Tuesday, 30 December 2014

GREAT CAR HIRE COMPARISON SITE and warning about a hidden extraS in Spain

If you want to do a really good car hire search and also car hire excess insurance then Money Maxim works brilliantly.

Key in the pick up and drop off details and then opt whether to have the results Emailed to you or just see them on screen.

The results are shown based on the most basic car with prices increasing from the left to right.
Click on any of the other car types for results relating to them.
Below is the offer of car hire excess insurance to go with it (it is worth checking out the annual policy if you are likely to hire more than once or for a long duration.)
Other filters are available so you can custom the results even further.

Once you decide which deal suits best click on the car and you will be directed to another website to book.  This leads you to a different search site from which you complete the deal.  This is unlikely to be the actual rental company which will be allocated at a later stage of the booking process.  This is the time to read their small print re fuel policy etc.

WARNING The latest fuel policy on ALL car hire in Spain is that you pick up the car and pay for a tank full of fuel.  You have the option of returning it with fuel at any level and they will refund what is left to the nearest 1/8 tank (in their favour of course).  If you want to return it full be sure to top it up at the nearest fuel station to the airport and hand in the receipt.

So what's the catch?  An administration fee of Euro24 and upwards depending on the car type and company.  This fee is to cover admin and refueling ready for the next client but still has to be paid even if you return the car full.  The only advantage in returning the car full is that you will get a full refund of the price they charged you initially which is probably higher than the price of the fuel you put in yourself.

Having previously felt the pay for a full tank and return empty policy was a con this one is even worse as you would then have been likely to return the car with less than Euro 22 worth of fuel in.     

Friday, 24 October 2014

UK AIRPORT, beat the liquid and baggage allowance and make life easy

Since the introduction of limits on liquids in hand luggage travelling light has become a little more difficult.

I have recently discovered and very easy and convenient way to get around this problem.

All airlines (including budget ones such as Ryanair) must now allow passengers to carry on a duty free bag of goods in addition to their regular cabin baggage allowance.

This means that you can buy goods including toiletries in the airside shops at the airport, (any size liquids) and take them on board.

This does not affect your baggage allowance weight.  

You can even save time and be sure your goods are available by ordering on line for pick up at the store.  A classic example is Boots where you place an order 5 - 14 days before departure.

If for any reason you cannot pick up your order it is returned to Boots head office 14 days after the order was placed and you receive a refund.  

For further savings go through a cash back website where for example Top Cash Back offer between 1.5% and 8.7% (depending on the product type) cash back on your a Boots order.

The icing on the cake is if you see a space for a promotion code when you are checking out your on line order.  At this point you can do a search for current codes.  I searched "voucher codes for Boots" + the month and year and came up with a further 10% off my order total.

If you are taking connecting flights Boots will seal your goods in a special bag and give you a ticket enabling you to continue on your journey with everything.

Taking a baby abroad this is a great way to deal with the bulk of disposable nappies.

I guess the starting point for all this is to go to the departure airport website to see which stores are on the airside and their opening hours.  Next find out if they have a website with on line ordering for collection in store as I know that WH Smiths also offer this service and there are bound to be others.






Tuesday, 7 October 2014

DIAMOND PRINCESS Ancient Capitals 9 day cruise to Japan and South Korea

Just got back from a truly amazing cruise.  Never intended doing this one but it found us when it jumped out of a news paper back in May.

The deal from Travelbag had a lead in price of £1199pp for a 14 day package - return flights from UK, 3 nights hotel in Tokyo with 2 full day tours, 9 night cruise and transfers.  We opted to go for the balcony at £1399 but somehow got myself up sold to £1500 but that's another story.

We're not used to packages and usually book flight only then make everything up as we go along but this time we needed an easy option.

Mistake number one was not fully appreciating that after a 3 hour then 12 hour flight we would arrive at Shiba Park Hotel in Tokyo after 9pm.   We had to be ready to go on tour at 8am next morning and with the 8 hour time difference from England this was a tough call.  With hindsight we should have negotiated a deal where we flew in a full day earlier.

The tours were a great introduction, one a city tour and another to the countryside and invisible Mount Fuji.


Day 3 we were transferred to Yokohama port to board the enormous Diamond Princess.
Cabin B607 on the Baja deck had a balcony and was not overlooked unlike most balcony cabins.  It also had cabins above and below so was nice and quiet.

The ports of call turned out better than expected and easy to do on your own.  In each port a Tourist Information stand was set up, free wi-fi was offered and except Nagasaki a free local shuttle bus was provided.  Finally when we left port the locals put on a wonderful send off show.  Never known anything quite like it in terms of hospitality.

These are our ports of call and what you can do on your own -.

Monday, 6 October 2014

GALAXY S4 ZOOM is it a phone, is it a camera ? Wrong it's both

We like to travel light and I was in need of a phone upgrade and also a new camera I set my trusted nephew on coming up with options.

This time he surpassed himself suggesting one item that does both very well.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 zoom has all the features of the Samsung Galaxy S4 phone but also a 16mp 10xzoom camera.



Still haven't fully figured out all the camera options but you can use it on auto, manual or many different pre programmed modes.  I'm still having fun with these including the panorama and a special one for taking pictures of babies as the camera makes a noise to attract their attention.

Picture quality is superb and the fact that you hold it and press a button like a conventional camera makes it much easier than using a phone as a camera.  I've also added a cheap case and strap to protect it and feel much happier leaning over things to take a picture knowing the camera/phone is secure around my wrist.

Possibly the only downside is the slight bulk and weight but if you need a camera and phone then I would say this is almost certainly lighter and less bulky than carrying both.

