Driving through Europe during the Covid-19 pandemic

I’ve been on the A4 road north of Paris many times, but I’ve never seen it so void of people and cars. I had to drive from Frankfurt to the UK just as France not only closed it’s borders, but also wants people to stay at home to help curb the spread of the Corona virus.

As such I had to explain several times to police I’m heading “home” and need to get to Calais. Luckily the motorhome has a GB registration. Scenes along the way looked like a typical “the world has ended” movie… Deserted shops, empty streets and only trucks, motorhomes, ambulances and on a very morbid note, noticeably more undertaker vehicles on the highway. The ferry I’m on now is virtually empty, only truckers and two other cars.

An empty ferry

This thing is serious and apart from the tragic loss of life, can we even begin to understand the economic impact? We are in unprecedented times.

There is though silver linings. People around me are genuinely more friendly, smiling, asking how you are. People are holding doors open (with their feet!) and in general, being nice.

For me, later today I’ll be reunited with my dog Olli who had to stay behind in the UK whilst I went on a long work trip to Qatar and South Africa. I’m picking him up and the heading to the big farmhouse near Cambridge we rented for our company team meetup, that has now been cancelled. I’m looking forward to the solitude of that and being able to catch up with Olli!

Stay safe but more importantly be kind to others. Together we’ll get through this thing.

Road test – Winter in Southern Spain and Portugal

I finally managed to escape the cold England grip in early December and set off as far South in Spain as I could go. I met up with my Dutch friends Erik and Joke – who travel in a humongous motorhome – and we toured down to Malaga in Spain together, seeing more and more sun the further south we went.

A motorhome parking spot in San Sebastian, North Spain

It gave me a chance to take the new Rayquaza for a proper test drive and test out not only how she drives, but also what my substantial investment in solar and lithium is giving me, and how that is going to help with wild camping (where you don’t have access to an elecrical hookup).

For most of the trip we simply “wild camped”, eg no access to an electrical hookup.

In short, she performs brilliantly. Only this week – 6 weeks after I left – did I hook up to an eletrical plug at a campsite, and only because it was there. I’ve been free/wild camping till now and my only slight gripe is I wish I had more water onboard. The tank is a stated 120 litres, but that can go quite quickly, especially if one uses the shower. Luckily, water is not too difficult to find, I tend to ask at petrol stations after I filled up on diesel, if they’d mind I hook up to a tap outside and fill up.

There were a few other snags, like a small leak in my water tank access hatch or an led light not working, but nothing major and easily fixable stuff to deal with.

I also figured out whilst I can have the 230v on all the time, I can’t really run the fride on the mains if I had a couple of cloudy days – at some stage the drain just becomes too much. That is easily solved though by simply running the fridge on gas overnight, and on power in the daytime, especially if it’s sunny.

The Viktron inverter/charger combi I got installed (the thing that manages all the power flow and turns 12v battery power into mains power) is an incredible piece of kit, and having mains power at all times / when I need it without having to faff about with a separate inverter etc is just superb.

The back bedroom area

Everything about the new motorhome feels so new, fresh and nice to use it’s only a pleasure.

.. And notice my South African flower themed cushions, thanks Ma Adri!

I’m still a bit skeptical about the longevity of some of the interior fittings (e.g. drawer closing brackets etc) but so far, so good. The new 4g / 5g antenna I had put in also performs extremely well and so does my cross-EU Vodafone package with unlimited Netflix and Amazon Prime streaming – perfect!

On a personal front, I had my mother, Adri, join me for a tour from Malaga to the border on Spain in Ayamonte, where my older brother lives, and we got to spend Christmas together.

Again with the new motorhome having a large guest bed in the front is a winner and the ability to seperate the two sleeping areas, and provide privacy in the bathroom space worked really well. This is a super motorhome!

With the holiday season long gone and my mother back to South Africa, I returned to the nomadic working lifestyle again, and settled down in spots I liked in the week, so I can work, whilst traveling mostly on the weekends.

Motorhome parking spot in the marina of Ayamonte, Spain

This week I joined up again with Joke and Erik, who are also still in the area. We spent the week at a remote campsite just south of Lisbon but now we’re back in the south again and I’m likely to return to what is becoming a favourite spot, the motorhome parking in the marina of Ayamonte. It is superbly located, with views onto the boats and then the town, and its quiet at night whilst easy to walk into town and enjoy a range of choice for food and drinks.

