We are wiser today than we were yesterday…
We bought our caravan by accident, so in the end, we had only a month to sort everything out… As newbie caravanners, our first year was a little hit-and-miss and we paid far too much for nearly everything!
However, we are both thrifty and quick learners. Here, we share with you some money-saving tips that in our second year, reduced our outgoings by several thousands of pounds.
1. Caravan Storage
A. Annual Storage – our insurance initially insisted on our having CASSOA Gold secure storage sorted before we took delivery of the caravan. We arranged this in a hurry with a storage facility some distance from home, since this was the only one which had a vacancy. The cost was over £500 for the year, yet the caravan was in storage for only a few months.
B. Monthly Storage – we have since found a storage facility close to home that charges monthly, so we don’t have to travel miles and pay only for what we use. Initially, it did not have CASSOA Gold level of security, but we since found one that does. The net saving is around £300pa.
C. Storage at Home – a few friends with space have kindly offered to store our caravan for us, however this proved tricky with our insurers. Storage at your own home, if you live there, however, is not usually a problem with insurers.
D. Storage Abroad to save on cross-channel transport is also a stumbling block with our insurers, however, it is something that we are looking into for future trips. Watch this space!
A. This has saved us several hundreds of pounds on gas. Prices vary but refilling with 10kg (19.5L) of LPG cost us in the region of €8. Last time we bought a 6kg Calor bottle, it cost about £30 + deposit – and Calor is not available in Europe. The Safefill cylinder is also significantly lighter than a Calor cylinder – and you don’t need a spare! The transparent bottle also allows you to see how full it is.
- You will need to buy a set of adapters for Europe with your cylinder.
- We bought our cylinder from our dealer, who kindly gave us 10% discount and modified our gas locker to accommodate the Safefill cylinder.
To read my full review of the Safefill Refillable Gas Bottle, click here.
3. Going Off-Grid
In summer, in Europe, we have found that we rarely need EHU (Electric Hook Up). This saves a couple of Euros per night, which adds up to a few hundred pounds a year when you are away for months at a time. Our energy costs are also much reduced by the Safefill refillable gas bottle detailed above. We simply get EHU for 1 night if we need to use the hoover or do laundry. However, going off grid in the UK winter in a dark forest is not to be recommended… (See Adventures off Grid.)
4. Washing Machine
We were spending around £20 per week on laundry. We bought a portable washing machine for around £100, so it paid for itself in just over a month. The machine weighs about 16kg and the drum and spin dryer are just large enough to take a polycotton Superkingsize duvet cover. It drains by gravity; we see no need for the extra weight of a drain pump and it’s just something to go wrong. The washing machine received many a look of envy from seasonal pitches in Penthièvre and another thing that I like about it is that Mark enjoys using it, so I need never do laundry again…!
5. Avoid Touristy Areas in High Season:
A. We prefer to avoid the crowds anyway, but site fees in tourist hotspots can be double in high season. Also, the charge for dogs is often waived in low season – and this can be as much as €4 per dog per night.
B. ACSI – We also joined ACSI; “Europe’s leading campsite specialist”. Besides listing nearly 10,000 sites across Europe, all of which are inspected annually, the ACSI card offers discounts in low season.
6. Avoid Toll Roads – and Traffic Fines!
A. Tolls – Many major roads and motorways in Europe charge users tolls, which can add significantly to your costs. Large vehicles like a caravan or motorhome are charged at a higher rate than cars. We often avoid toll roads, since we’re not in a hurry and like to see the countryside. Since a caravan or motorhome has a motorway speed limit of 55 or 60mph, depending which country you are in, you may find that avoiding the toll roads does not add as much time to your journey as you might think. Our satnav has an ‘avoid tolls’ setting, which is very helpful in calculating the time difference between toll and non-toll routes.
B. Vignette – Rather than charging tolls, some countries require you to purchase a vignette before you use the roads. There are heavy fines if you fail to display the vignette and foreign vehicles are an easy target to pick out. Vignettes can usually be purchased close to the border – read the instructions and make sure that you fill in the vignette if required and display it in the correct position on your windscreen. Sometimes, there are tolls on some roads in addition to the vignette! Click here for a country by country rate guide and overview.
C. Bridge, Ferry and Tunnel charges can also add up, so make sure that you include these in your travel calculations – particularly if you plan to cross bridges in Scandinavia! Do your research – we bought a 10-transit caravan pass for the Mont Blanc tunnel. It is valid for 2 years and if you are doing more than 1 transit (even without the caravan) you will save. It is not vehicle-specific, so we delighted some friends who were going skiing by donating a return trip that we were not going to use. Avoiding peak times on Ferries or the Channel Tunnel can result in very significant savings and if you are a regular ferry traveller, it may be worthwhile joining something like Brittany Ferries’ Club Voyage which gives discounts up to 30%.
