Hits and Tips
from a womans perspective.
Hi everyone this is Hazel, otherwise known as the Editor! I would like to share some practical tips and observations with you. Phil is the word-smith in this partnership (Any chance of you getting that printed up on a banner. Ed). So I hope this will be of real interest for people planning this type of trip. It has been a year since Phil and I set off on this adventure.
When Phil and I first discussed this adventure and worked out how we would finance it, it was clear we were going to have to be careful with money. Spending, on a trip like this, would be so easy. As Phils mentioned, I'm retired from nursing and he only receives a small pension - neither of us have reached the government pensionable age- we have no other income. Renting our house gave us the extra income needed to make this possible. If your lucky enough for money not to be an issue, great! however, it never hurts to have some idea of costs.
In planning the trip Phil asked me how much we should set aside for food. Having never lived in Europe it was a bit like asking how long is a piece of string, but I estimated about £70, it seemed a reasonable amount. When we were both working I admit freely that I never used to budget. I would buy whatever I fancied and was happy to spend £15 on a Sunday joint for just the two of us. But knowing we would be living on a limited budget I knew it was crucial to budget carefully. I felt sure I could feed us both quite well on what equated to £10 a day. However, as it turned out, the first few weeks shopping were often disastrous. Either because I had misjudged how much we needed or shopped in the more expensive hyper markets. I once brought 3Kg of potatoes in a French street market and they cost almost £5! Phil had to go and lay in a dark room. I solved this by drawing up a weekly menu before going shopping. And then writing a comprehensive shopping list from it, its amazing how much you can save doing this provided you stick faithfully to it. Daily, I only have to get fresh bread.
The freezer is tiny so I split all the meat into meal sized portions and pack them carefully. Meat and fish is quite expensive in Europe particularly in France, so I make a couple of vegetarian dishes a week such as Fritatta, Vegetable Curry, a thick vegetable soup or a salad. For health reasons I have also tried to cut down on the sizes of our meat portions. Not working it would be very easy for us to put weight on. And what you weigh, starts with what you put in your shopping basket.
Our weekly shopping bill has averaged out to £52 pounds. And as Phil has explained this includes a bottle of a wine with our evening meal which wasn't included in our original budget, so I'm pleased.
Enough of budgets. (Yawn, no really it was fascinating, Ed). If your a tea drinker, bring as many T-bags as you can. It is very difficult to get decent T-bags anywhere in Europe and when you do find them they are hugely expensive. My darling step-daughter kindly brought 480 bags over for us when she visited in July last year. We also smuggled 720 on the return flight into Gib in March. Stock up on any Uk favourites such as Piccalilli, Oxo, Golden Syrup, Bisto etc. before you leave as they are hard to find. I found Oxo cubes at a store the other day but they were four Euros – needless to say I didn't buy them! Also spices can be hard to find, so if you like curries, like us, bring your spices with you!
The up side to all this budgeting is you are more conscious of what your buying and what your feeding yourself with. Its perhaps why neither of us has put on any weight and Phil has lost a couple of lbs, In a certain light I'm sure his party four is turning into a six pack! (Party four! Bloody cheek!, Ed)
Equipment & Priorities
I was advised by a friend to take my slow cooker. I was going to pack it away for storage but on her recommendation brought it along, despite some objections from Phil about weight. So I ditched another large saucepan in favour of the slow cooker as the pan can also be used on the hob. I pointed this out to Phil, -he likes things to have a dual purpose, I'm still waiting to discover what his is-. (meow, Ed). I have adapted many of my recipes so they can be cooked in the slow-cooker, which uses roughly the wattage of a light bulb. This also means you can buy cheaper cuts of meat and they taste great and save on gas.
We don't have a barbecue. Many camp-sites do not allow them. Some sites have designated areas and provide brick built barbecues. I believe electric or gas barbecues are allowed but check the camp site rules.
I use a camping kitchen outside in the awning and rarely cook in the caravan. The now 'faulty' portable camping cooker has two gas rings but a next-to-useless grill. When we were wintering in Zahora we were beginning to be concerned about our gas lasting. You can only get BP lite gas in northern Europe, so Phil tells me, and Portugal. On advice from a fellow camper who spends eight months of the year in Zahora we went in search of an electric oven. We visited Media-Mart in San Fernando and while Phil stood lusting after the 3D televisions, (life is all about priorities, Ed) I wandered off and found an electric oven which has an excellent grill.(Price £50). This really has been a godsend, it has reduced our gas usage, it is easy to use and convenient. As long as we have the awning up and my outdoor kitchen set up I do not have to cook in the caravan. I soon learned to adapt to my new cooking environment and enjoy it very much. I rarely hanker after my nice big kitchen at home.
