Lessons we learned

We learned a number of lessons during our travels.  Unfortunately we weren’t very good at retaining that information and as a result we often repeated our mistakes.

One such experience we intended sticking to but occasionally talked ourselves out of (to our cost) was to ALWAYS empty the grey water tank and the toilet cassette and refill the freshwater tank with water whenever you have a chance because you never know when you’ll be able to do it again.  On a few occasions we thought we’d wait until the next aire only to discover for one reason or another there weren’t the facilities to do that, which was unnecessarily stressful.

NEVER put your full toilet cassette under the van ready to empty the next morning…..you’ll drive over it!

May 2017 http://hartfree-bright.co.uk/may-2017-england/

We stayed overnight in our van at Charmill Cottage Campsite CL in West Sussex, the field was nestled at the bottom of the South Downs, it was a beautiful, quiet spot. Unfortunately we did have a bit of an expensive mishap as we were leaving.  Before we’d gone to bed Darren had changed the toilet cassette and because it was dark outside and we were parked on the opposite side of the field to the elsen unbeknown to me he’d popped it under the van so no one would trip over it in the dark.

In the morning we did all our checks and Darren started to drive off, we were surprised at how bumpy it was until it suddenly dawned on Darren that we’d just driven over the cassette!  Yuk!  Poor Darren had to scrape up the mess the best he could and take it over to the elsen to clean everything up.  That was bad enough but knowing we’d have to buy a replacement was rather galling!

My family did have a good old laugh at our expense when we arrived for breakfast and related the story to them (the perfect story to tell at the breakfast table!)


DO NOT leave your roof light fully open and the blind fully closed overnight in case it rains!

4th September.  Neukloster, Germany http://hartfree-bright.co.uk/4th-september-neukloster-germany/

We learned another lesson this morning when Darren opened the blind on the roof light and water poured all over him!

Unplug your electric cable BEFORE driving off

February 2016.  Getting goodies on the van http://hartfree-bright.co.uk/february-2016-getting-goodies-on-the-van/

The staff at Van Bitz were also very good at their job and they made us feel very welcome on their site.

This trip furnished us with yet another lesson, it’s now ingrained in our brains that we MUST remember to unplug the electric cable when we leave the site, luckily we remembered that gem JUST as we started to drive off.

We learned MANY lessons on our first trip out in the van but unfortunately we almost immediately forgot them again!

Where NOT to stop for a cup of tea.

Take what your SAT NAV tells you with a pinch of salt (that one definitely didn’t sink in!).

Take great care when reversing on to your pitch, it’s not the done thing to churn up the grass.

Check all the cupboard doors are closed before you set off (another one we forgot numerous times).

Always refer to a check list before you set off, we never did and it led to a lot of unnecessary excitement on many occasions.

Read road signs carefully, don’t react in panic, it will only end up causing you a lot of grief.

January 2015.  Our first trip in Van http://hartfree-bright.co.uk/december-2015-our-trip-in-the-van/

  1. It’s not a good idea to stop in a lay-by for a cup of tea if it’s right beside a busy main road because it’s like being in a boat on a choppy sea as the vehicles whistle past and you end up WEARING most of your tea.
  2. Not to believe the special motorhome SAT NAV (even though it has the van length and weight programmed in) because it still unnecessarily takes you through the centre of town (Falmouth) in the rush hour, down extremely narrow roads and then tries to send you down a CUL-DE-SAC.  Darren was getting wise to it by then and ignored the SAT NAV because, as he pointed out at the time, a cul-de-sac is a DEAD END and funnily enough when we got to the entrance of the campsite, on the opposite side of the road we could see the end of the cul-de-sac the SAT NAV had tried to direct us down and there were staggered metal barriers across it AND cars parked on both sides of the narrow street!
  3. We also learned that the campsite owner at Menehay Farm, Falmouth was very patient when Darren reversed the van onto our pitch, missed the hard standing and churned up the grass, the owner very kindly directed him onto the pitch properly and did it without shouting at him.
  4. We discovered that you must check that all the doors are closed before you set off on a journey. That lesson was learned when we were on our way to The Eden Project and we heard a banging sound and noticed a cupboard door opening and closing as we drove along. That was slightly irritating but then our irritation turned to horror as we noticed the microwave oven was inching forward on the shelf, the slamming door was stopping it from falling out until the plug got caught in the door which gave the microwave oven the opportunity to start sliding even further forward, we were on a very busy road but luckily at that moment we came to a trading estate so Darren turned into the estate and I rushed to push the teetering microwave back into the cupboard and check that the door was closed this time.
  5. As we continued on to The Eden Project we discovered that it’s a good idea to read signs carefully rather than react in a panic, we weren’t sure which road we were supposed to take to get there and we followed the first sign we saw which took us through teeny little country lanes, we discovered when we left The Eden Project and followed the correct signs that there is a big road that runs to and from the attraction!

