If, like us, the lockdown has left you staying put more than you would like to be, there is a good chance that your campervan hasn’t gone too far over the last year. The only good thing is that you are probably averaging about 3 weeks to the gallon! We have seen some of you put your campervans or motorhomes into storage, sorned them or left them outside your house, so how do we get them ready for when lockdown restrictions end? What checks should we be making on our campervan or motorhome pre travel?
We have compiled a list of things you need to check before heading off on the road.
Before you even think about turning the engine on you need to do some primary checks. A visual check of the vehicle first for any damage incurred either by other vehicles or storms etc. Look for any dents, scratches or changes to the vehicle. Ensure that there is no debris on the roof of the van that could fall off and cause an accident or damage.
Take a look under bonnet and chassis for any animals living in the van, nesting or causing damage to cables. Hopefully you remembered to take all the food out beforehand so as not to attract critters!
Prior to travel all lights should be tested. Enlist a friend to help you including hazards, fogs and all internal dash lights are in good working order and that no warning lights are displayed. Any bulbs or fuses that need replacing must be done so straight away. (We will talk more about the leisure battery and internal electrics later). Inspect the marker light casing and light fittings for any cracks or damage.
Screen wash and Wipers
Before taking to the road you need to ensure you have plenty of screen wash and that your wipers are working correctly, not stuck to the windscreen and the blades have not perished. Ensure the gutter between the windscreen and bonnet is clear from leaves and other debris, if not kept clear this could severely affect your engine such as water congregating and damaging the electrics and fuse boards. This should be a regular maintenance check.
Always check the oil when the vehicle is cold. Find the dipstick, no the one under the bonnet! Pull it out and clean it with an old rag or tissue. Note at the bottom of the dipstick there will be two lines, minimum and maximum. Carefully insert the stick back into the tube trying to keep it central. Once it is fully inserted, remove the dipstick again and see where the oil line is. Oil and coolant are the most important fluids in the vehicle so always check the owner’s manual for the correct specifications.
Check that the water reservoir isn’t frozen before starting the vehicle if it has been cold recently. If there isn’t enough antifreeze/coolant in the water it could expand when it freezes. This can create cracks and leaks. If you see the water tank is empty you need to refill it, check under the engine afterwards to see if water is escaping from somewhere.
If you have topped up and it hasn’t leaked, turn the engine over and let it run for 1 minute and then turn it off. This will allow you to get water into the system and refill the tank again. Run the engine for a little longer whilst you are doing other checks to see if any water is escaping. Move the vehicle onto a dry flat surface if you can.
Wheels and Tyres
Visual Check – inspect your tyres regularly for lumps, bulges, cuts, cracking, foreign objects in the tread (remove with a blunt tool if you can) and make sure these are dealt with urgently by a professional. The pre travel check could stop a dangerous situation from arising when driving your motorhome or campervan.
Always check the tyre pressure from cold. Check that you have the correct PSI. Campervans and motorhomes can be heavy vehicles so ensuring you have the correct PSI will keep you safe and also help on fuel economy. Most larger vehicles will have a plate inside the cab that will give you the correct figures. Having a vehicle in storage or parked up not moving for too long can cause damage to the tyre. Rapid deterioration from supporting the weight of the vehicle on one part of the tyre is not unheard-of.
Why are tyres so special?
There are lots of different types of tyres. A range depending on your budgets and performance. The purpose of a tyre is to support the weight of the vehicle at speed, they must be able to cope with corners and shifting weight, deal with all weather and surface types, from ice and snow to extreme heat in summer and tarmac to grass. The tyre is the only part of the vehicle that should be touching the ground and as such, they have to deal with traction of breaking and acceleration too.
As tyres are one of the most important parts of the vehicle in terms of safety as well as actually being able to move, it is very important not to overlook these parts of your vehicle and regularly check them over for damage/wear and tear.
What are the markings on the tyre sidewall?
Sidewall. This is the area between the tread and the wheel hub. You will often find writing on this area which to someone who doesn’t work with tyres, can look very confusing.
For example, a code such as 205/65 R16 95 V. Here we will explain what each parts mean.
205 – Width of the tyre in mm
65 – Section height in terms of a percentage. In this case 65% is described as the aspect ratio. It refers to the height of the tyre from the rim to the tread divided by the width of the tyre.
R16 – Rim Diameter. The letter R means Radial. The number is the diameter of the inner rim measured in inches.
95 – Load index in KG. related to the load each tyre is able to carry.
V – The last letter relates to the maximum speed for that tyre. You may need to search for this online to get the correct speed for your tyre. If you have different tyres, always stick to the lowest one.
Tyre Tread depth
In the UK, the legal requirement for tread is 1.6mm across three quarters of the tyres surface. The easiest way to check is to look for the tread wear indicators. These are small bumps built into the grooves of the tread. If your tread is level with the top of the bump, you are at the legal limit and your tyres need changing.
Tools and tricks.
Tyre gauge – the best way to check is to use a tool such as a tyre gauge. These come in many forms such as digital, pen shaped gauges and even laminated cards.
Trick – If you don’t have access to a tyre tread gauge, see if you can get your hands on a 20p coin! Place the coin in the tread and if the outer band is visible then your tyres may be illegal. Take the test in multiple places and in different treads as some tyres can wear herder if your tracking and balancing is out.
Types of tyres
Normal car tyre – Usually made from just two plies and inflate to approximately 40 psi and carrying up to 500kg
Commercial tyre – usually has about 2mm more tread to start with and made from 6 or 8 plies. This makes the tyre more durable and can carry a higher weight load up to 700Kg and inflate to around 65 psi.
Motorhome Tyres – A van of approx. 2700kg empty weight can put 675kg pressure on each tyre. Specialist motorhome tyres can be inflated to 80psi. They have tougher sidewalls and a better tread compound, helping in those tricky grass pitches in wet weather!
As our vans start to age, we see more problems arising and this isn’t only related to the engine. Age shows itself in many ways, rust patches, peeling paint and seals perishing can all cause leaks, as can screw holes, air vents and unaligned doors. If you have an Iveco Daily like us, you probably already know about the door seal leaking! Pre travel checks on your motorhome or campervan are not limited to the engine and external features, the habitation are needs investigating too!
Inspect the ceiling, door/window seals, air vents and floors for any sins of water damage. This could be staining, damp and mould or actual puddles. Remember water can travel so where the water pools may not be where the leak is.
It is good to do a roof inspection and check any caulked areas such as sky lights. Door and window seals may also have perished and it is essential to replace these if damaged. External doors such as for a toilet access also should not be forgotten.
Rust must be sorted and stopped as soon as possible too. Any holes that have been cut in the body work, i.e. to fit a rear ladder or air vent, could quickly start rust. Treating rust with the appropriate products as soon as this work is carried out can stop rust from spreading.
If you find damp or mould in the camper, this mould needs removing and the items/panels replacing. Mould can affect the health of those living in confined space.
Leisure Battery and internal electrics
If disconnected, these need reconnecting. Clean the contacts and leads with contact cleaner. Reconnect battery ensuring the connections are the correct way around and test system. You may need a few days to charge fully if it hasn’t been charged periodically through winter. Using a battery charger indoors may be benficial to aid a faster charge.
Once the battery is charged and reconnected, check all of your wires and if safe, then your internal lighting and sockets etc. Please do check here for any water damage around electrics before turning on power.
If you have water pumps or heaters installed, test and flush all systems. Reconnect all pipes, fill with water and run through. Sterilise the tanks and pipes following manufacturer’s instructions, refill with clean water and run through a couple of times. Your tanks should have been drained through winter to stop pipe bursts however always check for any seals breaking and monitor for any leaks for the first while.
Caravan and motorhome gas systems should be checked yearly by a qualified engineer as part of your regular upkeep.
If you have gas bottles in your campervan or motorhome, it is good practice to remove them over winter and store them in the garden shed, check them again pre travel. If you are travelling to cold climates, it is advisable to use Propane – the red bottle. This is because this gas will not freeze and can be used down to -43 degrees Celsius. In the UK during the summer months butane is a good choice as the temperature is usually well above 3 degrees and butane contains more energy per unit of volume than propane. However if you are looking to camp in cold temperatures, you will find yourself in a spot of bother if you are unable to boil a kettle for a coffee due to the gas freezing, so many year rounders will switch to propane over winter.
Print our Pre Travel Check list for your campervan or motorhome
We have compiled all the above in a handy printable list for you! Download it now for your ease when starting your campervan or motorhome pre travel check.
Why you should consider a work exchange experience when you travel.
Travel has been important since the dawn of time. The explorers in us have always roamed this earth in search of new lands, experiences and views. Through all of it we love to learn about new places and cultures. For those of us not content with 2 weeks a year and who try to travel either full time or regularly, the costs can mount up. Looking for ways to save money when we travel is essential to make the most of our free time.
Why not consider a ‘travel work exchange’ programme?
What is a work travel exchange?
A work travel exchange is an amazing way to travel on a budget. You get to meet lots of people. You usually get to stay for free in exchange for some work that they need doing. This allows time for you to see the local area in your free time.
Travel/work exchange programmes have been around for many years. They have given those that love to travel the ability to move around for low costs. It is beneficial for businesses owners, private land owners, social projects, farms etc. to get assistance with an endless amount of roles. It’s a collaborative exchange between you and the hosts looking for a certain type of work to be done.
What type of work can I do?
