We decided on shipping a camper to Europe as we knew no one in Europe so we could not register a vehicle there. There is a dealer in Amsterdam who can hold the registration for you if you buy from him. That is the only other method we know to purchase a vehicle overseas rather than shipping. Which is right for you is a difficult decision with pros and cons on each side. In hindsight, since we had to buy a vehicle rather than just shipping what we owned, it might have been better to purchase overseas, but it was a very close decision.
We purchased a 2008 RoadTrek Adventurous that was 9 months old from Lazy Days in Tampa, FL. The price was reasonable and they were willing to add some things we wanted and we did it all by internet. They were wonderful people to work with.
Since we planned on living in the vehicle full time for 18 months, we wanted a floor plan that gave us two distinct living areas along with an overall small size and good mileage. We have been more than satisfied with our vehicle. We have the 4 captain’s chairs in front and keep the table set up all the time. Thus we can dine and work at computers without revolving the front seats and it is very comfortable. In the back we have a power sofa which makes into a very comfortable king bed or two twins. There is a table also for the back, but seldom used as I like to watch DVDs there or read while my husband tends to want to work on his blog in the front.
We have two bikes on a rack in the back, but we haven’t used them much as I am a very poor bike rider. We may jettison them soon as they make it harder to use the storage under the power sofa and they add several feet to our length. However, we can get to many things under the seat like the water hose, small gas grill, extra skillet, etc. by just reaching over the back seat.
I didn’t want a wet bath but that was all the RoadTrek offered. We have attached a vinyl mat with air holes to a plastic grating slightly elevated off the floor, so one can use the bath even right after a shower without getting their feet wet or the floor dirty. The bath looks small but has proved to be just fine in use. We shower a lot in the van, especially when it is cold outside or the campgrounds charge extra for showers.
We have 30 gallon plus hot water heater, 10 gallons black and 20 gray. We boondock a lot to keep down our costs. We can get 4 showers, 2 washing dishes, and several days use from the water. We can sometimes get water without going to a campground by asking at the gas stations when we fill up. The black tank will go about 6 days as we are often away from the van at tourist sites during the day and can use their facilities. The RoadTrek has a macerator which is wonderful as finding proper dumps is not always possible, and we have had to dump into chemical toilet basins. We are looking to find a collapsible container or porta potty container that we could pump into and then empty into a regular toilet in an emergency. We brought a spare macerator hose with us as no one uses that type of system in Europe and if the hose went bad, one would have to be shipped from the States. Whatever vehicle you bring to Europe be very careful about being under its legal weight limit. The European’s take those limits very seriously and campers are routinely pulled over to be weighed.
Shipping for us turned out to be quite a nightmare. I can’t emphasize enough to email all the parties yourself and the shipping people really don’t do this often enough and don’t care enough to protect you. We used Seabridge, roll off and on from Brunswick, GA. The cost was reasonable except for marine insurance. Since our vehicle was almost new and expensive, we didn’t want to do without (though there is very small risk) so we got insurance at about half price from the Caitlin Company, who insured us through Lloyds.
Deciding where to ship to is very important. We first were going to England but then learned more about the Schengen visa issue (more about that later). Note that some ships leaving southern US for England cost $200 or more than other ships. Be sure to check on that if your dates are flexible. Our first 3 months in Europe were going to be mostly in Scandinavia so we decided on the farthest northern port that wasn’t extra—Bremerhaven, Germany. This turned out to be a very bad idea. The shipping takes about 3 weeks—about 1 week before the ship arrived in Germany, we got an email message from the shipping office in Germany that a 29%, cash Euro deposit would be required by German customs—about $19,000! This would be refunded only if the van left the EU before the end of 6 months. I contacted our shipper who didn’t know this, even though the German customs office had been doing this for almost a year.
We had the money wired over, and were very lucky that Scandinavia was our goal. Norway never joined the EU. It took hours and several phone calls at the Norwegian border but we finally got the German paperwork filled out and FED EXed to them and they then wired the many thousands of dollars to our bank. If we hadn’t been going to Norway, we would have had to drive to Croatia or Romania in order to get out of the EU, so this was a very big deal. It turns out that neither England, Netherlands, nor Belgium require this deposit. However, any of them can, at any time. So be sure to get the email of the receiving shipping office and find out what will be needed by customs before you arrange shipping!!
