Benjamin DaviesSee other Blog articles filed in ‘Travel and touring’ written by Benjamin Davies
Our Gentleman Jack Bancroft is an irredeemable motorcaravaning enthusiast. His family have been camping, caravanning and motorcaravanning since 1928. Jack and his wife Flora are now on their tenth motorhome, a 2003 Auto-Sleeper Pollensa on a Ford Transit base. They have toured extensively at home and abroad, including a period of full-timing. Here, Jack answers your motorcaravanning queries:
Q: My wife likes to stay on aires when we’re on tour but I’m worried about safety. What’s the likelihood of us being gassed and robbed?
James ‘Johnny’ Cannon, St Albans
A: First, an aire is a European lay-by/picnic area where motorcaravanners are encouraged to stay overnight. They are usually free, although a few do request a donation to the local church or to a charity.
On many aires, services are available from a facility building, service point or bollard. The overwhelming majority have fresh water, waste water disposal and a chemical loo emptying point.
An increasing number also have a limited number of 230V hook-ups available in exchange for feeding a meter with euro coins.
Now to answer your question regarding your safety fears. Despite the occasional exception I think the majority are safe to stay on providing you take the same precautions as you would if the ’van was parked in any public place. In short, like anything we do in life, there is always a risk of something going wrong, but in our opinion it is much lower than the doom mongers would have you believe and simple steps will substantially reduce the risk of anything unpleasant happening still further. Also to lump all aires together as if they all have the same risk factor is a generalisation too far.
Most crime is opportunist and if you behave as if you are on a UK members-only campsite, then you may inadvertently become easy prey to thieves. Common mistakes folk make is failing to lock all the doors when they are sitting outside, leaving handbags and valuable photographic equipment out on view and falling for distraction burglaries. I’m not going to recite the obvious do’s and don’ts such as hiding valuables from view. Most folk know what to do, but when on holiday they forget to do it.
First and foremost, hide everything that you do not need deep inside the ’van. When we are waiting in the queue to board the ferry at Dover we always empty handbags and wallets of everything that isn’t required. I’ve had my bag pinched in the past and it wasn’t the theft of the money or the credit cards that was the most annoying, it was having to get a new library card, club membership cards, driving licence and such like.
However nothing compares to losing your diary, address book or electronic notebook. I lost hundreds of important addresses and contacts and my entire work schedule for the next eight months. Believe me, it was buttock-clenchingly embarrassing to have to telephone hard-pressed business associates to ask whether I’m supposed to be meeting them. And if so, when?
We put everything safely away deep inside the ’van, apart from
a bit of cash and perhaps one credit card (never a debit card). Of course, replacing all my lost cards would have been much easier if I’d noted down all the details and numbers and left the list with a trusted member of the family. It’s a good idea, so remember to do it before leaving home.
It is often stated that it is better to overnight on aires that are busy and/or where lorry drivers stay, as it reduces the risk. We don’t subscribe to this view and always stay where we want to, sometimes on our own. However, we do make a point of trying to use aires that are on toll roads. Such aires are more secure as on many toll roads vehicles and occupants are photographed at toll booths. We also avoid those that are too close to heavily urbanised areas.
When we first heard those gassing stories we instantly dismissed them. Until I meet somebody to whom this has actually happened, then we’ll treat them with the proverbial ‘pinch of salt’.
When the Bancroft tribe are on tour, we always make joint decisions as a family. If any member of our party has the slightest concern over a potential overnight pitch we don’t stay.
Finally, the theft of my bag was the result of a distraction burglary. It didn’t take place on an aire, but in a car park by a crowded autoroute services. Yes, I was stupid, careless and trusting. Stay aware and you’ll be fine.