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Betsy – Our Motorhome

Our motorhome is named ‘Betsy’ and she is our pride and joy, and our home away from home.  When we first started driving her around the narrow roads of Italy, she felt so large that we called her ‘The Beast”.  However, that wasn’t very flattering for our girl who was looking after us so well.  So she then became ‘Betsy the Beast’ and then just plain ‘Betsy’, which suits her very well.

This is the story of how Betsy entered our lives and how we have made her into our perfect ‘home-on-wheels’.

If you just want to know the technical details about Betsy and the equipment we put into her then feel to bypass the history of how she came to be by clicking on the Table of Contents.

The Background

In January 2017, we finally came to the decision that we were going to leave Perth, Australia (which had been our home for eight years) for good,  and head back to live in New Zealand, but we would first take a detour via Europe for two years and spend this time travelling around.  We set a date of mid-June 2017 to leave and we started researching and planning our adventure from that time on.

We are both very organised types and saved all of our research, relevant websites, etc,  on an App called Trello, which is a freebie, can be shared with your partner on desktop and mobile, thus keeping everything together nicely in the cloud.

We then had to decide how we would manage the “Schengen” zone which restricts non-EU residents from staying more than 90 days out of 180 days within the Schengen group of countries – which includes most of Europe.  You can read how we worked out how to travel indefinitely without significant restrictions in our post “Don’t Let Schengen Ruin Your European Holiday of a Lifetime”.

The next decision was ‘Motorhome’ or ‘Caravan plus Car’.

Motorhome vs Caravan

We investigated this subject at length before deciding that for us, a motorhome was the way to go.  The primary reasons for the decision were:

  • We were advised by others that towing a caravan around the narrow streets in old towns in Europe was very challenging
  • We found out that it was difficult to free or wild camp in a caravan in most countries so we would be confined to staying in camping grounds
  • We would have to buy and register two vehicles and as non-EU residents, this would present problems
  • There appeared to be different restrictions in different countries regarding allowable towing weights
  • We value our freedom to choose where we stay, where we go and what we pay and a caravan did not fit those values – we have not regretted the decision ever

Once we had decided on buying a motorhome the next decision was around where to buy one.

Non- Resident Buying a Motorhome in Europe

Any non-Eu resident wanting to buy a vehicle in Europe will come up against a problem very quickly.

You need to be a resident if you want to own and insure a vehicle in Europe and there are limited ways to get around this.  In the time that I spent researching this the main approaches seemed to be to register the vehicle in someone else’s name, for example, your long lost third cousin thrice removed in Manchester, the dodgy moho dealer in Frankfurt, or the ‘guaranteed buy-back’ schemes that seemed to only deal in pretty old units and didn’t guarantee a particularly good buyback price.

We have since met people who have registered in England using family or mates, and this seems to work OK and others who have used a moho dealer in Germany and that seems to have worked.  However the acid test would come when they have to make an insurance claim and then as we all know, the insurance companies look for any excuse to deny a claim, including being given some inaccurate information at the start of the policy.

We, fortunately, ended up dealing with a company who provided a robust and open legal structure that allowed us to own and insure our moho in France.  The added benefit of this was that we didn’t have to return to the UK every year for an MOT (unlike several other travellers we have met who have to plan their long-term travels around annual trips back to old Blighty).  We highly recommend Phill from Europe Camping Cars (www.europecampingcars.com) for his excellent service and backup. If you contact Phill, just let him know you heard about him from our website.

Choosing our Moho

By deciding that we liked the ownership structure offered by our chosen vendor, we were committed to buying our motorhome through them.  At that time, we expected that we would be looking at something maybe 3 – 6 years old for up to € 35,000 however we had some specific requirements for a vehicle that would be our home for the next couple of years.  Number One was to have a comfortable walk-around style bed and Number Two was an oven.  We also wanted all of the other good extras such as solar panels, lots of room, bike rack, awning and so on and so on.

The vendor had limited stock available from their own dealership but offered a service of searching the used vehicle market to find the ideal moho for us.  Phill cautioned that the secondhand stock meeting our requirements would be very limited and that we would have to be able to either give them the go-ahead quickly from abroad or be willing to jump on a plane to France at very short notice to view what they had found.  After a couple of weeks of scouring the online ads, neither Phill nor us had found anything that was coming close to our price point and shopping list of features.