You do not have to be trained in obscure roles such as ‘listed house roofing specialist’ or have a degree in landscape gardening. There are plenty of other roles available for almost every type of skill you can think of. However if you do have certain skills, particularly being able to speak foreign languages, it will certainly help you in some work travel placements. There are so many opportunities to learn on the job. The most important thing is to have an open mind and be willing to work hard.
Some roles could be helping out on campsites, in hospitality, fruit picking on a farm or helping to clear land. Teaching a language or subject, renovation and maintenance, cooking, child care, working in a rescue centre for animals. The list is endless and they are all across the globe. They are enticing you off of the beaten track into the more remote locations to get a real feel of the land and local communities.
What do I get in return for working?
In most cases accommodation is provided, sometimes a spot to park your campervan (sometimes there may be electric hook ups). All of this is relative to the individual location and host. It is important that you clarify all benefits before you travel to ensure you are prepared for what to expect. Occasionally they may be shared dorms and bunks similar to a hostel environment, if they are having regular volunteers. You may be lucky and have your own accommodation and bathroom or it may be shared with others.
In most cases we have found that one meal is usually provided communally. Cooking duties are usually shared amongst the volunteers so having some basic cooking skills will serve you well. Pun intended! If you are a really bad cook then perhaps agree to be the chief washer upper!
What don’t I get?
In most cases, do not expect to earn money. You are working for the host in return for your board. It is very unlikely that any wages will be included on top of that.
You will be responsible for your travel costs to and from the location. Any visas and vaccinations if you are going abroad, and medical costs will be your responsibility.
Food may be included for communal meals. All other food will need to be purchased by yourself as well as money for excursions and leisure activities.
Each work/travel exchange will be different depending on the host. You need to make sure you clarify all the fine details before you commit.
How long do I have to work for?
This will vary from host to host, however the usual amount is around 20 – 25 hours a week. We undertook a placement in an animal sanctuary and volunteered to do almost 12 hours days at times. In addition we also had night duty and were very happy to do those hours. I will stress that we didn’t have to and that the host was very accommodating to our needs. We loved it so much that we wanted to as much as we could.
What travel insurance do I need?
Due to the types of work you will be undertaking, there are some grey areas as to whether you are a worker or a tourist. In reality, you are neither and both at the same time. We did a quick search for volunteer travel insurance and found some information on gap insurance. This is catered for the younger age bracket taking their gap year between collage and university. Some of these insurance companies have a maximum age bracket as low as 35. We recommend speaking to insurance brokers and explaining the type of volunteering or work exchange placement you are undertaking to ensure you have the correct cover.
We suggest that for your first experience, consider starting in your home country. Once you feel confident then start to look further away. Perhaps arrange to go with a friend to have someone to travel with and share the adventure. Make sure people know exactly where you are and check in regularly. Provide your family with contact details of your host.
Where can I find out more.
There are lots of websites set up specifically for work travel exchange programmes, volunteering and working abroad. A quick internet search will bring them up for you. There are also lots of facebook groups set up for this. Connect with others that are looking to sign up for, or have experience in, travel work exchange programmes. Build a network of like-minded people. Start to make friends with them and ask them about the highs and lows of their involvement in the programmes.
Our experience of Travel Work Exchanges.
We have only done two so far but are looking at other experiences for the future. Our first one was in the UK and we found this on a facebook group for van-lifers. It wasn’t done through a specific website or company. We saw a post from an lady that had purchased some land. She was looking for people to help clear it and turn it into a campsite. The land was in Tairgwaith, Glamorgan, Wales. This is a part of the UK that we love near the Black Mountains. We were looking to give something back so volunteered to lend a few days helping out.
Speaking to the host a little bit about the types of things that were needed, it seemed like general weeding, tidying, maintenance etc. In return she would let us park our campervan on the land for free in exchange for the manual labour. We were looking forward to hearing about the business plans she had. Perhaps learn a little bit about what would be needed if we ever embarked on a project like that in the future.
We arrived at the location and were greeted by wild horses. The site was on a slight hill with a gravel path marking the small site, only catering for approximately 3 or 4 campers at a time. It wasn’t a large plot of land but it was beautiful. We met our host who was, shall we say, a unique character. After being given a tour of the site, she told us all about her exciting plans. We could quickly see that there was a LOT of work that would need to be done.
In order to get the most out of the time we had, the host set us to work on one area. Rather than just do bits here and there it made sense to concentrate on one area. During the time we worked there we managed to make a safe bonfire pit. We used this to burn small amounts of wood at a time. In the evening we also used this to cook our dinner on.
From moving big heavy branches, pulling weeds and moving rubble, the area took a fair amount of time to clear. We used rocks to line the edge of the path and discarded tree stumps as seats around the fire pit. The host would pop out every now and then to see how we were doing. She would remind us that we could stop when ever we wanted to but we were quite happy just pottering along and keeping the fire going.
Out for an adventure
On the second day, our host wanted to show us part of the local area. We all bundled in her yellow campervan and headed for the hills. She took us to a stunning part of the Black Mountain range to where there was a disused mine and lime kilns. It was lovely to go out with the owner and learn more about the surrounding area. After a little while she headed back to the van and told us to take our time investigating. We agreed to meet her and her dog back at the van when we were ready. This allowed us time to look at the views and poke about in the rocks, looking at the ruins.
After our walk we headed back to the camp site and continued to potter around. The next day saw us doing something slightly different. A beautiful stream runs through the site at the bottom of the hill. It had been all snagged up with fallen branches during recent bad weather. The host had asked us if we would be happy to help her clear it. With my wellies on I gladly followed her down the bank into the freezing water. We walked along the trickling stream that was largely rocky and very slippery. The host and I cut some branches back and cleared the debris that could have posed a problem if left to build up over time.
We passed the branches up to Louise who stacked them to dry out. The whole site was like something out of a hobbit film. Down in the stream the whole site looked completely different. The purple flowers appearing on the banks looked like a spring carpet. Tracks from animals could be seen using the water as either crossing locations or for a water source. Further along, back on land, were the remains of an old cattle shed. Sadly it hasn’t survived but would have been a beautiful building in its day.
We thoroughly enjoyed this experience. Even though there were not facilities to shower, it didn’t stop us from enjoying our time. We were helping this semi wild and basic site get a head start before opening properly.
It was thanks to this experience that we were eager to have another go at a work travel exchange, this time in Spain!
Galgos Del Sol
After our first season of travel, we settled up in Yorkshire for the winter. Being in a house just felt more restrictive and we needed to get out and about. We saw on another facebook group that an animal rescue charity was looking for people with a campervan. They wanted people to come and volunteer for a few months. This was to help do the night duty and care for the dogs. An interesting work travel exchange that was close to our hearts!
We love dogs, both having long careers in animal welfare under our belt, and we had a camper. Spain was warmer than Yorkshire and it was an area that we were sort of familiar with. A year prior we had stayed about an hour from there in my aunts villa. We loved it very much so we knew that should we have any major problems, there was an area (and possibly a villa if it wasn’t being used) nearby that we could find safety in.
Making the arrangements – even with the van rebuild not entirely finished, we made our way to the centre. On arrival, we were very impressed with the set up and facilities. This is a working canine rescue centre and it is still under some construction. Although most of the kennels are now built some work is still underway. Accommodation areas for volunteers and a communal shower facility for those camping are in the pipe line. We were able to use the shower in one of the finished apartments with permission from its current guest.
Agreement to volunteer
In the agreement we made with the hosts volunteer co-ordinator, we were given all the information we needed. This included hours we were expected to be available, safety information and site rules. It was clearly stated that there was a strict vegan policy in communal areas. You were allowed animal products in your own areas but not permitted in the communal kitchen or meals. Louise and I would be expected to work with the dogs 8am – 2pm then have lunch. The afternoons would be free time as long as we were back for evening duties. Duties would include being responsible for feeding, cleaning and training the dogs, caring for the guard dog at night and reporting any problems to the owner.
Louise and I were happy with these arrangements but it soon became clear there was a lot to do. We ended up working almost constantly, rarely taking any time off. We felt guilty on our occasional time off (due to covid, we couldn’t go anywhere anyway!) when we knew there was so much we could be doing.
For some of the longer term dogs, we would try to focus on enrichment ideas. This was to keep them stimulated and introduce new games and puzzles that they would need to figure out. We taught basic obedience, handling, touch acceptance, agility, lead work and settle. We loved them and played with them. After a snack we went to sleep and did it all again the next day.
Food Glorious Food!
Cooking is a passion for Louise and eating is a passion for me. This is one of the reasons we work so well together! Learning a whole heap of new recipes was a great joy. Being able to collaborate with other volunteers taught us a lot. We all took turns in the cooking and cleaning of the kitchen. At the busiest time, we were cooking for 13 people. That was until Covid hit and everyone had to leave, leaving just 4 full time and 2 part time helpers.
From aubergine parmesan, curried cauliflower and chick pea curry to vegan burger and chips. We had a real variety of food and everyday we would look forward to seeing what had been created. It was the one time of day that everyone could be together. We would discuss the plans for the next day or so. Through these experiences we made some really strong friendships that cover many countries and have remained in place even since we have returned.
Although we know we gave a lot to the dogs we cared for they also gave a lot back to us. They were our comfort, our security, our children and our friends. On one particular day I was feeling really tearful and frustrated so I went to sit with Fiji and calm down. She knew something was wrong and kept licking my face, practically sitting on me and forcing me to stay still until I felt better. Fiji is a heavy girl and if she sits on you, its hard to move her! We all loved Fiji and know that she will make an incredible therapy dog!
