At Motoroaming HQ we are finally coming to the end of our first official Schengen Sentence. After 84 days in Europe through the winter 2021/22, we returned to the UK to tread water until we were able to step back into the Zone. The period from 21st February until the end of May has taught us so much about how navigate this ‘sentence’ (said of course tongue in cheek). Such have been our revelations during this time that we wanted to share our lessons about how to make the most of this period, based on our experiences.
Irrespective of your views of Brexit, we have it, fair and square; now we must navigate it positively in a way that meets all our travel needs and personal requirements. There’s no doubting for those of us who have been used to roaming freely across Europe, navigating the Schengen has had an impact on all our travels.
As with all aspects of life, how we deal with our challenges is driven by the mindset we adopt when managing these changes. We can moan all we like, although these new rules are here to stay and so if we ‘bend with the wind’ we can learn a new way of travelling that creates a ‘new normal’.
We have talked to so many people over the last six months and there’s no doubting that the prospect of coming back to the UK for long periods is faced with a dose of dread. As a result we have found many like-minded souls trying to string out their stay in Europe for as long as possible. Often we saw people choosing to bomb it back to the nearest ferry to maximise their time, some having issues with breakdowns that took them to the edge of their allowance, placing all manner of stress on their lives.
It’s worth adding at this point that we all adopt our own strategies for making the most of our travel time, especially if we are full-time; so there is no judgement being made here. We are, after all, all doing our best with what we have available to us. There is no right or wrong way – just our own way.
As I reflect back to our return in February, I remember we stepped upon our English shores with heavy hearts. We knew that, for at least the next 90 days, we would need to manage our time in the UK otherwise it could feel as long as a winter’s night. We knew instantly that exploring ways to make this period productive and deal with our itchy feet would be a really constructive conversation to have. So having now experienced our first Schengen Sentence, we wanted to share our thoughts, reflections and tips, given we are all in the same boat.
10 Tips for Navigating our Schengen Sentence
1. Hold back some of your 90 days
When we started talking about our approach to the Schengen Shuffle, we decided our strategy would be not to use all our 90 days. We wanted to have a buffer to make allowance for any unexpected events. So we choose to save some days in case we break down (which we have a tendency to do) or we needed to get back in hurry. And bizarrely this strategy has really helped us navigate our Schengen Sentence, albeit by default.
This year we ended up having 6 days spare from our winter trip. This enabled us to use these days for a surprise visit to Paris for my mum’s 80th Birthday. Whilst we considered ourselves lucky to have had these extra days, in fact it will now form the basis of our travel strategy catering for our UK lay-over. That break away to foreign shores was great to give us a bit of a European fix, which has proved to be a priceless lesson. Whether it is a City-break for a long weekend or a quick week in the sun somewhere, having enough days to facilitate that break away that could be a god-send during our time back in the UK.
2. Book things up ahead of your return to the UK
Psychologists and Life Coaches agree that to have something to look forward to every 13 weeks is important for our well-being. I think for us wanderlusters, we need something more frequently than that.
Whilst we were in Portugal, three weeks before our winter trip ended, we began making plans for our 90 days sentence in our homeland. Those plans included a surprise Birthday trip to see my bestie on the Isle of Man, family gatherings to reconnect with loved ones and even practical appointments like Motorhome service, MOT and Dentists. We also took the opportunity to do different things to mark events such as Mother’s Day and Birthdays. This certainly made our time back in the UK more wholesome rather than simply ‘sitting out our time’ before our pass to freedom was released. It gave us a purpose, made life more pleasurable and allowed us to do things that added value to our lives. After all life is just too damned short.
3. Build in a European non-Schengen or long-haul visit
We’ve talked a lot about the Schengen Shuffle and how to maximise our travel time outside of the UK. And there’s absolutely no reason why this couldn’t work in our favour during our Schengen Sentence too. So why not consider a week to Croatia whilst they finalise their Schengen membership? At the time of writing, they are a non-Schengen option and will be until 2024. So that is a very viable option that has no impact on our allowance. What about Cyprus? They too are outside of Schengen for the moment; same with Morocco, Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria. We’re not suggesting taking the van; we are saying – why not fly for a bit of a holiday? If funds allow why not go further afield for an adventure? This will certainly be on our agenda for future years as we look to take advantage of what Brexit offers.
4. Put your van in storage and have a staycation
If like us you are full-time then some of the options above might seem a bit more tricky to navigate. After all what do we do with our van? Often our insurance small print says that we are not allowed more than 48 hours away from the van, so that can add a very real complication. Our Comfort Policy though does say that we can store the van in a CaSSOA Gold standard Site, so that is what we did. We found Cadeside Storage and Campsite in Wellington, Somerset, that allows members of the Caravan and Motorhome Club to store their van safely and compliantly. So we took advantage of this and on two separate occasions stored Scoobie for just £50 per week. There is also a monthly charge if you wanted to go away for longer.
This has been revolutionary for us and will absolutely feature in future Schengen Sentence periods. It has also confirmed our need to ensure we keep up with our C&MC membership fee. This storage facility allowed us to book up an AirBnB in the Roseland Peninsula, a part of Cornwall that we don’t know and would never dream of taking Scoobie to – and it was an amazing retreat.
