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A to Z of Long-term Motorhoming PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

A to Z OF LONG-TERM MOTORHOMING

TEXT ONLY VERSION

Barry and Margaret Williamson

4th Edition (Revised October 2011)

This 'A to Z' was first published in 1999 as a 4-part 10,000-word article, illustrated with 70 or more photographs, in the MMM (Motorhome Motorcaravan Monthly), the UK's premier motorhome magazine. A revised and updated version was published in 4 parts in the MMM between November 2004 and February 2005.

This 4th edition has grown to 16,500 words and has become text only for the ease of your copying and printing. The full gallery of images, viewable as a slide show, can be seen at:
Motorhome Images. All the links in this A to Z are active! In addition, you will find more useful links in this website at: Motorhome & Travel Links.

For over 11 yearMotorhome_in_Sahara_small.jpgs, our 27 ft Four Winds American motorhome, 2 bicycles and (occasionally) a motorbike took us from Nordkapp at the top of Norway to the Western Sahara south of Morocco, and from Portugal to Israel. Three times now, we have put the motorhome into store for a year while we made round-the-world journeys, using our bicycles, hired cars or motorhomes.

In October 2007, Motorhome Medics of Cheltenham provided us with a replacement for the well-travelled Four Winds. Now we have a 26 ft Fleetwood Flair motorhome, an excellent choice and suited in every way to our lifestyle for living and for travelling. 

Officials of all kinds rarely understand the concept of long-term travel – they classify us as holidaymakers, on business trips, tourists, resident in the UK, resident abroad, of No Fixed Abode. In practice, we can be whatever they want us to be.

Here are some of the things we have learned from our own experience. They may help if you are thinking of long-term, long-distance, low-cost travel in and around Europe - and that includes the UK!

If you have experiences or advice to add to this A to Z, then please Contact Us!

ACCESSORIES: Essential and often compulsory are at least one fire extinguisher, a warning triangle (or 2), first-aid kit, yellow reflective jackets, set of spare bulbs and spare driving glasses. In addition to the very many possible accessories mentioned elsewhere in this A to Z, we recommend an outside table and chairs, levelling blocks, a tyre pressure gauge, a digital voltmeter/ammeter and an awning. Look for second-hand bargains in the MMM and at motorhome shows. Visit: www.roadpro.co.uk and www.jacksonscamping.com for a range of goodies.

ADDRESS: Many officials will require an address in the UK - for travel, health and motorhome insurance, driving licence, vehicle registration, pension, NI and NHS registration, credit and debit cards, bank statements, mobile telephone, income tax, club membership, etc. Although email, internet forums and chat rooms, mobile phone calls and SMS text messages, internet banking and on-line purchasing and bookings are replacing letters, it is still nice to have an actual card at Christmas and letters on real paper.

If, like us, you kept your house for its capital gain and the income that tenants provide, you can use its address and pay Royal Mail to divert letters to a friend or agency. This service costs £32 per year, per surname and is limited to 2 years. Ring 08457 740740 or visit: www.royalmail.com.

Without a house, a close friend or relative may let you use their address, or even open your letters, deal with urgent matters and send you the minimum amount of paper. See POSTE RESTANTE. Urgent papers can be sent by FAX or scanned into an email attachment. Without a friend, you can use the address of an agency that collects the mail and posts it on for a fee. The Royal Mail offers a PO Box service for £53 per person per year. However, the address of an agency or PO Box might not satisfy the needs of some officials.

Correspondence with the Electoral Commission lead us to think that it is not a legal requirement to be on an Electoral Roll in the UK. It is the responsibility of the local authority to circulate every household with a questionnaire and the head of each household is required, by law, to state who is resident within that household. If you do not happen to be a member of a household in the UK at that time, your name will not appear on the Roll. However, you can ensure that your name does appear on the Roll, if you want it to, and/or that you can vote in an election whilst not in the ocuntry.

Read the section on INSURANCE, MOTORHOME and visit 40 Motorhome Insurance Agents on this website for the particular needs of motorhome insurance companies. They don't like the idea of you living permanently in the van and even if they agree that you can, they usually need to base the premium on the post code where the vehicle is normally kept! One insurer wrote: "Although we offer extensive cover for Europe, the acceptance criteria is that the policyholder is a UK citizen and resident and has a property in the UK (to ensure that the customer is not full-timing)."

So far, we have only been let down once when using the address of a friend. We were buying 2 suitcases in Debenhams in Birmingham, having just collected our visas from the nearby Indian Consulate. The assistant asked if we had a Debenhams card, which gave an extra 10% discount on the sale price that had already attracted us. We filled in the appropriate form and he telephoned a credit agency, who gave us the thumbs down. Initially reluctant to tell us why, our man eventually said that there was no record of us at the address given!

We showed him a photograph of the motorhome in the Western Sahara, and also one of our articles in MMM magazine (luckily, we'd just bought it at WH Smiths!), and said 'That's our address'. He became quite interested, having thought about a motorhome for his own retirement, and said he'd start taking the magazine. We gave him our card - and he gave us the 10% discount without his card!

BOOKS: We carry a small library of books and magazines for reference, for hobbies and for pleasure. Books in English can be expensive and difficult to find abroad so we often buy from UK charity shops or library sales, exchange with other English-reading travellers on the road Visit: www.amazon.com for a mail-order service and www.booksforpeople.co.uk for a hassle- commitment-free club with a monthly emailed magazine.

For reference, we carry:

Road Atlases of Europe, Germany, Italy and France (spiral bound to last longer).

Michelin Green Guides (for history and culture, eg Italy and Greece).

Rough Guide or Lonely Planet guidebooks ('Rough Planets') for most countries we visit.

French and German dictionaries, plus phrase books for other languages.

Caravan Club Continental Sites Guide and Handbook (2 volumes) and other guides - see CAMPING, FREE and CAMPING, SITES.

The BMA Complete Family Health Encyclopaedia.

Birds of Britain and Europe - Christopher Perrins, Collins New Generation Guide.

Manuals for our machines and appliances.

In addition to these, on our laptop computer, we have Webster's New World Dictionary and the Encyclopaedia Britannica. See also MAPS & GUIDES. For details of the books we carried for a winter in Greece, 2007/8, click: Book List

BORDER CROSSINGS & VISAS: In Europe, at the time of writing, only Russia, Belarus, and Moldova require a visa from their Embassy in advance of your visit. The visa for Turkey is bought at the border for about £10 each (cash, in Euros or Sterling) and the motorhome is entered in your passport so you can't leave without it. All countries, even those of the EU, put a limit of between 30 days and 6 months on the length of your stay, although this is difficult to enforce in these days of unstamped passports. Outside the UK, your passport also acts as your identity card and should be carried at all times and not left with a campsite receptionist (see CAMPING, SITES). UK passports can be renewed at any British Embassy Consulate, given time. (Margaret once renewed hers in Athens.) Don't forget to keep a copy of the photograph page in a safe place in case you lose your passport.

See individual countries in this website for more information on entry requirements, visas, insurance, etc. For example, Albania, Montenegro, Turkey, Morocco.

Travelling beyond Europe/Turkey/Morocco/Tunisia is a different matter altogether and raises a number of problems of road conditions, safety, visas, insurance, suitability of vehicle and the expensive customs carnet. Visit: www.visas.com. For passport information and renewal, visit: www.ukpa.gov.uk. See also INSURANCE and TRAVEL ADVICE.

CAMPING, FREE: Our popular Website Guides to Campsites in Europe leads to many websites which altogether list tens of thousands of camping places throughout every country in Europe, including guides to free camping places. We also have an article devoted entirely to Overnight Parking in Greece! New in September 2011, is our Stopovers on Farms, Vineyards, etc throughout Europe (including Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy and Spain). And there is a very brave attempt at listing possibilities for Free Camping in the UK and Ireland.

It is quite possible to find places to stay other than campsites. In France and Germany, there are well-signposted places in towns for overnight motorhome parking, often with water and toilets, free or for a small fee. Reisemobil, the German motorhomers' magazine, lists over 2,400 Stellplätze (Standing Places) in its annual guide: Bordatlas (about £10 from newsagents that sell Reisemobil and online at www.bordatlas.de). Every entry is illustrated and there are excellent maps, which cut through the language barrier. The other German motorhome magazine, Promobil, offers a similar publication. ADAC, the German motorists' club (www.adac.de), lists 1,200 Schlafgelegenheiten (Sleeping Opportunities) in a new book or CD: ADAC Stellplatzführer Deutschland, on sale in all good German bookshops.

For France, the excellent annual Guide Officiel des Étapes Touristiques Camping-Cars lists 4,500 Aires de Services in France, with a separate map. It also lists the farms and vineyards taking part in the 'France Passion' scheme, French Fiat and Electrolux dealers and a few Aires in Belgium, Germany, Italy and Switzerland. It is published by Camping Car Magazine and costs about £5 from good newsagents in France (Maisons de la Presse), though it can be hard to find out of season.

We have tried 2 online sources. www.amazon.fr (note the French version) sell it, but if you get the following message: Aires de services camping-car : Guide officiel 2006 par Camping-Car Magazine Actuellement indisponible, it means that they are sold out.

The other possibility is: http://www.ffcc.fr/Campeurs/Publications/Parutions_FFCC.php This is the FFCC who actually publish the thing. It is for sale on their website, but make sure it is the current edition of the guide. They will send it to an address outside 'Metropolitan France' for an extra 2 Euros. Pay by credit card.

Les Medus used a website called www.campingfrance.com which has an order page in French and English. They promise delivery within 14 days.

Camping Connections

In the UK, Camping Connections, 19 Queens Road, Radipole, Weymouth, Dorset DT4 5EX (visit: www.camping-connections.co.uk) sell the following guides: the FFCC Guide Officiel Camping et Caravaning, the FFCC Guide Officiel des Aires de Services Camping Car and the France Passion Guide & Membership Card.

Both FFCC Guides are in FRENCH, but both have symbols and are very easy to use. The FFCC Guide for Camping & Caravanning features details of over 9,000 camping & caravanning sites in France, plus a further 2,000 rural and Camping a la Ferme sites, It includes full colour maps indicating the location of the sites. Price £12.95 including post & packing. Available from mid April. 

The FFCC Camping Car Guide provides a comprehensive list of those Aires de Services and campsites that offer facilities for motorcaravans, and includes a map indicating the location, maximum length of stay allowed, and details of any charges. The 2007 edition is £9.95 including post and packing and is expected to be available in the UK by late April.

France Passion: Camping Connections are now UK agents for  this unique scheme whereby motorcaravanners (only) can stay overnight free of charge on a  choice of some 3500 farms and vineyards throughout France. Membership costs £18.50 per annum (Easter-Easter)  which gets you the Guide, Membership Card, Site Map and window sticker. 

Camping Connections can only accept orders by post with a cheque. They cannot accept telephone orders or payment by credit card. Allow up to 14 days for delivery. The website provides you with a printable order form which you then post, with a cheque.

We DON'T recommend the crudely named Dutch publication, CamperStop Europe, which has been over-hyped by its UK distributor, the well-named Vicarious Books! It attempts too much - too many 'stops', in 4 languages with 'tourist information' but sparse directions.

In Scandinavia it is a citizen's right to camp in the wild and there are many rest areas and parking places, in and out of town, for overnight parking, sometimes with free or coin-in-the-slot hook-ups. Crossing Poland and the Baltic Republics recently, we found newly-built petrol station/lorry parks ('TIR'), with excellent shower rooms, along the transit routes, charging only a few zloty or whatever for a safe overnight. Offer Euros or a credit card if you have no local currency – you won't be turned away!