If we’d remembered NOT to always believe our SAT NAV we’d have saved ourselves lots of stress.  See SAT NAV Hiccup   http://hartfree-bright.co.uk/strange-things-our-sat-nav-started-doing/ 

After every occasion that it did something weird we’d say we really must check a map before we set off so that we know whether the SAT NAV is mucking us around BUT we never did and it got us almost every time.

If you hear something break stop as soon as you can, it takes so much more time to clean up otherwise.

30th August 2018.  Derby, UK   http://hartfree-bright.co.uk/30th-august-2018-derby-uk/

Darren had made a hanger for our wine glasses but having used it for a very long time the elastic eventually stopped springing back properly.  We kept intending to replace the elastic but never got around to it.

On our way up to Derby, we were almost there when a wine glass bounced out of the holder and smashed on the worktop but instead of stopping immediately and clearing it up we carried on driving until it fell off the worktop and shattered into even more pieces all over the floor then we decided to clear it up and it took ages.

On many occasions at the beginning of our tour whilst running through our check list (which I never read, hence the memory lapse) I forgot to check that the fridge door was locked!  That is never a good thing, we were usually driving round a bend when the door would swing open with a bang and I’d turn round to see food rolling across the floor.  It’s surprising just how far food can roll.

On another occasion we checked that everything was locked in place only to be waved down as we were leaving the aire.  The kind person had stopped us because we’d forgotten to close the roof light and it was acting like a tiny sail!

Make sure your roof lights are completely closed and fastened securely.  Whilst driving down the motorway our large roof light started wobbling up and down dramatically because I hadn’t locked it.  We thought it was going to get ripped off!

Forgetting to close the roof light was quite entertaining for me one morning.  We’d closed the blinds and gone to sleep and in the morning as Darren reached up and pulled the blind back he received an unexpected early morning shower!  Who knew the blinds were waterproof!  It had rained in the night and left a hefty puddle waiting to drown  my unsuspecting husband.

Empty your bin every day.

5th July.  Journey to Stockholm http://hartfree-bright.co.uk/5th-july-journey-to-stockholm-sweden/

We had breakfast watching some rabbits hopping around (I wasn’t expecting to see that in a city) and then I had the unfortunate experience of seeing something else hopping and it definitely wasn’t cute and fluffy like the rabbit.  It was a maggot wriggling around in the sink and when I went to remove it it sprung up in the air!

I had no idea they could do that.  I couldn’t work out where it could possibly have come from until I spied another one making a break for it through the hole in the lid of the bin.  That’s when we decided that we were not to put anything other than packaging in the large bin and that the little bin needed to be emptied every day, no more maggots, eeeurk!

Beware of steep hills covered in wet grass, motorhomes DON’T like them.

24th August. Ullared, Mölle & Malmo, Sweden  http://hartfree-bright.co.uk/24th-august-ullared-molle-malmo-sweden/

Unfortunately a short way down the lane was another signpost saying there was a hill with a gradient of 19% going down to the beach so Darren turned the van around on the grass and started to go back the way we’d just come.   I asked him whether we could park at the side off the road, he wasn’t too keen but reversed back off the road for me and the tyres started slipping on the wet grass until we were much further down the parking area than we’d anticipated, I think we both thought we would be spending the rest of our trip stuck in a woodland car park!  Somehow Darren managed to get the van back on to the road, funnily enough I wasn’t very popular!

Following on with that theme, DON’T drive up a steep, cobbled, lane when it’s raining.

21st March.  Castelo de Monsaraz, Portugal  http://hartfree-bright.co.uk/21st-march-castelo-de-monsaraz-portugal/

Unfortunately as we neared the castle, which we could see perched up on a hill, it started raining.  We didn’t give it much thought and carried on towards our destination.  At the bottom of the steep driveway we noticed a large motorhome come round the roundabout and go over and park in the car park on the level we were at.  I suggested to Darren that there might be a reason for that and maybe we should follow suit for the time being but he was keen to go up to the top which we started to do.