The puppies needed us to be on top of our game. Constantly feeding them and picking up poo whilst nursing their mumma back to health as she was in such a poor condition was one of the most rewarding elements of our time there. Nerina, the mother, was very wary at first about strangers coming in and touching her puppies.
She didn’t have any milk so to start with her babies needed feeding until she was able to take over again. She had to quickly learn to trust us. We took it as slow as we could. Always wearing gowns and respecting her space. After a day or so it was clear that Nerina was happy we were helping out and used us coming in as an excuse to have some alone time away from the pups and stretch her legs. Once we were done she would come back and settle down with the pups, once again latching on and starting to feed from her.
Some of the dogs needed a lot more socialisation than others and just spending time building bonds of trust were the most important sessions we would be involved in. It was a slow process with some of them but Marie, a dog who had spent almost her entire life at the rescue centre, was very scared of leaving her kennel. Louise and I spent lots of time slowly getting her to trust us and accept touch before we even tried to do any more than that. After a week or so we were able to start work putting the harness on – still not leaving the kennel.
Once the harness was able to be put on and off we started just going outside the gate. Marie had a favourite spot in the weeds just outside the block and we used this as her thinking spot. She felt safe there. Over time, and using lots of food bowls with high value treats in, Marie felt able to investigate the bowls and get a reward for doing so. During our time there we slowly moved the bowls further away, replacing them with vocal rewards and treats from the treat pouch. Now Marie can walk with other dogs and on her own, she is now kennelled with a friend and is enjoying playing in the large paddock.
Libby and Javi
As you know these two dogs became very close to our hearts. We spent a lot of time with these dogs and they gave so much back to us that kept us engaged with them. Javi has a broken back. He was hit by a car and when found, he had learnt to walk on his front two legs only. Sadly, Javi was paralysed from his hips down and his injury was inoperable. Tina, the director of GDS did not give up on him and was able to start him on hydrotherapy, electronic stimulation and physiotherapy.
Working with a dedicated team of vets and specialists, Javi began to make progress and can now walk again as his muscles are strong enough to hold him. Not only that, but he can play again almost like a normal dog. He still has the occasional wobble and certain weather may make him stiffer in the mornings but he was given a second chance to live and he has embraced it with both paws. Javi always looks happy, always has the biggest smiles and never complains about anything – other than that breakfast is always too late! He was a true inspiration to us both.
Libby is his best friend in the whole world and she look after him like a mother/son relationship. Libby has spent her life at GDS too and although her needs were very much looked after, she needed some Basic training to help give her the skills she would need in a home setting. We taught her to sit, to lay down, to wait and also a few tricks such as weaving, paw and using the agility equipment. She was a lovely dog who had so much enthusiasm for human interaction.
A shared experience
It is hard to sum up the experience of volunteering with GDS and the above are just a few examples of the different work we were doing with different dogs – however there were over 200 dogs on site and to tell you about each one would take some time. Lets just start by saying that we will never forget this experience and it taught us so much about ourselves, as well as about breeds of dogs that we had never worked with before.
We got to learn all about how front line rescue works, the effort it takes to rescue these beautiful dogs in the first place (countless hours sat waiting for these stray dogs to go in the humane traps to be captured, vet checks, medical bills, food and rehabilitation) before they can even be put up for adoption.
We learnt about volunteers from all over the world that came to help, including America, Belgium, Denmark and beyond. Connecting with other like minded volunteers and staff was incredible and easy as we all had a common interest in the well-being of these dogs, and therefore had a subject to talk about straight off the bat.
We also learnt a lot about ourselves, working under pressure in a foreign country in the middle of a pandemic – not knowing if we would be able to go home at any point soon and having to navigate another countries requirements with a significant language barrier proved quite entertaining at times.
Travel Work Exchange programmes
Travel Work Exchanges can leave an important mark on you, as we found out. They can help you grow your knowledge of people, places and skills as well as change you forever. You will meet people like you that like to travel and have common goals, adventurers, wonderers, hard working passionate people that want to get as much as they can from life. Above all, you will be able to travel with a low budget and have the most amazing time of your life!
If you have been on a work travel exchange, please tell us your story below and tell us how it changed your life!
Whilst not impossible, the City of London are making it more and more expensive to take your vehicles into the centre of London. This post aims to educate you on how to use the London Underground instead and save time and money.
The congestion charge was introduced in 2003, initially a £5 a day tariff to drive your vehicle between 7am and 6pm Monday to Friday in the city centre. As it name indicates, the charge was set up to reduce the number of cars and journey length as people would not drive in the city and want to pay the tariff.
This fee has increased over the years to £11.50 and must be paid either in advance or on the day or travel (until Midnight). At the latest, you can pay up to midnight the next day with a surcharge but after that you will receive a fine.
Low Emission Zone
Low emission zones were introduced in April 2019 and this incurs a further charge if your vehicle does not meet the standards set out by the government for emissions. Essentially, for a diesel campervan over 15 years old, you are looking to pay another £12.50 on top of the congestion charge.
Parking is harder to come by for larger vehicles and the risk of theft, damage or break-ins rises sharply too. We recommend that you find a safe place to park and then make the most of London Transport. In this guide we tell you how to use the London Underground with confidence and clarity.
How to use the London Underground
London is a major city with a population of almost 9 million people. The travel infrastructure is advanced with busses, over-ground trains, trams, Docklands light railway, a clipper boat and of course, the London Underground. This is essential to combat the traffic and pollution issues that large cities face. Sadly, even with the public transport in place, many still prefer to use cars to move around the city resulting in long road delays.
We highly recommend using public transport where possible as it is often easier and quicker than driving, plus your carbon footprint is reduced. It doesn’t matter how you use the London transport as long as you understand it consists of the Underground and overground components.
In this post we will be explaining how
to use the London underground to navigate your way around the city easily, and
with confidence. As someone who grew up in London I really took for granted how
advanced our network is. Whilst it isn’t perfect, these frustrations come from
the reliability of the service providers, weather causing delays an occasional
strike action, not from the destinations or routes available.
of the underground
How to use the London Underground
Navigating the stations
Platforms and boarding
Leaving the train
History of the Underground
I could talk all day about the history
of the underground, it is part of the fabric of modern life and the oldest
underground rail system in the world. Its origins stem back all the way to
1863, believe it or not!
I will give you a brief overview of where it all began but if you are interested in this, then there is so much more to explore and even some attractions you can visit, such as a 2 hour tour from the oldest to the futuristic stations at the Visit London website.
The Metropolitan line is the oldest underground line in London. Opening in 1863 and using steam locomotives pulling wooden gas lit carriages. In its first year, the Metropolitan line transported over 9 million individual journeys, with public calling for more to be built and with companies petitioning parliament for new lines.
Within 2 years, the circle line was completed alongside the district line. As the lines expanded, the metropolitan line reached as far as Buckinghamshire, ensuring a line 80km long could transport passengers into the city centre. They all had to learn how to use the London Underground from scratch where as we all grew up understanding the concept.
Different companies owned different
lines and sometimes this caused friction, especially if they were sharing rail
space. It wouldn’t be until much later that all of the networks would come together
and run as one.
Before long, other lines were added
and electric trains introduced in 1890. The development of the railway lines
seemed to boom, spurred on from the industrial revolution. More people were
drawn to the factory work in the city rather than the farming work of the
In the first half of the 1800’s, the
population of London tripled, leading to more traffic and congestion. There were
already 7 major over-ground lines meeting in the city bringing people in, so
something had to be done to ease congestion.
As technology improved, the tunnels became deeper. The first tunnels were mere meters underground, with trenches being built and roofs being laid on top. Now, the deepest tunnel is 58 meters underground and belongs to Hampstead heath on the Jubilee line.
The London Underground created jobs and revenue from those who knew how to use it. The city continued to grow.
The Tube during the War
Many stations were utilised as air raid shelters during the wars. Additionally, the government made use of the tunnels to to hide some of the cities treasures as well as make administrative office space for them and the Army. Some of the tunnels were even turned into factories making munitions and aeroplane parts to assist in the war effort.
Although the tunnels were used for shelter
during the first world war, it was discouraged for the 2nd. 10
massive air raid shelters were supposed to be built in the city housing thousands
of civilians however only 8 were built and mostly used by government officials.
Every time a siren would sound people would still head for the shelter of the
The government reluctantly backtracked
and allowed the stations to be used as air-raid shelters after a disastrous
accident. Sadly, during an air raid siren test on 3rd March 1943, a
surge of people trying to take shelter caused a panicked state at Bethnal Green
station which resulted in the deaths of 173 people.
Royal Mail Trains – Mail Rail
The Royal Mail – mail rail line, opened
in 1927 it operated for over 75 years before closing in 2003. The line was
designed to transport mail between sorting offices in the city was a narrow gauge,
driverless train. With 8 stops between Whitechapel and Paddington, 50 driverless electric trains shifted
30,000 items each day a mere 70 ft beneath the surface between the main sorting
offices around London.
Although now closed, you are able to
still access the tunnels and take a ride on the train through the Postal Museum
in London. Take a 15 minute ride on the small trains and see the largely
unchanged 100 year old tunnels, see the station platforms and experience a 1:20
gradient from the lines to the stations used to help the trains slow down on approach
and speed up on departure!
for the Royal Family.
It may be just rumour, or it may be
fact. The history books tell us long ago that secret tunnels were built within
castles, churches and important buildings to aid escape in times of a siege or,
in the modern age, bombing and terrorism.
