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.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Turkey's For Life August 14, 2011 at 9:37 am

Oh dear. Hope you manage to sort out your gas situation. Yes, unfortunately, fuel prices are high in Turkey. Diesel’s about the cheapest – unless you convert over to gas that is! 🙂


2 Renee August 14, 2011 at 10:11 am

Thanks, Julia. Someone has recommended a small, back-alley shop here in Kilyos where we might be able to get our current tanks refilled. Fingers crossed! I’ll need some heat to cook the white beans for my Antalya piyaz…


3 Karen August 14, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Hope you’ve had luck with the propane, normally propane here is only sold in the big tanks and it is butane in the little tanks so possibly even buying new tanks wouldn’t work. There are normally central refueling stations for the likes of Ipragaz in every big town so a bit of “please help me” at one of the small shops who sell gas could work wonders as people are so helpful here. Karen


4 Renee August 14, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Thanks, Karen. We’re heading off to speak with a small seller now, so I’m hoping he can recommend something. If not, I’ll ask around about the central refueling stations. I really appreciate the tip!


5 Amy August 15, 2011 at 2:14 am

What a weird thing! You think they would just be able to refill the tanks you already have!


6 Renee August 15, 2011 at 5:54 am

I know, right? They’re refillable tanks for Pete’s sake. But everyone we ask says no, and that’s from kind people who are genuinely trying to help.

Barry and Julia from Turkey’s for Life have most kindly asked one of their Turkish friends about it, and that fellow, who grew up in Istanbul and knows how things work, passed on the name of a gas company that might be able to help. We’ve emailed the company and are waiting to hear back now. Obviously all the bazillions of propane tanks all over Turkey are getting filled somewhere, but we can’t track down a source. This is the most curious thing ever.

Perhaps we’ll just end up shelling out for a big Turkish tank, I don’t know, but it’s killing me to keep buying propane tanks that we won’t need for very long. If this were a permanent lifestyle I wouldn’t mind so much, but sadly it’s not.

The good thing about our situation is that it’s requiring us to talk to loads of people, even more than we would ordinarily.


7 Gary Clark April 17, 2012 at 11:58 am

Thanks for this posting. We are just about to pick up a rental RV in the Netherlands, and have been wondering how far we can get with it. The answer is, nowhere outside the Netherlands. As far as the “universal” bottles from Germany you mention, we found them anything but universal in 2003 when we rented an RV in Frankfurt, promptly crossed into France, and ran out of propane about 10 days later. The french bottles were incompatible, and we simply had no option for the rest of the trip. No hot water, no refrigeration, no cooking. I appears Europe acheived a fairly common currency, but can’t solve the propane bottle compatibility problem. A real shame for travelers.


8 Will Kelsay May 12, 2014 at 5:36 am

I realize this post was years ago, but I hope you figured it out. We are doing the exact same thing (leasing an RV from The Netherlands and driving around Europe). We just ran out of propane this morning and are now in search of a bottle in France. Lucky for us, we will be crossing through France several more times, so I think we can use a bottle here, return it before heading back to The Netherlands, and not have to spend the cash to keep a useless tank.

Thanks so much for posting this in such detail because it really helped us answer our questions about refilling propane around Europe.


9 Renee May 12, 2014 at 8:24 am

Hi, Will. Thanks for commenting. I’m glad the post was helpful. Yes, dealing with the bottles was horrendous once we left Germany. When we finally managed to get them refilled in Greece, I was so happy I could have cried.


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