In some countries (northern Greece, Bulgaria, central Turkey and inland Morocco) there are virtually no campsites and ingenuity is needed to find a safe place for the night: in TIR lorry parks, hotel and restaurant car parks, harbours and marinas, the car parks of supermarkets or ancient sites, behind petrol stations, in lay-bys or on motorway services (which are free everywhere except the UK), outside police stations or border posts. A small payment, an offer to buy a meal or a packet of cigarettes to the right person can work wonders!

The UK has the most restrictive legislation against 'free-camping' of any European country and is keen to enforce it, fuelled by mild paranoia about gypsies and 'new age travellers'. Even so, all that might happen is that you are asked to move on, perhaps the following morning.

Some travellers 'free-camp' all the time; some never do. It's all in the mind (or in the wallet). On sites, you meet other travellers, the locals on holiday and the campsite staff. Free-camping, you meet the rest of the world! We mix the two ways of camping, finding a campsite to settle while we explore a locality, perhaps with a reduced fee for a longer stay. On the road, on a journey, we stay overnight where we can. We like the German idea of a 'Sleeping Opportunity'!

Helen & David Homewood recommend: http://mitglied.lycos.de/womosp/womo_SP_EA.asc. It is a German site listing free places to park in Spain and Andorra, listed by postcode and GPS references. Helen writes that it takes a bit of working out, but they found it very useful sometimes.

David and Jenny Taylor write: We started using France Passion about 6 years ago and have always been treated so well at any site we stayed on. One was a chicken farm in Brittany where, we bonded immediately with the owners and have been great friends ever since. We are always taken into the house for evening meals, send greetings cards etc. Recently the farmer's wife was killed in a car accident so, as we now live in France, we dashed down to the farm to comfort our friend.

Our tip is: Plan your route as to your needs. If you require eggs, meat, vegetables, milk etc, organise your route to incorporate these farms en route. We always bought produce, at least to the value of a camp site fee, wherever we stayed.  It worked so well - enough for us to fall in love with France and its way of life.

CAMPING, SITES: For links to many websites which give full details of many thousands of campsites, all over Europe (which includes the UK!), click: Websites for Campsites. The websites are from clubs and individuals in Holland, Germany, France, Italy and Austria. They are free and do not require membership of a club, registration, passwords, etc. Often there are photographs, Google-type maps, GPS co-ordinates, opening dates and links to the campsite's own website. The article also contains a criticism of the UK Caravan Club's weak attempt to provide information on campsites in mainland Europe.

A comprehensive guide for France is the Guide Officiel de Camping-Caravaning en France, published by Camping Car Magazine, listing 11,000 campsites in 754 pages for about £9. The ultimate European guides are ADAC's Camping-Caravaning-Führer listing 5,500 campsites in 2 volumes: Germany/Northern Europe and Southern Europe, also available on 2 CDs (www.adac.de). Even fuller are the Dutch ACSI Gids describing 8,200 sites across Europe in 2 volumes or on CD (www.acsi-gids.com).

The internet is increasingly useful for finding campsites in the area you plan to visit, using a search engine for the country of your choice (eg www.camping.fi for Finland, www.camping.no for Norway). Visit: www.Eurocampings.net for an on-line listing where, for example, 60 sites in Greece are accessed by clicking on a map. Other good websites include www.campingcar-infos.com and www.campingeurope.com.

Between them, GPS, SatNav, Google Maps and the Internet provide another way of locating and giving information on campsites. See, for example, Ian Shires use of these media.

In the UK, membership of the Caravan Club (www.caravanclub.co.uk) and/or the Camping and Caravanning Club (www.campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk) brings details of their own sites and thousands of small, usually rural, Certificated Locations ('CLs'). The Caravan Club also publishes a Continental Sites Guide (now absurdly renamed: 'Caravan Europe', forgetting that motorhomers are also members of the club and that Europe includes the UK, which the Guides do not) to 22 countries in 2 volumes for £11 per volume. Look in vain for the Baltic Republics, Romania and Bulgaria, among others. See also ORGANISATIONS TO JOIN and TRAVEL ADVICE.

A Camping Card International (CCI - visit: www.campingcardinternational.com), formerly the Camping Carnet, costs about £5 per annum from organisations like the Caravan Club. It saves leaving a deposit or passport as security when checking into campsites, provides some third party insurance on site and sometimes allows a 10% discount. Somehow, ours never seems to expire! In Scandinavia, similar benefits come with the 'Camping Card Scandinavia' which can be bought for £4 at most campsites, valid for one year in all 4 countries.

The ACSI camping card (valid for a calendar year) and book with a full description of the 1601 campsites in 18 countries in the scheme (3 in the UK!) and their location, cost 12.50 euros in 2009. Later in the season, they may be cheaper. The campsites charge either 11, 13 or 15 euros per night, including electricity, off-season. Being published by the Dutch, the information is in good English and very thorough! Visit: www.campingcard.com for more details.

Paul and Sheila Barker provide an excellent, personal guide to campsites in Sicily, Denmark, Croatia and Slovakia in their superb travel website: www.langdale-associates.com. Pulling no punches and giving all the necessary details, they describe and rate campsites on a scale from -5 to +5. They praise excellence where praise is due and advise: 'To Be Avoided at All Costs (so bad we refused to pay)', when that is deserved. Their lists are accompanied by a map and include campsites used on the way to and from the country. Click 'Barker's Sites' for a direct link to their guide.

CLEANING: We were surprised at the long list of all our cleaning materials: washing-up liquid, bleach, liquid Ajax, 'Puriclean' for the water tank, toilet fluid, spray polish, soap, laundry tablets, shoe cleaning kit, car-, hair- and carpet -shampoos, wax, silicone spray, WD40, awning cleaner, oven cleaner, black spot remover, dusters, chamois leathers, sponges, brushes, buckets, bowls, mini-vacuum cleaner . . . Where's that dishwasher gone?

COST OF LIVING: The best way to control spending is to keep accurate records, under several headings (see ORGANISING INFORMATION). Calculating averages tells us how things are going. For the last complete year, our average total daily spending on consumables was £17.50 for (in order of expense) campsites, food, diesel, postage/phone/email, eating out, sundries (tolls, ancient sites, postcards, laundry, etc) and LPG.

This sum does not include getting or replacing equipment (new kettle, clothing, etc), insurances, motorhome maintenance or ferries. We have days when we don't move (no diesel!) or don't stay on a campsite, but we do eat well, every day, though we rarely dine out and our favourite drink is tea. See also FOOD, COOKING IT.

ELECTRICITY FROM BATTERIES: In addition to the 12-volt battery (or two)needed to start the engine, long-term travel demands one or more 'leisure' batteries in the living quarters for lighting, the water pump, TV, inverter, fans, gas heating and even to flush the toilet. Since a battery holds very little energy (less than 1 kilowatt-hour) it has to be used efficiently and recharged regularly.

We have 2 'leisure' batteries, each 110 amp-hours, for living, connected in parallel and recharged from the alternator in the engine (not very often), from a battery charger (when there's a mains hook-up), from the generator or from roof-top solar panels (arrays of photo-voltaic cells). To avoid the build-up of explosive gases, they are all vented to the outside of the motorhome. We avoid running the batteries down ('deep-cycling'), keep them topped up with distilled water and, in return, they typically give us over 4 years of continuous use. A heavy-duty switch can be fitted across the split charge relay, so that the engine batteries can also be recharged from the mains or solar panels, if necessary. We have an 'auxiliary start' switch which connects the leisure batteries across the engine battery when the latter is too weak to start the engine on its own

A 'Jump Start' battery, kept under the bed, is ready to jump into action to start the engine when all else fails, to run the air compressor or immersion water pump or any other 12-volt accessory. In addition to jump leads, it has a regular 12-volt socket, a light and it can be recharged from the mains or from another 12-volt source. Excellent - and always on standby to help a friend. 

Our digital cameras, mobile phones, torch, electric screwdriver and toothbrush are all rechargeable and we use rechargeable 1.5 (AA and AAA) and 9-volt batteries for smoke alarms, bike lights, clock, GPS, TV zapper and a personal alarm. The short-wave radio runs from a regulated DC-DC converter, which plugs into a 12-volt socket and gives a 3, 6 or 9-volt DC output through a variety of plugs. See also GPS, RADIO & TV.

ELECTRICITY FROM A GENERATOR: Our built-in 4-kilowatt petrol-driven generator clocks up few hours, it's heavy, it's thirsty, but we do like having it there, just in case. A smaller, portable, petrol-driven generator could charge the batteries and run a microwave, hairdryer or a mains-only TV but, before buying one, think about its potential use versus its cost, noise, weight, size and the energy required to carry it on your long journey.

ELECTRICITY FROM AN INVERTER: That excellent invention, the inverter, plugs into a 12-volt socket and runs mains accessories at 230 volts and 50 Hz. When there's no mains hook-up, our 850-watt inverter, fitted by Motorhome Medics and bought from Maplin in the UK, can run a soldering iron, electric drill, food-mixer, small-battery charger, electric blanket, video, laptop computer and printer, etc. Great! Wiring the inverter directly to the house batteries saves losses on the high current that might be drawn (100W = 10 amps or more). Expensive inverters generate a purer sine wave; cheaper ones are more like a square wave or a saw tooth.

This difference might be important for some electronic devices. A friend had 2 electric toothbrush chargers replaced free of charge before he found that it was the inverter they didn't like!

ELECTRICITY FROM THE MAINS: Campsite staff rarely know much about their mains supply, the maximum current or what happens if it is exceeded.The universal hook-up socket in Europe (including Scandinavia but excepting France and the UK) takes the German 2-round-pin plug with 2 side contacts for the earth. The French sockets also require 2 round pins but the earth contact is also a round pin pointing the other way (ie the plug has two male connections and one female). We use a universal (ie German and French) plug which has 2 round pins, 2 side earth connections and a hole to take the French earth (see attached image of ours, in use in Greece). You will, of course, also find that the proper 16-Amp 3-round-pin CEE17 plug is needed where modern outdoor sockets are provided. So an adapter cable is needed (see attached image).
Rarely have we found an electricity meter in use on a pitch, except in Germany. Usually, a small extra fixed sum (2 or 3 euros per day) is charged for electricity, with a cut-out limiting the current. Greece is very free with its current, sometimes with no apparent limit. Other countries are more parsimonious - Italy and Spain can limit you to as little as 3 amps, which just runs lights and fridge. On our present site, the winter rate of 8 euros a night covers everything – copious hot water, large pitch, hot showers, key to own toilet, free use of washing machines and unlimited electricity. No reduction if you don't use the electricity.

We use a digital multi-meter to ensure that there is a good earth on the supply and that the live and neutral connections are the right way round (although most of our equipment has been bought on the Continent and has 2 round pins which fit either way round).

Our basic mains lead is 25 metres long with spare leads of 25 and 10 metres. There have been times when we have had to use all 3 leads – and borrow another one!

In some countries (Greece is a major culprit) you may find that a voltage exists between your chassis and the ground – 40 to 60 volts, perhaps. This is because of a poor earth connection on the campsite supply. You may feel a tingle if you touch outside metal on the motorhome when you are earthed – eg in bare feet or on wet ground - but it is not dangerous. Do not earth your chassis, otherwise a major current from the rest of the campsite may go to earth via your vehicle!

Avoid two other potential dangers: a connecting plug lying in wet grass, and a tightly coiled lead overheating when in high-current use. Although the tangled nightmares of wiring in Morocco, Greece and Turkey have often surprised us, they have not yet shocked us!

In several countries we found the voltage too low to run our microwave oven – it would light up and go round without actually heating the contents. In Morocco, it was best to use it before any street lights went on!

