Taking A Tourer To Europe

Caravans are a popular choice of vehicle for those who like to holiday in the great outdoors, and many take to the roads on a Bank Holiday and during school holidays in order to drive to campsites around the UK and into Europe.

If you’re looking to holiday across the Channel and take your caravan into Europe for a short trip, you must make sure your vehicle is in good condition, your documents are in place and up-to-date, and you have packed correctly for each country that you want to travel through.

So What Should You Be Preparing?

Before you begin your journey there are a few things you should check in preparation;

Do I have the right licence classification to tow a caravan?

Check your driving licence to see if you have the correct classification in order to tow your caravan. Depending on when you passed your driving test can affect what you are entitled to drive:

  • Before January 1st 1997 – any vehicle and trailer up to a maximum of 8.25 tonnes
  • From January 1st 1997 – any car and trailer up to a MAM of 3.5 tonnes
  • From January 19th 2013 – any car and trailer up to a MAM of 3.5 tonnes

What is the Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) of my vehicle?

The Maximum Authorised Mass is the total of the weight of your car and the caravan you are towing and takes into account a fully loaded caravan and a car with a full tank of petrol.

The MAM for holders of B1 and B classification driving licences is 3500kg (3.5 tonnes), if you want to tow a heavier load, you must pass a driving test for a C1+E licence in order to be able to safely tow a heavier caravan.

What documents should I be taking with me?

There are a number of compulsory documents that you will need for travelling to the EU, which you should make sure you to take at least one copy of these in a folder just in case:

What equipment should I have with me?

You should also make sure you have the following equipment in your car or caravan at all times, as some of them are required by law in some EU countries:

  • GB numberplate or GB sticker affixed to the back of your vehicle
  • Breathalyser – these are a legal requirement when driving in France, you can usually buy these on the ferry
  • Headlight converters – should be fitted on the ferry to ensure you don’t dazzle other drivers
  • Extendable mirrors – essential piece of kit for improving visibility when towing
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Warning triangle – or 2 in some countries; including Spain and Croatia
  • First Aid Kit
  • High visibility vest

Remember that in some countries, including Croatia, Denmark, Italy, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland, it is compulsory to use your headlights at all times, so having some converters on will help to avoid dazzling oncoming drivers.

What Else Should I Take With Me?

There are a few more extras that would be useful to have in your car or caravan for when they are required:

  • Road atlas of the countries you are visiting – if the satellite navigation system breaks down on the journey
  • Spare wheel and repair kit in case of an emergency
  • Spare headlight bulbs
  • Phrasebooks for each country you are travelling through
  • A small amount of local currency for the countries you will be travelling through – because chip and pin might not be available everywhere, so leave yourself a small amount of pocket money for petrol and food along the way
  • Keep an address book with essential contact details in the glovebox of your car, including insurance numbers, those of the British embassies and emergency contact numbers back home
  • Data roaming or international phone plan – with prices having recently been reduced you can take your phone along in the confidence that it won’t cost you too much to make calls or use data while abroad

Breakdowns

Should you break down on the way to the campsite, it is important to remain calm and ensure you get to a place of safety while you wait for help to arrive.

Make sure you use your warning triangles and hazard warning lights to warn other road users. Phone your breakdown provider using your smartphone or a nearby phone.

Many providers will make use of GPS in order to pinpoint your location before deploying help in the country that you have broken down in, make sure you double check if a cover is available in your chosen country before you take out a policy.

Get Insured

Before you travel and tow, whether you’re holidaying in the UK or abroad, you must make sure that your vehicle and caravan have insurance to cover you in the event of an accident.

Caravan insurance policies are separate from car insurance policies and are available for a number of models and sizes of a caravan. Check with your broker as to whether they will also include EU cover as part of a policy as an additional extra.

If you want to help drive down the cost of your caravan insurance before you drive off on holiday, try bearing a few of these in mind before you travel, as they could help to reduce your premium price:

  • Membership of a caravan club could help to reduce your policy
  • Fitting security devices – such as hitch locks and wheel clamps – in order to deter thieves when the caravan is not in motion
  • Take a towing course – to increase your confidence in towing a trailing caravan
  • Store the caravan safely when not in use, making use of wheel clamps to deter thieves when not in use

Driving A Motorhome Abroad

For many motorhome owners, the lure of the roads and caravan parks in European destinations lead them to make great journeys in their vehicles to settle and enjoy some sunshine on the continent, enjoying the road trip along the way.

However, before you set off on your journey, there are a few things you must check first. Take the time to check your vehicle, your documents and yourself before you set off in order, this will not only save you hassle along the way but ensure you’ve everything you need in case of an emergency.

