give your batteries a birthday treat.

It is also good practice to avoid letting your batteries go too flat because this can cause permanent damage and reduction in performance.  A good rule of thumb is to not discharge to less than 12.2V, which is about 50% battery capacity.  A fully charged battery is around 12.7V.  If you discharge to under 12V you are risking damage.  Be aware that what your display says is not necessarily correct.  If you are actually using power, then the display will probably read a ‘lower than actual’ figure.  Turn everything that may be using power off, give it 15 minutes to settle down, then check the voltage, preferably with a meter at the battery terminals.  Believe me when I say this has taken us a lot of time to figure out, and a lot of questions to forums and other experts, not to mention my husband constantly looking at the battery display.  He’s much more relaxed these days.

5. Rubbish.  It is surprising just how much rubbish we generate and we normally dispose of it daily.  If you look around, you can usually find a public rubbish bin.   These can be found near parks, shopping precincts, beaches, or if you are really struggling to find one, then look at shopping malls or supermarkets (after purchasing your groceries, of course).  On the odd time where we cannot find a nearby bin, we put our rubbish in the moho garage and just wait, hoping we don’t forget to dump it.  Wherever possible, we try to respect the local recycling efforts and sort our rubbish into the appropriate plastics, glass, paper etc bins.

We will usually try to leave a location cleaner than when we turned up, so will pick up other peoples rubbish from around us.  At least we feel we are giving something back to the wonderful place where we stayed.

Phew, if you’ve read all the above well done.  There’s lots of information here and I know that many of you would already be wise to this stuff.  However, we have had to learn it all from scratch and I wished that someone had given us the heads up when we were newbies.

So, thanks for tuning in thus far.  That’s about my lot for how we wild camp successfully. I hope you have picked up some hints and tips to make your travels safe and rewarding.  If you see our Betsy out and about, please pop over and introduce yourself (after parking a reasonable distance away first). Lol.

Happy Wilding

A Year of Wild Living

A Year of Wild Living

One of the many sites we wild camped in overlooking the stunning Piazza Armerina, Sicily

Ruth Murdoch | June 2018 | Countries, Summary Blogs

If the title has piqued your interest and you are expecting to read about a year of drunkenness and debauchery, then you will be sorely disappointed.  This is a family blog after all, one that our mothers are likely to read.

Wild camping, otherwise known as free camping, has been our main form of bunking down overnight, in fact for seventy five per cent of the time, hence the title.

Happy Birthday to our motorhome Betsy.

One short year ago from today (29th June 2017) we picked up our beloved, much anticipated Betsy. Eight months in the planning from conception to birth, every part of Betsy’s entrance into our world was meticulously planned and thought out. Like expectant parents, we had Betsy’s first year or two of her life roughly sorted. We knew she was destined for wild camping. We knew she would be our home away from home, and that we would have many awesome adventures together.  If you would like to know how we set Betsy up, click here.

And she didn’t disappoint.

Italian built, French registered, and driven by two Kiwis who had been living in Australia for the best part of the previous decade, Betsy already had an international feel about her.

She continued in this vein.

Twelve months have seen Betsy visit sixteen countries including Italy, Vatican City, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, San Marino, France, Belgium, Netherlands and Germany and travel over seventeen and a half thousand kilometres.

For those of you interested in such details, here are Betsy’s stats for the last twelve months:
Total Cost for Diesel € 2,215.35
Average Cost per Litre €1.34
Average cost per km € 0.1265
Average Miles Per Gallon29.26
Total Kilometres traveled 17,511
Average Litres/100kms
9.65
Total Litres consumed
1,690.31

Our Stopping Places

We stopped overnight in 170 individual locations over twelve months.  This shows we moved every second day on average, although we stayed in one stop for a month in Istanbul alone.

Out of 170 stopping places, 136 (275 nights or 75%) were free. These were a mixture of car parks, beaches, and other public or more remote locations which we call ‘wild camping’.

We paid to park in 18 designated camper parking area (51 nights or 14%).  Most of these were in Istanbul where we found an excellent base for exploring that wonderful city.

And we camped in 16 campgrounds for a total of 31 nights (11% of all nights). The only times we stay in camping grounds is when we had family staying with us, we were meeting up with friends who are there, or where it’s the law, e.g. Croatia doesn’t allow wild camping.