Luckily ASDA direct had it on offer at £169 instead of the recommended £249.  Another plus of buying from a supermarket is that should anything go wrong (my first one had a tiny chip within the lens) you just buy another then when you have transferred your info across you get a refund on the faulty one.  Far easier and quicker than going through a dealer.

Well worth considering as a 2 in 1 and way cheaper than an IPhone.


Saturday, 23 August 2014

MOBILE PHONE CHARGERS are not all equal

I've just bought a new mobile phone (more about that later) and reading the instructions found out that they insist you use their charger and USB connector otherwise you could invalidate the guarantee.

I decided to do a bit of research into this in case it was just a ploy to market their own brand cheaper accessories and low and behold there is some truth in it.

I found an excellent article all about why not all phone accessories are interchangeable and now understand that whilst some are others are not due mainly to the amount of output amperage each phone requires.  Already I have discovered that my old HTC phone is different from my new Samsung one therefore I shouldn't use the same charger or USB cable for both.

Using the wrong cable could not only cause your phone to overheat and be damaged but may also undercharge the battery making the battery usage shorter.

Whilst I don't pretend to fully understand it all I did feel it worth sharing this info in view of the number of travellers who borrow chargers and also the incidence of people needing to charge phones at airports etc.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

MOTORHOME British Isles free or cheap camping

 Possibilities for free or low fee camping in Brtain seem to be increasing in some area but in others car parks and parking areas are banning motorhomes so it can pay to do research ahead of time.

When we first started motorhome travelling in UK in 1997 we had no Internet and little access to information so had to make it up as we went along.

If we were ever visiting a pub or restaurant we would ask the owner if we were could stay overnight in the car park and were always told yes.

Many small towns have car parks where the local council will permit you to stay if you ask.

We often write to people in the hospitality clubs to find out whether they have a place for us to park overnight.  Couchsurfing actually has a group for people who either have space for a motorhome to park or need a place.  We had an unexpected surprise after parking at Kevin & Ruths.  Inspired by us they sold up their home and set out full time travelling in a motorhome.

It is often worth joining one of the clubs to have access to their sites or information.

One of the newest "clubs" you can join is Brit Stops .  For just £25 a year you are issued with membership and a very explicit directory. This shows you where the stops are located, the type of stop (pub, farm shop, vineyard etc), facilities, info on access and more.

The Caravan Club has some great CL's - these are locations often on farms where they have space for up to 5 caravans or motorhomes to stay overnight.  Fees are low and facilities often minimal.

The Camping and Caravan Club is much the same but also has people camping in tents.

The Motorhome Stopover lists over 400 stopover options.

UK Motorhomes is a very interesting site and on it they have a directory of stop overs

Wild camping is a site where members post information on good places they have found for wild camping.

Recently we were trying to arrange a meet up with friends in their motorhome and wanted a pub where there was overnight parking.  A simple google search keying in the country + pub + motorhome gave us some excellent results although we did have to be detectives to narrow down exactly which pub it was in some cases.

Don't be afraid to look for other alternative parking spots but as a courtesy please consider other people in the area you are parking.  Ask for permission if possible and behave responsibly and don't draw attention to yourselves in order to maintain these possibilities for others.

Apparently in Scotland you have a "right to roam" but must still observe local signs which can be a little sneaky as we saw some advertising "no parking between 1am and 3am".

Above all we always thing that if you show CONSIDERATION for others when choosing a parking spot you are much more likely to be left alone.


Tuesday, 19 August 2014

TRAVELOCITY TRAUMA and wealth warning.

An American friend recently came to visit us.  He booked his KLM flight from Amsterdam to Norwich using an app on his i-phone for Travelocity.

Arriving at the airport for his 9.15 am flight he was stunned to find out that he was in fact booked on the 9.15 evening flight.  After huge discussions with KLM they would only let him board the morning flight by paying an additional Euro 200 as he had supposedly booked a cheap ticket. (When you read on you will see that all tickets were offered at the same price although the one booked was listed as the cheapest).

On arrival we checked things out on line to figure out how the mistake had been made and you may find this hard to believe.

Whilst the www.travelocity.co.uk site shows flights in the 24 hour system the travelocity.com site and iphone app shows flights on the 12 hour system.  Worse still the website doesn't even do that properly and just shows a or p after the flight time.

The confusion was worse as the flights were listed in almost random order.

First flight listed was the evening one and was shown as the cheapest when in fact it was exactly the same price as the next 2 flights.

The next flight listed, the afternoon one, said fastest but was the same duration as the other two.

Finally the 3rd flight list (the same price and duration as the other 2) was the morning flight.

Where is the logic in that ????

Moral of the story, take extra care when using Travelocity especially on a phone as it is difficult to see things clearly.  

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Brilliant hotel multi search saving you time and money

Hotel Combined guarantee they will find you the cheapest price so this has to be a good starting point when searching for a hotel.

In one search it will check out many other hotel search sites including Agoda, Expedia, Hotels.com,Late rooms, Hotel Club, Easy click travel,Hrs.com, Dhr,Travelocity and more.

You have options as to how you want the results displayed, by distance, popularity, price, star rating. You can see maps, reviews and photos all on the one page.

UPDATE

Another multi search that has become popular is Trivago which claims to search over 200 sites at once.

However these sites often miss showing chain hotels such as :-

Premier Inn
Travelodge
Holiday Inn
Ibis Budget


AND

Don't just stop there, if you have time then double check first on a website like Top Cash Back to see if they match the price and also offer cash back

AND

Finally if you see that the booking form has a place for a voucher code then do a quick search to see if there are any current discount codes showing up on line.

