The Schengen Shuffle for Motorhome Travellers

The Schengen Shuffle for Motorhome Travellers

Mention the word Schengen to most people and it will be received with a mixture of anger and frustration. We’ve been trying to come to terms with our travel restriction for a few years, although on 1 January 2021 it became real. Irrespective of your Brexit opinions it is here to stay and Schengen rules now apply to us if we want to cross into Europe.
 

We have decided to put pen to paper after seeing far too much confusion on our Motoroamers’ Chat Room in particular. It’s odd, I so thought we had ‘got it’ although one particular post challenged my thinking and got me into a right old panic. So we had two days doing more research, looking for blogs and trying to get clarity. Myles even built a spreadsheet so he could get it clear in his own mind. The one thing that I noticed was there was little by way of blogs relevant to motorhomers looking to extend their stays in Europe. So the culmination of our tears, tantrums and stress is this blog with the specific intention of providing information for those of us who want to do the Schengen Shuffle without risking getting a fine.

 
We realise that it’s a bit of a risk going public as you are so open to criticism although we wouldn’t do it unless we were totally comfortable in our information. So we offer our research, explanations and presentation in an attempt to help you. With examples of how trips might look, we want to give you knowledge and confidence in the Schengen processes. Although please we ask you to do your own calculations relevant to your trips. This blog is just to get us all clear on what we can and can’t do and all the terminology that seems to set out to confuse and get us tearing out our hair.
 
We also acknowledge that although Schengen is a reality for us right now sat in 2021, because of Covid travel restrictions have created a double whammy for us. So few of us as yet have been able to put all this into action. Please refer to the examples as hypothetical as we are currently not allowed to travel anywhere at the moment. (@March/2021). This is how the blog will shape up.
 

What is Schengen and what does it mean for us as motorhomers?

Schengen is the term used to describe the treaty that lead to a passport-free zone that currently covers 26 countries across the European continent. It was created on June 14 1985 resulting in individual countries ending border controls between members. The vision was to build ‘a Europe without borders’ creating a concept of free-movement. Five years later the Schengen agreement was implemented although in reality the policies and rules didn’t come into force until 26 March 1995. After this the Schengen agreement grew with more countries joining the original five members. And now 26 countries are part of the Schengen Area.
 
The essence of Schengen is that within the continent it abolishes border controls and the need for passports to cross from one country into another. This of course is favourable for those countries within the Schengen club. For all other countries outside of the Area, restrictions are imposed to the amount we can travel visa-free through the member countries. This has implications for us as we have now left the EU meaning we become a third nation country. We will be restricted to a 90 day limit in any 180 days. More on this shortly. At borders after leaving the UK, our passage into Schengen will be recorded either electronically and/or via a stamp on our Passport. It means that we will need to plan our trips more carefully to ensure that we don’t overstay our visit to the Schengen. At the moment we don’t have any data to state what the fines would be for exceeding our limit although we need to expect some sort of penalty. It is reported that different countries impose different fines and that won’t become clear for us until we are once again allowed to travel outside of the UK.
 
Currently 62 countries, including the UK  can visit the Schengen zone for business or travel reasons without the requirement of a visa. In order for the Schengen countries to control security there is an electronic application called an ETIAS planned for launch by end of 2022. This ETIAS enables citizens of third countries such as UK to enter Schengen without the need for a visa. So the good news is that we are visa-exempt for entering the Schengen area for up to 90 days. We will provide more information on this when implementation dates are announced. Although for the time being no ETIAS is required for our entry into Schengen.

 

Schengen Terminology made simple

Schengen country – Is a country who has signed up to the Schengen Agreement and thereby allowing freedom of movement across their borders. Visiting each of these countries means that we can only spend 90 days in each rolling 180 day period.

Non-EU Schengen country – There are members of Schengen who are not part of the EU such as Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Lichtenstein although have for economic reasons decided to sign up to the Schengen Agreement. 

Non Schengen country – There are three types of non Schengen countries. The first is Ireland who has opted out of being in Schengen meaning that we can visit without needing a passport or it affecting our 90 day allowance. The second are countries who are part of Europe although who are not part of Schengen such as Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Russia and Ukraine. The third are countries outside of Europe that we are able to access for up to 90 days that include Turkey, Cyprus and Morocco.

Pending Schengen countries – It’s important to set these countries apart from other non-Schengen countries as their membership is currently pending and under review. So Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia are expected to join at some point in the future, although for now we are able to travel around these countries for up to 90 days, without it affecting our Schengen allowance.

Microstate de facto principalities – Aside of all these categories there are also four microstates that are principalities with a small population and few natural resources that whilst in Europe are not in Schengen. They are known as de facto countries and we are able to visit these countries without it affecting our allowance. They are San Marino, Vatican City, Andorra and Monaco.

Third Nation – This is the description used for countries that are outside of the EU. UK is now recognised as a third country following our exit from Europe on 1/1/21.

ETIAS – This is the European Travel Information and Authorisation System. Similar to the system required to enter US, at the back end of 2022 it is expected that we will have to register an Etias prior to entering the Schengen zone. It will cost around €7 per application.

Rolling 180 days – This is one of the key elements of Schengen that is most misunderstood and yet so critical to our plans to Schengen Shuffle. Schengen is like an escalator; always moving, rolling. So not like a calendar where the months are static. The 180 days will move according to when you want to enter and exit from the area and it is a counting back exercise from those dates. I will talk more about this, although see your available time as moving and not static and this will ease your planning pain immensely.

Schengen entry and exit points – These dates are really important to us in getting our allowance accurate. Your entry date is the day you leave the UK (or a non Schengen country) and make your journey to a Schengen country and this counts as DAY 1 of your 90 days. Even if you leave the UK at 6.00pm at night, you must still count this as 1 day in Schengen, irrespective of the hours you have stepped onto Schengen soil. Your exit date is the day leave Schengen and move outside of the zone, either returning back to the UK or moving into a non Schengen country. This is also counted as 1 DAY, irrespective of the time you leave the Schengen area.  

Schengen allowance – This is the second key element that we have to get our heads around. Understanding how our allowance works and more importantly how to calculate days spent in the zone is vital, to both your sanity and your noiseless navigation around Europe. So here we go. We have 90 days available within any 180 day period – as we know from above. We also know that this 180 day period is a moving beast and not static. So every time we enter and exit Schengen we must look behind us to see how many days we have already used up. The way to calculate this is;

You take your proposed exit date from the Schengen zone and count back 180 days to establish how many days you will have spent in the area. So as an example let’s take a trip into Schengen from 17 May 2021 with a proposed exit back to the UK on 16 July 2021. Using that exit date count back 180 days = 17 January 2021. Now you can work out how much of your 90 day allowance you have used up during this period and assess whether this trip therefore is doable. If you have spent too many days in Schengen already, then simply make your proposed exit date earlier.

 

Schengen/Non Schengen Map

Understanding which countries we can and cannot visit is imperative to us as we plan our European road-trips. So hopefully this visual map will help to grasp how to Schengen shuffle. 

 

There are a few points to make on this map; the originator of the map didn’t differentiate Andorra, San Marino, Monaco or the Vatican City I guess because they were too small to annotate. So whilst these for all intents and purposes look like they belong to the Schengen area – they don’t. We can travel here Schengen free and save some days from our allowance. So for skiers this might make Andorra a strong possibility.

Ok, so as you will see from this map, it clearly shows those areas that are defined by the Schengen agreement and allows us to plan where we can and can’t go travel to. So first of all those countries that are purple are currently in the Schengen zone and means that we are restricted to 90 days in our rolling 180 days and so careful planning is required here to avoid any penalties for overstaying our welcome. More on this later.