Betsy’s two large solar panels allow us to wild camp easily because we very rarely need external electric power.  We also carry an extra toilet cassette just in case we are caught short, although so far we haven’t needed it.  We can go for three-four days with our 100 litres of fresh water and before we need to discharge our black water (toilet).  Not bad for each of us showering daily.

We usually turn up at a location in the late afternoon, dismount our bikes and ride into town, then ride again into town the next day if there’s plenty to see.

Below is an interactive map of our stopping places for the year.  If you click on the different stopping points you will, usually, see Betsy parked here and the details for other motorhome users, e.g. water, power, dumping points, costs for the night (where applicable), etc.  The blue markers indicate our stopping places for 2017, and the red markers show where we stopped in 2018.

Top City

People ask us ‘what is your favourite country’. I cannot honestly answer this, however, I would have to say my favourite city is Istanbul hands down. The vibrancy, energy, people, attractions, food, ease of cycling around and the cheap prices are just a few of the reasons why Istanbul gets my vote.  Below you can see the different places we visited while there.  The photos below are of the Blue Mosque and the Basilica Cistern, (underground water storage built by the Romans).  To open the list of places we visited, click on the window icon with an arrow in it, on the top left in the grey bar.  Then click on a name to see where it’s located (make sure you zoom into the map first).

Our Favourite Places

That being said, here are just a few of our other favourite places we have visited over the past twelve months.

1. Meteora, Greece: This is as close as you can get to God from Earth. Monasteries built literally on top of rocks standing hundreds of metres in the air, this is one place not to be missed if visiting Greece.  Visit our blog here for more information and pictures of this beautiful and majestic place.
2. Acrocorinth, Peloponnese, Greece: – located about a hundred kilometres from Athens, this intriguing and diverse ancient Acropolis provides spectacular 360 degree views as a suitable reward after one climbs its gentle (and not so gentle) slopes. Whilst I’m not into hiking I hardly noticed the climb or distance due to being wowed with the view of the surrounding mountains and overlooking the ancient and new towns of Corinth. If you have ever read about the Corinthians in the Bible, this is where they hail from.
3. Olympia, Peloponnese, Greece: As the name would suggest, and you may have already guessed, Olympia is the original home of the Olympic Games, founded way back in the 8th century B.C.

Walking through the ruins it’s not difficult to imagine the buzz and excitement of the athletes training around the now silent and extensive ruins. A stadium and temple built here were dedicated to the gods Hera and Zeus. I managed to stand in the place where the Olympic torch is still lit today.

4. Delphi, Greece: This town is situated on Mount Parnassus in the south of mainland Greece. It’s the site of the 4th century B.C. Temple of Apollo, once home to a legendary Oracle. You may have heard about “The Oracle of Delphi”. Well this is the place where the Oracle hung out, so look no further. The archaeological site is literally sitting on the side of a mountain and contains the remains of the sanctuaries of Apollo and Athena Pronaia, as well as an ancient stadium and theatre and dozens of other buildings and structures.  We managed to park off the road nearby, backed up close to the edge of a steep cavernous valley (a bit too close for my liking and  I was nervous all night we might slip and wake at the bottom) and high mountains in front.

 

If you have Greece in your sights for a visit, then you might want to check out our blog Greece:  The Good, The Bad, The Ugly (And the Costs).

5. Monemvasia, Laconia, Greece: This town blew me away more than any other. Why? Because it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Having visited castle ruin after castle ruin, I just thought this would be the same again. Boy was I wrong. Monemvasia is ancient, however, it wasn’t in ruins, it is still being lived in, just like it was when founded in 583 (although with more modern people wearing more modern clothes). The town, built on top of a rock on a small island off the east coast of the Peloponnese, is linked to the mainland by a short causeway just 200 metres long. I was so impressed with Monemvasia that we had to visit twice in two days so I could soak up all she had to offer. Please read my blog for further amazing facts and details of this little gem in Greece. This one is totally unmissable.

6. Erice, Sicily, Italy. The castles in Erice have been designed and built exactly how I would imagine kids would draw a castle nowadays. Erice (pronounced Ee-reach-ee), which sits at 750 metres on top of Mt Erice, is a medieval hilltop town located near Trapani, with superb views over the coast. A cable car joins the upper and lower town and although we didn’t use this because we rode our electric bikes, the cable car had just recently become operational again after a forest fire in 2005.