Here are a few more tips on getting more from cash back sites

However don't forget that more often than not the biggest savings are made in the first 15 - 30 minutes so unless you have lots of free time then don't beat yourself up if you only do one of the above things, every little helps.


Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Motorhome / RV - A list of essential items for outside the vehicle

Fourwinds 5000 motorhome

When buying an RV/Motorhome it can be hard to know what to buy initially.

Generally we find it better to manage without things and buy later rather than overload the motorhome with things we don't really need and believe me there is a big difference between what you do need and what you might think you need.

Having had over 10 motorhomes we now feel we have a pretty good idea of what you really might need.    

This is a list of things for inside the RV/motorhome .

Here is a list of the external items we like to have, obviously this list is subject to the amount of storage space and payload available.  Other considerations are the number of passengers, countries to be visited and expected weather.

Leveling blocks
Solar panel or 2 if you can afford it and have space for them

Monday, 28 July 2014

TRANSPORT FOR LONDON - OYSTER CARD

You may have heard that London public transport has now gone cashless.

Any contact less card can be used but if you buy an Oyster Card you also get discounted fares.

All the info is on the website but remember that you have paid a deposit on your card so if you are not returning in the near future you may want to get a refund on your balance and the card before leaving.

Swipe the card each time you start and finish a journey.  You will either do this at a barrier or find a machine nearby.  You must do this even if the barrier is open as you are automatically charged the maximum day rate if you miss any swiping.

TAKE CARE Even doing everything correctly the system sometimes fails.  Travelling as a couple we noticed our card balances were different and found out one card had double swiped on exit.  After taking the matter up with Transport For London we eventually got a refund and in fact found out that both cards had been overcharged on another journey.  Best thing is to keep an eye on the balance that is displayed on the machines.


Sunday, 27 July 2014

FANTASTIC FLIGHT SEARCH

I am a fan of Sky Scanner but think I have gone one better with Jet Cost

This site is a beauty if you have some flexibility in dates or airports.

Once you have keyed in your preferred dates and airports the search results come up with exact matches but also lists (in price order) things that are pretty close.

This may be slightly different dates or a combination of airports close to the chosen departure one, close to the arrival one or even both.

Select the flight that suits you and this will re-direct you to the website where you can make your booking.

Whilst I now prefer Jet Cost here are a few other fare checkers you may want to try out - however when I did my "test" search they were all more expensive.

Fly.com
Which budget
Charter Flights
Flight checker only trips up to 31 nights or one way
E Dreams
Cheap Air mainly USA & Canada

Please leave a comment if you find a website that comes up with better prices than Jet Cost.

FREE Passport photos

If you have access to a computer and printer then this is a way to get FREE passport  and visa photos.

Log on to E Passport Photo website

Select the country and type of photo you require and click "get my passport photo"

Now scroll down the page until you see the "free do it yourself service".

After uploading your photo you can re size to fit the regulations, then save and/or print.

Even if you don't have a printer you should be able to save it back to your memory card then take to one of those machines that print out a 6x4 photos. In Australia we paid 49c at K Mart for instant prints and each photo had 7 pictures on working out at just 7c per passport photo - bargain.  In fact if you go for the 1-hour photo is is only 19c and the 24 hour processing 15c. 

This could be a boon to backpackers -  if you save a photo on your memory card, computer or even E-mail one to yourself you are in a position to quickly whip up a new photo for those unexpected border requirements etc.

Or before you set out on a trip why not be prepared and print off any sizes that may be of use, they weigh so little and take up almost no space that this could be a big time and money saving thing in the long term.  

Motorhome / RV - A list of essential items for inside the vehicle

Inside our Fourwinds 5000 American RV


Having bought and sold many motorhomes / RV's we now have a pretty good idea of what is required as opposed to what would be nice to have.

This is a list of the things we feel are the basics for use inside the motorhome.  Obviously the quantity of some items will depend on the size of the motorhome, how many berths and whether you anticipate having visitors.


KITCHEN
Broom (handy when you are washing the outside of the vehicle)
Dustpan and brush
3 household buckets of different colours that stack inside each other  (I use one with a carrier bag inside as a kitchen bin)
Selection of pans, (good non stick type save on the washing up water)
Frying pan
A few plastic storage containers (a round one can be used as mixing bowl)
Set of wooden spoons
Plastic potato masher
Can openers (one always breaks or gets lost!)

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Lost ? Think outside the square

If you are ever completely lost in a town/city and in your own vehicle here are a couple of suggestions to get you to your destination.

1 - Find a taxi and try asking the driver for directions.
If the destination is far away or complicated you next ask him how much the taxi fare would be.  
Assuming the fare sounds reasonable you then explain you would like to follow in your vehicle and will pay him the regular taxi fare once you both arrive.  By doing this you ensure that he doesn't drive too fast or lose you on the way.

2 - In some ways I like this one even better as you get a feed out of it.
Find a fast food place that offers a delivery service as they obviously know the area.
First try asking them for directions.
Again if it is complicated or far you could ask them that if you order some food could you follow the delivery vehicle to your destination.


Monday, 2 June 2014

MOTORHOME NUMBER 11 - Eddie, A Rimor Koala 48 in Europe


Our first ever brand new vehicle of any kind - a Rimor Koala motorhome.

We bought it on the Internet unseen through what turned out to be "dodgy" dealer for £30,000.  The motorhome came from the factory in Italy and although we didn't receive it until April 2011 we paid in full in November 2010 and got a reduction from what we were told was the £45000 normal price.  Basically the factory needed to clear out their 2010 models.   The dodgy part of the dealer, well he wasn't registered as a Rimor supplier and his after sales service and back up was appalling however luckily Rimor is well recognised throughout Europe and we got good service under warranty in France and Germany.