At some stage I need to start heading North again, as I need to be in the UK late Feb, but for now Olli and I are clinging on to as many days in the warmer sunnier climate of South Spain as we can get.

Importing a motorhome to the UK from Germany

After sound advice to shop for my new motorhome (which I wanted to be left hand drive) amongst German dealers late August, when good deals are to be had, I found the motorhome I wanted with a dealer in Mannheim, and took on the task of importing it to the UK myself.

Whilst I’m hoping this will serve as a guide for anyone else wanting to do the same, the impeding Brexit and how the UK might exit from the EU will certainly impact some of the processes I undertook, but maybe not that much, since it seems the UK government will continue to recognise the EU standards and vice versa, for some time to come.

I also followed this post where the author detailed their steps, though that was for a new motorhome where it was marginally different for some steps.

Your steps should be:

  • Order a vehicle import pack from the DVLA
  • Buy the vehicle you want from a dealer, tell them you need to export it
  • They will arrange for export plates to be fitted close to your pick-up date. You have to tell them to which country you’re exporting
  • Whilst they will arrange insurance for a short time (2 weeks to a month), it will only be 3rd party. I managed to convince my insurer (arranged via Staveley Head) to give me full insurance on the VIN number from collection day
  • Collect the vehicle, do a PROPER inspection
  • Make sure you have the ORIGINAL registration and certificate of conformity documents
  • An invoice with your UK address clearly showing how much you paid, and that you’ve paid VAT. It MUST show the dealer’s VAT number
  • Drive to the UK, and head straight to an MOT test centre where they need to confirm the headlights have been adjusted, the speedo is in both MPH and KPH and the foglights at the back are either dual or there’s one, on the off side. Most never motorhomes and cars now have dual rear fog lights.
  • Submit your NOVA (HMRC), online. You need a UK GOV login for this (same one you use for your tax and other GOV stuff)
  • Submit your application to DVSA for the technical comformity confirmation. Mine came back within a week.
  • Submit your V55/5 application to DVLA to get the V5C. This took about two anxious weeks of waiting. You can’t really phone them about this either …

Tips / things to look out for:

VAT Payment: The UK government views a vehicle as used provided it is more than 6 months old (since first registration) AND it has done more than 6 000km. This is important for the VAT payment. Ideally, you’ve paid the VAT with the German dealer, and then the UK goverment will view VAT as paid. The exact conditions are:

  • VAT has already been paid in any EU country including the UK
  • the vehicle has been in use for more than 6 months
  • the vehicle has done more that 6,000km (about 3,728 miles)

In my case this was a bit tricky since the vehicle was first registered in May 2019, and I was doing the import in late October, one month away from 6 months. So the initial NOVA submission suggested I had to pay VAT again, and claim the German VAT back from the German government. I did not rate my chances of success on this very high, and I phoned HMRC, gave them my NOVA reference and had them confirm to me that yes indeed, VAT is due. My heart sank a bit but when I said the vehicle had 12 500 miles on it, and was rented out in the summer, she told me to wait a minute or so, and I could hear her typing away on her keyboard. A minute or two later she said “all done, no VAT is due now”! I did not expect that! She basically said common sense prevails and it’s clear the vehicle is not new. Wow. A lot of pain, paperwork and so forth avoided there, in a simple call.

Again with Brexit I would think the VAT payment will change, but all it will mean is you WON’T pay the VAT in Germany, but will upon import into the UK.

MOT test station paperwork for DVSA: It’s very important you get this bit right. My local MOT test station was very co-operative, and they performed the headlight adjustment and checks, and then on the invoice wrote the following (copied from that original post I referenced):

Reference: Inspection of motorhome, chassis number (enter your chassis number here)

We have today inspected the motorhome as described above and confirm that:

1) The vehicle has rear fog lights fitted as standard to both the left and right hand side of the rear of the vehicle

2) The headlights fitted to the vehicle are left dipping headlights. As such, there comply with the requirements of the UK. (We are advised that this was done by the German motorhome dealer)

3) The speedometer within the vehicle is dual marked. Primarily in miles per hour and also in kilometres per hour”.