Campsites are no longer supposed to sell electricity separately at a fixed price: an EU directive proposed that they install meters or make a fixed charge per pitch, including all services. The word has reached the Caravan Club but not Vassilis Polyzogopoulos, out there at Gianitsochori, or many other places in between!

Campground practices vary a lot. The best give you a full 16-amp (= 3.5 kW) connection with external and accessible cut-outs that you can reset yourself. Some limit the supply by having cut-outs at 5 or 10 amps; some have fuses hidden away in one of their cupboards; some say the supply is limited to 3 amps ('battery and lights') when it isn't. In Germany once, the unsympathetic Campingplatzfűhrer had to be knocked up every time we blew his too-sensitive fuse!

One thing is for sure – you will be overcharged for what you use and they will make a nice profit. Even with a meter.

ELECTRICITY FROM SOLAR PANELS: Our two roof-top 22-watt solar panels (arrays of photovoltaic cells), which cost £300 over 10 years ago, put up to a quarter of a kilowatt-hour into our 12-volt batteries on a long sunny day. If that happened every day for ten years, the electricity would still cost 32p per kilowatt-hour! What you pay for is the convenience of being able to camp for longer periods without a hook-up or having to run the engine. In effect, they slow the rate at which the house batteries discharge! Visit the optimistically titled www.unlimited-power.co.uk.

ENTERTAINMENT, AUDIO & VIDEO: We have a radio/CD player in the cab that has extension speakers each side of the bed, but it's a long way to go to press a button. Our laptop computer (see ORGANISING INFORMATION) plays DVDs, audio CDs, slide shows and stores its own musical compilations. More recently, we bought an Avtex TFT-LCD TV which we fitted to a wall overlooking the bed at the rear of the motorhome. This multi-function modern miracle is an analogue and digital TV with stereo sound and Teletext, a DVD player, a CD player, a PC monitor, an FM radio, a reader of cards and it has a USB connection. All remotely controlled from the pillow.  

DVDs, often given away free by newspapers and magazines, are replacing books as the motorhomer's travelling companions. Easily stored, easily swapped, easily watched. The ubiquitous MP3 player plays music wherever you go. 'Talking books' can be collected in the UK and the pages turned down the road, on tape or CD.

See also RADIO, TV TERRESTRIAL and TV SATELLITE.

FERRIES: The ferryboat is much more than an old-fashioned alternative to the Tunnel. We have made over 50 ferry journeys during our long-term travels, crossing to Scandinavia, Estonia, Morocco and Greece, visiting Greek islands, working our way through Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica and crossing the Dardanelles into Asian Turkey. Ferries have taken us to Europe's furthest north (Nordkapp in Norway) and to its furthest south (the island of Gavdos off the coast of Crete). Check that the ferry's ramp doesn't catch the motorhome's bottom, that there is room to manoeuvre (Greek island ferries may require you to reverse on) and whether overnight camping is possible on the open deck.

Most UK ferry companies now operate 'fluid pricing', so it's best to book as far ahead as possible. We find booking on the internet, directly with the ferry company, usually gives the best deal. The exception to this is the Adriatic crossing, Italy/Greece, which we never book ahead, preferring to shop around at the port for the best crossing, looking for 'camping on board' to avoid the expense of a cabin and meals. For problems that may arise if you use an agency to book ferries for you, see: Complaints to Motorhome Ticket Club. A very useful websites we use to find which ferry companies run, where and when, and then to book online, include: www.aferry.co.uk

FOOD, BUYING IT: Eating is an unavoidable expense that can be reduced by buying fresh, unprocessed food to cook yourself. We had this in mind when we bought a large motorhome with a 4-burner hob, gas oven and grill, as well as a microwave oven and a large fridge/freezer (see WHICH MOTORHOME). We buy in bulk where food is cheap – weekly farmers' markets and roadside stalls for fruit and vegetables and special offers in supermarkets for packets and tins.

German 'Lidl' (visit: www.lidl.com) and to a lesser extent 'Aldi' (visit: www.aldi.com) supermarkets are established across Europe, selling food and non-food products of consistent quality and value. We know them well, including the world's most northerly Lidl (at Sodankyla in Finnish Lapland). 'Maxi-Dia' is a down-market version, found in Spain and Greece. 'Tesco' hypermarkets (with filling stations – see FUEL) are appearing in Eastern Europe but don't expect British sausages! For a list of European-wide supermarkets, visit: www.eurapart.com, who also deal in air and ferry tickets.

When changing countries, you need to know if prices will increase or decrease: if food will be plentiful or scarce. For very different reasons, stock up before entering Norway and Bulgaria! But see WEIGHT (the motorhome's, not yours!).

FOOD, COOKING IT: In general, we are equipped to cook with either gas or electricity. We use the microwave for most of our cooking on campsites with unmetered electricity. It produces bread, cakes, Christmas pudding, jam, marmalade, soups and porridge as well as daily meals. Without a microwave, we might have bought a low-power electric hotplate or a slow-cooker. When using gas, a pressure cooker saves time and fuel, and de-pressurising outside helps to reduce condensation. We brought our old Prestige Hi-dome but there are smaller models available in the Butterfly Elite collection.

Our other cooking equipment includes a low wattage electric kettle and toaster, whistling kettle, Camp-a-toaster to use on the hob, frying pan, lidded saucepan, Pyrex casserole (for the gas or microwave ovens), baking tins and microwave ware. We also have a wall-mounted can-opener, knives on a magnetic knife rack, scissors, chopping board, sieve, orange/lemon squeezer, potato peeler and masher, cheese grater, pepper mill and a rack of herb and spice jars. Our Diet Scale weighs up to 500g and fits inside a half-litre measuring jug, which doubles as the scale pan. An empty wine bottle serves as a rolling pin! Citric acid powder is useful for descaling kettles and making lemonade – both regular features of wintering in Greece.

The Morphy Richards 400W food processor needs mains electricity but a small Moulinex hand-mixer can be used with an inverter. We also carry kitchen roll, greaseproof paper, cling-film, cooking foil, plastic bags and boxes for the fridge/freezer, oven gloves, a large thermos flask, a bottle opener and corkscrew, and our favourite recipe book by Delia Smith. A barbecue might be a useful addition.

Travelling through France in November 2007, we couldn't resist buying a long-wanted bread-maker from a passing Lidl for the excellent price of 32 euros (23 pounds). It's a 850W Bifinett, French made with French instructions and has not stopped providing us with excellent bread ever since. We use Lidl bread baking mix which comes in four varities: one white and three brown. Or we can use flour, dried yeats and our own recipe. Excellent bread at less than half the shop price for a better product. 

All this adds up to 3 good meals a day for 2 people at an average total daily cost of £3.50 for the last full year. Amazing but true!

FUEL: With soaring fuel costs, it does pay to think about where to buy – which filling station and even which country! In general, diesel was cheaper than petrol throughout Europe, although it has now caught up and sometimes overtaken it. LPG is the cheapest fuel and, if you can use this, it is available throughout most of Europe (often called Autogas), though Greece and Scandinavia are notable exceptions. We have a refillable LPG tank for domestic use, but the engine runs on diesel. See also LPG.

We avoid filling on motorways and compare prices elsewhere. In many countries (especially France) fuel is considerably cheaper at the big supermarkets, though access to the pumps can be difficult for larger motorhomes. In Italy, choose a self-service pump to save a few cents per litre! Before crossing a border or boarding a ferry, consider whether to fill up or wait. In general, fuel in Eastern Europe costs less than Western Europe, but there are some surprises. For example, on our last visit to Turkey we found fuel more expensive than in either Greece or Bulgaria. Comparative fuel prices for Britain and Europe can be checked with the AA (visit: www.theaa.com) and MMM magazine publishes a quarterly table.

GPS RECEIVERS: Our hand-held battery-operated Magellan colour GPS receiver (visit www.magellangps.com) uses a minimum of 4 (out of 24) US satellites to give a position accurate up to 3 metres when walking, cycling or driving. It can also be slotted into a holder in the cab to run off the cigarette-lighter. A map of Western Europe is built in and a 32 MB card holds more maps, selected from a CD-based contoured map of the world. Waypoints can be set and routes planned, entered and followed. The GPS gives: distance between any 2 points; altitude; current, average and maximum speed; distance covered; heading; current latitude and longitude; time and date; bearing of the sun, moon and current waypoint; sunrise, sunset and moon phases and much else. A track is left on the map with profiles of the track's altitude and time. How did we ever travel without it? You can also visit: www.garmin.com.

Larger, CD-based GPS systems (known as Sat-Nav) can be fitted permanently in the cab. They give detailed street maps and routes for a small range of well-developed countries in Western Europe, with voice instructions on how to reach a desired destination. Visit: www.conrad-anderson.co.uk and www.globalpositioningsystems.co.uk. See also ORGANISING INFORMATION.

HEALTH, DOCTOR: Within the UK, you can in principle get treatment from any doctor or hospital by showing your NHS Medical Card or quoting your NHS Number. If you go abroad for more than 3 months, you are supposed to return the NHS Card to your local Health Authority. If you do this, make a note of your NHS number so that you can get medical treatment or re-register with a doctor when you return to the UK. Click Travelling with a Medical Condition to read of one motorhomer's experiences. And see our recent article: Medical and Dental Treatment for Long-term Travellers. We also link and give details on 8 Health-related Websites, including the NHS.

HEALTH, EMERGENCY MEDICAL TRAVEL KIT: In addition to the usual bandages, plasters, medicines, pills and potions, we carry a few hypodermic syringes, needles, silk for stitching up wounds, dressings and protective gloves. Our very helpful GP gave us some of these things from his own stock and the local hospital's pharmacy supplied the rest. The booklet that comes with the European Health Insurance Card gives advice on a First Aid Kit and Boots sell their own versions, among 99 other items for travellers (www.boots.co.uk).

HEALTH, EUROPEAN HEALTH INSURANCE CARD (EHIC): Since 1 January 2006, the EHIC has replaced Form E111. You get the EHIC by completing and posting a form obtainable from any post office. You need to know your NI or NHS number. The small plastic card (valid for 5 years) is posted to your home address within 3 weeks. For a faster service, you can also complete a form on the website: www.dh.gov.uk/travellers (card within 7 days) or telephone 0845 6062030 (card within 10 days). The same application can include cards for spouse and children.

With the EHIC comes an excellent booklet 'Health Advice for Travellers' published by the Department of Health. It lists all the countries in Europe where the EHIC will get you free or reduced-cost medical and dental treatment which becomes necessary while you are travelling abroad, and other countries where some free or reduced-cost health care is possible. In practice, for minor treatment, the doctor or hospital may want neither payment nor the EHIC paperwork. Don Madge has given us full details of the regulations governing the use of the EHIC in each and every European country.

If you have to pay for medical treatment, the booklet explains how to claim the money back, locally or from the NHS on return to the UK, depending on the country. 'Health Advice for Travellers' also gives excellent guidance on health risks, precautions and safety for travellers as well as a comprehensive list of possible diseases and their prevention, including inoculations. Health advice is available from NHS Direct on 0845 4647 or visit the comprehensive www.nhs.uk. Click here to access other sources of health information on this website.

HEALTH, INOCULATIONS: We maintain a full programme of inoculations including polio, tetanus, typhoid, hepatitis A, meningitis and rabies (cyclists' legs attract dogs). All but rabies were free. Walkers should take advice about the tick-borne encephalitis injection (we went without, it cost too much). Again, the EHIC booklet gives good advice on all these things. Visit: www.travelhealth.co.uk and www.masta.org.

