Virtual Camp Quirky 2020

Here’s my 2nd live streaming gig, beamed live from our van, Stargazer!

Some original songs and a few covers to close the first virtual Camp Quirky festival…

Camp Quirky is organised by Quirky Campers as a celebration of handmade campervans. This year’s festival was supposed to take place in Northamptonshire but has been postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Instead, they organised a virtual festival – with cocktails, music, interviews, van tours and conversion workshops throughout the afternoon on Facebook and Instagram. Hopefully, the festival will take place as planned on 2nd-4th October.

Winterised: Winter Camping in the Benimar Mileo 201

We’ve really put our van through its paces in terms of winter camping this year, and it’s been great! It’s a Benimar Mileo motorhome, model 201. Ours is from late 2015 and includes various extra features that are supposed to make it fully ‘winterised’:

  • Thick insulation on the roof and floor
  • A 6 KW gas and electric Truma for central heating and hot water
  • Fresh water stored inside the insulated space, so no worries about freezing
  • The waste water tank under the van is insulated and has a heater to prevent freezing
  • Fridge vent covers and an external thermal windscreen cover

In addition, we added winter tyres front and back and bought some hefty snow chains, both legal requirements in many EU countries. We had the garage check the antifreeze levels in the radiator coolant and it was good to -36°C. We used a screen wash fit for -70°C in a 1 to 1 ratio with water, so again it would work in similarly freezing temperatures. And earlier in the year, we’d made the big decision to invest around £400 in a fitted LPG tank. I’ll post soon about how that’s gone, was it worth it, etc.

So, how did it perform? We spent 10 days or so in on a site in Austria in early February – lots of snow, temperatures down to -15°C – and it was fantastic. Then we had a few days wild camping in the German/Czech borders and again the van performed great. It was easy to keep the van toasty warm, everything worked*, life carried on pretty much as normal.

Bev had sourced this snow brush… (thanks to my sister Wendy for an early Christmas pressie!)

…and couldn’t wait to try it. Good job we had it. Our Italian neighbour’s on the site had ladders but no brush, so we pooled resources and cleared both van roofs after the heaviest dumps of snow.

We took a spade also – just a normal garden spade rather than a snow shovel. We cleared snow each morning from the door of the van to the main path through the site (which they kept cleared with a snow plough). We also kept the snow clear at the back of the van, so we could reverse out when required. Didn’t fancy having to battle it out through a wall of thawed-frozen-thawed-frozen snow and ice when it was time to go!

We’d read a lot – on sites and forums like winterised.com – about running a ‘dry van’ in winter. This means for example: Draining all the water from tanks, pumps, pipes, taps, etc; filling up water bottles for use inside the van; and leaving your waste open so the tank doesn’t freeze and split. This means you have to catch the waste in a watering can or similar and empty it before it freezes.

Well, we didn’t go that far. We used the taps as normal, but tried to reduce water use where possible to minimise the amount in the waste tank. We were on a site for the coldest spell, so this was relatively easy as we could use the site showers. I tested our waste every morning and it was flowing freely. We moved the van maybe twice to empty it at the waste point – which sensibly was indoors.

*We had one glitch. Our pump started playing up towards the end of our time on site. I’d noticed that the only patch on the outside of the van that showed any sign of the cold was under the lounge window. Turns out this is where the pump is housed, in a compartment under the sofa. It was screwed to the van wall and so fairly exposed to the external conditions. It must have frozen at some point. After googling, and trying the fuses, we gave it a knock and it started running again.

A few weeks later, the pump stopped again so we took it to bits and cleaned it thoroughly. It limped on for another month, but eventually died. We found a replacement in a motorhome dealer in Belgium. It’s a slightly more powerful pump but was a fairly simple swap.

Old Pump New Pump

For convenience at the time, we put in back in the same place – fixed to the outside wall. But for our next winter trip, we’ll definitely move it to the inside wall of the compartment under the sofa. Might make the pump a little noisier inside the van, but we can live with that.

So would we say that the Benimar Mileo 201 is ‘winterised’? Yes!

Update on van life costs

Two of the most read posts on the blog are “How much does it cost to run a campervan?” and the update I did after a few months in the newer, bigger motorhome, “75 days into our van life and European adventure – progress and costs”. I promised another update – so here’s the fun facts, figures and stats after 9 months…

Average Daily Costs

Adding up all the costs – except the one huge outlay for the purchase of the van! – and dividing by the number of days gives a headline spend of £54.85 a day. Here’s how that breaks down:

As mentioned in other posts, we can’t treat everyday like a holiday. We try to spend at least a little cash in every town we stay, but we certainly don’t eat out everyday. For us, it’s part of the adventure – cooking in the van and entertaining ourselves, making it a home from home. That £21 a day on Shopping/Social covers, for 2 adults and 2 dogs: food, drink, boring shopping (scourers, loo roll, washing up liquid, dog poo bags), toiletries, new clothes and shoes when things wear out, dining out and socialising, art galleries, cinemas, attractions, etc.

