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Where we ‘live’ !?!

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.

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Cooking in the motorhome

Rustling up delicious food in a tiny motorhome kitchen can be a challenge, but I was keen to see if I could manage things I make at home, whilst travelling. I had started a file of recipes we eat regularly and that I’d like to keep making if possible. This is, after all, our ‘home from home’.

The motorhome kitchen has a good set up: a generous fridge, small freezer, a combi microwave, a decent sink/drainer, hot and cold water, 1 electric hob ring,  2 gas rings, a gas oven and a gas grill. In addition there’s lots of storage for crockery, cutlery and our food (and dog food!!). The prep area is pretty small though and takes some organisation!

Smoothies. We always have a smoothie first thing, since enjoying them on holiday in Mexico a couple of years back. Packing the blender was a big decision due to its weight, size and the all important wattage/amperage (crucial on 6 amp hook up sites! We’ve blown a few in our time). So, we did decide to take it, as it was relatively low power and something we used every day. On days of no electric hook up, I make hand-mashed ‘lumpies’ rather than smoothies!!

Breakfast bars. Our friend Aston gave us the ‘Thugs Kitchen’ recipe book and we love the ‘go to breakfast bars’ recipe – a quick nutritious, breakfast when you’re busy. Most of the ingredients come in for other things, so that was a definite. First batch worked well, half measures due to the size of the baking pan, but just as good as at home!

Breakfast bars: Just about to go in the oven…gas mark 5??

Bread.  I love making bread at home,  where our posh warming drawer makes it very easy!!! On the road, I took advantage of a warm day, and although I bought slightly the wrong flour in a French supermarket, it turned out pretty well, if a little sweet (was great toasted, with whisky marmalade!). Not being used to a gas oven, I’m finding everything needs a little longer, and a little lower gas mark to stop the back of any bake from burning, as it’s such a teeny oven.

Lunches are usually sandwiches, soup or something else quick as we’re usually mid-travel or at a place of interest.

Dinners are our main meal when at home and we make all sorts – curries, tagines, home made pizzas, ‘Nachos Grande’ (our favourite TV dinner), risottos, lasagne, etc. I tried a pizza, but the oven was too hot and the back burnt a bit!! Ah well, if at first…

Pizza, pre burn…!

Other things I want to try include cookies, Naan breads, Chelsea buns and lasagne…. will keep you posted….




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News Van Life

Apps for travel: Wise (formerly Transferwise)

Spending abroad can result in lots of charges on ‘normal’ UK bank accounts, especially getting cash out. There’s got to be an easier way than having to join the CIA and stash wads in various currencies in a safety deposit bank in a Swiss bank, à la Jason Bourne. I thought our main bank, HSBC, might offer something like a Euro bank account but that didn’t seem to be the case. In the rush to get set off, I didn’t find an alternative but after getting stung for a cash withdrawal fee on the HSBC credit card, I started to explore.

The Wise multi-currency account (formerly known as Transferwise borderless account) seemed to fit the bill. I downloaded the app, signed up and uploaded photos of the front and back of my driving license as an identity check. This gives you a UK/GBP account that you can transfer money into, for free from your normal bank. A little wary at first, I put a token £25 in, just over the minimum to get a cash card sent out.

Minor drama here of course, because we were now on the move with no fixed address and it can take 10-15 days for the card to arrive. We explored ‘poste restante’ services – where you can have things sent to a post office near you for collection. Turns out Italy had the best option – they’ll keep a letter for 30 days (France and Slovenia were just 14 days I think) and it costs just 3 euro to collect. So, we ordered the card using a FERMAPOSTA address for a post office outside Venice and carried on with our travels. Collecting the card was easy, once I’d worked out how to get into the Post Office (through automated airlock doors) and worked out how to get a numbered ticket to be served. I showed my ID and the assistant got the letter – didn’t even get charged the 3 euro.

Then, all in the app, I transferred a bit more money in GBP and created a euro account. The conversion was instant, the rate was better than most and the fee was incredibly cheap – £1.69 to convert £500 to euro. So, now I had a contactless card I could use for purchases and cash withdrawal in Europe and many other countries. No more Non Stirling Transaction Fees for me! No more being stuck with odd notes and change in non-euro countries like Croatia and Switzerland.

If you want to give it a try, this invite link will give you one free currency exchange up to £500 i.e. without the conversion fee:

https://wise.com/invite/u/howarda29

2021 Update after using the app for a few years now…

Still really pleased with Wise! Perfect for our nomadic van life! It works well and gets better with each update. It covers a lot of currencies, many of which allow you to create a ‘local’ bank account – which can be handy for example for setting up direct debits. Or, where some sites (like Etsy) only pay you in US dollars, or charge a further conversion fee. With Wise, you can create an account in US dollars and receive payment there.

The security is good. I’m occasionally asked to verify a transaction – real time in the app – if it’s an unusual amount or a new recipient. And though there are protections and safeguards, I don’t put all my cash there, just ‘spending money’, topped up when I need it.

There are other features now – like holding money as stocks, and setting up savings ‘jars’ – but I haven’t tried them.