People have spoken for years about a secret tube station underneath Buckingham Palace, linked to Parliament and Downing street, to aid the escape of the Queen during such an attack. The private tube is said to have its own network of tunnels under the city, one even reporting it goes as far as Scotland which is far fetched even for me.
A darker past
In some reports, the underground tunnels from the palace go to the darker corners of the city where princes and dukes would visit women of the night undetected. The Queen has visited stations as part of her royal duties and the thought of Her Maj popping on the tube to get to Gala Bingo has me in stitches. Does HRH know how to use the London Underground and sneak around the city?
It would make sense to have a network
of tunnels to aid escape although these are unproven, or guarded so highly no
one will tell us for fear they would be misused. We do know there are a warren
of disused tunnels by London underground and likely used by the government for ‘storage’.
It is claimed that Buckingham Palace has its own cash point and post office inside and many have speculated that the Royal Mail train runs underneath Buckingham Palace and therefore providing an escape route for the Royals. I guess we will never know for sure, but it is a plausible case to argue that the Palace would have escape tunnels.
How the Underground Works
The underground is currently made up from 11 tube lines, not including over-ground, Emirates and Docklands Light Railway. The networks lines tend to cover different routes into the city like a spider’s web but once in the main sections, it is not uncommon for them to share train tracks. For instance, the circle line and district line share 18 stations on the same route from Edgeware road to tower hill. Similarly, the District and Hammersmith and city line then share 11.
Some lines go just from point A to
point B with varying amount of stops in between. Nice and simple! You are
either going forwards or backwards. Other lines break off into ‘branches’ and
may go via another destination. The Northern line, for example, has two
branches to it splitting off at Kennington and going via either Charring Cross
or Bank, before joining briefly at Camden Town to terminate in either Edgeware
or High Barnett.
Do make sure you check which branch
you require and always note the termination destination to keep yourself on the
correct journey. Any ember of staff will help you if you are unsure.
Some lines go East/West, others North/South
and some across the middle. At first glance, it looks like a plate of spaghetti
however once you have a vague idea of the layout of London, it is easier to
work out where you need to be. If you can find out where you are and where you
need to get to you can easily trace the trainlines to find out your
connections. If you are unsure on how to reach your destination, there are
staff on hand to assist you that know the network inside out.
The map that we look at today is not geographically correct, but topological, formed to make an easier to read map with straight lines. The map was first designed by Henry Beck in 1931 and although ‘London Underground’ were sceptical of the initial design, they trialled it a few years later to see if people would accept it and found people preferred this type of map, with straight edges. It was easier to read and follow, everything was spaced out evenly and although not a true representation of the lines, it made navigation so much easier.
Circle line isn’t a circle anymore.
The circle line used to be just that, a
loop of stations where you could get on either side and eventually get to the right
station, which happened to someone one meeting me for a date! (I thought I had
been stood up but turns out they went the wrong direction!). In 2009, an
extension to the line now means that the line begins and ends in Edgeware road
and Hammersmith, now resembling a no 6 shape flipped over.
‘Transport for London’ calculate your fares
in accordance with a zone system. Whether you are using the tube, a bus, Docklands
Light Railway (DLR) or over ground, you will find the zone system in place. This
is in order to calculate fares. There are 6 main zones within central London and
for national rail lines, these extend over-ground to 15 (but don’t worry about
those for the moment).
Imagine Saturn’s rings. At the centre of
the rings is a circle, this is zone 1. Every 3 miles out from the city centre,
another zone comes into action. This then leads to 6 rings around London and a
variation in fares depending on where you are travelling to.
Only 78 of the 270 stations have some form
of step free access to platforms although this may be a manual boarding ramp
between lines. On the official TfL maps, stations marked with a white wheelchair
symbol are step free to the platform but not all are step free to the train.
Some still need manual ramps.
This is an area that TfL are trying to
improve but with such an old network of tunnels accessibility is proving very
hard for them to achieve.
So how does this effect tickets?
Transport for London have tried
several initiatives over the years, with the zones coming into force in the 1980’s.
Beforehand, the price you paid depended on how far you were travelling and was
calculated by the conductor. As the conductors were removed, the driver was
responsible for collecting fares and time spent at bus stops calculating the route
needed to change. Zones meant that the driver would know what zone they were
going to and easily work out the fare.
You can use cash to purchase a ticket, however you must purchase them in advance. Drivers do not accept cash on board so collect your ticket from ticket machines at Tube, DLR or National rail stations.
and return tickets
still available to purchase although not often the most cost-effective way to travel.
The fare for a single journey in central London zones 1-3 is £4.90 (Adult) each
leg of the journey. Unless you are planning to make just 1 single journey on London
transport then you are better off to purchase a travel card, Oyster card or use
a contactless credit/debit card.
London Travel Card
style of travel card is still operational in London. It is a simple card ticket
that you pay up front for and it provides you with unlimited travel across the London
Transport network for the duration of the card. You can purchase the 1 day
travel card, the 7 day travel card, 1 month or 1 year. The days are consecutive
and do expire.
The travel card provides you access to the London Underground, London Busses (the lovely nostalgic red London busses but not the tourist hopper bus), Network Rail, Docklands Light Railway, TFL railway and also a 33% discount on many scheduled river crossing services.
Heathrow and Gatwick express
You cannot use your travel card on the Heathrow express trains but you can for slower national rail trains departing from Heathrow station. Heathrow airport is in Zone 6. Gatwick, Luton and Stanstead are outside of London zones, in conclusion you can not use a travel card to reach these places.
For travel cards 7 days or longer, a passport sized photo is required. However, the cards can be made up on the spot and is free to do.
Oyster Cards Vs Contactless payment
and Go’ travel is simple and easy to use. No fiddling about with change, no paper
tickets lost under a pile of tissues and sweet wrappers in your pocket, just a
credit card sized piece of plastic with a chip in it to simply tap on the
yellow circle, and go through the barriers.
much difference between using contactless payment and an Oyster card
(apparently called that because the shell of an Oyster is a hard protective
shell, a metaphor for its security. There is also a nod to the Oyster beds from
the Thames Estuary and probably a nod to the phrase “the world is your Oyster”).
are not many differences between contactless and Oyster cards but I will list
the main few.
card = Pre load a card with funds before you travel.
= Use your credit or debit card to pay after you travel.
A standard Oyster Card requires a non refundable £5 deposit. You then ‘top up’ the card as you go along and pre pay for your travel. The fees are then deducted immediately from your card where as the contactless way means your journey is totalled up at the end of the day and a single charge is then deducted from your card.
to the standard Oyster, this card is one of the cheapest ways to travel around London.
It comes with some extra perks such as its ability to be used on Emirates Air Line cable car and River Bus services
(MBNA Thames Clippers). You can also use the travel credit on your Visitor
Oyster card to buy a ticket for Thames River Services and Circular Cruise
Westminster at their ticket offices.
Different Caps for different cards.
Contactless cards do have a weekly cap on them running Monday to Sunday. However it is important to remember that if you are travelling from overseas and using your credit or debit card, you may incur foreign exchange charges from your provider the same as any other payment in GBP.
The price of the weekly cap is the same as the 7 day travel card. The Oyster card caps after 3 journeys in one day. In other words, no mater how much you use your card, after the third trip you are no longer charged that day. It is important to note that travelling at peak times will cost you more, so if your first few fares are within the peak tariff, expect to see your cap at a higher rate than if you set off a little later and travel in a cheaper fare bracket.
Tap in and out
Oyster OR contactless, you still need to tap in and out of stations, even if the
gates are open. Failure to do so will mean that you will pay the full price of
a capped day even if you only used the train once that day. If
you don’t touch in and out on a yellow card reader, you might be charged a
maximum fare, charged a penalty fare or prosecuted.
Oyster cards do not have an expiry date. Any money you have left on the card can either be refunded at a train station kiosk or you can leave it on the card until you next visit.
Can I share
my oyster card?
are travelling with a companion, they must have their own card. If you are not
using your card, in theory you can pass it to someone else to use as they do
not require a picture or a name stamp on them. However, for just £5 it may be
worth investing in a card even if you are only visiting London once in a blue
How to purchase and top up an Oyster card
purchase an Oyster card from the ticket offices inside train stations, tube
stations, TfL rail stations, some DLR and National rail stations, the Croydon
Tramlink store and Newsagents around the city. It will cost you £5 to buy the
card before a penny is added to the account. You do not need to give ID as you
name is not written on the card. You can purchase the card, top it up and use it
straight away when purchasing from a ticket office or newsagent.
have a mobile phone, you can download the Transport for London app and top up your
Oyster card on the move. The website said to allow 30 minutes for the money to
show up, although it is often quicker. Please note, if you have a first-generation
oyster card, that these are not compatible with the app.
wish to purchase by cash or card payment, ticket stations as above and most
newsagents will be able to do that for you with funds immediately showing.
Navigating the stations
Now you know where the tube station is
but how do you get into it and then get to the platform? The large red circle
with the blue line across it is iconic. As soon as you see the logo, you know
you it is the London tube sign, just like a yellow cab lets us know we are in
New York. Entrances to Tube stations are usually well sign posted with this
sign lit up and usually on busy streets.
Some station entrances are close to
the surface so you may walk straight into a large area with ticket machines, ticket
booth with humans in, and the barriers. The signs for the trains are all colour
coded so that you can follow the directions of your colour of line if you
forget the name of it. This is especially helpful in stations where multiple
lines depart from the same station. It may not always be the same platform as
different tube lines run at different depths.