Various Van Costs covers up-front, ad-hoc and regular costs like insurance, the GPS tracker subscription, MOT, servicing, repairs and purchases like chocks, winter tyres, snow chains. That covers about 18% of our total spend, which is probably more than we might have set aside for contingencies. Worth considering that if anyone is budgeting for a similar trip.

Fuel – about 15% of our daily spend – works out at about 18p a mile.

Our average spend per night on site fees is down to £6.20 – this is mainly due to us getting much more comfortable wild camping. Park4night has been invaluable, highly recommended. In December, we stayed just 9 nights on a site – so that’s over 70% wild or free camping.

Thinking ahead to winter camping in Austria, we invested in a fixed LPG tank. This has bumped our gas costs up for now, but every time we fill it costs just £10-12 instead of around £35 to swap a bottle. It will have paid for itself after another 10 refills. An 11kg bottle (which holds around 20 litres of gas) lasts 9 to 12 days at the moment, whereas in summer it lasted well over a month.

We avoid tolls mainly – in France, Spain and Italy, for example, you just don’t get to see the little towns and villages and while they might save time, they’re often longer journeys in terms of miles and diesel. This cost is mainly Eurotunnels, a few ferries and the bridges in Denmark.

Finally, I think we’ve been very well served by EE using our phones and mobile data abroad. 4G signal is usually available, with the exception of Germany where it was really patchy, which surprised us. Watch out in Andorra, which is not EU, so the free roaming did not apply – Flight mode on 🙂 Signs so far point towards us still being able to use UK allowances in Europe after Brexit – I really hope so. We’ve used a bit more data in winter, settling in on a night to watch a box set on Amazon or Now TV.

Miles, MPG and Diesel Costs

Average miles traveled per day: 45

I use an app called Simply Auto to track some of our expenses – diesel, lpg gas, camp site fees, MOT, repairs, etc. Plotting the mileage figures against the dates shows we’ve been quite consistently on the move around that 45 miles/day average:

Countries visited: 20

UK, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy, Monaco, Switzerland, Slovenia, Croatia, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Holland, Andorra, Spain

We’re on to our second ‘lap’ of Europe now, heading into Italy after Christmas and New Year along the Costa Brava and the south coast of France.

Average miles between fill-ups: 392

Average fuel efficiency overall is at 30.6 mpg, but it’s been noticeably worse over recent months. We were a bit heavier with extra guitars and have occasionally had to run the engine to top up the leisure batteries. In the UK, with shorter grey days, the solar charger couldn’t keep up with our demands. (Mainly me, working on the album on the laptop!)

Average price paid for a litre of diesel: £1.22

Here’s how different countries compared…

Average price paid over 33 fill-ups from April to December 2019.

Several times now, we’ve found it’s worth a small detour into Luxembourg to fill up. Lots of French, Belgians and Germans do the same – you can see them queuing at the first station over the border. Andorra – a tax haven – was full of French and Spanish shoppers buying duty free booze, fags and fuel. I’ve never seen so many petrol stations in such a small area! The Spanish price was surprising low – but again that was just over the border from France, luring folk in. 

At the other end of the scale, Sweden, Italy and the UK came in at or over the £1.30 mark.

Estimated Annual Costs

Our house is still rented out, so we’re aiming to stay in the van for a full year. Looks like we’re still on track for around £20,000 – probably just over now, with a few repairs and additional van costs like the winter tyres and snow chains.

Questions?

Happy to answer any questions anyone might have. If you’re planning a similar trip or there’s something I’ve not covered here, you can message via the facebook page, @howaskew on instagram or on twitter. Go on, ask me how many times I’ve had to empty the loo. (You can probably guess how many times Bev’s done it.)

What’s the plan?

After a spell in the UK – band gigs in September, a trip to Scotland, recording the new album, catching up with our Newcastle friends and seeing our families for early Christmas celebrations – we set off early December, more or less back to our “the plan is, there is no plan” approach, practicing the art of bimbling…

  • seeing some sights and enjoying our freedom to travel around Europe (while it lasts)
  • living more simply and more healthily, being outdoors, eating well
  • spending more time together, and seeing friends and family
  • playing more music, writing new songs
  • heading towards Austria to test our winterised van and do some cross country skiing 

That should take us up till mid March. I’ve started keeping an eye open for stats and data science project work, but until then we’ll just keep rolling, looking for gigs along the way.

