Learning can be a painful experience

This story happened on: 08/09/2023

Learning Can Be A Painful Experience 

I suspect similar articles to this have been written and printed in this magazine in the past.

However, I felt that it may be helpful to fellow travellers, both with a Caravan or Motor Home to share a recent experience during our travels in France in September 2023. 

Heading for Anthéor, a community about 15km from Fréjus, (S. France) after disembarking the ferry at Dieppe, we for many years travelled via the Autoroute (péage). My Volvo V90 pulls our 2007 Fleetwood Meridien 560 EK which we have owned virtually from new with no problems.  

We were planning to spend two nights in our caravan, as our home is behind us, in an aire (French lay-bys, which are much better organised than those in the UK and much larger) to rest prior to the next day’s driving. On our second night’s stay we chose to stop some 140 Kilometres from our destination so that the next day’s travel would be hassle free and we would arrive at our destination for approximately 10am local time. This routine we have undertaken for the last 25 years. 

We have in the past stayed in one of the larger aires with a fuel station, rest facilities with areas dedicated to caravans, motorhomes and lorries for parking. These have historically been whilst travelling on the paying sections of the Autoroute.  

On this occasion, feeling tired and coming to an aire known as Aire de Ventabren with space for the car and caravan to park with no difficulty, we decided to stop for the night. This aire is on the free section of the Autoroute. 

Having prepared a meal and relaxed, happy to be within striking distance of our destination, we settled down for the night. 

On awaking next morning, we found the caravan door open (which had been secure when we went to bed) and our bags containing Passports, driving licences, documents, cash and other belonging gone.

Sadly, while we slept our lock had been forced with a screwdriver and someone had entered the caravan while we slept, taking all our personal possessions. 

After speaking to the police by phone, taken advice re our lost passports, stopped bank cards etc, it was then off to the local police at Aix-en-Provence to report as required our loss. Easier said than done as it was a Friday - Market Day - and no public parking for a Caravan and Car within 3 miles of the Police station. Having dropped my wife off at the police station, I had an interesting 3 hour round trip of the town – on repeat! 

During this time, someone claimed that their parents, lorry drivers travelling from Marseille to Italy, had found our belongings and wished to return them. This individual having spoken to me by phone and communicated by SMS and WhatsApp, also contacted my wife in a WhatApp videocall whilst she was reporting the loss to the police. The police also spoke with him, but he claimed a poor understanding of all the languages that the officer and my wife could speak. He sent photos of our bags, passports etc. 

He was asked to contact his parents and request they deliver our belongings to a French Police Station. Following several excuses, this did not materialise, and a few days later we received a communication requesting that if we forwarded to him 150 Euros, as he was standing outside a FedEx office which closed in 30 minutes, he would send them to us. It goes without saying, having cancelled our lost documents as required, the cash and spare keys for the car etc being lost, we chose not to risk good money, as they say, after bad. We did request that he delivered them to a police station - this has not materialised. 

So What Did WE Learn? 

1.      That the old caravan barrel locks are easily forced. Although we have a security lock on the outside of the caravan this cannot be used when we are inside. Hence, we have now fitted a safety chain similar to those used at home. (See photographs), and a string of bells hanging on the locked door handle!

2.     Take copies and photos of passports, documents etc and keep in a separate place as information contained within will be required when reporting a loss. Photos kept on a mobile phone are extremely helpful. (We had fortunately done this and it made life just a little easier).

3.     Report the incident and loss ASAP to the police, bank, cancel passports and driving licences etc. Commence the replacement process by obtaining emergence passports online - these can be forwarded to you if time allows by courier, but you may have to make an appointment to attend the nearest UK Consulate to collect them.

4.     As far as possible don’t spend the night on an Aire which is on the free part of the Autoroute. 

5.     Prior to retiring for the night, hide all valuables (get them out of sight). It has been suggested by several people that it has also been known for a sleeping gas to be used so you don’t wake until it’s too late!!! 

Will this unfortunate event stop our travel abroad and to our favourite part of France – NO - but we will be making it more difficult should someone try to rob us again.

peedee commented on 27/10/2023 11:56

Commented on 27/10/2023 11:56

Bad luck, but I would have thought after 25years you would have known stopping on Autoroute Aires is not a good idea especially on the free autoroutes.


DavidKlyne commented on 27/10/2023 22:00

Commented on 27/10/2023 22:00

Unfortunately we all learn the hard way! I had my wallet stolen on the Rome Metro and on reflection I should have taken better precautions. I think there is a tendency to try and travel long distances, especially older people, don't realise how tiring it is. Over the years I have read many stories of people being robbed on motorway service areas (and sometimes on campsites) The point you make about hiding things away is very valid, ideally put them under where you are sleeping as that makes it almost impossible for the thief to have access to the important things. Something else you may wish to consider is rigging up a personal alarm between the door and body work of the caravan. The chain could easily be cut but the alarm will make noise which would not only wake you up but also frighten the intruder off.


young thomas commented on 28/10/2023 07:42

Commented on 28/10/2023 07:42

Agreed, four years ago, on our way to St Tropez we stopped at the very next aire (Barcelone) but just for a coffee, sandwich and a stroll in some fresh aire... 20 mins tops.

as PD says, Autoroute 'Aires' are no the same as town/village formal stopovers.

we've been touring Europe in our MH for about 15 years, using town, village and city Aires, and would NEVER stay on an autoroute overnight...

vbfg commented on 28/10/2023 08:50

Commented on 28/10/2023 08:50

You don't mention whether or not you and your wife are heavy sleepers or whether you think that whoever did it used some sort of gas to knock you out? 

As well as the deterrents others have mentioned, perhaps one of those printed warning signs with a picture of a large dog on it, in the window would help deter thieves, even if you don't actually have a dog.



Sushil commented on 05/11/2023 19:19

Commented on 05/11/2023 19:19

My wife and I, are two elderly over 75 years in age. After many years of pondering, two years ago I bought a used Peugeot Nuevo 2 Berth m/h wanting to explore outdoor life visiting lovely country of our. I am still learning how the habitation area is connected to function and m/h has not been driven since I bought it. My wife and I, we both don't have outdoor lifestyle experience hence wife is bit reluctant and I want to take my m/h out to places if possible across to Spain. Having read above painful experience and members comments on the break-in and the theft, happen specially to someone who has 25 years of experience, at my age and with health issues I think I am putting my wife and my self in to difficulties. Would welcome some helpful advice and suggestions as to what I need to do and how I should start getting on the road with my m/h. Thank you. Sushil  

Woman sitting in camping chair by Wastwater in the Lake District with her two dogs and picnic blanket

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