We understand that tick borne encephalitis (TBE) mainly occurs in central and eastern Europe - Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Hungary, Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Russia and Ukraine.

Generally, the risk to the average traveller to affected countries is small. Immunisation is recommended for people who intend to walk, camp or work in heavily forested regions of affected countries between April and October when the ticks are most active. In particular, if you stay in areas where there is heavy undergrowth. It is also recommended for people who handle material that may be infected by the virus (for example laboratory workers). Rarely, you may be at risk if you eat or drink unpasteurised dairy products from infected cows, goats or sheep.

A bite from an infected tick can result in inflammation of the brain (encephalitis). The immunisation is not supplied by the NHS and the cost can be quite high. Given all that, we have not been immunised but we do take precautions walking in forested areas or through undergrowth, to minimise the possibility of picking up a tick - eg covering our arms and legs. There are various ideas on how to best remove a tick - pull, turn or burn. Remember that it has to be an infected tick (ie it has fed on an infected animal) and that it has to disgorge into your bloodstream. Correctly removing the tick minimises the risk of infectious material being injected into your bloodstream.

Overall, it's a small risk and there are greater risks. Think how the people who live in these countries survive!

HEATING, SPACE: There are many ways of warming the small space inside a motorhome. We have an energy-guzzling 10-kilowatt gas-fired blown-air heating system for instant warm-up, although a small catalytic gas heater by the door is quite adequate for a cool evening (with good ventilation and the carbon monoxide detector switched ON!). We have a 1- or 2-kilowatt electric fan heater ready for a user-friendly mains supply and, with a permanent bed, an electric blanket is left in place throughout the winter. Hot water bottles can provide back-up!

Diesel-powered heating systems, long favoured by lorry drivers, are increasing in popularity although they can cost over £700 as an after-fit. They also tend to be noisy. A typical system needs a supply of electric current and around 0.25 litres of diesel per hour on a 3kW setting. Visit: www.propexheatsource.co.uk and www.vikingmarine.co.uk.

Many European motorhomes are fitted with Carver or Truma gas-powered convection, blown-air or radiator heating; some systems can also run on mains electricity or take heat from the engine. There are several other possibilities. MMM founder and pioneer motorhomer, the late John Hunt, used a thermostatically controlled Dimplex greenhouse heater at night and a 230-volt, 30-watt heated electric carpet runner. Visit: www.speedheat.co.uk for heated carpets.

HEATING, WATER: Hot water, one of life's essential luxuries, is not always free in the campsites of Continental Europe, so it is a good idea to have both gas and electric water heaters to make maximum use of the available energy supply. Diesel-powered systems are also available and the engine cooling system can make sure there is hot water on arrival! Our Four Winds motorhome was fitted with a 1.5-kilowatt, 6-gallon Atwood gas water boiler and we added, in parallel, CAK's 500W Mini Boiler with an 8-litre stainless steel tank to take full advantage of non-metered hook-ups (£150 - visit: www.caktanks.co.uk). 'In parallel' means that water in both tanks gets hot – but what is 6 gallons + 8 litres?

Hot water for smaller jobs comes from a gas-fired whistling kettle or a 750-watt, 1-litre electric kettle. Budget travellers hang a black plastic bag of water on a sunlit tree.

INCOME TAX: Any income arising in the UK (pensions, house rent, interest on UK investments, etc) will be taxable in the UK. If you stay 'resident' in the UK, you complete the annual tax return in the normal way and are taxed through your income, as are all other UK citizens.

If you are 'non-resident' and therefore presumably resident in another country, then some changes may occur but not to your benefit. For example, any house rent you earn would then be taxed at source (deducted by your agent and not paid to you) rather than later through your income tax.

If you have a substantial income and/or capital, no doubt you will also employ an accountant to advise you on the best place(s) to keep your money and whether or not to remain 'resident' in the UK.

The Inland Revenue now allow you to make your returns and calculate your own tax code on the internet, after registering with them at a UK address. Visit: www.hmrc.gov.uk

INSECT CONTROL: The main thing is to keep insects out, with a screen on the door as well as on all the windows and roof vents. Ants once made their way up a tree, along a branch, down some leaves, across our roof, down the side and in through a vent – a case for one of the sprays that are available to knock out flies and ants! We burn 'Moskil' coils in a patent Japanese mosquito coil holder, or heat 'Spira No Bite' tablets on a 12-volt 6-watt 'UFO' heater, to eliminate mosquitoes and midges on summer evenings. We also encourage spiders!

INSULATION: It's quite a skill to reduce the flow of heat into or out of the motorhome whilst maintaining good ventilation. First, buy a well-insulated motorhome. Then get an outer screen for the cab windows, thermal window curtains (we use them over the original blinds), Velcro-fixed indoor covers for roof lights, a thick carpet and room dividers or curtains. Taylormade of Honley supplied our external screen cover (for campsites) and also fitted us with internal screens for both the cab and overcab windows, to add when it's very hot or very cold. We also use the internal screens for privacy when we free-camp, being easily removed from the inside for a quick drive-away. Visit: www.taylormade-window-covers.co.uk. (They also make an excellent bicycle cover, which protects our machines on the rear carrier.)

However, migrating south with the birds remains the best way for long-term travellers to keep warm!

INSURANCE, BREAKDOWN: Our insurance policy has been extended to give RAC Breakdown Assistance in all the countries covered by the policy, including any additional Green Card countries. The RAC has a call centre in France and we are assured that the service can move all of our motorhome's 26 feet and 6.5 tons, including repatriation to the UK if local repair is not possible.Visit: www.rac.co.uk

We have used the service twice in the UK: once when one of two 11-year-old engine batteries in the Four Winds motorhome let us down, and once when the serpentine belt came off its many pulleys. We have yet to use the RAC outside the UK, but a friend whose American RV brakes caught fire in Portugal found the service excellent.

INSURANCE, MOTORHOME: Comfort Insurance (www.comfort-insurance.co.uk) once gave us 12 months' full insurance cover for 30 European countries (the expanded EU plus 5), underwritten by Norwich Union. For a small admin charge per occasion, the full cover is extended to 7 more countries, including Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey (including Asian Turkey) and Morocco, for up to 120 days in any given insurance year.

Comfort have a special rate for long-term travellers with no settled address (see ADDRESS) and there are Adobe Downloads covering many potential motorhome insurance problems. They take several features into account in deciding whether to quote and are likely to favour those with a recent-model motorhome who are taking on the venture of travelling around the UK and/or Europe – ie genuine travellers.

More recently, we have switched to Bakers of Cheltenham who offer a similar policy with the same insurer, Norwich Union, with similar breakdown cover, but for a much reduced premium.

Other insurance agents advertise in the MMM, but check carefully that their policies are suited to your motorhome and your travels. For example, many restrict the length of your time outside the UK and their 'Green Card' may provide only the very minimum of insurance cover. Friends were halted in Istanbul, unable to cross the Bosphorus, when they discovered they were covered only for European Turkey! Some insurance companies have limits on the size or age of the motorhome, others exclude American vehicles. Click: 40 Motorhome Insurers for further general information on motorhome insurance, a table of 35 UK-based motorhome insurance agents and details of each of these agents and their policies.

Click: Problems for Visitors to read about the unfortunate experiences of a mature Australian couple, with an excellent driving record, seeking insurance for a motorhome they had bought in the UK. And we think we have problems! See also WHEELS, HOW MANY?

INSURANCE, TRAVEL & HEALTH: Endsleigh (www.endsleigh.co.uk) offer a full year of health and travel insurance with two levels of cover: Europe (including any country with a Mediterranean coastline) and the Rest of the World. We took the 25% reduction for not including their baggage insurance. They do charge a higher premium for travellers over 66. Most other companies put a limit on the length of the stay abroad or on the number of trips you make. Some even ban older people! It's cheaper to take out the insurance from Endsleigh's website, rather than by phone or in person at one of their offices. You can also renew or extend by credit card on the internet (or by phone). The website will give you an instant quote and enables you to print the policy and the conditions.

The Endsleigh cover includes medical expenses overseas in case of illness or injury (including emergency dental treatment), air ambulance return to the UK if necessary and, if all else fails, compensation for death, an overseas funeral or shipping your body home. They may also pay the cost of your return to the UK for the serious illness or funeral of a close relative.

More recently, we have switched to a policy offered by the British Mountaineering Council (BMC). There is an annual membership fee which brings a super mountaineering magazine, and insurance which has no upper age limit, lasts all year, includes baggage and covers the world. Five categories of risk are covered, from Ordinary Mortal to North Face of the Eiger..

Jackie Naylor wrote to us (October 2005): "I did try Endsleigh, but have now found something cheaper! I have finally taken out cover with Carefree. I went through the Camping and Caravanning Club (visit: www.campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk) to get it. We have only recently joined the CCC and frankly don't think we shall be using any of their sites in the UK, but it has still been a saving. I have got cover for the two of us for £208 for 183 days and this can also be used as multi-trip cover. We were tempted not to get cover and rely on the EHIC but, knowing our luck, decided to take the extra cover."

We do rely on the EHIC (see HEALTH: EHIC) when in Europe, taking out travel and health insurance with Endsleigh in European countries not covered by EHIC (eg Turkey or Romania) or when travelling outside Europe. Over the years we have made small claims from Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and the USA, all of which Endsleigh paid promptly, in full and without prevarication.

INTERNET & EMAIL: Our laptop (see ORGANISING INFORMATION) has enabled us to read and write emails off-line, process and store digital images, write articles and diaries, listen to music, watch DVDs, use spreadsheets, make cards (visiting, greetings and Mother's Day) and analyse data from the GPS. Until recently, we had to use internet cafés or libraries to access emails and the World Wide Web. We carried data back and forth on a 3.5-inch floppy and then a 250 MB USB memory stick. Finding the café or bar with a good price and usable equipment was also an interesting way to get to know a town and its people!

In November 2005, between journeys, we took the plunge, bought a Vodafone GPRS/3G Datacard and signed up for a monthly contract (visit: www.vodafone.co.uk).With this we get unlimited access to the internet when in the UK and 100 MB a month when roaming in some countries (you should carefully check which). With care, this arrangement has worked: 100 MB has proved enough for emailing, maintaining this website, internet banking, buying bicycle parts and books, booking ferries and general web browsing. But for the later nasty turn of events in our contract with Vodafone, and the extent to which they will go to ignore complaints and to pursue illegal debts after overcharging by hundreds of pounds, make sure you visit: Fony Voda Strike Again on this website. 

Visit: www.satelliteforcaravans.co.uk. Despite its name, it also has a very good coverage of internet access whilst on the move, using the mobile phone network in different ways, with links and the shared experience of travellers.

A Fujitsu laptop (visit www.fujitsu.com/global/), bought in Johor Bahru in March 2005 as a smaller and lighter alternative to our original Dell laptop, also has a wireless facility, which was very useful in the USA where most campgrounds were also wireless hotspots. Slowly, these WiFi hotspots are spreading across the face of Europe (England has thousands; Greece has several). The Vodafone Datacard (and, more recently, the Vodafone USB modem) also enables us to type, edit, send and receive text messages with ease.

For a much fuller story, see our article in this website: Internet on the Move with yet more on our tragic relationship with Vodafon UK.

LANGUAGES: English is rapidly becoming the language of Europe and the world; it is already the language of tourism in many countries: Hello, OK, Parking, Camping, Stop, WC, No Problem, Bye Bye. If the shopkeeper doesn't speak English, talk to their 12-year-old! For a second language, learn German: the first language of 100 million Europeans and useful in Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Turkey. School French has limited uses, even in France! We are fluent in English, German and French, which means we can read many other languages but using a phrase book to ask a question in (say) Swedish is no guarantee that you will understand the answer!

