Big European Odyssey - Planning your first overseas trip

Planning your first overseas trip in your leisure vehicle and not sure where to start?

I was exactly the same the first time we hired a motorhome and drove to Spain in 2016. A guide back then would have saved a lot of stress.

Now I’ve been travelling full time for 18 months with my husband and two young children as we meander through Europe, Asia and North Africa on a trip called The Big European Odyssey, so I hope my experience makes planning your first trip easier.

In this useful guide, I offer top tips on how to prepare you and your vehicle so you can get the best out of your holiday.

It all starts with deciding where you want to go and how you want to get there. Destination wise, the options are endless, crossing to continental soil, less so, but thankfully whichever way you decide you can book it directly through the Caravan and Motorhome Club

To arrive quickly, the fastest route is with Le Shuttle (Eurotunnel) which goes from Folkestone to Calais in a mere 35 minutes. This may seem like one of the most expensive crossings but, depending where you’re going, it can save time and fuel, so bear that in mind when comparing. If you enjoy ferries, consider the Portsmouth to Ouistreham crossing, which takes you into Normandy and from here you could continue west to the magical island of Le Mont St Michel. Discounts are available if you’re a Club member on all ferry operators and Le Shuttle crossings.

Even now we always like to have our first campsite in Europe booked before setting off, usually within an hour or so from the port as this will save stress, and helps to ease anxiety of driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. The Caravan and Motorhome Club has an extensive network of European sites with exceptional facilities, which also lists useful details such as proximity to local landmarks or highlights.

This makes it easy to plan where to visit during your stay, plus early bird discounts for 2024 are available if you book before 31 December 2023. For your first time in Europe I would actually suggest having all of your sites booked, so that it is one less thing to think about once you’re on the road. Depending when you’re travelling this becomes essential, as in peak holiday seasons the best sites do get booked up ahead of time, so you don’t want to risk turning up and not getting a pitch.

Don’t overplan your day-to-day activities ahead of time. Having a leisure vehicle gives you the freedom to explore, meaning you will see places of interest on the way, whether it’s a scenic lake or iconic mountain pass. Also, if you’re too regimented with a plan it can become a little bit stressful trying to stick to it, so go with the flow and know that no matter what you will bever see anything, and that way there’s always a reason to come back.

The last major point to remember before you set off is to have full travel insurance, which can be organised through the Caravan and Motorhome Club and Red Pennant. It’s one of those things where you hope to never need it, but it’s best to have it for peace of mind should something go wrong.

In terms of your leisure vehicle being ready for Europe, remember a UK sticker, headlight adjusters to divert front beams from dazzling oncoming traffic, warning triangle and a hi-vis jacket per person travelling are compulsory, as are snow chains in some parts of the continent during winter travel. Snow chains vary from vehicle to vehicle so make sure you have the correct ones for your tyres. You can find your tyre size written on the sidewall of your current tyres or in the vehicle logbook.

Pack light. The weight of your fully laden vehicle is important not to exceed, as it may invalidate your insurance. My top tip for packing light is to put everything you want to take on the floor, then half it. You never wear all the clothes you take and if there is something viral you’ve forgotten, you can always get it there.

When you set off be sure to have the essential travel documents within easy reach. An A4 wallet holding vehicle documents such as V5, travel insurance and breakdown cover - we like Red Pennant as it offers comprehensive motor and personal cover, including single or multi-trips and long term European cover if travelling for longer than two to three weeks.

In terms of your vehicle, it’s important to know the dimensions of it before setting off. Write them on a piece of paper and stick them to your visor for easy reference. If using a leisure vehicle specific satnav, we use a Garmin Camper 1090, program the dimensions into it so the route avoids low bridges or narrow lanes.

While Google Maps is great for researching places to visit, it doesn’t have the facility to enter your vehicle size. Knowing that the route you’re taking is suitable for your vehicle makes driving much more fun. You’re already driving a vehicle that is wider, longer and taller than your regular car so this small point will mean your shoulders will be relaxed when you’re sitting in the driver’s seat.

We always like to arrive at our sites during daylight hours so we can see the site and pitch we will be manoeuvring into, and work out where the facilities are. When choosing a site, it’s worth noting that larger sites tend to have more facilities but the smaller ones can often be quieter. So it comes down to personal preference.

On the note of driving abroad, many European countries have major roads that operate on a toll system. Increasingly these tolls are self service, with booths that accept either cards or cash. It might be useful to have some currency to hand, or have an international bank card that offers cheap, or even better, free overseas charges. This is where a passenger comes in handy, as the payment is taken on the left, the same side as where European drivers would be sat. If you are travelling solo, you may need to swiftly unbuckle your seat belt to reach across. But don’t worry, the barrier won’t come back down until you’ve driven through.

A final little tip is to pre-cook a meal at home for your first night, as this will save time once you arrive, giving you more time to relax after you’ve set up on arrival at your destination. Lastly, enjoy. Your leisure vehicle is your freedom to be out and about enjoying the great outdoors and the beautiful world we inhabit.

You can follow Marcus and Kim’s adventures in real time on social media, where they share regular travel inspiration and knowledge, including the full range of Caravan and Motorhome Club services they enjoy as Club members. It’s @MarcusLeachGlobal and @Our.Roaming.Odyssey on Instagram and @MarcusGLeach on X (formerly Twitter).

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