The Experts Theatre is proving popular, particularly with new motorcaravanners attending the Motorhome & Caravan Show at the NEC this week.
Panels of experts line up at 11.30am and 3pm each day and start off with a hot topic, then end with a question-and-answer session. It takes place in Hall 10 and is run in association with The Caravan Writers’ Guild.
Topics covered include Digital TV on the Move and New to Motorhoming (Tuesday), Internet Access on the Move and Choosing a Leisure Battery (Thursday), What to Expect from your Dealer and Solar Panels (Friday); What to Check Before Buying a New Caravan and Towing and the Law (Saturday) and Caravan and Motorhome Security (Sunday 3pm).
Terry Owen of The Caravan Writers’ Guild gave a good introduction to Internet Access on the Move, which went down well with the audience. He explained that if you take your laptop on holiday you can get free WiFi from McDonalds and in some city centres, such as London’s Square Mile.
Terry said, “More than 100 Caravan Club sites and 86 Camping & Caravanning Club sites offer pay-per-hour Wi-Fi. Your reception with such Wi-Fi systems will depend on your distance from the signal and factors such as the leaves on the trees and heavy rain. You can buy a signal booster for around £30.
“You can also buy USB Broadband dongles from firms such as Vodafone. You just plug them into your computer and they install the software for you and connect you either on a pay-as-you-go basis or on a contract at £8-£17 pm, depending on the provider, speed and download limit. This needs a 3G signal. You can get an app for a smartphone that will tell you the signal strength in any particular area for various providers.
“Another way to get online on the move is to use your mobile phone, for instance an i-Phone. Plug it into the laptop with its USB connector. This then acts like a dongle and saves you having to buy a dongle.
“You can also buy a mobile WiFi dongle. Press a button and it connects to the nearest 3G signal and sets up its own WiFi hotspot. No software is installed and up to five devices can connect at once. If you have an i-Pad you can connect it through this. It has 3-4 hours of battery life.
“Your mobile phone can also turn itself into a Wi-Fi hot spot. Get a different network to the mobile dongle, to ensure better coverage through the UK.
“Finally you can access the internet via satellite. For instance IPCopter gives good coverage right across Western Europe, though it isn’t so good for Northern Ireland. Unfortunately you need deep pockets for this method.”
Questions from the audience covered the astronomical cost of data charges outside the UK: a top tip is to buy a SIM card in each country you visit, to get local rates. Plus, Terry mentioned that you should set yourself up with a free webmail account before leaving home, so that you can pick up those emails from any country in the world.
Practical Motorhome‘s Capable Clive was on the panel and answered questions on the weight of the vehicle and the payload. He warned that if you add solar panels, second batteries and a bike rack you can soon use up your payload.
Other panellists gave tips on draining down the system before winter, to avoid stagnant water in the tank freezing up. Finally, Terry recommended joining The Caravan Club or the Camping & Caravanning Club and going on rallies to get the most fun out of our hobby.