Hints Tips & Research


Hints, Tips, Advice & Research

Last Update: March 2010

Please see Tip page 2 for more “experienced based” tips

Please also see the “TIPS” Topic Tab (on the right hand side) for other and the latest tips

This section is created to share the benefits of hours of research we have completed on things we need when traveling. We are on a budget, and as such we’ve looked for great deals! Please note: Everything we say below is based on our opinion only. Prices/deals change so please do your own research! Do not rely 100% on the below!

Hopefully our research will benefit you and save you the chores of spending ages looking! A lot of our information is gathered from other websites and forums and sometimes in response to questions I’ve posed. I have checked everything out before I’ve bought and suggest you do the same. I do not claim to be the owner or originator of this information but I hope the central list is useful.

(If you have anything to add to this list – please let us know)

List of hints

International Roaming Mobile SIM (Mobile Phone)

Most of us know, using mobile phones abroad is hugely expensive. You normally get charged for incoming calls as well as high prices for outgoing calls. International SIM’s are slightly different as they give you a normal mobile number but allow free incoming calls in lots of countries. Outgoing calls are also cheap though you have to either dial a prefix or dial then they call you back. Minor inconvenience.

You can get PAYG SIMS for each country which is also cheaper, but if you change countries frequently then you will have to buy loads of different SIMS and not have a single number.

We cannot say which is cheaper for you as it depends on what countries you visit and how you use the phone.

I previously recommended GoGlobalSim as a provider as their cost and service was reasonable. I NOW RETRACT THIS TIP due to unreliability and the fact they ceased service when we were away on a trip claiming differences with their supplier. I have now asked for a refund and do not recommend them. Choose carefully UPDATE: They have started trading again under a *slightly* different name so not refunded old customers. AVOID.

3G Datacards

Datacards allow you to access the Internet from a mobile phone or laptop. We use our card in a mobile phone, and then bond the laptops to it via Bluetooth. A little technical but it works a treat! Any laptop we carry just connects to the phone and we have broadband speed Internet wherever we are.

After researching these, we looked at O2, Vodafone, and Three offerings. Generally the cost for these are around £10-£25 per month on contract.

Roaming costs for datacards are VERY EXTREME and bills in £1000’s are not unheard of!! So please always ensure you check your contract before you roam!

We opted for a THREE data card but have since cancelled it. Any one will do – but if you use a UK one abroad use it sparingly. A quick check of eMail using an efficient application (e.g. Not a web browser) may cost 10p which is fine, but using a PC and web browser when all your antivirus updates etc run – it could be £10 for 2Mb.

Free WiFi Access

OK – this is where it gets a little naughty. Not a lot – just a little.

Almost every built up area and high street have properties with WiFi. Many of these WiFi hotspots are secure and can’t be used. Plenty of others though are not secured and wide open. These include pay-per-use hotspots; free hot-spots in pubs etc; and any other free network. Finding these is always a problem and, of course, the legalities of using any old unsecured wifi setup needs to be looked in to.

My advice is if you are using a wifi network outside someones house – be quick and discreet!!! Legal note: Obviously we’d never do this nor recommend it.

One tip we try is if we want internet access and are in the mood for a pint or a cuppa, we will go to the cafe/pub where they offer free wifi (or at least have a wifi connection in range).

Two bits of software are useful: Netstumbler works well on PCs, but our favorite is WiFiFoFum which runs on our mobile phone. As our mobile phone also has GPS, we integrate the two. Quite simply, we set it to scan for unsecured networks, stick phone in pocket, then wander round eyeing up the pubs. After a brisk walk, we can check the screen and it lists all the networks it found along with the best signal strength, and also the GPS coordinates of the best reception… 🙂

So clearly – you wander back to the best signal, get out laptop, and connect!! (For this we use a tiny EeePC!).

Fortunately, many bars and cafes label their networks appropriately – so a network called “TheRedLion” means we’ll have a pint in the Red Lion and sort our emails there over a nice pint!

In addtion many chains are now providing free WiFi access – such as McDonalds; JD Weatherspoons etc.