When it comes to what you should pack for a trip of this nature, I think it pays to think about what you are likely to cook. Pack as little as you can get away. Cooking equipment can take up a lot of room and you soon learn to do without your zester or pizza cutter. Saying that I did end up buying an electric hand blender, as we love home made soup with warm crusty bread, and it takes up very little room. Duel purpose- it can be used to goose Phil if he gets too anal about weight and space!. Other equipment that is useful is stacking bowls (preferably with lids) that can also be used in the microwave. Small plastic storage jars for spices and herbs, make sure they have well fitting lids as when you are on the move things can get bounced around. Pack a couple of nice wine glasses as plastic wine glasses are just not the same.
A large washing up bucket and universal sink plug are also essential as are hose adapters. Finally, if you have a sweet tooth! I warn you now, the cakes in Europe are to die for!
Clothes, Linen and Laundry
Packing for this trip I told Phil I wanted to take both a winter quilt and summer quilt! he was horrified because of the space they would take up! He soon changed his tune when we reached Castrojerez in Spain. It was now halfway through October and we woke the first morning to temperatures below freezing. I had changed the quilts the night before so we spent a very cosy night. It is easy to make the mistake that because you are following the Sun you won't come across cold weather. Even so, we did not have enough heavy clothes and have since brought a couple of sweaters each.
I have brought along quite a few clothes but I can honestly say I have worn most of them and have ditched the ones I haven't needed. (That claim, will never hold up in a court. Ed). I also, mistakenly, did not bring anything “fancy”. This meant I didn't have a nice outfit for the Christmas and New Year party’s. I did buy a pair of boots, as other than sandals, I only had trainers with me.
One of the reasons I was reluctant to bring heavier items of clothing was because I was concerned about how I would go about laundering them. However, most camp-sites have washing machines and tumble driers. The cost of use can vary from three Euros to a disgraceful six Euros at the last camp-site. Generally I will only use a machine every other week. All the camp-sites provide laundry sinks, incidentally these are a killer on your back unless you are under 5ft!
Some camp-sites allow you to erect a washing line and some provide drying lines. I brought a colourful camping tripod clothes drier. Within a month it fell apart! First one leg snapped, then another and finally an arm fell off! Total waste of £40. (No prizes for guessing where that little beauty was made, Ed). I did buy an airer that fits over the window sill and this is marvellous. I use daily for drying towels after showering and its fine for hanging out your smalls.
I brought two full sets of bedlinen, three bath towels, a small hand towel and several tea towels. I have a washable mattress protector, pillow protectors, two beach towels and this has been perfectly adequate. The spare quilt and sheets all fit under one of the sofas. I put them under the one with the water heater as the heat from this helps keep everything nicely aired. Thanks to Phil, we are quite minimalistic so I have had no problems finding storage for everything, though it took some weeks before I found the most convenient place for everything.
Back home, like most women, I had a kitchen unit dedicated to cleaning products. Phil swore they were multiplying at night. If left to him it would only contain a bottle of vinegar and a tub of bicarbonate of soda., On the road that’s not practical and so I've had to take a Victorian attitude to cleaning. I buy bleach, washing up liquid, polish and cream cleaner, they are all I need. I use supermarket own brand detergent and don't bother with fabric softener, I have never missed it.
We have taken up the carpets now the hot weather is here. When the carpets are down your forever bringing in grass, sand and camp-site debris. Its a constant battle to keep them clean. I did persuaded Phil to get a portable car vacuum cleaner (dual purpose, see). So we can vacuum the carpets and soft furnishings. It runs off the 12v battery and most come with a generous lead. Because the caravan is so small I enjoy blitzing it and because the ceiling is so low you can clean that too.
How not to need a doctor while your away.
This bit is important! (so listen up, Ed)
While putting together a first aid box for this trip I had lots of help and advice from my two friends and deputy sisters Sue and Suzanne (Suzanne succeeded me when I retired, more power to her elbow). You do need the basics.
List if things in our first Aid kit.
(note it is the law in many countries to carry a first aid kit in your car)
Our usual medication. Important to keep it in the original boxes in case you need to show it to a doctor or your caravan is searched by police or custom officers. They will not take kindly to unknown tablets kicking about. Keep your official medication list in the same place.
Generic painkillers such a Paracetamol and Ibuprofen (Brufen) Best to buy these in the Uk as they can be pricey here.
Anti – histamines. You will need them anyway if you suffer from hay fever but they are also great if you have a bad reaction to an insect bite.
Medicine for both diarrhoea and constipation – a change of diet can often cause one or the other
Antiseptic wipes for any wounds and an antiseptic cream to apply after you have cleaned the area.