7. Monreale, Sicily. This stunning town sits overlooking the city of Palermo and I kicked myself after Carrie, my sister in law left us, that we didn’t take her up here. Having travelled around and visited cathedral after church after basilica soaking up the many styles throughout the previous eight months, nothing could have prepared me for the jaw-dropping beauty, craftsmanship, and sheer magnificence of the Monreale Cathedral. Instead of the typical painted frescos, this cathedral’s pictures were made using the painstaking and time-consuming art of mosaics.  We were told that each mosaic piece was hand placed on just the right angle for the light to reflect off the golden piece, hence giving the illusion of glistening, expensive and decadent gold.  Each of the  216 mosaic frescos illustrated a different story, which could be a Biblical parable or story or an event or person from the church history.   This remains today as my most favourite of churches, surpassing the impressive Milan Cathedral, the Blue Mosque in Turkey, and of course the very famous Sistine Chapel in Rome.
8. San Marino: I knew very little about this impressive place, but soon discovered that San Marino is the fifth smallest country of the world’s 196 independent countries while enjoying one of the planet’s highest GDPs per capita. Not only is it cute, but San Marino, which boasts just 61 square kilometres of landmass, has unsurpassed views, the greatest we have ever seen in our lifetime. Everywhere we looked the word ‘wow’ just slipped out of our mouths. The locals also know how to cook up a pretty good traditional Italian style lunch accompanied by a warm fire and a cold Chardonnay.
9. Milan, Italy. When I see the word Milan (Milano in Italian) the words ‘fashion capital’ come to mind ( ‘Paris, London, New York, Milan, Hong Kong’). So off I went looking for something to tempt me, but alas my purse stayed firmly shut, despite walking and biking for miles in search of something special to buy.

What I did like about Milan was the variety of architecture throughout this city. Some very old, some gothic, some ultra modern. The Gothic Duomo Cathedral of Milan, having taken some 600 years to build justifiably takes pride of place in the centre of Milan, check out the photos to see what I mean.  But first, click on the video below to see the Cathedral.

Now it’s time to share our…

Outstanding Experiences

1. Mother Nature showing off her power in Pylos. Read our blog about our exciting night where the waves tried to claim our Betsy for themselves.
2. Cooking classes in Istanbul, Turkey and Palermo, Sicily – follow our recipes here and see the pictures below.  For both these cooking classes we were fortunate enough to be the only participants and for Palermo we were joined by Carrie (on the right-hand side wearing red), Alan’s sister who flew in from London to be with us for a few days.  The Italian cooking class was a birthday gift to us from Carrie and Geoff (Alan’s brother in the USA).  A very memorable experience.
3. Experiencing a two Michelin star restaurant in Sicily – read our blog and then go out and book your own two Michelin star experience. You won’t be disappointed.
4. Standing on a live volcano at Mt Etna – just glad she didn’t erupt. Even the scoria under foot was warm.
5. The south-eastern corner of Sicily is a USECO registered area of unique baroque architecture.  The principal towns including Noto, Caltagirone, Siracusa, Ragusa and Catania were all rebuilt in the baroque style after the devastating earthquake of 1693.
6. Crossing the Italian Alps into France – over the top instead of through the tunnel and then we came to an unexpected and grinding halt – see why below. This tested Alan’s skills of reversing uphill and around bends (thankfully no-one came down the road).  The location we ended up parking for the night afforded us beautiful views (when the cloud lifted).
7. Le Quesnay in France – for it’s continued tribute to Kiwi soldiers from WWI. Look at the photos and if you are from New Zealand then please feel proud of what your forefathers did to protect the people and infrastructure of this quaint French village.  Here’s the statement which sits on a plaque in the New Zealand memorial garden.

On 4th November 1918 the New Zealand Division attacked and bypassed the fortified town of Le Quesnoy, consolidating positions beyond it and gaining around 10 kilometres.  After the success of their advance, they determinedly turned their attention to the town itself, which had been invaded by the Germans in 1914 and held ever since. 

The 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade penetrated the town’s outer ramparts.  However, when a section of the 4th Battalion reached these inner walls they found that the walls were too high for their ladder.  They positioned the ladder on a small ledge atop a sluice gate and scaled the wall one by one.  After exchanging shots with several German defenders, they went in further.  When the rest of the Germans inside learned that the walls had been breached, they promptly laid down their weapons and surrendered. 

The relief of the French inhabitants was immense.  Not only had their town been liberated, but it had been done with relatively little impact on the local population.  The armistice was signed a week later, and to this day, Le Quesnoy people remember and honour the New Zealanders who rescued their town. 