I have never been so terrified in all my life!  Steep hills, cobbles, water and a heavy motorhome DO NOT mix well.  As we got up the first slope we came to a right hand bend at the beginning of the second slope which had a big camber and remembering yesterday’s runaway wheel fiasco Darren tried to swing the van wide to miss it trying hard not to hit the castle wall in the process, however the van didn’t like that and the engine cut out making the van slip backwards a bit.  When he started the engine again the tyres couldn’t get a grip and they just kept spinning.  This happened a few times and in the meantime Darren had to try to manoeuvre the van backwards on to the lower slope (the wall of which was only about 600 mm high) whilst trying to gain traction.  I was shaking with fear by the time we eventually got to the top, I’m very proud of him for keeping his cool.

You can always move on at a moment’s notice if you discover your location isn’t suitable.

22nd July Evenes   http://hartfree-bright.co.uk/22nd-july-evenes-norway/

Later in the evening around 9.30 p.m. there was a lot of racket from outside the hotel, teenagers throwing cans in and out of bedroom windows, shouting and generally being very noisy.  At 10 p.m. we decided we would probably never get any sleep so made the decision to move on, which is fine when it’s daylight all night!  It’s taken us a while to realise this but having a motorhome is brilliant, if the location doesn’t suit just move on.

Grey water tanks stink!

We read a post that mentioned wiping your dirty crockery and pans with paper BEFORE you wash them because otherwise the grey water tank starts to stink if it was left for a couple of days before emptying.  The stink from our grey water was revolting so we followed that advice and it made a huge difference, it also meant the washing up water didn’t get so dirty so we didn’t need to use as much water to wash up.

We were told that putting half a dishwasher tablet in the tank also helps so we started doing that too.  Unfortunately for us we had discovered just how stinky the tank could get during a very long drive and we made the mistake of opening our front windows.  We thought at first we’d driven past a field where they’d been muck spreading but miles down the road the smell was still there!  We later learned that having the windows open sucks air to the front of the van and we were smelling the drains.  After that we ALWAYS emptied the grey water tank before a long journey.

Don’t leave your radio on overnight.

13th February.  Seville  http://hartfree-bright.co.uk/13th-february-seville-spain/

While Darren was in the shower I could hear a tapping noise and discovered the needle on the rev counter was madly  flicking up and down! I got the camera out to video it so I could show Darren  but the minute I turned it on it stopped doing it.   We couldn’t work out why it was doing that and then forgot about it until an hour later when Darren witnessed it for himself.  For some unknown reason the radio started making a strange whiring noise and while Darren was looking at that the rev counter started flicking about again!  He chose the turn it off turn it on again repair method (luckily) only to discover the battery was completely dead! Weirdly the gauge said the battery was fully charged!

Take a universal tap connector and a few different shaped tap connectors with you, you will need them if you are travelling through many different European countries, we still had to buy a completely different one in Portugal.

8th June Ahus &Tosteberga Hamn  http://hartfree-bright.co.uk/8th-june-tosteberga-hamn/

It was time to leave the farm and on the way out of the yard we stopped for water but the tap was just a valve and bit of pipe, luckily Darren had read that it was a good idea to have a universal adaptor which he still had to force on to the pipe.  The German man who had just been using it pointed to the tap and said to Darren “Scheisse!” which we assume means “Shit!” because it definitely was.

Always either close the door when sitting outside or close the fly screen.

Make sure to securely fasten the door open before you close the fly screen, when the door closes ON the fly screen it’s rather difficult to get it open again without climbing out through the driver’s door and walking round to open it from the outside.

20th December.  Las Marinas  http://hartfree-bright.co.uk/20th-december-las-marinas-spain/

I made an important discovery that evening (important to us at least), am I the only person who doesn’t know that this area is mosquito heaven?!  Ironically earlier on in the day I’d been commenting about how nice it not being bitten by mosquitoes now it was Winter.  So I went out to take photos of the birds and left the van door open, when I came back I stared scratching my legs and then I noticed mosquitoes hitching a ride on them.  For the rest of the evening our new game became “Catch that mossie!” unfortunately it turns out they were far better at eluding capture than we were at annihilating them.

The little blighters are very good at hiding and days later we found them (along with new bites on various parts of our bodies!)

