European Travel Information
Touring Europe by motorhome: What’s involved?
Are you aware of the new requirements for driving in France? See the section further down this page.
Thinking of of touring Europe by motorhome but you’re not sure how to go about it? If you’ve read our page about saving money by buying a new motor home in the UK, using it to tour Europe, then shipping it back to NZ, you might be interested in what’s involved in a European motorhome tour. Obviously the way you choose to live whilst there is a big influence. Will you eat out all the time, or shop with the locals in their supermarkets and local street markets and cook “at home”? Will you stay on campsites every night, or maybe use the much more economical (and often free) French “Aires“, German “Stellplätze”, or Italian “Aree di Sosta”? Additionally, for economical places to stay in France check out the excellent “France Passion” scheme, where for an annual membership fee of about NZ$50 you can park overnight for free at over three thousand farms and vineyards. Spain has recently introduced a similar scheme.
For essential motorhoming guide books for western Europe check out Vicarious Books. Great mail order service!
Here’s some limited information about the basic formalities, what you need to have with you etc. and some more links to other sites for more detailed research:
For tourist information:-
Travel health insurance for both NZ and UK passport holders is strongly recommended. NZ only has reciprocal health care agreements with Australia and the UK. NZ citizens have no right to free healthcare in any country in continental Europe.
Check out the Ministry of health website for details of this at the following link: Ministry of Health Website Select “Eligibility for Healthcare” from the menu.
Whilst British citizens have reduced cost, or sometimes free healthcare in EU countries, you are only eligible for this if you are ordinarily resident in the UK. Check out:-
Health Advice for Travellers or Travelling in Europe
Driving Licence requirements
In addition to your full New Zealand (or UK) Driving Licence you’ll need an “International Driving Permit”. There are one or two countries that don’t actually require this, such as France, but it’s still recommended to carry one. To apply for an IDP in New Zealand visit your local AA office, or you can do it by post to PO Box 5 Auckland. Alternatively, you can find more information and also apply for your IDP online at the New Zealand AA Website
If you’re driving in Europe or the UK on a non-European driving licence you are limited to vehicles with a maximum gross weight of 3500kgs regardless of the classes of vehicle you are licensed to drive at home. An International Driving Permit does not change this. There is no reciprocal agreement to recognise Heavy Goods Vehicle licences between UK/EU countries and non UK/EU countries.
Driving Requirements in Europe
Excellent information about legal requirements for driving in Europe is available from the UK Caravan Club website and the UK AA website. We encourage you to read these before you head off on your trip – some of the rules and regulations in Europe are quite different to those you’re used to at home.
New Requirements in France
It is now compulsory in France to carry in the vehicle at least one disposable, unused breathalyser kit. This must be a model certified by the French authorities and carrying a “NF” mark. These are available in most French supermarkets for a cost around €1.50 to €2.00. You should carry two in case one is damaged or used so that you can still produce a usable one. They can also be purchased in the UK before crossing to France at Halfords (like Supercheap in Australia/NZ). A twin pack is around £6.00
Halfords are a good source of all the bits and pieces you need to have on board to drive legally in Europe: Warning triangles, reflective jackets for all onboard, first aid kits, spare light bulb kits and so on. Check them out at: Halfords
Radar detectors are now illegal in France and this includes automated speed camera warnings on satnav systems such as Tom Toms. New model Tom Toms, Navman and the like will show speed camera areas as danger areas (which is legal), but if you have an older version you will need to disable the speed cameras warnings manually.
Since March 31st 2017 several French cities have required that an emission sticker is displayed on the windscreen of any vehicle being driven in the city. Initially this is only in Paris, Lyon and Grenoble but the intention is to roll it out across all major cities in France within three years. These stickers need to be bought and paid for in advance. You can find details of this requirement here:-
A similar scheme to the new French scheme has been operating in German cities for several years. Known as Umwelt stickers these can be purchased on line or at selected outlets before entering a city and must be displayed on the windscreen. If you’re travelling in a new vehicle the sticker will be green. We tried buying our Umweltplakette when entering the first city (Stuttgart in our case) but found it difficult to locate the office we needed for the purchase and then almost impossible to park our motorhome nearby. I’d suggest buying in advance if you have time. Here is a website explaining the scheme where you can order an umweltplakette:-
Most UK insurance companies won’t insure a vehicle who’s owner doesn’t have a European Community issued driving licence and a permanent address in the UK. However, Milestone insurance Consultants and Downunder Insurance in London specialise in this sort of situation. and can usually offer a policy to a traveller from NZ, Australia, Canada and South Africa, as well as many other non-European applicants. Downunder require applicants to be under 70 years of age and they have a maximum value for the insured vehicle of £55,000. Milestone are more flexible.