For a wry look at the future of English as the official language of the EU, visit Ramblings/Humour on this website.

LAUNDRY: Most campsites have deep laundry sinks, sometimes with hot water but rarely with a plug. We started with our own compact 'Easy Pressure Washer', filled with hot water and turned by hand. We then bought a small electric washing machine, made in Greece. Its 2kW element heated the water and a 250W paddle agitated it. Once up to temperature, it claimed to wash 3.5 kg of clothes in 8 minutes, but emptying and rinsing took a lot longer and it didn't spin-dry! We have now come to terms with the idea that automatic washing machines are a great invention – and they turn up often enough on campsites, costing from nothing to 5 Euros! Outside the UK, launderettes are uncommon and dry-cleaning is always expensive.

We carry a universal sink plug, plastic pegs and bowls, a long strong washing line, a folding clothes prop and a little carousel with 16 pegs attached (£1 from Huddersfield market), which is useful for hanging small items to drip-dry in the shower when it's wet outside. Tumble driers are not needed (and rarely found) in the warmer countries of Europe – do your laundry on a fine day and peg it out. Campsites in ski-ing areas and in Scandinavia often have a free drying room . In Australia and New Zealand, outdoor clothes lines are always provided on their well-equipped campgrounds. Only in the UK and the USA have we found a ban on hanging out washing, but we can accommodate several lines under our own awning.

There are travel irons on the market but we don't use one, which also saves carrying an ironing board. When we need to press a business suit, we'll review this decision!

LPG: Liquefied Petroleum Gas - butane, propane or a mixture of the 2 - is used for heating, cooking and refrigeration in the motorhome. The gas is stored as a liquid under pressure - up to 170 psi (12 atmospheres) on a hot day - and needs a portable bottle (refillable or exchangeable for a full one) or a tank fixed to the chassis (refillable at a garage selling LPG - 'GPL' in France, of course - or Autogas). Tank and bottle each require an appropriate regulator to ensure that the gas flows at a constant low pressure.

Butane and propane have about the same density and energy and burn at around the same temperature, but propane has a lower boiling point (-40°C compared with -1°C for butane) and can be used when it's freezing outside. Our tank fills with 60 litres of LPG, which is widely and cheaply available now in just about every European country, including the UK, but not including Scandinavia and Greece. Visit: www.calorgas.co.uk. For your nearest supplier in the UK, click here. For European sources of LPG, click here

There are 3 types of connector for LPG refills at petrol/gas stations. Most common is the claw; the UK uses a bayonet type and there is a screw fitting. Within a given country, the tendency is for everyone to use the same connector. Adapters can be purchased, one fitting into another, and we have all 3. Many petrol/gas stations have adapters for brief loan.

Since LPG refills can be hard to find in some countries (eg Greece, Morocco, Scandinavia), we added a T-piece connector ('Extend-A-Stay') to fit a grey 5 kg German propane bottle, which is the easiest to carry, refill or exchange throughout Europe (if you don't know where, ask a German). Calor bottle fittings are unique to the UK, and Camping Gaz, though widely available (claiming 130,000 outlets in 100 countries), is expensive in its small bottles.

Gaslow (visit www.gaslow.co.uk) supply purpose made refillable LPG cylinders and all the required fittings. TB Turbo (visit Lancaster or www.turboboost.co.uk) supply and fit a rechargeable 13 kg LPG cylinder for under £250. A remote fill kit is useful and reduces possible forecourt suspicions. A large LPG tank can also supplement petrol as the energy source for a converted engine! See FUEL.

MAPS & GUIDES: Large-scale maps can often be bought locally - if there is a tourist office, check out what is going free. On a smaller scale, an atlas covering the whole country is always better value than buying several individual maps. If you love maps and have built up a stock in the UK, have them sent out (see POSTE RESTANTE) and post them back after use. Stanford's is our favourite map and travel bookshop (12-14 Long Acre, Covent Garden, London W1R 5TA. International orders phone +44 207 8361321 or visit: www.stanfords.co.uk). Beautiful Upton upon Severn is the real location of www.themapshop.co.uk.

We have a love/hate relationship with the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet series (the 'Rough Planets'), but we do use them a lot. They give good local information, town maps and some details of camping places, as well as the usual tourist bumph and adolescent hype. Visit: www.roughguides.com and www.lonelyplanet.com. The Michelin Green Guides (visit www.viamichelin.com for this and much else) are excellent for details and plans of historical sites and scenic drives in countries like Italy and Greece. See also TRAVEL ADVICE.

MONEY, EARNING IT: Among our motorhoming friends, Flo knits a variety of dolls to sell through campsite shops; Clare specialises in wood carvings and crochet work; Eugene and Nicole from Quebec don medieval costume to go busking around Europe's castles and cathedrals in the summer, playing lute and lyre; Barney and June took care of an ex-pat family's house and dogs in Greece for a time, from the comfort of their Hymer; German artist Dieter sets up his easel and hopes to sell his oil paintings; others work as temporary campsite wardens. In Greece, several campsites have a semi-resident English couple living in their own motorhome, helping out in return for a free pitch, a small income, meals or other perks.

See the article: Home Guard Employment on this website for more information on being paid to watch someone else's home from the comfort of your motorhome or caravan.

Those with language skills can translate, interpret, coach or teach. Travelling hairdressers or mechanics have a ready market on any campsite. In the USA (capitalist capital of the world) we met motorhomers eking out their pensions in many ways: making and selling jewellery, or cakes, or producing all kinds of visiting and greetings cards to order on their laptops, perhaps featuring a photo of the customers or their RV.

Fruit and vegetable picking and packing can provide seasonal work, while the WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) Scheme may appeal to some motorhomers, helping out in a wide range of countries in exchange for food and accommodation (or a place to park and hook up). Visit: www.wwoofer.com if you see yourself as a Wwoofer! Here in Finland, as we write, August/September is berry-picking time. Gather the free harvest of the forest and sell your excess to a commercial buyer – see www.arctic-flavours.fi.

It is still a complicated process to get a work permit in another EU country, so these efforts to earn money may often be described as 'informal'. Visit: www.vacationwork.co.uk and get ahead of the students.

If you plan to write for money, start on this before you leave the UK. Try to get a commission from a magazine or publisher or get an agent. It is much harder to set this up once you are travelling. Match your writing to the publication(s) you are aiming at: this may determine the direction in which you travel. See if a guidebook or magazine wants a particular region explored or a campsite guide wants a country surveyed. Visit, for example, www.writewords.org.uk.

Take a word processor with a printer, or better still a laptop, since magazines increasingly prefer material in digital form. A digital camera (see PHOTOGRAPHY) will take the photographs that are essential, and you can make them available to the editor or publisher via the internet or on a CD through the post.

MONEY, SAVING IT BY HUNTER-GATHERING: There are many opportunities to gather fruit and vegetables as a second harvest gleaned from fields and orchards, or from hedgerows and wild trees. In Finland, there are enough lingenberries on the forest floor to tempt Russians over the border to pick and sell (see above). In Greece there is a winter glut of oranges and lemons. We pick fruit to make jams and marmalade or vegetables for soup. Herbs such as thyme, rosemary and bay leaves are easily dried in the microwave!

Sometimes the campsite itself is also a fruit or olive orchard, or part of a farm. We have gathered or been given: oranges, lemons, tangerines, grapefruit, apples, melons, pomegranates, quince, raspberries, lingenberries, blackberries, strawberries, cherries, prickly pears, olives, grapes, nuts (including walnuts and pine-nuts), potatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, cauliflowers, aubergines, spinach, herbs and bay leaves as well as eggs, wines and olive oil. If you fish (we don't) take your rod, line or octopus spear. Or wait with the seagulls for a fishing boat to dock.

MONEY, SPENDING IT: We can draw money from ATMs throughout Europe (and the world) using credit (HSBC Visa and MasterCard) and debit cards (HSBC Cirrus and Maestro). We pay off our credit cards in full each month by direct debit on the pension account, avoiding any interest payment or personal intervention. Internet banking (for example www.hsbc.co.uk) is a great paper-free way of monitoring accounts, checking direct debits, making payments and dropping the bank a line.

We also carry some extra cash in Euros (hidden in a safe-box) but we no longer use traveller's cheques, given the trouble and expense of cashing them. The Euro has rapidly displaced the US dollar or the former Deutschmark as the second currency of choice throughout Eastern Europe. Plastic cards are safest, because they are easy to hide and can be cancelled if lost or stolen. They also provide some insurance cover on purchases. We protect against their loss with a 'Cardguard' scheme. See also SECURITY.

ORGANISATIONS TO JOIN: There are many clubs that might be of interest to motorhomers. The Caravan Club or the Camping and Caravanning Club (see CAMPING, SITES) are of direct use for their campsite guides, magazines, insurance and legal services. The Motor Caravanners' Club (www.motorcaravanners.org.uk) has offered advice, a magazine and club rallies for many years. People with special interests are well served: the retired, snowbirds, Silk Route adventurers, Christians, classic motorhome enthusiasts, self-builders, naturists, folding bike riders, nice people – there is even a group for loners! People with similar motorhomes can meet and share experiences - Hymer, Swift, Bambi, Pilote – and American RV owners can choose from several competing clubs. Check your needs against the MMM's regular listings (visit: MMM Magazine)

ORGANISING INFORMATION: (See also INTERNET & EMAIL.) Travellers have a long list of essential codes and numbers: passport, National Insurance, National Health, VIN, credit and debit cards, PINs, driving licence, short-wave frequencies, equipment serial numbers, phone numbers and international dialling codes, exchange rates, etc. A pocket-sized or palm-top organiser can store all these things, coded if necessary (see SECURITY, PINS & OTHER CODES), and behind passwords.

Our 4MB Packard Bell organiser also stores dozens of addresses (email and actual), keeps a daily log of mileages and fuel, gives space for memos, has a perpetual calendar and anniversary reminder, gives the date and time in many parts of the world, records expenses as they occur (listing them according to type and giving daily, weekly or monthly summaries - see COST OF LIVING), converts currencies as well as British and metric measurements, calculates, schedules future activities, and lists and sorts by priority all the things there are 'To Do'.

We started travelling with a Canon StarWriter 70 and then moved on to a Brother LW-840ic, each an inexpensive dedicated word processor with built-in ink jet printer. They recorded all our writing, addresses and data on 3.5" disks. We also have a filing system under the bed for letters, photographs, receipts and guarantees, manuals for the motorhome and its accessories, stationery, tourist information leaflets, articles cut from magazines, maps, etc.

Three years ago, we bought a Dell Inspiron 1100 laptop computer, which immediately found a wide range of uses: writing, digital images, CD audio recording and playback, keeping and analysing data, video editing, spreadsheets, watching films on DVD, maps, route planning and analysis. Dell have no shops - you design your own machine, get advice and order over the internet at www.dell.co.uk (phone 0870 907 4000) – an ideal arrangement for the traveller. When we had a problem in Greece, they arranged for a technician from Patras to come to our campsite for the day and fix it, under the terms of the extended guarantee! Visit www.dell.com

And now we have a Fujitsu laptop with wireless! (See INTERNET & EMAIL, GPS and PHOTOGRAPHY.)

The Hewlet Packard printer, scanner and copier produces good printouts for documents and photographs, scans key documents for storage, turns printed words into word processor data (using OCR), turns printed photographs into digital images, and saves us looking for a photocopier. Visit: Hewlet Packard Pinters.