There will inevitably be a decent
involved. Usually, this involves quite steep escalators as many of the stations
were built before lifts/elevators were being used. Some stations do now have
lifts, such as the Heathrow airport station on the Piccadilly line, Kings Cross
station and London Victoria.
Platforms and Boarding
Once you have taken the escalator down
to the right line, you then need to locate the correct platform. Good news is
there are usually only two! By the entrance to each platform you will find a
map from the current station to the end of the line in the direction it is
travelling, so if your arrival station is not listed, check the other platform.
Once on the correct platform, you will
notice it is tunnel shaped, not with straight walls along the platform. Considering
the amount of users on the network, the platform can easily get overcrowded in
rush hour. It is always advisable to move down along the platform as far as you
can to allow other users a more comfortable space.
Above all, stay behind the yellow lines on the platform as this is very close to the platform edge. It is very dangerous to stay here and the draft from the trains can sometimes be quite forceful. Consequently, the tight fit of the train within the tunnel was designed to keep the network ventilated and the moving train in the tunnel forces the air forwards, you will feel the pressure change as trains are arriving to the station.
How to use the underground during rush hour
If you can avoid rush hour, please do. For your own sake. Imagine a can of sweaty sardines all crammed in together. In the summer the temperatures sore underground (reports indicate the temperatures are so high it would be illegal to transport animals in those temperatures) and this leads to a lot of perspiration. It isn’t made any better when you are all crammed in so tight that you are wedged under someone’s armpit just trying to find something to hold on to. Travelling off peak isn’t only cheaper, its more user friendly and you are often able to move around the carriage/ find a seat.
There isn’t an orderly queueing system
for getting on the tube in rush hour, it is a free for all as the worker bees
are trying to get home to their families. You have to push and shove your way
on. I am not telling you this to put you off, rather persuade you to allow the
commuters to elbow each other for a good position and allow yourself an hour
extra to enjoy the shops, restaurants, museums and other activities in the
city. Trust me you will be glad you stayed out for that extra Martini!
Usually, above you on the platform will be an electronic notice board advising what train is arriving next (and the one after that) as well as the time. The arriving trains will also be announced over the loudspeaker.
On the train also, an automated message is played when the doors are about to close and also to alert you of the next station (as well as any connecting lines at the approaching station for connections).
Leaving the train
When the train comes to a stop, there is a dash for the doors. Many people will be making their way along the carriage on its approach ready to disembark. Do be careful of trying to manouver yourself on a moving train as they can be a little unsteady! Only do if safe to do so.
When the train comes to a complete stop, you will notice a green push button lights up for you to activate the doors opening. Don’t bother pushing it, they don’t do anything and the driver will open all of the doors automatically. You should be able to exit the train before others enter it and exit signs should be clearly displayed on the platform. If you are unsure, just follow the crowd and you will end up either at an exit or another platform – you won’t get too lost!
Some train stations have multiple
exits depending on their location, for example, if they are underneath a cross
roads they will usually have an exit on each of the corners. Connecting lines
will also be sign posted in the station.
Do not forget to tap your card on the
yellow circle for the contactless or oyster card!
Just a couple of pointers on tube
etiquette, the unspoken rules of how to to get along with your fellow tube
Make sure you invest in a good deodorant! It gets very hot down there and having a good deodorant will be a great help to all. More so when you have the awkward moment of standing, holding on to the bars and feeling nervous about sweat patches!
Always have your ‘ticket’ or card ready for when you reach the barriers. Everyone in the city is in a rush to get somewhere and they don’t appreciate being help up whilst others look for their ticket.
On the escalator, always stand on the right. The left hand side of the escalator is the ‘moving’ lane so that people can walk down the escalator.
When trains arrive, ensure to let everyone off before you try to embark. If someone has stepped off to allow people behind them to depart, they are allowed back on the train first before anyone else.
Move down the train. It can cause delays to services when drivers are not able to close the doors and depart on time.
Priority seating. Most importantly, signs tell you that selected seats in every carriage are priority seats for pregnant women, people with young children, disabled or elderly users. Failure to do so will see several people glaring at you for the remainder of your journey in a disastrously British way that not even a cup of tea and a digestive will fix!
Don’t stop at the top of an escalator. If you get to the top of an escalator and don’t know which way to go, keep moving forward and find a safe place to ‘pull over’. Think of it as a motorway exit for example, you wouldn’t just stop on the slip road. In addition, any slight slowing down or hesitation can be serious if people behind you can not get off of the moving escalator and pile ups can have nasty consequences.
One of the main attractions to vanlife is waking up in a
different spot every day. From beaches to mountains and forests to urban
stealth spots, the possibilities are endless when you are wild camping in the
UK. If you are new to vanlife and want to know more about where you can sleep
in your van, you are in the right place! We have put together this comprehensive
guide to help you overcome your nerves, fill you with knowledge and give you some
Sleeping in our van but not on a campsite was something that we were both a little nervous to do when we first started so we know how it can be! Will someone knock on the door? Should I respond to it? Could we get arrested? Now, a year later we feel much more confident about wild camping in the UK and have some great locations that we like to visit.
The first time is the hardest!
We had done a few trial nights in the run up to our adventure
of full time vanlife to get us used to it and have camped all over England and
Wales since. One of those adventures was a week-long tour of North Wales where
we found spots in Trawsfynydd, Betws-y-Coed, Caernarfon and Anglesea.
Maybe we have been really lucky. Perhaps we mastered the art of parking a massive campervan where she wouldn’t cause too much of a problem. At 7.2 meters long, she isn’t very subtle! Having only been asked to move on once in our travels and that was because we had parked somewhere out of our norm and was totally our fault. We moved straight away and went to another spot nearby that we had been to before.
What is Wild Camping in the UK and is it legal?
It depends on who you ask. Some adventure enthusiasts refer to wild camping as a tent and a sleeping bag. No luxury, no bed, no leisure battery, no vehicle etc. For vanlifers we often refer to wild camping as sleeping in our van away from home, not on a site and without hook up to electric. It is also referred to as free camping.
Almost every piece of land is owned by someone in the UK. Without permission you do not have right of access to their land, even if they leave the gate open! If you are asked to move, you must do so. That being said, there are some spots where ‘wild camping’ is tolerated in the UK and as long as the basic rules of decency are followed you should be able to enjoy your trip without interruptions. The more remote your location, the easier it tends to get so busy tourist resorts can be hard to wild camp in and you may need to look at sites if you are planning a holiday in the south west of England in peak season!
Scotland is a lot more tolerant to wild campers
However in the last few years campers and motorhomes have been flocking to the country in their droves and over the last 6 months we have seen the Scottish councils putting up barriers and making it harder. We will touch on this later on in the post.
Essentially, whilst wild camping is not technically legal in
the UK, if you are discrete and courteous, do not camp where there are signs that
state no overnighting allowed, and move if asked you should be ok. Vanlifediary
will not be held accountable for your decision to wild camp. We provide the info.
Please do your own research in case rules have changed.
What types of camping are there?
If by the end of this article you are not quite ready to
leap to wild camping in the UK, there are other places that you can go to
bridge the gap from campsites to wild camping. This will help build up your confidence in
staying in more unusual places without the luxuries found on campsites.
Pub Stop Over
Some pubs, like Tuckers Grave Inn in Somerset, welcome campervans and will either charge a minimal fee for you to stay or just ask that you eat dinner as payment in return for sleeping in their car park. It is not always cost effective. We tend to relax and have a few drinks which is fine as we are staying overnight. If you are on a budget it may not be the best option but it is a great way to relax and have a nice evening with not far to stagger.
Please note that you must be careful if drinking when in charge of a vehicle. Do your own research but you must be able to demonstrate that you are not intending to drive the vehicle when under the influence so if like us you have a separate key for the engine and the doors, perhaps ask to keep the engine key behind the bar! We do not drink unless at a site or pub stop over. Otherwise you could be asked to move on at any point and be over the limit.
Finding spots like farm shops, thatched country pubs, vineyards and breweries can be tricky however if these sounds like places you may like to investigate we suggest you look at Brit Stops. They aim to enable direct contact between you and the providers. They aim to encourage motor homers and caravaners to try local produce and for sustainable tourism through links to local communities. Although not Wild Camping, these can give you a good taste for being off grid in the UK.
Several different options on this site including NightStops, a scheme overseen by the Motor Caravaners’ Club in conjunction with the monthly magazine. Comprising of around 50 individual properties from pubs to community areas, they offer overnight accommodation for motorhomers in their vehicles. You can stay for free at one of the pubs if like above, you buy a meal in exchange. You do need to be a member of the club to benefit.
Sites like Pitchup.com or the Camping and Caravan Club do offer more basic sites for you that vary in facilities. Some are just a field with hardly any facilities. It will get you used to being off the grid and away from hook ups.
Basic rules of ‘free/ wild camping in the UK‘
Don’t litter or empty your toilet!
Some people are very disrespectful when ‘wild camping’ by littering in the UK. Either by leaving rubbish or emptying toilet cassettes along with chemicals and waste matter. We have witnessed this ourselves on many an occasion, walking through a forestry car park a couple of months ago there was toilet paper and human faeces by almost every tree stump around the car park. We found washing up sponges and food wrappers, tin cans and cigarette butts all over the place in another location.
On one occasion, in a car park by a canal in Coventry, we filled 2 bin bags of rubbish that we found there and took it to be responsibly disposed of. Most campsites that we asked during one of our earlier posts advised that they do allow campers and motorhomes to come in for an hour or so to use the facilities such as showers and toilet disposal for a small fee or donation. It is not impossible to be responsible and is part of being in nature and respecting it. Emptying your toilet and leaving rubbish is a sure way to get into bother.
Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints.
Local councils in the UK are ending wild camping spots. By putting in height restricted barriers and no camping signs they quickly eliminate a subgroup. Councils will not allow us to use areas if they are being treated like a tip. I am one of the first to say that caravan and motorhomer’s get blamed for a lot of the rubbish and not all of it is theirs. Vanlifediary feel that if everyone left a location a little tidier than you found it and the rubbish was removed, we would get positive reviews instead of negative ones.
Don’t outstay your welcome
It is best not to park in the same spot for more than 2 nights in a row. It is OK to revisit stops as long as you are not there permanently or so frequently that you could become a nuisance. If you have a vehicle that stands out a little then it will be easily noticed by the local community and authorities. By having a few options and moving around every night you can offset the impact to the community and have more luck at being left alone. If you are going to be in the same area for a few days, it is good practice to have a list of night spots and day spots.
Do not get too comfortable! Don’t put up your awning, get you deck chairs out with washing lines and make a garden like you would on a campsite. Keep everything close and inside the van as much as possible. Taking up more room than necessary is a quick way to make enemies and upset the locals! ‘Setting up camp’ may make it look like you are planning to stay a long time.
Do not enter areas where there are farm animals, crops or historical sites.
Farmers are not the most tolerant. As tempting as it may look to just nip into a field where the gate is left open for a safe camping spot, It isnt a good idea. Also good to note, farmers tend to have big guns so tread carefully however we have never put ourselves in a situation where we are on farmers land. Their animals and crops are their livelihood and they will protect them. You can approach the farm and enquire as to whether they would be happy for you to stay a night or barter manual labour to stay longer. That is always an option!
Use common sense and trust your gut. If you find a nice spot
but something in your gut gives you an uneasy vibe, move on. It is telling you
something for a reason and while it might turn out to be wind from last nights
vindaloo, better safe than sorry! On the flip side, if you have a thought that
says “I wonder if its ok to park here, maybe this isn’t the best spot” listen to
that too. The last thing you want is to be uneasy all night expecting a knock
on the door.
Give others space. If you pull into a car park or
park-up and there are already other campers there, don’t park up 6 inches away!
Take the opportunity to park further away and give each other space. Do feel
free to introduce yourself once parked and strike up conversation if you feel
it is safe to do so.
Get used to the sounds.
Before you set off for your first night wild camping in your van and opt for the UK wilderness, spend a few nights on a site so that you can ensure that everything is working in your van and that you are used to the noises that it makes. Like a house, the van will make noises as temperatures change and the metal expands and contracts. The weather will also make noises such as the wind finding the one hole in the van you thought you had fixed and whistle through it all night and the rain will make varying sounds depending on how hard it’s hitting your roof!
By getting used to these noises it will be easier for you to determine what is normal and what isn’t. When parking in an urban area expect to hear traffic, sirens and people as the norm, where as when is more rural places you are more likely to hear owls, branches cracking and be woken up by wild cows having a scratch on your rear bumper making you question if there is an earthquake on the top of the Gower Peninsula! Wild camping in the UK can be just that!
Aside from the rural setting of opening your door and doing
yoga just outside on the beach at sunrise, the practicality is that at some
point you may need to be a little stealthier or camp in an urban situation. The
key is to try and blend in to your surroundings. Try to make your van look as
generic as you can, if it looks like commercial work van it wont draw as much
attention as an older style van or one covered in stickers and a cool paint job
that will stick out in a crowd.
Try to make it look as though the van is empty. If you have
blacked out windows and curtains this will help not draw attention and alert
the locals that you are there. If they notice you are sleeping in your vehicle,
they could call the police and report suspicious activity and get you moved on.
Be cautions when cooking.
On the odd occasion we have needed to urban #stealth camp, we have cooked our dinner elsewhere and then moved late in the evening to our sleeping spot, climbed in to the back and drawn the curtains. This way we are discreet and try to draw as little attention to ourselves as we can. The smell of food cooking is a sure way to get noticed.
Playing music loud or standing on the pavement to brush your teeth is a sure way to raise eyebrows so try to keep your noise and activity to a minimum.
When it comes to actually sleeping, pay attention to how close you are to traffic. If you are on a road, be aware that there is a possibility of someone having an accident and crashing into you so where are you sleeping in relation to where impact could be? Try to make sure you are safe and that your head is away from an exposed corner. If possible, use a lay-by where there is a clear island between the road and the lay-by.
After a few nights in the van you will get used to the noises of people passing and tune out the sounds but for the first couple of nights you may find that you wake at every noise. This is normal. There are so many options of places to experience wild camping in the UK that you do not have to use areas that seems risky.
Ideas for places to park
There are apps such as searchforsites and park4night that
will show you places that others have parked up before with pictures and
reviews others have left. These can range from campsites, pub stopovers, carparks,
laybys on the main roads which we would never do personally for security and
safety reasons but some people do. You can search around you using GPS or by a
specific area. Each pins are colour coded and the sites are easy to navigate.
You can get a good variation of wild camping spots to campsites in the UK and
some abroad too.
If you don’t want to use these apps there are places that you can look that will usually come up trumps. Do check signs in the car parks and obey any local bylaws. We look for places that are out of the way of most people and where it may not be unusual to see a van parked up. For example, we have looked on the map for canals and areas where they moor up. It would be quite normal for vehicles to park here if the owners were on a barge. Forests are a good idea too as there are often large car parks set back off of the main roads.
To Urban, or not to Urban?
Side roads are an option however if you are in a residential area, do be warned that there has been an increase in people getting very protective of the car parking spots outside their houses! In America Walmart allow overnight stops however this hasn’t really caught on in the UK yet. Some stores are happy as long as you purchase items in their store. You could ask store owners for permission and see what they say. Look at industrial areas where lorry drivers park up. Although there will be a lot more coming and going as they finish their breaks and move on, there will also be safety in numbers. Again, if you don’t feel safe don’t do it and secure your vehicle when you are sleeping.
In terms of safety,
instinct is under-rated. Trust it. It is there for a reason. Be that for a
positive decision or a negative one. Use your 6th sense and take
time to take in the area you are in. Do you notice anything unusual? Can you
see any evidence that the area is a dogging site after dark or that it is used
for drug taking? Are there people around? Is it lit? Does it feel safe? We always spend about an hour or so looking
for a suitable spot to sleep and if we do not feel safe, we move on.
Break ins. Yes they
can happen but more often than not, it will happen when you are not in the van.
Have as many security devices as you can to keep your possessions secure. From
a portable safe for your valuables to extra bolts on the inside of your van,
anything you can do to make your van more secure is a bonus. Do make sure that
you can always get out of the van quickly if you are in danger or a fire
What to do if someone knocks on your van door?
First and foremost, your safety is paramount. There are very differing views on the best course of action should you receive that dreaded knock and we would advise that you treat each situation as an individual case and weigh up the pros and cons as you deem safest.
If is it just someone trying to see if you are in the van you could choose to be quiet and still. They may get bored and wander off. If it is someone scouting out the van for a break in they are more likely to return if they believe the van to be empty.
It may be the police or a local resident for example. If it is the police it is likely that they were on patrol and came across you or that they were alerted by a local that a van had parked up that was suspicious. Either way, it is best not to ignore the police. We were on our way to a park up in the back and beyond in Wales when we passed a police car who stopped to talk to us. He was very pleasant and just let us know that there had been a spike in break ins lately due to more vans arriving and people going hiking. Not every interaction will be a bad one.
With unknown people knocking on the door these can be more risky. If you are a solo traveller be especially careful. Always keep your doors locked when you are inside. You can shout through the door “who is it” without putting yourself at risk. You do not have to open the door unless you feel safe to do so. If someone is being aggressive and you feel that you have the right to be there, call the police yourself but be prepared to move on.
Always be ready to move.
If you find yourself in a confrontation, you can quickly drive away – hard to do if you have all of your stuff everywhere! Make sure your drivers seat is always empty and your keys close to hand so you can jump in and go at a moments notice.
At the end of the day it comes down to how you feel about the situation. If you feel able to handle yourself in a confrontation then make a call on it yourself. We would never suggest using weapons in a confrontation however if anything escalated you should be able to defend yourself. Pepper spray would be a good call, a rape alarm – depending on how rural you are or self defence classes are always a good shout. Weapons can be used against you so if you do decide to be armed – make sure you keep yourself as safe as possible. Call the police and lock yourself in/drive away if you can.
What 3 Words
It is easy to get
carried away in the wilderness, so to speak, and get used to not quite knowing
where you are! In the eventuality that someone has an accident or is taken ill
you should always know where you are. You can not always rely on having internet
and using google maps to find your location so having an idea of where you are
is essential. If you are going hiking take a map and compass.
There is an app that we have seen called ‘What 3 words’ that
will tell you your location using 3 unique words designated to each 3m square
in the world. Many emergency services can use this app to pinpoint your
location to get to you quickly.
This is a GPS location app that you can set up with your
loved ones so that they can look at the app and see where you are. This is
especially helpful if you haven’t checked in for a while and people can see if
you are driving or stationary, and where you are (signal permitting)
Iphone Find my friends.
An app between iphones so that you can find your friends using GPS.
First Aid Kits
Sounds obvious but always have a first aid kit in your campervan so that if you get into a scrape or are taken ill, you have some emergency care in your possession. You will also be able to help out if you come across someone that needs aid.
