Aires de Service in France, Area di Sosta in Italy (and Stellplatz in Germany and Eastern Europe); these overnight camper stops can make European travel for motorhomes and campervans economical, especially for longer adventures where the budget simply won’t stretch to a campsite every night. Use the aires for service facilities, when you need good parking and accessibility in large towns or for some beautiful views in the countryside, and save staying on a campsite for when you need to do the washing.
Booking ferries and campsites
Doing so early in the season (or pre-season) tends to give greater discounts. The travel industry tends to work on the principal of getting the best deals the earlier in advance you book, with prices increasing the closer to departure and to match demand so the sooner you book, the greater the discount is most likely to be. If you’re a member of the Caravan & Motorhome Club or The Camping & Caravanning Club, booking a ferry through these organisations is usually cheaper than booking direct and offers extra perks such as free amendments.
Using the right credit card when travelling overseas can save you money (providing you pay off the full balance each month). Check out Money Saving Expert to find the best credit cards for using abroad – those that are fee free and don’t load hidden charges onto your purchases meaning you get a better exchange rate with each purchase. Choose to pay in the local currency rather than pounds sterling if given the option at the till – you’ll receive a better exchange rate.
Diesel prices show no signs of abating for the foreseeable future so it pays to find the best price possible. Have a look at the Fuel Price Index on the Confused.com website (www.confused.com/on-the-road/petrol-prices/fuel-price-index) to check the best prices in the UK, either in your local area or any other that you may be visiting. If you’re planning budget tours in Europe, the cheapest diesel is in Luxembourg, Austria and the Baltic States. Go to The AA for monthly fuel price checks across Europe. The UK, incidentally, is one of the most expensive!
Exchange rates of Pound Sterling against foreign currencies are far from the best they’ve ever been right now so finding the best rate can really make your pound go that little bit further. In theory the worst places to obtain your Euros is at the point of departure/on the ferry. The largest high-street banks rarely give the best exchange rate, either. Visit Compare Holiday Money to find the best rate on any given day.
Practicing fuel economy will save you filling the tank quite so often so ease off on the right pedal (every 5mph over 60mph can reduce your fuel economy by 10%), keep the air conditioning switched off and the windows up if possible, drive in higher gears whenever you can and keep the tyres pumped to the correct pressure; soft tyres consume more energy. When towing a caravan, check that the tow car and van are best matched, as this will help with fuel economy.
Gas cylinders can take up a considerable amount of weight using precious payload. Losing weight helps with fuel economy so load up with a Flogas Gaslight cylinder that weighs up to 50% less than traditional steel cylinders. Or think about purchasing refillable LPG cylinders such as Gaslow. There’s a considerable upfront cost initially but the difference in price between LPG on the forecourts and pre-bottled gas is huge so, long-term you’ll be quids in.
They’re easier to manage, too, with gas level indicators. And don’t take a hefty full bottle just for the weekend – save those near empty cylinders for days out. If you’re thinking or buying a motorhome, consider purchasing one with an underslung LPG gas tank for cheaper fill-ups.
These can be expensive add-ons so avoid using them if you don’t need to. Recharge mobile phones, camera batteries and other techno devices on 12V while on the move; make sure your trickle-charge is working efficiently to boost the leisure battery when driving. If you are hooked-up on site, make use of it and save on gas instead!
Good insulation doesn’t only help to keep you snugly warm on a winter campout, it helps to reduce your heating costs when staying in your van. Ensuring that your van is manufactured to Grade III specification for heating and insulation will mean that it is fully winterised and help keep your heating costs down. Ensuring that thermal blinds are fitted at the windows will help here, too.
Join a Club
By joining a club you can save money on campsites, ferries, insurance and products, often recouping your membership fee within one trip. Being a member of a club gives you access to small Certificated Locations (CL) and Certificated Sites (CS) throughout the UK that are often cheaper than full-facility campsites. Ferry tickets are often reduced when booked through a club and many have negotiated rates with insurance and breakdown companies if they don’t supply their own. Both The Camping & Caravanning Club and The Caravan & Motorhome Club provide reduced rates to members on Club-owned or affiliated sites and have special offers such as 50% off mid-week pitches. Other clubs with great benefits include the Motor Caravanners’ Club and Freedom Camping Club.
Having an understanding of what’s under the bonnet of your motorhome, spending a little time getting to know the engine, could save pounds on garage servicing and breakdowns. Likewise, knowing how to repair your tent instead of throwing it away unnecessarily and starting again with a new one is good for you and better for the environment. If caravanning, knowing the best tow car match for your caravan will help reduce wear and tear plus fuel economy. If you lack confidence knowing your drive-belt from your alternator-belt, check out basic car maintenance courses often run at local colleges, not forgetting of course that a solid service history will add value to your van when it comes to parting with it. For matching suitable tow cars to caravans, you could use a service such as the National Caravan Council’s Towcheck. Visit the site and simply key in the details of car or caravan for a match.