(The above recommendation is only appropriate if you are fairly technically savvy as it isn’t the simplest to do. You need to be aware of unsecured networks that then need you to pay (e.g. BT OpenZone; TheCloud etc) and also some unsecured networks just do not work. So sometimes, it is trial and error.)

In addition, apparently, allegedly, and not that I would recommend it, if you are technically savvy you can download “BackTrack 3” ISO which is a hacking toolset which if used correctly breaks into “secure” wifi connections. It is, apparently, possible to break into 128bit WEP networks in <2 minutes not that I’d condone such actions of course.

Skype

If you are not familiar, Skype allows you to make phone calls over the Intenet for around 1ppm for landlines in most normal countries. Using both 3G and WiFi connections (above) to gain Internet access then allows you to make calls using Skype application. In addition, via Quidco, you can get 25% discount on any credit you buy! You care also able to purchase Skype In to allow people to phone you as necessary. We do not recommend Skype In as it requires a constant Internet connection which isn’t really feasible when traveling.

If the person you are calling also has Skype on their computer/phone – then Skype to Skype calls are free and you can also do basic video conferencing.

We have Skype running on both our laptops and our mobile phone. This means we can use the mobile phone to detect and access WiFi networks, then simply use Skype on the phone to make very cheap calls. It also looks less suspicious than getting out a full laptop to make a call! 🙂

Ferries

For us, we will be making numerous trips to/from mainland continental Europe. We looked at all the ferry companies, tunnel, and even different routes, but determined the old Dover<–>Calais routes were the most cost effective.

For our first trip, the dates/times we wanted came out at around £108 return. However playing with the timings got it down to £85 or so, and this could be matched between the main companies.

However, we were tipped about Seafrance Frequent Traveler Carnet ticket which is an absolute bargain! You can buy a carnet book of tickets covering as few as 3 return crossings. These must be used in 12 months, but you can sell one to a friend if you desire – so you only need to make 2 return Dover<–>Calais crossings a year.

The cost is from an astounding £64 return (for 3 returns PY) to £54 return (for 9 returns) – and various combinations in between.

Apart from cost, the other advantage is you don’t need to book!!!! Just turn up whenever you want and you are assured a slot on the next, or the following ferry. How cool is that!!! We bought our carnet ticket, then booked the original ferry we wanted (£108) – and indeed used just one of our return tickets costing us £60 – so £48 saved already. There are some fair T’s & C’s – but ultimately I think these are an absolute bargain!!!!

Please note: I have read from un-validated sources that the carnets now carry a surcharge for long motorhomes. Please check the terms and conditions carefully. Also they now penalise you if you make a reservation and then do not turn up. The simplest way around this is to book a crossing way in the future and come back earlier as you are permitted flexibility.

Money Saving tips / Freebies

As you may know, we’re trying to have as much time traveling and seeing Europe as possible. This means living on a budget. Okay, we’re not being tight, but if we can save money just through knowledge and intelligence – then this means we can spend more time living the dream!

The Internet is full of scams, dodgy sites, and quite people trying to rip you off.

Our research shows the following sites are worth knowing!

  • Quidco :  One of best cashback site on the Internet. Basically, you just use their links to companys you would use anyway – and you get cashback from them! Its all to do with affiliate advertising – Quidco get the money – and pass it to you. In 10 months of using , I have received £425 of cashback! And that is from buying things we were going to buy anyway!
  • Cashback Credit Cards: Get one! Use it! Pay it off in full. We use Citibank Citicard Platinum and get 1% cashback equating to around £180 cash back every year. In addition we get full insurance on electronic gizmos and also travel.
  • Nationwide Flex Account / Nationwide Credit Card: We rate Nationwide anyway as they’ve been great for us. We have both a flex account (current account with Visa Delta card) and a Nationwide Gold Credit Card. These are superb internationally are you can buy (Credit card) and get cash (Debit card) from cash machines in any country without paying any commission or excessive conversion charges. In effect you get the cash from a cash machine at almost business exchange rates. Bargain!
  • Martins Money Saving Expert: A superb site that is well worth subscribing to as he does a huge amount of research on the cheapest and best ways of doing things. He isn’t always right, but in the majority of cases its superb.
  • UK Hot Deals: The voucher/deal websites on the Internet are a minefield – so please be careful as some try and “steal” commission. UK Hot Deals does not appear to and is well renowned. People list voucher codes, deals and bargains – and many REALLY are bargains. Also you can search on vouchers which are just free money! For instance, I knew I was going to spend c. £15 in WH Smiths, and after looking on this site – I printed off a £5 voucher which I just handed in and got! Free money for nothing!! In addition of vouchers and deals, they also list companys offering freebies.
  • Say NO to 0870: If you are like me – I hate calling 0845 and 0870 numbers as generally, you are on hold for 10 mins and its 10p per minute. So you end up paying a fortune. This site lists normal numbers for most 08xx numbers. So if like us where we get unlimited calls to normal landlines, then all these calls are free. When phoning round to get deals for our trip we must’ve saved a fortune for very little time!