Food and water.
Always ensure that you have water on board and plenty of it – especially in hot weather. Ideally around 2 litres a day per person plus extra for washing up and cleaning. You need to be prepared for emergencies such as if you break down and are delayed getting to water source should you be very rural. You need to ensure you also have food for your survival!
Keep a close eye on the weather and make sure you are prepared for the forecast weather. For winter, ensure you have working heating and blankets to keep warm. Your vehicle should have a winter service and essentials such as a shovel for if you get stuck in the snow.
Today marks the first time that I will travel abroad since I was 18. That was *cough* 19 years ago. We are Torrevieja bound! Last week we were so bored of the wet and damp weather in Yorkshire that we embarked on a mission for warmer climates. What we didn’t realise was that the weather was going to get much better in the UK too just as we were due to leave. Typical! That being said as we drove down to Gatwick airport yesterday ready for our flight this morning, we were driving into a reported 60 hour thunderstorm that was sweeping its way northwards.
M25. Always a pleasure!
As per usual the M25 decided to be slow moving and seemed just down to the amount of traffic rather than accidents. It gave us plenty of time to watch the planes taking off from Heathrow and imagine how we would be feeling in just 12 hours time!We arrived at my brother’s and parked Chewy on his drive with about an inch to spare before kissing the gutter. We checked we had our passports about 20 times and had a shower before heading to bed. It was only on the last round of checks that I thought about doing the bag up and realised the carry on bag I had chosen had a broken zip. It’s 11pm and we have to be up at 2:30…We scan the guest bedroom in a panic as we can’t be slamming the van doors at this time. Spying a sports bag on the wardrobe -we borrow/steal it. I make a note to tell my brother in the morning!As night sets in, so do the storms. At 2:30 we awake to thunder and lightning. A rumble that fills us with a little bit of worry. Taking off in a thunderstorm is not ideal! The journey to the airport came free with a light show but luckily by the time we arrived at Gatwick it was passing. It was almost dawn but already the airport was buzzing with people all excited to be flying today.Check in went well with just a small technical hitch over my hair gel being in a bottle that was too big, even though it was almost empty. I hadn’t realised it’s not on the quantity left in the bottle that counts, it’s the bottle size. Noted for next time. We headed through security and Louise told me we were going to the No1 lounge. She had booked us in as a surprise. As I haven’t travelled around very much I hadn’t experienced a lounge before and I loved it! How relaxing! And a prosecco at 5am isn’t a bad start to the day!Soon we were boarding the plane via a short shuttle bus ride from the gate to the plane. A Boeing 737. Smaller than Louise would like but just happy it didn’t have propellers! Taxiing to the runway we felt the excitement and suspense build as the rain was just stopping but the clouds were still dark. The captain said there may be some initial turbulence but should be a good flight. Norwegian airlines have in flight WiFi and an app that let you see where you are on your journey as well as speed and height.
Where did we fly?
According to the captain our flight took us out over Brighton to the English channel and across to France. We coasted down past Bordeaux and over the Pyrenees mountains. Even in June they were topped with snow still! After a quick trolly dash up the aisle with drinks and duty free, our two hour 20 minute journey was over just as quick as it had begun. Coming in to land in Alicante was a delight as we descended close to the mountains and were able to see the stunning landscape unfold before our eyes. It seems the captain was also distracted by the scenery as his landing was quite sudden but safely down, we were able to disembark.
We are heading to the Spanish mainland city of Torrevieja. It’s a sunny city on the Costa Blanca. Known for its Mediterranean climate and sandy beaches. Torrevieja translates to Old Town and was once a town demolished by an earthquake in the 1800’s. A recent renovation initiative has seen a brand new city emerge built for tourism. It has the largest market on the mainland every Friday and we can’t wait to go! We were very lucky to have had a lift to our villa and we were given a small guided tour along the way. We drove past some stunning salt lakes where the flamingos hang out before moving on.
So here we are. Having found our way to the local Aldi (I know… We flew to Spain to go to Aldi but we needed food!) We made ourselves a fresh lunch with meat and cheese, salad and pickles. No bread, cakes or crisps! A glass of wine to toast our arrival and lots of plans to be made. We decided it was far too hot, 30 degrees in the shade, so went for a little walk to find the swimming pool. How beautiful it was with palm trees tapping in the breeze, colourful flowers a small pool for the local residents of this villa block. The water was nice and cool but not cold, so was a delight to cool off after the belting rays of the sun. After a short swim we took advantage of the sunshine and basked in her heat, talking about destinations we want to visit and that we could easily fall in love with Spain!It’s day one of our trip to Torrevieja. We are so excited to experience the rest of what is on offer and will keep you up to date on our adventures. Right now, time for a short nap before we BBQ some fresh fish! Please comment, share and tag your friends. Let us know where to visit below if you have any suggestions for us!
Have you taken the first steps to full time van life and now wondering what you need to do?
Whether this transition is one you have been dreaming about for years or perhaps a sudden impulse to live in your vehicle, we are here to help you out and ensure you have covered all of your bases. Full time van life is often a cheaper option than living in a house but it isn’t for everyone.
By now, you likely have the van already and are almost finished with the conversation. (I say that but a van conversion is never really finished!). You have made the decision and thought about how wonderful your new life will be. A simpler, more minimalist life. You look around your home and all you can see is ‘STUFF!’
Fret not. Here is a list of what you need to do.
CANCEL EVERYTHING YOU CAN.
1 Cancel your council tax. This could take a month to arrange and new bills/refunds to calculate. You need every penny so make sure you do the boring council tax bit! Some councils allow you to do this notification online so you don’t even have to talk to anyone. A cheque may be sent to your address so it’s helpful to be there or have your post redirected! (More on that later).
2 Cancel TV licence. It can be tempting to just cancelled your direct debit however you can be paid up to 6 months ahead. You may be entitled to a refund. Whilst we are talking about the TV licence, by UK law even if you have no fixed abode but a TV in your motor-caravan (or tablet /phone where you can stream the TV) you should still have a TV licence – if you have a home with a TV licence and that TV is not being used at the same time you can technically use your home TV licence to cover you. There is a lot of talk about how anyone would know and whether you could get away without having a licence. Please do your own research and make your own decision, I’m just here to tell you the facts associated with full time van life transition!
3 TV/phone/internet cancel all of these again giving your last day at the address. Be prepared for some charges, depending on your contract.
4 Gas, electric and water. Make sure you get the meter readings and report these to the utility companies. Take a picture if you need proof but don’t end up paying for someone else’s use!
5 Extra bin collection. We pay extra at our address for a garden waste bin. This needs to be cancelled or again, someone else will benefit financially. These are often on auto renewal set ups so cancel that direct debit!
6 Home and contents insurance. So easy to overlook when packing but anything related to the house needs to be notified of your exit from the property.
7 Mail. Options include leaving a forwarding address, redirecting your mail, a company such as boatmail who will scan and email or forward your mail to a destination as required. You may wish to also change you address with as many places as possible as you may not want your Dr’s letters being opened by the next occupant.
WHAT DO I DO WITH ALL MY STUFF?
1 Sort out what you NEED first. Space is an issue in a van. Make a list of the bare necessities, essential items and keepsakes. Once you have those items sorted you can start to look at what room you have left.
2 Sell some stuff! More money and less hoarding. You can use apps such as ebay, gumtree and shpock to sell things without leaving the house or hold a car boot sale. This will enable you to convert belongings to travel funds and boost your finances.
3 Recycle or upcycle. Upcycling is big at the moment and bulky furniture can be a blank canvas for a facelift. Why not try to find a local furniture upcycling group who may take that old chest of draws off your hands. We found a recycling waste company that delivered a skip and will recycle our items for us. This means less waste to landfill.
4 Storage is another option. Whether you have a friend with an empty garage or look at renting a unit, this option means your belongings should be safe in case you need them again.
WHAT YOU NEED TO ARRANGE
1 Photocopy documents. Take photos/ scans of important documents such as driving licence, bank cards and passports. This way you have all the details should they get lost or stolen.
2 Breakdown cover. If you haven’t already organised it you need to sort out cover. Don’t forget that you may need to confirm with the company that they can take the size of your vehicle. You don’t want to have a break down and then find out that the company you are paying wont help you due to size. Often this needs to be in place for 24-48 hours before it is active so give yourself time..
3 Emergency back up plans. Should something go wrong with the van you need to ensure that you have a back up plan, financially and with regards to accommodation.
4 Spare parts. Bulbs, fuses and fuel filters are a good idea to carry as well as using YouTube, Haynes manuals and ask on forums to see if you can fix a job yourself. Get recommendations from the van life community on trusted tradespeople.
5 Bright torch. either for dodging the frogs by the lake or being able to see under the vehicle, you need a really bright and reliable torch!
6 Always have a bag of change ready for car parking or public toilets!
THE FIRST 24 HOURS – WHAT TO EXPECT
Emotions will be high. you will be anxious and excited. You know that this isn’t going to be a walk in the park but you feel you have everything sorted out. Then you realise you still have possessions in the house that you haven’t decided what to do with. You have no choice but to throw them in the van. THIS ISNT PINTEREST. This is the reality of van life. It gets messy quickly. You are constantly battling for space and shifting things from one place to another.
It took us a full week of packing and unpacking, re-boxing, re-evaluating and ultimately getting rid of loads of stuff that we brought along with us.