The blue countries are those who are not in Europe although for economic reasons have decided that being part of the Schengen Agreement is important for their countries. So travel here impacts on our Schengen allowance and must be treated in the same way as the purple countries.

The green areas; the first is Ireland which has opted out of Schengen and the second are those countries currently with their application to Schengen pending. So for now we can travel here without having to use our Schengen allowance. Which is great news.

And finally the grey countries are those that are not part of Schengen and are known as Third Nations. So in theory we can travel here without our Schengen allowance being affected. Clearly we will have unlimited travel through UK and Northern Ireland whilst a trip to Turkey and Morocco will be allowed for up to 90 days. So this has some terrific opportunities for those of us wanting to do the Schengen Shuffle especially during the winter.

 

Schengen Shuffle Scenarios

I think to really bring Schengen to life in a clear and non-scary way, we need to create some scenarios for you that will help you work out how your trips might look. So below we illustrate some options and how to calculate the days so you can dance your way around Europe without risking a Schengen penalty. For each of these scenarios, let’s assume that because of lockdown, none of us have been into the Schengen zone because of our lockdown periods. 

Easy Schengen Trip – Out for 90 and back for 90

The easiest Schengen scenario is where you simply decide to leave the UK and head to Europe for up to 90 days and then come back to the UK for 90 days and then head out again for another 90 day block. There is little complication here as there is no Schengen Shuffling going on. You simply leave the UK on 17 May 2021 and enjoy your Schengen countries for a full 90 days and then return on 14 August. That means that you can return to Schengen again for 90 days on 13 November. This calculator image below demonstrates this nicely.

 

 

Schengen Shuffle – Travelling for 11 months out of UK 

Now we start to dance our way through Schengen and begin our shuffle. So you want to spend most of your time in Europe and perhaps not too much time in the UK. Given that most us need an annual MOT, coming back to the UK is necessary, although with some careful planning you can be out of the UK for up to 11 months. We have shown you an example of how to do this using a trip down to Greece, over to Turkey and then back through Bulgaria and Romania. You could of course map the same sort of trip to include Morocco or Croatia (until the latter’s membership is approved.)

You leave on 17 May and decide on just 80 days in Schengen so that you have a 10 day buffer should you need to get back to the UK in an emergency. (Bear in mind that if you did 90 in Schengen and then went to Turkey and something happened back home then you have no days available in your allowance to return to the UK. You would have to leave your van in Turkey and fly back. So just as an insurance policy, it is worth having a little buffer period if your circumstances back in the UK drive it.)

On 4 August you cross into Turkey and stay for up to 90 days. After which you return to Greece and take two days to travel to Bulgaria where with Romania you can tour for 90 days per country if you wish. For the purposes of our exercise I have shown 90 days in total for the two countries leaving Romania for Hungary where we re-enter the Schengen on 1 February. We now have a totally of 88 days to return to the UK allowing us to meander through Austria, Germany and France.

 

To illustrate this one further step; if you look at each of your exit dates and go back 180 days you can calculate how many days you have spent in Schengen. This is how it looks in practice;

 

  • 4 August 2021 exit date – go back 180 days takes you to 5 February 2021. You have no Schengen allowance to consider in this period. 

  • Your next Schengen entry and exit points are 2 and 3 November 2021. Go back from 3 November 2021180 days takes you to 7 May 2021. During this period (which remember is a rolling 180 day period) you have used 80 days, so you have 10 left.

  • Your next entry and exit points are 1 Feb and 29 April 2022. So again from your 29 April date go back 180 days, which takes you to 31 October 2021 where you have used 2 days, therefore your planned 88 days can be used to return back to the UK.

 

There are obviously lots of other options we could illustrate, although hopefully seeing how we could have 11 months out of the UK should give you some confidence to begin planning your own trips. The bottom line to remember is that if you shuffle your way from Schengen into Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Morocco or Turkey, then you can have an extended trip out of the UK and still get back in time for your MOT. Obviously in the examples that we have given above, it doesn’t take into account weather conditions that might influence your decisions and the dates are just illustrative. Also as a disclaimer, we must stress that it is vital for you to do your own calculations and planning to ensure that the trip you decide upon is doable without penalty. 

 

Schengen Allowance and Date Calculators 

As we have navigated our way around this topic both for our own trips abroad and also for this blog, we have come across some great tools that will keep you sane, safe and in allowance, which we profile here. 

 

The first essential tool is the Visa Calculator. This is our preferred calculator tool as it is clearer and easier to use. The calculator allows you to input your entry and exit date to Schengen and then it calculates when you must have left the area to prevent penalties. It also allows you to map in multiple trips, which is great. So no paper calculations are needed as in our experience they can lead to mis-planning. We strongly urge you to if not plan with this tool at the very least use it to check your predictions. 

The second tool we found incredibly helpful is the Date Calculator. Trying to work out what 180 days back can be tricky even using your Phone’s calendar. So make life simple and use this site instead. It allows you to put in a date and then either add or subtract the desired number of days. It is terrific and makes life simpler, quicker and far less stressful than the classic ’30 days has September, April, June and November’. 

I have saved both of these websites on my phone and popped them into a folder called Schengen so that I have easy access to them. You can do this too by going into their websites and tapping the three horizontal lines on the bottom right of your screen. Then you press Add page to and you can put it on your home screen. 

 

Schengen Top Tips

This final section is more of a hypothetic section given that at the time of writing, we have not been able to travel and put our knowledge into practise. That said I think for now, there are some planning tips that we can offer you to help you navigate your Schengen Shuffle more easily. 

  1. Perhaps the flexibility of travel may be jaded by Schengen with intuitive right turns limited under the restrictions. Although there is no reason why, certainly for now, we shouldn’t be able to enjoy full and rich travels through Europe. We just need to plan a little more precisely than we have in the past. Travel is still possible and so keep your minds positive and upbeat.
  2. Avoid going to the edge of your allowance. 90 days might be alluring, although in any plans we need to cater for the unforeseen such as family crises, illness, breakdowns and incidents and our Schengen Shuffling is no different. Make sure you give yourself some scope for emergencies or things that you hadn’t catered for. Don’t risk getting penalties for having to overstay because of that breakdown that cost you five days you hadn’t allowed for in your plans.
  3. Make sure if you visit Turkey and Morocco you will need to get additional insurance. We have recently found out that Comfort have suspended their Morocco and Turkey cover. So sadly unless Aviva’s policy changes, we will be leaving for Saga in December. Make sure that you provide the specific dates to your insurers of your stay in these two countries so that they can send you the Green Card that is a requirement. For more information on Morocco, check out our free Ebook which gives you more essential information about your entry to this exciting African country.
  4. Make sure that your passports have at least 6 months left on them otherwise you may be prevented from travelling outside of the UK. Also make sure that you get a stamp from the Border Control to show your entry and exit points. Whilst it should all be automated, for us this is still so new, a stamp will prevent any disputes along the line.
  5. When you use the calculator to plan your trips, especially if they are multiple, take a screen shot and save it on your phone so if there is again any dispute you can demonstrate your dates using the calculator.
  6. Remember when travelling to the continent there are restrictions on the food you are allowed and prohibited to bring in. Check this website for the specifics otherwise you risk these items being confiscated.
  7. If you travel with pets, you should look to explore getting an EU Pet Passport otherwise you will be restricted to just 4 months in Schengen and non Schengen countries using the UK’s Pet Passport scheme.
  8. Keep your eyes open for Visa Extension information from each Schengen country. Whilst there are visas that you can apply for, for work purposes, there are few that cover tourism extensions. This may change as Covid restrictions are lifted and countries want to encourage UK travellers back into their countries. Although at the time of writing there are no immediate plans for this to be offered.

 

So this brings us to the end of our Schengen Shuffle guide. We hope that is has helped demystify some of the terms used and the confusions that have been building around what we can and can’t do. The bottom line that travel is still possible and more than perhaps we thought possible. So we hope that this will all feel hopeful and positive for you.