Note – the invoice MUST itself comply with certain criteria, the exact detail is contained within this link), then I was able to apply for “type approval” for the motorhome. This involves completing the VCA paperwork and paying a £100 fee. If you are in a hurry, you will probably wish to avoid the “pay by cheque” option and use postal orders or a credit card instead.

Speedometer: For the DVSA, your speedometer must show at least MPH but ideally also KPH (kilometers per hour) if you’re planning on using the motorhome in Europe. By default a German motorhome, likely on a Fiat chassis, will only show KPH. Don’t stress about this – contact Lockwood International and discuss your motorhome with them, they are excellent in knowing what to send you. Also, their guides are brilliant and it really took less then 10 minutes for me to replace the speedometer face, despite me being very worried about this.

It’s not as bad as it looks

A tip: I used cooking / surgical gloves in this process to avoid getting fingerprint smudge marks on the dials and faceplate etc.

The DVSA step to get a UK vehicle approval certificate issued was easy enough, took less than a week to get back, but the most complicated one was the V55/5. This form is a nightmare and you might ask your friendly mechanic/MOT engineer to assist you here. However, you can leave certain boxes blank if you’re not sure of the answer (rather than filling in the wrong answer) as the DVLA can pick up the blanks from the original conformity documents, it seems.

Posting of original documents: Be aware that the DVSA and the DVLA will require the original documents (e.g. original certificate of conformity etc). They do send these back, of course. I read some online postings of things going missing whilst en-route to DVLA etc, so I made colour scans of all my documents and kept them all together in a backed up folder on my computer, just in case. Also, send these things signed for and keep the post office proof of postage slip.

Why import? I probably should have started with this but I was keen to get a left hand drive motorhome, as I will be doing most of my touring on the continent. I might even take this motorhome to the US at some stage. The biggest consideration for me was potential cost savings, which I did achieve firstly with a reduction in the sale price as I was buying ex-rental / ex-showroom stock late August using the mobile.de site (excellent), and since I avoided a UK dealer mark-up on left hand drive models. Obviously if you’re after a right hand drive model, you’ll be buying from a UK dealer.

It can be a bit stressful and you obviously need to have the time available to do this, including the going there, driving it back etc and doing all the bits mentioned above – but if you do, the savings can be immense – I estimate in total I saved about 20 to 25% of what I would have paid a UK dealer, and I have a 2019 registered UK plated motorhome now. The process took less than a month, though I was at the MOT garage on the same day as I arrived into the UK, to make sure I get this done as soon as I could. In the meantime my insurer reminder me from time to time to let them know of the new registration – they gave me 1 month to do this in, which I just about made. I’m not sure what would have happened with my insurance if it took longer! However, I’m happy I did this and I’m thoroughly enjoying my new motorhome. So, I’m off to Spain for the rest of the winter soon!

Setting up the new home

The new motorhome is really just amazing – here she is:

Whilst I’m dealing with all the paperwork to get the import process finished (and I’ll write about this process in a dedicated post soon) I’ve had to make decisions such as two single beds at the bed, or one big bed etc. Olli loves the new motorhome as well! It certainly is warmer and quieter inside, and feels very luxurious.

I even had a visitor test out the front double guest bed – and it got a big thumbs up.

Most of the paperwork has been done and I’m now waiting, fingers crossed, for the UK registration to come through. I am also due to have the solar, lithium, 4g router and antenna as well as an underslung LPG tank installed which will see me in Devon for most of next week. Then she’ll be able to be mostly off-grid whilst still supplying power…I’ll document this as well and write a post about this, soon.

I hope to finish the “moving” in process soon so I can see what I need to get rid of or leave behind .. I’m quite keen to only put back in this motorhome what I’ll actually use – but with her massive garage it’s not that easy!

Homeless without Rayquaza

Today I handed over my home for the last three years, my motorhome Rayquaza, to the new buyers. Whilst I’m very happy she went to a young, enthusiatic and absolutely lovely couple who want to make her their new home, I’m quite sad now!

She looked after me well, and took me from Denmark to Turkey without moaning, ever.

Here’s to you Rayquaza, may you bring your owners the same joy you gave me.