Every little helps as they say, and we know we’ve saved a fortune from this. We’d suggest enough in a year for another 4-6 weeks “FREE” travel…. So well worth it in our opinion.

Campsites (GPS POI Databases)

For our travels we have tried to locate as many databases around the Internet as possible so that we can have a list of all campsites available. This will allow us to be anywhere and know of a place to stay locally. This includes real campsites and also “Aires” type locations where you can stay for a night or two.

Most of these links were given to me via MotorhomeFacts

  • : List of German (and beyond) sites and aires
  • CampingCars-Info: List of French (and beyond) aires
  • Archies Camping: Loads of different databases here – Camping Cheque sites; ACSI sites; camp sites near motorways; and 12,000 sites in Europe!

We simply use these as pointers – but always useful to check what you are looking for exists. In tests, some of the sites/aires are duplicated on multiple database which is great as it suggest they exist! We have two main Autoroute maps – one for Aires and one for real sites.

In addition – we bought (!) ACSI camping database DVD. Not only does this include a full street level European map (similar but nicer to autoroute, though GUI and functionality is poor), but it has 8,400 campsites listed with many photos and all the important site details, such as facilities, costs, and importantly when it is open! It also lists other attributes such as if it accepts ACSI discount card, is a naturist site, if it has a pool or laundry etc. For the money – well worth it. (See below section on campsite discount). Note: If you are a member of MHF you can get discount at vicarious books.

Discount Camping

When we’re out traveling we will live to do everything we want, but clearly we need to minimise costs. One of our big costs will be camping costs. Where possible and appropriate we will try and use Aires (see GPS links above). However there will be times where we will stay on real sites in order to chill out for a longer time.

There appears to be two main discount schemes:

  • ACSI Camping Card: This card and book enables discounted off season camping at 1300 campsites. For £8.50 its quite a good deal as the camping book is part of it. I suggest the DVD is a much more useful part, but overall this package seems good at capping sites at 11, 13 or 15 Euro a night. As per above, MHF facts members get discount if bought from vicarious books.
  • Camping Cheques: These cheques are prepaid cheques that are £11.70 a night (excluding bulk discount). The sites that accept these will always take one cheque per night rather than charging you their rates.

CCI Camping Card

The CCI card is a “Camping Card International” card. More details can be seen here. From what I can work out, its sijmply a card you buy from a reputable source (e.g. Camping & Caravanning Club) which you can then use as proof of ID at European campsites. As this is accepted as ID then you may not need to leave your Passport as ID which is something we personally do not like doing. In addition it provides you third-party liability insurance. At the time of writing the card is £4.75 per year and can be pre-dated with your stard date.

They also seem to suggest you can get discount at certain sites but as yet this has not been tested.

For the money – I believe these are worth it for the piece of mine of not having to leave your passport behind.

Travel Insurance

Trust me when I say I spent many hours looking at travel insurance policies! There are loads of suppliers out there, and many appear cheap. However some seem to either restrict the longest trip to 30 days, or indeed say the maximum amount of time you are allowed away is around 180 days. Neither suited us. After much looking, the best and cheapest company we found was Comfort insurance. They provided us an annual policy for us both, Europe wide (including Morocco); unlimited winter sports; 60 day maximum trip duration; inclusive of hazardous sports (within reason!); Personal Possessions cover etc – all for £75.99! An absolute bargain and quite essential really.