A selection of plasters, large pressure dressings for bleeding wounds, bandages and tape to secure the dressing.
Sun Screen products.
One day last week we sought the advice of a pharmacist who spoke excellent English, which was just as well as our French is a bit inadequate on medical terms. -If you need any medical advice in Europe the Pharmacies are an excellent first port of call-. We needed more effective weapons against the rabid insect population here in the Camargue. I have only been bitten a couple of times, but you will know from the Diary, mozzies make a bee line for Phil, she was very helpful.
Before making this type of trip, if your on regular prescribed medication you will need to make an appointment with your GP to ask for enough medication for the duration. By law they can only give you six months at a time, as they need to review your medication after six months. Take your official medication list with you on your trip. We know people who are away much longer and they have no problems getting a repeat prescription from the local pharmacy. These, you will have to pay for.
If you feel you need a review while you are away, or feel unwell, making an appointment with a local doctor/clinic is easy. All the camp-sites have their contact details. You must take your passport and E111 card to any appointments. If it's a public hospital you are unlikely to be charged under the reciprocal agreement. If you use a private clinic/doctor you are likely to be charged. A friend of ours felt unwell and went to a private clinic, There she had several tests and investigations and it came to less than 70 Euros.
If you are first-aid trained I am sure you will want to add other things. Such as a mask if you need to resuscitate someone. I also have a stethoscope and a pulse and blood pressure machine.
Generally water on the camp-sites is safe to drink. Obviously we have water on tap in the “caravan” and I use this when its been boiled but we don't drink directly out of the taps. If the water on the site is unsafe there will be a sign above it saying non potable! In this case it is only OK for showering washing up etc. I may be being over cautious here but we have not had any stomach upsets. In the normal course of a day you need to drink 1.5 litres of fluid. It doesn’t have to be plain water. It can be in the form of tea, coffee, soft drinks, they all counts as fluid. (Not unfortunately beer and wine, they don't count, Ed). When it gets very hot you need to increase that by at least a litre.
Lastly a good simple first aid book is always helpful and don’t forget NHS direct, the on-line health advise service.
Keeping your brain active.
When I was working I was constantly stimulated by my job and the people I worked with, so I was concerned that I might get a little bored on this trip. However I can honestly report I have not been. I do think it's important to make an effort to keep your brain stimulated and everyone will have their own thoughts on that. We brought along a couple of crossword books which we are rapidly filling up. After breakfast we attempt one each, swapping the books when we get stumped. I have always loved reading and Phil brought me an e-book, like a kindle only cheaper. But we also carry around twenty traditional books as many camp-sites have book swaps. Phil rarely read before we left but he enjoys a good book now. And I now have the time to read some of the classics. I eventually read War and Peace. I offered it to Phil, but he said it was too thick and it posed a heath hazard and immediately swapped it.
As you know Phil brought his guitar with him. So some evenings we will have a little session with him playing and me singing. And of course in Zahora we got together with other part time musicians and ended up forming a band.
Phil has the laptop and we bought a notebook for me in March which I love. I have all my recipes and photo's on it. I have become much more interested in photography and Phil has always had a keen interest in it. I have started photographing species of wild flowers in preparation for a project, drawing and categorising them. I don't recognise many and I would love to know what they are.
Talking of computers, I don't know how you would do this without one. We use it for just about everything. Phil researches the camp sites and, using google earth, checks routes and access, We use it to keep in touch with family and friends. Its invaluable in booking ferry crossings which you have to do months ahead in some cases. Also nowadays you can buy practically buy anything on line and have it posted to you. We pay and renew our insurances and even pay our income tax on line, there really is little you can't do..........Oh yeah! And if you have the time you can write a Diary.
If you have any sort of hobby make room and bring it with you. I left all my knitting needles in storage and now I could kick myself (especially as I can't remember who I left then with) I joined the knit and natter group in Zahora (the men call it “stitch and bitch”) and had to go out and buy some. I also love sewing but had the sense to bring a sewing box with me. I also paint and have done quite a lot since we have been away. I know people that do cross-stitch and jewellery making. If it's raining or you don't want to watch a film its nice to have an alternative.
I know Phil has harmlessly poked fun at some campers inactivity. And its quite true, some seem super-glued to their loungers. A little physical activity, just 45 minutes a day, is important and more so as you get older. We try to walk, cycle or swim each day. I know Phil has reported on some of our walking and cycling mishaps (I prefer to call them adventures. Ed) Ok then, well its fair to say we have been lost in some beautiful areas.
Well I hope you found some of that helpful and intersting, happy planning.