It was at this stage that Phill suggested that if we could raise our budget a little then we could be swimming in the ‘new motorhome’ market.  “How much more?”, we asked nervously.  “Well for € 48,000 you can have a brand-new vehicle with the exact configuration you are looking for”.  Fortunately for us, we had been saving for this trip for many years and actually had enough money available so before long we had agreed to buy a new Bluecamp Sky 25S, which we would pick up in Italy because we were flying into Italy anyway and this would save the delivery fee to France.

 

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Betsy’s Specifications – The Basics

The basic specifications for Betsy are:

Bluecamp Sky 25S

  • Renault Master Front Wheel Drive Chassis
  • 130 bhp Euro 6 Engine with a six-speed manual gearbox
  • 7.43m long
  • 3m high
  • 3.5 tonne
  • Sleeps and seats five (but perfect for two)
  • Blinds and insect mesh on the windows and accommodation door
  • Full alarm system, including internal movement sensors and sensors on all windows, habitation door and garage doors
  • Fixed rear island bed
  • Double bed electrically lowered from the ceiling
  • Separate shower and toilet
  • Large Fridge with Separate Freezer

The Blucamp brand is not particularly well known however they are made by the well regarded Rimor factory in Italy, and are basically standard Rimor models with a few extras then re-badged as Blucamp.

One of the features we love about Betsy is the proper dividing door between the bedroom and living quarters.  This really makes her feel like a small home and allows one of us to do their own thing in the living area in the early morning, while the other gets to sleep in uninterrupted.  We also love that the toilet and generously sized shower  are two separate rooms.

Double Island Bed – feels just like a real bedroom

Big Fridge/Freezer and Bedroom Door

Separate Toilet – the shower is on the other side

Extra Drop Down Bed and Storage

The Extra Stuff – the Bling

If you have ever bought a new vehicle you would know that the next step is the upsell to all the must-have accessories and extras, and that process is even more expensive and laborious with a motorhome.  However, it is these extras that can really enhance your motorhoming experience.

How far you go fitting out a new or used motorhome with more kit is a personal and/or budgetary choice.

For us, now that we had taken the plunge and committed to the extra folding stuff, we now wanted to fit our new home out with everything we wanted to make her a comfortable and convenient home for two years.  We rationalised that we would get back a large chunk of any money we put into extras when we sold Betsy, plus would benefit from using them ourselves.

Our final list of factory and dealer fitted bling was:

  • Awning
  • Bike rack suitable for electric bikes
  • Rear view/reversing camera twin camera (wired, not wireless) – absolutely essential in our humble opinion
  • 1500W pure sine wave inverter
  • 2 x 160W solar panels with an extra 100 Ah leisure battery
  • Safe (large enough for laptops, camera gear etc)
  • Gaslow refillable LPG system (fantastic for touring Europe, otherwise you need a different gas bottle for different countries)
  • External gas point for BBQ
  • 2 x TV mounting brackets plus TV
  • Cooker Extractor Fan
  • Extra deadlocks on the habitation and garage doors
  • Additional power outlets (5 x 220V, 2 x 12V, 2 x USB) – you can never have enough power outlets
  • Full flow water filter after the pump (we never buy bottled water and have saved a small fortune)
  • Rear parking legs, which jack down from the back corners and stop Betsy from swaying around so much when we are parked and walking around

The extra creature comforts added over € 7,000 to the price but have given us a high level of comfort, security and independence and allows us to almost totally avoid staying in expensive camping grounds, which keeps our day to day living costs lower.  The maths looks good….365 days times € 30 per day typical campsite cost equals € 11,000 per year saved by being able to live off-grid permanently.

Interestingly, an oven was never actually installed as there were going to be some problems fitting it into the available space.  We found an excellent alternative in our Omnia stovetop oven which does nearly everything a full oven would do for a fraction of the size, weight and cost.

The external gas point has not been used much and the awning only comes out on the odd occasion, but everything else contributes almost daily to our quality of life.

Bike Rack and Awning Setup

Gaslow Refillable LPG Gas System

Yale Certified Safe

Reversing Camera Display

More Extra Stuff -the Bling Bling

Any motorhomer will agree that you always find something else that you need/want and there is an ongoing fine balancing act between convenience, cost, space to put stuff and keeping your overall unit within the allowable weight.