8. Louis Vuitton Foundation – a hidden gem of Paris and an un-miss-able experience. If you are visiting you must check this out.
By now you will probably be thinking this is a long blog. So in the interests of not over-boring you I’m just going to bullet point a few other highlights.

(a) Hiring a yacht in Volos, Greece and sailing with our good friends Pip and Ross (Kiwis living in London)
(b) Paris – who can go to Paris and not mention something wonderful about this city. We didn’t spend a long time here but managed to see the Eifel Tower (Alan says my facial expression was priceless when I first saw it), the Louvre (to see the Mona Lisa), and the beautiful gardens and buildings.
(c) Ghent in Belgium is worth a mention. We stopped here to watch the second All Blacks test against French in an Irish Bar (yes, you can find one of these in every city).  Ghent was a surprisingly vibrant city and a great alternative to the usual tourist destination of Burges. (We will probably go here another time).
(d) I must mention the churches. One would think we would get sick of going into so many churches but every church is so very different. I will endeavour to post some photos (and I have lots of them) in another post so stay tuned to see these.

That’s where I’m going to stop on this subject.  Needless to say, we have seen and experienced so much in just one short year.  We are looking forward to what this next twelve months will bring us on our travels.

Hiccups or unsettling experiences

• Putting a hole in Betsy’s head. When hearing a crunch from a low hanging tree branch, it’s best to take a good look as there could be more damage than you think! Then when it rains there could be a water leak inside! Dhu!
• My Worst Fear Realised (you will need to click here to see what it was, as that’s all I am saying.)
• Ruth turning on her bike in front of a Tram in Amsterdam – don’t try this at home kids. Thankfully no damage done to Tram, Bike, or Person ☺
• Not knowing to turn the gas off when traveling on Ferries (why wasn’t this obvious and why were we not told by authorities that this is a requirement?).  All sorted now.
• Scary roads in Italy – watch the video below
• Scary roads in Greece thanks to our GPS, Emily, who forgot how big we were and how narrow the roads could morph into.

Additions to Betsy

• Air suspension fitted in Greece to help smooth out the potholes around Greece and in Italy
Omnia oven – negated the need for an oven to be installed, saving us over €800
• USB/powerpoint in the living area has made the world of difference.
• Household Dyson Vacuum cleaner (don’t look at the price Alan, it will be worth it). This proved accurate when our stovetop glass exploded leaving splinters of glass splattered all through the kitchen, floor, sink, bench, and of course stove top. Grrr!
• Portable washing machine – the convenience of having this on tap has been priceless.  Typically the cost of laundry is about €16-20 per time and it is often a hassle finding a laundromat that we can get to easily.  It’s an equation between time and money. When traveling for an extended period of time we have time, however, we don’t want the money to run out just yet and don’t want to spend half a day hunting for a laundromat.  Therefore being able to do our laundry in our own washing machine has been a godsend.  We just need a water tap handy, a sunny day to power the solar panels and a place to hang out the washing line.

Best Buy Ever!

If you’ve read any of our other blogs it is possibly obvious, especially when we were in Turkey. Have you guessed it yet? Our best ever buy has been our electric bikes, by far. These allow us to park up where Betsy can’t fit, then cycle in to see the sights or top up on groceries.  We are particularly grateful for these in Paris, Belgium and Holland where the cycling infrastructure is fantastic.

The Costs

Before starting our adventures, we read a few blogs about the costs of living in a motorhome. We wanted to get an idea of what we should expect to spend.

However, the reality is that everyone is different and people will adjust their spending to suit their available money, the type of travel they are doing and what is most important to them.  Whether you are just on a holiday or full-timing in a moho, also makes a difference.

You can live the life of Riley, drive thousands of kilometres, stay in flash camping grounds, eat out every day and visit every attraction known to man and you will spend a small fortune.  At the other end of the spectrum, you can hole up in a free parking area for months on end and live on pasta and water and spend bugger all.

We sit somewhere in between, where we choose to spend our money on what is most important to us.  We avoid camping grounds, toll roads, eating out and anything that feels overpriced. We spend gladly on quality experiences, diesel to get to cool places, quality groceries and things that make our lives easier and more enjoyable.

We track ALL of our spending on an App called ‘Moneywise’ and review it regularly together.  Luckily Alan is still working part-time while we travel which helps to keep us on the road longer.