Milestone are at http://www.milestonehouse.com/ or better still email Ian Scott directly at Ian.S@milestonehouse.com
PO Box 55605
Alternatively “HIC Insurance” is worth a try. Click the lin below:-
You’ll find all their details on the website including a form to email them.
They can be reached by phone on:-
00 44 1279719915
There’s also “Dayinsure”:-
Click here:- Dayinsure
Insurance is a difficult (and expensive!) area for non residents of the EC but its not insurmountable.
With UK based insurance you might need an “International Motor Insurance Card”, issued under the Authority of the Motor Insurers Bureau. However this is often waived if a standard part of the cover is travel in Europe. Often this is limited to ninety days or maybe six months. This card is often referred to as a “Green Card”. It will say the countries it’s valid for. Along with this you should also receive
- Driving in Europe – a booklet of important information.
- A Complementary GB sticker (It’s compulsory to show the country of registration)
- A European Accident Statement
You also need to carry various documents to prove ownership such as the original vehicle registration certificate. For further information on requirements, including equipment to carry like warning triangles or reflective jackets which you’re required by law to carry in various countries, see this table on the UK AA website
The UK AA website has a wealth of information about driving in Europe and is well worth checking out.
Crossing the Channel
Most people fly into the UK and pick up their motorhome there. If you’re heading for Europe there are two ways to get your motorhome across from the UK: the ferries, and the Channel Tunnel. If you want to cross directly to Scandinavia then of course it has to be a ferry.
There are many companies competing for your business. Shop around! Norfolk Line, P&O, Brittany Ferries, TransEuropa and Speedferries are some of the main companies. Be aware that officially Speedferries have a maximum width restriction of 2.0m. This may or may not be enforced when you drive on but do you need the hassle? This rules out most coachbuilt motorhomes but you should be OK with a panel van type conversion. The key with all the ferry lines is to book as early as possible to get the good fares – You can do it online. Generally, the later you book it the more you’ll pay. You may have to pay £140+ if you don’t book in advance.
Another alternative is Harwich to the Hook of Holland. If you’re heading through Germany this could be a good way to go. Stena Line operate this service.
If you want to sail further afield, Brittany Ferries will take you from Plymouth or Portsmouth to Santander on the northern coast of Spain for about £320 one way in June. (Two people, 7m van). This is a 24hr sail and does not include a cabin – you get two seats. Cabins are available at extra cost.
Generally evening/night sailings are cheaper but special offers come along from time to time and can make daytime sailings competitive with night sailings.
A quick way of finding a good ferry deal, as well as general information about sailings is Ferry Online
You’ll find company websites at these links:-
Stena Lines 08447 70 70 70
TransEuropa Ferries (01843 595522) Ramsgate – Oostende (4hrs 30mins)
Brittany Ferries (0870 536 0360) Portsmouth-Caen (6hrs), Portsmouth-Cherbourg fastcraft (3hrs); Poole-Cherbourg (4hrs; or fastcraft, 2hrs 15mins); Portsmouth-St Malo (8hrs 45mins); and Plymouth-Roscoff (6hrs).
The Channel Tunnel:
Standard tunnel prices are competitive with standard ferry prices if you’re prepared to travel at off peak times. Basically this means after 5.00pm. or even better between midnight and 8.00am. Flexifares are available which don’t commit you to a particular train departure. This is probably the easiest way to cross but you’re dropped off at Calais so depending on where you want to go this may or may not be convenient. A big advantage is that there’s no charge for the number of passengers or the size of vehicle providing it’s less than 5 tonnes in weight. The length doesn’t matter so if you have a long vehicle the tunnel could offer a good saving compared to a ferry. Definitely worth checking out. You drive your vehicle onto the train and stay in it for the thirty-odd minute journey. It’s certainly the quickest way across providing Calais is a suitable destination, and unlike the ferries, it’s unaffected by the weather. Website at:-
Eurotunnel (0870 535 3535) Folkestone-Calais (35mins).
Other Ferry Routes:
Stena Lines provide services to Ireland from Fishguard-Rosslare, Holyhead-Dublin and Fleetwood-Larne. Stena Line will take you from Holyhead to Dublin from around £185 each way. Stena Lines 08705 70 70 70
If you want to cross the North Sea from the UK to Norway or Denmark try Fjord Line
Alternatively you could sail to Denmark then drive across the Öresund Bridge which carries the E20 across the Öresund Strait to Sweden.
Mobyline Ferries will get you between Italy, Corsica and Sardinia. Corsica Ferries are another company offering similar crossings. The Terrenia Shipping Line probably has the most comprehensive ferry route network between these islands including Sicily and they’ll also get you across the Adriatic.
