We loved our first full season of winter camping… Christmas and New Year on the Costa Brava, northern Spain – winter sun, medieval villages, catching up with our pals Tom and Zoe, paddleboarding on boxing day, midnight grapes in Girona, the Dali museum in Figueres…
After that, we trundled across the south of France, through the Camargue region, where they speak Catalan, and have bull fights, and flamingos, more gorgeous medieval hill towns – like St Paul de Vence, all snickleways and art galleries.
We sped through Italy, through some areas that had really
suffered in recent floods, stopping to admire some new places like Mantua, Valvasone,
Palmanova. We had a fantastic and hilarious weekend in Trieste with our friends
from Newcastle, Aston and Edy, who relocated there last summer with their kids,
Daisy and Lily. Great place to park the van, 100 yds from Piazza Unita!
Then, with some serious weather threatening, we made a dash up to Austria – Bev driving us through the Dolomites and over the Brenner Pass. We made it to our campsite in Leutasch one night earlier than planned. Fortunately, they had space and we were all set up before a huge dump of snow on the day we would have been traveling. An amazing week cross country skiing, beautiful ‘winter wonderland’ scenery and great exercise.
Then into Germany, more lovely medieval towns (a bit of a theme!), a little detour to catch a gig by jazz guitar maestro Martin Taylor, even sneaking in an extra cross country ski trip at Bodenmais. Heading inexorably back to the UK, but no rush!
Wild camping vs. campsites
Feels like we’re really starting to get the hang of this. The only nights we’ve been on a proper campsite since we left the UK in December were our ‘holidays’ – 3 days at Christmas in Spain and for my birthday, a week in Austria, Cross Country Skiing. Mostly, we’re finding places using park4night, usually free, occasionally 1 euro for water or electric. That’s helping keep our costs down, which we’re having to think about a little more carefully now. I’m starting to pick up some freelance work – using my day job skills in data, programming, analysis and analytics – remote projects that I can deliver on the move.
Adding up all the costs – except the one huge outlay for the purchase of the van! – and dividing by the number of days gives a headline spend of £54.85 a day. Here’s how that breaks down:
As mentioned in other posts, we can’t treat everyday like a holiday. We try to spend at least a little cash in every town we stay, but we certainly don’t eat out everyday. For us, it’s part of the adventure – cooking in the van and entertaining ourselves, making it a home from home. That £21 a day on Shopping/Social covers, for 2 adults and 2 dogs: food, drink, boring shopping (scourers, loo roll, washing up liquid, dog poo bags), toiletries, new clothes and shoes when things wear out, dining out and socialising, art galleries, cinemas, attractions, etc.
Various Van Costs covers up-front, ad-hoc and regular costs like insurance, the GPS tracker subscription, MOT, servicing, repairs and purchases like chocks, winter tyres, snow chains. That covers about 18% of our total spend, which is probably more than we might have set aside for contingencies. Worth considering that if anyone is budgeting for a similar trip.
Fuel – about 15% of our daily spend – works out at about 18p a mile.
Our average spend per night on site fees is down to £6.20 – this is mainly due to us getting much more comfortable wild camping. Park4night has been invaluable, highly recommended. In December, we stayed just 9 nights on a site – so that’s over 70% wild or free camping.
Thinking ahead to winter camping in Austria, we invested in a fixed LPG tank. This has bumped our gas costs up for now, but every time we fill it costs just £10-12 instead of around £35 to swap a bottle. It will have paid for itself after another 10 refills. An 11kg bottle (which holds around 20 litres of gas) lasts 9 to 12 days at the moment, whereas in summer it lasted well over a month.
We avoid tolls mainly – in France, Spain and Italy, for example, you just don’t get to see the little towns and villages and while they might save time, they’re often longer journeys in terms of miles and diesel. This cost is mainly Eurotunnels, a few ferries and the bridges in Denmark.
Finally, I think we’ve been very well served by EE using our phones and mobile data abroad. 4G signal is usually available, with the exception of Germany where it was really patchy, which surprised us. Watch out in Andorra, which is not EU, so the free roaming did not apply – Flight mode on 🙂 Signs so far point towards us still being able to use UK allowances in Europe after Brexit – I really hope so. We’ve used a bit more data in winter, settling in on a night to watch a box set on Amazon or Now TV.
Miles, MPG and Diesel Costs
Average miles traveled per day: 45
I use an app called Simply Auto to track some of our expenses – diesel, lpg gas, camp site fees, MOT, repairs, etc. Plotting the mileage figures against the dates shows we’ve been quite consistently on the move around that 45 miles/day average:
We’re on to our second ‘lap’ of Europe now, heading into Italy after Christmas and New Year along the Costa Brava and the south coast of France.
Average miles between fill-ups: 392
Average fuel efficiency overall is at 30.6 mpg, but it’s been noticeably worse over recent months. We were a bit heavier with extra guitars and have occasionally had to run the engine to top up the leisure batteries. In the UK, with shorter grey days, the solar charger couldn’t keep up with our demands. (Mainly me, working on the album on the laptop!)
Average price paid for a litre of diesel: £1.22
Here’s how different countries compared…
Several times now, we’ve found it’s worth a small detour into Luxembourg to fill up. Lots of French, Belgians and Germans do the same – you can see them queuing at the first station over the border. Andorra – a tax haven – was full of French and Spanish shoppers buying duty free booze, fags and fuel. I’ve never seen so many petrol stations in such a small area! The Spanish price was surprising low – but again that was just over the border from France, luring folk in.
