Despite the fact that I’m highly unorganised, I really REALLY love writing lists. I think part of the lure of a trip to France was all the lists I’d have to write…it’s just a shame that the lure of checking things off the list doesn’t flip my switches quite as much!
The following post is a series of lists that may help you if you are planning your first trip to the continent, and which will definitely help me the next time I attempt a similar expedition. I’ve also included a few tips that I gleaned from Club 80-90 members and my cousins. It’s also important to note that the van maintenance and spares lists are entirely stolen from a friend on the Club 80-90 forum. I am definitely a newbie when it comes to parts, spares and repairs so there may very well be other things that could be included on those lists…but I wouldn’t know!
You need to take a lot of paperwork with you, so my first bit of advice is to get yourself a document wallet to keep it all in one place. Old Red has a ‘Very Useful Drawer’ above the fridge, but I found the wallet useful so that we didn’t end up losing things out of the drawer and down the back of the fridge.
Things You Must Carry in Van (Required by French Law)…
– EU Insurance and documents
– V5 registration document
– Driving licence (BOTH PARTS!)
– Bulb kit
– GB plate/sticker
– Headlight deflectors (remember to have scissors to hand to trim these to size…or trim them to size before you leave but DON’T stick them on until you’re at the ferry port)
– Hi-Vis vest
– Warning triangle
– Fire extinguisher
– 2 x breathalyser (note: you must have two on you at all times, so buy four in case you need to use one)
– Spare glasses if you need them to drive
– Road tax for duration of trip
– Valid MOT for duration of trip (I took the certificate too)
Other Things You Might (and probably will) Need…
– Passport (rather important)
– Travel insurance
– Ferry tickets printed off
– Breakdown cover (more on this in a minute)
– First aid kit (not required, but a no-brainer really)
– A full gas bottle (*ahem*)
– Mobile phone
– Phone charger and 12v adapter
– Engine oil!!!
– Tool kit
– Wheel brace/socket and bar
Van Health Check…
– Tyre condition and pressure
– All fluids
– Exhaust condition
– Fan belt
– Wheel bearings
– Drive shaft belts
– Check condition of hoses
(do this well in advance so you can get any repairs done in time!!)
Spares to Carry…
– Tyre inflating aerosol
– Distributor cap
– Rotor arm
– Fan belt
– Any hoses that looked less than perfect during checks
– Insulation tape
(I have to admit, the only thing I took from this last list was the aerosol…mainly because that’s the only thing I’d have known how to use if I got caught in a jam!)
And then, of course, you need to take all your basic travel essentials. Seeing as these are the same no matter where you’re travelling or camping, I think I’ll save that list for another post.
Things to Note: Breakdown Cover…
Just a few days before I was set to leave, a worrying thread popped up on the Club 80-90 forum. I’d gone out and bought EU breakdown cover in good faith that it did what it said on the tin, but another (more canny) member had actually taken the time to read the fine print.
It seems that although you are indeed covered for breakdowns in the EU, the recovery service will often only take you within territorial boundaries In other words, they will take you anywhere in France, but they will not take you home. They will provide you with a courtesy car if your vehicle is beyond repair…but this must only be used within territorial boundaries too.
The long and short of it is that pretty much ALL EU breakdown cover will cover you for the cost of the vehicle (the book cost…NOT what you paid for it), so if it costs £2000 to bring you home and your van is only worth £1500?…your van isn’t coming home without you dipping into your own wallet.
It’s not worth the paper it’s printed on.
Now, of course, this is all pretty doom and gloom. You’d hope that if anything should happen, then it’d just be a minor roadside breakdown that can be easily fixed, and in that case you’re adequately covered. But in the event of an engine going ‘KABLAMY’ you’re going to be up a famous creek without a water displacing device.
Glynwoods (Robert @ their Redditch Branch = 01527 591057) have negotiated a deal with their European breakdown cover folks (Note = NOT Freeway) that will offer up to £2500 repair or “get you and your van home” cover regardless of the age or value of your VW Camper (as long as it is roadworthy to start with, obviously)
So if you’re going to travel in the EU I’d really recommend going to Glynwood for your breakdown cover!
Things to Note: Watch Your Speed…
Speed cameras in France are an unassuming shade of beige. They are mostly un-signposted, and they lurk in long grasses, overgrown bushes and behind random bits of fence. The fine, should you get caught by one of these cameras, is a scary 1000€. I found it VERY hard to break the speed limit in my big Red slowmachine, but there were a few points when I realised that I was going waaaay faster than I should have been.
Also note (and remember!) that the speed limit signs are in KILOMETRES! I forgot this when we landed in Ouistreham and spent a happy 5 minutes doing 30MPH before I realised that I was going too fast…and on the wrong side of the road!
Things to Note: Toll Roads…
Our initial plan was to avoid toll roads altogether, save money and see a bit of the countryside rather than spending the whole drive on a dual carriageway. In the end, we had to take toll roads or risk missing our ferry, but at least this gave us a bit of an education…
Firstly…remember that the booths and ticket dispensers will be on the LEFT. If you’re travelling alone, be prepared to leap back and forth across the cockpit like a loony…and if you’re travelling with passengers, be prepared to get REALLY annoyed with them when they can’t speak French as well as you can or have much of a clue about how a ticket dispenser works (on second thoughts, that might just be MY experience…but be prepared anyway).
Secondly…if you’ve looked at the price of the toll roads on a site like this one and had a small fit about how much it’s going to cost you (remember, those prices are for CARS…vans are much more expensive) then it’s useful to note that you only incur the full cost if you travel the whole length of that road. I figured we’d spend over 100€ in tolls, but I think it ended up costing us about 26-30€ to get from Caen to Calais.
Things to Note: The French Drive FAST…
Now, I know that my van is slow, but when I drive up an English motorway I get the opportunity to over-take and play little ‘which van is faster on this hill’ games with other drivers. I did around 700km of driving in France and I overtook ONE vehicle. One. ONE. In SEVEN HUNDRED kilometres, I overtook ONE VEHICLE.
It doesn’t matter how many times I say it, I still can’t quite believe it.
A lot of the time, I could have overtaken the vehicle in front…if it weren’t for the constant stream of cars pouring past me in the left-hand lane. They were fast and unrelenting.
COMING SOON: Our Trip!!