Now for the next big step, getting my new motorhome! I’m expecting to go collect on 21 October in Germany and to be honest, till now I’ve not thought about that much but now I’m getting very excited!

Getting a feel for the new home

So as I’m preparing to sell my current motorhome, Rayquaza, I stopped at the motorhome show in Dusseldorf on the way to the UK. It’s an insanely big event (the world’s largest motorhome show) but exceptionally well organised.

I went to see the dealer who is selling me the new motorhome and also, to physically see a model similar to the one I’m buying, as I’ve never actually seen it in person.

I was not disappointed. Wow, this is going to be one massive upgrade. Everything feels just so fresh, new and spacious!

This is the size of the garage! I’m sitting in it and it still has a ton of space. What is especially good is that it has two big doors on either side.

I was concerned the two beds at the back might be too small as individual beds, but they are not, I tried them!

I really like the fact I can sleep like this and not require a ladder to get up and down.

The new motorhome (a Burstner Ixeo 728) is a “integrated” model meaning the front is as wide as the body. I was a bit worried about the new steering position but I tried it out and wow, this thing is going to be a dream to drive!

I also went to see some suppliers of solar and lithium and got some ideas on how to always have 230v available, and I’m going to see if I can squeeze this into the destroyed budget.

Exciting times ahead!

Updating RayQuaza

My motorhome, named RayQuaza, will be 12 years old next year. For most motorhomes, that is not too old but for one in which you live full-time, it’s perhaps time to be replaced. It’s still a great motorhome for occasional use and I hope to find a good buyer for her! (and if you know of anyone, let me know…)

So the big question of course was, which motorhome to get? I have a specific list of “must-haves” and then some optional nice-to-haves, and then of course there was the budget. The latter quickly went out the window (!) but I’ll make it work, somehow. I have saved a tremendous amount of money the last 2-3 years living full-time in a motorhome and I have worked out I can part-finance a new one and have it all paid off relatively soon, whilst still saving plenty of money. Ideally my new one will last me at least 10 years, so as an “investment” it’s actually pretty good.

Initially I had my heart set on a Hymer – lovely German motorhomes, but terribly expensive. Then at the campsite I’m now I got some really good advice from a fellow (German) nomad, Ulli, who told me to approach German dealers wanting to get right of demo and rental stock in the September / October period. He was right – there were loads of stock that was relatively new with low mileage, discounted by about 25% off the retail price, and packaged with extras like awning, sattelite TV etc.

And so I saw and fell in love with a Bürstner model “Ixeo”, initially a smaller one (same size as current motorhome) but then I saw the (even more expensive….bye bye budget) longer version at 7.49m which gave me a type of “en-suite” bathroom at the back with a seperate shower. I really like this as it gives you more privacy, it’s safer if parked at night not in a campsite, as you have an extra door between you and the outside and so on.

This is the view from the bed at the back with the toilet door closing off the passage.

I also really like the fact there is a seperate shower with air vent and hanging rail – perfect for wet clothes, towels etc and not in the way of the toilet.

Overall what attrached me most to this motorhome (Ixeo I 728 G) was the light colour scheme, and the fact the body has no wood in it (so a lower risk from damp) and the XPS frame which improves it’s resistance to hail damage. She also has a double floor (great for insulation) and the water tanks are in there as well, meaning they are well protected from the cold. The split beds at the back can be made into a huge queen bed, and there is a big drop-down bed in the front. So if you wanted to visit …. now there’s space!

Overall, she’s just super beautiful and quite perfect! I have a lot to do before I can get her (late October) from the dealer in Germany, including upgrading my driving license which I will do in the UK in September, as this motorhome has a max permissible weight of 3 850kg, whilst a “normal” license allows you to drive a vehicle to 3 500kg. But it does mean she can take about 650kg in extra weight, which could mean I don’t have to use a trailer.

I am also keeping a close eye on the outcome of Brexit, especially in a no-deal scenario, as if that happens I will consider registering this motorhome in an EU country in order to avoid disruption at borders or limitations on my allowable stay. Bulgaria is the likely option since I already have residency there.

So I’m very excited at the prospect of getting RayQuaza II – it’s more than a dream come true, and a long long way from my first fold-open small trailer tent I started with!