We were sitting there, making our post-ice cave cup of tea when the gas spluttered and died. “Not a problem,” we thought. “We have another bottle…”
It took about 20 seconds for the light bulb to go off, but go off it did.
We are in France.
With two UK 6kg calor gas bottles.
You can't exchange UK gas bottles in France. You can't refill UK gas bottles in France.
If you buy a French gas bottle, they don't fit the fittings of our UK system.
We are also going to Germany. If we buy a German bottle, they don't fit the fittings for the French bottles (although there are some rumours that some German gas bottles fit the UK system… can't confirm or deny this at the moment.)
So we're there, suddenly feeling short on gas. (I'm mature- that sentence didn't make me giggle out loud at all. Honest.) Somewhere in between moving house, moving onto the boat, me leaving work and having a million little jobs to do, we'd forgotten our plan to buy and install a refillable gas system, which allows you to refill the bottle via a pump at a petrol station- just like you refill your car. Which is great, and useful…. but we hadn't done it.
So the big question is- How do you get gas in Europe??
How to get gas in Europe- the options
First, I'll give you a quick rundown on the options available to UK motorhomes, campervans and caravans if you want to bring your vehicle to Europe.
1- Bring Enough Gas with you!
– Option 1 is straightforward if you're going on a week or even two week holiday- bring enough gas! We toured Italy, Switzerland and France last summer for just over two weeks and we didn't need to change gas bottles once. I think if we had then we wouldn't have been so forgetful this time! Of course, we didn't use our heating at all during the summer, so that definitely helped. If we're exploring during winter, we find one 6kg bottle lasts us 4/5 days with the heating on, hot water & cooking.
2- Refillable gas bottle system
– Option 2 is to install a refillable gas bottle system. From the research we've done, this seems to be the best option for us. Throughout Europe, most countries have easy to use gas refill stations in their petrol stations- especially on motorways. You just pull in, get the hose with the nozzle on and refill your tanks. Apparently they come with an 80% shut-off safety feature, but be careful- we've heard several reports that it can break & the bottles can be overfilled. There seems to be two companies to choose from- Gaslow and Gasit. We'd only heard of Gaslow before, but found Gasit as we were searching for solutions to our ‘How to get gas in Europe' debacle. We'll do some further research & let you know which we choose when we return to the UK.
We did try to get a Gaslow system in France. They do sell them, but you need a French address and they need to order them in. We didn't find anywhere that had a system in stock. I think this is true for most places in the UK too, so don't be expecting to drive in and drive away on the same day.
3- Install LPG tank
– Option 3 is to install a fitted LPG tank. We thought hard about this option, but for us it makes more sense to get bottles as we plan to visit some of the countries where finding refillable gas is apparently very difficult- like Morocco. In these places, we can take one of our refillable gas bottles out, strap it somewhere safe and connect an exchangeable bottle instead that we buy as needed. But if you're not planning on doing something crazy, or if you think your gas will last, then a tank might be a good option for you. I believe Gaslow do the fitted tanks but I'm sure there wil be other companies too.
4- Use exchangable gas bottles in each country
– Option 4 is to use exchangeable gas bottles in each country you visit. This really worried us as we had been told that you had to have an address in each country in order to get a bottle. And there's the issue with the connectors and the whole system not fitting each other from country to country. It can also get pretty expensive as you buy a gas bottle (and pay the deposit) and obviously can't often return it to get your deposit back! It's probably worth visiting a larger chain, such as Carrefour or Intermarche supermarkets in France to get your bottle- although we've heard these places are a lot stricter on paperwork than others.
5- Don't use gas
– Option 5 – don't use any gas. Stay on campsites and use electricity.
– Option 6- go home sulking or don't go at all!
So, those are your options. Let's ignore 5 & 6 and say there are 4 (that I know of- please let me know if there are any more!) The question is which one did we choose?
How to get gas in Europe- the reality
Our first port of call was Leroy Merlin- a massive hardware store in France. We felt convinced that this mecca of all things would have gas fittings- and they did. Row upon row upon row of them.
It became clear very quickly that we were woefully out of our depth and had no idea what we needed. Our calor gas bottles are propane, which is perfect for us as it allows the gas to be used even in low temperatures. Butane struggles if you put it below 10 degreesC – so not ideal in the UK. But here there were fittings for Butane, Propane, LPG…. it was completely overwhelming.
At this point I need to give a shout out to Mr and Mrs Adventure, who I emailed asking for help! They have just travelled Europe in their van (and are about to do so again very soon) so I figured they'd have some answers. They were great and very helpful- reassuring me that you could get gas bottles from most countries without much issue.
We decided that we needed to get a gas bottle first, then come back and figure out which fittings were required to make the bottle work on our system. Having renovated our house in France, we are very aware that the sizings in the two countries do not match! So we set off on our quest to find a bottle. (Jade calls this a sidequest. I'm not really sure why but it has something to do with gaming….!)
No-one is selling gas today
Leroy Merlin doesn't sell gas. The local petrol station (with the gas rack outside) was open… but automated payments only. Did I mention it was Easter Monday and therefore a national holiday?? There was no one on duty to sell gas. Some supermarkets were open, some were closed. We managed to find one that shut at 12.30… naturally we pulled into the car park at 12.28. Still, the staff were incredibly friendly and came out to see if we could figure something out. NOTE- no local station or supermarket sells refillable gas bottles such as Gaslow. They have to be specially ordered & fitted.