5. Tour the UK and Ireland
I think Brexit offers us a huge opportunity to explore our own country. And whilst we may prefer the balmy weather and cheaper lifestyle across the Channel, our homeland has some terrific sights to see. Whilst we didn’t do much exploring during this particular period, 2021 saw us explore areas that were brand new to us. Essex, what a joy that county is. Scotland – goes without saying, especially Dumfries and Galloway. And then there’s Wales with its hidden gems. Of course the weather is not guaranteed yet having seen some of the Spanish forecasts this spring, sunshine is never a banker.
As part of our 2022 advantures, we are heading over to Ireland, both north and south. Neither of these countries contribute to our Schengen allowance so we are totally free to roam here either as part of a longer road-trip or as a way to break up your Schengen Sentence. You can sail with Stena Lines from Liverpool, Holyhead or Fishguard. Or why not take the opportunity to visit the Isle of Man, sailing from Liverpool or Heysham. Whilst the ferries are not cheap, if you go for long enough, then the cost is no more than hard hitting than our diesel costs.
6. Buy a little run around car (if you don’t already have one)
Whilst I would much rather ride alongside my travel buddy in the van, having our little runaround car that we bought during Covid, has been a priceless resource for us; even though we have to travel in convoy. Finding little campsites tucked away in the countryside has allowed us to still roam and reach appointments having the car by our side. Granted this comes with additional complications when you come to return to the Schengen Zone again. Although we have found a campsite who will store the car for us for £30 per month and of course we can SORN it and don’t have to pay out for insurance whilst we are away. So we will just built it into our monthly budgeting.
7. Get your DIY jobs done
As we reflect back on our 6 years of travel, we have found that whilst on the road, we rarely have much time to do practical ‘stuff’. You know things like clean the roof, bash the carpets and fix things that have rattled and rolled on the roads through Europe. The one thing about living or travelling in a van is that there is always something to mend – or so it seems to us. It is true that our travel lifestyle means that sometimes we need to stop to do our jobs, and so having time in the UK to be still and address our little niggles has been so productive. Having access to DIY shops and places that fulfil your creativity is great and gives your van a whole new personality, ready for your next trip.
When we see that this period can serve a positive purpose, then it helps us navigate the time with a healthier mindset.
8. Start to plan your next Schengen trip
Talking about your next trip, use this homeland time to look forward; to dream, plan and organise. It keeps your wanderlust satiated and gives you something to work towards. This has certainly been true for us. Planning our next 10 months out has been a really good focus, especially given that it needs a bit more thinking through these days. I have really enjoyed finding places to visit when we head over to Ireland. Going through Pinterest and joining new Facebook groups to collect ideas keeps the excitement going. Whilst I am an advocate of being grounded in the here and now, having half an eye on the immediate future is also healthy, especially when you are trying to navigate being in a place where you might find yourself stuck.
9. Find new places to visit and some ‘go to’ stopovers
Whilst we have focused our time and location on the M5 corridor, we have also tried to mix up our ‘homes’. We’ve balanced going to CL’s that we love for their location, walks and accessibility to the motorway. Also we have relished finding new spots that are so easy to bypass keeping our sense of exploration alive.
We loved our Orchard Farm Campsite and Glamping Pods near Glastonbury for a Mother’s Day surprise; being on the Somerset Levels exploring the Nature Reserves; finding a lovely wild spot at Dunkeswell Aerodrome and enjoying Broadhembry in Devon. We have a go-to site in Hereford in the middle of the countryside at Holme Lacey and love our Golf Centre retreat at Cleveland. We have indulged ourselves in days out finding new hidey holes at Frampton on Severn and Otterton Mill down in Budleigh Salterton.
When we reflect back it’s been quite a rich set of experiences that are all too easy to miss waiting impatiently for our new 90 day allowance to begin.
Avoid places that just make you feel uncomfortable for whatever reason. It’s important to feel at home whilst we navigate this period. We’ve chosen mostly CL’s with hardstanding to avoid sinking and which enable us to manage our UK budget, which is invariably more expensive than on the continent, where we wild camp a lot more. Also it is worth keeping a mindful eye on Bank and School Holidays as advanced booking may be required. We got caught out during the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
10. Do things that make you feel good
Life is always about balance and when you find yourself in a place that feels less than appealing, it is important to nurture your physical and mental well-being. So dig deep and focus on what motivates you, makes you feel fit and healthy and that pleases you. Whether that might be finding a yoga class, doing some daily walking, eating nice meals or engaging in a hobby that you love. Or perhaps do things that you wouldn’t normally have time for when you’re out travelling. Treat yourself to meetings with friends, or making connections with people you’ve met on the road. Anything that gives you a focus, makes you feel good and inspires you. All these important little wins will help you manage any sadness you feel not being able to travel in the way you really want to.
Whist we would undoubtedly prefer to be in Europe full-time (minus the MOT of course), that is not possible right now. So this time back in the UK has been revolutionary for us and has given us a new perspective of how we can travel differently. Small adjustments to the way we manage our non-Schengen time will help make a happy life rather than one peppered with irritation and longing. Life is short and finding ways to adopt a healthy approach to our challenges is key to our happiness.
So we hope that sharing our experiences from the last three months might give you something to think about with your travels. We would also love to hear from you if you have other ideas to add to this list. How have you managed your Schengen Sentence that we can share with others? Please feel free to add comments below or comment on our Facebook Page.
Here’s to a healthy, happy and heavenly travel experiences, home and abroad.
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