If you have any questions please drop us an email at themotoroamers@gmail.com and we will endeavour to answer them.

 

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Handling your Motorhome Breakdown – Part 1

Handling your Motorhome Breakdown – Part 1

After a year of ‘engine’ issues, this week saw the conclusion to getting our Scoobie fixed, fit and finally back on the road. Such has been the drama of these unfolding events with twists and turns we thought we would put it all down in a blog.

We hope that if we can share our experiences and the lessons we learnt, potentially it could help mitigate some of your stress – should you find yourself in a similar situation. We write this not as mechanical or legal experts although as people who have learnt the hard way. Of course you must always seek your own counsel as your circumstances may not be identical to ours.

Part 1 of our Breakdown – November 2019

Our breakdown saga started one year ago. As we innocently sailed across the Mediterranean from Italy to Spain little did we know what the next 12 months would have in store for us.

It started as we headed south for our rendezvous in Dènia for a Christmas gathering with our family. A gentle loss of power past Sitges told us that something was wrong. With a call to our EU Breakdown, a local garage broke the news that it was the radiator. He duly ordered a new one for the princely sum of €1,000 plus labour. Interestingly we inspected the old radiator before we retrieved Scoobie and there were no obvious cracks or splits – so warning bells rang.

Lesson 1

I’m really not sure as we reflect back what we could have done differently. We weren’t fluent in Spanish, so how we could have challenged the repair? So we accepted the financial hit and moved on! Acceptance and trust were key to us at this point. Also clarifying with our insurers that we had accommodation cover gave us peace of mind whilst the repairs was carried out. 

Continuing problems

After just one day, the radiator began to leak again, although Myles found that the pipe at the top of the radiator had come off, so we assumed that the garage had just not put it back on tightly enough. So we popped it on, filled the radiator back up and went on our merry way. This happened to us on three more occasions; twice in Morocco and once in France en route back to UK, 3 months later. 

We class ourselves as fortunate that, knowing what we now know about our engine failure that nothing more serious happened whilst in Morocco as that could have been a whole different ball game. It did though start ringing more alarm bells as we began to think there was something more serious going on.  We started to speak to our mechanical friends to assess the possible causes. Surely it couldn’t be our engine? We had only done 56,000 miles so was hardly even run in. 

Lesson 2

If there is a pattern of repeated issues then call your Breakdown company back and explain the situation, as they hold some liability for the original call out repair and use their services to help rectify the root cause.

Of course had we done this earlier on, perhaps the scenario might have been different. Who knows and we’ll not put any energy into working that through. Potentially we could have ended up with the exact same situation although perhaps if we had picked it up with our DAS breakdown, things could have been addressed earlier.

Back on UK soil – Spring 2020

So jump forward to March 2020. When we arrived back in the UK we hoped to get straight to our mechanic to do a pressure test, although we were affected by lockdowns just like everyone else across Europe. So Scoobie was parked up and the handbrake on!

When we could finally move again we rescheduled our MOT, our damp assessment and Service back in our home town of Wellington when boom! Just 500m from Gloucester services on M5 Scoobs gave one last puff and simply stopped.  This time the pipe that had been popping off was not for turning and we had to call our Breakdown. 

Towed to our Service garage we looked on in dismay as the mechanic shook his head – this was not going to be good, we could feel it. In truth we had been feeling ‘it’ for a while. With our regular garage not fit for such a major diagnosis, we had to abandon Scoobie at a neighbouring garage, who had just started up in business and who had a large under cover workshop. We only had his word that these guys were good and on face value they seemed nice enough. Although given that no Fiat garage in the area or in Weston Super Mare would take us, we were left with no choice than to abandon him.

Two weeks later they diagnosed hairline cracks in the cylinder head, a conclusion they came to after sending the head to a professional pressure tester.  So that meant a new engine. Whilst they did suggest an option of just replacing the cylinder head,  they advised that the block (the main body of the engine) was warped and they were not confident that there wouldn’t be other associated problems within the body of the engine that could bite us on the bum further down the line. Now we wouldn’t want that now would we?

You can imagine our turmoil, especially given that the engine was barely run in! A mere 57000 on the clock! Come on Fiat – really? A set of unbelievable circumstances and clearly a Friday afternoon production that ultimately cost us £7,300 plus £1500 for the diagnostics and labour. Ouch! And of course we were well out of warranty so it was our cost to bear!

And get this…. When Fiat say you need a new engine you don’t actually get a ‘new’ engine. You get a remanufactured engine and you have to pay an additional £600 deposit for the privilege of them having your broken engine returned so they can remanufacture it and pass it onto another customer!

Lesson 3

Even with Myles’ technical knowledge we could not have known that a pipe popping off could have given us such a dramatic diagnosis. Even our mechanical friends said it was highly unlikely, especially given the additional 4000 miles we covered after our Sitges breakdown. Don’t give yourselves a hard time – it is not likely to be anything that you did.  Throw cash at it if you can and swallow that bitter pill.

3 months later – another breakdown

Imagine our delight bringing Scoobie home especially as in the July, campsites opened up again. Finally we could get a much needed break. We headed over to Tenby which was lovely although not without anxiety as we had to reconnect with Scoobs after such a tempestuous period. The lack of confidence we both experienced in silence was odd. After four years on the road, we had overcome so many challenges, although this felt big. Still things are only as big as you make them and we soon got back into a Scoobie rhythm. Surely the fan-belt whistling was nothing much to worry about.

After a mammoth effort on our renovation project, which we had invested in to get us through this Covid uncertainty, at the end of September we decided we needed a break. So we went Scotland bound for a month for a touch of RnR. What happened to that pesky fan-belt noise you might well ask? Well it got gradually worse as we sauntered up through the Staffordshire countryside. And the smell – it was like TCP – just like chemicals, was not pleasant. We limped along to a rendezvous with friends – all socially distancing of course and it was at that point that we decided Scoobie must roll no further. With the smell increasing and the noise getting worse, it was the only responsible thing to do. So Breakdown recovery called once again. We’ve seen a few of these over the years!

The recovery in itself was a drama after a series of undersized trucks visited us over the course of 24hrs. Even after an AA technician had spent 2 hours trying to diagnose the problem, his report simply said “the engine is shattered” and he recommended that we should not drive anywhere.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was vehicle number 3 that turned up to collect us. As he began to tow us onto the back of his truck, it took off our rear bumper.  It was obvious that it wasn’t going to fit, although he forged ahead regardless.  Oh the pain of hearing that grinding sound as plastic scrapes along tarmac. That sent me over the edge! They of course had no choice than to accept liability for the damage and agreed to sort out the repairs.

So vehicle number 4 came and went and number 5 finally was a low-loader that could take Scoobs to the nearest Fiat garage who we had secured an appointment with. Why a Fiat garage you may well ask? Given our remanufactured engine came with a one-year warranty, we needed to keep within the Fiat network to protect that warranty, just in case it was their fault.

With emergency accommodation secured (with our Breakdown cover we are entitled to up to £500 accommodation expenses) we waited for a diagnosis. We had to pay £270 for that diagnosis and after a nail biting day – sat like nervous parents we got our answer… It was a mis-threaded bolt on the EGR valve. A fault they concluded that lay in the hands of the garage who had fitted our ‘new engine’  a mere three months earlier.  Now that was the trigger for a series of events that is a blog all by itself and will come in a follow up.

 

Breakdown Top Tips

So from these experiences what have we learnt that we can share with you?