So, from a supermarket/ service station your options are:
- Le Cube- very neat 6kg bottle, coming in either Butane or Propane. Fit easily.
- 13kg massive bottle coming in either Butane or Propane which we were convinced wouldn't fit.
- Little Dumpy bottles (I'm fairly certain they have another, better, name but we don't know it!) These have a wide base which we think would be too wide for our gas locker.
So which did we buy?
So, out of all these options, which gas bottle did we buy? None of them.
“Why??!!” I hear you asking, or indeed screaming at the screen. Why wouldn't you buy gas when the shops were all shutting and it's 5 degrees at night and you need heating!?!
It's an excellent question. The answer is partly down to the fact that Google searches had scared us into believing nothing would fit and if we bought a bottle in France we wouldn't be able to get more gas in Germany, which we estimated we would need in 4 days time. It's also partly due to the fact that we've lived on boats for a long time and seen some horrific accidents caused by badly fitted gas. We actually ripped all the gas off our current boat as it worried us so much. So we REALLY didn't want to install something dodgy and blow up the van. (Slightly overdramatic I know…. but hindsight is a wonderful gift.)
Plan B… or C
By this point, everything is closed (Easter Monday remember). We decide that the best option is to visit a caravan/ motorhome shop. After all, many French motorhomers will visit Germany- especially when we're only 15 miles from the border. Surely they would know what we needed & have the correct parts. Of course, the shop didn't open until the next morning, so we found a shop (type in motorhome dealer or motorhome shop into google and you should find something near you) and then we used park4night to find an overnight stop nearby.
We ended up at a cute little campsite in some woods next to an abandoned potassium mine. The mine looked really eerie, so we decided to get the drone out and see what we could see!
The next morning we met a lovely couple, Ruth & Frank, who are exploring in their converted van (which has room for TWO yoga mats. I'm not jealous at all!) After a lovely time chatting with them and enjoying the heat from their woodburning stove, we set off for the motorhome shop.
Motorhome Shop in France
Here, the staff spoke no english but were fluent in hand waving, appalling French and slightly panicked faces. The salesman pulled a 13kg propane bottle out of his cage, handed us some fixings and said ‘Bon.'
‘Non, non', we replied (because we're fluent like that). ‘Ne marche pas. Il est trop gros'. (Note- I haven't googled this spelling. There's a high chance it's not correct or even good French.)
The guy looked at us like we're a little crazy, shrugs his shoulders in the way the French do so well and pulled a Le Cube out of the crate instead. Feeling much happier, we pulled our empty 6kg bottle out and replaced it with Le Cube. It fit- easily.
‘Vous voulez essayer le gros(se)?' The frenchman enquired politely. Do we want to try the bigger bottle? Oh, go on then.
Having been convinced this bottle wouldn't fit, we were surprised and a little overjoyed to find that it did. Pretty easily. And there was still room in the gas locker to store our water hose, spare fuel tank, electric cable, ratchet straps for bikes, fireboard, spare number plate, mallet, tools…. and the other gas bottle! (Anyone else do that in their gas locker or is it just us?)
Also, when we attached the french tail (the hose which goes from the bottle onto the van system), it went straight onto the UK regulator valve without a murmur. No hisses, no leaks, no forcing…. dead easy.
Watch the video of our Gas problems and the solution:
Just click on the link below:
So now we have a 13kg bottle (which I have named Eric), a 6kg UK bottle (as yet unnamed) and a pack of various connectors for countries around Europe. Interestingly, the shop didn't sell any way of connecting UK bottles to a french system- but perhaps you could get them from a shop closer to the English Channel. The connecters were RIDICULOUSLY expensive- 106€ for the pack but it made us feel better about going into Germany (not that we've had to use them yet as our 13kg bottle is still going strong!)
We paid 45€ for the gas bottle. We did have to write down our name and address but he didn't seem to care if we had a french address or not and we never mentioned we had a house in France- so he must have assumed we didn't.
So all in all, it was a bit anticlimatic…. but we were very relived to get gas!
How to get gas in Europe- lessons learnt
- It is NOT as scary as Google and motorhome forums will lead you to believe.
- You can buy a gas bottle in France without a french address. If you get stuck, use a local campsite address.
- The french tails fit fine onto the UK regulators. You can buy french tails from hardware shops (like Leroy Merlin) and gas bottles from most petrol stations. Or visit a camping/ motorhome shop.
- You may be able to get a 13kg bottle into your van gas locker. If you can, do- it gives you a bit more freedom!
- If you plan to install a refillable system- do it BEFORE you leave.
- Caravan/ motorhome shops are all over the place and we've never met an unfriendly one yet. Even if you don't speak the language, they will know what you mean and help you out as much as they can. Just practice your panicked face in the mirror first.
So now we have gas! 24 hours of slightly overwhelming terror, followed by the realisation that we needn't have worried! Still, silly us for getting ourselves into the situation in the first place. Make me feel better- what's the biggest silly mistake you've made in your van?