RV Life: Fuel Crisis

We’re having a bit of a crisis. It’s related to propane.

First let me tell you how we operate, so you can better understand our predicament.

We rely on propane to heat our 2-burner stove, to power the heater (which we rarely use), to heat the hot-water tank and — when we are freecamping and have no electrical hook up — to run the refrigerator.

The propane comes in 5-L bottles, which we keep in a little storage space that we access from the outside. We started off with two bottles, one connected to the gas line and the other one waiting as backup. When a bottle is empty, we pay about €11 to swap it for a filled one at a campground. Easy, right?

Mark hooking up one of our propane bottles

Well here’s the tricky bit. It turns out the bottles vary from region to region, and you can’t exchange one type for another type.

Since we bought our camper in Amsterdam, it came with Dutch bottles. But when we arrived in Germany, we discovered that our Dutch bottles weren’t welcome at the campground propane exchange. Outside of the Netherlands, it turned out, Dutch bottles were essentially useless.

We did some research and found out that German bottles are widely accepted throughout Europe, so we bit the bullet and bought two German bottles for €50 each. That’s quite a lot of money for us, but it was worth it to end up with tanks that are universally exchangeable.

Dutch bottle, German bottle

Unfortunately the story doesn’t end there.

When we left Italy, we still had the same two bottles of gas, one connected and the other one waiting as back-up. But about five seconds after leaving the country, where we could have done an easy exchange, the gas in #1 ran out. Typical, right? So we connected #2 and have been looking for a refill or exchange for #1 ever since. As we drove through Croatia, Serbia, and Bulgaria on our way to Turkey, we kept our eyes open and checked at campgrounds along the way (Mainly in Croatia. There aren’t many campgrounds in Bulgaria and Serbia).

No one had tanks. Anywhere.

At this point we are getting a little nervous. No gas means no free-camping (not much anyway) because we can’t power the fridge.

Now we’ve arrived in Turkey. Propane bottles are for sale in little shops all over the place, but once again, they are different from ours so we can’t exchange. We’ve just inquired about refilling our German tanks but were told it’s not possible, which is…well, weird. Maybe that’s correct and maybe it’s not. We’ll have to see.

You’re probably asking yourself why we don’t just buy Turkish tanks, and you’re right. We may have to do that. But we don’t have room to store six tanks, and we can’t purge any of them because we’ll need the German ones when we’re back in Europe and the Dutch ones when we sell the can back to the dealer.

Besides, we’re on a super tight budget and dread paying for yet more tanks. Diesel costs are turning out to be higher than we’d planned (here in Turkey it’s about $8/gal or $2.10/litre!), so we need to watch every euro-frank-lira-kuna-dinar we can.

We’re heading to Istanbul tomorrow, so hopefully we’ll find some kind of propane-tank filling station there. Truthfully, I don’t know what to expect.

If we don’t find a solution, then we’ll just run out of gas, and that will be that.

That means no stove, and if we’re free camping, no refrigerator either. No fridge or stove would be a pain, yes, but it wouldn’t kill us. Free camping in Turkey in the summer with no cold beverages would certainly suck. Mark would really, really miss his cold beers, and Scout and I would really, really miss our cold water. And I can’t imagine mornings without tea.

But situations like this are all part of the travel adventure, aren’t they?

Anyway that’s what we’re dealing with right now. It’s a niggly operational detail, but I thought you might be interested to hear what goes on behind the scenes as we RV through Europe.

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