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13 November 2017
Our amazing caravan
 
When we finally hit the road with our beloved Mercedes Vito and Wilk Stern 700 caravan, these are the places we visited:
Switzerland, France, Spain, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and Germany; with day trips to Austria and Luxembourg.
 
[For those just joining in now, we were constrained by the Bi-lateral Visa Waiver Agreements, on where we could go and when.]
 
Sometimes we would move every day, and at others we'd stay a week, most times it was 2-3 days in one place.  This 'freedom' wasn't easy nor carefree.  In fact it was darn right difficult even with the up-to-date ADAC (equivalent to NZ's AA) annual camping guide that listed private and municipal options alongside the camping grounds.
 
The idea was to stay at park-over properties instead of camping sites, to save money.  For the size of our family, camping grounds would have cost similar to a motel each night.  You generally would pay for the two vehicles and for each person, as well as electricity and utility charges. Park-overs were usually a minimal charge per unit (not per head) but which may not even provide water and power (both extra costs) - just a car parking space.  On average our daily charge for somewhere to overnight was EU10 in Germany, EU5 in France, free in Spain and Sweden, EU30-35 in Netherlands and Denmark.
 
 
We had three major challenges to finding somewhere to rest our weary heads at the end of a long day.
 
The first was that we were travelling with a caravan.  This is not the done thing unless you are a gypsy, and as a result we were tarred with the same unfavourable brush.  The issue of us being self-contained didn't seem to factor into it at all.  Caravans there are towed to an official park, set up and left year-round.  They are not towed around the countryside!  We repeatedly encountered prejudice at it's finest.
 
Secondly we had a very long rig at over 13m when attached, approx 4 + 9 separated.  Many of the park-over properties were only for vehicles up to 6m.  Manouveuring into spaces that were long enough for the caravan, even if we had to park the Vito elsewhere, was invariably a nightmare.  The number of times we had to unhitch, re-position the van; or even use sheer brute man-power to guide the caravan to where it needed to go was too numerous to count on hands and feet.
 
I could tell you the story of driving it through one of many small quaint French villages and getting so stuck not being able to make a right turn even with the caravan unhitched, that the local police had come to see what the activity was about and ended up not only helping us rock it back and forward (along with a patron from some neighbouring restaurant) around the corner distorting the tyres so much I thought they would blow; but then afterward provided an escort to the parking lot on the Seine river where we were intending to head.
 
I got very used to doning my hi-visibilty vest, which is mandatory for every passenger in every vehicle, and scoping out what was in front and behind us, yelling all the while to Atlas who would try to interpret it, to get us out of trouble.
 
Then there was the abiding issue of lack of wi-fi, to check these places were what they said they were and to ask if they'd allow us to be there.  Or to try and find another one at the end of a long day because we couldn't stay where we had planned.
 
 
If we were to do it all over again, the one things I would do differently would be to position ourselves for a month in one place, and make day trips from there.  
 
Finding a place to overnight, a petrol station for fuel, the supermarket for food, public wi-fi if at all and generally orienting oneself with the environment day in and day out is FAR TOO MUCH STRESS.  Finding a place to stay longer that was not a camping ground would still be a challenge, but I reckon possible.
 
 
Do I miss living in a caravan and travelling Europe?  Yes absolutely!  It did give us a sort of freedom and flexibility albeit at the very high price of stress.  It was the means to our end, the vehicle for us to even consider being able to make the journey.  Without the van and caravan we could not have gone where we did, seen what we have nor experienced the culture and life of so many countries and people.
 
It was great that you weren't living out of a suitcase and packing and unpacking every day.  In the caravan everything had it's place and everyone did too.  The children had pictures on the walls, toys and games in the cupboards.  It was fun to outfit the kitchen, in particular, with the essentials of what we needed and realising that it really wasn't that much.  The fundamental needs of running a household on wheels were stripped down to 'do we have enough water?', "where can we dump the toilet?" and "is everyone fed and warm enough?".
 
This lifestyle was nothing new to me, as growing up my parents were able to provide me with holidays in a caravan; but for the other six it was a new frontier.  The simplicity appealed to my minimalist nature; but not so much to the children.  The boys missed their Lego & toys, Gemma missed her space; and Vega missed her sewing.  Some days when the homesickness was in full swing what the child missed became so huge they were not able to see what else they did have that they didn't at home.  I guess a case of the grass is always greener.
 
 
For me, being home now 7 months I do appreciate our house is big enough, whereas prior I had wished we could have afforded an extension so children didn't have to triple up in a room.  I have continued to hold minimalism and the process of constantly re-evaluating an object's usefulness (as you need to do in a caravan and also while long-term travelling) in focus.  We have in our home what we need, and the rest sits still in the shipping container for sorting, selling or storage.
 
 
One other mindset change was that whilst overseas if we did really need something we had to buy it.  At home we had always tried not to buy something new if we could make do but this wasn't possible overseas.  Having the right item for the specific task did make things quicker and easier. 
 
What this means for me, is for example when I wanted to paint a couple of stripes around the boys' room I calculated what I would need, and went and bought tester posts from the hardware store in the exact 2 colours instead of trying to mix them from the mis-tints and leftover paints we might have had in the shed.  Ok, so it may not sound like a big deal to you, but to me it is.  It wasn't an expensive splurge either, but I was giving myself permission to make my life easier and that feels good. 
 
In contrast I have just hauled a (free) wooden pallet home from the other side of town balanced precariously on a bicycle so I could make two headboards of it for the same boys' bedroom.  The difference was that I wanted to have a go at up-cycling some from a pallet and this was finally a practical project.
 