1 It’s not uncommon to get ratty with each other when living in a confined space.
2 You will be busier than when you were at work and wonder where all of your time is going.
3 Plan ahead for water refills and toilet cassette emptying points.
4 If one of you is not feeling comfortable about sleeping in a certain location, you need to move. Listen to each other and respect their opinions. It is too small a space to argue!
5 Get comfortable with different smells, and quickly. Bodily functions happen, even if they are all glitter and sparkles! Respect when someone needs to use the toilet and go for a walk!
6 Top up your fuel tank when you pass somewhere with cheaper fuel. it may not be much that you add, but the money you could save will add up over the month! See how you could save money when travelling
7 Dry shampoo – buy it in bulk! Use it outside as it makes the van dusty however if you don’t have access to a daily shower it will be your best friend.
Make your dream a reality. It is something many of us put off. I was just like most of you. Living in a house, working and paying into a pension and I liked cosy evenings on the sofa under a duvet. I had debts a few years prior but managed to get back on my feet. My hobbies include music, walking and hanging out with my friends.
My generation were raised on this notion that we all need to watch the news, have a 9-5 job, pop out a few kids, work some more and then retire.
For many years I had just accepted this model was the one we all had to live by. I understood my place in the world was to work and pay tax, food shop on a Saturday and do laundry on a Sunday. Gap years were something I heard of but didn’t get the chance to do. I grew up hearing the stories of strangers who went abroad and gained valuable life experience.
In my 20’s a friend of mine decided to travel to Australia for a year (or two as it turned out) and this was the first person I had a connection to that jumped ship. My BFF Becky decided that in a year she wants to emigrate to New Zealand. I suddenly felt as though it might be possible. Real people that I knew, that were like me, were doing something adventurous. Maybe I could do this too?
Work / life balance
My job was hard work and I found it to be both challenging and rewarding. I worked for an animal charity for 13 years and I have a great sense of achievement and pride for the job that I did. Starting at the bottom I worked my way up through some really hard grafting and I got promoted to assistant manager. As a result I was provided on site accommodation. That sounded really appealing! An extra half hour in bed, no commute, it had a garden.
In reality living on site is a ball ache! I got called out at 2am because the alarms are going off. I couldn’t leave site in the evenings 3-4 days a week or walk my dog except around the grounds.
What is your dream?
In 2014 we purchased a VW panel van and converted it into a campervan, this would mean that we were able to go on cheaper holidays and more often as we could camp – getting me off site more and keeping costs down.
It took a little while to get the van how we wanted it. With added units, insulation, carpeted walls and a really comfortable futon that we pulled out to sleep on, she was fit for use. After several trips in the van we really got into the swing of it. We started to take less and less with us and only brought essentials. As space was limited we began to cut out the bulk of clothes, shoes and ‘luxury items’ as we just were not using them.
As soon as we were pitched up I could feel my shoulders drop a few inches. There is nothing like being able to wake up and hear the birds, smell the earth and be surrounded by nature. I quickly realised this is what I NEED to be doing more of. For my own health and wellbeing I needed to get back to a simpler life. We wasted money on ‘things’ that we didn’t need, and when I looked around my house I just saw pointless clutter. I can’t take any of this with me when I die, decorations serve no purpose and it’s just collecting dust. In the van I only had what I needed, it’s simple.
The problem I encountered was that I wanted it more and more. My dream to live full time in a van only got stronger. I spoke to my friends who said “make your dream a reality”.
And we did.
You can make your dream a reality too, whether it’s buying a house, a big wedding or buying a van. It can take hard work but you can do it. Put simple steps in place to start saving money (you can save money travelling too!). Find a way to break it down into achievable steps and make a start today.
For us, travelling in a van means that we can wake up every day with a different view. Although we have only travelled in the UK so far, I have never been happier. I have a dream where I get to travel around the world. Thinking about our future it is clear to me that, unlike our elder generations, we will not have the opportunity to travel when we retire.
Why not? For the most part, people my age can expect to hit retirement age at 65+ and then it is likely that we will need to continue working as the price of living increases quicker than pay is rising. I will possibly be looking at working until I am 70-80. There is no way that I will be able to get into a van and travel the world then!!! This way we can explore the world while young enough to still get a job if we decide to settle down and pay back into our pensions.
The way I see it I only have one choice, do it now, while I am young. The technological revolution means that we are now able to reassess our working lives and can do things a different way around.
With the boom in working from ‘home’ and digital nomad enterprises increasing all the time it has never been a better time to travel and work. Setting up several online blogs or businesses can afford you the freedom to travel and still earn money. As long as you have an internet connection you can work on the road. Most towns have a coffee shop with free wifi or a library to log into. Many companies are also selling devices that enable you to take the internet with you. Mobile phone companies are making it easier to access the web from a phone or tablet too. This makes it easier when making your dream a reality!
How did we do it?
Our plan was a 2 year plan. Save money like crazy, Sell some of our clutter, build our web presence and start earning income. With 6 months to go, sell the VW and buy a bigger van, convert it, take a deep breath, leap.
In reality a lot of unexpected things happened. I split up with Ami and started a new relationship with Louise. Louise was working which brought in another wage and once I had introduced her to camping she fell in love with it. She wanted to help make our dream a reality! We actually moved the leaving date forward a year as there was a second income.
Now, Make your dream a reality.
You could do it too. If you have the feeling that you have been trying to fit into a mould that doesn’t fit, let me ask you this. What is it that YOU want to do? What is stopping YOU? Lastly, what would have to happen for you to make that change? Making your dream a reality is very possible.
Whether you are planning a weekend road trip or longer term travel adventure, finances are always on our minds. One of the questions often asked to seasoned travellers is how to make it easier on the wallet. What can I do to get costs down? Where can I buy cheap fuel? How can I save money travelling?
Here at VanLifeDiary we have put together a few ideas to help you reduce the cost of your travel.
Whilst we all know about fuel prices, are we really doing our homework before filling up? Some supermarkets will run initiatives to get you to buy fuel from them. While that is great news if you are doing a large shop, make sure you don’t buy unnecessary items to reach the total spend requirements. You could find you have spent out more than you saved at the end of the day!
Service stations and ‘last stop shops’ can get away with selling fuel at higher rates. Make sure you fill up when in towns were there is a bit more competition. Apps and websites like petrolprices.com are worth a look at too. They can tell you the prices of local stations before you set off. Keep an eye on prices as you travel and if you spot a good fuel bargain grab it. Pennies add up!
It’s handy to remember that not all petrol pumps are the same length too! When in Newquay I drove to a petrol station and there was a queue for cars on one side. Trying to be clever I attempted to fill up by dragging the fuel hose around to the other side of the van. I have done this in countless petrol stations before but this time it backfired and wouldn’t reach. Rather embarrassed I left that garage and ended up paying an extra 5p per litre!
Make sure that you look after your motor. Ensuring that you have checked your vehicle over before setting off on long journeys will hopefully stop the car from breaking down on the motorway. Nobody has time for that and it can ruin a really good holiday. If you don’t have breakdown cover you could be charged a hefty amount to get towed off of the motorway.
Current Government legislation advises that you could be charged anywhere from £150 for a vehicle up to 3.5 tonnes MAM upright and not substantially damaged up to £300 if its not upright and has sustained heavy damage. For larger vehicles this cost rises quickly into the thousands. Another option would be to ring a breakdown company at the roadside and enter into a contract with them. This will usually incur fees for an immediate removal of your vehicle.
Ensuring your tyres are correctly inflated can help save money travelling. The more surface area that is coming into contact with tarmac, the more effort it takes to move. Fueleconomy.gov can explain how much you could save. Remember that your tyres will also wear out quicker if not properly inflated. Mythbusters and other popular mechanics did debunk the myth that you could save even more by over inflating the tyres. Before you get any clever ideas there is a very high likelihood that this could blow your tyres out. This will cost you more money (or cause an accident). You would end up shelling out for new tyres and a few hundred quid to get towed off the motorway!
Don’t forget to check the other essentials such as oil, water, windscreen wash and windscreen condition for chips. Also check your lights and a have a tool kit containing a warning triangle and hi-viz jacket as well as spare bulbs and fuses. This can really help save money travelling long term rather than instant saving.
Unexpected stops in a pay and display can quickly eat away at your spare change. Paying the equivalent of your mortgage or first born child’s college fund is never fun so here are a few ideas to ‘curb’ your outlay.
Use an app such as justpark or yourparkingspace and pay less to park on peoples driveways. Initiatives like these are popping up all over the place, and while a good way to save some money there are also a few stories out there where people have arrived to find they can not use the spaces they have booked. We have not used this service ourselves so can not give a personal recommendation but it is always worth doing your own research and not taking my word for anything!
Parkopedia is another parking app that tells you about prices and location in order to get the best price for a car park – it might mean an extra 5 minute walk but if saves a few quid each time it can have a huge impact on your budget. If you are driving a van like me, you also need to be mindful of height restrictions – google can sometimes help with this but you can always call the bigger car park companies to find out before you drive there.
If you know where you are travelling to in advance, why not join the local facebook page and ask the locals for areas to park for free, they will know the layout and may have some preferred back roads where you can park freely and without time restrictions. It can be harder in a town but not impossible. If you are up for a bit of exercise why not park a bit further out of town and cycle in. its a good way to keep fit, reduce your carbon footprint and see the sights a little slower.
We hope that this information will help you save money. Feel free to send it towards our cheese and cider fund.
Part of our #Vanlife Guides Series. Click here for more helpful information.
Full time #VanLife travellers sharing tips and adventures