  • If your vehicle is still under a Fiat Warranty (normally 2 years on a new vehicle), then make sure you use their Vehicle Assist Breakdown cover. If you don’t and your Breakdown Recovery take you to a garage outside of the Fiat network any claim will be null and void.
  • If you have an EU breakdown and you are not satisfied with the service/repair or something else goes wrong soon after the repair, then speak to your breakdown company immediately and question their diagnosis. It may prevent a string of unfolding events at a point in the future.
  • When taking out UK and EU breakdown cover, find out whether you get emergency accommodation cover and if so how much are you covered for. We have had to use this cover twice and it has been a lifeline given this is our full-time home.
  • If you suspect that you need a ‘new engine’ at any point in your motorhome ownership and are in UK, ask for a second opinion as it is a costly affair. If we ever had to repeat this exercise we would pay for an independent assessor from someone like DEKRA (0800 334 5678) www.dekra-expert.co.uk.
  • DEKRA offer an independent report for around £200 that will provide you with a diagnosis. It could be money well spent. We are often at the mercy of the garages we go to and if you are not familiar with the business, then this independent report could be vital.
  • Remember that a new engine does not mean new. It means remanufactured. Do not buy a reconditioned one that will undoubtedly be cheaper on Ebay as you are not guaranteed quality or a faultless product. Go to your manufacturer, you will pay a premium although you will get an extended warranty and a better quality product.
  • Once you have your ‘new engine’ fitted, we suggest that you take a week to travel around in close proximity to the garage to test it out. Within a couple of hundred miles, you should tease out any teething problems and you will be able to return it immediately to the fitting garage for assessment and immediate repair.
  • Make sure you keep all receipts in case they are needed as evidence for a claim against a garage.
  • When you register a call out with your Breakdown company, if your vehicle is over 6m make sure you specifically request a low-loader otherwise you may get the wrong size vehicle. Also we strongly recommend that you ask for an AA Technician to attend your vehicle in the first instance in case the problem can be diagnosed and fixed without needing garage repairs.
  • If the Recovery firm damage to your vehicle as they attempt to load you, make sure you take a video and photographic evidence of the damage so that you can secure admission of liability. Take their phone number, owner’s or MD’s name and email so that you can immediately attach damage evidence and get liability in writing from them.

 

So like most things in life, there is always a lesson and we have sat patiently in our classroom absorbing the teachings. As if this wasn’t enough, our next series of tests took us down a more legal route that shall share in our next instalment. We really hope that our experiences might help you in the future. 

 

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Herefordshire Interactive Map

Herefordshire Interactive Map

With Covid keeping us grounded for the moment, we have had the opportunity to explore the area right beneath our noses.  Herefordshire is a stunning region; home of cider, stunning countryside, Areas of outstanding natural beauty and a river that meanders from its source at Plynlimon, Wales to Chepstow.  There is just so much to uncover.

We continue to be humbled by how your local area can offer so much and yet with it on your doorstep it is often the least likely place to explore. There’s some sort of psychology that says an exploration has to be far afield. Not so, as we show you in our latest Interactive Map. We’ve stretched the boundaries a little beyond just Herefordshire, although all within an easy circumference. We hope that if you are ever passing you take the  time to stop and explore this little pocket rocket county which has so much to offer. 

Check out our Interactive route map below.

Step inside Herefordshire and come with us as we explore various points of the River Wye, find unique medieval treasures, castles, fabulous walks and Areas of outstanding natural beauty. Symonds Yat, Ross on Wye, Hereford, Hay on Wye, Crickhowell, Tintern Abbey to name just a few temptresses. As our travel is twarthed beyond the Channel, perhaps the UK can offer us some alternative beauty to appreciate. Click on our gallery below for a bit of a visual teaser. 

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Life in Lockdown – Life in Micro

Life in Lockdown – Life in Micro

As we shut the door after our epic journey from southern Spain, the echo of Boris’ lockdown message rang in our ears. Within hours we had managed to secure our safety for the next three months at least. Relief washed over us like a cascading waterfall and the intensity of the situation was almost overwhelming.

Whilst we had little to make the house a home, we have learnt to live more simply.  This is one of our biggest travel lessons. The simplicity that has graced our lives has had an immense impact on us both, although me particularly. It still shocks me to see the amount of ‘stuff’ stored in our lockup. Did we really need all those things to be happy? Well we soon learnt that happiness doesn’t lie within the fabric of a house, a bread-maker or a set of pictures. It comes from inside of us, when we align with our most important values; freedom, choice and simplicity.

As we transferred our bits and pieces from Scoobie, who sat snugly on the driveway we set out to create our comfort zone. The last three weeks had been fringed with a nervous static that, in our high alert status, neither of us had really appreciated. Combining that static with relief – wow what partnership that was. It felt like the colliding of the seas we witnessed in Grenen in Denmark last year. Neither one winning the battle, although tempestuous waters none the less.

Yet that night in March saw the flood-gates open; so often what happens when our flight and fight reactions surrender to the safety of our secure ground. No more looking over our shoulders, no more tension or uncertainty about whether we would make it back in time. We were in our own little bubble. Close enough to my mum to support her from a distance and yet in a haven of safety, the price of which is hard to estimate. In our four years on the road, we have rarely felt threatened. We’ve had a few unnerving moments, although nothing to really make our hackles rise. Yet now with this invisible enemy, the presence of which hangs in the air, we were definitely feeling a tightening of the strings. So having somewhere safe to be was really priceless. We knew intuitively that this is where we were meant to be – for however long was needed. We could ride out the storm here.

With relief making itself at home, we were free to work out how we were going to structure our lockdown experience. We developed a strategy to support mum and her partner with the things that they needed most and we set about fine tuning our daily routines. A lie in, some work, a freshly made juice and a walk at 3.00pm for an hour. Although more pressing was the urgency for some creature comforts like some cosy chairs to sit on and a fridge/freezer. 

Sadly Scoobie’s slopey position meant that our fridge/freezer no longer worked, so we had to quickly resolve this before I lost all my freshly purchased provisions. To my amazement I really struggled to find anything suitable. Who would have thought that there would have been not only a lack of toilet rolls, also white goods? There wasn’t a  fridge freezer to be found anywhere. So as luck would have it we were  recommended an online firm that could help us. A mini fridge was secured and within 24hrs had arrived. And just in time as my freezer compartment had started to melt. Three days later, with all the excitement of a puppy, our chairs turned up in two surprisingly small boxes. As we opened the two cardboard presents, Myles first reaction was – ‘Where are the legs?’ Alas there were no legs! Oh my how we laughed, no wonder the price was so reasonable. Legs would clearly have been another £100 at least! So you can imagine how toned our leg muscles are now, as we raise ourselves from these floor level seats. 

Life in Lockdown once the practical stuff had been sorted, became a life in micro. Blessed with the best spring weather since 1897, we nourished ourselves in the sunshine on Scoobie’s deckchairs and watched the starlings go about their nesting business. I never realised how their songs could replicate that of a buzzard to ward off predators although also, more disconcertedly, the sound of an ambulance. Quite what survival method that offers I’m not sure. And when I close my eyes, I can almost imagine that their song is that of a golden oriel, transporting me to the heady heights of Greece or Bulgaria. 

We watched each day as the skies cleared from the fumes of airplanes and tuned into how the cacophony from the orchestral dawn chorus seemed somehow more noticeable. Spring felt like such a wonderful season to be forced to be still. Whist of course being static would not be a choice to the rolling wheels of our nomadic chariot, being in one place for long enough to watch spring unfold has been a complete blessing.  To see how the blossom ruled the trees and watch their leaves slowly unfurl, given the forest’s new shapes and textures.  Nature has truly been a privilege to witness from such a micro perspective. There are indeed some silver linings to the lockdown.