Watch Your Weight

When packing up your motorhome in preparation for a journey, check your licence before you travel, for the time you passed your driving test can make a big difference in what you are entitled to drive:

  • If you passed your test since the 1st January 1997 then you’ll be able to drive a vehicle of up to 3,500kg (3.5 tonnes) – as well as an additional 750kg in a trailer if required. If you want to tow larger and heavier vehicles you’ll have to apply for, and pass, a driving test in order to be able to add a C1 category to your licence.
  • If you passed your test before 1st January 1997 you’ll automatically have a C1 classification on your licence, which entitles you to drive motorhomes up to 7,500kg (7.5 tonnes) which would cover larger motorhomes and some smaller RVs.

When loading your motorhome in preparation for a journey, bear in mind the weight of the vehicle itself and the equipment on board as well as your luggage. If you overload your vehicle you risk not only a more uneven load but also put yourself at risk of potentially being stopped by the authorities.

What Documents Do I Need?

Depending on where you’re travelling to, making sure you have all the right and relevant documentation before you set off, is important. Some countries will require some documents from others, while some might have different legal requirements on the road.

Here’s a quick rundown on what you will need before you set off:

  • Passport – check with any countries you are travelling through in case an additional visa is required.
  • Driving licence – ensure that your driving licence is up-to-date and that you have the correct classification to drive your motorhome before embarking on your journey.
  • Details on your vehicle – including your V5C logbook, MOT certificates and motorhome insurance documentation.
  • Travel insurance details – including an additional European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) which entitles you to healthcare while within the EU.
  • International Driving Permit – if you intend to continue your journey past Europe you’ll need an International Drivers’ Permit that is recognised by your destination country.
  • Tax disc – in some countries it is a legal requirement to display a tax disc, but in the UK the system for issuing tax discs has recently changed to a purely digital format. Ensure that you take proof of documentation of road tax just in case you need to provide proof.
  • European breakdown cover – it is essential to take out some breakdown cover when you travel abroad, this will help ensure that should you find yourself in difficulty abroad – you can get towed to a nearby garage for repairs to take place – helping you get back on the road as quickly as possible.
  • Camping Key Europe – this useful little card can provide you with discounts on pitches at campsites around Europe, even at high season, and provides a little extra security in the form of some basic-level third party insurance.

What Should I Have On Board?

Before setting off, you must also ensure that you have few essential things on board and on the show, including:

  • GB sticker – required by law for travel in Europe, check your numberplate carries a blue GB graphic on the left-hand side if it doesn’t you’ll be required to display a GB sticker on the back of your motorhome
  • Warning triangles – ensure you carry two, as some countries have a legal requirement that you must carry two, especially if you’re also towing.
  • First Aid Kit
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Spare Bulb Kit
  • Spare fuses
  • Spare wheel
  • High-visibility vests – vital in case you break down
  • Breathalyser – required by law in France, you can usually buy these on the ferry or train before you reach your destination

Useful Extras

Aside from important documentation, it can be worth carrying a few extra essentials in your motorhome during your trip:

  • Currency for each country you intend to travel through – most will use the Euro, but take a small amount of each currency from the countries you’ll be passing through on your journey, this will ensure that you have a means to pay for small purchases such as food and petrol along the way.
  • European adaptors for plugs – take a few for within the motorhome and some external ones should you need to make use of a power supply on site, to charge a phone for example.
  • Phrasebooks for each country you are visiting.
  • Sat nav – having a sat nav with European maps on board can help you to reach your destination accurately.
  • Maps of each of the countries you are visiting – for if you’ve not got a sat nav or if you just prefer the traditional route.
  • Address book with emergency contact numbers in – including family, helplines for insurance and breakdown, as well as numbers for UK embassies in each country you are visiting.

Be sure to check your mobile phone before you travel, see if you’ve got a European roaming plan or can purchase roaming data in blocks for the duration of your journey.

Getting Your Vehicle Ready En Route

Before you travel, ensure you’ve done a full check of your motorhome, checking that your equipment is working, your gas cylinders are safe, and your wheels are inflated to the correct legal limit.

Ensure that you also get your lights right, you must fit beam deflectors in order to avoid dazzling other drivers when night driving. These can be purchased at garages and car accessory superstores, and it’s worth picking up a pair before you reach the ferry as you’ll find them more expensive en-route. Don’t forget that you can fit them on the ferry crossing, so leave yourself plenty of time to take care of this.

Watch Your Speed

When travelling on roads in Europe in a motorhome, be wary of the speed limits of each country, and remember that the rules on overtaking still apply even in Europe, so keep your vehicle to within the first two lanes of a highway or autobahn.

