We loved our first full season of winter camping… Christmas and New Year on the Costa Brava, northern Spain – winter sun, medieval villages, catching up with our pals Tom and Zoe, paddleboarding on boxing day, midnight grapes in Girona, the Dali museum in Figueres…
After that, we trundled across the south of France, through the Camargue region, where they speak Catalan, and have bull fights, and flamingos, more gorgeous medieval hill towns – like St Paul de Vence, all snickleways and art galleries.
We sped through Italy, through some areas that had really
suffered in recent floods, stopping to admire some new places like Mantua, Valvasone,
Palmanova. We had a fantastic and hilarious weekend in Trieste with our friends
from Newcastle, Aston and Edy, who relocated there last summer with their kids,
Daisy and Lily. Great place to park the van, 100 yds from Piazza Unita!
Then, with some serious weather threatening, we made a dash up to Austria – Bev driving us through the Dolomites and over the Brenner Pass. We made it to our campsite in Leutasch one night earlier than planned. Fortunately, they had space and we were all set up before a huge dump of snow on the day we would have been traveling. An amazing week cross country skiing, beautiful ‘winter wonderland’ scenery and great exercise.
Then into Germany, more lovely medieval towns (a bit of a theme!), a little detour to catch a gig by jazz guitar maestro Martin Taylor, even sneaking in an extra cross country ski trip at Bodenmais. Heading inexorably back to the UK, but no rush!
Wild camping vs. campsites
Feels like we’re really starting to get the hang of this. The only nights we’ve been on a proper campsite since we left the UK in December were our ‘holidays’ – 3 days at Christmas in Spain and for my birthday, a week in Austria, Cross Country Skiing. Mostly, we’re finding places using park4night, usually free, occasionally 1 euro for water or electric. That’s helping keep our costs down, which we’re having to think about a little more carefully now. I’m starting to pick up some freelance work – using my day job skills in data, programming, analysis and analytics – remote projects that I can deliver on the move.
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:
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…
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.
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 message @howaskew 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
All through July I took a few pics of where we parked/camped/slept each night: Nature reserves, marinas, a bison farm, town and city centre car parks, fjords, lakes and being spoilt rotten at our Swedish friend’s houses. Our Benimar Mileo van ‘Stargazer’ is the star of this one 🙂 The ditty is a sketch of a new song, with words by Bev.
We often find ourselves quoting Richard Ayoade’s Travel Man when we get parked and start exploring somewhere new:
“Well, we’re here – but should we have come?”
We remembered he’d been to Copenhagen and thought we’d compare our 48 hour stint with his. Bearing in mind that Denmark has the 7th highest cost of living and this is the capital city, we knew it might be a challenge to do it justice on a budget…
The Storebælt bridge links west and east Denmark – it is impressive, but quite expensive – £44.58 for a one-way crossing in the motorhome. Nearly as much as Travel Man’s £56 flight from the UK!
Richard ‘spaffed’ (his words) £75 a night at the Alexandra hotel. On the park4night app, I found an alternative option close to the Little Mermaid and a short walk from the city centre attractions. Free parking for the weekend – from 5pm Saturdays to 8am Mondays – and big, wide spaces for motorhomes. We got there a little before 5pm (in case it was busy) so had to stump up for a couple of hours parking – the princely sum of £6.34 for 2 nights in the city centre!
As we were so close, we started with the Kastellet. This is a perfectly preserved 17th century pentagon-shaped fortress, which still houses various military activities today. Lovely walks, a beautiful windmill and some impressive cannons.
From there, the famous Edvard Eriksen statue of the Little Mermaid was a short walk away. She was completely surrounded by tourists, but still a lovely sight to behold.
On past the Gefion (Norse goddess) Fountain and back home to spruce up for an evening out on the town. We’d heard that as beer is so expensive, Scandinavians have a drink at home before they go out – so we tried that, with some pretzels and beer sausages.
I had a craving for fish – something we’d just not fancied in landlocked countries like Slovakia and the Czech Republic. An ‘all you can eat’ sushi restaurant called Nozomi caught my eye, nearby, good reviews. I didn’t know what to expect and How wasn’t entirely convinced but we wandered along to check it out. Very nice inside, very modern, very Scandinavian. All the sushi made fresh to order. You pay extra for what you order and don’t eat, so you’re encouraged to order a few bits at a time. We were lucky to get a table, as most were reserved. The price was pretty reasonable for Copenhagen and of course we stuffed ourselves, washing it down with a couple of not so cheap Sapporo. We noticed almost every other table just had water to drink!
