As regular readers are well aware, we headed off a couple of years ago courtesy of Bailey of Bristol on our #ItalyRoadTrip – 4,000 miles in the lovely Margot (not her official title), a Bailey Approach Autograph Motorhome.
We had never even been in a motorhome before, let alone taken the family on a month-long trip in one, so it was a completely new experience for us! Needless to say we had an absolute blast, and are planning our next adventure as soon as we can.
However, before going on our trip we genuinely didn’t have a clue what we should pack; what would be handy, what would be useless and what we should absolutely not leave home without.
Of course we packed some of each – thankfully managing to not forget any of the essentials for a caravan trip – and there were certainly a few items we simply couldn’t have managed without.
So, if you are thinking of taking a caravan or motorhome holiday, here is a list of 5 must-have’s that we have put together for you.
1. Don’t Forget Caravan Insurance
While you might be focused on stocking your caravan with camping essentials, I can’t stress enough the importance of caravan insurance. Yes, insurance might not be as exciting as marshmallows for campfire toasting or your favourite holiday reads, but hear me out!
Your caravan is a significant investment. Unlike for your car, caravan insurance isn’t legally required in the UK, but it covers a whole host of incidents. Think of it as a safety net; you might not need it, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, right? Also, remember, if your caravan has an unfortunate encounter with a tree or another vehicle, your car insurance won’t cover the damage to your caravan.
What’s more, a whopping 43% of claim payouts occur when caravans are not in use. So, even if your caravan is tucked away for the winter, insurance is a wise investment.
2. The right Sat Nav
Maps are good, obviously, but a satnav is better. And yes, you can use your phone and GoogleMaps – but Google Maps is specifically for “pleasure vehicles only” (cars, motorbikes, bicycles, as well as for walking). It specifically excludes trucks of all sizes and weights, RVs and trailers. Use the right satnav that you can inform waht you’re driving and you’ll be saving time, headaches and arguments with flustered phone-users and stressed drivers both at breaking point.
Be aware that satnavs for larger vehicles (or those towing trailers) cost more – they are loaded with considerably more data than standard products and the data-gathering companies charge for the use of their information. Brands like TomTom and Snooper also have large numbers of campsite locations preloaded, too.
Don’t be tempted to skimp on this – you’ll just end up trying to leave the Paris ring road on a strictly-height-restricted slip road you won’t fit under… probably. *cough*.
(this was NOT a fun lesson to learn the heard way)
They are based on truck sat-nav devices and should be programmed with the length, weight, height and other pertinent information relating to your motorhome or car and caravan combination. The sat nav will plot a route on the main road network, only using minor roads where there’s no other option. For example, a suitable motorhome sat nav could replot a route to avoid low bridges and certain weight and width restrictions.
Personally, we like the TomTom GO Camper – £218 on Amazon, which comes with full European maps and lifetime updates.
3. Melamine crockery
Yes, I know. Toddler’s melamine crockery? Really?
Well, it’s true I tell you. When you pack a caravan, even though the clever people who designed it made sure that all the cupboards lock down tightly, it is really surprising as to how much things can still move around when you are on the move. Still want to pack your best china? I think not.
(and if you’re motorhoming not caravanning it’s even worse – even if you’ve got it crammed in so it can’t move, the NOISE inside a motorhome takes some getting used to. When you’re on the move, everything rattles. EVERYTHING. You become obsessed about tightening windows because just one loose window nut will drive you mad for the next three hours on the autostrada)
And do not disregard the fact that melamine is light (fuel saver alert!), easy to clean, and by and large not massively expensive either. Oh, and this Berrow Hill set from Olpro is so darned CUTE!
4. The word is Chemicals!
I know, SO glamourous. And exactly what you want to consider when you’re heading off to the sunshine. Chemicals for your loo.
But trust me here – you really DO want to consider them.
But in reverse, the lack of them does NOT bear thinking about.
You are going to have to keep your onboard loo clean and stocked up and finding the stuff, the right stuff, abroad can be a little tricky (and probably more expensive too). Besides, when you are on your lovely holidays perusing the local markets, wandering along the sun-kissed white sands or soaking up a local historical wonder, the last thing you want to be doing is thinking about shopping for loo chemical, right?
So, get some before you go. But get the right stuff – some of the cheaper ranges have hideously nasty chemicals in. We don’t like those ones. Usually you’d have two bottles – one pink for the top flushing tank, and one blue for the… erm… ‘bottom tank’ (precisely).
But we also know that space is an issue when packing, so the less you have to carry the better (another fuel saver moment too!). We found this bottle of the lovely blue stuff again from the great people at Olpro that did all the necessary jobs in one go! Space and hassle saving – AND it only has people and animal-friendly chemicals in too.
Take two bottles into the chemical waste disposal cubical? Not us – we just ‘Bottom and Top Plus toilet fluid and rinse‘ and go!
5. Safety Equipment
Okay, again not exactly glamorous but this is a definite makes-sense moment; a travel safety kit is simply a must-have. Break down in a foreign country and it can be a bit of a nightmare and potentially expensive too, and of course there are rules. In many European countries you must have, by law, a high-vis vest for all occupants in case you need to exit your vehicle on a road. A safety triangle is another legal requirement. France says you must carry breathaliser kits. And then there are the headlight reflectors … the list can go on. Do take some time to check out the laws of the countries you are travelling to, and make sure you have the legal requirements on board. This is a good kit on Amazon, which covers the bases for continental Europe – the Ring RCT1 10-piece kit – for £32 you’d be hard-pressed to purchase the contents individually, and it’s a good base to build your own kit from.
Whether you buy a basic kit or build your own from scratch, it’s a good idea to make your own checklist for any extras. As well as the basic driving essentials like the high vis jacket and breathlysers, we suggest some spare bulbs, a simple tool kit, a torch (or two – don’t rely on your phone’s power), some spare fuses (of all types – you’re guaranteed to blow the one you don’t have a replacement for) and a good first aid kit. Make sure your first aid doesn’t just have plasters and bandages and antiseptic wipes – basic painkillers can be a pain to buy in Europe (they’re not available in supermarkets in France, for example), antiseptic liquid has a huge amount of uses, maybe rehydration powders. And absolutely make sure you have plenty of mosquito spray and some Lanacan for bites (something we didn’t pack enough of…*scratches*).
6. Phrase book
This one, although very simple, is something an awful lot of people seem to forget. It’s fine if you are fluent in the local language, but if like us your knowledge is scant at the very best (French okay, Italian was pretty… erm…blank…although we know a fair bit now!) you will find these little books to be a total godsend (you can see the list of Amazon bestsellers phrasebooks here – Lonely Planet seems to win every time!).
As with most things in life, you will find communication much easier if you make an effort – we find wherever we go that as long as we try to communicate, locals are generally very forgiving of our disastrous accents and no doubt comical string-together of vaguely appropriate words.
We certainly found that the further down Italy we travelled, less people had even a few words of English, so a phrase book was an essential piece of kit; not only for international relations sake, but also helping top make our trip far more enjoyable. Ours quickly became dog-eared and worn with use, but I never left Margot without it!
Of course Google translate is at your fingertips on your smartphone if you have signal – but of course that is not always as reliable as it is in the UK, especially when you are in a remote location. Sometimes nothing beats having an old fashioned phrasebook in your back pocket.
Now you have your bare essentials…go pack!
Have a great trip :-)