Take time to check your vehicle, the rules of the countries you are travelling through and to, and checking that you have everything you need without overloading your motorhome so you can make sure that your holiday goes without a hitch.

Travelling With A Trailer Tent

Trailer tents are a lighter and less expensive alternative for those who are new to camping, allowing you to tow a load that is less than a caravan but still has everything you need for a camping trip.

Trailer tents essentially fold out of a trailer that you tow behind your car, and are assembled in much the same way as a tent, using poles and pegs to erect your shelter for the duration of your holiday.

What Types Of Trailer Tents Are There?

There are a number of different designs of trailer tent, all of which can be towed easily behind a car or RV:

  • Trailer Tent

Basic trailer tents are constructed of canvas, which can be folded out of the trailer and assembled much like you would in a tent. Often, they are driven to a campsite and erected on a pitch so that the outside can look like a huge tent.

Varying in size, trailer tents can be simple like a tent or have additional compartments for separate sleeping spaces inside, as well as external awnings for additional covered space for outside, perfect for when you need to dash inside if it starts raining.

  • Flip-top trailer tent

Flip-top trailers are quick and easy to set up once you get to the campsite, folding out from the trailer and providing shelter almost instantly with little need for pegging, and the trailer itself folds outwards to become part of the floor of the tent.

Extras such as awnings are available to provide more room should you need additional space during your trip.

  • Folding camper

Folding campers offer more facilities than a basic trailer tent, extending from a base unit that contains sleeping space, cooking facilities and a washroom with toilet – much like the base of a caravan.

The difference is that the unit will often be constructed of canvas, with awnings and extensions that open out to provide more internal space with no need for additional pegging.

So after deciding what kind of trailer tent will suit you, the next part before you set off on a journey is to make sure you and your vehicle are legal to tow the trailer en route to the campsite.

Checking You And Your Vehicle Is Legal To Tow

The first thing to check before you set off is whether you are allowed to tow the vehicle on your current licence, and the year you passed your test can affect your entitlement to be allowed to tow.

The combination of the weight of the vehicle and the weight of the trailer and its contents is known as the Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) and is used to calculate the weight of that you’ll be travelling with as a unit.

If you passed your test before the 1st January 1997, you would automatically have C1 status on your driving licence. C1 classification allows you to drive a vehicle/trailer combination of up to 8.25 tonnes.

If you’ve passed your licence after the 1st January 1997, you’ll have B + B1 classification on your driving licence. This allows you to tow a trailer of more than 750kg, provided your MAM is less than 3.5 tonnes. If you want to tow heavier loads, you’ll have to pass an additional test to achieve C1 status on your licence.

Brakes Or No Brakes?

When selecting a trailer, there are two types to think about, those with brakes and those without. Whichever type you pick can affect not just the movement of the trailer, but also the risk factor when it comes to making your journey.

By law, trailers without brakes must not be loaded to more than half of the unladen weight of the trailer and must be driven with a degree of care. It is advisable to try not to exceed more than 85% of your total kerb weight when loading your car and trailer for a journey.

Check Your Weight

Check your vehicles’ kerb weight or ‘gross train weight’ by looking in your owners’ manual or logbook, alternatively, you can look for your vehicles’ VIN.

Look for the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) plate on your vehicle, usually found under the bonnet or on the inside of one of the door panels. This will give you an idea of vehicle weight and the MAM of the vehicle, allowing you to work out how much you’re able to tow.

Kerb weight, or unladen weight, is essentially the weight of the vehicle when it’s not carrying passengers or goods – including oil, coolant and a full tank of petrol.

By ensuring you’re not overloading your trailer when you travel you can ensure a safer journey for yourself and your fellow road users.

Securing Your Trailer Tent

Because of their basic nature and build materials, trailer tents are seemingly less secure than caravans and motorhomes, putting users more at risk of theft and damage from weather conditions.

Taking out some trailer tent insurance is a useful way of ensuring that, should the worst happen, your tent and equipment will be covered.

Additional security features such as hitch locks and wheel clamps can help to deter thieves by keeping your trailer tent secure while pitched.

Driving Abroad

If you’re looking to drive your trailer tent to a campsite within the EU, you must ensure you have prepared not only your trailer but also your documents for the journey. Compulsory documents include:

Much like travelling with a caravan or motorhome, the following bits of equipment are needed to drive within the EU legally:

  • GB stickers or a GB number plate
  • Extending mirrors
  • Headlight stickers or adjusted headlight beams – fit these on the ferry
  • Warning triangles and high-visibility jackets
  • First Aid Kit and Travel Pack
  • Toolkit
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Spare bulbs

If you’re stopping at campsites in Europe, be sure to look into membership to services such as Camping Key Europe, which will offer discounted pitch prices at campsites throughout the EU, including at high season.

