Once we decided that we were taking our camper van aboard this year we needed to get started with the planning- which port were we going to use? Where would we like to go?, What do we need to be able to go? and, what work do we need to do on the van beforehand?
Where from? We chose to sail from the UK from Harwich- this was a bit of a drive from us, but we do have family close to the port and so it worked out as a great option. It also had the shortest crossing time that we had looked at, at around only 6 hours and therefore no need to book a cabin. This helped to keep costs down, and as long as you make a run for it to get some decent seats on board the ferry as soon as you’re parked up it’s not too bad!
Where to? We had Germany at the top of our list, with a few things in particular that we wanted to do, along with recommendations of places to visit off family and friends too. Other than that we were going with an open mind and to see where the roads took us!
What do we need? We used the standard comparison websites to get our travel insurance and then went with RAC for our European breakdown cover for the van. We went for the max package just to cover all eventualities with it being our first long distance trip in the van, but we were pleased to not need to use it! With a bit of haggling due to us being UK members already, it didn’t actually cost too much and it honestly was peace of mind. We also got one of the AA Euro Travel Kit (AA Euro Travel Kit for driving in France and Europe), which contained the main essentials for driving abroad, including a really useful book with information for each country as well as any additional requirements needed. This kit comes with a stick on GB sticker, and so if you’d prefer a magnetic one you can pick them up separately too (Travel Spot 92164 Headlamp Adaptor and Magnetic EURO Plate) or for a more subtle look you can order a number plate with the GB on it if you’d prefer (Pair Standard GB Euro Number Plates 100% MOT Compliant – Car / Van). We had the stick on one for this trip but will be looking into the new number plate in the future. Other than that it was a case of having some print outs of documentation, including proof of ownership of the vehicle, a copy of the travel and breakdown insurance cover, a copy of the ferry confirmation, and of course our passports and ehic cards.
We had originally planned to take our pooch with us, and so we did do some research into what was needed for that too. This mainly consisted of a pet passport and certain vaccinations from your vet, as well as deciding what we were going to do with our dog whilst on the ferry. The pet passport and vaccinations have to be done a certain number of days before the trip so make sure you plan this ahead and get your appointments booked in in plenty of time. Also remember to factor these extra costs in- the passport, the vets appointment and the vaccine quickly add up! When booking the ferry you also need to decide whether your dog will stay in your vehicle or be in a kennel. If you choose the vehicle you have to be escorted down to visit your pooch, whereas if you go for a kennel you can see them as much as you want. Obviously, the rules and options will vary for each ferry so be sure to check yours out when booking. We decided not to take our pooch with us simply because of the time of year that we were going, knowing that the heat was likely to be too much for her in some of the places we were headed. We did however go and check out the kennel area, for future reference for trips at cooler times of the year J
What work needs to be done on the van? The work we intended to do on the van was mainly going to be all done on the internals for comfort and ease of use. Some work we totally didn’t expect was the engine and mechanical failures. When we say we didn’t expect it what we really mean is, we did expect problems but nothing seriously bad- we were buying a 12year old van at the end of the day. When we visited the van pre-purchase we went with a checklist of known potential issues thanks to a bit of research on various VW T5 forums. The van seemed in perfect condition when we checked our list off and handed the cash over… but it’s never that easy in real life and almost too good to be true in any story to have that much luck. It wasn’t until 3-4 weeks of good use we started to find little problems with the van and one major problem that showed its ugly head at an inconvenient time. Anyway, after a couple of visits to the garage for some of the essential work the van was feeling healthy. The main job was to fit our electrics to enable us to plug in whilst on the move and to have our lights and fridge all hooked up even when wild camping. We bought a full kit online ( CLICK HERE TO SEE and kenable Outdoor Site Power Electric Hook Up Lead Caravan Extension Cable 10m) and used a personal contact to do this- at first, we planned to do it ourselves but it’s one of those jobs perhaps best left to electricians. Having the electrics made life so easy while we were away and less reliant on campsites, which was a great feeling of freedom. For more details on work, we did on the internal of the van watch out for our upcoming van conversion blog, which we will be sharing with you soon!
But enough of that…here’s how our trip went day by day, to give you an idea of what we got up to!
Sunday 30th August– The ferry docked over at The Hague early evening and we all eagerly awaited in our campers, motor homes, cars, motorbikes and even push bikes ready at the rains to enter Holland like a scene from wacky races. We were very eager to get going as we knew we had an hours drive to the nearest campsite that fitted in with the route we had roughly chosen for the trip. The passport checks were the first stage holding us all back before we all began our journeys, on the wrong side of the road of course. Quick and painless, we were very surprised by the speed and efficiency of which the port staff got the queue through and we were soon on our way. If you’re reading this and planning to do a ferry crossing, have your passports at hand so that you aren’t that family who have put them in the depths of the ‘safe place’…. resulting in scrambling around trying to find them whilst awkwardly waving at those behind you.
So finally Vinnie (Yes, we gave the van a name) got to taste foreign tarmac for the first time, which we were so badly trying to remind ourselves the right-hand side was now the norm. The roads actually weren’t that hard to get used to, we had done a small amount of driving abroad but nothing to this extent- we were planning a 1500-2000 mile round trip.
The first campsite we decided to stay at was in Holland and was going to be the best we stayed at all holiday, although we didn’t know this at the time. We found that campsites in Europe seem to range from around 20-30 euros per night based on 2 persons and a vehicle with electric hook up. Showers and washing-up facilities are typically 50 cents on top, which is just to keep people from using too much water and spending hours in the bathroom. For us, the campsites were going to be top-up locations for the likes of water, electric recharge, showers and washing up. We would have loved to have done the majority of the trip wild camping but that was before having any experience of camping in hot weather! That van insulation we fitted definitely works!