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Choosing a motorhome

We’d had our campervan – a converted T5 transporter van, nicknamed “Voyager” – for 3 years and had some fantastic adventures. We really caught the bug. As well as regular weekend escapes, gigs and festivals, we’d done 2 longer trips around Europe – first for 2 weeks and then 3 weeks. We loved it and wanted to go further afield and stay away longer, much longer e.g. months.  On our last trip we found more wild camping sites – Bev’ll do a post on the Park4Night app at some point – and again loved the freedom (and low cost) and wanted to do more of that. For a few reasons, we started to think that a bigger van – maybe a motorhome – might be required:

Living and storage space

We’re not just thinking in terms of taking a long holiday, we want to take our lives on the road to some extent. We’ll look long and hard at what we need – we are downsizing after all – but it’s likely we’ll have to take more ‘stuff’ than we do currently. (And that already includes the dog’s beds/coats/food, Bev’s paddleboard, my guitars, etc.)

We were lucky with the weather on our longer trips – it was sunny, dry and warm. I think if we’d had more rain, we’d have struggled a bit with wet coats, boots and 2 wet dogs! So, if we’re going to be away longer and we intend to keep on camping through winter, we should prepare for that.

Also, we love being outdoors and have the picnic table and chairs but we may also need space to ‘work’ indoors, especially through winter.

A made up bed

It might be part of the fun for some, making up a bed each night from the sofa but we love the idea of a separate space for sleeping. We’re both quite tall so sleeping widthways is not an option for us in a normal van. In Voyager, we came close by sleeping ‘upstairs’ – in the pop top. We could leave the bedding up there during the day and when driving. This also meant one of us could have a lie-in while the other got up to sort the dogs and make a cuppa in the morning. Of course, with the bed ‘down’ there isn’t much headroom so you have to do all this hunched over! We began to dream of doing this morning ritual without stooping and it became a ‘must-have’ for our new van.

Facilities for wild camping

Although the VW van was easy to drive on narrow roads and could get us into places that we’d never reach in a motorhome, there were a few drawbacks. The fresh water capacity in the conversion was a bit limiting at 12 litres, and it was fiddly to fill. So, more fresh water and an integrated waste tank were required. Having lived with 12v electrics and a Waeco CR50 compressor fridge and a Truma gas-only heater, we also knew we wanted more fuel/power options for storing food, cooking and heating the living area. Ideally, this would include solar.

Full winterisation for year-round travel

That means better insulation, decent heater, frost protection on the water supply, etc.

Although we’d got into to a fairly slick routine for setting up and packing up, we still imagined ways to make it easier. In an ideal world, it would be effortless to move from driving to camping modes – just pull up when we find the perfect spot and drive off whenever we felt like it. We began to look at motorhomes admiringly, and pondering… if we wanted to wild camp for days, we’d probably need a loo and a shower, so we’d need more water, and a built in waste tank, and what about the comfy captain’s chairs for driving long distances, that spin round to make a dining area with the adjustable table… And, ooh, built in cab-blinds… Classic van envy!

When you start looking at motorhomes, there’s a huge range of styles, layouts and of sizes. Some are absolute monsters. We decided on a few more criteria:  

Not too long!

Neither me nor Bev have much experience driving big vehicles and I’d already had a ‘minor altercation’ with an underground car park in Heidelberg. We don’t want to have to avoid back country roads entirely. The VW van was 5m and we knew a motorhome would be bigger, but ideally under 6m as we’d heard this can be a size limit for some ferries in Scotland and sometimes vans over this length get charged more.

Reasonable fuel efficiency

The VW was fantastic, averaging 36 mpg. We’d seen online some motorhomes did less than 20 mpg which seems boggling. Ideally, hoping for something around 25-30 mpg.

Motorhome layouts

Of all the different brands, types or classes, and layout options, we soon homed in on just 2 layouts and there weren’t many options in our price range:

French Bed layout – fixed bed, with storage underneath accessible from outside, separate bathroom, kitchen area, lounge.

Transverse Bed – fixed bed, even more storage accessible from outside, separate bathroom, kitchen area, lounge.

A chance encounter at Marquis Motorhomes in Birtley, where Bev ambushed a chap bringing his motorhome in for it’s annual service and he generously showed us around, convinced us that there was only one make and model that would tick all the boxes…

Benimar Mileo 201

A low-profile coachbuilt motorhome with a transverse bed layout.

Benimar Mileo 201

Typically for us, we had to be even more particular – it had to be a late 2015 or later model, as the earliest versions weren’t fully winterised.

Elddis had a transverse bed model, which was a cheaper option, but it wasn’t winterised, didn’t seem as well finished, and even the brand new models just had a ‘dated’ look/feel to them, like your Granda’s old caravan.

Benimar have a French Bed model, the 231, but we saw that it lacked a preparation space in the kitchen – something Bev was keen on. (A cooking and baking post coming soon!) We also liked the L shaped lounge, thinking there’ll be a bit more room when the whippets want to climb on our laps.

There’s a review of the early 201 models here. We watched this video countless times, despite the terrible spanish puns, while we scoured the second hand sites for a decent late-2015 201 to come up.