By taking the time to check all aspects of your vehicle, your trailer and your documentation before you embark on your holiday, you can ensure a safe journey to and from the campsite, which will lead to a happy holiday for you and your family.

Travelling With A Trailer: Weighing It Up

Trailers are used for a number of different purposes, allowing us to transport materials of all shapes and sizes (within reason) and also more cumbersome items such as boats, bikes and even horse boxes.

Whether you’re towing a caravan or boat for a holiday or just making use of a trailer as part of moving house, you need to make sure that you’re towing safely, and there are a few things to check before you set off, most importantly to do with the weight of your load, commonly known as Maximum Authorised Mass:

What Is Maximum Authorised Mass?

Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) is the combined weight of your vehicle, the trailer you are towing and the additional weight of the load you are carrying.

Depending on your licence type, you are legally allowed to carry loads of up to 3.5 tonnes combined, so it can be worth thinking about how much you want to transport in the first place – especially when it comes to caravans or taking equipment such as surfboards and bikes.

Do I Need A Special Licence To Tow?

Depending on what you want to tow depends on what sort of licence you will require. Usually, when you pass your driving test, you will receive a Category B licence which entitles you to drive cars and other small

What you can tow will depend on when you passed your test and there are three main periods at which changes took place, so it can be worth cross-referencing your licence to make sure you can tow legally:

Before 1st January 1997

Drivers who passed their test before this time are entitled to drive a vehicle and trailer combination of up to a total mass of 8.25 tonnes – this includes the combined weight of your vehicle, the trailer and the load you are carrying.

From 1st January 1997

Drivers who passed their test after this time and who carry a regular B category driving licence are allowed to tow vehicles of up to 750kg, provided the total weight of the car, trailer and load do not exceed 3.5 tonnes.

From 19th January 2013

If you’ve passed your Category B driving test fairly recently you will be able to tow small trailers of no more than 750kg, or if you want to tow larger loads you must ensure the combined weight does not exceed the MAM of 3.5 tonnes.

What about Heavier Loads?

If you are looking to tow loads heavier than 3.5 tonnes, either on a regular basis through work or when you take a caravan or trailer away on holiday, you’ll need to apply to upgrade your driving licence to a Category B+E to be road-legal.

If you want to tow heavier loads, you must apply to upgrade your license further to a Category C1+E licence, which when passed will allow you to drive combinations of up to a MAM of 12 tonnes, this is particularly important if have a larger vehicle or if your business requires you to carry heavier loads.

Size Matters

Overall size can also be a factor in how much you are able to safely transport behind your vehicle, and different vehicles will have different specifications when it comes to how much they can tow:

The maximum length of a trailer of up to 3.5 tonnes is 7 metres, while the maximum width limit for any vehicle towing a trailer is 2.55 metres.

Check your cars’ manufacturers handbook and look for a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), usually presented on a plate located under the bonnet or on the inside of the drivers’ side door.

This plate should tell you what is known as the Gross Train Weight of the vehicle – which is essentially the weight of a fully loaded car and trailer combination.

If you are unable to locate a VIN number on your car then it is not advisable to use the vehicle for the purposes of towing.

Be Prepared

If you are towing a trailer of any size, you must also ensure that you have the relevant safety gear in mind to assist you and that your trailer is in good condition for travel, here are a few things to check before you set off:

  • Mirrors – you must check to see that you have a clear view of the road behind your trailer and that if you’re towing a caravan you have some towing mirrors fitted to your vehicle before you travel, for not doing so could lead to penalty points on your driving licence.
  • Towbars – these can be car-type dependent and must be ‘type approved’ in order for them to be used, make sure to check that your car is able to use one before you buy, and much like with tyres be sure to search by your car type to find the best match for your vehicle.
  • Brakes – if your MAM is over 7.5 tonnes, you must ensure that your trailer’s brakes are working correctly and be in good working order before you travel.
  • Number plate – you must display the same number plate of your vehicle on your trailer as well

By taking the time to make sure that your trailer and vehicle is not overloaded and that all your safety features have been checked, you can ensure that your journey goes smoothly and without a hitch.

Get Some Extra Protection

Because towing trailers and caravans can be a delicate operation for both yourself and other road users, it can be worth securing some additional trailer insurance in order to help protect yourself and recover costs incurred as a result of accidents caused by third parties.

RELATED: What To Do If You Break Down With A Horse Box