 
I dare say that each one of us will continue to have these little mind shifts and revelations especially as we individually and communally process our 17 months abroad.  For that I am grateful for the O.E. that was.
20 October 2015

 

SAFE TRAVEL

We've already mentioned Safe Travel before, but it is still one of the top tips for Kiwis travelling overseas for advisories, general information and their itinerary registration service.

 

AIRPORT

For those for whom it has been a while since they travelled, there is no longer a Departure Tax payable at the airport.  This has been levied onto the airlines (who undoubtedly add it into their fares to you!).

Luggage trolleys are free to use in the terminal.  

 

WINZ

Contact Work & Income New Zealand (WINZ) if you or someone in your family are receiving any form of benefit or allowance before travelling overseas.

 

INSURANCE

Take out travel insurance when (or before) you book your tickets.  You don't necessarily need to get it through a travel agent either - you can use any broker or insurance agent.  Shop around!

If you have left a house, possessions or a vehicle behind, make sure the insurance payments continue for those in your absence. [NB your home may need continued use of electricity to power your burglar alarm.]

 

CARRY-ON LIQUIDS

Remember that you may only have liquids to the volume of 100ml each in your carry on, that must fit into a 1l plastic bag (or 20cm x 20cm).  You will find the definition of liquids quite broad.  Everything else should go in your checked-in baggage.  This also means water bottles or containers.  You must empty them prior to customs clearance and may re-fill them after that.

Totally prohibited items are listed on the Aviation Security website.

 

MEDICATION

If you have prescriptions, keep them in their original containers; and have a letter from your doctor listing their names and current dosage.

 

MONEY

Decide how you are going to spend your money.

  • Cash
  • Credit card
  • ATM (debit) card
  • Money transfer
  • Prepaid money wallet (like a pre-loaded credit card)
  • Travellers cheques
  • New bank account in the country you are travelling to

Each will have particular rules and fees which makes comparing one option to the next less than simple.  Consider leaving some money in a NZ bank account for ongoing payments and emergencies.

Inform your credit card company of your impending departure and which countries you will visit.  That way you don't have a transaction declined as it is out of your usual spending habits.

 

TELECOMMUNICATIONS

How are you going to keep in touch with family, friends, colleagues or clients?

See whether you can take you cellular phone with you overseas and what it may cost to continue your NZ plan; or whether it is compatible with the country cellular network where you are going so you can pick up a new SIM there.

Do you need to take a calling card from NZ or buy one overseas?

Will you email folks or update a social media account instead?

 

IDP

Do you need an International Drivers Permit?  If so, then visit the Automobile Association for the forms to fill in, and where you can lodge your payment for this service.  It will be sent to you via post.  [There is an extra charge for processing an IDP application online or via posting it in.]

 

WILLS

Are your wills up to date?  Do you need to leave someone a Power of Attorney over all or part of your affairs?  

15 September 2015

Our new multi-function headgear & The Fabric Store care card

 

One of the items I saw on a Youtube video about packing for the Icelandic weather was called a Buff®.  Not being part of the outdoors community I had never heard of it before so had to do a bit of research on this famed multi-functional tube of stretch material.

Apparently it originated in Spain decades ago, and has been so well-marketed that the name Buff® is used as a generic term.

You can wear it as a neck scarf, a hat, a balaclava, head band and the list goes on.  This short video shows you more of the ways it is worn:

 

Convinced that this would be a useful additional to our packing list but not about to pay $40-$50 each I wondered whether it was something I could make. This tutorial showed me the basic dimensions and the rest is history.

The real product is seamless so that is the big difference - the ones you sew will have a seam.

I made ours out of 150gsm black merino tshirt-like material (purchased on special at $12 per metre from The Fabric Store in Auckland) so it is tightly woven and fairly thin.  What I didn't know from the online product listing was that this fabric shrinks. The sales person did tell Atlas about the shrinkage went he went in to buy it but he didn't know to then get extra length to compensate.  It went from 142cm across the width to 133cm.  I was impressed though with the care card (above right) that came with the fabric - no one does that these days let alone understand the features of what they are selling.

I had planned on getting 3 out of each width but ended up only getting 2 widthwise and seaming together a couple of off-cuts to make a 7th.  Oh well - mine has 2 seams.  To accommodate for Atlas' larger head circumference (60.5cm) and Kita's smaller one (51cm), I adjusted their widths (not including seams) to 55cm and 46cm respectively.  The rest of us have a circumference of 56/57cm which works fine with the 50cm base dimensions.  I cut all heights at 48cm. 

I over-locked the upper and lower edges and left them as is, before sewing the lone seam.  I had wondered about turning the edges over and zigzagging them down but don't feel it needs it.  Time will tell how this wears but there certainly isn't any issue with the over-locked edges not stretching enough which I was also mindful of.

The fabric feels beautiful and they are thin enough to be worn as an additional layer as well as being substantial alone.  

However if I were to make these again I would add an extra 50% to the length (so approx. 70cm) as the material is thin enough and has a lovely drape that there wouldn't be an issue with it feeling too bulky. In fact I am tempted to get some more regardless and trial the two lengths to find out what works best for each of us and the way we come to most commonly use them!

There are also Buffs® with Polartec® fleece, reversible, UV protection and with visors to give you some further diy ideas:

 

TIP:

If you are making all the same colour 'Buffs®' for your family (and/or need to make different sizes) and want to assign them to specific people, run a few strands of each person's chosen coloured embroidery thread or wool through the inside over-locked seam.

We have used colours to differentiate our packing cubes (recommended by another travelling family as a must-have); and hope to continue it with the travel towels we plan to get too (recommended by a motorhomer).

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