Other minor but expensive problems. Ports have become very security conscious. There was a $50 per person charge at Brunswick to enter the port (we were not told this.) My husband neglected to fold in our mirrors—we were charged an additional shipping fee of several hundred dollars. (We had already gone back to Orlando when we found this out and the shipping company refused to fold them in for us.)
Be sure not to take your vehicle to the port on a Friday or before a holiday, if anything goes wrong you could be stuck there several extra days. We arrived in Brunswich just after lunch on Thursday. The shipper would not accept the van because the propane tank was not certified empty by a propane dealer. (This also was “news” to our shipping agent.) We could find no one who could do it Thursday. We drove 25 miles to have it done Friday morning at an additional cost of over $100, plus motel and additional day on rental car, plus another $50 to enter the port again on Friday. Then in Germany it was really fun trying to find someone who knew how to “unpurge” the tank before filling and of course paying for that. Try to find a port that doesn’t require this and be sure you get it confirmed by the shipper at the port that it will not be required.
The rest of the shipping was fine. One pleasant surprise was there seemed to be no problem with the fact that we had two bicycles inside the van—they didn’t even lift an eyebrow. We had also filled the area under the power sofa with all kinds of stuff and then fitted a wooden board across with funny screws to discourage any pilfering. However, security is so tight at ports on both sides of the sea that I don’t think pilfering is the problem it used to be. However, the shipping rules are no personal items at all.
There are certain things you must bring from the US that are unavailable in Europe. We ordered two different propane adapters from Tingley in UK and had them shipped to the hostel where we were going to be staying before picking up the van. We shipped in the van a 5,000 watt step down converter. We have had all kinds of electrical problems with that. We should have gotten one no larger than 3,000 watts. It takes at least 10 amps circuits at the campground just to plug the converter in. No campgrounds in Germany or Scandinavia had that many amps. In Paris and in UK it has worked fine though. However, Spain, Italy, etc. will also only have low amps. Mostly though we wouldn’t plug in anyway as it is almost always extra—usually $4-5 a day for electricity. We only need electric for the microwave or air conditioner. We have hardly used or needed the ac. We can use the generator for the microwave/convection but generators are banned at almost all European campgrounds. So I plan meals needing the microwave for when we are boondocking.
One other electric problem. We have a Tripplite 750 watt invertor/battery charger. It works well for everything but because of the cycles difference in EU power even when we are plugged in, we can’t charge our batteries. So we have to drive or run the engine. Apparently there are some battery chargers that do work. We contacted Gold RV in England, who specialize in American RVS. They could install one and also build in a proper converter but the cost was over $1,000. This would, however, eliminate a lot of the electric problems. If you decide to go that route; it has to be done in England as no one in Germany or Denmark at multiple rv dealers had any idea of how to deal with an American rv electrical system.
The propane system is different here too, but the adapters help. However, bulk propane is not available in large parts of Scandinavia, northern Scotland, and very scarce in Spain.
This is really only a problem in terms of heating for the furnace which is the largest user. With no furnace, we can run our 3.9 cu ft refrigerator, Onan generator, and hot water heater easily for a month on our 12 gal propane tank. However, Scandinavia and Scotland are cold even in the summer. We plan on wintering mostly in Spain and Italy. In case we can’t find propane we are going to buy a small electric heater that will run off a 3-5 amp. Electrical connection from the campgrounds.
That was a rather long winded explanation but you need to bring any electrical appliances you will need. This is what we brought or wished we had brought: 3,000 water converter, short 3 prong extension cord for inside van, 2 power strips, adapter with line from 30 amp. van plugin to 110 convertor input, small electrical heater, coffee maker, coffee grinder, hair dryer, electric razor, rechargeable toothbrush, dustbuster, laundry spinner and small drill/screwdriver. Do not bring anything that runs from Coleman propane bottles as they are unavailable. If your gas grill doesn’t hook directly to your system, then you might want to get a GAZ picnic grill as they are very expensive over here (about $85-90). The small blue Gaz propane containers are the most common throughout Europe. I also wish we had brought a catalytic heater and had the van fitted with a hook up. That would have solved most of our heating problem.