The Koala is a step up from the entry level Katamarano but offered mainly the same layouts.  We opted for the 48 which was a double bed over a rear garage, forward of that a wardrobe and large fridge with separate freezer and bathroom opposite.  The L shaped kitchen was very workable and in front of this

Friday, 30 May 2014

Boating on the NORFOLK BROADS

We've just returned from a lovely 4 days cruising on the northern Norfolk Broads and would like to share some tips for giving you an even better chance of having an enjoyable trip.

These are some things you may want to consider.

Many companies offer boats on the broads.  We are lucky enough to live in the area so prior to booking we toured a few boat yards and looked over some boats.

We finally booked with Herbert Woods finding staff extremely helpful and the boats a good quality.  Hoseasons are another good option as they market on behalf of numerous other companies.  Richardsons boats were mostly older ones but they offered really good discounts for repeat customers.

Expect to pay about £40 on top of the listed price of the boat for damage waiver cover and a deposit of around £125 for fuel the balance will be refunded or charged at the end of the trip.  In four days we used £33 worth of diesel.

Picking a boat - When you research on line the pictures and write ups are not always quite as accurate

Friday, 9 May 2014

TRAVEL AND MONEY SAVING - Trip planning and research -

                                                                          

You have decided to travel and yes THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER but where do you start fishing.

Of course you can travel with no plan but you may find you are in the wrong place at the wrong time or season, miss things you might have enjoyed seeing or clock up much more mileage having to back track.

If you do want to make a plan then these are my suggestions based on the way we have done things successfully.

How you are going to travel will have a big effect on where you can go.  For example if you travel by boat then it will be more difficult to visit inland places.  We found that in countries where motorhomes are common this is the cheapest way for a long term trip.  In Asia and developing countries backpacking using public transport, hotels and hostels is usually best. 

Saturday, 3 May 2014

MOTORHOME NUMBER 10 - Harry, A 30' "C" Class in USA


Our trip was to visit USA and neighbouring countries in 2007.  We'd heard that rental companies sometimes sell vans and found great deals with Cruise America.  As many contents are included it is a great way to start.  I also researched other companies and found Moturis who didn't market vans or normally sell to the public but were happy to sell us one as seen.

We chose a 29' Four Winds model J29 2 years old at $24200 (£12200) with 58000 miles on the clock.

 It had a superb layout of rear bedroom with walk around queen sized bed plus wardrobes and drawers either side, cupboards above and tons of storage under the bed.  In front of this was a shower cubicle on one side and toilet opposite with doors that could make this a completely private room.  Ahead of this was a huge fridge freezer opposite the kitchen.  The social area consisted of a dinette (that would make a small double bed) and a sofa bed (also a pull out

Monday, 21 April 2014

Sending gifts whilst abroad



Need to send a gift to someone abroad but fed up with the high postage charges or the expensive gift websites on line?

Save money by using one of the regular supermarkets and stores that offer on line ordering and a delivery service.

This way you get everyday prices and just pay the standard delivery charge, usually between £3.50 and £6 (sometimes free if you can get an on line coupon) on top of the cost of the item.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

MOTORHOME NO 9 - Milly a Bedford "C" class in South Africa

Meet our one and only female named van (after Camilla) and what a bitch she was so males only from now on !

Milly was a 1988 Bedford Pioneer motorhome.  Dual real wheels and pretty sturdy although basic.  The layout was a "U" shaped lounge at the back which made a superb bed, fore of this a kitchen on one side then wardrobe and bathroom on the other.  The toilet was the very basic porta poti type.  Just behind the cab was a single dining area with seats on either side of the vehicle and this could make a single bed.  There was an overcab bed but the mattress was very thin so we didn't use it.



Sourcing a motorhome in South Africa was not easy as they are few and far between and relatively expensive.  By luck I found this for sale at a caravan dealer in Pietermaritzburg and as usual agreed to buy it unseen.

We paid Rand 64950 which at the time was about £4200.  The biggest problem seemed to be with the starter motor which twice had to be removed and reconditioned.  7 months into the trip we found out the fridge was wired in to the starter and draining it immediately, once rewired we had no further problems.  Other problems were all things that could be fixed cheaply and easily but just caused delays.  One good thing about an old basic van in Southern African countries is that they can botch just about anything. In Botswana the radiator hose burst and they inserted a metal pipe and connected it with jubilee clips.

We had Milly for 9 months and toured in South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Botswana.  Absolutely loved having a motorhome over there.  Most of the time we stayed on campsites for safety but they were all reasonably priced and had great facilities.  Driving in the National Parks was amazing, in Kruger we stayed for about £10 a night in the same parks as the expensive lodges and we were able to use their swimming pool and eat at the same restaurant.

Nearing the end of the trip we went to a South African motorhome rally and were bombarded with people wanting to buy Milly.  It seems like these people had the slightly smaller version with single rear wheels and the instability had caused many accidents so they wanted our type.

Now here's the funny part of the story, whilst on the bus from Johannesburg to Pietermartizburg to collect the van we got chatting to Diana, a passenger, who invited us to visit them on their farm in the north of the country.  We did this and whilst there they fell in love with Milly and asked for first refusal when we sold her.  After being approached by people at the rally (and being offered amazing prices) we went back to  Diana and explained the situation and agreed to sell Milly to her for Rand 69500.  We came to that figure by working out roughly what it had cost us in terms of repairs and expenses to kit it out and buy new curtains and seat covers.   However the exchange rate had turned against us so in real terms we only just got the purchase price back but needless to say were happy with that as we expect to lose money on motorhomes.