Good lighting is an all-important part of camping, especially if you choose to camp all-year-round. Keep your energy use (and hence budget) to a minimum by making sure that lights within your tourer or motorhome use the latest low-energy LED bulbs. The same can be said for torches and lanterns used in tents.
Food prepared in the van or on your camping stove will save a fortune on dining out. Best of all, source some goodies from a local market or farm shop and keep the food miles down.
If you’re planning a trip to Scotland, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park operates camping management zones for motorhomes and tents. These are to prevent people pitching up anywhere they feel like (and leaving their rubbish behind) but the zones are located in beautiful places and, pre-booked (which is essential), cheap as chips.
Out of season
Off season offers are a regular lure to encourage use of campsites away from peak times. Take advantage of low season touring when you can for cheaper overnight stays, and cheaper ferry tickets. A worthwhile guide for this is the Camping Card ACSI scheme, which allows up to 60% savings and is accepted at more than 3000 campsites across Europe.
Free power that is, from the elements will keep batteries topped up while you’re on the move or sat relaxing in a campsite. If your van doesn’t include a fixed solar panel, or you’re tent camping, it’s worth investing in a portable solar panel kit, readily available from lots of companies now. You can also get a solar shower for little more than a fiver – ideal for cheap tent camping at sites without facilities.
Shopping around for insurance to cover your motorhome or touring caravan can be a dull business but with so many specialist policies available, it really is worth shopping around to get the best deal. Many (Safeguard, for example) include UK or full European breakdown cover at a better rate than purchasing separately. It pays to shop around. The Camping & Caravanning Club offers specialist tent and trailer tent insurance.
Renting out your van
Handing over your keys when you’re not using your van is a good way to fund your own travels, if you can bear to part with the beloved. There are companies who specialise in marketing and booking your van while taking care of administration issues like insurance and payment; you simply have your van ready for collection. Have a look at www.yescapa.co.uk or goboony.co.uk to rent out your van.
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Time is an important part of enjoying your camping trips – time to sit and relax, time to explore and time to read up on places to visit. Allowing extra time when you’re heading from A to B will save you pounds on the fuel bill and if you don’t mind what time you travel on ferries – away from the most popular sailings – you’ll save yourself quite a few pounds too. On short crossings, travel at night for the cheapest fares. On longer crossings, travel during the day and you’ll avoid the obligatory cabin fares.
UK stopovers are slowly increasing, offering places to stay for free or at low cost. They may sometimes only be glorified car parks but they can be useful when you want to visit large towns and, in some instances, you can use aire-like facilities; on a budget they’ll do the trick. Northern Ireland and Scotland has a good supply of stopovers with others to be found in Wales and a smattering of English counties. Visit www.searchforsites.co.uk for an easy way to find cheap stopovers.
This touring specialist publisher has a great range of guidebooks that refer to aires, stopovers & cheaper places to stay across Europe such as the France Passion scheme. Camperstop Europe covers a large selection of aires in many countries while the annual German Bord Atlas guide covers more than 3000 sites in Germany. Vicarious’ own publication All the Aires France, along with similar All the Aires guides to other countries, is a spectacular guide in English and covers exactly what it says: every aire has been inspected, and essential details are provided with accompanying photographs. If you prefer, or are a caravanner/tent camper that can only use, campsites, Vicarious also sell the annual European-wide Camping Card ACSI off-season discount guide.
A tank that’s full to the brim and fuel economy don’t mix so carry the least amount of water required for the day or until you know you can fill up again. Avoid wasting gas or electrics to heat hot water for showers and washing-up in the van when staying on a campsite; use the facilities instead – you’ve paid for it!
Deals are to be found with the competing ferry companies. Deals can also be had for frequent travellers, short breaks, day trips if you happen to be living or touring close to ferry-ports and, in the case of Red Funnel Ferries complete campsite and ferry packages to the Isle of Wight for 3, 5 or 10 night stays.
Year of Wales by Trails
Wales by Trails, or Llwybrau is Visit Wales’ theme for 2023 and 2024 where visitors can find forgotten treasures, embrace journeys of the senses and make memories along pathways, around attractions, activities, landscapes and coastlines. So stay in the UK and brush off your walking boots for a homegrown budget holiday.
Zilch. If you own a motorhome, stop overnight for free throughout the UK using Britstops, small, privately-owned locations that allow you to park up overnight. Member locations are listed in an annual guide, but the cost of the guide is negligible to the money you save stopping overnight for free. If you love tent camping and being outdoors, helping out on organic smallholdings, you might want to become a WWOOFer, camping on private property in exchange for helping out with jobs around the farm.