As the days morphed into weeks, we found our groove. Our fortnightly shopping expeditions became an art. Despite each visit delivering a drama (lost car keys, smashed wine bottles and a puncture), we managed to navigate our entry into the unsafe zone with the deftness of a gazelle. Our diving into Aldis once a fortnight had a strategy so finely tuned that Field Marshal Montgomery would have been proud. A trolley each, one for us and one for our family, we dashed through the store respecting our 2m distances reducing our shopping from a mooch to more of a Supermarket Dash feel about it.

Back in the safety of our home, we slowly saw our creativity being boosted to new heights. Thanks to Mother Nature, in our kitchen, foraged efforts have been converted into fresh and nutritious offerings; nettle soup and quiche, spinach and potato soup when we had a glut of both, dandelion massage oils, dandelion honey and elderflower cordial. With limited resources, we’ve developed a more resourceful mindset as we found baking cakes an interesting experience; no scales for weighing flour has tested us, no electric whisk to mix the batter and outside in the garden, with no edge trimmers Myles has been on his knees with scissors! Although we can always get by with a dose of ingenuity and creativity. 

Although on the shadow side, seeing my mum struggle with her self-isolating was heart-breaking. The whole mental health issue is going to have the biggest impact, second to the tragedy of the deaths, of course. And this inspired me to focus on supporting like-minded souls who were struggling with lockdowns in Europe and back on home turf. So my Lockdown routines focused on putting my energy into creating some useful resources to ease people’s boredom, stay healthy and fit and connected. It’s always good to have somewhere to put your energy – more time on that meant less time thinking about the future.

So many people have asked us, as nomads for the last four years, how we are feeling being grounded. And interestingly another thing that travel has taught us is to live in the moment. This practical strategy has served us well during lockdown, given that it would be so easy for us to lament over our road trip to Turkey planned for May this year.  There is little point thinking ahead to what may or may not be; as things are changing so quickly. The media is doing its best to add fear, uncertainty and doubt, although we don’t subscribe to their mass hysteria. We choose instead to accept graciously where we are; feel grateful for the home we have and focus on doing positive things during this period of stillness. We are determined to travel again, whenever it is safe to do so and we will don our travel shoes to tread upon new soil. Our desire to explore still beats like a well-oiled heart. Although for now, we are safe, secure and still and this is how it is.

Coming next; managing the Bubble Burst as we move into easing measures of lockdown.

 

Other blogs in our Lockdown series

 

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Covid-19 – Our Journey through the Chaos – Part 2

Covid-19 – Our Journey through the Chaos – Part 2

After a dash north from the fringes of Morocco in March, we finally arrived on UK soil, heading for a period of rest and quarantine – or so we thought.

 

After our race against what felt like time and tide, the idea of being stationary for two weeks was a blissful concept. Yet landing back in UK was a double-edged sword. Whilst it was good to be back on home turf during uncertain times, we had to sail past my bestie, because we were in quarantine. There was no reassuring hug with my mum, there was no care-free relaxing with peace by our sides. Ambiguity was our only friend, an unwanted companion that hung in the air like a city smog, making its presence felt as it swirled between the trees of our New Forest Sanctuary.

It was an odd twist of fate, that I chose Setthorns Campsite as our quarantine retreat. It held so many hallmarks from my childhood. A campsite deep in the forest that brought me close to my family even though they were not there. With my dad in the heavens above and my mum way beyond arms reach, I was left with the memories of my youthful games amongst the trees. I have a sneaky feeling that we even parked up across from one of the pitches we used to stay on, during our weekends away.  It felt nurturing to be in a place where I had happily played as a child, and to feel close to my mum and dad. My inner child craved to be nurtured and embraced, yet she had all grown up and needed to find her own way in this crazy, new world.

The animals offered us some familiar comfort; we were surrounded by deer, squirrels, nuthatches and wild ponies. Each one seemingly oblivious to our plight and yet bizarrely soothing in the simplicity of their tamed presence. How odd to see nature’s heart beating to the exact same rhythm, whilst ours had gone off-the-wall. Someone was laughing on the other side of somewhere, at this strange situation, not of our making. 

See our gallery of Mother Nature’s canvas by clicking below;

As we surrendered to our quarantine and immersed ourselves into the peace of the forest, a lurking air of suspicion wafted around our bodies. A sensation that whispered, “You must not yet rest on your laurels”. We knew intuitively that the art we had mysteriously mastered of being one step ahead, was needed once more. And after a deeply connecting conversation about how a Covid future might look, we knew that our stillness needed a gentle prod. We needed to stir our resting souls and again thrust ourselves into action, as that tsunami was nipping at our heels reminding us of its presence.

It felt as if something big was going to happen soon in UK, having seen our European cousins all take evasive action against the demon of death. And so for us, there were no real surprises about the Government’s course – it was all a matter of timing. We had second guessed their policy and we were, once again, just about ahead of the game, albeit by a whisker.

Pubs, clubs and restaurants closed on that Friday night and we knew in our hearts that we must look for somewhere more long-term to stay. We have always considered ourselves houseless not homeless, although with a situation as grave as this, with the threat of campsites potentially closing, we knew we needed something more permanent to keep us safe.

Given my mum’s precarious balance on this Covid tightrope, we had to find somewhere close to her so we could support her. So we secured a near-by campsite that would shelter us, even given the worst case scenario. We had a fall-back of a house we were selling that was empty, although this was 30 miles away from mum and with no car – we contemplated the enormity of the situation. We had, we reckoned a few days to perhaps buy a car and reach our sanctuary position before the doors shut completely. And then, Sunday morning the dreaded news came. Campsites across the country became the latest victim to fall to the devil’s imposing stench.

Whilst not wanting to sound dramatic, there was a dawning – for me at least, that suddenly our security was at peril. Whilst the campsite had offered us a place to be safe, our ‘what if questions’ filled our heads. We knew in our hearts, however kind their offer to stay was, if they were inspected and we had to be evicted, we had no alternative. The tsunami was closer than ever to our wheels and our primal need for safety and security drove us into a battle strategy action to protect ourselves, first and foremost. We were reminded of the safety demonstration on board a plane, where you are instructed, in an emergency, to place your own oxygen mask before helping others. This was what we now needed to do.

In my corporate leadership training days, I often used the analogy of ‘thinking outside the box’. How apt was that advice right now? And despite the potential of this situation I am always amazed at just how resilient our primal being is. It kicks in without being asked; it just takes over and moves you into that sympathetic nervous system of fight, flight or freeze. My thoughts were as crystal clear as a highly polished diamond, my problem-solving as sharp as a sabre blade. With the precision of a chemist’s measure, my mind considered all the possibilities for us to stay safe and be close to mum; and within five minutes a solution emerged, thanks to the brilliance of one of our followers. A mere ten minutes later, we had the prospect of a rental property that had, in the last four days become empty. We spoke to the lovely landlords, explored options, agreed terms and secured a three month tenancy with a rolling month thereafter. Boom! I just love how the strands of synchronicity weave their web and conspire to create your destined next steps.

The very next morning, we launched into Phase 2, as despite having a place to go, we still had some critical actions to tick off our list and with precious little time to do it. It felt as if we were in a Hollywood movie, where impending doom was shadowing the earth and everyone was scattering like ants. Although paradoxically, we also felt as if we were one step ahead of the game, given our European escape. We had seen first-hand how quickly the world could change and, in many ways, we could see those around us almost oblivious to what we knew instinctively was coming soon! Real soon.

So with focus in our eyes and determination in our hearts we headed north; our lockup was our first call. A need to pick up some furniture as we had none in our new four walls. Reacquainted with our familiar yellow door, we retrieved a few bits that would give us some creature comforts. The beauty of our travel experiences over the last four years, is that we don’t need much – our surrender to simplicity was certainly going to pay dividends in this war against an unknown enemy. Doing a last supermarket shop was like walking through a set for an Apocalypse film as empty shelves and and just a handful of  desperate shoppers, took whatever they could to feed their families. It was a surreal experience. I’ve never seen a store so eerily devoid of people or food. Still, we managed to get what we needed and armed with supplies, a bed, our favourite rug we arrived at our new home. Scoobie snuggly fitted onto the drive within an inch of his life and with a huge sigh of relief we knew we were safe. Our lovely landlords welcomed us with open arms and we embraced the effortless coincidence as we shut the door behind us.