Icons made by Smashicon, Those Icons and OCHA from www.flaticon.com

Charts made in RStudio, using dplyr, ggplot2, countrycode, ggflag, maps, mapdata

75 days into our van life and European adventure – progress and costs

An update as we are 75 days in to our van life and approximately halfway around our first semi-planned route/adventure around Europe. Geek alert – contains data on costs and stats…

So, I finished work officially on April 6th and we set off on April 9th, leaving Britain and Brexit and renting out our house in Newcastle. I packed selected bits and bobs and guitars into a motorhome with my amazing wife Bev, and our whippets Marra and Boo. We had no specific destination or itinerary – the plan is, there is no plan – other than:

  • seeing some sights and enjoying our freedom to travel around Europe
  • living more simply and more healthily, being outdoors, eating well
  • spending more time together 
  • playing more music, writing new songs
  • ending up in Sweden at some point
  • heading back to the UK in mid August for band gigs in September

The map below shows us colouring in the map of Europe for countries we’ve passed through, and our approximate route.

Our journey so far, plotted with ‘R’ software and the ‘maps’ library

Facts and stats:

Days on the road: 75
Miles:3597
Countries:12UK, France, Belgium, Luxembourg,
Italy, Monaco, Switzerland,
Slovenia, Croatia, Austria,
Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic
Fill-ups:10
Average Fuel Efficiency: 31.5 mpg
Average fuel price: £1.20/LtrCheapest: Luxembourg
Most expensive: UK and Italy
Average cost per night:£12.27Includes 21 out of 75 nights
wild camping (free)

Costs so far:

Monthly Costs AprilMayAverage
Food, Social, Shopping£654£752£703
Diesel£417£152£285
Eurotunnel, Tolls, Ferries£190£27£109
Site Fees£350£405£378
Gas£31*£0£16
Phone/Data£40£40£40
Total£1682£1376£1530
*Not including €55 deposit for Benegas bottle in Belgium.

Ignoring the cost of the motorhome (!), there were some up front and one-off costs:

Road Tax£260
Insurance£650
Tracker subscription (lifetime)£399
Motorhome stuff (purchases/repairs)£165

Which, at this stage, suggests a crude estimated annual spend of around £18,500 for a year. Probably more, as we’d use more gas for heating in winter months. So, we’re probably on track to spend around £20,000, like these guys at followourmotorhome. I’m sure we could do better – mowgli adventures did 6 week trip in Europe and spent nothing on accommodation or site fees! (Loads of good tips on both those sites.) But it’s going fine so far. We can wild camp where we can, somewhere scenic, then have a few days at a campsite – to fill up on fresh water, empty the waste and the loo, maybe put a wash-load on. 

Lots of lessons learned about living the ‘van life’ and much more to learn I’m sure. We’ve still not worked out how to park up the van facing the right way to get some shade! One lesson we’ve learned the hard way, after 3 days of the van smelling of rotten eggs – avoid cheap diesel! If it’s too good to be true, it’s probably full of sulphur.

It took a while but we’re getting to grips with the fact that this is not just a really long holiday but a new chapter in our lives. So, for example, when we visit a tourist hotspot, we don’t expect to do all the ticketed touristy things. We’ll see the town, the landmarks, soak up the atmosphere, but maybe give most of the museums, exhibitions and attractions a miss. We’ve got the dogs to think of too, especially the old boy, Marra, who can’t walk very far these days. Mostly cook for ourselves ‘at home’ i.e. in the van or al fresco, eating out at bars or restaurants once or twice a week.  

We’ve met some really lovely people – warm, generous, open-minded and inviting, positive and encouraging. So many, but I’ll call a few out: Adi, who gave me my first gig at his fantastic bar Caffe Galeria in Piran, Slovenia; Levi, digital nomad, film-maker and sharer of Hungarian biscuits; and Gabor, who followed his own dream 10 years ago and established the amazing Sabar vineyard in the Badascony region of Hungary. Cheers, guys 🙂

It’s been tough trying to book gigs on the move, especially as our plans are so fluid. Things seemed to have slowed up lately, perhaps as the season warms up and bars already know they’ll have a good crowd whatever. Staying positive, I keep making contacts and I’m sure I could do better next time, if I actually planned in advance! I’m enjoying all the extra spare time for practising the guitar, especially my fingerpicking, and writing songs. Look out for a new song coming soon – something special, with lyrics written by Bev! – it’s called ‘Baby Oh Did Ya?’

UPDATE January 2020: See https://howaskew.com/update-on-van-life-costs/

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