Camping abroad - your holiday checklist
Preparation for a camping trip to Europe shouldn’t take on the character of an expedition – after all, it is a holiday. And, do not be put off by dire warnings about what might go wrong but it does pay to make sure that you are on top of the many angles of travelling and camping abroad.
Coping with potential problems is what forward planning and insurance is all about so decide where you would like to go, make out the musts and should do checklists and start ticking them off well in advance. All seems well with the world when cruising down the motorway singing songs. But, break down and a holiday can become a nightmare if you are not prepared.
Once you have been over or under the Channel, you will realise how easy and how much fun a European camping holiday can be for all the family – and it just gets easier each time.
You do need to sort out a fair bit of paperwork before leaving. To avoid losing it and to keep it handy on holiday, lock it in the car glove box.
Passport – check that everybody’s passport is valid for several months from the date of travel; finding out that a passport has expired as you are about to set off is a disaster – and it happens regularly. Keeping your passport with you makes sense and, in many countries, carrying an identity document at all times is a legal requirement. It makes sense to carry it anyway as some shops may ask for additional proof of identity when using debit or credit cards even with a PIN. Photocopies of all the passports will make it easier to get replacement travel documents in a consulate if the originals are lost, damaged or stolen.
Check out the situation regarding babies and small children at ips.gov.uk
Car – unlike the UK, you should have relevant documents such as the registration document, MOT and certificate of insurance ready to hand for inspection by police. Apparently, photocopies are not acceptable as they can be tampered with easily.
Driving licence – take the paper counterpart of your licence as well as the photo card as you may need both if you need to hire a car.
Pet – getting a pet passport doesn’t mean adding its name to your own. Chips and jabs mean that your vet is a useful first port of call for advice and info. Double check that pets are allowed on the site(s) you’re planning to book and make it clear that you’ll be bringing one. Check out defra.gov.uk/animalh/quarantine or call 0870 241 1710 for the PETS Passport Scheme Fact Sheet.
Camping Card International – this is an identity card for campers that can be used throughout Europe; sites in Denmark insist on one. As well as some third party cover and a range of discounts, there is an advantage in being able to leave it at site receptions instead of your passport. It costs around a fiver through motoring organisations and camping clubs.
If you are planning several trips abroad in the course of a year, annual multi-trip breakdown and family travel insurance is much cheaper than taking out a new short-term policy each time you go.
Car – let your insurer know where you are going and for how long and be clear about the procedure in the event of a problem abroad; if there is a helpline number, make sure it is easy to find.
Breakdown – your U.K. motoring organisation membership will not be valid abroad and it is really worthwhile taking out European Breakdown Cover.
Personal – travel, medical and gear cover makes sense for everybody in your party.
Cash – taking loads of cash is never recommended but having enough (small denomination notes are recommended) to at least pay for road toll fees and snacks is advisable; the euro has certainly made touring life so much easier.
Plastic – most shops, supermarkets and garages welcome the good old plastic cards right across Europe. But, do not take this for granted. Before you leave, let your bank and credit card issuers know that you will be abroad to avoid your cards being blocked by anti-fraud measures.
Be prepared, however, for yours to go through in one shop and not work next door. There is no rhyme or reason in this, it just happens. Nip out to an A.T.M. or always keep cash available. Be aware, too, that many petrol stations will be closed on a Sunday with locals using automated plastic to pay. If yours fails to go through, you might have a problem so try to keep your fuel tank topped up. By the way, check what your bank will charge you for accessing your money through ATMs and think about changing.
Travellers’ cheques – I have not used one of these for over twenty years and cannot help feeling that they are as outdated as the old Eurocheques.
Be legal – Most people know about the need for headlamp beam deflectors on British cars driving in Europe but you may also need a fire extinguisher, warning triangle, spare light bulbs, first aid kit and reflective vests. Do not wait until you are on a ferry to buy a ‘be legal’ kit bag for £50+ but buy or borrow the bits before you leave home. Check the motoring organisations or camping clubs’ travel services for advice on what to take.
Cell phones – a hands-free kit that works well is a basic necessity these days and should prevent your mobile from being confiscated. An in-car charger should ensure your battery does not go flat. Make sure you check with your network about European coverage and the costs of both making and receiving calls. If using a GPS note that some countries will not allow them if loaded with the locations of speed cameras.
Road signs – not knowing what they mean is potentially dangerous and is hardly a valid excuse if you are pulled by the police for breaking the law. Some are obvious, others are not. I know of one British driver who stopped in the road when he saw a sign ARRET DE CAR! – it actually means bus stop. Take a handy guide to European road signs and get to know them.