At the other end of the scale, Sweden, Italy and the UK came in at or over the £1.30 mark.
Estimated Annual Costs
Our house is still rented out, so we’re aiming to stay in the van for a full year. Looks like we’re still on track for around £20,000 – probably just over now, with a few repairs and additional van costs like the winter tyres and snow chains.
Happy to answer any questions anyone might have. If you’re planning a similar trip or there’s something I’ve not covered here, you can message via the facebook page, @howaskew on instagram or message @howaskew on twitter. Go on, ask me how many times I’ve had to empty the loo. (You can probably guess how many times Bev’s done it.)
What’s the plan?
After a spell in the UK – band gigs in September, a trip to Scotland, recording the new album, catching up with our Newcastle friends and seeing our families for early Christmas celebrations – we set off early December, more or less back to our “the plan is, there is no plan” approach, practicing the art of bimbling…
seeing some sights and enjoying our freedom to travel around Europe (while it lasts)
living more simply and more healthily, being outdoors, eating well
spending more time together, and seeing friends and family
playing more music, writing new songs
heading towards Austria to test our winterised van and do some cross country skiing
That should take us up till mid March. I’ve started keeping an eye open for stats and data science project work, but until then we’ll just keep rolling, looking for gigs along the way.
Icons made by Smashicon, Those Icons and OCHA from www.flaticon.com
Charts made in RStudio, using dplyr, ggplot2, countrycode, ggflag, maps, mapdata
Happy New Year from me and Bev to our friends and family all over the world! And a huge thank you to everyone that has supported us on our travels and supported me and the band over the last year.
We started the new year in Girona, in Spain – listening to parakeets in the trees above the van – after a great NYE celebration in front of the cathedral in the old town. Typically English, we were very punctual – we went out about 10.30 and the town was eerily quiet. But by about 11.30, revellers started pouring in, with hats, wigs and streamers, champagne flutes – and grapes! The ritual is to eat a grape with each of the midnight chimes to ensure good luck for the coming year. There were thousands of people and a very friendly family atmosphere. There was such a noise from the crowd we missed the first few chimes and had to scoff them quick sharp. After the chimes, we followed the crowd to another square and finished our fizz, dancing for an hour of more while the band ‘La Tropical’ did their thing. A fantastic experience. Here’s to more of those moments!
The plan is to move on to Figueres today, then into France, through Italy, up to Austria for a week cross country skiing, then heading back to the UK around March time. I better get some gigs booked in along the way!
Again, thanks to everyone that has listened, liked, shared and bought my new album Brass Neck! Keep up the good work 🙂 It’s been a long time coming – 17 years! – and a painful process at times so I’m really pleased it’s now out there.
Part of van life is to try to make it feel like a home from home, especially if you’re using it as a long term base. For me, this means eating as healthily as we did at home, and to trying to ensure a varied diet. So, I’ve been out foraging – trying to find fresh, free ingredients on our travels. Sweden in particular was great for this, not just because of the timing of our visit there, but because foraging and fishing are allowed pretty much anywhere. Since then, we’ve kept our eyes open along the way – through Germany, Holland, Belgium, France and now back in the UK.
I’ve made several pies and some lovely jam. I’ve also added them to our morning smoothie.
On the Dutch coast, we found plenty and enjoyed it blanched with a sardine salad and also with tuna pasta dishes. It’s salty flavour really goes well with seafood.
A type of hazelnut, I waited for them to go brown, toasted them and added them to our breakfast bars instead of almonds. We don’t have a nut cracker in the van… so I used the pliers!! Everything has more than one use, it’s about time those pliers earned their keep.
Apples and Blackberries
Now we’re back in the UK, there’s plenty of blackberries and apples, so I’m looking forward to long walks foraging with the dogs, and a surfeit of crumbles… mmm!
Wild raspberries too – Didn’t find a huge amount (Boo learned how to pick them, so we lost a good few!) but they were great on top of our breakfast cereal.
Our good friend Guy has lent us a fishing rod, so if and when we head back to Europe, we’re going to be spending some time in the lakes of Germany and Sweden trying to catch our supper. We’ve had a first foray in the North sea at Robin Hood’s Bay, hoping to catch sea bass…will keep you posted…
I made some scented wardrobe hangers from flowers we collected in Hungary and Slovakia.
In addition to baking breads and pizzas as previously reported, I’ve made all sorts – Here’s a selection of the best efforts…
Cracked this now – the secret is turning it 5 times in our Thetford gas oven. Home-made blueberry jam on home-made toast – perfect!
Melting peanut butter chocolate puds
Another favourite comfort pud from home, works a treat in the van.
A Swedish recipe, from our friend Ucci’s Dad. They are thin, coconut and orange biscuit – deliciously with or without buttercream filling.
Pizza, Ciabatta and garlic bread
Thin crust pizzas, made from scratch – they require careful turning in the oven, but well worth the effort.
Sticky, cinnamon goodness – Another firm favourite!
White chocolate and cranberry! We had mixed results with a certain batch of Italian butter, but these are usually a quick and tasty treat.