Updated 4th June 2019
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Where and when
- 3 How to make your choice
- 4 When to go
- 5 Book your site
- 6 Plan your route
- 7 Route planning
- 8 Get covered
- 9 The European angle
- 10 Your responsibilities
- 11 Things you will need in your car when driving abroad
- 12 Staying connected
- 13 Conclusion
Although caravanning in mainland Europe typically poses no greater problem than touring in the UK – and in some ways the open roads may make it less stressful – there are nevertheless differences and it is as well to be aware of them.
This guide is designed with both newbies and seasoned caravanners in mind, suggesting:
- some of the best times places to visit and times of the year to visit them;
- choosing and booking the campsites at which you intend to stay;
- planning your route;
- arranging insurance; ways you can stay connected with friends, family and the rest of the world whilst you are away from home and ;
- our quick tips on driving abroad.
Every caravanning holiday is different, of course – and that is one of its principal attractions – so this guide is unlikely to be exhaustive. Instead, it leaves you many aspects of touring in Europe for you to discover on your own. Happy holidays!
Where and when
The continent of Europe extends over more than 10 million square kilometres – that is nearly 4 million square miles. Put simply, therefore, it is a huge place. Even more to the point perhaps is not just the sheer land area but the considerable diversity and contrasts to be encountered from the north to south and west to east.
When deciding just where to go, therefore, you are likely to be spoilt for choice. Whatever your preferences for holidays – whether it is stunning scenery, tranquil countryside, historic sites, ancient monuments, beaches or sports and adventure activities – there is almost certain to be several European destinations to meet those preferences.
What is more, it you are travelling to your chosen destination by car and caravan, there are more than 7,000 possible European campsites reviewed in a series of guides published by the Caravan Club. Once again, therefore, you are likely to be spoilt for choice.
How to make your choice
For all the diversity and choice of place to visit, however, you need to settle for one part of mainland Europe. In making that decision, you are likely to take into account some of the following considerations:
- distance – how far are you prepared to travel, either to reach somewhere that will serve as a base for your holiday or the beginning of a touring itinerary;
- language – clearly, one of the attractions in visiting Europe is the wide range of languages you are likely to hear spoken, but if you already have a smattering of a particular language that might help you in choosing a destination;
- culture and history – by the same token, you might have a particular interest in one of the many diverse cultures in a given part of Europe;
- activities – one of the key decisions is likely to rest on the kind of activities you are likely to be following during your holiday, whether you are planning to have just one or two centres or want to be touring, for example, whether you are content to sit soaking up the sun on a beach somewhere or want to explore and be more active.
When to go
In the same way that mainland Europe offers a practically endless list of places to visit so too is just about any time of the year an appropriate period for your visit. Whenever you go, you are likely to encounter something of interest, some place to relax, or some range of activities to pursue.
Naturally, your choices are likely to be informed at least partially by whether you insist on warm and sunny weather or are prepared to run the risk of rain, showers and overcast skies.
But you might also want to take into account the fact that different parts of Europe may have different high seasons during the year and you might choose to visit when most other people are also doing so or choose to travel out of season.
You can get a European weather forecast here.
Book your site
Even when you have narrowed down your choice from the myriad of different regions, towns, beaches and cities to visit, you may still be overwhelmed by the sheer choice of campsites on which to pitch your caravan.
As already mentioned, there are literally thousands from which to choose. Furthermore, it is not only the Caravan Club that offers listings of campsites on a country by country basis.
Other listings include:
- the biggest searchable listing of European campsites – currently some 9,900 inspected on an annual basis – is that published by ACSI Euro Campings;
- Eurocampings’ listing is searchable by country and by theme (for example, winter sports campsites, those suitable for caravanners with a dog, coastal campsites, campsites for naturists, campsites for the disabled and small campsites;
- the Camping and Caravanning Club also promises a one-stop shop for every aspect of overseas travel, allowing you to book your pitch or even sign up for an escorted tour;
- Eurocamp Independent’s listing also features a user-friendly booking service for campsites and ferry reservations;
- Go Caravanning also publishes a list of campsites searchable by country; and
- Pitchup.com allows searches not only by country, but also by campsite theme and by those that, for example, permit campfires, dog-friendly sites, sites especially suited for families, sites near nature reserves, national parks, historical monuments and beaches.
There are many other listings, too, but one of the points in identifying such websites is to stress the importance of booking your pitch as early as possible.