At 4pm we set foot in our temporary home made of bricks, and at 8pm that very same day, Boris announced the UK’s version of lockdown.  A mere four hours grace! We sank into our bed that night with the biggest sense of gratitude and relief as the enormity of the last 72 hours became real. Our high alert state could finally rest and the waters that now lapped up against our walls could no longer consume us. We were safe, secure and protected, at least for the moment.

Our mission was complete. We had had won the second battle of this war and could now ease into a new way of being with bricks and mortar as our protective walls. We drifted off into a deep sleep, immensely grateful to those who made our passage to safety so smooth. The kindness of strangers humbled us greatly and, as the following weeks would show, would continue to be a dominant feature of our fight against this invisible demon. For now we were safe; for now we could rest.

Virus 0 – The Motoroamers 2

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Travelling to Morocco by Motorhome

Travelling to Morocco by Motorhome

In our Travelling to Morocco by Motorhome series of posts, we take an in-depth look at everything to do with bringing your motorhome to and touring around this fascinating north African country. In this first blog we focus on what you need to do before you come and how to arrive smoothly in Morocco by Motorhome.  There are a lot of reports about where to sail from, and whilst everyone’s experiences are, for sure, valid and personal, we wanted to share our practical tips based on our journey in February 2020. Our aim is to quell those raging doubts and fears and give you both the knowledge and confidence to make this epic journey to Morocco by motorhome.

 

Part 1. What to do before travelling to Morocco by Motorhome

Whilst you may be like us and enjoy winging it – there are some destinations that really need some fore-thought. Morocco is one of them and Norway another. For Morocco, plenty of preparation is required. In part because it’s a different continent and the requirements are different to a majority of Europe. And also because, for many of us Moroccan newbies, it has a feel of taking us out of our comfort zone. Travelling with huge anxiety is not a great mix and so we must do some homework to make sure that our experiences are positive and fulfilling and not fear-making. 

We hope that this section might allay some apprehension as you begin to dream and think about taking your motorhome to Morocco.

 

1. Check out your Insurance and Breakdown cover – Green Card

Morocco is not often covered under standard UK motorhome insurance policies –  European firms may be different.  So your first step is to enquire about your particular company’s terms and conditions.  If they do allow for you to travel to Morocco in your motorhome, then you may require a Green Card which gives you Fully Comprehensive cover during your stay in the country. Sometimes these are offered free and others charge.

Comfort Insurance charged us £20 as an admin charge and then £22.40 per week of our travel through Morocco. 

If your company doesn’t cover Morocco even with a Green Card, then don’t give up. Speak to HIC Herts Insurance. They  offer a bolt-on cover and Green Card, so if your van is under £40,000 in value, then talk to them.

It’s worth mentioning whilst talking about Green Cards and Insurance, that you can get Third Party cover at the Port which is around 90€ so this is an option.

You also need to have a conversation with your Insurance company, if you have Breakdown Cover included in your policy. Or of course, call your Breakdown agents if you have separate cover. Just check what your cover is for visiting Morocco. With Comfort we are covered for breakdowns although DAS, our recovery company is not present here in Morocco. So their instructions are to arrange and pay for any mechanical issues whilst in the country and then make a claim for a reimbursement when we are in EU or back in UK.

 

2. Check your Travel/Health Insurance

If you already have Travel Insurance, then check that Morocco is covered, because whether you are travelling in the Brexit transition or not, the EHIC card is not useable here. As we travel full-time, we needed to secure our cover whilst out of our home country, and most UK companies will not therefore instigate cover.  So we sought the best deal from those that will cover you whilst you are already travelling. The quote ranged from £113.20 to £355.80 for two people without and pre-existing conditions. We chose True Traveller as they had the lowest quote for us for our one month road-trip. Make sure you choose the European Cover and not Worldwide, as Morocco is covered under the EU countries. The other insurer options are:

                                              World Nomads      True Traveller    Worldwide Insurance

 

3. Internet/Apps/Telephones 

Talk to your telephone supplier as their coverage and packages don’t cover Morocco and you will be charged crazy prices for calls and data, as it comes under International Rates. You will need to buy a Moroccan SIM card for calls and data, so you will need them to unlock your phone (you can do this online with most companies). Whilst some campsites have wifi, it’s not always great, like anywhere and whilst you are out travelling, you will want to have connectivity.

Our advice is to make sure you have off-line versions of the apps you use most often. Before you leave Spain for Morocco, make sure you have downloaded all the Moroccan maps for your maps.me app, if you have it.  Also we use Park4Night for wild camping and so bought the off-line version for £8.42 per year, and the Search for  Sites app for campsites for £5.99 per year. 

 

4. Documentation to take with you

Like with travel to most countries, you will need:

  • Passports and copies in case you loose them
  • V5 – in Morocco this is known as the Carte de Gris – the grey card
  • Your MOT certificate as it is reported that sometimes Police wish to check this
  • Hard copies of your Travel/Health Insurance and your Vehicle Insurance
  • Your Green Card

                                             

5. Plans for maximising your LPG

Because Morocco doesn’t have any LPG as we have heard, you will need to judge the use of gas carefully, especially if you are coming for over a month or more.  So think about options for conserving your gas. Obviously campsites will give you access to EHU, although from a cooking perspective and for wild camping, then may be you will need to look at other gas saving approaches. Some visitors have told us that they have been able to buy Red Moroccan gas bottles for 50MAD and swapped them in for 20MAD and this has got them through a 10 week road-trip.

We invested in a Remoska which is a fabulous electric oven that cooks pretty much anything, in about an hour, just like a normal oven.  It even works off the inverter whilst you are driving and is a great gas saving resource. 

Others have reported buying small, low wattage, two-ring hot plates and electric kettles. However you choose to conserve gas, it is certainly worth thinking ahead for this. 

 

6. Maps/Reference books

There’s a ton of blogs out there about Morocco from motorhomers and overlanders. Some you buy and some are free on the web. It’s definitely worth researching and having a read. We bought the book by Chris Scott called Morocco Overland, which offers lots of off-road tips if you are travelling with a 4×4, which also has great info on how to travel to Morocco by motorhome.  Whist the latest edition is 2017 and some of his information is out of date, there’s a load of really helpful tips in there.

One of which is to buy paper maps of Morocco. Given that whilst travelling in Morocco you need to buy a data SIM to stay connected to internet that apps like Google Maps feed off, hard copies can be essential.  So we bought two maps based on recommendations; the Reise Know-How 1:1 Mill and the Michelin Map. 

 

7. Stuff to take with you – and NOT!

In terms of stock-piling before you go, unlike our trip to Norway, Morocco doesn’t have the same price issue. Although these are the items we did buy;

 

  • the wine we like in boxes for easy storage
  • some chicken for the freezer
  • a few tins of staples that create the meals we enjoy.
  • we heard that crisps and nibbly bits are expensive so have plenty of these
  • Hand Sanitiser to keep carry around with you for their public toilets
  • a shawl for me walking through towns or mosques.
  • some long sleeved shirts and a head scarf to ensure my attire was appropriate for visiting towns and mosques
  • two tyre repair canisters in case of a puncture.  Although we would recommend you investing in TyrePal or a similar  notification system that gauges the pressure of your tyres and advises you of potential punctures or deflating issues.

