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Tips & Tricks

Tips and Tricks for Continental Trips  (Particularly long ones)


This is not an attempt to write a guide to foreign touring, the Caravan Club has done that already, it is just a collection of tips from our experience over the years that make life easier. Some of the tips might sound obvious, but they were not to us, until we learnt the hard way.


Don’t take too much; in the “Foot and Mouth” year when carriage of fresh food was prohibited we managed OK without, now we just take a few emergency meals of tins etc and dried goods such as tea, pasta etc. 

Condiments and cooking additions such as herbs or spices are worth carrying, they don’t weigh much and there is no point spending holiday time searching for salt or a bag of flour. 

We do take a some milk and butter which has been frozen and stays so for days (keeping  the fridge cold in the process on long crossings). Put (plastic) milk bottles in a polythene bag as they may split.  

A ready meal, frozen beforehand comes in useful for the first night and also this helps to keep the fridge cold. 




Consider the economics of short "cheap" crossings that might add hundreds of miles and days extra driving. Even where the mileage is not significantly different, the near necessity of using toll roads initially from Calais or Dunkerque  instead of the toll free routes from western Chanel ports can add considerable cost to  French West  coast destinations.


Book early.

When booking get an internet price and a phone price  from the same agency i.e Caravan Club etc they are not always the same.

Inquire if there are any Camping voucher deals with the crossing, sometimes it is cheaper to take them even if you don't use them.

The ferry/tunnel operators own websites probably wont be the cheapest option but they can be used to find the cheapest day and time to cross before booking elsewhere. 

Check booking details very carefully, agents including the Caravan Club are unforgiving about errors unless brought to their immediate attention.

Boarding the ship

Don't start up the ramp until the van in front is clear and don’t let jaywalking staff stop you on it. Steel access ramps to the upper decks can be steep and often wet. I saw an outfit forced to stop when an “orange coated” crew-member casually walked in front of them. The drama that ensued involved first, a request to reverse and take a run at it, as this was impossible; they then raised the ramp so that the victims shot forward into the ship.

Watch out for the height overhead on the deck and don’t trust the parking staff, they wont be looking above the caravan and if you collide with overhanging structures it will be your problem. 

Uncouple electrics on long crossings to avoid any chance of flat batteries. 

Check that the outfit is undamaged before disembarking, there have been reports of break in’s on the car deck and you will have a problem if it isn't reported immediately, preferably before you leave the ship.

On Brittany Ferries,  Portsmouth to St Malo evening crossings, dash straight to the restaurant without going to your cabin first if you want to get a table. 



Don't leave home without a good guide such as the CC Caravan Europe, the guides to discount sites like ACSI and Camping Cheques are not comprehensive enough if you find yourself looking for an unplanned stop.

Get an ACSI card and book from www.vicariousbooks.co.uk it will cost about the same as one night site fee and pay for itself many times over in low season reductions available at over 600 European sites in the scheme. The book has been selling out early in the year so don't leave it too late.

Don’t book, unless you absolutely must go to a popular area in high season (which can in the winter in Spain or Portugal) or really must have a particular pitch, any other time it isn't necessary; In 30 years I have never seen a full site (outside July/August) and never been turned away.

Advance booking often equals commitment to a minimum stay, even at very good sites there might be something or somebody that is going to spoil your stay, leave yourself free to move on if you feel like it. 

Be careful about opening dates particularly at each end of the season. Closed sites can be horrendous dead ends to escape from. 


Don’t commit to length of stay.

Don’t accept allocated pitches if you don’t like them, they will usually find another for you.

If you plan on staying a while it’s worth arriving early for a better choice of pitch, and even for night halts try to allow time to find an alternative if you don’t like the look of the place.

Choosing a pitch

Always park up and walk around the site, I once had to reverse uphill from a dead end with an audience who only dispersed when the smoke from my clutch overcame them. 

Over the years we have managed to; pitch in total shade, under dripping trees, next to residents who leave for work at 5:30 AM, where our cables wont reach, the telly wont work and it’s a cycle ride from the showers. We still manage some of these things occasionally, but we try to stick to the following when we arrive at a site:

  • Avoid statics, particularly those with working residents, telltale signs; children, loose dogs and white vans, ideally find another site.
  • Check if the power cable will reach, preferably without crossing site roads.
  • If you have Satellite TV carry the compass with you when checking pitches so that high trees or other obstacles don’t come as a surprise later.
We also try to avoid tents with teenagers and elderly French with TV’s in their awning but maybe we are just grumpy.


If there is a choice between 6 and 12 amp supply (at different prices) we opt for 6 and take care how many appliances we use simultaneously. 

We always check polarity (with a small plug in tester) and correct it with a short cable wired in  reverse.

We do much of our cooking outside or in the awning using an electric Hotplate. It is cheaper (than gas) and much safer than naked flames in an awning, I helped put out a fire once and don’t want to see another.

Although  its not "best practice" we carry a second 25m cable (bought cheap on Ebay) to reach a distant power point or for use if needed to cross a site road and be driven over, it is better than damaging the main cable.

Beware of metered electricity at some sites, make a note of the readings on arrival and make sure the warden sees you do it.



Try to use electricity instead, we manage 11 weeks on one 907 GAZ cylinder most years.

Gaz refills will be cheaper at supermarkets but they all have different systems that only become apparent at the checkout, try asking at customer services



If you are planning to spend time on sites with fully serviced pitches it is worth carrying enough hose (freshwater and drain), adapters and a tank with a float valve or a proprietary water inlet pressure control. This might sound a bit onerous but running water and piped  drains are pure luxury.

Check if there is a charge(for serviced pitches), we stayed on a site in France where the charge for water connection was nearly as much as electricity, needless to say we did not bother. 



I only carry steel pegs, more often than not the ground in southern Europe is rock hard, 6” nails with washers can be useful to peg sides down, and a Claw hammer is useful to get them out.

Since our van is quite tall and we are not, we find  a short set of steps invaluable for erecting the awning and they also double up as a useful small table to cook on (see Hob tip)

A Silicone based lubricant known as Free "n" Easy (from Lakeland) works wonders on stiff zips and tight awning rails.

Awning "ladders" i.e the  detachable rubber anchor straps are usually loose and to avoid refitting them each time  or losing them, I have fastened mine with cable ties.

As most pitches in southern Europe are devoid of grass we cover the ground under our awning with a sheet of lightweight polythene of the type sold as a decorating cover or packaging on large objects like a mattress (stronger)  before laying the "carpet" we have found this useful in keeping out water and dust.

Lighting: most awning lights on caravans don't give out much light,we use a 6 meter "rope" light of the type sold for outdoor xmas  lights fastened to the rafters with cable ties. These are mostly sold off half price after xmas.

We have spent a lot of time in a particularly windy area and have found that when it blows hard another strap threaded horizontally around the awning and anchored on to the grab handles (see photos) reduces noise from and possible damage to "flapping" sides.


A short film of us in Spain, putting it up on a slightly breezy day and later on an example of a really windy few days. 


If forced to break camp in windy conditions check if it is possible to remove the frame first before un-pegging the sides, as there is much less chance of damage even injury from sides without poles 




We use  both a TomTom Satnav and maps.

We decide our own route and use the TomTom to help with junctions, distance left to travel and to confirm where we actually are, we treat its instructions with caution being particularly wary on exits to take off roundabouts. 
The TomTom we back up with the Michelin Europe Atlas, France 1:200000 Atlas and Spain 1:400000 . 

The  European road network is always changing and we try to travel with the latest versions of the maps both digital and paper but even these can sometimes be out of date.

POI files.
Directions to most campsites in Europe can be downloaded  from:


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