Take a look at the excellent Michelin route planning website. Here you can also buy navigational software as well as Michelin Guides. Satnav systems which can be programmed with the size of the vehicle you’re driving can be a big help in avoiding narrow lanes or low bridges though they’re quite a bit more expensive than standard satnavs. You can also order the superb Michelin Green Guides online which give very detailed information about small areas. Failing that, good road atlas’s are available at all major service stations such as Shell, Mobil, Elf, BP etc.
Although aimed at commercial transport operators if you register at the International Road Transport Unions website (it’s free!) you can check current fuel prices throughout Europe as well as checking out major road works and delays.
There are many supermarket chains in Western Europe. Some of them also sell fuel and are usually cheaper than service stations. Names you’ll see include ALDI, LIDL, SPAR, Intermarché, Carrefour, Alcampo, Caprabo and many others. Local street markets are excellent for fresh food and of course part of the fun, but watch the prices – they can be expensive.
Tourist areas such as the French and Italian Riviera can be expensive – shop in quieter areas with the locals!
Electricity hook up
No problem with the voltage in western Europe, but you’ll need an adaptor to make the connection as at many places the sockets are two pin type – different to the ones used in New Zealand and the UK. Adaptors are readily available at camping and caravan shops in the UK and if necessary many camp sites in Europe have some they lend out – but don’t rely on this. Expect to pay about £5 for an adaptor. An extra-long lead is recommended about 25 metres minimum – as the plug-in power points tend to be centralised – not positioned at each site (pitch) like they are in New Zealand. We strongly recommend that you use a polarity tester before connecting at each new site. Again these are available at camping and caravan shops in the UK at about £10. Many campsite supplies in Europe are limited in the amount of current they can supply and you may be asked to pay a higher rate for a higher current rating. This is usually done by changing the size of the circuit breaker to match the supply required, or in some cases the supply achievable.
This is a little more complex than the electricity supply, but armed with the correct equipment it shouldn’t be a problem. There is excellent information on the UK Camping and Caravan Club website here. The potential difficulty comes from the fact that almost all countries in western Europe have their own types of gas bottles or connections, and also their own systems for having them filled. It’s also uncommon to own your own bottle – you usually rent one. Although “Camping Gaz” is available almost everywhere it only comes in small bottles (about 4kgs) and is very expensive. However, an economical and convenient alternative is available. Here’s where a little knowledge can save you a lot of money…
At least two companies in the UK, MTH Autogas and Gaslow now manufacture gas bottles which can be refilled with LPG at many service stations throughout Europe equipped for filling LPG powered vehicles. Their cylinders cost between £70 and £150 but will save you a fortune over several months because the gas is a fraction of the price of Camping Gaz.
The total cost of buying and regularly refilling one of these cylinders over a period of three or four months is likely to be less then half that of using Camping Gas which is the only other alternative. When your trip is over you can sell the cylinder in the UK if you’re shipping your motorhome back to NZ, further enhancing your overall savings compared to Camping Gas.
The advantage of these refillable cylinders doesn’t end with the cost saving either, imagine how difficult it can be to find a place which sells Camping Gas when you’re travelling. If you can’t speak the language and you don’t have local knowledge you can waste a lot of time driving around looking for a Camping Gas supplier, and given the small cylinders that Camping Gas comes in you’re going to be doing this very frequently. If you have a refillable cylinder you simply top up your LPG at a service station when filling the vehicle fuel tank. You should consider this refillable option.
For safety choose a cylinder with an automatic filling cut-off so that it can’t be over-filled. You’ll still need adaptors for filling in Europe, as some countries use different fittings to connect to the cylinder but tell your cylinder supplier where you’re going and they’ll fix you up.
The time to go?
Unless you’re going for the skiing, anytime from May till October. August is peak holiday time for Europeans and popular destinations will be very busy then. Many campsites increase their prices from late July until the end of August. Some European campsites close for the winter during October, but there are still plenty which remain open, including many French Aires, German Stellplatz and Italian Aree di Sostas. If you have to begin or end your trip in July or August it would be wise to pre-book the channel crossing well in advance. Places to stay shouldn’t be too much of a problem as long as you’re flexible with your plans and don’t mind close neighbours on sites.
Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or want further information. We’re pleased to help in any way we can, whether it’s a question about French street markets, the best site to stay at near Venice, or a quote for a new motorhome. If we can help in any way to make that dream trip to Europe come true we’ll be delighted to do so. Even if you’re not yet ready to make a purchase, we’d still be happy to hear from you and we’ll do our best to answer your questions. Why not Email us, we’re here to help!
“In Paris they simply stared when I spoke to them in French. I never did succeed in making them understand their own language” Mark Twain.
The information given on this website is based on the opinions of the author and readers act on this information at their own risk. It is recommended that all readers check this information independently before using it.