Things that we did have done to our van that are important. We had an alarm system installed for about $350. We had our ceiling fan replaced with one that can be open in the rain—it rains a lot in GB and Europe. We had a 12 volt heater blanket installed on our fresh water tank and wrapped our outside water lines with tube insulation. This will protect our system if it goes below 32 for short periods of time. We also had a 12 volt socket installed near the bed. We have a 12 volt queen size bed pad that we use at night with a Travelsac system rather than trying to heat the whole van. (We should have had 2 sockets-on separate circuits-installed as the pad actually plugs in on both sides and we had to purchase a splitter which we have yet to test when really cold.) We also had a water filter installed since in southern Europe, eastern Europe and Turkey the quality may be less than acceptable. If it gets really bad we have a SteriPen UV light that we can use for drinking water.
If you plan on doing a lot of boondocking you might think about a 3rd battery, solar power, led lights, etc. It just depends on your vehicle and your touring plans. If you want to stay in one place near the cities you usually have to be in a campground and can buy electric, if you want to stay several days in the country boondocking then you need to be able to stretch your electric capacity.
Campgrounds average about $25 a night for two people in summer and slightly less out of season, but much more expensive near big cities. We paid around $50 a night near Paris and nearly that in Edinburgh. Plus you have public transportation expense into the city every day. In Germany, most of Scandinavia, and Scotland boondocking is easy and many campers are doing it. In France cheap camping and boondocking is the norm and you can average $10 a night. In England boondocking is quite difficult but if you join The Camping & Caravanning Club you can stay at farm sites for about $8-10 a night. Some of these even have free electric, but most are just mowed fields. Germans are huge boondockers all over Europe, and one told me he will even go into a restaurant and ask if he can park the night if he has dinner!! We haven’t tried that yet but have stayed on village and town side streets as well as the usual laybys and other places. Unfortunately, there are no Wal Mart type deals here and most shopping centers and parking lots have strict hourly limits. And they mean it. We got a ticket at a mall in Copenhagen for $110 for overstaying during the day. I was able to beg out of it, but it did put the fear of G—into us about parking limits. We never stay where there is a No Overnight Parking sign.
I promised to discuss the visa system. It is really very simple but quite frustrating. Any country that is part of the Schengen agreement all has the same rule. You can stay only 90 days out of every 180 in any one or all of the countries. This is basically every country in the EU plus Switzerland and Norway who are part of Schengen but not EU. UK and Ireland are part of EU but not Schengen, so they don’t count and allow you to stay 6 months. Forget trying to get a longer visa—it is very difficult, must be done from US (except Germany I have heard) and involves lots of paperwork, money, documents, a personal interview at the embassy for your US state, and still only allows 3 months out of 6 for any of the other countries. So if you could get one from Italy (online theirs looks like one of the easier ones) say for 12 months, you would still only be able to travel 3 of 6 months to any of the other countries. Lots of people ignore this but if they catch you when leaving the EU, there is a fine of up to $1,500 per person and they can ban you from EU for up to 5 or more years. Plus you will probably miss your flight out since you will be sitting in the immigration office. Greece I have heard, is very strict—only you can decide if it is worth the risk. Technically, you are also only allowed to have your vehicle in the EU for 6 months—but even the customs officials don’t understand this, so it is not such a big deal.
So this is how we are dealing with the visa issue. First 3 months in Germany and Scandinavia, next 3 months in the UK, 3 months western France, Spain, Portugal, 3 months back to US to live off relatives since we sold our home, 3 months in southern France, Switzerland, southern Germany and Austria, 3 months Croatia etc. and Turkey (none in EU or Schengen), 3 months Greece and Italy, then back to US for good. A total of 21 months with 18 in Europe. We have also known people who have thrown in a trip to Russia but that is beyond our interests and a lot of mileage at $6 a gallon diesel. Unfortunately, this means the weather is not ideal some of the time but it beats not getting to go at all.