And a final point – DO NOT TAKE YOUR DRONE WITH YOU. Either leave it at home or leave it with someone you trust as they are illegal in Morocco and if you van is search and your DRONE found it will be confiscated.  

 

Part  2 – Travelling to Morocco in your Motorhome

So armed with the results of all your research, you are now ready for the exciting bit – the travelling to Morocco. In this section we offer you a detailed and step-by-step account of the whole ferry and Custom’s procedure. I am driven to write this because of the plethora of reports out there and to share exactly what happens when you leave Spain and arrive in  Tangier Med (as of 6 February 2020).  So much of my EXCITYSCARED feelings were because of some of the horror stories we had heard about getting through Customs and what was to be expected. Now I have been through it, I felt it was really important to share how it was for us and give you top tips for navigating it smoothly.

 

1. Choosing which port to sail from

There are plenty of Spanish ports to sail to Morocco from along the south coast – you can even choose to go from Sète in southern France, Italy or Barcelona. As long as you are prepared for very long sailings of up to 60 hours. For the purposes of this blog, let’s stick with Spanish ports for ease;

  • Barcelona to Tangier Med; offers two ferry companies and up to 5 sailings per week and is up to 32 hrs sailing time
  • Almería to Nador or Melilla;  offers 7 sailings a week to Nador & 8 weekly sailings to Melilla taking around 5-7 hrs
  • Motril to Nador, Tangier Med or Melilla; for Nador there are 4 sailings per week, Melilla 6 sailings per week lasting aound 4-5 hrs and Tangier Med 7 times per week and is up to 8hrs
  • Malaga to Melilla; offers 14 per week sailings of between 4-6.30 hrs. You can also go to Tangier Med although only once a week
  • Tarifa to Tangier offers two companies who sail 11 times per day and 36 times per week. The sailing is just 1hr
  • Algeciras to Cueta and Tangier Med, offering 8 sailings per day and is about a 90 minute crossing.

Nador and Melilla are smaller ports that encounter less traffic and so their Custom’s processes tend to be swifter, according to Morocco lover and author Chris Scott.  And Tangier City has the reputation for being a nightmare as you have to drive through the city. And Cueta is a Spanish enclave so you have to drive a mile or so before hitting the Customs areas.

Algeciras to Tangier Med is the most popular crossing route and this was the one we chose. We stayed overnight just across from the port in a free car park, joined by four other vans. You may be approached by a man who says you can pay some money, although he is not an official car park attendant and whatever money you give lines only his pocket – you are not obliged to pay anything.

 

2. Buying your ferry tokens

There are plenty of Ticket Kiosks around the city, although the one that is pretty well famous these days is ‘Carlos’ from Agencie de Viajes on the Zone Commercial, just a mile out of Algeciras city. The coordinates for the Agency are  (36.17932 -5.44126). Whilst it is said that ‘Carlos’ no longer works there, there is  a toothless old man with a  kind  smile who greets you with a hand-shake and a Spanish kiss, looking like he owns the place. So whether it is him or not, for the purposes of this, the Agency is known as ‘Carlos’.

You must travel to ‘Carlos’ and buy the tickets face to face, there is no online facility. You can park your van in the parking area opposite and you are able to stay here for the night for free too. You have a Carrefour and Lidl within walking  distance and you are about 15 minutes driving time to the port.

Make sure you take cash with you as no credit card payments are accepted. If you don’t have a chance to get any before hand, there is a Santander in the main street opposite the Agency, although you will be charged 7€ transaction fee. You will be offered two ferry firms – FRS offers just three sailings per day for 180€ or Transmediterranea that offers six crossings for 200€. The latter has the better record and we chose this because of the timings, which start at 0800. You then get a pack with your tickets, Immigration Entry Card and a free gift of wine and biscuits. And that’s it – all done in under 10 minutes. 

Top Tips for your tickets

1. Take the early sailing.  Given the reputation for ferry delays and Customs Checks in Tangier Med, we chose the early morning sailing. Our thinking was, get on the first ferry and there will be no impact for backlog from previous ferry delays. Also when arriving in Morocco, there’s only one boat load of vehicles to deal with, so the process should be more efficient. You also guarantee landing in Morocco in the light, which if this is your first time and you have any apprehension, is sensible. 

2. You don’t book a specific sailing. You receive a printed token and take it with you to the Check-in, at least one hour before your desired ferry departure. We are guessing that if the boat’s capacity has been reached you will be put on the next departing ferry.

3. Take enough cash to exchange into Dirhams. Whilst the Agency doesn’t have a lot of cash to exchange, you will be able to get a small amount of Dirhams. The rate was 10.20 MAD to the Euro, which was slightly less than at the port, which offered us 10.36 MAD to the Euro.  Although I thought it was useful to have cash just in case. You can only get this cash  as part of your ferry ticket transaction.

4. Don’t worry about not speaking Spanish. The admin team speak French and English, although old man ‘Carlos’, if it is him – the god of Morocco tickets – does not. Hand signals worked pretty well. He doesn’t work behind the desk though so don’t worry – his admin team area great. 

5. Complete your Immigration Entry Card before boarding the ferry. This will save you time and stress when queuing up to get your passport stamped. Completion notes are in the next section. 

6. Keep all your documents and tickets together. I know it might sound a patronising tip, although in the stress that inevitably comes with ferry embarkation, arriving in a new country and not knowing what is expected, having everything in one envelope keeps your sanity in check. And I talk from experience and Myles will back me up for sure. 

 

3. Completing your Immigration Card

Whilst I may risk insulting your intelligence, I do want to go through the completion of the Immigration Form that you will receive from ‘Carlos’. I know it sounds ridiculous, although I spent a bit of time working out and researching all the categories I had to fill in. And because I didn’t want to risk getting it wrong and causing unnecessary delays, making sure the details were right felt important. So to save you that stress, here are sections and their interpretation.

  • C.I.N  This is a National Identity Card number and only needs completing if you have been to Morocco before and had your Passport stamped. You will find this number on the stamp, written in ink. If this is your first time to Morocco, then leave this blank.
  • Composteur No. This is some sort of validation number and we left this blank and it caused no issues.
  • Nom. Your Surname goes here.
  • Prenom.  Your first name.
  • Nom de Jeune Fille. This is your maiden name ladies.
  • Date et Lieu de Naissance. Date and place of Birth as in your Passport.
  • Nationalite. Nationality goes here.
  • Pays de Residence Habituelle. Put your country of normal residence here, ie where you live most of the time.
  • Profession. Your job or retired.
  • Passeport No. Passport number here.
  • Date de Delivrance. This is your Passport Issue Date.
  • Provenance. Where you are travelling from – so the Spanish or French port you are sailing from to Morocco.
  • Destination. The Moroccan port you are sailing in to.
  • Adresse au Maroc. Give the address of the first campsite you will be staying at or something like Hotel Fez.
  • Motif Principal du Voyage. What is the reason for your visit to Morocco? So holiday will do fine.

 

If you make a mistake on the forms that Carlos gives you, you can get blank ones on board the ferry.

 

4. Boarding the ferry

We recommend getting to the ferry at least 90 minutes before the ferry is due to depart. This way you can be sure to get your chosen sailing. Follow the signs for Puerto through Algeciras and then at the port, the signposts for Tangier Med.  You will then take these steps for boarding your ferry.

  • Check-in 1. Hand over your token from ‘Carlos’ and your Passports. You will be guided to park up in a line.
  • Check-in 2. One hour before the ferry sails, you are guided to another kiosk where once again you hand over your token and Passports. In return you receive a Boarding Pass per passenger. You then proceed to another parking lane.
  • Check-in 3. Five minutes later as you head for the embarkation parking, where a ferry officinado will check your Boarding Passes.
  • Final Check-in.  Another officinado will approach the van and take one of your Boarding Passes and leave you with a copy. And that’s it. You wait for the lorries to embark and then it’s your turn. Chances are that you will go up to the top deck, which means if you have a big bottom like Scoobie, it might be a very tight clearance.  Although there was no scrapping for us thankfully.
  • Park where indicated and turn off your gas.