Were it not for our health problems we would both have gone back in the future for another visit as we enjoyed it so much.

Motorhome number 8 in Australia

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Dental floss, a travellers best friend


Whilst I do use dental floss for general oral health and for removing bits of food that are stuck between teeth there are many other things it can be used for and is well worth taking on a trip.

First find a needle with an eye big enough to thread the dental floss through.  I keep this needle inside the dental floss dispenser.
Armed with the needle your dental floss becomes a sewing thread that is extremely strong and can be used for repairs on backpacks (including stitching through the teeth of a zip that were fraying from the zip itself), clothing, shoes, tents and more.  If you need a finer thread most floss can be untwisted to create three strands.
.
Make temporary shoe laces from it.
Fasten your hair back.
Use it to fasten the tops of bags.
If there is no lock on your room door you may be able to run a thread from the door handle to something in the room to secure it.
Tie baggage to something secure or yourself when on public transport.
Repair broken jewellery or even make your own jewellery with it.

ALWAYS REMEMBER IT IS SO STRONG YOU WILL NEED EITHER THE CUTTING BLADE ON THE DISPENSER OR SCISSORS TO CUT IT.

Feel free to fill in comments if you know of any other really good uses.

This has to be one of the bargains of the year in terms of value, usability, size and weight - why travel without it?  

Saturday, 12 April 2014

MOTORHOME NUMBER 8 - Billy, A Hi Ace pop top in Australia




In September 2002 we were heading for Australia.  Without seeing it we agreed to buy a 1988 Toyota Hi Ace pop top campervan from some friends.  We didn't think it would really suit us but would give us a vehicle and accommodation whilst we found something bigger and better when we could use it as a trade in.

Continuing with our Royal theme we named this one "Billy" after Prince William.  Little did we know that we would grow to love "Billy" and keep him for 4 years.  We agreed a price of Aus $8000 which at the time equated to £3040.  It was in good condition, had done about 190,000km but the interior was somewhat dated.


The layout suited us well as you could have 2 sofas in the back with a dining table in between or make it up as a large bed 5' wide and 6' 6" long.  We left the bed made up most of the time as we found we

Monday, 7 April 2014

Inspiration


-->.

We always encourage people to do things sooner rather than later and this circular I received today is a good example of why -

A friend of mine opened his wife's underwear drawer and picked up a silk paper wrapped package:

'This, - he said - isn't any ordinary package.'

He unwrapped the box and stared at both the silk paper and the box.

'She got this the first time we went to New York, 8 or 9 years ago. She has never put it on , was saving it for
a special occasion.

Well, I guess this is it.

He got near the bed and placed the gift box next to the other clothing he was taking to the funeral house, his wife had just died.

He turned to me and said:

'Never save something for a special occasion.

Every day in your life is a special occasion'.

I still think those words changed my life.

Now I read more and clean less.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

MOTORHOME NO 7 - A 5th wheel and trailer in USA

OK so not really a motorhome but we got this one on a 3 month motorhome exchange.


We'd always felt motorhomes were the best thing for us so this gave us a chance to try an alternative without commitment.

The 5th wheel was 22' long, layout was a sofa bed at the back, ahead of that a dinette with kitchen opposite. Next came the wardrobes and bathroom opposite them then up a couple of steps the bedroom.  The nice thing wtth 5th wheels is that you get much more headroom in the bedroom than you would with overcab motorhome bed.

Whilst the total length is much greater than a motorhome it is shorter than a vehicle towing a caravan and much more stable and easier to manoeuvre.  However you do need to have a pretty heavy duty truck up to the job.

We only unhitched a couple of times in the whole trip, once to go into a National Park where motorhomes were allowed to drive up but 5th wheels had to be dropped off.  The second time was when visiting a relative.  Maybe a little of this is down to the fact that we are travellers on a constant

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

MOTORHOME NO 6 - The classic VW

Whilst travelling around Australia in our borrowed American Motorhome we visited friends who told us of a fantastic coast road in New South Wales.  However our motorhome would be too big to cope with it.  Amazingly they offered us use of their VW camper.

What fun it is to be in one of these, for no apparent reason we constantly felt ourselves smiling.  This was the classic layout with a kitchen and wardrobes down the side and a rock and roll style sofa bed.

We loved the fact the vehicle was small and rugged.  Making the bed was not too difficult as we just rolled the duvet back on the rear shelf.  This would make a great every day vehicle and double up for shorter trips away.  Longer trips would be fine in a sunny climate where you just used the camper for driving and sleeping and cooked and ate outside. Needless to say there was no toilet or shower room.

What we wouldn't have liked long term was the narrowness of the bed and having to make it up each night.  Minimal storage and very basic facilities mean this would not be our choice for a long trip.

Given the size of the vehicle we much preferred our Hi-Ace pop top that we subsequently bought in Australia and lived in for up to 10 months at a time so if you want a small vehicle you may want to

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

MOTORHOME NO 5 - An American Gulfstream Sunstream 2000 that we used in Australia

After 10 months in Australia followed by 6 months in New Zealand we flew to Sydney to pick up another motorhome on exchange for 6 months.



The 30' Gulfstream Sunsport looked huge and was very plush inside.  The layout gave us a fabulous fixed bed at the back coming out from the side and with access on both sides.  However fore of this was a comparatively cramped bathroom and wardrobe.

Next was a kitchen with dinette opposite and the lounge area comprised a very comfortable sofa bed,

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Getting around Britain on the cheap.

Travelling around Britain need not be too expensive, especially if you plan and book in advance.  