My, this is getting long. But let me add one other insight. Laundry. Laundry is a big problem. Campgrounds usually have washers and dryers. In UK the prices are only slightly more than US. In Europe doing the laundry is very expensive. Figure $15 per load and a small load at that. Forget finding a laudromat—very hard to find and no parking anywhere near. Some travelers we know bought a 2 chamber washer and spinner that runs on 220 and had it shipped from England to Germany where they were. They keep it in the shower. We brought a small spinner that runs on 110 from the Laundry Alternative in the US. It works great. We didn’t buy the power washer they had and ended up getting the same thing but more expensively in Denmark and also a small portable umbrella type clothes pole to stake into the ground. Most English campgrounds won’t let you use the clothespole, but they are allowed all over Europe. I have this all stored to left of my captain’s chair which I leave turned diagonally anyway. This set up has worked out great but I will admit that I haven’t used it since we have been in UK. But I know I will again in Europe.
Speaking of money. Over the last 4 months we are beginning to get a realistic feel for the costs involved. We are spending about $500 a month on groceries, $80 on alcohol (1 person), $200 on eating out, $600 on admissions, and at least $700 on diesel. We get about 21 mpg as we never drive over 60. Diesel is about $6.75 a gallon in UK and Scandanavia and about $5.75 in Germany and France. We are driving a lot more miles than I thought we would. But part of that is because we went all the way to the northern tip of both Norway (not really worth it) and Scotland (worth it). We spent a lot on ferries in Norway and of course, crossing the English Channel and going to some other islands such as the Orkney and Lewis. You also have to pay for the long bridges in Denmark. I would say about $1,000 all told in Scandanavia and UK by the time we get back to the Continent. Please note that except for a week we spent in Paris, we hardly ever eat out. We try to have one nice representive meal for each country and when we get to France we will eat out a lot more as the price and quality there are worth it. Scandanavia's prices are astronomical—figure $90 for crummy dinner for two and $50 for a sit down lunch. Even McDonald's was $8 for a Big Mac—so we didn't eat out much. Camping is a variable expense. Figure an average of $25 a night. We are well below that and putting the money in the diesel fund! However, in southern Europe it is much less safe to boondock and we will have to be in campgrounds a majority of the nights.
Hmmm. Surely, that must be about everything. If you search Pappilon on the web you can read about another couple doing what we are but only 6 months at a time. We also used the book Take Your RV to Europe. It is out-of-date but still gives you a lot to think about.
Come February or March 2011 we will be ready to leave and hope to sell our rig to someone else coming over, someone here, or we will ship home. I will do updates from time to time for the newsletter as we finish different areas of our trip. In the meantime, my husband’s very complete daily blog is at www.roadeveron.blogspot.com Our website is www.TheRoadGoesEverOn.com which has our blog from the far East and New Zealand where we spent 6 months in 08-09. Camping in Europe is overall great and the only economical way to see it all. We only wish we had 3 years instead of 18 months.
P.S. You mentioned bringing a trailer and a motorbike. I would think very carefully about that. We have been on lots of ferries so far and having a trailer would make them very expensive. You will also be charged extra for it at most campgrounds. There are very few toll roads in Scandinavia or UK but they are quite prevalent in France and Italy—we avoid them. 150 miles in France was over $20—with a trailer, probably $30 or more. Parking will be a nightmare at tourist sites and even at large superstores. We had thought about bringing a motorbike in the van and carrying it on the back. However, the people at Thum insurance said that the last time they had checked that the insurance was almost as much as a car. You should certainly check with them for an actual quote. Insurance is dreadfully expensive. We are paying $3,500 for comprehensive and collision with a $2,500 deductable for 9 months. We got both types because we have an expensive vehicle and because especially in southern and eastern Europe any accident is always blamed on the foreigner no matter who was really at fault. (aka Rick Steves and others) Anyway I just wanted to share this info with you. I wish I was a better bike rider or maybe had an electric bike. People ride bikes everywhere both in UK and the continent.