When reading this you must remember that we live full time in our Betsy; we don’t have rent or mortgage payments to pay, or another vehicle at home, or any other typical costs of living, e.g. electricity, rates, water, etc.  It also means that all our costs are lumped in here somewhere.

I’ve averaged the weekly costs into Euros (€’s) as follows. These are sorted by most to least expensive:

  Per Week
Groceries97.38
Diesel44.83
Eating out40.77
Repairs & Maintenance29.3
Attractions29.04
Household26.06
Transport, ferries, parking18.82
Pharmacy and Medical14.71
Telephones/internet14.28
Camping Grounds13.78
Clothing, shoes13.34
Camper Parking11.25
Haircuts9.85
Alcohol9.26
Tolls6.99
Gas5.93
Books, tools, insurance3.73
Gifts3.56
Laundry2.62
Net Total€395.49
Additional to these costs are our annual healthcare insurance back in Australia (where we had been living prior to coming to Europe), vehicle insurance in France and the initial setup costs for Betsy.

Phew, that was a lot.  If you want any further information, please feel free to contact us via email at ruth@trael-cook-eat.com or alan@travel-cook-eat.com.  We are happy to share our experiences with you.

Don’t Let Schengen Ruin Your European Holiday of a Lifetime

Don’t Let Schengen Ruin Your European Holiday of a Lifetime

Alan Gow Checked Out the hidden secrets of managing Schengen time restraints
8 March 2018

Don’t Let Schengen Ruin Your European Holiday of a Lifetime

If you are contemplating an extended holiday (more than three months) around Europe then you may want to keep reading.

If either you or your spouse/partner hold a European passport then you definitely need to read this because if you rely on the usual information sources, then you might just miss out on the holiday of a lifetime.

Who am I and how do I know this stuff?

I am from New Zealand and I hold a dual citizenship, (NZ and Republic of Ireland, which is part of the EU).  I am married to a New Zealander who holds only her NZ passport.  We are travelling around Europe in a motorhome for a few years and to ensure we could do this hassle free, I engaged in some extensive research before leaving home.  The potentially most limiting factor was the time allowed to be within the Schengen Zone, which I will talk more about later in this post.  There was so much misinformation and lack of clarity around my situation, that I felt compelled to put together this document to help others to find the answers easily.

I went on a real emotional rollercoaster ride as I would read somewhere that there would be no restrictions on us – yay!  Then an embassy official would say that my wife would be subject to the Schengen restrictions but I wouldn’t – oh crap!  Then I would get other information to contradict this, and so on.  This continued for some months but over this time, as I researched more, my absolute certainty that I was correct grew stronger.

At the end of it all, I found no official website or publication that categorically 100% stated that my wife was, or wasn’t going to be affected.  However, I found many documents, directives and other publications that strongly implied my wife could enjoy exactly the same ‘free right of movement’ as me.  These will be explained later in my post.

What is this Schengen thing?

The Schengen agreement had a great goal, which was to abolish internal border controls within the European Union (EU), allowing passport free movement between countries.  When originally signed in 1985, five countries joined. However, this has now been extended and 26 countries, including four non-EU countries now make up the Schengen Zone.

Tens of millions of Europeans enjoy freedom of movement within the Schengen Zone.

Which Countries are in Schengen?

EU Countries

Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Greece, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Non-EU Countries

Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein.
Schengen Map showing which countries are in the Schengen Zone

Who has been left out?

Britain and the Republic of Ireland chose not to join Schengen.

Croatia, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania are in the EU but have not yet joined Schengen.

What Does This Mean for Short-Term Travellers

For most short-term travellers to countries in the Schengen zone, this is all good news.  Citizens from a long list of visa exempt countries, which includes New Zealand and Australia, do not require a visa to enter Schengen.  Once you clear immigration at the first port of entry, you are free to travel to any of the above countries without needing to show your passport at any borders.

Citizens who are not from visa exempt countries, will need to apply for, and obtain a Schengen visa.  I am not going into the process for this but there is a wealth of information available on the internet, including on this site.

So, what is the issue?

The problem comes if you are travelling on say a NZ or Australian passport, and want to spend more than 90 days within a 180 day period touring within the Schengen Zone borders.  Because that is forbidden.