See also our article in this website: Internet on the Move

PARKING: Maggie Bevis writes: "We discovered this summer (in Greece) that Tamarisks aren't the nicest of trees to park beneath as the little bits get everywhere- and stain if they get wet. We hadn't even considered leaves/branches touching the van would be a problem before the ant invasion. We liked parking near Eucalyptus trees as they seemed to deter mozzies but, once again, we needed to sweep the awning down carefully and clear out the roof lights because of the bits." In fact, Australian campers call Eucalyptus 'Widow Makers' because of their tendency to drop limbs without warning!

Maggie continues: "Another thing I hadn't considered was the position of the van in the sunshine. We had 40 degrees plus last year and the poor fridge struggled in the heat. We soon learnt which way was best to park and to put the fridge on gas even for short stops such as shopping trips.

I can't tell you how useful my cotton sarongs were - they have a thousand and one uses but suffice to say, draping one over the kitchen window provided shade for the fridge!

We have also learnt not to park near refrigerated lorries in Aires if we want any sleep, and to keep away from vans with sliding doors.

I have a little sticker on the dash board for setting off as invariably we forget to do something - like put the step up, close the bathroom door, shut the roof lights, switch the fridge over to battery."

See also SECURITY IN THE MOTORHOME and CAMPING, FREE.

PENSIONS: If you stop working before retirement age, you can continue to pay voluntary contributions to enhance your state pension - providing you are 'ordinarily resident' in the UK and aged under 60. To see if you are 'ordinarily resident', contact The Pension Service, Tyneview Park, Payments, Newcastle Upon Tyne NE98 1BA or visit: The UK Pension Service.

Men between 60 and 65 and not working are automatically given voluntary contributions towards their pensions.

Once you reach 60, you can receive the annual Winter Fuel Allowance (while it lasts) and, when eligible, the state pension payments with annual increments. Check out Pension Credits (visit: www. etc) to receive more money if your total income (as an individual or a couple) is presently below a defined minimum. An existing pensioner can also receive a supplement if their spouse has not yet reached pensionable age and has no income. Visit: UK Pension Credits.

PET PASSPORTS: From July 2004, the EU Pet Passport replaced the Pet Travel Scheme for taking pets in and out of the UK and around Europe – the EU and several other countries. More information from DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - visit: Pet Passport Scheme) or talk to your vet who will issue the passport. Do this well in advance of your travels.

PHOTOGRAPHY: For us this is an absorbing hobby, constantly focusing attention, recording our journeys, supporting our travel writing and helping us to share experiences. We started with a compact 35 mm Minolta camera to carry when cycling or walking, and a much bulkier 35 mm Canon EOS 600 SLR with a variety of lenses for 'serious' photography. The Canon has a flashgun, a firm tripod and a remote shutter release.

We used Kodak Gold film, 100 asa in the summer, 200 asa in the winter. The problem was finding a way of storing prints and negatives so they could be easily identified and retrieved - after a lifetime of film-based photography, we had too many!

Then we bought a digital camera, a Fuji FinePix F601Zoom. This transformed our approach to photography – we could click with impunity and save only the best images for future use. The camera was compact, its battery rechargeable and the 128 MB memory card (storing up to 200 good quality images of about 2,000 x 1,500 pixels) could be used repeatedly. Every image carried the time and date it was taken, details of the exposure and a 30-second descriptive soundtrack could be added. The camera also took short videos and long audio recordings. Splendid!

Then came the Seige of Kalithea and the FinePix worked no more! Back in the UK, we found a Canon PowerShot A570IS with a 4x zoom, all the features of the Fuji but running on 2 AA batteries (our choice). This compact camera is idea for walking and cycling and we do not need to carry a charger with us. A 1 GB card stores over a thousand images, each measuring 2 x 1.5 million pixels (= 3 Mpixels). Perfect, for our use and more than enough for prints, emails and this website.

In Auckland, in July 2005, we bought a bargain Canon digital camera (Power Shot S1 IS) with many more features than the Fuji, including image stabilisation and a 10x optical zoom. We use the lighter Fuji when walking or cycling; the heavier Canon for indoor work and around the motorhome. In practice, most of the images on this website have been captured with the Fuji.

Many shops provide a printing service for digital cameras, and images find permanent storage on a CD. However, the camera comes into its own if you also have a laptop or PC (see ORGANISING INFORMATION), which can store the images or copy them to a CD, rotate, crop and enhance them, send them in emails, print them as photographs or as inserts in letters, set up a slide show, add sound, make a video, add them in various ways to a website – everything a creative photographer might want. Visit: www.canon.com and www.fujifilm.co.uk.

POSTE RESTANTE: This is easy to set up, sometimes frustrating to use and always takes the form:

 

Example

SURNAME, first name or initial

WILLIAMSON, Barry

Poste Restante

Poste Restante

Address of Main Post Office (if known)

 

Post Code (if known)

20100

TOWN

KORINTHOS

COUNTRY

GREECE

Put your surname first, as mail is kept in alphabetical order and checked against your passport when you collect it, sometimes from people who don't know your alphabet. In Alexandroupolis, a package addressed 'F.A.O. Margaret Williamson' took 15 minutes to unearth, filed under 'F'.

The words 'Poste Restante' should be recognised everywhere, although in Germany and Austria they use Post Lagernd; in Italy Fermo Posta. Any post office will tell you the code of any other post office in the same country. If the Poste Restante isn't at the main post office (this happened in Innsbruck and Dubrovnik), they will tell you where to find it. The Rough Guide or Lonely Planet (see MAPS & GUIDES) for a country is quite good at giving the address and location of post offices in major towns and cities.

One Poste Restante will pass mail on to another in the same country. For example, Chamonix passed a packet to Séez in Haute Savoie where we had moved on to the excellent Camping Le Reclus. Chamonix wasn't very far away, just the other side of Mont Blanc! Sometimes you pay a fee on collecting the mail: France charges for every single item, Austria and Italy only for parcels, but Greece, generous as ever, is free.

Even large articles can be sent Poste Restante: a set of table legs and a new water pump came from CAK Tanks of Kenilworth; Brownhills sent a Fiamma 3-bike rack to Korinth. A smoke alarm, a Shimano bicycle cassette remover, oil and fuel filters - all these essentials arrived safely. Countries outside the EU (including Gibraltar) require a completed Customs Declaration Form to be attached to a parcel. Always ask the sender to put their name and address discreetly on the back of the packet.

Post Offices usually have a rule that they keep letters and packets for a month (14 days in the UK) and then return them to the sender, but so far only the French have actually done this. American Express offices will hold letters (not packets) for up to a month, if you have their card or use their traveller's cheques. See also ADDRESS.

RADIO: The third member of our travelling team, the best informed, tireless and entertaining, is our little short-wave radio, a Sony ICF-SW07, costing about £150. It runs off the 12-volt system (see ELECTRICITY, BATTERIES) and the tuning is digital, which means we can switch easily between dozens of different short-wave frequencies, depending on the time of day, location and atmospheric conditions. A 30 ft horizontal external aerial improves reception enormously! (Visit: www.)

The BBC (write to BBC World Service, Bush House, London or visit: www.bbcworld.com) publishes programme guides and sends email newsletters which give the frequencies and times of its short-wave transmissions in different parts of the world. In Europe, the main short-wave frequencies (in MHz) used to be: 3995, 6195, 9410, 12095, 15485 and 17640 but now are severely curtailed (see the article on this website). Near the English Channel, Radio 4 on long-wave (200 MHz) can often be received, particularly with a short outdoor aerial – eg on the motorhome's own radio.

The Sony receives other English language broadcasts on short-wave as well as local music and language on FM. For about £120, a satellite radio gives clearer and more reliable BBC World Service reception, albeit from the English-language Africa service. There are a diminishing number of stations on the same signal – music and other news channels. The antenna is simple enough to sit at a window, vaguely pointing south (towards Africa). Visit: www.sdsdigital.co.uk or www.worldspace.com.

For more information on receiving BBC Radio throughout Europe, and the recent (March 2007) sad news that short wave broadcasts to Central, Eastern and Southern Europe are abruptly ending, see the article: BBC Radio in Mainland Europe on this website.

REFRIGERATION: The large Norcold absorption fridge/freezer in our Four Winds motorhome used a small gas flame or mains electricity to provide the heat necessary to vaporise its cooling fluid. Access to the 'works' was from an outside panel and there was a roof-level vent. One morning in Greece, it spontaneously ended its life after 11 years of diligent service. Corrosion in an inaccessible pipe led to the dangerous release of the highly inflammable and toxic mix of hydrogen, sodium chromate dissolved in water and ammonia (which we smelt at once and quickly turned the thing off). Luckily there was no fire, since the fridge/freezer was on mains operation at the time. Had we been free-camping (taking a 'Sleeping Opportunity') in a remote lay-by, running on gas . . . Visit www.norcold.com for more information.

Returning to the UK, Motorhome Medics of Cheltenham (see SERVICING, SPARES & REPAIRS and visit: Miracle Medics on this website) fitted a new fridge/freezer – a European model RM7601L by Dometic (formerly Electrolux). It used the existing external hatch and roof vent, worked on 12 volts (when the motorhome engine was running) as well mains or gas, but didn't quite have the capacity of its American forbear.

In our recently-acquired Flair motorhome, we have a full-size Americana absorption fridge-freezer with factory-set temperatures. It works on gas or mains (not 12-volts) and we keep a wireless sensor (bought from Lidl to monitor outdoor temperatures) in the refrigerator compartment to monitor the tempterature which ius usually around 34 F or 1 C. It switches between the two modes, always preferring the mains. 

These absorption fridges do require a level pitch! Visit: www.dometic.co.uk.

Less common are refrigerators using a 12-volt motor to run a compressor. They are more efficient, but they are also noisier and do require a mains supply or solar-panels to support the batteries.

SAFETY: We have 2 fire extinguishers (in the cab by the door and in the rear bedroom), a fire blanket and 2 smoke alarms on the ceiling (the kind that can be cancelled for 10 minutes during toast-making). There are isolator taps for each gas appliance, easily accessible heavy duty isolator switches for the batteries, an emergency exit through a bedroom window, and carbon monoxide and propane detectors (the latter also detects narcotic gases). And what we hope is a good insurance policy!

SECURITY, IN THE MOTORHOME: A lot of thought has been given to security. We have a hidden safe for cash, credit cards and documents and a double deadlock on the solid side door plus an external Fiamma lockable bar. If we had cab doors (we used to have, on the Four Winds), we would have chains to fasten each cab door together or to the floor and telescopic rods to lock the cab door pop-up catches (sold as shelf guard-rails in packs of 3 at motorhome accessory shops). We currently have a 'Kwiklok' steering wheel clamp; screws that lock the sliding windows; personal alarms; an alarm and immobiliser for the motorhome with a 'panic button'; a CS gas spray (freely available in Greece and Germany, perhaps not legal in the UK) kept by the door; heavy walking sticks; a powerful rechargeable flashlight (a million candlepower); external lights above the entrance; and the excellent ultrasonic 'Dog Dazer' for the German Shepherd next door.

The bicycles have 3 good locks, a tough cover (from TaylorMade) and movement sensors that operate an alarm. If you fear night-time gas attacks, visit: www.nereusalarms.co.uk for details of their £125 'EtherAlert'alarm.

We don't open the door to strangers, even in uniform: we might open an adjacent sliding window and put on the outside light. We leave the vehicle parked with the radio on and all the blinds closed and we have stickers on doors and windows graphically warning of guard dogs, alarms, police and dire consequences. We consider our exit routes and leave the vehicle 'ready to drive' when we park in a public area overnight, with the mobile phone by the bed. The International Emergency Number throughout most of the world is 112 (see Mobile Phone Tips for more information) – check and store any other numbers for the country you are in. All this seems to be working - so far.