To alleviate the grey water smell we were initially told to pour cheap cola down the plug holes, we were a bit sceptical about pouring sugar into the tank especially when we later heard from another motorhomer about the nest of ants they had living in their motorhome.  Later in our travels we were told to use bicarbonate of soda and hot water instead.  That was far cheaper, not sticky and entertaining too.  After you’ve poured the bicarbonate of soda into the plughole and then poured boiling water on top of that it foams up, I LOVE that part.

2nd December.  Benidorm  http://hartfree-bright.co.uk/2nd-december-benidorm-spain/

As there was plenty of room beside our van at this site we took the opportunity to get the clothes horse out and dump the mattress protector on that to dry before it started stinking.  I was rather embarrassed by the sight of the coke stained protector and hoped no one would see it while it was drying.

However, that hope was not to be fulfilled, as our neighbour came out for a quick chat as we were getting ready to leave and he kindly suggested we move the clothes horse away from our van  and over to the other side of our pitch so that the mattress protector got the sun for longer and so that the birds didn’t poo on it.  Unfortunately we were too late for that and one little blighter had already left his calling card on it!  I felt the need to explain to him WHY it was also covered in stains which turned out to be a good call, he suggested that instead of using coke to clean the plug holes we should pour bicarbonate of soda on them then follow that with boiling water.  He told us it is a much cheaper way of doing it AND it didn’t make a sticky mess.  That was a very useful tip.

Take a very long extension lead for the hook up, some are a long way from your pitch.

20th September.  Rottingen  http://hartfree-bright.co.uk/20th-september-rottingen-germany/

We were a long way from the electric hook up but one of the other motorhomers showed Darren another hook up point nearer us.  I was a bit worried about leaving our electric cable running along the bottom of the steps up to the road in case someone tripped over it so I pushed it as far into the base of the step as I could and held it in place with a rock.  It turns out no one cares and people leave their cables trailing everywhere (it has been SO good on the whole of this trip not to have the Health and Safety police vetting everything, it seems in Europe that people take account of their own actions instead of blaming everyone else if they have an accident, how refreshing).

Items in a cupboard MUST be packed tight.

3rd August. Stopover at Kjerknesvag kai, Norway  http://hartfree-bright.co.uk/3rd-august-stop-over-at-kjerknesvag-kai-norway/  

We left the ställplats but didn’t get far before we were taught a new lesson in motorhoming.  We now know that when you take a jar out of the cupboard you need to pack the space with something or all the other jars will roll around the cupboard making an horrendous din!

Check you’ve turned the mains water off BEFORE you disconnect the hose when filling the water tank.

7th September.  Wismar, Germany  http://hartfree-bright.co.uk/7th-september-wismar-germany/

I learned yet another lesson today.  As we were leaving we filled up with water and emptied everything that needed emptying.  I was keeping an eye on the water tank as it filled.  The water pressure was very strong so it filled up in half the time it usually does and it was suddenly lapping at the lid of the tank so I jumped out, had a panic trying to find the switch to turn the water off in the van, located that and turned it off breathing a sigh of relief.

I then noticed a man hanging around waiting to fill his water tank so I panicked and rushed over to disconnect the hose at the same time as Darren reappeared and started talking to me, consequently I disconnected the hose while the tap was still turned on and got thoroughly sprayed with water for my troubles, water was gushing out of the tap onto the floor and in my sodden state I couldn’t remember which way to turn the tap off!  Darren to the rescue with his “Lefty loosie; Righty tighty” advice (I wouldn’t mind but I had passed on that little rhyme to him so you’d think I would have remembered it wouldn’t you).  We drove away from the site at Neukloster with me sitting in the passenger seat dripping wet and leaving a big puddle by the tap, I hope that the people in their van enjoyed the entertainment, I know we would have if we were in their shoes.

We read a post about washing your motorhome when it rained so you didn’t have to find water to do it.  I was a good tip which I followed AFTER I’d tried washing it the first time in Zwolle with water from the canal.

2nd July.  Ekna, Rottne, Sweden  http://hartfree-bright.co.uk/2nd-july-eka-sweden/

Darren had recently read a tip by a motorhomer, on a motorhome forum, apparently he makes use of a heavy downpour to wash his motorhome.

That seemed quite a sensible idea, considering how hard it had been trying to wash the van with a bucket of water from the canal when we were in Zwolle, so I put my waterproof coat on and got my squeegee and mop out and had a go at cleaning the van.  It worked quite well although I could have done with it raining for about half an hour longer to get it spotless.