Europe Has a Gas Problem (or is it me?)

Aktualisiert: 16. Aug 2019

Many of my life decisions have been questionable at best. One such decision was kicking off our trailer life in January. The night we moved into the trailer we were hit with negative eight degrees centigrade. Thankfully, we have a gas heater inside the trailer. Given the small space, our little heater and a few down blankets had us cozy in no time. Little did we know we would soon be short of gas (despite Baby Paul Thor's efforts to contribute).

Our heater has a fairly high burn rate. Turned to its highest setting it’s like a jet with the afterburner on. Ever the scout, to prepare for our journey I purchased two grey 11-kilogram propane canisters from Bauhaus (Germany’s Home Depot). This was another questionable decision. I soon found out that the owner of said refillable propane canisters is not actually allowed to refill them. One must exchange an empty canister and a bit of cash for a full one. If one wants to get rid of such a refillable canister, that’s just too bad. You own it so you have to keep it. Considering Bauhaus also has red non-refillable canisters one can exchange or just return empty for a deposit refund, that might have been a better choice.

What’s the difference? Well, one missing element in the European Union’s body of laws and policies is a universal system for gas canisters. I learned this when my two German canisters were both empty as we traveled through France. France uses canisters with the same left-hand threaded valve as Germany. But it is illegal to refill refillable canisters in France. One must rent a canister from an authorized dealer.

It was cold and I don’t speak French so I was just happy to get some propane. Now we were hauling two empty, and utterly useless, German tanks and a French tank that looked like a Russian submarine, complete with rust spots and leaky valves (get your shit together France).

Then we were in Spain and the leaky French canister quit on us. The Spanish are less hell bent on “rules”. The nice señores at the gas stations genuinely tried to help, but any potential solution failed as no adapter or ghetto rigging could overcome the German/French left-hand threaded valves.

Over the next days, as we ate bread and cheese for dinner (our stove also runs on gas), I visited multiple hardware stores in an attempt to MacGyver a solution. Finally, in a caravan repair shop a man lectured me on the dangers of refilling gas canisters, which I had already learned about in my extensive YouTube search for a fix. He then showed me a beautiful solution – a universal system complete with its own set of Euro adapters – and offered to install it, all for the low price of 900 Euros. I opted for a Spanish adapter for 40.

With my Spanish adapter in hand I went to a Repsol station resigned to adding a Spanish model to my international collection of gas canisters. But there was another problem.

In Spain, one must have an empty canister to switch out. I showed the attendant my empty “refillable” German canister, which was clearly not the same as the canisters she had. She sent a picture to her boss and after enough time for at least two Bombons we got the go-ahead. The attendant could have just told me no, but she was one of those all too rare but wonderful “yes” people. She genuinely wanted to help and didn’t mind putting in a little effort. I happily gave away one of my fancy “refillable” German canisters for a Spanish one and set off.

But the story doesn’t end here. The next day, we crossed into Portugal along with our rust spotted and empty French canister, our fancy but also empty second German canister, and our new Spanish canister. Only 45km past the Spanish boarder an amazing thing happened. An entrepreneurial Portuguese owner of a caravan had taken it upon himself to address Europe’s gas problem. Four other caravans were at his pumps, eager to have their various canisters filled. This man, certified to refill both propane and butane tanks, identified the capacities of our empty tanks with one glance, safely filled them and charged us a fair price. Brilliant.

If you’re like us and don’t want to accidentally blow yourself up while illegally self-filling your empty tanks with an autogas mix of propane and butane but also don’t want to install an expensive universal gas system in your caravan, you may want to head to Portugal where at least one guy is making the most of the EU's lackadaisical approach to gas canister policy.

French, German, English... no problem! This guy has a solution for your gas issue (sorry for the wrinkles, Baby Paul Thor put the flyer in his filing cabinet aka he used it as a chew toy)

If you know other entrepreneurs that can help us with Europe’s gas problem, give us the details below. We’ll put it on our map!