Booking your site gives you an opportunity to preview the facilities and amenities on offer and gives you the peace of mind in knowing that your own pitch is already reserved when you turn up at the campsite – after what might often be a tiring day’s driving. It avoids your turning up at a particular site only to discover that there is no room at the inn and you face a further hour or two scouring the countryside for an alternative.
Booking early might also give you the opportunity of taking advantage of any discounts or promotions that are run from time to time by certain campsites.
Considerations you might want to keep in mind when choosing a campsite might include whether it is large (and therefore likely to have a wider range of amenities) or small (and therefore likely to offer a quieter more tranquil environment); whether it is close to a town or other urban area or in the remote wilds of the country; and whether the campsite is better suited to serving as a longer-term base for your holiday or a short-term stay whilst you are touring.
Plan your route
Planning your route might be one of the most exciting stages of preparing for your European expedition.
Despite – or perhaps because of – this age of electronic GPS systems, there is still something to be said for unfolding an “old-fashioned” map or road atlas on the dining room table and planning the route you are taking. As your finger traces the route, it might be the easiest thing in the world to imagine that the adventure has already started and you are beginning to explore the new and exciting new places on your itinerary.
One of the longest established of European mapmakers is Michelin, which has a history of more than one hundred years in the business. But there are a number of alternatives available,.
Poring over a map in this way by be one of the best ways of tailoring your route exactly as you want it, with diversions and excursions to whatever points of interest may attract you along the way.
These days, of course, online route planning makes things considerably easier, with detailed routes illustrated at the mere click of a button.
The AA’s online route planner, for example, is able to show you not only the most direct route between two points on the map but also to highlight places of interest and sights to see along the way. GPS manufacturer TomTom is able to calculate the “smartest route” for your journey, drawing on current road speed data, real-time traffic information and daily updates of such mapping information.
Whether your caravan is parked and laid up, whether you are taking it out for a trip, but especially if you are planning a holiday with it in mainland Europe, adequate insurance is likely to be an important consideration
Whatever make or model your caravan, it is likely to represent a considerable investment on your part and one that you may want to accord adequate financial protection.
The first thing that might be said about caravan insurance, however, is that the appropriate type, scope and level of cover is likely to vary from one caravan to another and from one owner to another. In other words, the cover you need is likely to depend on entirely individual needs and circumstances – with the cover that is appropriate for one person perhaps not being as suitable for another.
Matching these particular needs and circumstances for insurance to the many various products in this niche of the insurance market may prove complicated and confusing. Because caravan insurance is a specialist product, therefore, you might want to consult a specialist provider – such as those of us here at Cover4Caravans – in order to arrange suitable cover.
The European angle
The specialist nature of your cover might be well illustrated, for example, by the seemingly quite obvious question as to whether your caravan insurance extends to touring in Europe.
In fact, the answer is by no means straight forward – cover may or may not extend to use of your caravan in Europe, depending on the insurance policy you have arranged.
Some insurers, for example, include European cover as a standard feature of their policies whilst others limit the use of your caravan in mainland Europe for a maximum of, say, 240 days in any one year. Still others may require the payment of a specific extension each and every time you take your caravan across the Channel.
If you are a regular caravanner in Europe, therefore, you might want to make sure that your insurance cover is the type that automatically incorporates cover for use across the Channel.
When arranging your caravan insurance you might also do well to read carefully any requirements or conditions set by the insurer about your responsibility for mitigating any loss or damage.
A common requirement for touring caravan insurance, for example, is that wheel clamps must be used when the caravan is left unattended and unhitched from the towing vehicle, whilst wheel clamps and a hitchlock are used whilst the caravan is unattended but remains hitched to the towing vehicle.
Things you will need in your car when driving abroad
Although many driving rules and regulations have been standardised throughout Europe there are still national differences and for UK drivers it may not be immediately apparent that there are certain pieces of kit which it is essential to carry in your car in some countries of Europe and other items which it is recommended that you carry.
A detailed list of compulsory equipment is published by the RAC in its leaflet about driving abroad, Driving aboard checklist.
In most European countries, for example, it is essential to carry a warning triangle for use in emergencies or roadside breakdowns and in some instances the use of reflective jackets or tabards. In France, since July 2012, an essential piece of equipment is a breathalyzer or alcohol level testing kit. The latter is to ensure that any driver is able to check whether they are below the French limit of 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of bloods (which it is interesting to note is some 30 mg below the UK drink driving limit).