That’s right, you can spend about three months within that whole block of 26 countries, then you will need to leave the zone for a minimum of three months before being allowed back in for another three months.  As a non-European passport holder, your passport is (or should be) physically stamped with the entry and exit dates and all data is stored in the Schengen Information System.  When exiting or entering Schengen again, the dates are checked to make sure you have not overstayed your welcome.  Significant fines and re-entry bans can be imposed on those travellers who do not comply.

I guess it made sense back in the day when there were only five countries in Schengen club.  It was common for those counties to grant tourists a three-month entry permit or visa, so when Schengen came into being, it was probably easiest to allow three months within the whole zone to make sure no visitors exceeded three months in any one country.  As more and more countries joined however, this has become increasingly restrictive and senseless (in my humble opinion) for long-term travellers.

I believe that there are moves afoot to create a 12-month ‘ tourist visa’ for Schengen which will certainly ease the problem but who knows when they will get around to that.

For the average traveller shoehorning in a European experience around their annual leave, this isn’t going to affect them.  However, for the lucky travellers like us, who have the opportunity to take an extended time out, this can really restrict where you can go, and when.

What about travelling to Non-Schengen Countries?

Each individual country has its own rules and visa requirements and you are best to research these for the countries you are travelling to.  Britain, for example allows a six months visa free stay for many visitors while most Balkan states (e.g. Croatia, Bosnia, Albania) allow a three months visa free visit.  Turkey also allows a three months stay however most travellers will need to obtain a Turkish visa on-line (New Zealand passport holders are one of the few Turkish visa exempt countries).

Planning around Schengen

Unless you or your ‘registered partner’ are European citizens, there are just a few options available to you.

Plan your travels

The most common approach, for those who don’t have an EU passport, is to plan your travels around the ‘90 days out of 180 days’ restriction.  This means that you must exit Schengen on or before the 90 days expires, and stay out for 90 days.  You can then re-enter Schengen for another 90 days.  In reality this may mean flying over to Britain for 3 months, or driving across the Schengen border to countries such as Croatia, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia, Romania or even Turkey, and enjoying their charms for a spell.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and pushes many travellers to experience countries they wouldn’t otherwise have given a second thought to.

You can go out of, and back into Schengen during that 180 days period but you need to keep careful track of where you have been and when so that you don’t exceed 90 days in any 180 days.

Keeping an eye on the seasons while doing your planning is important. We met a lovely Australian couple in Thessaloniki, Greece in December 2017, who were planning on driving up into Bulgaria and Romania for the first three months of winter because they needed to get out of Greece within the next few days.  Now, those countries may be nice during the summer but they aren’t the ideal spot for a small motorhome in a Northern Hemisphere winter.  We suggested they consider Turkey instead and they experienced a fantastic and much warmer time exploring the south of that wonderful country.

Residence Permits

Another alternative is to apply for a residence permit in one of the Schengen countries.  However, these are not handed out easily, normally require you to have a fixed address with a property lease agreement, and a valid reason for being there.  These only give the right to stay longer than 90 days in that one country and aren’t intended for the purpose of then hopping from country to country.  You could theoretically then travel within Schengen and eventually exit from the country from which you obtained a residence permit however this isn’t strictly legal and if caught you could be in serious trouble.

So, short of quickly marrying a local, or having an EU spouse, are there not many ways of being able to extend the Schengen period.

One option that can help is to take advantage of the Bilateral Agreements.

Bilateral Agreements

These Agreements are historical agreements between two countries to abolish the need for visas for non-working stays of up to three months.

New Zealand and Australia for example, established Bilateral Agreements with most European countries up to 50 years or more ago and these have never been cancelled.

Because these agreement pre-date the Schengen agreements, most Schengen countries will still honour them and allow a visitor to have up to three months in their country even if they have just spent three months in other Schengen countries. 

The catch here is that the individual countries seem to have different ways in which they allow these agreements to be utilised, for example, France will allow another three months under the Bilateral agreement only after you have spent your 90 Schengen days outside of France. Germany appears to be very flexible but some, for example, Hungary, require you to enter their country from a non-Schengen country and leave to a non-Schengen country.  Others, such as Italy are no longer honouring these agreements at all.

I strongly recommend that if you want to make use of these agreements, researching them thoroughly should be an important part of your travel preparation.

Contact the embassies concerned to advise them of your travel plans.  Here’s what to ask for in writing:

  • ask for confirmation that the Bilateral Agreement can be used for additional time in their country without reference to time spent previously in Schengen
  • ask about the process and any conditions around how to use the Agreement
  • keep records to prove that you did not exceed the 90 days in any of those countries, i.e. keep receipts.