SECURITY, PINS & OTHER CODES: Any word that contains 10 different letters is a good key for recording numbers you want to keep secret. For example, with

C

A

M

P

F

I

N

D

E

R

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

the PIN 4270 is written as FMDC. A thief is unlikely to crack this code – it's not the one we use, but you should create your own 10-letter word.

SERVICING, SPARES & REPAIRS: No problem for a European motorhome in Europe – your Fiat should feel at home in Italy. We bought American and used good UK specialists (Frenchie in Cambridgeshire, Gold in Alton, TB Turbo in Lancaster and now, best of all, Motorhome Medics in Cheltenham) for servicing, repairs and to to send spares out, POSTE RESTANTE, if needed.

Motorhome Medics (click Miracle Medics for an article on this website) are excellent. In addition to a high standard of work on the motorhome's engine and chassis (service, repairs and MOT preparation with the test station next door), Darren and Martin have also repaired and replaced numerous items in our living area that have reached the end of their useful life. They also help by email when we get a surmountable problem and need advice and moral support. More recently, Darren flew to the USA to source a high quality, low mileage Fleetwood Flair motorhome which he imported into the UK and modified for UK regulations. Now we are living and travelling comfortably and safely within its walls.

Basic spares that we carry include bulbs, fan belts, oil and other engine fluids for top-ups (transmission, brake and power steering), as well as oil and fuel filters. Don't forget a jack strong enough to safely lift the heaviest corner of the motorhome (ours is a Swedish-made 8-ton bottle jack) and a spanner to undo and fasten the wheel nuts. Learn to change a wheel before you have to!

We carry a wide range of tools for inside and outside jobs. These include a full socket set, air compressor and pressure gauge, hammers, pliers, screwdrivers (including a ratchet set with many heads), a rechargeable electric screwdriver (indispensable), pop-riveter, soldering iron, duct tape and a hacksaw. We have a fibreglass kit, exhaust-pipe bandage, mastic, sealers, wire, electrical fasteners and several different kinds of glue. We often open our box of washers, screws, nuts, rivets, bolts and other fasteners.

Other repairs require a sewing kit, including needles and thread strong enough for an awning and some tent-patches. The step ladder we carry for our own use is also our most borrowed item!

Maggie Bevis recommends dental floss! "I've used it with a wide eyed needle to mend all sorts - lately, the headstrap on Pete's snorkelling mask. It's great stuff, not least for getting the last bits of pork chop out of the teeth." The long-distance cyclist Josie Dew even sewed up her gashed leg with it, though we don't recommend trying this at home!

STORAGE: Three times now, we have put the motorhome into store for a year while we travelled round the world. We wanted undercover storage and our insurance company needed a lot of assurance that it met their security standards (fence, gate, cctv, resident warden – just like a prison). For the best, visit: www.cassoa.co.uk ('Caravan Storage Site Owners' Association') for a list of 180 UK-wide storage places with their Gold, Silver or Bronze Awards - and book early. Beware farmers diversifying into storage without mucking out their barns or putting hard standing in their fields! Our favourite places are in a locked barn on a farm in Dorset and inside a former West Yorkshire woollen mill – but we're not saying where, or there'll be no room for us next time!

TAXING & TESTING A MOTORHOME: There are only 4 possibilities. (1) You have a current vehicle licence (tax disc), (2) the vehicle is off the road in the UK and you have declared a SORN (Statutory Off Road Notification), (3) you have exported the vehicle, or (4) you are illegal and the Swansea computer is automatically penalising you daily, wherever you are! To hit the really big fines (up to £1,000) and the possibility of the vehicle being wheel-clamped, confiscated and crushed, an official has to actually see you on the road with an untaxed vehicle.

Leaflets V100 (Registering and Licensing your Motor Vehicle) and V526 (Taking a Vehicle out of the Country) are available from the DVLA, Customer Enquiries Group, Longview Road, Swansea SA99 1BL (phone 01792 783920) or from your nearest VRO (Vehicle Registration Office). Visit: www.dvla.gov.uk for on-line forms and all the rules and regulations.

Here is a brief summary: Any vehicle taken out of Great Britain for less than 12 months is classed as being 'temporarily exported' and the vehicle licence must be kept valid throughout its period abroad. If the licence expires while you are abroad, you may apply for a new one by post up to 6 weeks in advance at one of the UK Post Offices listed on V100 or on the internet. Explain the circumstances in a covering letter and the tax disc can be sent to your overseas address.

Without a licence, you will be committing an offence in your host country as well, since proof of British tax paid exempts you from paying their taxes. French police may check on this on your return, as you approach Calais! Your motorhome insurance may also be affected (check this) and, for example, the RAC may refuse to tow an unlicensed vehicle.

You cannot declare a SORN (Statutory Off Road Notification) whilst the vehicle is out of the UK. We have met motorhomers who have done this and foolishly think that their UK insurance is still valid. It isn't, and they are committing a criminal offence (with a large fine and up to 2 years inside if caught) in declaring a SORN while the vehicle is not off-road in the UK.

In addition to a current vehicle licence, you should carry your V5 (Vehicle Registration Document), a valid MOT Certificate (for a vehicle more than 3 years old) and an Insurance Certificate clearly showing its validity in your current country (see INSURANCE, MOTORHOME). You also need to display a full-size GB plate, except in the EU where a number plate carrying a small 'GB' is sufficient.

The MOT, cannot be taken or renewed outside the UK and its absence may invalidate your insurance or lower the value of a future claim (check this with your insurer). Returning to the UK after your MOT has expired, you are legally permitted to drive to a pre-arranged MOT test. Sadly, the local equivalent of an MOT in any other country has no validity for a UK-registered vehicle.

The DVLA should be informed if you intend (note the word 'intend') to take your motorhome out of the country for more than 12 months (leaflet V526). It will be classed as 'exported', your V5 should be surrendered and an export certificate (V756) issued. However, it would be awkward to do this unless the vehicle is to be registered abroad where new registration, tax, testing and insurance arrangements will have to be made. A UK insurance company is unlikely to knowingly insure a foreign-registered vehicle. On return to Britain, the vehicle can be re-registered at a VRO using form V10, if you still have your registration document, or V62 if you haven't.

Vehicles registered after 1 March 2001 pay a Graduated Vehicle Excise Duty (VED), based on their engine size, fuel type and CO2 emissions.

If you passed your driving test before 1 Jan 1997, you can drive a vehicle up to a MAM (see WEIGHT) of 7,500 kg (C1+E) with an unbraked trailer of 750 kg and an MTW of 12,000 kg. Since that date, you only get a Group B licence allowing a MAM of up to 3,500 kg; a further test is needed to upgrade to C1+E.

The driving licence has to be renewed at the age of 70. For a vehicle weighing less than 3.5 tons, you complete a form self-declaring your medical state. Between 3.5 and 7.5 tons (a class C1 licence) requires the successful completion of a medical examination by your GP up to 4 months before the birthday celebration. Visit: Renewing at 70.

TELEPHONES: Mobile phones are now in use everywhere! 'International Roaming' has to be requested before you leave the UK but is easily obtained, even for a pay-as-you-talk top-up phone. Check carefully which foreign networks have roaming agreements with your UK provider – and make sure you only tune into those networks. Vodafone sometimes send you a text if you have chosen the wrong network and congratulations if you are on the correct one!

Take a tri-band phone if you roam as far as the USA. Be aware that European roaming can be quite expensive, since every international call is routed via the UK. You even have to pay for calls from the UK, or when you retrieve a voice message left for you! Look for UK companies with overseas subsidiaries - for example, Vodafone own Panafon in Greece (visit: www.vodaphone.co.uk). Vodafone operate a Passport Scheme: after registering (free), in a selected list of countries (all EU countries plus a few more), all incoming calls up to one hour in length cost the recipient abroad a one-off payment of 75 P. The UK caller pays the rate for calling a UK-based mobile. Ringing a landline number in the UK from the list of European countries, there is a one-off payment of 75 P plus what you would pay if you were calling that number from within the UK. 

We usually stay long enough in a country to buy a local phone card for public phones. Higher cost cards are usually better value and, with discipline, last a long time (the one we have now has a picture of Homer on it!) Those with a scratch-off code number are best of all. Our last €15 Greek prepaid card (Smile & Web) required the input of 36 digits, but worked out at 9p a minute compared with Panafon's 75p per minute to the UK, any time of the day or week.

Motorhomers, thrifty as ever, use low-cost SMS text messages. We have kept in touch with Barney in Turkey, Martin in Italy, Ian in Budapest and Keith in Morocco with equal ease. Costs vary from 25p to 50p a message. Hide and safeguard your mobile in an old sunglasses case.

TRAVEL ADVICE: Foreign Office travel advice and country profiles appear at www.fco.gov.uk with links to Embassy sites. Register there for email updates. The need for reliable advice applies particularly to Eastern Turkey, North Africa, the disintegrated Balkans and the FSU (Former Soviet Union).

Other useful advice comes from MMM Travel Consultants, a country's Tourist Office website or London office, guidebooks (see BOOKS) and the Caravan Club's pair of European campsite guides. The latter list tunnels, mountain passes (heights and dates open), legal requirements and much more. See CAMPING, SITES and BORDER CROSSINGS & VISAS.

TV, SATELLITE: You can receive a limited range of digital TV and radio channels from an Astra satellite with a decoder, bought by a friend second-hand in the UK for as little as £50. A freestanding 80–100 cm dish bought locally costs little more. At the top of the range, a roof-mounted self-seeking dish, a decoder, card and wiring will cost over £1,000! Which channels you can legally view where and the price of the relevant card all constitute a minefield you should explore for yourself. We haven't! Visit: www.satelliteforcaravans.co.uk This is a large non-commercial site with wide-ranging advice on satellite gear and reception and links to suppliers and further advice.

TV, TERRESTRIAL: More recently, we bought an Avtex TFT-LCD TV in the UK which we fitted to a wall overlooking the bed at the rear of the motorhome. This multi-function modern miracle is an analogue and digital TV with stereo sound and Teletext, a DVD player, a CD player, a PC monitor, an FM radio, a reader of cards and it has a USB connection. It operates from either 12-volt or 240-volt and it is a multi-standard receiver workng in every European country. All this can be remotely controlled from the pillow.  

The Avtex provides entertainment and information and gives us an important link to the local language and culture. In Greece, other Balkan countries, Scandinavia and elsewhere, films and documentaries from the UK and America are sub-titled (not dubbed), which makes for easy viewing and listening. Our factory-fitted rooftop aerial winds up and rotates and has a 12-volt amplifier. Sometimes a local aerial is needed – we got an indoor antenna in Greece from the town's electrical shop.

DVDs, often given away free by newspapers and magazines, are replacing books as the motorhomer's travelling companions. Easily stored, easily swapped, easily watched. The ubiquitous MP3 player plays music wherever you go. 'Talking books' can be collected in the UK and the pages turned down the road, on tape or CD. (see also ENTERTAINMENT, AUDIO & VIDEO).

WATER, FRESH: Fresh water is found at campsites, filling stations, marinas, restaurants – and even cemeteries (for the flowers). We check that it is at least described as 'potable' ('eau potable' in French, 'trinkwasser' in German), avoid roadside fountains and springs and run the tap for a long time if it is little used. If in doubt, fill a clear glass and hold it to the light in order to look, then smell and taste for excess particles, chlorine or salt.

We have two 20-metre food-quality cassette hoses, with lots of fittings to join them together and to taps of various kinds. Sometimes, the tap is too far away even for 130 ft of hosepipe (once, in Crete, it was 2 miles away) and then we use a 25-litre water carrier and our 12-volt submersible pump. Two old-timers in Australia gave us the tip of using a section of bicycle inner tube to get water for washing (not drinking!) from small, awkward taps in basins in outback dunnies - the long-term traveller is prepared for anything and everything!