In addition to essential pieces of equipment required by local regulations and laws, carrying some other recommended items may be more a matter of common sense. Included in this category, for instance, might be such things as a first-aid kit, basic tools and spare parts (such as light bulbs), a torch, bottled water or a hot thermos and emergency food such as chocolate or cereal bars.
Caravanning may be a perfect way for getting away from it all – but these days many people will still want to stay connected to the internet to keep in touch with friends, relatives or, believe it or not, work colleagues.
Fortunately, there are a number of solutions, none of which are likely to prove exorbitantly expensive or require your carrying a lot of extra heavy equipment.
Practically any town in Europe is likely to have one or more internet cafes, where you are able to login and buy time connected to the internet.
If you want to use such a facility for accessing your emails, of course, your email provider needs to be a web-based service (such as Gmail or Yahoo, for example), which you will need to have set up before embarking on your travels.
Free public wi-fi
An alternative to paying for your time online at an internet café is simply to connect through the growing network of free public wi-fi hotspots.
These are offered by cafes, shops, restaurants and even garages which may make access free of charge – but where you might nevertheless find it polite to buy a coffee or some other goods if you are staying connected for a while
USB modems or “dongles”
Although there are a number of options if you are prepared to venture away from your caravan to make a connection, there are clearly going to be times when you want to stay connected from the comfort of the caravan itself.
In that case you might want to purchase a USB modem or dongle, which carries a SIM card just like your mobile phone and connects to the network provider in the same way.
Probably the most convenient and perhaps the most economical way of maintaining your PC’s connection to the internet is simply to “tether” it to your smartphone – with the latter effectively becoming a mobile router.
As the term suggests, this relies on using your smartphone’s connection to the internet and its routing capability to your other equipment, such as laptops, netbooks and tablets.
7 quick tips for driving abroad
Finally, here are our seven quick tips for driving abroad …
- know where you are going. Clearly that doesn’t mean in terms of getting lost but rather that you understand the rules of the road and the appropriate laws in the country you are visiting and any that you will be transiting through en-route;
- thoroughly prepare your caravan mechanically and electrically. It is a complete myth that European police forces care less about the condition of vehicles than their UK colleagues. Bald tyres and faulty light panels (etc) are likely to get you pulled-up quickly and possibly fined on the spot – and they may also be dangerous. Also, you don’t want to start having trouble with aspects of your caravan shortly after arrival, unless you enjoy the thought of spending days in the local garage trying out your linguistic skills;
- check you have continental cover. This sounds obvious but is sometimes overlooked. Make sure it is valid for countries you will be travelling through and for the durations and mileages you are considering. It might be worth trying to compare touring caravan insurance options if you are looking for particularly cost-effective solutions;
- avoid following signs for city centres when towing a caravan. Traffic systems in continental cities may be significantly different to those you are familiar with in the UK and they may also be both busy and narrow. They are well worth avoiding with a caravan unless you have absolutely no alternative;
- set yourself modest itineraries. Europe is a big place and being too aggressive with your plans for how many kilometres you need to cover each day, is likely to result in you and everyone else becoming exhausted;
- tell your credit card or banking providers that you are going overseas and make sure they have that registered on the system. Some may spot what they see as an out-of-character profile transaction if your card suddenly pops up and starts being used abroad. Having your card rejected at a petrol station or motorway toll booth while you argue with your card provider on the phone, is not a good way to start your holiday;
- factor in motorway tolls. Many if not most motorways in continental Europe are payable and those fees can mount up seriously on a longer journey. Having insufficient money available to get through the gate on a motorway after a long journey, is an experience well worth missing.
Do take note that some motorway exits across Europe are entirely automatic or are so at unusual hours.
Some machines in such cases may not even accept cash automatically and will presume that you have a valid plastic card of some sort. This is another reason to make sure your providers understand where you are going and that you have sufficient available credit!
Once you get caught up in the excitement of planning a caravanning holiday to mainland Europe, there may be a number of important considerations to take on board. Some of them may positively add to the sense of excitement as the day for setting off fast approaches.
Very many of the decisions you are going to making are likely to be entirely individual and subject only to you and your family’s taste and holiday preferences. These are the preferences likely to determine where you choose to go, when you choose to go, the campsites you choose, and the road routes you plan.
Some planning aspects, however, are likely to affect all caravanners to Europe – such as the need for appropriate insurance cover and the need to abide by local rules of the road and other regulations, including those detailing essential items that must be carried in your car.