BY COACH
National Express offer fares as low as GBP1 from London to Edinburgh.  The secret is to check out the fares early and travel when they have the cheep fares on offer.  Usually this means you don't travel on peak days (weekends and holidays) or months (July and August),
Often the website will only let you book one ticket at he cheapest fare so if I want 2 tickets I open 2 windows at once and book the tickets simultaneously as they give you up to 20 minutes to complete the purchase.

Tip
Even if you don´t want to travel between major cities look for funfares from your starting city to another big city beyond the one you want to go to then check out the route, you may find the bus actually stops at the place you want to go to. 
For example Leeds to Manchester was showing GBP5 but Leeds to Liverpool had a funfare offer of GBP1 and this bus stopped in Manchester where we got off.   

Mega Bus also do fares from GBP1 and in fact at the moment are even offering some free seats.  Fares from £1 plus 50p booking fee.  This company now have bus routes across to Europe with great fares.

Mega Bus Gold Now this is something else.  These are really luxurious coaches and many do night

Monday, 17 February 2014

BACKPACKING Finding a room

When you are travelling you can opt to just go with the flow and find accommodation as needed or plan a little ahead.  Generally we like to research options to decide whether the type of place we are visiting has lots of the type and price accommodation we want or not and this will help us decide whether to flow or plan.

If you are a member of one of the Hospitality Clubs this may be your first area of research as not only do you get your accommodation but more importantly for us you meet locals and learn about the culture etc.

Generally you may find at it is easier to get a room earlier in the day and worth planning your journey so that you arrive as early as possible at your destination

It helps if you have an idea of what you are looking for such as dorms, private rooms with or without bathrooms and cabins and if you need additional facilities such as a swimming pool, wi-fi.


Budget will also be a consideration but must be taken into context with which country you are in and also which town or city or where within the city.

Some tourists offices are extremely helpful and have maps and list of accommodation including accurate prices, others are hopeless.

Guide books are also a good source of information to get you started and whilst we rarely stay in the

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Pay as you go mobile phone deal in UK with FREE SIM

Want a great deal on pay as you go mobile, read on.

Moving to a new area we needed to switch mobile phone companies in order to get a better signal.

First I checked to find out the best coverage 

This revealed that O2 would work best for us.  I like to stay on pay as you go or pay monthly leaving me free to cancel quickly.  I like at least 100 minutes for chatting, lots of texts and up to 500mb data and also don't want to spend more than £10 a month.

Not happy with O2's offer (pay as you go £10 with 75 minutes, 500 text and 250mb data and pay monthly at £11 with 50 minutes, unlimited text and 100mb data) I checked other companies such as Tesco and giffgaff who also use the O2 network.

The clear winner was giffgaff which is all pay as you go and offers a free SIM.

Their £10 goodybag gives you 250 minutes, unlimited texts, 1GB data and free calls to other giffgaff users.  Way more of everything than any competitor and better than many longer term contract deals.

The £5 goody bag includes 60 minutes of calls plus extras, 20mb data, 300 texts and free calls to giffgaff users.  For anyone visiting England for a short period this may be a great option.

At the other end of the scale £20 goody bag comes with 2000 minutes, unlimited web, unlimited text and free giffgaff calls.

Every month you can change to a different goody bag or even pay as you go where the prices are very competitive.

Better still you can make FREE calls to 0800 0808 and 0500 number which is unusual from any mobile. (However the time used still comes out of your minutes allocation).

Now it doesn't end there.  If you recommend someone giffgaff gives both you and the person recommended £5.

SO PLEASE IF YOU WANT TO JOIN GIFF GAFF AND GET A FREE SIM USE THIS LINK AND WE WILL BOTH BE REWARDED or if you opt to join through the main giffgaff website then put down "glenswatman" as the person who has recommended them to you.


Monday, 10 February 2014

MOTORHOME number 4 "Tunza" an exchange in NEW ZEALAND



Following directly on from our Australian motorhome exchange we went to New Zealand.on a motorhome exchange 

Our motorhome was based on a Mazda chassis, it felt like a truck and was not the easiest of vehicles to drive.  

The layout was interesting, much like the conventional rear kitchen one but with the extra length encompassing more wardrobe space fore of the toilet and more kitchen work surfaces opposite.  There was a sofa bed on one side and opposite this a single dinette which could easily be made into another sofa or bed.

We liked the heat exchanger hot water heating system that meant we had hot water for a good 24 hours after any journey.

If you are planning a trip in New Zealand you can get a lot of information by joining their motorhome club New Zealand Motorcaravan Ass

In the land of the long white cloud campsites are known as Motor Camps and most of their sites have excellent kitchens for guests and often a TV lounge. The majority cost between NZ$20 - NZ$30 night for two people on a site with electricity. The N.Z.M.A. handbook includes listings.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

MOTORHOME number 3 "Dew Drop Inn" in Australia

After a couple of years travelling Europe in Charlie we were ready for a change and decided to try and do a motorhome exchange.


Dew Drop Inn exchange arranged with the Dew family in Perth - hence the name of the motorhome. Fred converted the Mazda bus himself to make a wonderful motorhome. The layout was a bed across the back, toilet on one side and sink on the other in front of this with facility to create a shower in the middle.  Next came the kitchen with fridge and entry door opposite.  At the front were two inward facing sofas that also made a bed.  An ingenious layout and our only problem with it was that with Steve being over 6' tall the bed was a bit short and the internal height lacking.