Van Insurance

We obviously need to have our van insured, but with some challenging requirements: Unlimited mileage; Unlimited European cover; Cover for Morocco; Cover for posessions; gas etc. Most companies either avoid Morocco; have a short individual trip limit; and also have tight restriction on total number of days away. We ended up changing to Safeguard Insurance. They cover all our requirements, and give a huge array of cover for motorhomes, and in addition provide full European breakdown cover which we would have needed anyway. All this for a ASTOUNDING £436!

Things to do before leaving

  • Ensure house checker and neighbours have our contact details
  • Ensure house checker has keys; can get in; knows where the stop cocks are
  • Ensure house checker has spare set of all keys we take (e.g. van, bikes etc) so could courier them to us in emergencies.
  • Ensure van is taxed/MOT’d for duration
  • Ensure van insurance covers destination/duration
  • (Ensure car tax/insrance does not expire when away!)
  • Ensure travel insurance covers destination/duration
  • Ensure home insrance is aware of trip
  • Inform bank where we are going and how long for
  • Inform credit card company here we are going and how long for
  • Turn off most things at plug
  • Defrost freezer
  • Program central heating / hot water as necessary
  • Ensure PC/Media Centre is working and has enough space to record all the stuff we want it to when we are away
  • Set up security devices

Gas / LPG / Gaslow

Remember our van is 4.8m long and is quite small, we can carry 2 x 6kg gas bottles (separately). So whilst this is enough for a week or three away, we were nervous about running out of gas on longer trips – especially as we hope to be wild camping more – and will be using gas heating during the winter. After much debate, we’ve had a single 6kg refillable Gaslow cylinder installed by Roy Wood Transits. This means we can fill up from any LPG pump. In addition, we will carry a full spare calor lite bottle so that if we do run out we have some backup as necessary. Not the cheapest option, but as we (a) like comfort; (b) like the warm!; and (c) will be more comfortable about wild camping – then the usability should outweigh the costs.

Things To Take

This is more for our benefit – lol – but trying to keep a list of items that you need to take that you may not take on shorter UK trips. (Thanks to gang at Motorhome Facts for clarifying and expanding this section).

Documentation

We have scanned and colour copied all documentation. Copies left at home as necessary, and scanned versions uploaded to our secure Internet store so we can access PDFs of all documentation from anywhere. The originals are secured in a “safe” in the van.

  • Van V5
  • Van insurance
  • Receipt of proof of payment of insurance (*maybe required in Spain*)
  • Van breakdown insurance
  • House insurance (copy)
  • Travel insurance
  • MOT Certificate
  • Other cards/documentation
    • European Health Card (E111?)
    • Passports (both)
    • Driving licenses (both)
    • CCI Card
    • ACSI camping card
    • Paper road map of country/Europe
    • Paper book of campsites (just in case!)

Spares, Tools and Accessories

  • Full set of spare fuses for van, habitation and equipment
  • Warning triangle
  • Tow rope
  • Spare bulbs
  • Reflective Jackets (In cab area as you need to wear if pulled on motorway – else fined!)
  • Toolbox with small but full set of tools
  • Multimeter
  • Spare electricity cable
  • Spare pipes
  • Spare pipe connectors
  • Cable ties
  • Gaffa tape
  • Batteries for all devices (incl. smoke alarm)

Techie bits

  • Laptop 12v chargers
  • Spare batteries for laptop
  • Removable HDD with full backup on
  • Copy of installation OS DVD
  • GPS cables & chargers
  • Cameras 🙂
  • Camera 12v charger, spare batteries, USB cable
  • Mobile phones
  • Phone 12v chargers & USB cable
  • Skype headset for laptop
  • Skype headset for phone
  • TomTom! 🙂
  • Backup copies of GPS POIs for all campsites/Aires

Other

  • Contact details of neighbours at home
  • Contact details of house-checker
  • Ensure enough (!) LPG on board

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