Wrapping Up--1001 European Nights
Consider this the executive summary of our 4 ½ year, 5 seasons of RVing in Europe in our 2008 Roadtrek Adventurous Sprinter Van. During our 33 months we visited in every month of the year and from the northern most tip of Norway to one day in Morocco and from Sagres, Portugal to Nemrut Dagi in central Turkey. We drove 49,020 miles or almost 1,500 miles a month. During that time we corresponded with or met ten other retired US couples doing much the same thing in everything from a mammoth 38 ft. Class A pulling a Smart Car to an old fashioned VW camper van from Washington state. One couple had bought a ten year old European camper on a buy back plan from Amsterdam but the rest had all shipped their own rigs over. One couple shipped home after only a few months due to illness and some unfortunate experiences. The rest all traveled extensively with the longevity prize (and probably the mileage) going to our intrepid editor Kathy and her husband Rick. (What month and mile are you at, Kathy?)
When we first started our planning we thought we would ship over and stay 18 months straight. The month before shipping I dug deep enough into the Lonely Planet forum to finally understand what the Schengen visa was and why we couldn't just ignore it. Determined to go ahead we planned 9 months and then a second season which got cut short by a daughter's wedding. Half way through our third season we knew we weren't ready to stop. So...
Lesson One is try to be flexible in your planning. Europe is an amazing place with almost every town and village telling a unique story thousands of years old. You won't really know how you want to do it until you do it!
Lesson Two: Go as small as you can with your RV. Ours was 7 meters, 23 ft. Most European rigs are 6 meters or less. You can live a lot smaller in Europe than in the US. Most days you will not be cooped up in the rig but out sightseeing. Parking, tolls, ferries, driving mountain roads, driving through tiny towns, wild camping-- everything will be easier in a smaller RV. I know we could do it now comfortably in a 6 meter rig.
Lesson Three: The way to save money is to stay out of campgrounds. This is easy and safe in Scandinavia, Germany, France, rural Italy, Turkey, etc. Using various discount schemes you can stay at many campgrounds (except in July, August) for about $20-30 a night. The longer we were in Europe the more we wild camped or stayed in aires (designated free or low cost areas for RVs.) Rick and Kathy are champions at this. Safety is paramount of course, so in urban areas, Sicily, some parts of Spain we were in campgrounds. Some countries such as Croatia forbid any wild camping.
Lesson Four: Sightseeing and living in a small RV with your significant other can create burn out. Plan your longest seasons at the beginning when everything is new and exciting. In hindsight for us about 6 months seems about right.
Lesson Five: Weather. Europe is far north of the US. It has no snowbird equivalent of Florida or south Texas. We wintered only once in the south of Spain and it was too cold to be much fun. Best months are April through October. Plan carefully where you will be in July and August—August is super crowded almost everywhere as all of France, Great Britain and Italy are on vacation.
Lesson Six: If you can, have your rig equipped with solar and a catalytic heater. Most campgrounds charge an extra $5-8 a day for electric hookup, and it will be very low voltage. It will not run an air conditioner and it will have a tough time with an electric heater. Generator usage is not allowed in campgrounds or aires and difficult to do when wild camping if you are trying not to call attention to yourself. We only used our air conditioner about 30 hours and the generator about 120 hours in 33 months.
Lesson Seven: Your budget is what you make it. Kathy and Rick have their budget at their website. They travel very economically. One big expense is RV insurance. We carried a $2,500 deductible, full coverage and it was about $400-450 a month. We never needed it but to us it was worth the peace of mind. The Euro and Pound were all over the place during our 5 seasons from a low for the Euro of $1.20 to a high of $1.60. Basically you have no control and just have to try not to stress about it. The following is what we spent per month over 11 months in 2012-13. All of this travel was in Great Britain and western and southern Europe. We were not in any of the cheaper countries such as Romania, Turkey, etc., nor the very expensive ones of Scandinavia. Grocery purchases $467, Eating Out (no alcohol) $227, Camping and aire fees $297, Diesel $532 (our rig got about 19-20 mpg; we also used the engine some to charge the batteries when wild camping), Tolls and Ferries $35, Propane and Laundry $73, Admissions including public transportation $402, Internet and local sms phone cards, $46. We had actually budgeted higher figures in almost every category but just didn't spend as much as we thought we would. Obviously, these are not all our expenses but what we spent on clothes, vehicle maintenance, medical, etc. are really not applicable to others.
Lesson Eight: Learn to change your own oil and filters if you have a Sprinter. Carry filters and a few spare parts with you for any RV as European engines of the same make may be different. Batteries, tires, etc. are all more expensive than in the US so replace before shipping. For instance to replace our coach batteries (two regular golf cart) cost $520. and most prices we got were in the $600 range.
Lesson Nine: To wild camp in safety be sure you can properly lock up the vehicle from inside. We used a cable between the front doors, a hasp padlock on the rear, and a bicycle lock on slider—we also had an alarm system. For shipping lock everything securely—several RVs have been robbed coming or going. For driving, consider buying a windshield camera to record what is happening—if you have a wreck it will probably be your fault unless you can prove otherwise.
Lesson 10: Just do it. You don't have to be adventurous, know any foreign languages, be a super driver, or rich to tour Europe. You will not regret it. Other than our families and careers, it was the single best decision of our lives. We are happy to answer your questions. We have lots of information on our website in the area marked Vicki's Practical Guide to RVing in Europe, and the newer entries are more detailed than the older ones. Mark has a blog of some 1,800 entries if you really want the detail on where we went every day. Happy traveling!