Spares – the most useful items to carry are a few fuses. Hanging around waiting for assistance when sorting a blown fuse takes just a few moments is more than frustrating, it’s infuriating. Water to top up a leaking radiator and a sealant to keep it in should let you get to help. Before leaving home, check the tyres, make sure the spare is fully inflated and that all tyre-changing tools are there.
It might seem rather dramatic to plan for emergencies but it is better than being helpless if one develops. Find out the numbers for emergency services where you are going and know how to ask for help in the local language. Relying on others speaking English is foolish, arrogant and potentially dangerous.
EHIC – the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) entitles you to reduced cost, sometimes free, medical treatment that you need while you are in a European Economic Area (EEA) country and Switzerland. The EHIC has replaced the E111 form and the easiest way to get one is to apply online at dh.gov.uk
Medicines – do not forget any prescription drugs, pack spares away in the car in case of accidental loss and take a copy of your prescription in case you need to see a doctor on holiday.
First aid kit – as well as the basics, pack yours with extras to cope with specifics – dealing with blisters if you are planning on doing a lot of walking, for instance.
You will see all sorts of gas bottles outside village shops, supermarkets and garages in Europe but you will not see Calor Gas and you will only see some gas cartridge brands such as Primus, MSR and Coleman occasionally in specialist outdoor shops.
What you will see in supermarkets, hardware stores, garages and in the most remote villages is good old reliable Campingaz; cartridges are easy to find and bottles to exchange for a refill. Universal Campingaz solves all queries for campers about regulators, connecting hoses, availability and anxieties how much gas is left in a bottle before leaving home.
- Take care not to damage the regulator and on/off valve
- Only use gas bottles in the vertical
- Keep gas bottles and cartridges away from heat
- Only use gas appliances in well-ventilated areas
- Change bottles and cartridges in the open
- Turn off gas at the bottle as well as the appliance when travelling
- Disconnect self-sealing cartridges when travelling
I have tied myself in knots trying to get a definitive understandable answer to the question of electric hook up for camping in Europe by Brits. I’ve been baffled by science and bamboozled by jargon and dire warnings about safety. The end result has been confusion even when enquiring about the use of ready-assembled electric hook up units in Europe. Much of the advice is geared up to motor homes and caravans as it seems that humble campers shouldn’t be so presumptuous as to expect electric power in their tents.
To cut through all my confusion, I dropped into a French caravan and camping shop and bought a connector to power socket outlets and a long exterior extension cable that has been used across Europe without problems. A couple of Europe/UK travel adapters deal with UK plugs on a light, CD player and small fridge.
Map – buy one that covers your route before you leave and get a print out of the suggested route from the Internet. Link the two so you are confident that you know where you are going, how long it might take and where to refuel the car and yourselves.
Sometimes the route print out appears really complex around or through a fair-sized town. Tracing the route on the map, you may find that just following road signs to the next town might be a lot easier. That’s certainly the case, for instance, getting around Paris on the way south from Calais. Nightmare directions for numbered roads could be replaced by advice to ‘follow signs for Bordeaux and Orleans and keep your road map open’.
Guidebook – do not assume that you will be able to pick up a guidebook in English when you reach your holiday area. Better to buy one at home and make, at least, a rough plan of what you would like to do.
Phrase book – familiarity with a decent phrase book will make life easier if your language skills are not great. Further, make up a few useful phrases of your own by accessing a free translation website and take a print out of the answers.
Unless you're the sort who needs to take fourteen packs of bacon for a fortnight’s holiday in Europe there is nothing you need to take in the way of supplies as virtually everything is available across Europe – even English Breakfast Tea. Better by far to put familiar food favourites to one side and take the plunge into new taste sensations.
As well as packing shorts and sun cream for a sunny holiday have a think about your camping gear. If you are chasing the sun, then you should be considering a sun awning, fridge and lighter bedding for starters.
- As well as packing something to read and some favourite toys, a memory card to store images from a digital camera will mean that you can keep snapping throughout your trip. If you make notes about your pics you will stand a better chance of organising them when you get home.
- Pack a grab bag with an insulated compartment at home and keep it handy on holiday. It does not have to be big but cool drinks, snacks, loo roll, kitchen roll and wet wipes all help to make travelling less demanding.
- Resist the temptation to buy perishable foods to take home until the holiday is almost over and then only if you have the means to keep food cool in the car.
- Drinking and driving – never mind all the various levels, ‘safe’ limits and penalties, just don’t do it.
To find some continental campsites for your next holiday, check out our campsite finder by clicking here.