What if My Spouse or Partner is an EU Citizen?

In this case, travel within Schengen just got a whole lot easier, especially once you know what I am about to tell you.

Firstly though, a simple defacto relationship will not be good enough here.  You must be either married or have a partnership that is ‘registered’ in an EU country, and the EU country you are entering has to treat ‘registered partnerships’ as equivalent to marriages.  Check the individual country requirements as to registered partnerships.

If you qualify, then the overriding European legislation that gives you the right to exceed the 90 days in Schengen is ‘European Directive 2004/38/EC’ which states citizens of the Union, and their family members can move and reside freely within the Member States’.

You should print out, and carry a copy of this Directive with you on your travels.  Highlight and be familiar with the sections that apply to you.

I apologise if this now gets a little detailed but it is vital that you understand your rights and why you have them, if you want to travel freely around Europe.

European Directive 2004/38/EC is a EU wide directive or instruction that the Schengen rules have to comply with, therefore all of the Schengen rules, codes, and regulations are written with this in mind.

Directive 2004-38-EC

In my experience, there is a lack of information, and in fact there is a lot of misinformation about how this applies to the spouse travelling with an EU citizen.

One of the fundamental freedoms of the EU Treaty is that citizens of member states can freely live and work in other member states, within the restrictions laid out in the Treaty.  However, there is no point in a citizen being able to move to another state if their spouse and children are not allowed to join them.  Therefore, Directive 2004/38/EC clarifies that all family members of a Union citizen have the same right of free movement as the citizen themselves.

 

What this means for you is:

  • You and your non-EU spouse can travel to any EU member state (Schengen or non-Schengen) and stay for up to three months with no restrictions. This is known as the ‘Community Right of Free Movement’ – remember this phrase as it’s important.
  • The only travel documents you need are your passports and marriage certificate
  • After three months, you can travel to any other EU member state and live in, or travel there for up to three months
  • This process can be repeated ad infinitum, i.e. forever
  • If you want, you can return to a member state you have previously visited, provided each visit does not exceed three months – again an important point.

What happens at Schengen Borders?

The guards at Schengen border crossings have to abide by Directive 2004/38/EC.  To assist them in correctly processing people passing through the border, a handbook, Schengen Handbook for Border Guards has been produced in all major European languages.

Although the border guards are supposed to know their job, there are still stories around about some of them not being aware of the rights of spouses and trying to deny entry or impose penalties for overstaying the 90 days Schengen restriction.  We ourselves have had two such border crossings so far where we may have been questioned by border guards and we had no problems whatsoever.  The first was from Greece to Turkey and back.  The second was leaving Finland for St Petersburg after eight months continuously in Schengen then returning to Finland a few days later.  On both occasions, my wife and I exited and re-entered Schengen with no questions and without even being asked for our marriage certificate.

You should also print, and carry a copy of this Handbook with you on your travels.  Highlight and be familiar with the sections that apply to you.

 

Schengen Border Checks for Spouses of EU Citizens

As a spouse accompanying an EU citizen you should expect the following at a Schengen border:

  • You should only have to show the guard your spouse’s EU passport, your passport and be able to show your marriage certificate if requested
  • The guard should give your documents only the ‘minimum check’, which is defined as just checking that they are valid documents and show no signs of tampering, forgery or falsification
  • They should not ask anything about your travel plans, where you are staying, how much money you have to support yourself, or question your Schengen entry or exit dates.
  • You can only be refused entry on genuine grounds of national security or public health.
  • Your passport is likely to  be stamped unless you yourself have an EU or EEC identity card.

Note

If you are from a non-visa exempt country, you must obtain a visa to enter Schengen in the first place.  The documents I obtained were not clear on what would happen if your visa has expired and you are exercising your rights under Directive 2004/38/EC.  You will need to do your own research in these circumstances.

Schengen Borders Code, Regulation 2016-399

EU Regulation 2016-399 defines defines how Schengen operates, however it clearly state that the rules “neither call into question, nor affect the rights of free movement enjoyed by Union citizens and their families….”.

What this means is that the Schengen Border Code cannot be interpreted in any way that affects or over-rules your rights outlined in Directive 2004/38/EC.

That sounds clear so what’s the problem?