Motorhome exchanges are a wonderful idea, not only do you get to use a motorhome suitable for the country you are visiting but you will no doubt make friends with the people you are exchanging with and be offered

Monday, 3 February 2014

Free and cheap camping for motorhomes in PORTUGAL

Whilst unable to travel abroad we still manage to do it vicariously through the blogs and trip reports of friends.

Hoping to revisit Portugal in the future we area pleased to hear how much more motorhome friendly they are becoming with Aires popping up all over the place.  Many are free whilst others incur a small fee.  To find these places you can get a lot of information on the Internet and from people's blogs or buy the book All the Aires Spain and Portugal through a company like Vicarious Books and have all the info to hand at any time.

On top of that you can join a group called Orbitur who have over 20 campsites around the country, mainly on the coast.  For Euro 10.50 you join the group and get a passport and book of sites.  A block of 10 vouchers costs Euro 90 and each voucher entitles you to one nights stay including facilities so only Euro 9 a night or even with the initial charge around.

Probably next up the price scale is ACSI camping.  Euro 13.95 for one year (Jan - Dec) membership including book of sites throughout Europe.  Then off season campsites are Euro 12, 14 or 16 per night.

Given the increase in motorhomers visiting Spain and the decrease in places you are welcome to free camp or stay cheaply we can see Portugal becoming a choice winter destination and worth checking out.  

Sunday, 2 February 2014

CRUISING to Antarctica


There are many ways to cruise to Antarctica .  The main choices seem to be to take a cruise from Ushuaia with a company such as Adventure Life with prices from about $4000 for 5 days or a conventional cruise ship  with prices from $1600 for 20 nights.  

A quick search for Antarctic cruises through Vacations to go will give you a rough idea of current prices.  Most trips now go from Buenos Aires.  To give you an idea of prices today's best deal is 14 nights on the Celebrity Infinity starting at $1299.

The biggest difference is that on Ushuaia cruises you get to go ashore whereas on conventional cruises you just tour Antarctica but still get magnificent views of scenery, icebergs and wildlife.  Conventional cruises certainly represent far better value day per day and you also get to visit many other places as well.

In 2009 we did a 20-day Antarctica cruise.  This is our itinerary and information about the price

Saturday, 1 February 2014

MOTORHOME& MONEY SAVING - Why travel in a motorhome?

Without a doubt we find that travelling in a motorhome is our cheapest and means we can maintain the comfort (and cleanliness) level we enjoy.  Your motorhome is your accommodation, restaurant and public transport.  Compare this to paying for rooms, food and transport and we have found it is usually even cheaper than backpacking in third world countries.



Pros - You don’t have to search for accommodation and check out the room, you always have your own bed, you know the bathroom is clean, no more packing and unpacking, you can eat what and whenever you want and you can stop in many places where there is no accommodation. You always have everything with you when travelling in a motorhome so can make spontaneous decisions. If you find a nice beach you have your swimwear to hand, if you spot some wildlife your binoculars are available, if you find a really nice parking spot you may be able to stay overnight.  Basically the only thing you have to do is find a place to be parked up each night.





We belive that a motorhome has money saving advantages over a 5th wheel or caravan –

In many countries there are special places for fully self contained motorhomes to stay for free but not for other types of RV.

People often point out that with a 5th wheel or caravan you can go off touring with the main vehicle but to do that you would need a safe place to leave the caravan and often that would involve paying for campsite fees. Also any journey that you did would involve double the cost of fuel to enable you to return to base.

If you need to travel by ferry or have to pay road tolls they will be more expensive if you are towing.

In some countries there is a separate tax to be paid for each vehicle and you may also end up having more tyres to replace.

TIPS to make your money go further when we are travelling in a motorhome –

Keep your speed down around 50mph for better fuel economy
Try to find free camping (also known as wild camping or boondocking) - seperate blog on the subject later

Stock up at local markets or roadside stalls and keep a good stock of groceries on board so you don't have to pay high prices in small stores for everyday goods




Buy special offer items at supermarkets and freeze any discounted meat

Read up which day museums are free to visit and ask if you can stay on the car park overnight

Fit a solar panel and inverter in order to avoid paying for electricity

Run a fan through the inverter rather than the air conditioner
Use a solar shower bag to create free hot water

Check out thrift (charity) shops

Use the Internet for price comparisons on many items including fuel

Pick up free wi-fi wherever you can or check out the free computer use at libraries

Plan your journey to travel the most direct route taking in sights on the way

Putting toilet paper in a waste bin rather than in the toilet has 3 benifits -
You won't have to buy the special paper which is more expensive
Your toilet will not fill up so quickly
You will need less chemical
.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

GENERAL TRAVEL - Travelling light


During a 7 month trip to South America we travelled from the heat of the equator to the Antarctic. We were mainly backpacking but as well as having to cover us for all seasons our clothing also had to cover us for a 20 night "posh" cruise.

How did we manage it?

Type of luggage:-

First you need to have the correct size of bag preferably the maximum size for airline carry on.


Soft baggage is lighter and also easier to squeeze
                                                onto luggage racks etc.

The biggest thing most people have to decide is whether to carry their bags like a rucksack or trolley them

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

MOTORHOME number 2 "Charlie"





We only kept our first motorhome for 4 months.  By then we knew we loved the concept of motorhoming.  Our first trip was in winter when most campgrounds in France were closed so we discovered "free" camping (also known as wild camping or boon docking).  This meant that we were not going to be spending as much as anticipated on campground fees and could use some of the trip fund to upgrade the motorhome.  Based on our experience in our first one we knew exactly what we wanted and had a list of essentials - a fixed bed at the back, a standard European model and one that got at least 20 miles per gallon.