D. Congestion Charges / Urban Road Tolls – as in London, to improve congestion, air quality and reduce noise, toll charges apply in certain cities and areas around Europe. Click here for further information. Note that in 2017, France introduced Crit’Air clean air stickers in some cities with fines of over €100 if you fail to display one. They can be ordered online. To avoid being ripped off, order only from the Crit’Air website and allow at least 6 weeks for delivery. At the time of writing, they cost around €5 and last for the lifetime of the car, so it is worth it for peace of mind, since new areas can be added at short notice. For a list of the German environmental zones, click here and for the Green Zones App which keeps abreast of environmental zones throughout Europe, click here.
E. Abide by the Rules of the Road to Avoid Fines – This link to the The A.A (Automobile Association) gives comprehensive country-by-country advice on tolls, driving, Rules of the Road and items that you are obliged by law to carry in your car for more than 40 countries, from Andorra to Ukraine. Here is an example; Driving Guide France-Monaco. These guides will certainly help you to avoid further potential road-traffic fines!
7. Seasonal Pitches & Economical Places to Stay
A. Seasonal Pitches – When we came back from Europe after our first year’s travelling, we stayed for a couple of months on a site, paying the usual fee of around £20 per night. Then someone mentioned ‘Seasonal Pitch’. This was new to us, so we looked into it and this year, we booked one. The Seasonal Pitch saved us nearly 50% on our UK site fees for 3 months; a £1000 saving – with hard-standing and EHU included! UK Campsite lists sites which offer seasonal pitches. Members of C&CC and CMC can benefit from storage and seasonal pitches at Club sites. Click the links for more details – but book early!
B. Economical Campsites – The Friendly Open All Year Under £15 Sites is a Facebook group which does what it says on the tin. A web search may also yield results for similar, inexpensive sites.
D. Cheaper Countries – the strength of the pound and the comparative economies of some European countries means that we Brits find some places cheap and some places expensive. Click here for some of the cheapest places to visit and have a think if you fancy Scandinavia, Switzerland or most Capital Cities!
8. Internet – MiFi Unit
A. Free Internet – on campsites is largely not worth having. As an alternative, we found reasonable free WiFi in most Tourist Information Centres, McDonald’s Restaurants and some hotels if you buy a drink. However, be aware that these free networks are usually ‘open’, so are not necessarily secure. If you use ‘open’ networks, change your passwords frequently and avoid doing sensitive things like internet banking. Click here for more advice on staying safe on open WiFi networks.
B. Paid Internet – in our first year, we paid for internet occasionally, if the charges were reasonable. Charges varied widely, but €5 or €10 for a few GB of data or 24 hours of internet access soon mounts up.
C. Tethering a Mobile Phone – as I say in ‘What Did We Learn’; even if your mobile phone company (Three in our case) tell you that you can tether your laptop to your phone to get internet access abroad – you probably can’t. So don’t believe them. This will save you from paying for 20GB of data per month, which you can’t use, on a contract from which they won’t release you!
D. MiFi Mobile Internet – for our second year touring, we purchased an unlocked MiFi unit, which can be used on any network and gives us secure access to 12GB of data in Europe (20GB in the UK) each month for £16. UK SIM cards work abroad for only a couple of months before having to be repatriated (ours is good for 4 months) so check that you are covered for the duration of your trip. Like a mobile phone, signals are generally good but not ubiquitous. Coverage was poor in East Germany.
E. Buy a Local PAYG SIM for your MiFi – if you have an unlocked MiFi device, you can buy a Pay As You Go data SIM in the country that you are visiting. This will give you more data for much less cost. We secured 30GB of data in Italy for €9 but our record was 150GB per month in Romania for less than €10 per month. We have generally found that the young staff in phone shops tend to have a better command of English that we do of the local language, so communicating what we want has never proved to be a problem.
9. Use a Prepaid Money Card
Using your UK Credit Card abroad will attract both a fixed usage fee and a currency-exchange commission charge on every transaction. We carry a Sainsbury’s ‘Multi Currency Cash Passport’ which is a secure, prepaid cash card. The exchange rates are competitive and it can be topped up in any currency you wish online, using Sterling from your UK Bank Account. You use it like any other chip and pin card to pay for goods or to withdraw cash from ATMs. (Many other prepaid options are available. See Moneysupermarket for the advice and the latest best buys on prepaid cards.)
10. Internet Shopping
You may be surprised to learn that you can order on the internet at keen prices and, if you ask nicely, have deliveries made to campsite reception (or drop off locations) all over Europe! We buy all our premium dog food on line (often from local companies) at a fraction of the cost of the equivalent in the shops. When my favourite sandals broke, I had a brand new pair, exactly the same, delivered within 2 days to a post office in Hohnstein, East Germany. Amazon UK will even tell you which suppliers will deliver to the country that you’re in – just register the delivery address as your primary address. Extra delivery charges may apply, but the overall savings and convenience will usually leave you quids in!
Do you have any fabulous money-saving tips? If so, WWW would love to hear them! Please share with the caravanning community in the comments section below.
For further caravan hints, see the Tips section of my blog. If you follow my blog (enter your email address on the right hand side), top tips and episodes of our caravanning story will be delivered weekly into your inbox!