We add one 'Aqua Tab' sterilising tablet every time we fill the 380-litre fresh-water tank. Since the tank is in permanent use, we only clean it when the motorhome has been in store, giving it a good flushing through with 'Puriclean'. We have fitted a comprehensive filter on the pipe to our kitchen's cold-water tap and we always boil water before drinking. So far, water has caused us no digestive or intestinal problems.

However, some travellers keep their drinking water separate, buying it in bottles or storing 'good water' in a 5- or 10-litre container. We have never done this, even in Morocco, eastern Turkey or Latvia!

WATER, WASTE: In our case, 'grey' water from sinks and shower collects in a holding tank of about 190 litres. A U-bend on each sink drain, a food-trap on the kitchen plug-hole, bleach down the pipes regularly and a roof-level vent pipe all help to eliminate smells. The holding tank is easily emptied directly into a suitable drain or via a bucket or a short length of 3" hose, although one campsite owner in Sicily encouraged us to 'irrigate' his trees and bushes. We try to avoid carrying 'grey' water far. Not least, an empty tank helps keep within your MAM (see WEIGHT) - 190 litres of water weighs 190 kg!

'Black' water collects in some sort of sealed tank: in the 'Porta-Potti' itself, in a removable cassette under a Thetford toilet or, in our case, in a large fixed tank under a 'marine' toilet. The Porta-Potti and the Thetford cassette are simply removed for emptying and rinsing at a 'chemical toilet' ('CH') on a campsite. If they don't have one, you might be told to empty down an ordinary toilet - however, in Norway this can attract a fine of 500 NOK or over £50!

'Green' liquids and granules give some odour control but cost up to 60p to treat a 20-litre cassette – and we have a 190-litre fixed black-water tank! Luckily, it is well sealed and has a roof-level vent. The tank is emptied by gravity through a 3" hose - an impressive sight - but there are problems if the campsite doesn't have a low-level emptying point (a 'Camper Service'). We have dumped into an accessible 'Turkish' toilet (something we were told to do at a campsite in the French Alpine town of Albertville), found a bus station with an emptying point for coach toilets, and when desperate have emptied a bucket at a time down a chemical toilet. There is also a small patch of the Sahara Desert which must now be blooming! We could buy a 12-volt macerator which liquefies the waste and pumps it long distances and to great heights along ordinary hosepipe - another impressive sight!

Dr Bob, writing from Emerald in Queensland, gives the recipe for a DIY toilet fluid. It is less expensive and just as effective as proprietary brands, such as Aqua Kem Green Premium by Thetford and the 'Blue' which we use in our motorhome toilet.

Dr Bob writes: “While we were at Jericho we met a lovely couple from Bundaberg travelling in a Coaster Bus. Keith and Anne gave us this recipe. We have now used it for over a month with excellent results and no effect on the plastic toilet and we pass it to you with our compliments. Undoubtedly we shall use this in Mr. Custard (Bob and Sandra's motorhome in Spain) once we get home. So, it's an alternative to the additives we put in the toilet cassette, additives which can be just a little pricey!

1Cup Borax. Dissolve in 1 litre of hot water (not boiling).

Place in a 4 litre container and add 1 cup of Pine-o-Clean and 1 cup of Cloudy Ammonia. Make up to 4 litres with cold water.

Add 30ml to the cassette and 30ml to the water flush reservoir if you have one. We have one on the Caravan but not in Mr.Custard, so guess we'll put 50ml in the cassette. It reduces any smells, in fact better than the proprietary one we were using. It seems to break up solids and keep the cassette cleaner.

We actually just make 2L at a time for easier carriage.”

In motorhome-friendly countries, 'Camper Services' are found in 'Aires' (see CAMPING, FREE), on car parks, behind supermarkets, at garages and motorway services, greatly easing this final stage in the digestive process.

WEIGHT: It's best to read this section before you buy a motorhome, otherwise it could be too late.

MAM = Maximum Authorised Mass (formerly GVW or Gross Vehicle Weight). More than this, you should not weigh!

MAW = Maximum Axle Weight. A vehicle not exceeding its MAM may still be overloaded on its rear axle (a common motorhome problem), with its front axle under-loaded.

MTW = Maximum Train Weight. This is the maximum combined weight of a motorhome and trailer.

VUW = Vehicle Unladen Weight. This is the motorhome's least weight, without passengers, goods or liquids.

Your maximum load is therefore MAM minus VUW. Check this out. These weights are given on a plate, often attached to a cab doorpost. You may get a nasty surprise after you have filled the tanks, the larder, the lockers, the roof boxes and the passengers. For a full explanation, visit: the DVLA website. See also TAXING & TESTING.

WHEELS, HOW MANY? Many long-term motorhomers carry an extra set of wheels – for exercising, shopping, touring, exploring, accessing the mountains, giving the motorhome a rest. Bicycles are easily carried on an external frame, often across the rear window, available and fitted at many motorhome dealers.

Our 100 cc Yamaha motorbike weighed about 90 kg and was carried around the Balkans on a rack below our 2 bicycles, access being gained by a ramp. But check your MAM and MAW (see WEIGHT) and consider a trailer! A small car can be pulled behind a motorhome, preferably using a trailer since an A-frame may be technically illegal. David Berry deals with this subject exhaustively in his book 'RV in UK'.

Your existing motorhome insurance may give third party cover for a motorbike or car, but only while it is being carried or towed. The Caravan Club and Comfort Insurance both give quotes said to favour towed or carried second vehicles that are taken overseas and relatively little used.

Phone 0800 720720 for your nearest Indespension Trailer dealer, or visit: www.pwsacc.co.uk for more on motorbike racks, www.protowframes.co.uk for A-frames and www.fiamma.com for cycle racks and much else.

WHICH MOTORHOME: There is a whole magazine on this subject so we won't try to describe the many available alternatives. Enough to say that you can have a fixed or rising roof, a high top, a demountable or a coachbuilt, which itself can be A-class, C-class or low profile.

We guess that most long-term travellers have a C-class coachbuilt and use the overcab space for extra storage. A length between 22 and 27 ft is about the right compromise for a drivable living space. More than a million Americans live long-term on the road and their excellent vehicles and services cater for this way of life. They build motorhomes to live in, rather than just a 'caravan on a van' for holidays, although we do like the more recent European coachbuilts, with a permanent bed at the rear over a 'garage' for a scooter, bicycles, equipment, whatever.

We spent months looking for our ideal motorhome: reading the MMM, visiting dealers and shows. We even had an 8,000-mile trial run in a Foster and Day 'Horizon' model, newly built on a second-hand Mercedes 310D cab and chassis. Finally, eagerly and correctly (as it turned out), we bought a new 27 ft C-class American motorhome for comfort, space, load carrying, a permanent bed, a separate shower, cooking - all kinds of reasons. For our one regret, see WISH LIST! The other regret was our choice of dealer – beware Midland International Motorhomes of Coventry! Keep away! Good at selling - but after that, you are on your own.

In October 2007, Motorhome Medics of Cheltenham provided us with a replacement for the well-travelled Four Winds. Now we have a 26 ft Fleetwood Flair motorhome, an excellent choice and suited in every way to our lifestyle for living and for travelling. 

The motorhome is our house and Pickford's combined; we live in it and it moves house from place to place, steadily and economically. A smaller motorhome means less space and comfort but greater freedom in choosing places to visit and to stay. Overall, you get much more exercise with a larger motorhome – it has to be left on the campsite or on the parking lot while you walk or cycle or use the bus to shop, explore and enjoy tourist activities. A smaller motorhome can be used for every errand and has been known to lead to a sedentary life style!

MMM lists dealers, motorhome shows and the prices of new motorhomes, and it contains many second-hand private sales. Good left-hand drive bargains, well below UK prices, are available from Germany and Belgium, either through a personal visit or UK-based agents. Visit, for example, www.palmo.de. For a personal account and much general information, visit: Buying a Motorhome in Germany.

The following three sources show how a detailed examination of need can lead to the right choice of motorhome. In each case, the aim was to produce a robust design, suitable for long-term use on poor roads and challenging circumstances in third world countries. However, the same principles can be applied to motorhomes for more mundane uses!

The first example comes from the website of the Anglo-French club, the Silk Route Motorcaravan Network. The link is www.xor.org.uk/silkroute/ and then click on 'What Van?'

The second example comes from the excellent website of Kathy and Rick Howe, an American couple with a true spirit of adventure. Though in Europe at the time of writing, their own design of motorhome has taken them through North, Central and South America. They certainly thought through what they needed, not least in the key compromises between size to live in, size to carry all the necessary equipment, and size to drive on narrow and rough roads. Clearly, their final design worked very well for them and continues to do so. Their website is: www.travelin-tortuga.com/Site/Home_Page.html and the page with the information about their vehicle and how they designed it is at: www.travelin-tortuga.com/Site/Our_Vehicle.html.

The third example is an article already on this website, written by Yorkshireman Ian Shires, currently resident in Budapest:: Finding a Motorhome. Aiming to take to a life on the road, Ian has started to look at base vehicles and reports unnecessary confusion and lack of information on all the details of construction and performance that the motorhomer needs. After all, the motorhome has to be fit for its purpose in every respect – as a place to live in, sleep in, cook in, wash in, relax in and, perhaps above all, travel in.

WISH LIST: Barry wishes that we had bought a motorhome in America, to use there for a couple of years before importing it into Europe. We could have saved a third of the cost and benefited from competent dealership and a full warranty. Margaret wishes she could have brought her cats along and both of us wish that we could have begun this way of life much earlier. Retirement and pensions come at the wrong end of life!

ZEN OF MOTORHOMING: Long-term travel is associated with retirement, and for us ageing gives urgency and poignancy to the whole process . . . we may never pass this way again! We have no regrets about our choice of this rich way of life and remember vividly the moment we finally closed the front door of our house, started the engine and set off for the Channel ferry! We hadn't owned a motorhome or caravan before; all our travel had been with bicycles and a tent. On early retirement, we quickly realised that a motorhome was the only way we could afford to travel for long periods of time, comfortably, freely and carrying all the things we need for a full life (including bicycles and tent!)

The rewards of travel are enormous and it doesn't lose its freshness and its challenge. Subjects that were dry as chalk dust at school - Geography, History, Languages - take on colour and vitality and many more reinvigorate everyday life: Ornithology, Geology, Economics, Politics, Religions, Art and Architecture, Photography, Computing … Wireless again becomes the miracle it once was; books and maps become travelling companions, and travellers met for an evening become friends for life!

Writing this high above the Arctic Circle (we are above 71 degrees North), we enjoy finding out about many things: the lives of the indigenous Sami People, reindeer herding, German scorched-earth atrocities as they retreated in 1944 before the Russians, the strange shape of Scandinavian frontiers, why Finland is the only Scandinavian country to adopt the Euro while Norway is not even an EU member, fauna and flora on the Arctic tundra, where the Finns came from originally, the links between the Norwegian and English languages, the Northern Lights, the midnight sun, why the BBC World Service radio on shortwave doesn't get this far . . . the list has no end!

Motorhomers need only do what they are doing – no more and no less. Life can be lived more intensely in the present moment, replacing habit and routine with the ever-fresh stimulus of journeys on 'the road less travelled by'. This is the way to slow the ever-accelerating rush of time. As Robert Herrick advised 400 years ago: we gather rosebuds while we may! (For more of this sort of thing, look at some of our 105 Travel Quotations).