So how many of those things did we get?  None!  Steve is over 6' tall and most of the fixed rear beds in the European models were too short.  A very helpful dealer was trying to pursuade us to buy a Hymer costing over £50,000.  When we pointed out the bed problem he suggested we made a box to put at the end for Steve rest his feet on - we didn't buy it.

In the end we decided to have a look at American motorhomes.  They are beautiful inside, well made and the fixtures and fittings seem more substantial.  We were swayed by the layout of an American 1995 Gulfstream Ultra "C" class, 23' long with an overcab bed and fuel consumption of 15 miles per gallon.  The rear bathroom was huge and even had a sitz bath.  In front of this was a beautiful kitchen with double sinks, microwave, 4 burner hob, oven and grill with full sized fridge and separate freezer opposite.  Forward of this was a sofa bed opposite a dinette, both of which made small double beds.  Above the cab was an enormous king sized bed.

Although it met none of our criteria we were extremely happy with it and kept it for 8 years.  During that time we travelled all over Europe and Scandinavia and shipped it to the Canary Islands, Morocco, Crete and Cyprus, more about that later.  We also used it as a trade to exchange with people who had motorhomes in Australia, New Zealand and USA and that I will explain more about that in a future posting.

It was marketed by Travelworld for £38,000 and in the end they agreed to take our Solifer in part exchange and we paid £20,000.  We sold it privately in 2005 for £19500.  Overall this was our most expensive motorhome for purchase price and repairs and the one we lost most money on but we loved it !

Many people give names to their motorhomes and intially we were reluctant to do this but found it was a bit of a mouthfull to keep refering to it as "the motorhome".  Steve suggested we call ours "Charlie" and we found 3 very good reasons for this name.  We treated it like royalty, we often looked like "proper Charlies" when trying to manouvre and after a shopping trip the fridge resembled "Charlie and the chocolate factory" as I am a chocoholic!  Over the years having a name for each motorhome has proved a good idea as we know exactly which one we are referring to. 

We now had two different motorhomes to compare and this is what we thought of the American "C" class

Pros
Substantial fittings inside the vehicle
Large holding and fresh water tanks
A strong engine for steep mountain climbs
Large fridge and deep freeze

Cons
Wider than the European motorhomes and at times this caused far more problems than the length
When things went wrong with it in Europe there were very few dealers that knew the vehicle.
Obtaining spare parts was difficult although today with the Internet many can be sourced on line.
Updating this blog in 2014 I know that parts are much more widely available through the internet and there are many more dealers than when we bought "Charlie" in 1997 so this should make life much easier.

TIP
You can save money by buying a motorhome in the USA and shipping it back to England.  They are considerably cheaper there and you have more choice.  If you keep it and use it in the States before exporting you can even save on the tax and VAT as well.   
Autoshippers Internations shipping company

Sunday, 26 January 2014

MOTORHOME number 1, "The Solifer"



                                                                       

We have bought and sold motorhomes in 4 different continents and also done exchanges giving us use of over a dozen different ones.

This is the start of our motorhome journey with information on the pros and cons of each one.

The Solifer we bought in December 1996 and sold in May 1997.  It was our first motorhome and the 1986 model was bought second hand from Madisons dealer.  Eriba Soifers were built in Scandinavia and this was an "A" class model.  Ours was the 4-berth model.  Cost £18,000 and traded in for £18,000 against our next purchase.

The layout was a rear U shaped lounge which could be made up into a large double bed.  Forward of this was a kitchen on one side and a wardrobe and bathroom opposite.  Immediately behind the swivel cab seats were two inward facing single seats which created a 4 person dining area.  These could be used for a single bed.  Above the cab was a drop down double bed so overall a 5 berth.

Pros-
Buying an older vehicle as our first motorhome meant we did not have to invest such a large amount of money on our first purchase.  We also thought we would have a good guarantee from the dealers but this didn't quite prove true.  Often the small print of any warranty makes it difficult to use especially if you are travelling abroad at the time.

Cons-
The vehicle was not a common make so any problems with it were difficult to solve.
It had a retro fitted turbo which caused many engine problems.
The drop down hydraulic bed was curved so not as spacious as it looked and not long enough for a man over 6' tall.
Most of the interior appliances etc were either small or flimsy and not suitable for full time use.

WARNING The vehicle was bought Madisons dealers.  We traded in a car as part of the purchase price.  The motorhome cost £18,000 and the trade in on the car was £8,000 leaving a balance of £10,000 to pay.  The dealer asked if it was OK for them to write up the invoice as £16,000 purchase and £6,000 trade with the same balance of £10,000 as this would save them tax.  We agreed to this but when we went back to them to try to trade up to another motorhome they would not acknowledge the original purchase price but only the lower £16,000 marked on the paperwork even though it was the same guy! 

 Unless you have a lot of mechanical knowledge it seems better to buy a vehicle that is still in current production and by a manufacturer that is well known in the countries you intend to travel.

Unless you are 100% sure of having visitors then buy a motorhome to suit your own needs in terms of layout etc as you will be the ones using for the bulk of the time and people who say they will visit often do not.

Many people do not buy the correct layout motorhome first time around so if you buy a cheaper second hand model you are less likely to lose as much when you change it for a design that suits you better.

No matter how much you try to figure out the design you need many things cannot be worked out until you are actually using a vehicle.  Some things you will never get right due to size restriction of vehicle and there are almost always compromises.

TIP

Before deciding what vehicle to buy it is a good idea to rent one but of course rental prices are high.  In Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada it is possible to pick up relocations deals on motorhomes for as little as $1 day.
Standby Cars is a great site for listing the possibilities.
Other sites offering this are
Apollo Camper
Maui
Bartrak Australia