The whole process was very simple and we only left 45 minutes late, which given the reports from others, was nothing at all. Now the final bit you need to do before grabbing a coffee, is to queue up to get your Passports stamped and hand in your Immigration Form. Each boat will probably have a different location, although it is likely to be by the cafe area.  You will now be in possession of a mighty fine stamp in the back of your Passport. 

Do bear in mind that the ferries are functional. It is only a 90 minute crossing so they are ‘no frills’. There are not enough seats for all the passengers – our boat was only 2/3 full! And be warned that the cafe is very basic. So either bring your own water, coffee or breakfast, or wait until you are the other side. The toilets though are clean and have paper. 

In terms of the question over whether dogs are allowed on board –  we found nothing definitive. There is a No Dogs sign although we saw two passengers both with dogs on deck. So make of it what you will. I would attempt taking your dog with you until someone says you can’t.

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5. Disembarking the ferry and getting through Customs

Now this is the bit that I think, in all reality, I was dreading the most. That moment in time where the horror stories of chaos, money-greedy touts and stress would ensue. So I was prepared and mindful of what could happen next. Although I was also keen to see how the process worked in practice given all that I had read. So here is the most up-to-date information about how the disembarkation from Tangier Med looks like (based on February 2020 arrival.)

  • Getting off the ferry. This did take a while as it does often with all ferries, so nothing major to report here. Even our low-slung rear made it off the boat without incident. So far so good.
  • Passport Check. We were guided by an official to have our Passports checked, which he gave a rudimentary check for the stamp on the back page and he waved us off. Still doing well.
  • A long drive to Customs. You then, most disconcertedly follow the EXIT signs for what seems like ages. It feels like you are heading out of the port and it left me wondering if we missed something. We finally saw the signs for the D16.  We headed for the lane marked ‘Our vehicle is not registered in Morocco‘ and waited.
  • D16 – Vehicle Import and Export form. This is the vital piece of paper you need to show that you and your vehicle will be leaving the country. I had read that this could be completed on-line although this is no longer the case. The Customs’ Police do it all for you. So sit tight until you are asked to drive to a holding area. Within 15 minutes our V5 (Carte de Gris) and Myles’ Passport were collected and taken to the Kiosk. We had a little panic at this point, as Myles is not the Registered Owner on the V5, that’s me. So we wondered whether the discrepancy would cause a delay.  Thankfully it didn’t and we were on our way. The D16 is a small Credit Card sized card that you must keep safely as you will be asked for it on your return journey. It’s good to see that things have progressed with these official procedures.
  • Another Border Control Check.  Once D16 and Passport are firmly back in your grasp, it is wagons roll. Well as far as 100m where there  is another Border Control Check. That takes seconds and you are on your way.
  • Money and Insurance.  The final step in the process is to drive a further 100m where there are some cabins on your left-hand side. Here you buy your 3rd Party Insurance if you don’t already have your Green Card and exchange your money. There are lots of cabins to choose from although they are not all occupied. So I chose the one that had a name I recognised. They are all kosher and there are no touts milling around putting on the pressure.  The attendants speak English too, so if your French is minimal, then you don’t need to worry.  They give you a receipt for your money and that’s that! You are good to go. I strongly recommend that you do the money  exchange, because if you head off south on the A4 motorway, it is a Toll Road and you will need cash to pay.

 

So our verdict of the Customs’ process? Easy as anything and nothing to worry about at all. From getting off the boat to hitting the road having got our D16 and our money was a mere 65 minutes. So my ‘catch the early ferry’ strategy seemed to work really well and I highly recommend it, to keep you and your family sane. 

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Part 3 – Leaving Morocco

We thought it would be worth a quick mention as we’re talking about the process of arriving into Morocco, to share our experiences having just left. All in the spirit of preparation, knowledge and confidence, it feels important to take you through the steps for leaving the country.

 

1. Staying somewhere safe overnight

Depending on the ferry you have decided to catch for your return will partly dictate where you stay. Somewhere close to the port would be sensible if you are on the ‘red-eye’ 0830 with Transmediterranea.  Although there don’t seem to be many  options. There is a public parking area which is guarded by staff that some people have reported staying at (35.884201 -5.50203) although it depends how comfortable you are with staying  so close to the port. We decided to stay at a wonderful wild spot that was just 45 minutes drive and chose the 1100 ferry. Given the advice we received numerous times about not driving in Morocco at night, taking the ‘red-eye’ was not an option. So this was the perfect place to be. We left at 0800 and were having breakfast in the queue at the docks by 0920 having gone through Customs. More on this in a moment.

Our overnight was lovely, overlooking Erraouz Reservoir. It’s on one of Morocco’s  Provincial roads, which means that it varies in quality from a bit bumpy to good quality tarmac. It was one of the lesser quality roads we had driven on, although none the less very doable, just slowly. Here are the coords. (35.713367 -5.52351). It is a peaceful spot with herds of goats and sheep passing through from the village directly above you and there were four of us staying there, without any issues from the locals.

 

2. Arriving at the port

The port is as easy to arrive into as it is to leave. Whether you come in on the back roads or the motorway, just follow the signs for Automobile Access. You will pass all the cabins where you may have picked up your money on the way out and be guided to park up. This is so that you can validate your Ferry Token that you received from Carlos’ Agency. If you have asked for an open ticket, then you can choose the time you wish to depart. Get there earlier enough and it should be no problem at all. 

Take your Passports and your ticket, and in return you will receive a triplicate ferry ticket for the next available ferry.

 

3. Going through Customs

After the ease of arriving through Customs four weeks earlier, we wondered whether the process would be as simple on  our return. After validating your token and receiving your ticket, you have four stages to go through;

  1. As you leave the Ticket Validation car park, an Official will examine your ticket and wave you on.
  2. You then arrive at the first of the Customs’ Checks. They will check your Passports and give you a stamp to say that you have exited the country.
  3. You then move forward 100yards to the next Kiosk where they ask for your D16 – the small business sized card you received on  arrival. They stamp this saying that you are officially exporting your vehicle.
  4. Then you drive a mile up to the X-ray machine. Two vehicles at a time drive on the examination platform and you are asked to exit the vehicle.  They are searching for drugs and arms! Whilst we were there a converted, rally Renault who came through the day before had been impounded for carrying 52kg of Hashish. That’ll not be a pleasant extension to their holiday I’m sure. After a couple of minutes you are allowed back on your vehicle and you exit the platform. Then you take another short journey to find the departure  gate for your chosen ferry carrier and park up and wait. That’s it.

 

All of that took us just 30 minutes from arrival to parking up. So make sure you allow yourself enough time to go through that procedure for your chosen ferry. 

 

3. Getting on the Ferry

Just a word of caution. If they send you up on the top deck of the ferry, if you have a large overhang, as we do  then you are likely to scrape at the back. They will however give you ramps that will lift your rear end enough to clear it.

Once parked up chill out and wait for your passage to be completed, reflecting on your memories of your African Adventure. Just bear in mind that the boat only accepts Euros and not Moroccan Dirhams. 

 

Conclusion

So there we have it, in a rather large nutshell. Our entry into and exit from Morocco. Armed with plans, preparation and some conflicting information, I am pleased to report that it all went incredibly smoothly. I’m sure on another day it could have been different, although I am convinced that taking that first crossing made a huge difference to our whole experience. So I hope this detail helps you, if you are thinking about travelling to Morocco by motorhome or are about to do it imminently. As always, if you have any questions just drop us an email at themotoroaming@gmail.com

 

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