We added quite a bit more bling into Betsy before we felt she was set up exactly how we wanted her.  The important extra blingy bits included:

  • Rear Air Suspension – we had this installed in Greece after suffering several months of potholed roads through Italy, Bosnia, Albania and Greece.  The difference this made to the ride was huge.  We installed a quality Goldschmidt German made setup which would allow us to upgrade Betsy to a 4-tonne rating if we chose to take that step.
  • 2 x Electric Bicycles – we bought relatively inexpensive ones from Decathlon and these have been indispensable because they allow us to explore so much more of our surroundings, pick up groceries, and search for water supplies.  We can recharge on a sunny day using free power from the solar panels.
  • Garmin Camper 770 LMT GPS (Emily) which has the dimensions of Betsy programmed in, and is not supposed to lead us down roads which are too narrow or under bridges that are too low.  Emily does a good job 99% of the time but has sent us into some dodgy places on the odd occasion so we need to keep an eye on her.
  • Vacuum Cleaner – we invested in a quality Dyson rechargeable unit after the cheap 12V one we bought proved to be hopeless.  When the glass cooktop self-destructed, we were so glad to have a vacuum that worked extremely well.
  • Motorhome WiFI – mobile data aerial was installed on the roof with a 12V charging connection to a mifi unit in a cupboard, which enables us to pick up weak mobile data signals.  We buy the brand ‘3’ 12 GB data only SIM cards which work all around Europe.
  • Motorhome Wifi – Boost Wifi antennae to enable us to pick up and amplify nearby wifi signals. This has given us fantastic wifi in places where would have had little or none without it.
  • Portable twin tub washing machine which does a really good job of cleaning our clothes.  We bought this off Amazon after rapidly getting sick and tired of locating and visiting laundrettes in inconvenient places and paying a lot of money for the privilege.  Our unit runs off the inverter happily so all we need is a sunny day, a good fresh water supply and somewhere to hang out the washing.
  • Braun Stick blender to grind, whisk, smoothie and process our food
  • Omnia Stovetop Cooker – absolutely awesome product which we have put many other motorhomers onto. We make cakes, lasagne, crumbles, scones, fresh bread and many other scrumptious delicacies in this little marvel.
  • Portable water containers – we have two which hold 22 litres between them. These fit in the saddlebag on the bike and in a backpack and let us forage for fresh water, and fill the tank using a funnel.
  • Square saucepans – you never appreciate just how inefficient on space the usual round saucepans are, until you try to fit more than one on a three burner camper cooktop.   The NZ designed three piece set that we bought can all be used at once and are a really clever piece of kit.
  • Memory foam mattress topper – the foam mattress that came with Betsy just wasn’t comfortable, especially where it was hinged to allow the front of the bed to lift up.  We bought a memory foam topper from Ikea and have had a superbly comfortable bed ever since.
  • Milenco Quad Levelling Ramps – these are big, heavy ramps but are great for getting us level on very sloped parking areas.  We also have two small ramps which are very light and easy to deploy when there is only a small gradient.
  • UE Bluetooth Speaker – which we use to play both the TV sound plus our music.  The sound quality of this is awesome and the unit is small and portable.
  • Microwave Oven, which we only use occasionally as it a very heavy drain on the batteries – but worth having for those times.
  • 1000W electric kettle, which we bought recently while in Finland to reduce our gas usage (Finland does not have filling stations for our gas bottles).  “Why didn’t we buy one of these earlier”,  we ask ourselves?

There are a lot of other useful bits and pieces that have found their way into Betsy’s depths however, these are the main ones that have added value to our lives.  Here are photos of some of our favourite bling.

Our Washing Machine

Omni Cooker with fresh baked bread

Fantastic Square Saucepans – all fit on the cooktop at once

Dyson Vacuum Cleaner hangs neatly on the wall

Our Electric Bikes

Water Containers

Motorhome Wifi – Booster Aerial

Air Suspension Control Panel – made for the Renault Master

With Betsy’s great configuration, good standard features and the extra bling we added, she is now a really great motorhome for living in full-time or extended touring around Europe while keeping away from campsites.  Please feel free to contact us if you want any more information on Betsy or how we managed to end up with such a great vehicle.