Copenhagen Jazz festival was on so, our bellies full, we wandered to the Nyhavn area and caught the end of a lively set by piano player and singer Christian Brundgaard. After that, we wandered down Nyhavn and found some music – singer songwriter Thannos entertaining a crowd in the Fisken pub. We set a new record for the cost of 2 beers – £15.67!! How sang a few songs in the intervals, earning himself an IPA off Thannos.
Up late (too much Sapporo??), we decided to visit the Christiania area and see some sights. We set Marra up in his rover and wandered via the Frederiks Kirke and the Amalienborg Palace. We just missed the changing of the guard ceremony, but took in the surroundings anyway.
Christiania was originally a hippy commune, created in a former barracks in the 1970s, with the intention to create a self-governing society. Now it’s an alternative community with eco-restaurants, art galleries and music venues. Sounds great, but the bits we saw just didn’t have a nice vibe. The dope sellers on Pusher Street seemed more like tough street gangs than laid back dudes in tie-dyed clothes and Jesus sandals! We didn’t see all of it, so maybe there is another side. We enjoyed chips and a (relatively cheap) beer at Nemoland. They were starting to set up for one of their free Sunday concerts, but we had more sights to see so wandered on.
We wandered back past the parliament buildings – which we’d seen on TV in ‘Borgen’ – and the Bibliotekshaven, the garden of the Royal Library.
As we’d covered a fair distance on our walking tour, we called it a day for sightseeing. I baked a loaf, made some cookies and cooked a 2 course meal at home in the van!
It’s a nice city, very stylish, very green – cyclists and scooterists everywhere. Friendly people, speaking excellent English. But, as we were warned, booze is expensive!
Bridge toll: £44.58
Food & drink: £100.97
Travel Van costs: £75.95 per person
Travel Man costs (2016): £456 per person
Of course, they did various organised tours (Carlsberg brewery and cycling) that we can’t easily do with the dogs. We didn’t try to do everything, for example, tasting Smørrebrød (Danish open sandwiches), or seeing the botanic gardens and palm house. Something for the ‘maybe next time’ list.
Park4Night is an excellent user-input based app, which allows you to locate (and share information on) free camping spots all over the world. In addition, paying campsites, car parks, picnic areas and even farms are listed, making this an invaluable tool for travellers who, like us, don’t like to stick to a definite plan of where they want to be the next night.
There are literally thousands of spots and whilst some aren’t ideal for a larger vehicle like our 6m home, advice and reviews are given about this sort of thing, so it’s rare that you end up somewhere you can’t actually stay. Some of our favourites so far have been:
Staying on a snail farm! Guess what we had for dinner that night??!! Just €10 for the night, including electricity.
Relaxing by the Saône river. For free! Our neighbours for the night were on a boat, called, er, ‘Le Boat’…
A peaceful fishing lake. Again, no cost! Beautiful weather, very pleasant.
On the ‘Route Napoleon’ just after Castellane. Great dog walk, great scenery, no cost. Parfait.
Admittedly some countries don’t have as many free sites, for example, we struggled in Italy, but we still found farms and vineyards where you can stay for free, but you are expected to buy some wine, honey or other produce… which is no great hardship really!
So far, we’ve only used it in Western Europe – will update after we get to Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and Scandinavia.
As our house was all packed up into storage, we’d slept in the new van every night since we got it but sleeping in the street outside your own home hardly counts as wild camping! Our definition would be: camping somewhere for free, with little or no facilities, just what you have with you. We set off 9th April and spent our first night at Bev’s auntie’s near Bedford – still doesn’t count! But it did mean we only had a short drive to the channel tunnel, via the Dartford Bridge. Short delay with the tunnel this time – fire safety alarms weren’t working properly on one train, so we had to drive in a big loop and get on another one. Still a pretty smooth operation, friendly staff and no real concerns tackling it with the bigger vehicle.
We didn’t drive too far into France that day. Bev found a Park4Night site outside Bergues, about 10km south of the beaches of Dunkirk. It’s basically just a car-park in the forest, by some running trails, dog-walks and fishing ponds. Slightly nervy as we got ready for the night, with those stories of wrong-uns gassing people in their campervans and robbing them in my mind. But another van turned up, and assuming they weren’t the wrong-uns, I thought we’d probably be ok.
It was great. Lovely, peaceful, wildlife all around and we had absolutely everything we needed in the van.
In the morning, we had an opportunity to try out Bev’s folding bike – She rode ahead to find a patisserie. I followed with the dog stroller, so Marra could climb in when he’d had enough of walking. He can only go so far these days, poor old lad!