The problem for me was that before undertaking dozens of hours of research, I didn’t know any of this and most embassy officials don’t know either.  If I had taken the first responses I received as the gospel truth, we would not be experiencing the amazing journey we are on now.  Luckily, I am a bit like a dog with bone about this sort of thing and kept digging deeper.

I’m not sure whether it is deliberate or just ignorance, but the embassy officials were the worst offenders at giving out wrong or incomplete information.  For example, the Italian consulate in Melbourne insisted my wife could only have 90 days and directed me to websites to back this up.  When I pointed out that the websites actually backed up “my” position he quoted lines from the website but added in extra words to support his claim.  When I pointed this out, I heard no more.

During this time, I was also in contact with other potential travellers in a similar predicament and they were getting different advice than me.  For example, the website ‘Your Europe Advice‘ is an official public service from independent lawyers giving advice on EU law.  After asking very specific questions, I finally got the advice that:

“Every Union citizen has the right to reside in the territory of a host Member State for a period of up to three months without any conditions or formalities other than the requirement to hold a valid identity card or passport” and

“The EU national and family members can move to another EU Member State after three months if they wish and repeat the above process and continue to do so”.

A link to the full response is provided at the end of this document.

However, Paul who is an EU citizen married to an Australia was told by the same organisation that:

“This means that your spouse would be entitled to travel to an EU country and stay up to 90 days. The 90-day limit on short stays applies to stays in the Schengen area as a whole, not to individual countries. The limit is not applied so that a visitor can spend 90 days in each country. Instead, the limit is applied so that a visitor can only spend 90 days in the Schengen area as a whole (Articles 3 and 6 of Regulation 2016/399 apply).”

Same question, totally different answer?  How can this be?

People are making massive decisions about their holidays of a lifetime and you can’t get a straight answer!  Fortunately, I was able to provide Paul with my research and documents and as a result, he and his wife travelled freely into, around, out of, and back into Schengen for many months in 2017 and 2018 with no problems.

Once I was very sure of my findings, I started asking direct and focused questions of the various embassy officials.  I was able to reference the Directives and Legislation and ask for their confirmation that I would have no problems crossing their Schengen borders.  It seemed that most just found my questions too hard, and either fobbed me off or ignored me.  I eventually had a satisfactory response from the German consulate in Berlin:

“You as an EU citizen can stay in Germany for up to 3 months without any further requirements. No matter in how many EU countries you have stayed prior to your arrival, you and your wife can stay in Germany for three months.”

The Hungarian official, after sending the question to the FREMO expert committee on Free Movement, in Brussels advised me unofficially that:

“I have received the official confirmation from Brussels that you and your wife can stay up to 3 months in each country without any administrative restrictions.”

It is always a little scary approaching a border crossing and not being sure what will happen.  Be prepared for the worse and 99% of the time you will just sail through without being questioned.

The bottom line is that as long as you clearly understand your rights, you are in a strong position.

I Have a British Passport – What about Brexit?

Great question and I wish I had an answer for that one, however at the time of writing that is up in the air.

There are two schools of thought about this.

One is that the rest of Europe is going to have to be firm on Britain and make their exit painful to discourage other countries from leaving.  Part of this could be to remove all freedom of movement for British citizens so they will also be subject to the Schengen restrictions.

The other position is that the cost to some economies of restricting British travel would be too high so travel for tourism must remain unrestricted.  Many parts of Spain for example are heavily dependant on British snow birds or retirees propping up the economy, particularly in winter.

The final solution may be somewhere in between what British citizens enjoy now and what the rest of the world have to comply with.

Who knows what the final result will be and it is a time of great uncertainty for British passport holders wanting to spend large chunks of time abroad.

My advice, get the hell over here before it all turns to custard.

There may be some grace period before restrictions kick in but who knows what is really going to happen and when.

Document Links

Here are the links to the most important documents referenced plus some others I haven’t mentioned but gives you some more background.  I have highlighted parts of the relevant sections in some documents.

Directive 2004/38/EC

Schengen Handbook

Schengen Border Code – Regulation 399-2016

New Zealand Bilateral Agreements with:

  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Italy
  • Austria
  • Netherlands
  • Hungary
  • Norway
  • Spain
  • Belgium
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland

Freedom to move and live in Europe – A guide to your rights as an EU citizen

The RIght of Union Citizens and their family members to move and reside freely within the Union

Response from Your Europe Advice questions re Schengen